It seems about every week we are tasked with the responsibility to recommend a computer for a dental practice. Every time the same questions arise and each time we present doctors, owners, and office managers with options. Today my goal is to provide you with the information you need to choose the ideal computer for your dental practice.
This recommendation applies to most of the popular dental imaging software, most have similar minimum requirements and recommended requirements. The Ideal Computer for your dental office will meet or exceed the recommended requirements for Dentrix G5, Dolphin Imaging, EagleSoft, EasyDental 11.2 and likely many more.
When choosing a computer you are to look at 3 main hardware components, the processor, the memory (RAM), the harddrive (storage), and for software the Operating System that is required for your application.
Let’s begin with the processor, most of the above mentioned digital imaging software will technically work with a Pentium 4 2.4ghz processor, but you are truly scratching the bare minimum requirements and as mentioned prior the Ideal Computer will meet or exceed at least the recommended requirements not the bare minimum. The recommended processor is an Intel i series processor. Such as the i3, i5, or i7 processor lines, now it would be easy to tell you to purchase the most powerful processor an i7 4th Generation processor but the Ideal Computer is not a very powerful and expensive computer it is a computer that provides the most noticeable performance benefit while remaining price conscious. The difference you would notice in a dental office from an i5 processor to an i7 processor would be very minimal, compared to the difference in price you will surely notice. As dental technology continues to advance processing power is important as it can help determine how fast your digital x-ray is rendered on the screen. So we determined an i7 processor is likely overkill for your typical dental environment, what about between the i3 and i5? What does 4th Generation and 3rd Generation mean? Are those the only options? It would be to simple if those were are only options, there are various i3 and i5 processors that operate at different speeds and as mentioned can be found in both 3rd Gen and 4th Gen versions but for this article I will try to keep it simple and recommend if you are purchasing an i3 processor make sure it is 4th Gen and if you are choosing an i5 processor 3 Gen or above is acceptable.
Now memory/RAM not to be confused with your harddrive which is responsible for storing your files. RAM is the memory space where open applications run and is cleared every time you restart your computer. The typical recommendation would be 4GB because if you are running Windows 7 Pro 64bit it is recommended to leave 2GB just for the operating system, therefore the digital imaging software has another 2GB to use for opening patient charts, digital images, etc. When does it make sense to have more than 4GB of RAM and how much more in a dental office? Well in some cases we do recommend up to 8GB of RAM if the computer will have various applications running. For example if the computer is the dedicated doctor computer, the doctor may want to have several web pages open, outlook, excel, patient charts, digital images and other applications all open at the same time. It is highly unlikely that you will ever use even the 8GB of RAM in a dental office, so anything above 8GB is just not worth the expense as it will remain unused.
The Harddrive where your computer files are stored is often the most wrongfully judged device in a dental office. Typically you hear how much data a harddrive stores 100GB, 500GB, 1TB or 2TB but not often does anyone ask how fast is the drive. This is a perfect example of more is not always better, in fact more storage on a dental computer is not just useless it could be more of a liability. Computers with more storage are more likely to store files that should be default be stored on the server such as patient information or digital images. It is is highly unlikely that you will ever need over 50GB in a typical dental computer harddrive. Do not spend more upgrading the storage space, find out the speed of the drive and see upgrade options that may result in less space but faster speed such as SAS drives or Solid State Harddrives. While it may still cost a bit more I would recommend a 120GB Solid State harddrive over a 500GB or 1TB SATA drive that spins at 7200RPM.
In the dental industry adoption to new Operating systems has historically been slow, in fact too many users are still using Windows XP. Only two of the above mentioned digital imaging applications currently support Windows 8 and 8.1. Therefore the ideally recommended operating system for a dental office currently is Windows 7 Pro 32bit or 64bit. As for whether to choose 32bit or 64bit, the answer is simple 32bit limits you to 4GB of RAM, therefore use 64bit whenever possible unless you have a specific requirement for 32bit. However you do have to make sure to use Windows 7 Pro, sometimes you might think why can’t I buy the computer on sale in Best Buy for my office, well you certainly can but it most likely will have Windows 7 Home Premium.
Quick recap, i3 4th Gen or i5 3rd Gen or better is the ideal processor for a dental office, and purchasing an i7 or better is more likely unnecessary and wasteful. 4GB of Memory is ideal but if additional applications will be running simultaneously you may consider 6GB or 8GB anything above 8GB will remain untouched and again be wasteful. As for the harddrive forget looking at storage space any drive with 50GB or more is more than sufficient, instead see if you can get a SAS 10,000 RPM drive, a solid state drive, or even a hybrid solid state drive / sata for improved performance. For the operating system choose Windows 7 Pro 64bit!
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