Mon, 12 May 2003

Connecting your old notebook to a LAN

Let's face it: A lot of us are still using the old notebook computers with a first-generation Pentium processor. You can even see a 286-based notebook on display in some computer stores.

Although notebooks are not known to be collector's items like, for example, a Karmann Ghia, a few of them simply refuse to die after years of being used. It is hard to believe, but it is true. Some of us are quite lucky -- or perhaps unlucky -- to have these faithful machines.

Unlucky? Well, sort of. As these old notebooks are still in a perfect working condition, some people do feel that they have gotten stuck with them. Each time they come home from a computer expo, where they have just seen hordes of super-duper new notebooks that made their mouths water, their minds usually work very hard to find really compelling reasons to convince their wives that they can no longer postpone replacing their existing notebooks. However, when they say to their powerful family finance directors "Honey, I think I must buy a new notebook now," the typical answer that they will get is "What's wrong with the one you have?"

Well, there is nothing wrong actually -- and that debate is henceforth over. For the time-being, at least. Unless, of course, they have the heart to really lead their spouses to believe that they badly need the new speed, computing power and the endless list of features that a new notebook has to offer.

Some do go to that length, others -- perhaps the majority -- will just give in and secretly hope that the day will soon come where they have to take their notebook to pasture.

One of the problems that we have with old notebooks is that it is not easy to transfer large files to another notebook or a desktop computer. Diskettes are still largely useful, but their capacity is limited to 1.4 MB. You can use a compression utility to reduce the size of a file and break down a large one into a series of smaller files, each of which can fit one single floppy diskette. But the process is tedious.

If your old notebook has an infrared port that still works, you will be slightly better off. Most of today's notebooks have infrared capability, and most desktop motherboards also support it. You can connect two computers with infrared with no real hassle. But, what options do you have if your notebook also does not have the infrared or if its infrared module is already out of commission?

One solution is to connect the two computers with what we used to know as the LapLink cable. It can use the parallel or serial port. The only thing is that it is a crossover cable. You can still find it in any computer store that sells networking gadgets. In fact, the company LapLink still exists today (, and its LapLink Gold 11 can do a lot of things beyond just transferring files between two computers.

Or, if you have relatives or friends in the U.S., you can ask them to find a docking station for your old trusted companion.

Web sites such as eBay ( may have hard-to- find docking stations or port replicators with an Ethernet card for your old notebook.

A more common way to add connectivity to a notebook is to add an Ethernet card directly to it. While today even the cheapest notebooks have a built-in Ethernet port, the older ones will require you to buy an Ethernet PCMCIA card.

This card is still widely available today from vendors such as D-Link, NetGear and Belkin. Some of these products combine an Ethernet card with a modem. One very, very important thing to check is whether your old notebook already supports the 32-bit Card bus. If it only supports the 16-bit PCMCIA, make sure that you buy an Ethernet PCMCIA card that supports this older standard. -- Zatni Arbi