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Working from Home – Set up

The Wall St Journal and others are reporting a run on laptops as more and more people are being forced to work from home (WFH). Here’s what you need to know about your WFH computer.

Connectivity

If you are buying a computer to WFH, you need to connect it to the internet. This requires the best broadband connection you can afford (from B4SH, your phone or cable company, or from another ISP – internet service provider). If there are lots of people in the house trying to WFH, consider 1 Gbps (1,000 Mbps) service such as the B4SH network.  If it’s just you, you can probably get away with 300 Mbps service.

The problem is not the download speed; the problem is the upload speed. This number is usually not published in the ISP’s promotional material. Most of the 1 gig providers offer 1 Gbps down with 35 Mbps up. That’s just not enough bandwidth for a household of four to six people online all day.

The B4SH service is fully symmetrical and provides 1 Gbps down with 1 Gbps up.

You may be able to do a low-quality video conference at 10 Mbps up, but certainly not two at a time. If someone else in the house is watching a video or doing something else that is bandwidth intensive, you will find you may need to monitor everyone’s online activity to ration bandwidth.

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WiFi

The current spec is 802.11ac (aka WiFi 5). You’ll be fine with 802.11n (aka WiFi 4).

Ethernet

While you are ordering your new device, be sure that it has an Ethernet port; if it does not, order an Ethernet dongle. WiFi is great for goofing around. It’s wonderful for watching a movie on the couch or for playing a video game. If you need to do serious video conferencing or hardcore work with files in the cloud, connect your computer to the internet via old school Ethernet. Order an Ethernet cable (Cat6) while you’re at it. Cat5 isn’t fast enough. Cat5e will work, but Cat6 is best for the world we live in today.

Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

Your computer’s GPU is one of the two features of your computer that makes you think it’s “fast.” The better the GPU, the faster your screens will paint. Get the fastest GPU you can afford.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

The more RAM you have, the faster your computer will appear to work. The rule of thumb is 2GB per CPU core. (A six core i7 CPU would need a minimum of 12GB of RAM.) However… this is not a great rule of thumb. First, it’s not actually true, and second, it’s not actually true. Instead, get as much RAM as you can afford. Get 16GB minimum for current Windows and MacOS devices, and 32GB if you can afford it. In practice, RAM your device up to the hilt if possible. More is better.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

Intel i5, i7, i9… whatever. The higher the number, the more expensive. Unless you know exactly why you need a super-fast CPU, don’t worry about it. That said, in the world of video everything — while it is not necessary — an i9 will serve you best.

Screen, Keyboard, Mouse

Bigger is better. Higher resolution is better. Sadly, more expensive is better. If you’re buying a laptop for your WFH installation, consider a full-size monitor, full-size keyboard with keypad, and a mouse. You will need dongles. Beware HDMI monitors: check the resolution of your computer and decide if you will be able to live with its different screen resolutions. This is non-trivial.

Making it Work

No matter what you have to work with, you can make it work. However, I will offer one bit of counterintuitive advice. As hard as it is to imagine a future where anything gets back to normal, this is one place you should spend to the limit of your ability. Your WFH rig is going to be your connection point to the outside world. This is where commerce will be done and where content will be created and consumed. It will also become a school room, an office, a doctor’s office, a store, a movie theater, a library, and much, much more. Use these guidelines and spend where you will get the most benefit. This is not a place to save money; it is a place to invest in your future.

Tip of the hat to Shelly Palmer

Streaming quality cut back

Amazon Prime Video and YouTube will reduce the quality of streaming on their platforms in Europe in order to help internet infrastructure cope with a surge in traffic resulting from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.

The move follows a similar announcement from Netflix following a request from European Union commissioner Thierry Breton for streaming services to lower the resolution of their content to prevent internet gridlock.

“We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” YouTube said in a statement.

A spokesperson for Prime Video said the platform was working with local authorities and internet service providers “to help mitigate any network congestion”.

Increased strain on the internet will likely increase over the coming weeks. From Friday, schools across the UK will close for the majority of students, leaving millions more at home using video streaming and online gaming platforms.

Concerns about widespread outages and critical services going down prompted BT to offer assurances that its broadband network would be able to cope with the added demand.

The UK is one of the world’s most advanced digital economies, so we overbuild our networks to compensate for our love of high-definition streaming content, video gaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications.

Howard Watson, BT’s chief technology officer, wrote in a blog post on Friday.

The Covid-19 outbreak is causing changes to the way our networks are being used. We’re monitoring those changes carefully to make sure we can respond rapidly if needed. However, the UK’s communications infrastructure is well within its capacity limits and has significant headroom for growth in demand.”

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