Tech Tip:Get The Most Out Of Your Laptop When Taking Your Studio On The Road

Reprinted from with the permission of the author and publisher.

By Craig Anderton



You're not only carrying a laptop — you may be carrying the next big hit tune, the soundtrack for your client's new commercial, your band's master, setup details and room tunings for tonight's venue, or some really great lyric ideas. Given the laptop's importance, it's vital that you use it efficiently and securely.


Aside from the obvious — never drop a laptop! — there are other issues to consider. Let's look at several tips relating to travel, theft, and power.

Airports And Flying


  • Need to find an AC outlet at an airport? Ask the custodial staff, as the outlets are used mostly for plugging in vacuum cleaners. Other guidelines: Look on posts, under hinged covers in floors near walls, and near ledges located next to windows. Don't assume the outlet is live; check your computer to make sure it really is charging.

  • When going through the airport security line, put the laptop itself on the x-ray belt last — after any other carry-on bags, shoes, etc., and especially, after the person in front of you has cleared security. This way, your other items will be examined while you're going through the x-ray machine. If the laptop comes off the belt first, it may be stolen while you're going through the metal detector, or being "wanded."

  • If you're not in a hurry and want maximum protection against theft, you can ask security for a manual search. It's more time-consuming, but you'll always know where your laptop is.

  • American Airlines has retrofitted their airplanes for more leg room in coach, which makes it far easier to extend your laptop screen. And if you're on American, look for a "lightning bolt" symbol on the overhead bin row — these are the ones with power port-equipped seats. Most airline laptop outlets require an EmPower plug, which is not the same as a car lighter plug.; when buying an adapter, check if it has a convertible plug that works with both airline and car chargers (I use the pricey — but pays-for-itself — iGo system). Also remember that power adapter cords have different tips for different models of laptops; check carefully for compatibility before you buy. See the end of this article for more information on airlines and on-board laptop power.

  • Place your computer bag under the seat in front of you, rather than the overhead bin. Heavy objects in a bin can damage your computer if they slam into it. If you're sitting in a bulkhead row and don't have a choice, place the bag at the front of the overhead bin before takeoff, and at the rear of the bin prior to landing.

  • Some airline passengers have found that they can plug a laptop computer AC adapter into 110V/400Hz airframe sockets, usually located under covers near the floor next to an exit door. Don't do this. Aside from the issue of running your adapter on 400Hz, these outlets are intended for medical devices during flight. If there's something wrong with your adapter and it trips the circuit breaker, someone could literally die before the problem is corrected — the breaker is difficult to access because it's located below the main passenger deck. If you see someone using any outlets on a plane other than the approved laptop charging outlets, alert a flight attendant.

  • If you already have a power supply that works off a car's cigarette lighter connector, then all you need to be airplane-ready is a laptop airplane adapter, available for $10 from Laptops for Less


Plug the cigarette lighter plug from your laptop power adapter into one end of the EmPower adapter, plug the other end into the plane's power port, and you won't have to worry about your battery dying on a long flight.


Don't Become Stolen Goods


  • Write down your laptop's serial number and keep it in a safe place at home. Also upload it to your email address; if your laptop is stolen while you're on the road, find internet access, retrieve the number from the email, and alert the authorities. Not that they'll find it, but you never know...

  • Some hotels have in-room safes, although not all of these are big enough to accommodate a laptop. However, angling the laptop (place the end on some socks, coffee cup, or whatever) may allow it to fit. If there's no safe, carry the laptop with you, or have the front desk put it in a secure location. If you must leave the laptop in your room, place it somewhere inconvenient and not readily visible (like on top of a closet, where you would need to step on a chair to see it). I know one road warrior who places his laptop on the bottom of his suitcase, with dirty underwear on top; he doubts anyone will dig through the underwear to look for something.

  • Use an innocuous-looking case for your computer, not a designer computer case that screams "Hey! I own a cool laptop!"


Batteries And Power


  • Pack an AC extension cord (or better yet, a barrier strip with surge suppression) in your luggage. Hotel rooms never seem to have enough free outlets.

  • To maximize battery life, minimize usage of CD and DVD drives, which suck juice.

  • Buy a spare battery and keep it charged. Doing so has saved my butt more than once.

  • Your LCD's backlight consumes a lot of power, so when running off of batteries, use the minimum brightness you can handle. If the screen is too hard to read when it's dimmed, try switching resolution from 1024 x 768 to 800 x 600. The screen will likely be fuzzier, but the larger size graphics and type will be easier to read.

  • More RAM means more battery life, as the computer won't have to access the hard drive as much to grab data.

  • Nickel-cadmium batteries need to go through an occasional deep discharge to prevent the "memory effect," where the battery fails to hold charges for very long. However, this is not the case for the nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries used in much of today's electronic gear. Their life is shortened by deep discharges, so it's best to leave this type of battery's charge "topped up."


Hardware/Software Helpers


  • A USB memory stick (e.g., Lexar JumpDrive) is an invaluable travel accessory. I load mine up with MP3s in case I want some songs, but one of the main applications for USB drives is when you need to transfer data to another computer. A USB stick is quicker than burning a CD, works with all modern Macs and PCs, and doesn't require going online.

USB memory sticks make it easy to transfer files from your laptop to most other USB-equipped computers. 1GB versions are commonly available for well under $100.


  • Know where the ventilation holes are on your laptop, and avoid blocking them at all costs. Heat is a major enemy of all electronic devices.

  • You can spend a bunch of bucks for foreign AC plug adapters from a laptop accessories company, and they'll come in a nice little designer package. But if you don't care about the packaging, you can pick up the adapters for a lot less at Radio Shack.

  • When doing battery-only remote recording or live performance, turn off any power-saving features like hard disk shutdown, monitoring blanking, and especially, automatic system shutdowns. The battery will discharge much faster, but you won't have to deal with a more sluggish response.



When recording or playing live, you don't want your laptop to shut off. Just remember to change back to more conservative settings if you want maximum battery life.


  • If you need to print out lead sheets, chord charts, etc. while on the road, you might be tempted to bring along one of those small, portable printers. But unless you really need high-quality printing or color, it's often easier to plug your computer into the hotel's phone line in your room, and fax what needs to be printed to the hotel — to your attention, of course.


And Finally...Power In The Skies


Although working on planes isn't good for anything involving critical listening, for sketching out drum patterns or tunes, airplanes can be a pretty creative environment. I normally carry a spare battery, but it's even better to book a flight and seat that offers a laptop power outlet. But how do you know which flights do and don't have power?


Following is a quick summary of the major US airlines with outlets. Note that different airlines have different rules about using chargers; for example, Continental does not allow charging batteries, and asks that passengers remove rechargeable batteries when using the power outlet. Interestingly, many airlines will not check laptops, and accept them only as carry-on baggage.


American. All Boeing 777, 767, 737, Airbus 300 and Fokker 100 aircraft and most Boeing 757 and Boeing Super 80 aircraft have power ports. They're not available on aircraft with flight numbers 2800-2999.


Delta. Available in BusinessElite, and all classes of service on Boeing 777, 737-800 and 767-400 aircraft.


Continental. Each BusinessFirst seat in Boeing 767-200, 767-400 and 777-200 aircraft has a power port. In Economy class, on the Boeing 767-400

(H), laptop power is available in rows 10-15; on all other 767s, laptop power is available in rows 16-23, and on the Boeing 777, in rows 17 - 23.


United. Power is available on the B767-300, B747-400, and B777 in United First and United Business class. Existing B757 and A320 aircraft are currently undergoing system installation.


US Air. All seats on Airbus A319, A320, A321 and A330 aircraft have in-seat power ports.

For more information on these and other airlines, you'll find airline compatibility charts by searching these terms:


  • Auto/Air Airline Compatibility Chart
  • In-Flight Laptop Services by Airline
  • Aircraft In-seat Power Listing