Notebook Accessories

Removable storage

There are numerous ways to add better data backup capabilities to your notebook but most are external methods so you'll have even more to carry with you.

However, it's worth noting that if your notebook has a modular (swappable) drive bay, you can buy a new drive (such as a DVD burner) or even a modular second hard disk from your vendor. This is a preferable option as everything stays neatly inside the notebook.

External CD/DVD drives and hard disks: A great way to meet removable and transportable storage needs. They can connect to your PC via PC Card, USB (1.1 or the faster 2.0), FireWire or they might even be a MicroDrive hard disk. You might want to opt for an actual PC Card hard disk, such as those made by Toshiba.

USB thumb drives/flash keys: The rise in popularity of USB thumb drives also known as USB flash keys has pretty much put the final nail in the coffin for the 3.5in floppy disk. This is especially true now that many notebooks can boot from a USB thumb drive if needed. USB thumb drives are available in capacities up to 2GB or more and can also carry user profile information and be used for security and data encryption.

Media card readers: Many notebooks now feature built-in media card readers that are perfect for a variety of uses, such as getting images from your camera into your notebook. Multiple formats are often supported, including Secure Digital (SD), MemoryStick, MultiMediaCard, xD Picture Card, CompactFlash, Smart Media and MicroDrive.

Other: Jaz, Zip, Rev or tape drives that connect via USB, FireWire, parallel port or PC Card still remain options.

Keyboards and mice

It's no secret that built-in keyboards on most notebook computers are undersized and can be uncomfortable to use for an extended amount of time. In addition, most notebooks don't feature dedicated number pad keys that can be vital to those working in finance or data entry. The solution comes in the form of external USB or PS/2 keyboards and number pads that are quite portable, and in some cases can even fold up.

Similarly, many users who are new to using notebooks can get frustrated using built-in cursor/mouse control methods. Mini USB mice are the answer here and as with keyboards, they are sometimes available as wireless models using either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Docks and stands

A notebook dock

Most brand-name notebook vendors offer docks/port replicators and notebook stands that are specially designed for their models and use a connection underneath the notebook. However, there are also third party products available that may use USB, PC Cards or even FireWire to connect to your notebook.

Docks, port replicators and stands can be used for a variety of purposes. You might like to leave them at your work/study desk where they stay connected to external keyboards, mice, monitors speakers, DVD drives etc. When you're off the road and sitting back down at your desk, you simply connect your notebook into the dock/port replicator or notebook stand and you're ready to continue work in a flash.

Another great benefit delivered by these devices - particularly the ones designed for travelers - is that they can add new port functionality to your notebook that you normally don't have built-in, or simply add more of the ports you do have.

Notebook stands are far more interesting. Dell and HP in particular offer some really classy multimedia and business stands that not only increase the functionality of your computing experience but can also ergonomically elevate your notebook above the desk, almost turning it into a desktop computer. That said, there are some great (and not-so-great quality) third party stands out there - just search the Web, you'll be surprised.

Finally, an emerging type of notebook stand is the lap desk. Lap desks are like little stable tables for your notebook allowing you to have the machine on your lap without it burning your legs or sliding off. Some even have side areas for external mice and DVD drives to sit when plugged in.

Cooling accessories

Many cooling accessories for notebooks actually take the form of a basic notebook stand, some with extra ports (see above). Others are more of an underside pad. The focus here is underneath your notebook because this is where heat can become an issue.

Cooling accessories invariably seek to raise the notebook for greater airflow and many go as far as including fans powered by your notebook's USB port.

Speaking of fans, you could go for a plastic USB fan that might cool both the notebook and yourself! However, if staying relatively quiet is equally as important as staying cool, then fan-less coolers, some of which use heat pipe designs may be more of interest.

Cooling accessories aren't all snake oil. They can indeed protect your investment if you live in a hot area or use a heat-prone desktop replacement machine. They can also help prolong your notebook's battery life by reducing the use of its own internal cooling fans (although this might be canceled out if you're powering a six fan cooler over USB!)

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