Spec’ing the portable office

“I don’t have a laptop, but I want one,” says Jon Terrill, a driver for Barlow Truck Lines. “I think they benefit the trucker greatly. You can find loads quicker, keep in touch with family and a variety of other things.”

A laptop computer can keep your files and expenses close by when you need them, whether in the comfort of your cab or in a truck stop booth over a cup of coffee. You can take advantage of downtime to enter data instead of cramming that chore into your precious hours at home.

Laptops share a good deal in common with desktop computers, although their compact design and battery-operated capabilities boost the price about $500 over a comparable desktop machine with monitor. If you’re in the market, consider these specs:

Processor. Most laptops come with a 700 MHz or 800 MHz processor, which is more than enough to run trucking software and word processing applications or to search the Internet. If you plan to watch a lot of DVDs on the road or play graphic-intensive games, you may need to look at the pricier models, with 1 GB speeds.

Display. Screen sizes can vary from just more than 11 inches to almost 16 inches. A 13-inch screen is fine for routine applications, but you’ll want at least 14 inches for movies or games.

Hard drive. A majority of laptops come equipped with a 10 GB drive, which is all you need for general applications and storage. Games and larger applications, such as DVD decoders, can require larger storage space. You can pay around $300 more and get one with a 15 or 20 GB drive that will last a lot longer.

Memory. Most systems now come with 128 MB, enough for general applications such as Microsoft Office and the Internet. If you use large data applications or extensive accounting software, consider upgrading to 256 MB; at the time of purchase, you can generally upgrade memory for about $100.

Add-on bays. Laptops generally come with at least one expansion bay to add devices such as network cards, modems and DVD drives. In most cases, the slot can accept an additional hard drive if you need more storage.

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Power supply. Some batteries last only one hour, while others last as long as eight. You want to get the longest running battery you can afford or purchase a backup if you expect to be on long hauls without an available outlet for recharging.