Get the most from your laptop

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Description

I don't have a desktop computer at work. I'm one of the many who have given up on the big boxes and simply use a laptop for everything. The problem is that laptops are often short on the high-end hardware that makes desktops so enjoyable. Here are a few add-on's that you can use to help you get the most from your laptop.

More screen real estate
My biggest complaint with laptops is the lack of screen real estate that I enjoy on my home system. Most laptops have a VGA out, but what if you want a second large external monitor? The solution is the Tritton SEE2 USB to VGA adaptor.

At about $80, this adaptor plugs into a USB 2.0 port and lets you drive an external monitor, up to 1600x1200, a respectable resolution for any portable machine. It draws enough power from the USB port that it doesn't require any other power source so you can throw it in your bag and go. The Tritton SEE2 also supports 1680x1050 widescreen, which has been a common resolution for wide format LCDs lately. [Update: Yes, the Tritton SEE2 supports Vista.]


More graphics horesepower
Let's say you're generally happy with the CPU power of your laptop, but the graphics card is too lame to support your gaming habits. You're stuck, right? Not necessarily. If you have a ExpressCard|34 slot and can afford it, you could use the Magma ExpressBox1, an external PCI-E expansion. This pricey little box (at $700+) will let you use a full-sized PCI-E graphics card on your laptop.


One downside is that the ExpressBox1 only supports video cards that use up to 55 watts of power, but that will get you up to a Radeon X800 XL (see this chart for more details on video card power consumption.)

It's hard to believe you can run a high end video card off a card slot, but the "theoretical" max throughput with ExpressCard is 2000Mbps so game on. Magma is working on a new version that will house "double-wide" video cards.

The wall of sound
If your laptop has an integrated speaker system that is one step beyond a string and two cans, amp it up using the Creative Labs Sound Blaster X-Fi (Xtreme Fidelity).

Coming in at an affordable $108, the X-Fi is an ExpressCard|54 solution that will delivery 24-bit/96kHz Dolby 7.1 surround sound with an improved Audigy 4 board. 

The X-Fi supports optical in/out, includes a speaker dock (an external dongle to plug in the speakers) and has MP3 fidelity enhancement built-in.



Where to put it all
I don't know about you, but I've never had a laptop with as much drive space as I would like. The best solution I've found is the 250GB Western Digital Passport ($160, Channel 8 logo sold separately.) The Passport is about the same size as a Zune and holds a massive 250 gig of data. Because it uses a 2.5" drive, it easily fits into a pocket and doesn't require an external power source. This one goes everywhere with me. Just make sure you back it up to your Windows Home Server and use BitLocker in case you lose it. I ditched the cable that came with the drive and picked up a very nice retractable USB cable.

The Discussion

  • User profile image
    Matt Campbell

    Good article. Lots of useful things, I've never seen before. Also, are C8 stickers available?

  • User profile image
    Matt Campbell

    Good article. Lots of useful things, I've never seen before. Also, are C8 stickers available?

  • User profile image
    LarryLarsen
    Sure, send your mailing address to larryla (at) microsoft and I'll send you some Channel 8 stickers.
  • User profile image
    Matthew Mushall

    Awesome stuff, Larry...but let me ask you this...

    Once you've stuck all those extra peripherals on your desk to compensate for the lack of power your laptop has, you've lost about as much space as you would have had with a desktop box in the first place.

    Wouldn't it just be easier to stick a tower underneath your desk to begin with?

    Also, can I get some Channel 10 stickers?

  • User profile image
    Matthew Mushall

    Awesome stuff, Larry...but let me ask you this...

    Once you've stuck all those extra peripherals on your desk to compensate for the lack of power your laptop has, you've lost about as much space as you would have had with a desktop box in the first place.

    Wouldn't it just be easier to stick a tower underneath your desk to begin with?

    Also, can I get some Channel 10 stickers?

  • User profile image
    Googleman81

    ok the radio shark 2 looks amazing, i am just 2 steps away from buying it, which can be converted into 2 questions. will i be able to listen to my pandora station outside the usa with it, or does it recognize my laptop´s ip and does it have a built in speaker or can i run it through my laptop´s soundcard to my bose wave radio cd (no add intended)?

    oh, ahem, can i have some channel 10 stickers too, please?

  • User profile image
    Googleman81

    ok the radio shark 2 looks amazing, i am just 2 steps away from buying it, which can be converted into 2 questions. will i be able to listen to my pandora station outside the usa with it, or does it recognize my laptop´s ip and does it have a built in speaker or can i run it through my laptop´s soundcard to my bose wave radio cd (no add intended)?

    oh, ahem, can i have some channel 10 stickers too, please?

  • User profile image
    LarryLarsen

    The radio shark is worthless without a computer running its software. It doesn't have a speaker, and yes, you could connect your Bose to your laptop and play back the radio programs you record.

    In my setup, I'm going to connect the Radio Shark to my Windows Home Server so my always-on server is also responsible for recording my desired airwaves. That way I'll be able to grab the audio from anywhere in the world by logging into it from abroad.

    Sure, just send your mailing address to larryla (at) microsoft.com and I'll send you some stickers.

  • User profile image
    deddeer

    An interesting article, to be sure.  But, by the time you've configured your laptop with high-end video (ok, mid-end with a 55 watt limitation) and sound, you could have setup a pretty decent desktop gaming system.

    I find that the needs are different between a business computer and a gaming computer.  I have three kids ages 14 - 20.  Each of them have laptops (Dell E1505, 2GHz dual-core, 80GB 7200 RPM disk, 2GB RAM and nVidia or Radeon video upgrades, about $1,400 each).  They are fine for many games, including some of the MMORPG's.  But I also have a Compaq Presario w/2.2GHz dual-core, 2GB RAM, 250GB 7200RPM HDD and a high-end Radeon card (and replacement power supply) and 20" LCD.  All total, this system cost $1,000 and is a much better platform for high-end games at a lower price.

    Also, the software configuration needs for a gaming computer are usually different than a daily-use system.  Backup software, anti-virus/spyware, and various utilities are great productivity boosters on your daily-use system, but steal CPU cycles and memory from games.  So I always configure dual-boot on these systems where one image is XP with all the utilities and customization add-ons for daily use, and another smaller XP image that is only the bare essentials for anti-virus and, of course, the games.  Everyone has learned (some the hard way) to avoid putting games on their "normal" boot image and to never surf the web, use IM or download anything on their "gaming" partition.

    This arrangement has saved me days of troubleshooting and listening to complaints about slow performance or problems.

  • User profile image
    deddeer

    An interesting article, to be sure.  But, by the time you've configured your laptop with high-end video (ok, mid-end with a 55 watt limitation) and sound, you could have setup a pretty decent desktop gaming system.

    I find that the needs are different between a business computer and a gaming computer.  I have three kids ages 14 - 20.  Each of them have laptops (Dell E1505, 2GHz dual-core, 80GB 7200 RPM disk, 2GB RAM and nVidia or Radeon video upgrades, about $1,400 each).  They are fine for many games, including some of the MMORPG's.  But I also have a Compaq Presario w/2.2GHz dual-core, 2GB RAM, 250GB 7200RPM HDD and a high-end Radeon card (and replacement power supply) and 20" LCD.  All total, this system cost $1,000 and is a much better platform for high-end games at a lower price.

    Also, the software configuration needs for a gaming computer are usually different than a daily-use system.  Backup software, anti-virus/spyware, and various utilities are great productivity boosters on your daily-use system, but steal CPU cycles and memory from games.  So I always configure dual-boot on these systems where one image is XP with all the utilities and customization add-ons for daily use, and another smaller XP image that is only the bare essentials for anti-virus and, of course, the games.  Everyone has learned (some the hard way) to avoid putting games on their "normal" boot image and to never surf the web, use IM or download anything on their "gaming" partition.

    This arrangement has saved me days of troubleshooting and listening to complaints about slow performance or problems.

  • User profile image
    sarahintampa

    Awesome post! That is some very cool stuff.

    That "8" logo looks sweet on your H.D., too!

  • User profile image
    terry harding

    where can i get a product key for windows2003 works and word for full version

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