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The death of my laptop in Northern China has left a bit of a technological gap. This leads into another dilemma. What, if anything, do I replace it with. Laptops have been the basic work-horse of the traveling scientist for years.

Nonetheless, they're actually quite vulnerable beasts. These are machines that don't sit around in homes or workplaces. It's a machine you work with in places as diverse as Papua New Guinea and Siberia. I remember meeting up with a colleague of mine in Papua New Guinea for the first time. Back then he had a military grade laptop. It was completely sealed against moisture and dust. It had a wide range of environmental tolerances. In theory, it was going to keep working for years. Within 12 months it was dead because of a hard-drive failure. I'm developing a strong aversion to anything now, that hints of unreliability. It's a pain losing one of your important work tools early on in an expedition.

Now, I've also discovered that I'm not so good at keeping up with computer technology now. Things move quickly, technology keeps changing. Tablets were unheard of when I got my last laptop.

In the great tossup between laptops and tablets, I'm coming back down on the side of the laptop. Or the ultrabook to be more precise. I would rather go the SSD (Solid-State-Drive) route now, than the HDD. And I like the concept of the processing power of an ultrabook and its battery life.

I also like that they tend to come with memory card readers (downloading photos is one use I put my laptops too) and many also have that most wonderful of things, an RJ-45 Ethernet plug. It always comes across as a bit odd to have sales staff at tech stores assure me I can do everything wirelessly. I don't think these are people who have tried using the internet in some parts of China. Not only is the Hotel unlikely to have any WiFi, the broadband can chug along at the glacial speed of dialup. The rest of the world isn't as wireless friendly as you might think.

Of course, a lot is now riding on my travel insurance…