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Laptop Internet on the Road?
Old 08-03-2007, 12:24 AM   #1
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Laptop Internet on the Road?

Hi,

I'm experienced on home computing, but have no experience with laptops or internet while traveling, so I have a bunch of questions.

I'm going to be doing a lot of auto traveling and possibly some RV'ing all over the U.S. So I want to purchase a good laptop and be able to have the internet as much as possible.

So the first question is: Any recommendations as far as good laptops for a person who travels a lot. (I could probably spend up to $2,000 without the DW getting too wild!) What should I make sure I have in my laptop to be able to connect with the internet wherever I am? My cellphone contract is almost due, and I've read some articles about getting a digital cellphone and using that as an access to the internet. Good idea or not? Any company have better plans and service than others? What do I need to know so I don't get talked into buying unnecessary plans, equipment, etc?

We will be staying in hotels sometimes, the RV other times. What would I want to have in my laptop so I could access any free internet available. I've read some stuff about wifi hotspots and hotels having rj45 jacks, etc, but I guess I'm at the point now where I've read so much that I am just overwhelmed with information. Any ideas like what would you do in my situation?

I am also going to be using the laptop at home (Wisconsin/Arizona), so I'd like to know a simple(if possible) way to be able to somehow use my home internet service with both my home pc and my laptop. I have Charter cable internet service at home. Windows xp home edition.

Also, I'm experienced with xp and I really like it. Should I get a laptop with xp, or vista?

I know it's a lot ground to cover, but like I said, I'm a newbie at the whole laptop traveling thing, so I'd really appreciate any help. Is there a website that explains all this? Maybe a FAQ? Thanks a lot in advance, Eddie
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Old 08-03-2007, 06:23 AM   #2
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I'm not an expert but have had a number of laptops over the years. First, you can get really good laptops for well under $1000 with wifi, etc. Toshiba Satellite would be my first choice, then Dell. Avoid Gateway. Of course, choice depends on gaming versus non-gaming graphic needs. Biggest thing is to be sure you get a good anti-virus, firewall, spyware, anti-spam software suite. Consumer reports has article rating various ones in latest edition, they rated Trend Micro best, I have McAfee. They also recommend another spyware to compliment the version that comes with the suite, SpyBot is freeware and works well.

Be sure to get an ethernet cable for hotel rooms without wireless. Windows XP (assume Vista is similar in this regards) is set up to automatically detect internet connections in hotspots and in hotels, I'm not familiar with cellphone connection.

Enjoy your travels
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Old 08-03-2007, 07:23 AM   #3
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You can definately get a good one for under $1K - take a look at IBM or Lenovo or a Toughbook if you are going to play rough with it.
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Old 08-03-2007, 07:40 AM   #4
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I travel quite a bit and have used both Dell and Acer laptops. They both have traveled along just fine, although the Dell that I used had to have a PCIMIA wireless card, the Acer has it built-in.

Almost all of the hotels we stay at have Hi-Speed internet....I think it's just about standard these days...FINALLY!!! Most are wireless, but many still use the Cat-5 cables (w/ RJ-45connectors). We have encountered a few....VERY few... that still only have dial-up. The Acer automatically finds the wireless connections in the area, all I have to do is make sure to pick the correct one....just ask the desk clerk to be sure.

I always carry a couple of Cat-5 cables (a 10' and a 25'), and "just in case", I have a phone cord tucked in in case I HAVE to use dial-up.

And just like at home, be sure you have good antivirus and spyware software installed and kept up to date.

And be sure to get a good, well padded carrying case for your laptop. I've got 3 that I use depending on the situation. I have a Targus backback that I use when I'm taking longer trips and staying a different hotels every night....it doubles as my overnight bag. I also have a Samsonite aluminum breifcase that I use almost all the time...it's solid and well padded and has double combination locks. And then I have a Targus softside briefcase that I use day to day, if I'm going to a seminar or down to the park or stuff like that. Just make sure whatever case you buy, that there's room for your charger and cables and stuff. (My Targus softside briefcase isn't big enough for the extras....but it's perfect for a day out.)
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Old 08-03-2007, 07:58 AM   #5
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I've hauled my IBM ThinkPad (Lenovo) around the world numerous times. No softsided bags, just drop it in my regular backpack and go. It's a workhorse, highly recommend it - cheaper & lighter than the Dell also.

Anyway, you'll want an internal wireless card, one that will find the connection automatically. That's really all you need. I don't carry extra cables, most hotels will "rent" you an RJ-45 cable if necessary - when you return it you get your $ back. Again most hotels have free wifi. You can also use websites such as free wi-fi hotspots wifi cafes coffee shops hotels airports RV Parks to find wifi spots, including RV parks that have wifi.

As far as using your laptop at home with your current computer you can connect a wireless router to your current modem and use the wireless card in your laptop to access the internet. Your pc can use the wireless or be pluged directly into the wireless router for internet access.
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Old 08-03-2007, 09:29 AM   #6
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I drag around an IBM laptop, which has air bags or something to help protect it from being jostled about.

There are a number of ways to get internet access. Audrey, a fulltime rv'er on the board, uses a Verizon wireless card in her computer. Verizon access is probably the best on a nationwide basis. The internet access with the card costs about $60 a month so it is not cheap

We are still using a Verizon cell phone, with a cable and mobile office software, to connect to the internet on the road. We do not subscribe to the $60 a month data plan, but just use minutes from our standard national access plan. Because night and weekend minutes are free, this way of accessing the internet on the road is pretty inexpensive. However, Verizon is phasing this out and you might not be able to buy a phone anymore that will let you do this without also getting a data plan.

Good information on options can be found on this yahoo discussion board: InternetByCellPhone : Internet By CellPhone.
This site also has excellent tutorials on internet access options through various cell phone companies.
Wireless is available more and more places, but not available where we like to stay, like state and federal parks. When a wireless signal is available, we use it.
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Old 08-03-2007, 09:56 AM   #7
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Mostly echoing what Neeps and others are saying. Use one of those websites to find free wireless, or I know Yahoo maps has an option show wireless hotspots. You'll have to pay for some of them. You can also google for the cities you are going to, like 'Chicago free wifi' to find local sites that list hotspots.

A convenient way to carry a cat 5 cable is to find a retractable one at a place like Cyberguys.com – Computer Cables, Computer Parts, Computer Accessories, Computer Adapters, PC Components. I have a retractable phone line as well. They take up very little room in my bag and are nice to have when I need them.

Setting up a home wireless router for your laptop is a great idea too. They are about $50 at any Best Buy type of store, and you can also get a combined DSL or cable modem with wireless for a bit more, to reduce cord clutter. It'll give you the freedom to roam your house or take it outside, and let you learn about wireless access from the comfort of your home. After you get it working, you might want to set up some security just to keep neighbors from sucking up your bandwidth. But if you don't need it, leave it wide open to make it easier for any guests to use it.
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Old 08-03-2007, 12:51 PM   #8
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I now have a Lenovo laptop and am very happy with it.

Had Acer laptop. Not particularly happy with it. Hard drive should have lasted longer IMHO.

I am happy with XP. Friends tell me that Linux is very good, if you have the drivers for your video. I am avoiding Vista. Have heard only negative things about it.

I cannot help on wireless connection issues. Everybody else seems to know more about it than I do.

Try Kim Komando's web site:
Komando.com, Website for The Kim Komando Radio Show®
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Old 08-03-2007, 01:16 PM   #9
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I have a IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. Very basic, about $750 taxes and shipping. It is a workhorse and seems to be more durable then the thinner plastic cases of some of the lower end notebooks.
I was told by a sales guy in one of the tech stores that Sony and HP has a lower warrenty 'fix rate' then Acer, Toshiba, and the others in the store. They did not have an IBM unit. In any case, something in the $1000 range is ok.
You won't need big memory (more than 512mb) or fast processor, or large storage (more than ...say 80 gig) unless you are playing games or looking at x-rays or doing massive (and I mean massive) spreadsheets or data base applications. If all you are doing is staying connected, accessing this forum and map-quest, looking up the occasional google search, then your basic unit will do. My personal opinion is that you buy what you need TODAY ... no one knows what is going to be coming down the road in 5 years. Whatever you buy will be pretty much worthless in that time.

Most things have been covered by others. Other items to consider:
1) Wifi, expecially 'free' may be dangerous, especially when doing any banking or investing. Use your ethernet cord instead
2) no one I know of, YET, has recommended using Vista. XP seems to be the operating system of choice.
3) make sure you get spyware software (free or buy) and USE IT.
4) Don't open ANY emails from people you don't know. Delete on sight.
5) Don't click on any pop-ups ... 'x' out of them... better yet, set your security to weed these things out.
I may sound a little paranoid ... but I was in the industry and have seen/heard the identy thief stories.... not pretty. A little prevention is worth the months of 'clean-up' you may have to go through.
Besides ... in retirement you don't want to spend your time with spam.

Good luck.
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Wow! Thanks!
Old 08-03-2007, 02:13 PM   #10
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Wow! Thanks!

Hi everybody! (Hi Doctor Nick!)(Inside joke for any Simpsons fans)

Thanks for all the great replies. I posted this same question on other computer tech forums, with little or no useful replies, so I really appreciate the time you all took giving me such great answers.

Have a good one,

Eddie
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Old 08-03-2007, 03:47 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
Wireless is available more and more places, but not available where we like to stay, like state and federal parks. When a wireless signal is available, we use it.

For better or worse, wireless is becoming available in some areas. Many California state parks now have wireless (AT&T runs these, I believe) either at campgrounds, ranger stations, or visitor centers.

This practice might have propagated to other states or federal parks in the last few years.
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Old 08-03-2007, 06:52 PM   #12
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I recently bought my first personal notebook. Thanks for the tips. I especially plan to check on the Verizon possibility that Martha mentioned. Sounds like I had better hurry.

A consideration early on is whether or not you will be needing a high end machine. The machines that are best for gaming and probably some demanding video applications generate a lot of heat and use up the battery quickly. The machines are often called 'notebooks' now rather than 'laptops' because they are a bit warm for the lap and because putting them on a lap or other soft surface can obstruct the important air intakes. In short, spending more may not get you an appropriate machine if you don't need high end features.

The 17" models are impressive but they can be awkward to carry about and shorten battery life. If all you want is to do some banking and browse the internet you may be happier with a 14", or even smaller. If your plan is to use the computer as an entertainment system to share with a partner then a 17" may be worth the considerable inconvenience.

Panera has free wifi at most outlets, unlike Starbucks. The connection at my local Panera is set-up semi-securely (no local resource sharing) and is reasonably fast. I'll still be very careful about eavesdroppers but I feel a bit more secure than at some mom & pop place.

I use both XP and Vista. I like the security features of Vista though it is a resource hog (plan on 2 GB of memory). When first making a wireless connection it asks whether the connection is private or public. Firewall and sharing settings are set accordingly for that connection. There is an initial learning curve.

If you need or want to download big files then check carefully about limits on any service contracts. Verizon, for example, limits you to 5 GB per month. There's also an hourly limit that is not very large. OK for browsing but not enough for me to download the data files that I work with.

I hope you enjoy the new toy.
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Old 08-03-2007, 07:10 PM   #13
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Dell Small Business has the Vostro line (14" 1400 model and 15" 1500 model) starting at $549. For an extra $50-100 you might bump to the Core 2 Duo T5470 model and get some extra ram thrown in. The lower clock speed core 2 duo's are pretty good performers and offer excellent battery life.

The Vostro line is a replacement for the older inspiron. Nice chassis, these use the most current intel chipsets, and by purchasing through Small Business you'll probably get US based tech support rather than offshored folks with scripts.

Only downside is you might have to wait 2-3 weeks for it to ship. At these prices Dell is getting hammered with orders.

Theres nothing else like these at this price point. Take a good look at the extended warranties...some days they offer a 2 or 3 year onsite warranty for a pretty fair price. Today its <$80 for a 2 year onsite and <$170 for 3 years. I'd take the 2 year.

You dont need to BE a small business to order from SB. Just put your name in as the business name or make up a name. I've been "CFB Consulting" for the last 6 years.

I'd get XP unless you have any particular need for Vista. Some good stuff from XP isnt in Vista, and whats in Vista isnt crucial for most people. It'll be a while before theres a service pack for vista and you probably dont want to deal with any quirks in the s/w until then.

As to mobile broadband, check with your current cell phone provider. Some offer a free card or hybrid phone and shared cost/minutes plans for current voice users.

Otherwise get one of those key-fob sized open wireless network finders and take a drive through downtown.
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Old 08-04-2007, 09:57 PM   #14
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Or for another choice, if you want to go low end, and just need to buy/locate your own Windows XP and drivers, here's an article and a web site for a laptop for $150. Like CFB mentioned about Dell, they are getting hammered for orders, and there is some concern about delivery, but could be almost a throw away laptop at that price.
» The $150 laptop saga: Checking out 2Checkout and Medison | Between the Lines | ZDNet.com
Medison Celebrity
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Old 08-04-2007, 11:22 PM   #15
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Everyone already said alot about laptops so I don't have much to add.

I do have one of those domestic Verizon wireless cards that Martha mentioned. Actually had the Verizon wireless broadband service for about 3 years now. Like Martha said, not cheap ($60 per month for unlimited use). I believe they have some cheaper plans with data transfer limits. I wouldn't be able to justify it for just personal use, but for work it's great. I can say that they work far better now than they did 2 years ago (much faster transfer rates and less drops). Not cable speeds, but not far from it either. Yeah, there is more free wi-fi cropping up but I have to say that cell coverage is so complete these days you can connect almost anywhere and it makes a big difference if your time is limited. I've done plenty of work sessions in a boat, on the beach between sailing sessions, and parked in the middle of nowhere in some rental car. Plus I hate getting charged for wi-fi at most airports where I "unfortunately" still spend a lot of time. I thought about the international card but they run something like $130/month which I couldn't justify.

Once I'm done with this work craziness I'll be very happy to forgo internet communications while I am anywhere near a beach, car or airport.
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Old 08-05-2007, 01:48 AM   #16
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Not quite unlimited. From the Verizon plan description:

A person engaged in prohibited uses continuously for one hour could typically use 100 to 200 MB, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GB in a month.
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Wow
Old 08-05-2007, 02:16 AM   #17
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Wow

Man, that sucks. I have high speed cable, and I often download 5 gigs a day just in porn !! I'm going to have to burn some dvd's before turning off the home cable.

Just kidding. Thanks for the additonal replies folks. I appreciate it.

Eddie
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Old 08-05-2007, 10:42 AM   #18
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Sounds like your most urgent need might be for some burn cream and callous remover.
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Ouch!!!
Old 08-05-2007, 01:48 PM   #19
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Ouch!!!

Lol
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Old 08-05-2007, 08:58 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kwirk View Post
Not quite unlimited. From the Verizon plan description:

A person engaged in prohibited uses continuously for one hour could typically use 100 to 200 MB, or, if engaged in prohibited uses for 10 hours a day, 7 days a week, could use more than 5 GB in a month.
Nothing beyond PG-13 use for me so I wouldn't know of such things. Actually my cable service is really bogged down tonight so just punched in the card, linked up and here I am.
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