Hardware Tips: Cheap Notebook Tweaks--Maximize Your Laptop

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Gadgets to Go

For every desktop peripheral, a miniaturized laptop version is available from Belkin, Kensington, Targus, or a similar vendor. Here is my list of on-the-road laptop essentials.

Lose your touchpad: When I'm in serious work mode, my laptop's touch pad just isn't as easy for me to use as a mouse. A miniature USB travel mouse with retractable cord costs less than $30 from these and other vendors, and a wireless version (Bluetooth or infrared) costs a bit more. I recommend a wired mouse for busy travelers; there are no batteries to worry about, and no tiny Bluetooth or RF transmitter to lose.

Get more ports: If your laptop has only one or two USB ports, a small four-port USB hub is essential for connecting more devices. Portable printers, scanners, and other power-hungry USB peripherals may need a self-powered hub like APC's $35 4-Port Travel Hub, which comes with its own power adapter. To connect a mouse, keyboard, or thumb drive, a nonpowered USB hub will suffice. And for power protection on the road, try APC's $20 SurgeArrest Notebook device; see Figure 1

Figure 1: Protect your laptop PC on the road with APC's $20 SurgeArrest Notebook.

Unleash your router: A small wireless router lets you move around a hotel room, an office, or anywhere else with a fixed, high-speed Internet connection. The $60 AirPlus G DWL-G730AP Wireless Pocket Router from D-Link fits in a tiny carrying case.

Close the gate: Anyone hopping from one hotel room or wireless hotspot to another needs firewall protection, and the firewall built into Windows XP Service Pack 2 just won't do. If your IT department forbids you to install firewall software on your company laptop, Kensington's $40 Personal Firewall device can keep your system safe from intruders while you're on the road. Just insert the thumb drive into an open USB port, perform a quick configuration, and your shields are up.

Turn on your night light: Using a notebook computer in a darkened airliner or other light-challenged space can be difficult because you can't see the keyboard (unless it is backlit). Instead of squinting by the light of the laptop's LCD, try Kensington's $25 Flylight 3. The device has an LED light at one end of its bendable neck, and a USB connector at the other. The Flylight is small and light enough to take anywhere, and it can illuminate a laptop work area without bothering others.

Block roving eyes: On lengthy, boring flights, few seatmates can resist sneaking a glance or two at your laptop screen. 3M's Notebook Privacy Computer Filter slides over your notebook's screen, and easy-to-attach clips hold it in place to prevent the snoop sitting next to you from kibitzing your game of Solitaire. The screen is pricey, starting at $45 for a 12.1-inch model, but it will keep your affairs private.

Toss your power bricks: If you're tired of hauling a pile of power bricks everywhere you go, why not trade 'em in for one that will power all your devices? APC, Belkin, Kensington, and Targus make mobile universal power adapters with connector tips for laptops, cell phones, PDAs, and other devices. Their prices range from $70 to $130, depending on wattage and accessories. Tip selection varies from vendor to vendor, so check the compatibility list on the company's Web site for each of your electronic devices before you lay down your green.

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