Top 10 Laptop Essentials

Home and Office: Burn and Connect

Call me obsessive, but I believe in having more than one backup option. A DVD burner for your laptop provides not only a second backup device but also an easy way to share large files (such as digital photos) with other computers.

If your laptop didn't come with a DVD burner, don't fret. External models are available. Look for one that supports both DVD-R/RW and DVD+R/RW formats, for maximum compatibility. TDK's External Indi DVD 4X Multiformat (list price: $330) ranks among PC World's Top 10 DVD Drives.

Tip: DVD burners can also copy files onto CDs. And blank CDs are generally less expensive than blank DVDs. So if you're only backing up a few files, burn them onto a CD.

USB Hub

Many desktop computers today come with eight or more USB ports. But because laptops are physically smaller, many only offer just one or two USB ports. It's an easy problem to fix, however, with an external USB hub. A hub usually includes four or more USB ports and connects to one of your laptop's USB ports.

If you plan to travel frequently, or you're short on desk space, consider a compact USB hub. I like the Targus Ultra Mini 4-Port USB Hub ($20), which lights up in blue when the computer it's connected to is on.

Live near a RadioShack? Pick up a USB hub for as little as $15.

Tip: USB hubs work best for connecting devices that don't need much power, such as keyboards, input devices, and personal digital assistants. To work properly, power-hungry devices such as printers and scanners usually need to be connected directly to your computer's USB ports.

Tip: There are two USB versions, USB 2.0 and USB 1.1. The first is a newer, faster version of the second. If you have a laptop with USB 2.0 ports, make sure you don't buy a USB 1.1 hub. Running USB 2.0 devices, such as external hard drives, through a USB 1.1 hub will seriously slow down the device. If your notebook has USB 1.1 ports, you can still use a USB 2.0 hub, though it may cost $10 to $20 more than a USB 1.1 hub.

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