Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : September 2009

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 TECHNOLOGY TALK:

BY JOHN ANDERSON  

Laptops let you do more on the move, offering greater choice and flexibility than ever before.

Watch Your Weight

The first thing to do if you haven’t purchased your laptop already is to look at how and where you may be using it. If you travel constantly, you may want something more lightweight and a better battery life. Your back will thank you.

Of course, you can’t have everything. If you buy an ultra-light computer, you may not be happy with the small screen size or undersized keyboards. However, if don’t need a lot of computing power and a huge screen, look for a happy medium between the dinky netbooks and cumbersome desktop replacements. Every one is different. Know the differences and pick what’s right for you.

My One and Only

If your laptop is your only computer or you are using it day in and day out, there are a few accessories that will make your life a bit easier.

Use an external monitor, keyboard and mouse when you’re working at home or the office. A docking station makes this a one-step process. Connecting your computer to a docking station provides power to your laptop, expansion slots and ready-to-use connections to a network, larger monitor, printer, separate keyboard and mouse.

When on the go, use a laptop mouse. It’s smaller, easier to store and has a shorter cord that is less likely to get in your way.

Make Your Connection

When on the go you’ll want access to your e-mail, the Internet and remote files. Make sure you have multiple methods for connecting to available networks. Most laptops come with a network interface card for high-speed connection available in hotel rooms and meeting spaces. Laptop makers build wireless networking cards into most of their machines, but if yours doesn’t have one you can also buy a wireless network card that plugs into a slot on your laptop. Going wireless allows you to take advantage of wireless access points – called “hot spots” – in airports and other public places.

The last wireless option bypasses hot spots completely. Purchasing an Air Card will connect you to the Internet using the cellular network, allowing you to connect wherever you go.

Be On Guard

A laptop is an expensive piece of equipment that is a tempting target for thieves. Take extra precautions to protect your machine and its data from disappearing. Prepare for the worst:

Back up your laptop data to your desktop computer, external hard drive or network folder.

Require a username and strong password to log on to your laptop.

Use encryption for files containing confidential information.

Anti-theft alarms and safety cables that attach to a desk are available, but even when purchased they are often unused. If you buy it, use it. Otherwise, it is best to never leave your laptop unattended. This is especially true for the new mini netbooks.

Laptop Batteries

Your laptop only keeps you mobile while the battery is charged. One of the first things to look at when buying a laptop is how long its battery will last. The answer? It depends! Battery life will differ depending on how you use your laptop. In most cases, it will give you between one and two hours of computer use, depending on a number of factors.

  • Display brightness.
  • USB powered devices such as iPODs.
  • Hard drive use.
  • Use of CD/DVD drive.
  • Battery age.
  • Amount of memory (more memory means more power use).

To get the longest battery life possible, keep some of these tips in mind:

  • Keep your screen as dim as possible. LCD screens are one of the biggest battery hogs. Adjust the brightness so you can see comfortably. Most notebooks have simple applications that allow you to control LCD brightness.
  • Use power wisely. When you’re not using your laptop, you should have it on sleep mode. This mode keeps enough power running to maintain minimal function, so you can resume full power with very little delay when you’re ready continue. Of course, it would be better to shut it down completely if you don’t need to use it soon.
  • Cut down on hard drive activity. You can cut down on how hard your hard drive must work by defragmenting it regularly. You can find the Disk Defragmenter in the Start/Programs/Accessories/System Tools menu. You can also adjust your power settings so that the drive sleeps when not needed.
  • Minimize optical drive use. Unless your laptop is plugged into a wall, don’t use it for listening to music or watching movies. Portable CD/DVD players will have a vastly longer battery life than using your laptop. You can also copy files or programs you may need from your CD/DVD drive onto the hard drive.
  • Disable startup items. Every time you boot up, startup items load into memory. This causes additional load on the CPU. You can easily disable startup options simply by clicking Start then the Run feature, then enter C:\MSCONFIG and follow the prompts.
  • Condition your battery. When you buy a new laptop, charge the battery to its full capacity, then discharge it completely. Next, fully charge it again. Using this process, your battery learns how much electrical charge it can hold.

Use available power. Buy a car adapter for your laptop if you find yourself using it in such locations often. Also, use the power port available on many of today’s airliners and trains.


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Publications : Bar Bulletin: September 2009

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