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Tech Matters: 2 ways to get more from your laptop

By Leslie Meredith - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Nov 2, 2022

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Leslie Meredith

A laptop is often the keystone of work life, regardless of where that may be — in a conventional office, at home, in a local coffee shop or in an airport lounge between flights. With proper care, your laptop should last you five years or more. That means keeping your operating system, browser and any programs you run locally up to date.

Modern laptops are lightweight and powerful with longer battery life and more storage. But they’ve also become standalone devices. To make laptops slimmer and more lightweight, manufacturers have been eliminating ports, along with headphone jacks and DVD trays (something we haven’t seen in at least 10 years from their newer releases. Users have no choice but to resort to switching between peripherals as they charge a battery pack and then plug in a webcam or a light for a Zoom call. Want to watch an old DVD? That too will require a USB port and a compact player. What you end up with is a spaghetti-like tangle of wires on your desk, or worse, a snarled ball of cords in your bag that can take some of the precious working minutes away as you untangle them.

You can tame the tangle and eliminate endless switch-outs with a docking station — just make sure you buy one that can accommodate all of the devices you’d like to use. There are many on the market. For instance, the 14-in-11 USB C Docking Station by Moki has two 4K-capable HDMI ports (used for external monitors), a VGA port (an older type of connection typically used for monitors and TVs), an RJ45 Gigabit LAN port (to plug your computer directly into an ethernet connection; useful when a Wi-Fi connection is slow, which is sometimes the case in a hotel room), a USB C port for charging, a USB C data transfer port for external storage drives, three USB 3.0 ports (the current standard), two USB 2.0 ports (pre-3.0 standard to connect older devices), an SD and a microSD card reader, and a 3.5 mm microphone/headphone port. The docking station is compatible with all Thunderbolt 3 devices. This hub runs about $68 on Amazon.

Before you buy, check to be sure that the docking station you’re eyeing is compatible with your specific laptop and has all of the types of ports and a sufficient number of them for your use.

A second way to get more out of your laptop is by adding a monitor. You will be amazed how much more productive you can be when you have the display real estate to use Windows’ multiple window feature. In fact, you can have one window open on your laptop with another two on the monitor. No more switching between tabs as you work or endlessly scrolling from one side of a spreadsheet to the other.

High-quality monitors are relatively inexpensive, and with Black Friday around the corner you are sure to find some good deals. Because it’s an important piece of equipment, stick to name brands, but you do not have to buy the same brand as your laptop. Aim for at least a 24-inch screen with 4K resolution. Panel type should be either VA (best image quality) or IPS (good to very good image quality); avoid TN panels. A quick search on Best Buy turned up a 28-inch 4K Samsung IPS monitor for $230, which looked good to me. I’ve had my Samsung monitor for about three years and it’s great.

Setting up the monitor is easy. Once plugged into your laptop, your computer will detect it. In the Windows search box at the bottom of your laptop screen, type in “display.” Click on “Duplicate or extend to a connected display.” When the window opens, scroll down to “Multiple displays.” In the dropdown, you have four choices: you can duplicate these displays, extend these displays (this is likely the one you want), “Show only on 1” or “Show only on 2.” When you want to change how you’re using your displays, go back in and make a different selection.

Let’s talk more about extending the display. Say you have two tabs open in your browser. Hold your cursor down on the tab and drag it up to the monitor’s display. You can do the same thing with any open document. If you want to have two windows open on your big monitor screen, drag one window off the screen to the left or right. It will automatically snap into place and fill half of your screen. You will then see the available windows on the opposite side. Microsoft refers to this as “Multitasking.” Click on one and it too will snap into place alongside the first one. You can tweak these Multitasking settings as well.

Leslie Meredith has been writing about technology for more than a decade. As a mom of four, value, usefulness, and online safety take priority. Have a question? Email Leslie at asklesliemeredith@gmail.com.

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