Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 140 / MAY 1992 / PAGE S4

How to choose the best laptop peripherals. (Compute's Getting Started with Portable Computing) (Buyers Guide)
by Peter Scisco

Choosing the right laptop peripherals can be as important as selecting the system itself. You want to choose products that work seamlessly with your laptop, give you good value, and provide needed services.

Before you go out shopping for peripherals, define clearly what you're going to do with your new laptop. Is it mostly for writing? Creating presentations? Calculating sales information? Your intended use will dictate what peripherals are essential and will even suggest the best places to make your purchases.

Wide Open Spaces

If you think of the laptop you own now as the incredible shrinking machine, you should consider adding a hard disk or increasing your hard disk space.

Your first step is a call to the manufacturer. Confirm that there's a hard disk available for your laptop. Get details such as model number and product name--they'll come in handy if you go shopping by mail. If the drive is sold through computer dealer stores (not mail-order outfits), ask if there's a direct price available from the manufacturer. Sometimes, though it's rare, the vendor will sell a peripheral direct at less than retail.

You should probably plan to have the vendor's service center install your hard disk. Either that, or have the dealer install it at the point of purchase. The insides of a laptop computer are incredibly crowded. Some projects that would be simple in a desktop computer--such as hard drives--are better left to the experts for laptops.

Now I Remember

Although it's not as critical as hard disk space, some extra memory can do your laptop wonders. If you're buying a new machine, try to get at least 2 megabytes. Don't buy a machine that can't be upgraded at least that far. If you already own a machine, check with the manufacturer to see if the amount of onboard memory can be increased.

Extra memory is becoming necessary for many software applications, and is absolutely needed if you plan to run Windows. If you plan to stick to DOS applications, you can use the extra memory as a cache to increase the speed of your existing applications, or as a RAM disk for storing data. For big-name laptops, you can probably pick up memory modules through mail-order houses. Otherwise, you'll have to buy from the original vendor.

Laptop Call Home

If you plan to do a lot of telecommunicating on the road, you should definitely get an internal modem for your portable computer. In most cases, internal modems are sold by the original manufacturer; however, some third-party companies will sell compatible internal modems for specific big-name laptops, such as Toshibas.

If you are only an occasional user of information services or have limited need to dial into remove offices, you're better off with a pocket modem. That way, you'll only have to carry it when you really need it.

An internal modem has the disadvantage of adding weight and--on some older models--using system resources. On the other hand, it's always available whenever you need it.

A pocket modem has the advantage of being able to work with your desktop computer andcan be an optional accessory, which lessens the weight of your load. If you decide to purchase a pocket modem, select one that draws its power from the telephone line, not one that requires batteries.

Playing the Point

Graphics-based applications, such as those running under Windows, and many DOS-based applications, make use of a mouse for accepting commands. On some programs, it's an absolute necessity.

But you no longer have to lug along the mouse from your desktop computer, thanks to portable mice from Logitech and Microsoft. Essentially, these devices are miniature trackballs that you manipulate with your thumb. Other companies also make portable input devices, including mouse pens and joysticks. But before buying a nonstandard device, it would be a good idea to take one for a test drive to make sure it suits your work style.

Key to the Highway

If your portable computer serves as your home office machine, an external keyboard should be high on your list. You can get very good keyboards--such as Northgate's OmniKey--for around $100. Your hands will thank you.