Using your Laptop as a Desktop Replacement

Illustration: Gordon McAlpin

Here’s the scenario: You only want one computer. But you alternate being away from home a lot and being at your desk at home. You want one machine that can do both jobs. Enter the laptop as desktop replacement.

No longer do you need those bulky docks or connector boxes in order to use your laptop at the home office. Just a few simple pieces of hardware and you’ll quickly forget that you’re using a laptop at all.

MONITOR

While using your machine at home, you’re going to want a bigger screen than what the laptop is capable of. You can use your existing monitor, assuming it still works, or get an inexpensive LCD screen for $150 or less.

If your laptop’s newer than a couple of years old, and likewise for your monitor, you might be able to connect the two of them together by HDMI. Get a cheap cable on NewEgg.com and avoid the expensive ones, as there’s no difference.

Otherwise, a VGA cable will do, as almost all laptops can output their video through such a cable. Make sure you get the correct pins. Count the number of pins on the VGA connector on both your laptop and your screen, and either use a cable that you have, or buy one. If the one you have doesn’t have the right number of pins, don’t force it! You’ll break something, and it won’t work.

Make sure to set up the monitor properly in Control Panel, so that it’s using the monitor exclusively and not extending the desktop from your laptop. There’s nothing more annoying than having items stuck on one of your two screens that you can’t move off because the lid is closed.

KEYBOARD & MOUSE

When using a laptop as a desktop replacement, it’s a good idea to run a separate keyboard and mouse, so you can close the lid of the laptop and still have full control of the machine. You could use any old USB mouse and keyboard; for a more stylish idea, look for a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. It’s a bit more expensive, but having fewer cords does make a difference.

INTERNET

Why bother with Wi-Fi on your plugged-in laptop when you can get wired speeds? Run an ethernet cable from your router or gateway directly in to your laptop’s port for much faster speeds.

POWER MANAGEMENT

While the laptop is plugged in and acting as your primary machine, there’s no reason to limit its power. Click on the battery icon in the system tray and make sure the Power Plan is set to High Performance. Don’t forget to set it back to Power Saver (or Battery Optimizer) when on the go.

TAKING IT ON THE GO

When you do need to take your office with you on the road, set the power management as I mentioned in the above paragraph, carefully disconnect it from the monitor, then turn off Bluetooth to save battery, or unplug your USB keyboard and mouse. Leave the extras at your desk and take only your machine and power supply. Make sure you’ve got Battery Optimizer up and running to get the most possible battery life until you return to an outlet. When you are ready to return, plug the peripherals back in! Simple. Who needs two machines? You can now use your laptop as a desktop replacement!

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