Better Translating – Part II: Set up your PC and monitors


Step II in our guide to becoming a more efficient translator and making the translation process a little bit less painful is about getting your hardware set up. The classic, still best hardware setup for translators is a desktop computer hooked up to two monitors. If you haven’t tried a dual-monitor set-up, I strongly recommend that you do that tomorrow, and you won’t look back. Promised.

Granted, it’s not always easy to stick to your own rules. I am writing this post from a Sony Vaio laptop with a HD resolution, which means I have to bend over slightly to see the screen, and my eyes tire when I work more than a couple of hours because everything is so small. But that’s because I need the screen real estate in order to fit two open windows side by side (Aero Snap’s your friend), and because I am travelling and working on the road. Once I am back in my office, I will be glad (and my body will thank me) for having installed the classic set-up.

So, here’s the deal. Forget about fancy laptops, tablets, netbooks etc. Get a good old desktop PC. If you assemble it yourself, you might spend as little as € 300 on a quad-core powerhouse with a decent graphics card. Then, get yourself two flat screen monitors, which shouldn’t set you back more than € 180. You see what we did there? We got a great, comfortable, powerful workplace for less than € 500. Once you have your two monitors set up, you might want to have a look at this guide about how to work with a dual-monitor setup, and then find your own preferred usage patterns. Bill Gates uses two monitors, with Outlook on one of them at all times, for example. I use the following technique: During the translation process, I have Trados Studio 2009 on the right hand-side monitor, and the Opera web browser on the left (replace these with your own preferred software. We’ll talk software in the next chapter of the guide for efficient translators.) The reason why the CAT software is on the right screen is that the right side of the brain is the creative one while the left side of the brain deals with things like memory and repetitive tasks. I for one find it much harder to work with a CAT tool or text editor on the left side rather than on the right, while I find the web browser for terminology lookup much more practical on the left. At least for me, that’s how it seems to work. While I work on my websites or blogs, I replace Trados Studio with Outlook in order to stay on top of things at all times.

One more thing: You can be just as efficient with one monitor, thanks to Windows’ Aero Snap feature, which enables you to easily pin two windows side by side, as I am doing at the moment. But that means you would have to have a very high resolution in order to fit enough functions on the screen for this setup to be useful, which in turn will harm your eyes. The main advantage of having two screens, each one dedicated to one activity, is that you can still have everything displayed nice and big, while being able to run at least two programs at the same time.

What do you think of the dual-monitor setup? How many monitors do you use, and which programs do you run on them? Let us know in the comments.

  1. I definitely support 100% the two-monitor setup. As my finances are a bit tied up at the moment with other things, I have not been able to purchase that second monitor, but I will in the next few months. I do some onsite work for a company and all their desks have at least two monitors. The difference is unspeakable, especially when checking a translated document, like a pdf, against the original (I do a lot of LQA). I am a Mac convert and back when I purchased my laptop two years ago I was still in grad school and needed a machine that did everything and contained everything, but these days I have seen myself considering getting a PC, as opening Windows on VMWare Fusion makes my computer extremely sluggish.

  2. Fiona said:

    I use a TV plugged into my laptop as my primary screen, extended in dual-screen mode from the laptop (placed to the left) which then becomes a secondary screen. Great for saving eye strain, and for being able to see source and target documents side-by-side (e.g. pdf files, or proofreading), or for using msn without having to open/close/minimize the translation I’m working on, or running a video on the left while working on the right. For example, I recently watched and SDL Studio training video, and was able to try out the techniques simultaneously on the primary screen. The possibilities are endless. The only problem is that sometimes, you can’t be sure which screen a program will open up in, and there is quite a lot of shifting and sliding from one screen to the other, to get things adjusted. But the benefits definitely outweigh these inconveniences.

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