Make Mine Mobile: When Your Laptop Is Your Main PC

A laptop isn't just a desktop PC with a handle on it. Buying and using a laptop is significantly different when it's your primary computer, rather than a secondary machine. Whether you've already made the switch or are still considering it, follow these steps to get the most out of your all-laptop life.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

March 17, 2006

4 Min Read

Step 6: Connecting On The Road
Most of us are accustomed to fast connections at home and in the office. On the road, many people use Wi-Fi, which is now built into the vast majority of laptops and is widely available in airports, hotels, coffee shops, and myriad other locations. In addition, some hotels provide wired Ethernet connections, so make sure to carry a short Ethernet cable with you.

A relatively new mobile connectivity option -- 3G cellular data service -- is emerging. The ThinkPad T60p I've been using has built-in support for Verizon Wireless' 3G EV-DO service, which provides typical speeds of 500 Kbps. That's slower than Wi-Fi but fast enough for most operations.

The benefit of this type of service is that it is increasingly available no matter where you are. Verizon Wireless in particular has already installed the service in well over 100 U.S. cities and is continuing to make it available in smaller markets. Sprint and Cingular in the U.S. are a bit behind Verizon Wireless, but their coverage maps should catch up later this year.

With this type of access, you simply flick open your laptop and connect easily, without the need to switch networks as you must when you switch Wi-Fi hotspots. I've used 3G service frequently and love the simplicity of it.

The biggest downside, however, is price: The cellular operators charge $60 a month for the service and that price is for a two-year contract. Given that I still frequently visit places where 3G isn't available, that is more than I'm willing to spend. Another downside is that the operators place usage limits on the access. If, for instance, you download a lot of audio or video, the cellular operators can cut you off.

Just as it's tempting to have a single laptop computer, it's tempting to have only one type of connectivity for home and the road. However, 3G will work that way only if you don't download large files frequently and don't demand the fastest speeds. Even at that, you are likely to be in some areas where 3G isn't available, so you'll temporarily have to use other types of connectivity.

Conclusion: Livin' La Vida Laptop
Immediately after receiving the ThinkPad T60p, I did a fast migration of my data files and a few essential applications, and two days later hit the road for two weeks. During that time, the laptop was my home; I was comfortable using it, with my regular mouse, on hotel room desks, in coffee shops, and on my lap when a desk wasn't available.

Returning home, I attached the laptop to my regular monitor, printer, keyboard, and mouse. With its dual-core processor, there's no discernible difference in performance compared to my old 2.8-GHz desktop. If anything, the ThinkPad is a touch faster.

I've also continued the process of migrating my applications to the laptop. Best of all, when I leave for an afternoon, which occurs once or twice a week, it's a pleasure to not worry about which files to take with me. Instead, I simply put the ThinkPad in my laptop case and I'm off.

However, there's a big "yes-but": I have to give the ThinkPad back to Lenovo in a few weeks and it's not quite time to replace my desktop PC. So eventually, I'll migrate back to the desktop. My plan is to replace my current desktop sometime after Windows Vista is released. At that point, though, this experiment is teaching me that, when that happens, I'll very seriously consider dumping my desktop.

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