Preventing Laptop Theft:
Computer lock systems offer improved peace of mind

Carrying a computer to all corners of the globe can be hard on the nerves. They cost thousands of dollars, you've got your system configured just the way you like it, and you have vital information stored on your hard drive. The theft of your laptop would cause you more than minor inconvenience.

Laptop computers are particularly worrisome because they are a high-value item packed into a very small box that can disappear ever so quickly. Hence it is no surprise that so many travelers are loath to leave their laptops behind in their rooms - even at the safest luxury hotels. But if you can't leave the computer behind, it can quickly become your personal ball and chain.

This is where portable computer lock systems can help out. These locks, available from several manufacturers, let you attach your computer to an immovable object in your hotel - or elsewhere - so that you can leave your laptop and some of your worries behind.

To give readers a better idea how these locks work, On the Road recently tested two such lock systems. Here is our report:

Kensington Universal Notebook Security Cable

The Kensington system uses a six-foot plastic-coated metal cable. A lock is permanently attached to one end. On the other end, there is a loop. By threading the lock-end of the cable through the loop, the cable can be secured to a desk leg, bed frame or other heavy or immovable object in a hotel room - or wherever you may be. The lock end of the cable is then attached to your computer in one of two ways.

The first and easiest way is to use the security slot that is built into a majority of laptop computers today. Manufacturers that equip their laptops with these slots include Toshiba, TI, HP, NEC, Digital, Apple, IBM, Compaq, Dell, and others. The slot is just an eighth of an inch wide and a quarter inch long that is located on the back or side of the computer and is usually marked by a small image of a pad lock or several links in a chain. A prong on the Kensington lock is inserted in this slot. The prong turns when the lock is locked, holding the lock and cable fast to the computer.

If your laptop is not equipped with a security slot, you can glue one right on to your computer with the equipment provided. First you select a spot on the back or sides of your computer that is free from drives, ports and slots where you can fasten a two-inch long piece of plastic that contains a security slot. Materials are provided to roughen the portion of your laptop where the plate will be attached and alcohol to clean it before gluing. A small tube of fast-acting "super" glue is used to fasten the plate in place.

Once dry, the newly installed security slot can be used for locking just as other preinstalled slots.

Qualtec Notebook-Kit

The Qualtec lock system works on similar principles, but the execution is different. The five-foot Qualtec cable has metal eyelets on both ends of the cable. The cable can be pulled through one of these eyelets to secure the cable around furniture or other objects. The second eyelet can then be secured to your computer with a padlock that is provided.

The Qualtec system also works off security slots, if available on your laptop. If your laptop does not have such a slot, Qualtec also gives you the option of gluing a plate with a metal ring directly onto your computer.

While both lock systems get the job done, we've developed a slight preference for the Qualtec system here at On the Road. Here's why:

Both systems are designed to discourage opportunistic theft. Nothing will stop the most determined thief, but a plainly visible lock will tell would-be felons that stealing your computer would not be worth all the trouble. In this regard, the Qaultec system is somewhat superior, in that its cable is thicker and the sight of the padlock says "lock" in only a brief glance. The Kensington lock does the job, but its innovative design and unusual key don't send the same immediate and unmistakable message to would-be robbers.

The aluminum plate supplied by Qualtec provides a sturdy metal loop that can be glued onto computers without security slots. Significantly, it can be used at an alternative to a security slot, even when a security slot is available. The security slots are convenient, but a metal plate glued to your computer is in the long run going to be more resistant to tampering. According to a company spokesman, the glued Qualtec plate gives 1000 lbs. of strength, generally more than you'll find in a security slot.

Qualtec also provides a second, larger plate that you can glue to your desk at the office or elsewhere if you wish to create a permanent anchor for your laptop. Also, there is a small black carrying case for the lock and cable.

Contact: The Qualtec lock and cable weights about 8 oz and normally retails in the US for about US$28. Information is available at, but orders can not be placed directly with the manufacturer. In the US, call 800/628-4413 (outside the US: 510/490-8911) for the location of the nearest dealer. In the US, UK and elsewhere, the locks are available in major computer and office supply stores, from locksmiths, and through the mail. Mail order distributors in the UK include DN Computer, MISCO and INMAC.

The Kensington lock and cable weighs 5.5 oz. It has a suggested retail price of US$74.95, but sells in the US through discount stores and catalogs for $39.95. Information is available on the Web at A list of places that sell the lock system is available on the Kensington Web site, or by calling 415/572-2700 (in the US & Canada 800/535-4242). The fax number is 415/572-9675. Kensington has offices around the world.

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