Top 10 Laptop Essentials

On the Road: Go Wireless, Get Insured

You're not really a road warrior until you've surfed the Net at a Wi-Fi hot spot, such as Starbucks, an airport lounge, or a hotel conference room. Many of the latest laptops include built-in chips that make such wireless connectivity possible. If yours doesn't have that capability, you can easily add it with a Wi-Fi card that fits into a laptop's PC Card slot.

The least expensive cards (about $40 and up) are based on the older though still widely used 802.11b wireless network standard. Unless you're planning to connect regularly to high-speed wireless networks (which use the newer, faster, more expensive 802.11a- and 802.11g-based products), an 802.11b card will suit your purposes just fine--and costs less. A Linksys PC Card adapter for 802.11b networks, for instance, costs around $44, compared with the Linksys PC Card dual-band adapter for 802.11a and 802.11g, which starts at around $74.

Laptop Insurance

If you plan to use your laptop primarily in one location, you probably don't need to insure it. But those who travel often with computer in tow should consider protecting their investment.

Why? Because the manufacturer's warranty usually doesn't cover much beyond replacement parts and labor for problems that resulted from typical use. An extended warranty may protect your laptop against breakage but not fire or theft. Your homeowner or renter policy may protect your notebook against fire and theft--but not breakage. So to get the most complete protection, consider insuring your laptop.

Though I'm not a customer, I've heard good things about Safeware. The company specializes in computer insurance, and its policies are underwritten by American Bankers Insurance of Florida, which has an A (excellent) rating. Rates vary depending on where you are and how much insurance you're seeking. One example: California residents who travel primarily in the United States and Canada and want to insure their laptop for $3000 would pay $189 per year.

For the scoop on computer insurance, check out "Mobile Computing: Insuring Your Notebook."

Finally, for more tips on what to pack in your laptop bag, see "Mobile Computing: Notebook Bag Buyers' Guide."