Computer Specs for Medical Transcription Work

Medical transcription work requires a lot of brain power but not a lot of computing power. There’s no real need for a high-end CPU, super video card, or gobs of storage (unless you want them for another purpose), and money you save there can be put toward a better (or additional) monitor or cushy chair.

The specifications suggested here are guidelines provided to help you get the performance you need without paying for things you don’t.

Before going computer shopping, arm yourself with a little terminology so salespeople can’t overwhelm you with geek-speak. Here are the terms you need to know:

  • CPU: The central processing unit (processor) is an electronic chip that serves as the brain of the computer.

  • RAM: Random access memory is the computer equivalent to human working memory, where things are briefly stored and constantly swapped in and out.

  • Motherboard: A flat circuit board (usually weird green) inside the computer that everything else plugs into, including the CPU and RAM. It’s like the interstate highway system for your computer. Motherboards contain slots for plugging in smaller circuit boards, such as a graphics card.

  • Card: A small circuit board you can plug into the motherboard to add an additional feature, such as enhanced sound or graphics.

  • Port: An opening where you plug something in, like a monitor, keyboard, network cable, or transcription foot pedal. There are different kinds of ports for plugging in different devices.

  • Hard drive: The primary storage device where all your files and data that need to be kept longer than a few seconds are stored.

  • Bluetooth: A wireless technology for exchanging data over very short distances, such as between a keyboard and a computer. It can also be used to sync information between devices, such as between a cellphone and a computer. It’s not the only short-range wireless technology, but it’s increasingly common.

There’s plenty more jargon where this came from, but don’t sweat the extra alphabet soup. Defining it all would require an entire, very dull dictionary, and most of it just isn’t that important to the average computer user. If you run across a stumper term you’re concerned about, Google and your nearest computer salesperson stand ready to define it for you.

Desktops and laptops come with basic sound and graphics capabilities built in. If you want higher-level performance, you can add on a specialized graphics or sound card. Technical specifications for a desktop and laptop computers are listed in the table.

Microsoft Windows is the operating system of choice for medical transcription. As of Windows 7, it’s available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The “bit” thing has to do with how it handles data, not how many pieces it comes in. A computer running 32-bit Windows will work fine, but if you’re buying new, go with 64-bit, or you may end up upgrading later.

Computer Specifications for Medical Transcriptionists
Component Desktop Specifications Laptop Specifications
CPU Don’t worry about this. The CPU in any new desktop will be sufficient. Don’t worry about this. The CPU in any new laptop will be sufficient.
RAM At least 4GB. At least 4GB.
Hard drive At least 250GB. At least 250GB, with 7200 rpm.
Graphics The built-in graphics capabilities of any budget system will suffice, but consider adding a graphics card for better performance and so you can connect multiple monitors. The built-in graphics capabilities of any budget laptop will suffice.
Sound Nothing special required. Nothing special required.
Networking Built-in Ethernet networking (looks like an oversized telephone wall jack). Add a wireless networking card if you’ll be using wireless Internet connection. Built-in Ethernet and Wi-Fi networking. 802-11n.
Bluetooth Less common on desktops than laptops but worth considering if it adds only minimally to the overall cost. If you want to connect wireless external devices, like a keyboard or mouse, a USB port can be used instead. If you want to wirelessly sync data to a tablet or cellphone, then Bluetooth is a good option to get. You can also easily add Bluetooth later with a USB adapter. Not a must-have, but Bluetooth capability will enable you to connect external devices like a keyboard and mouse without using a USB port to do it (as long as the devices also support Bluetooth). Comes built-in to many laptops.
Display Nothing special required. 15-inch to 17-inch display with matte finish. Avoid wide-screen displays
Other features As many USB ports as possible (minimum of four), with at least two of them on the front of the computer for easy access. DVD drive with read/write capability. As many USB ports as possible; many laptops come with two, but more is better.
DVD drive with read/write capability. Ports for plugging in an external keyboard, monitor, and mouse.

When comparing computers, pay special attention to:

  • RAM: The amount of RAM you have matters, because swapping things in and out of RAM is much faster than reading and writing to a hard drive, which is what happens when RAM is full. Since MTs often have multiple applications running simultaneously, RAM should be high on your priority list. Of note, 32-bit versions of Windows can’t take advantage of more than 4GB, but 64-bit versions can.

  • USB ports: USB stands for universal serial bus, a type of connection used to connect external devices to a computer. You can’t have too many USB ports — they’re currently the top connection type for plugging in new stuff. Things that typically plug into a USB port include keyboards, mice/trackballs, printers, external hard drives, and most transcription foot pedals.

  • Graphics: Whatever graphics processor comes built into your computer will do, but if you add a graphics card, you’ll get much better performance for activities like watching videos.

    Most important, pay attention to the number of graphics ports you can connect a monitor to. A desktop computer should have at least two of them. You may not use both right off the bat, but if you stick with MT work, you’re likely to want to hook up a second monitor.

You may be wondering about sound capabilities; after all, you’re going to be listening to a lot of dictation audio on this computer. From the computer specs perspective, the integrated sound provided on typical motherboard should do the job fine.

Some medical transcriptionists opt to install a dedicated sound card and are thrilled with the results. Usually, though, unintelligible dictation is a result of something other than the quality of your sound system.

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