Hardware Recommendations for the Mental Health Practitioner

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

November - December 2007

Three years ago I wrote an article for this newspaper titled “Essential Tools for the Wired Professional.”  My, how times have changed!  Three years in the technology world is tantamount to 20 years in the real world.  Here are my updated suggestions for hardware needs. In the next issue of The National Psychologist I will provide some advice on software.

Four pieces of hardware are essential for every practitioner. First, most likely it is time to get a new computer, given the massive changes in computing hardware in the last few years. I would definitely select a laptop over a desktop. Laptops used to be obscenely expensive, but they are now affordable – although still more expensive than desktops – and the mobility they allow is worth the extra price.  I would still stick with a Windows-based system. Macs are great, but most mental health software is written for the PC. My rule of thumb is to spend as much as you can comfortably afford with a minimum configuration of the following: (1) Core 2 Duo processor (either Athlon or Intel are fine), (2) a processor speed of 1.4 GHz or faster, (3) one to two GBs of RAM, (4) a 160 GB hard drive, (5) a 15 inch screen (17 is too large and bulky and 13 is hard to see, at least for us “older” psychologists), (6) a DVD drive, (7) built-in wireless and (8) at least two USB ports.  If you have to make a choice of whether to have more speed, RAM, or hard drive space, RAM is the most important as more RAM makes your computer run faster. If you travel a lot consider buying a second battery for long plane rides.

When you buy your new laptop you will find that it comes with Microsoft’s Vista operating system. This is the first major overhaul of the Windows operating system in years and is quite controversial.  Personally, I heard so much bad press about Vista, I was upset that I was not able to purchase a new laptop with XP anymore. However, after using Vista for a couple of months I can see its strengths and am actually finding it easier to navigate in many ways. In terms of brands, you can’t go wrong with HP, Dell, Sony, Toshiba, or Lenovo (IBM).  I am on my second HP and have enjoyed both a Dell and a Toshiba, but the HP is my favorite and Dell has garnered some negative press lately concerning support.

Second, you need a printer/ scanner/copier combination. With the cost hovering between $50 and $100, you can’t go wrong with an HP or a Canon. Did you know that printer manufacturers actually lose money on the machines?  They make their money on ink cartridges. Buy them in packages of two each (color and black and white) and have them handy. (NOTE:  I would not recommend the do-it-yourself refills for ink cartridges as they often have problems.)  When your cartridge runs low on ink, it runs out fast.  Don’t worry when your computer tells you that you are almost out of ink. Usually, you can print an additional 25 pages or more. Just wait until your copies no longer print all the information cleanly without white lines running through the characters.  The ability to make copies is great but color copies require a lot of ink so you may be better off using a color copier at your local Office Depot or Staples. A scanner may seem unnecessary, but it comes bundled with your printer and you might be surprised that you will find it useful.

Third, you need to choose your wireless access point. Forget using dial-up access.  Go with either DSL or a cable modem, which are called broadband connections. They are fast and are now affordable. For your office, DSL is best as it uses a single telephone line but allows you to make calls on that line without disrupting the signal. For home, either cable or DSL is fine.  If you live in an area where lots of people have cable TV, then you may find cable modem access a bit slower than DSL. I just switched from a cable modem to AT&T’s DSL and am pretty happy with it. My cable modem kept dropping the signal but my DSL line has yet to have that problem in six months of use. You will have the option to rent or purchase the equipment. I opt to buy the modem since they usually last for three or more years and don’t need to be upgraded very often.
Fourth, the one part of a computer that still has mechanical parts subject to failure is the hard drive. Once it goes, you will lose all your stored information unless you are willing to pay a fortune to have someone try to access your files (which never seems to work all that well). Consequently, you need to decide on a mode of backing up your computer. There are four options: (1) a backup drive, (2) CDs or DVDs, (3) a flash drive, or (4) an online service. I always recommend that you use at least two of these options.
  I use a flash drive (2 GB models now cost less than $50) and CDs. I always save important files to both my laptop and the flash drive which I religiously carry in my pocket. Each month or so I burn CDs with all my files.
Finally, although I would still keep that old fax machine, I recommend also using an online fax service. I have used Send2Fax.com for years. They charge a $12 monthly fee that covers 200 sent or received fax pages but it makes receiving faxes simple since they arrive as an e-mailed pdf file which means that you can receive faxes anywhere (pdf is the product of Adobe Acrobat and the program to read these files will most likely come with your new computer or is downloadable for free).
  You can attach computer documents to any fax you send and if you have a paper document you want to fax, you can scan it in with your printer/scanner/copier first or drive to your office and use your old, beat up fax machine.

Now that you are thoroughly overwhelmed, feel free to e-mail me with questions at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU And, of course, don’t forget that my new book, Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation, comes out in December. Geared toward parents of tweens and teens, this book addresses what children are doing while constantly multitasking with media including the Internet, television, iPods, and other technological appendages. The book provides research results, down-to-earth explanations of psychological theory and straightforward strategies for helping children thrive in their virtual worlds.


 Larry Rosen, Ph.D., is the author of Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation (December 2007) and TechnoStress: Coping With Technology @Work @Home @Play.  He can be reached at LROSEN@CSUDH.EDU or www.csudh.edu/psych/lrosen.htm.

Copyright, 2007, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $35 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.