Hardware Tips: Cheap Notebook Tweaks--Maximize Your Laptop

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Off-Road Computing

Dock and cover: A docking station lets you connect a monitor, keyboard, mouse, speakers, USB devices, and network link to your laptop in just seconds. Most notebook vendors offer custom docking stations for some models, but these tend to cost hundreds of dollars. Targus's $130 Universal Notebook Docking Station With Video links to any laptop via USB 2.0. The only catch: A USB 2.0 link can't match the speed of a direct VGA monitor connection, so it may create a bandwidth bottleneck when running fast-moving games or other graphics-intensive applications.

Share your peripherals: If you constantly switch between your desktop and laptop PCs, use a keyboard-video-mouse switch to run either PC from one keyboard, monitor, and mouse. Many vendors sell KVM switches that require lots of cables and connections, but Kavoom KVM) is a software "switch" that runs over a network link. A simple click lets you toggle between computers. The program costs $30 for two PCs, and another $10 for each additional PC.

Double your viewing pleasure: Windows XP's Dual View lets you combine an external monitor with the machine's own LCD to spread your open windows across both displays. To determine whether your laptop supports Dual View, connect a monitor to the system, right-click the desktop, select Properties to open the Display Properties dialog box, and choose Settings.

If Dual View is supported, the 'Extend my Windows desktop onto this monitor' option will be available (not grayed out), and two screens labeled '1' and '2' will appear above the checkbox (see Figure 2

Figure 2: Windows XP'S dual view joins your laptop's LCD with an external monitor.
). Check the box, click OK, and drag screen 1 above, below, to the right, or to the left of screen 2. Microsoft's Web site has an informative article about XP's Dual View.

If two monitors are good... You can expand your laptop's viewing area across three monitors with the $299 TripleHead2Go from Matrox (see Figure 3

Figure 3: Triple your screen space with Maxtor's TripleHead2Go three-display switch.
). The palm-size device connects your notebook's graphics port to expand the image across three monitors. The company's $169 DualHead2Go supports two monitors, but gamers in particular will appreciate having their center point in the middle of the middle monitor rather than between two displays. The devices work only with certain ATI and nVidia chip sets, so check the compatibility list posted on Matrox's site before buying. Also, few notebooks ship with the graphics horsepower required to drive three monitors at full resolution (not many desktop PCs can do so either), so make sure your system can push images to three different displays.

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