Two desktops could cost less than a single laptop device Help Line

July 13, 1998|By Jim Coates | Jim Coates,Chicago Tribune

I don't even own a computer, but I read your column anyway, and now I want some advice about what kind of laptop I should buy. I need a machine that I can use for half of the year at my place in Pennsylvania and the other half of the year at my other place in Florida.

My needs are of an accounting nature as well as tracking any investments that I may have or institute. Also, I would like to be able to access the Internet. I really don't feel that I want to make an investment of purchasing two desktop computers when it sounds like a laptop would suffice.

There is no doubt that a laptop would meet your needs, but I think you should give some thought to buying a couple of sub- $1,000 desktop machines rather than a single laptop that could very well set you back $2,000.

There's a real downside to making a laptop the only computer you have. Doing this condemns you to a perpetual situation of being forced to squint at a subpar screen and being stuck always with an inferior keyboard not quite large enough for a grown-up's hands. Take it from me, all this squinting and hunching over a laptop isn't just uncomfortable, it's downright .. hazardous to your health.

Using a laptop all the time almost guarantees headaches and backaches, and if you hammer away at it long enough you'll be a prime candidate for carpal tunnel syndrome.

You would be far better off with a couple of low-cost Pentiums with proper keyboards and monitors at each location.

I would recommend that you also buy one of the new $200 portable ZIP-Plus drives, which will allow you to move your stuff between Florida and Pennsylvania on small disks about the same size as a floppy disk but holding 100 megabytes of data.

For the last couple of months, I have had problems getting t certain Internet sites. It takes anywhere from four to 20 minutes for each of these sites to load. Numerous other sites load just fine. I use a dial-up access through a Salt Lake City ISP with a local franchise in Downers Grove, Ill. I have talked to my ISP's tech support on several occasions and they think it is a "central trunk" problem here in Chicago.

Perhaps so, but several of my friends have been able to access these same sites. I realize that for me, here in Naperville (Ill.), to access certain sites, there are certain hops and line connections that must be made. I'm guessing that the problematic sites are accessed through lines that are sluggish at best, while the others are on clear lines. Your take on this matter?

Actually, you answered your own question. A handy DOS program called tracert.exe built into Windows 95 and Windows 98 lets people who can't get through to a slow Web site see where their Internet connection is breaking down. Tracert (short for trace route) gives a readout as your machine attempts to move from server to server en route to the Web page you have ordered up. Tracert fixes nothing, but at least it shows you which connection is freezing up when you try for a problematic Web site.

The next time you dial up your Internet connection minimize the browser window, call up the DOS prompt and type in the program name tracert along with the Web site address you want to check. For example: tracert www.cnn.com.

The diagnostic software will send a test message to the Web site and print out on your screen line by line each hop made until the CNN Web site is reached. If you can't get through, the last line displayed will be the bottleneck.

You still won't be able to get the Web site, but at least you will know whether your ISP is leveling with you and, in the process, you get what I, at least, consider a neat glimpse of the Internet's convoluted global plumbing system.

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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