On the road with your notebook (Feature)
By Jay Dougherty Jul 4, 2009, 3:09 GMT
Washington - Notebooks are made to hit the road. But many people don't actually travel very often with them - until vacation time, that is.
That's when lots of planning needs to be done to be sure that your notebook gives you what you need when you're away. Here's a checklist of things to remember when you're preparing your digital travel companion for the big trip.
--- Security first
Thieves love notebook computers - and for many of the same reasons you do. They're light, easy to transport, and they have a decent resale value.
So before you go, be sure you're not going to satisfy the needs of a notebook thief. First of all, consider ditching the notebook carrying case, since these scream 'notebook computer' to everyone around you. Notebooks and their accessories are small these days, and they can fit just as easily in a less conspicuous carrying case, such as a backpack or inside of carry-on luggage. Also, once you do expose yourself as a notebook user - such as when you fire up your machine at the airport - be especially vigilant thereafter.
Of course, notebooks can be stolen in all sorts of ways, and some of those ways you really can't prepare well for. So if you keep valuable or sensitive data on your notebook, consider investing in tracing software that will help you or the authorities locate your notebook, should it get stolen.
Laptop recovery software includes packages such as Absolute Software's LoJack for Laptops (http://www.absolute.com/products/lojack), PC PhoneHome (http://www.pcphonehome.com), or zTrace (http://www.yale.edu/securityawareness/ztrace.html). These programs spring into action once the thieves attempt to go online with your notebook. Depending upon the software, once the burglar goes online, either the notebook's location is tracked, the computer is locked down, or the data on the notebook is deleted or encrypted. Investigate all of these solutions to find out which one is most appropriate for you.
--- Back everything up
If the hard drive in your notebook computer is going to go belly up, the bumps and bruises of the road are likely to be the cause. So before you start moving, back up the data on your notebook computer. External storage today is cheap, and using an external hard drive for backups is as easy as plugging in a USB cable. So don't put the task off. For critical data files, you may also want to consider using an online backup service, such as Mozy (http://mozy.com), which could make your most valuable data available to you from anywhere that you have an Internet connection.
--- Have a power plan
If you'll need to use your notebook computer for long periods of time on battery power - as on a long flight, for instance - you'll need to think about how best to conserve power. First, before you go, assess the longevity of your notebook computer's battery. Remember that older batteries lose their charge more quickly - and they don't hold a charge as well as newer ones. So if your notebook is outfitted with an older battery, consider buying a replacement before you leave. And take along a fully-charged spare battery for worry-free mobile computing.
Even with a new battery, however, is pays to know how to get the most out of it. By far the biggest power drain on a battery is the notebook's LCD screen. Turning the LCD's brightness down can help conserve battery power, as can setting the LCD up so that it powers off more quickly than when you're at home. Use your operating system's power settings to turn the display off after just a couple of minutes of inactivity.
If your notebook computer is equipped with features you don't use - such as Bluetooth or WWAN - turn them off. Doing so will conserve yet more power and extend the life of the battery.
--- Internet access
These days, a notebook computer without Internet access can be pretty useless, depending upon your needs. So scope out your access to the Internet before you leave, and make provisions for having no access well ahead of time.
If you need Internet access only at a hotel, make sure that the hotel you stay at provides wireless or wired access. If wireless is the only access available, ask for a room as close to the wireless access point - or router - as possible.
If you need to stay connected while traveling by car, use a cellular data card for roving Internet access. This type of Internet connection is available anywhere that you can get cellular phone service. Contact your wireless provider for details.
And if you do have roving Internet access, why not make the notebook useful while you're driving? Google Maps or another general purpose mapping site can help you locate your destinations - as well as restaurants and hotels - while you're traveling.
Finally, don't forget to make a list of all of the little accessories that make you truly productive with your notebook. Do you rely, for example, on a compact flash or other digital card reader to get images into your notebook? Be sure to throw that in the bag. And will you be travelling to a foreign country where the electrical outlets are different? Get a universal power adapter at a local electronics store, and be sure to pack that. Everyone's notebook toolkit is different. Just remember to take yours.