Welcome to Reviews OnLine: Under $200 Essentials for Laptop Travel - October 1993
Under $200 Essentials for Laptop Travel
October 1993
by Rick Smith (October 1993)

At times, being on the road gives you a feeling of isolation, but bringing these essential items for your laptop can help make the trip much more enjoyable. Certain items in the office or home, which might only be a desk drawer away, can be difficult and time consuming to find when traveling. These items are small, lightweight and can be placed in your laptop case. Some of these items save frustration when your system doesn't work like it should, others save time and make life easier while others can save you money. Whether you use your laptop as a frequent flyer on a plane crossing the continent, a commuter traveling to work on the train, a student taking notes in class or an outside sales rep selling on the road, consider the following software, hardware and services.


Since portable computers are moved and bounced around, battery operated and have small screens there are several useful software packages that have been created exclusively for laptop computers. Other programs can be used effectively in laptops to take advantage of their portability and small size.

"Bootable" floppy diskette
An important item to keep near your laptop is a bootable floppy disk with all the necessary files and startup programs to run your laptop. [less than $2 - Verbatim, Dysan, Sony, 3M or Maxell]

See end of this document: How to make a useful bootable disk

Norton Utilities Version 7.0 [$179 - Symantec - (800) 441-7234] can make this boot disk for your particular system. In an emergency, you can start your computer with the disk included in this package.

Electronic documents
Since laptops generally have small capacity hard disk drives, it sometimes becomes difficult to fit all the application software and data you might need to view or print your important documents. You then have to take a heavy stack of printouts and charts with you and that takes the "portable" out of portable computing. With Replica [$99 - Farallon Computing - (510) 814-5000], you can carry your own documents, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, reports and presentations with you, electronically. With the included royalty-free Replica Viewer and the included navigation and search tools, your documents can easily be displayed on screen, pasted into other applications or printed. Since you don't need to have the original software with you, you don't have to ponder the legal implications of copying your desktop software to your laptop or have to buy a second copy of the software for your laptop. If necessary, your data can also be distributed to others electronically in a single "viewer embedded" file, which allows the recipient to view the document without requiring installation of the viewer program. The original look of your documents are maintained including fonts, formatting, graphics and colors.

Backup copies of your critical letters, proposal or agreements that would be difficult or time consuming to reproduce on the road, must be carried with you on diskettes. This way, even if your laptop was stolen or completely failed, you can rent a machine and complete your work.

Making backups can be a "pain" unless you set your machine up to make it easier. Be sure to always place your database, spreadsheet and word processor files in a separate subdirectory away from your programs. Don't put them together in one big "pile". This will make any form of backup faster and easier by having all the small data which changes, away from the big programs that rarely change.

Backup Utility
Backup of your computer data can be accomplished through a variety of methods. Your work files should be organized properly, with data in a subdirectory separate from program files. If these files can completely fit on a single floppy diskette, COPY or XCOPY [comes with DOS] can be used. Q DOS [$79 - Gazelle Systems - (800) RUN FAST] can transfer all the files in a subdirectory to floppy diskettes, since each file can fit on the floppy diskette used. A "backup" in this manner does not require any special program to read these backup diskettes.

For a complete backup including large files, a program such as Back-It [$79 - Gazelle Systems - (800) RUN-FAST], FastBack Plus [$149 - Symantec/Fifth Generation Systems - (800) 873-4384] or Norton Backup [$149 - Symantec - (800) 441-7234].

A larger desktop system can also be used to backup your laptop files with a file transfer program.

Access to office resources / File transfer
If you need to transfer many files to another computer, you can connect the computers with a cable and transfer the files between them using LapLink V [$169.95 - Traveling Software - (800) 343-8080]. Traveling Software's newest program CommWorks [$199.95] combines LapLink V with TS Online (a communications program and terminal emulator), TS Fax (a send and receive fax support software), and LapLink Remote Access. Remote Access lets you use office files and printers from your remote laptop via modem or by direct cable connection. Drives on the office machine appear to the laptop as additional drive letters. This program can even allow the laptop to access network files through a network connected computer.

File Runner [$99.95 - MBS Technologies, Inc. - (800) 860-8700] can transfer and synchronize files on your laptop and desktop computer without using cables or modems. It also checks for viruses and automatically compresses each file during the transfer process. It automatically adjusts for different time zones for an accurate update sequence.

Utility Programs
There are several small useful programs which can make life simpler on the road. There are many versions of these programs and they can be found on bulletin boards as shareware, from utility software packages or from books. Norton Utilities [$179 - Symantec - (800) 441-7234] includes many of these programs. DOS Power Tools - Techniques and Tips by Paul Somerson [$49.95 - Bantam Books] or Glossbrenner's Complete Hard Disk Handbook by Alfred Glossbrenner and Nick Anis [Osborne McGraw-Hill] have many useful utilities. These programs should also be saved on a floppy disk so these essential programs won't get erased or damaged.

UNERASE - [Norton Utilities] Gets files back after you delete or erase them off the disk drive. It may be found under a variety of names such as quick-unerase or undelete. Make sure that the version of the program you will use works and you understand how to use it. Since you might be in a panic from deleting important work when you need to use this program, you don't need to begin learning how to use new software.

USED - Displays the total amount of space used by the files in a subdirectory. Useful to tell if you can fit an entire subdirectory onto a floppy disk.

SLICE - Breaks a large file into multiple parts so the large file can be copied onto multiple floppy diskettes.

RENDIR - Renames a subdirectory.

ED, EDIT or even EDLIN - allows you to view and change the CONFIG.SYS, AUTOEXEC.BAT or other .BAT files. Be sure that the editor you use is an ASCII editor. Do not use a word processor unless you are absolutely positive that it can load and save ASCII files. DOS comes with an editor, but it can be difficult to use. It is very important to use an editor that is easy for you to use as you will be using it to modifying important system files. The Edit from DOS 5.0 requires QBASIC to work, so copy it to your floppy.

LIST - Looks at files without being able to accidentally modify the file. This is shareware.

SIZE - Determines size of a group of files. Use it to find out if this group of files can fit on a floppy diskette.

DIRMATCH - A popular utility that checks the differences between 2 different subdirectories. This program can be helpful to figure out why the "same" program may function properly on one laptop and not on the other one, due to a missing or changed file. This program compares files by size and date only, not by file contents.

A single program containing all these features except SLICE and DIRMATCH along with a wide host of other user features is Q DOS [$79 - Gazelle Systems - (800) RUN FAST]. In early 1994, Gazelle will release the Portable Power Tools, a set of productivity tools including Q DOS, the backup program Back-It, a disk optimizer and other utility programs such as a battery life indicator. [$129 (estimated) - Gazelle Systems - (800) RUN FAST]

File compression utility
PKZIP [$47 - PKWare Inc. - (414) 354-8699] can be used to compress files on your hard disk drive which can help to increase your disk capacity. This program can also be used as a backup program as the "compressed" files can span more than one diskette. PKZIP will also format floppy disks while you are backing up, so you don't have to anticipate the number of disks needed ahead of time.

Screen Enhancement
Laptop screens are generally small and more difficult to read than a conventional CRT monitor. Laptop UltraVision [$99.95 - Personics - (800) 445-3311] is a display enhancement program that uses special software techniques to improve the readability of EGA and VGA laptop screens. You can change the number of displayed text lines, the screen font and even increase the performance of text screens with this program.

Remote control software
Carbon Copy [$199 - Microcom - (800) 822-8224] and pcANYWHERE [$179-$199 - Symantec - (800) 441-7234] and will allow you to connect to a friend or your MIS department with the same program, through a modem, so they can assist you in getting your laptop software problems resolved quickly.

Printing Aids
Redirect and Spool [available from books and Bulletin boards] are two utilities that divert the data that usually goes to a printer and saves it to a disk file. This will let you print from several different programs, save the actual printer "commands" and then print this data when you are near a printer.

PrintQ [$149 - Software Directions, Inc. - (800) 346-7638] lets print "jobs" to be more easily separated and saved into separate files. These files can also be printed out in a different order. You can even print without a printer being attached. The data to be printed is saved on disk until a printer is connected. You can easily view this printer output on screen (in order to view totals from a printed report).

Virus check software
Virus checking programs such as Norton AntiVirus [$129 - Symantec - (800) 441-7234] can be quite useful, but cannot be relied on as your only form of defense against viruses. Always make sure that your programs come from reliable sources and don't run any disk on your laptop that someone hands you, just to see what happens. Your laptop is your lifeline to your data and documents, treat the laptop and your data with care.

Memory management and testing
A memory manager will help you use every bit of precious laptop memory. 386MAX Version 7 [$99.95 - Qualitas - (301) 907-7400] has an interactive program that can help to "maximize" the use of upper memory and supports XMS, EMS and DPMI. Also included is the comprehensive memory tester, QMT.

QEMM (Quarterdeck Expanded Memory Manager) [$99.95 - Quarterdeck Office Systems, Inc. - (310) 392-9851] is an easily installed memory manager which has complete compatibility with the suspend/resume feature found on newer laptops.


Fax Modem
If your laptop does not have a modem or fax/modem attached, you need one. Speed, fax support and size are the major factors to consider when choosing a modem for a laptop. Speed is expressed as baud rate or bps (bits per second). The larger the number, the faster the modem. It's that simple. I would suggest a 2400 baud modem as the absolute minimum. A quick modem would be a 28,800 baud modem. No matter what speed modem is chosen, I would recommend one with 9600 baud send/receive fax support. If you don't have your own fax machine, a fax modem will allow you to communicate with standard fax machines, in addition to computers. This fax modem should be a class 1 or class 2 send/receive. Models vary to how they connect to your laptop. U.S. Robotics [(800) DIAL-USR] has a series of serial port "pocket" modems. These are WorldPort 24/96 V.42 bis [$199] which has Class 1 fax support, WorldPort 2400 V.42 bis [$179] with no fax support and WorldPort 2400 [$159] which is a standard 2400 baud modem. Angia Communications [(800) 877-9159] has internal modems for Compaq [$189 - FAX24-CLSL ], Toshiba [$189 - FAX24-TD ] and PCMCIA style [$200 - FAX24-PCM ].


Online services
A modem will allow you to communicate with other computers and online services. These services can provide you with critical travel information such as finding a flight out the next day from any airline. Through CompuServe you can use the OAG (Official Airline Guide) which will give you the arrival/departure times of the major airlines.

Due to the small size of a laptop, it can be stolen, lost or damaged. An all-risk personal computer insurance policy offers you low cost protection for your laptop computer, its software and the cost of data file reconstruction. This policy also covers accidental erasure, loss of data, damage caused by spikes, surges or brownouts, dishonest acts, fraud and misuse of your computer along with any extra expenses incurred because of a covered loss. (Refer to the certificate of insurance or policy for the actual coverage.) Coverage limits range from $5000 to $30,000. [from $75 to $400 - Langendorf Enterprises, Inc. - (847) IINSURE]

Service Protection
A service protection plan [$99.95 - 3 year, $179.95 - 5 year - Delta Warranty - (800) 472-8778] is an extension of the original manufacturer's warranty. With it, you have service coverage and never have to pay another repair bill as long as you maintain coverage. It covers all parts and labor necessary, without any deductible, to repair any electrical or mechanical failure not covered by abuse or misuse. There are over 5000 factory authorized servicers throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

Portable Software Reference guide
The Instant Software Training Guide [$9.99 - INST Publishing - (800) 475-INST] is a small (under 60 pages) fully-illustrated, self paced, interactive, non-technical training book. It's guaranteed to help you become proficient in a software package (DOS, Windows, Excel, WORD, WordPerfect, Lotus 123) in the shortest possible time. They also make a handy software reference device. The INST Speed Disc - Compact Reference Guide [$6.99] is ideal for Laptop and Notebook computer users. It's the size of an audio compact disc and will fit right in a laptop case. The two-sided disk has two outer wheels that rotate to display the complete command structure for a software program. Simply dial in a task in the "Task Window" on the outer wheel and a "Command Window" shows you the exact keys to press to perform the task. INST's Instant Software Training Sets [$14.99] include a Training Guide, the Speed Disk and a Laptop Function Key Reference Guide. The color-coded Function Key Reference Guide identifies the Alt, Ctrl and Shift key combinations for all 12 of the F-key commands.
And, it is small enough to be left inside of most laptops while the lid is closed.

Battery power management
Battery Boost [$49 - available from Power Express - (800) 769-3739 (POWEREX)] is a package of several useful laptop utilities. It allows you to manually shut off (automatically on some laptop models) your hard disk drive to save laptop battery power. Deep Discharge is a utility that helps condition the rechargeable NiCad battery pack in your laptop. SCRBOOST, which increases the screen cursor size, BATGUAGE, a software battery life gauge, a software caching program and a memory manager are also included.

Clean Screen
Don't forget to clean the screen on your laptop before leaving on your trip.

Power cord
One important item to always keep with the laptop is the power cord or power module for your laptop. This is very important as airport security may ask you to turn the computer on. If your batteries are low, you might miss your flight trying to find a power cord or power module.

A long power cord [$5.99 - Radio Shack #278-1261] or grounded extension cord might keep you from having to move the hotel furniture around in the room to get the desk closer to the outlet.

If you travel often, especially with a palmtop, it helps to have an AC adapter at home and at the office. This saves you having to run and get the adapter when you are late for a flight.

Surge suppresser
A power outlet with surge suppresser [2 outlet - $13.99 - Radio Shack #26-1395 or 6 outlet - $21.99 - Radio Shack #61-2786] will help you connect your laptop computer, printer and hotel lamp to the wall outlet.

Tripplite [(312) 329-1601] makes surge suppressers that protect both the laptop and the modem. ISOBAR Ultrafax [$69.95] has two power outlets and SMP GS [$49.95] has a single power outlet. Both models include lifetime surge insurance protection and RJ11 jacks for the modem.

Outlet tester
Before plugging in your laptop, you might want to make sure that the outlet is grounded and wired properly. An outlet tester [$4.99-$5.99 - (at leading hardware and home center stores) - GB Electrical #GRT-500 - (414) 352-4160)] or [$5.99 - Radio Shack #22-101] is a simple and quick way to check the wiring of any standard 110-125 volt AC outlet. These testers will test for the six possible wiring conditions at the outlet (open ground, open hot, open neutral, hot/ground reverse, hot/neutral reverse or correct). The wiring condition is shown by three neon bulbs with a chart of the possible combinations on the tester.

New batteries
If you have found that your laptop is not running on its rechargeable batteries as long as it once did, you might want to think about getting a new battery pack. Since several laptop clone manufacturers have closed their doors, you might want to investigate where you can get the proper battery pack quickly. Packs for over 300 different laptops are available from Power Express [prices vary - (800) 769-3739 (POWEREX)].

Extra Batteries
If you have a small palmtop, having extra batteries nearby can be very helpful. The price of batteries always seem higher when you are on the road.

Personal Items
Small personal low-tech items that can be put in your laptop case are pens, pencils, highlighters, checkbook, train/bus/plane schedules, spare car keys and breath mints. In case you don't have the software or like the old way a Daytimer appointment book and a calculator can be helpful.

Power from the Car
A compact power inverter [$89 - Tripplite LapPower PV125 - (312) 329-1601] allows you to use your laptop (125 Watt maximum) in a car without using the laptop battery power. This unit connects to the cigarette lighter and can be easily moved between rental cars while traveling.

Telephone calling card
When on the road, always be sure that you have a telephone calling card. These are generally free and available from your telephone company. Using one might save you from using the hotel long distance service and paying these sometimes outrageous phone charges!

Another option is a debit card from Time Card [$23.95 for 60 minutes - (800) 858-SAVE] which is similar to the prepaid calling card quite prevalent in Europe and Asia. It offers lower rates and no worry about someone getting your access number and charging thousands of dollars of calls to you, since your account has a fixed dollar value.

Modem Essentials
A 10-12 foot modular to modular cable is essential to connect your laptop modem to the wall [$4.99 - Radio Shack #279-374]. The desk in the hotel room is not always close to the telephone jack.

A modular coupler [$2.49 - Radio Shack #279-358] will let you connect 2 modular cords.

A modular tee adapter [2 lines - $4.99 - Radio Shack #279-357 or 5 lines - $9.99 - Radio Shack #279-410] will allow you to share a modular wall outlet between the telephone and the modem.

Serial Adapter
If you need to connect different serial devices (modems, plotters or serial printers) to your laptop, you might need a 9 to 25 adapter [$4.59 - Radio Shack #26-209] or a 25 to 9 adapter [$4.59 - Radio Shack #26-287]. Be sure that one end of the adapter connects to your laptop at the serial port.

A long printer cable [12 foot - $17.99 - Radio Shack #26-1258] can make it easier to print at the office because you might have to use your laptop at an empty desk, away from the printer.

How to make a useful bootable disk

Here is one way to make a useful bootable diskette and set up a laptop for quick disaster recovery. These instructions will work on most types of laptops, but always be sure to backup all your important files before testing the diskettes you create.

Be sure to use the largest capacity diskette that your A: disk drive can accept. This would generally be a 1.44 megabyte floppy diskette for laptop with a 3.5" disk drive.

Turn your system on and get to a C> prompt.

Format a diskette, by placing the diskette into drive A:, close the door and type:

      FORMAT A: /S

Press the <ENTER> key.

If there are no errors, you now have a diskette that "boots." This diskette will now let your computer function, but since you have no CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT, it may not work properly. Without these files, certain programs won't load or work correctly, hardware (mice, trackballs, hard disk drives or CD drives) won't function, data on "compressed" drives cannot be accessed and memory managers won't function.

Make sure that you (or an experienced friend, dealer or consultant) check to be sure that all lines in both the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT reference an actual drive. This means if there are any lines like:


They need to be changed to:


When this is completed, you can then copy these two important files from the hard disk to the "boot" floppy by typing each of the following lines and pressing <ENTER> after each line.



To handle potential problems that could be caused by a corrupted file on the hard disk, that is used by either the CONFIG.SYS or AUTOEXEC.BAT, copy all these files to a floppy disk. If trouble occurs, these files can then be recopied onto the hard disk drive.

If you want to make it very simple when things go wrong, you can create a boot diskette that does not use any files located on the hard disk and use only those files you copied to the floppy disk drive. You need to check the CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT files with your ASCII editor (another essential -- see "Utilities") to make sure that each line of each file use only files located on the floppy diskette and do not rely on any files located on the hard disk drive. The following files can also be extremely useful to have on your boot disk. (They come with your DOS).

  • SYS - Can recreate the boot tracks on a hard disk. Loss of these tracks is a major reason to need this "bootable" floppy diskette.

  • CHKDSK - Checks to see if a diskette or hard disk drive has major problems. Also allows correction of some problems.

  • DISKCOPY - Allows you to duplicate the boot disk if necessary.

    Copyright 1993 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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