What are the mobile broadband options for the most popular laptops?

Adding a mobile broadband connection to your laptop is a lot easier than ever before.

It hasn't quite hit the mainstream sweet spot yet, but adding a mobile broadband connection to your laptop is easier than ever. Many PC makers offer built-in mobile broadband options in their laptop lineups, and aftermarket USB or Express Card solutions are available from your preferred service provider.

Dell's Inspiron 1525.

Most service plans generally run from $59-to-$79 per month depending on bandwidth, and there are often partial rebates available to cover the cost of adding a mobile broadband modem to your laptop (usually a $150 option, if it's not already included in the laptop's price). Like a free shipping promotion from Dell, if you miss a rebate offer, wait a week, or two, there's bound to be another one.

Current rebate offers found on Dell's Web site include a $100 rebate from Verizon Wireless, a $170 VISA card from AT&T, and a $100 rebate plus a free month of service from Sprint. All require a one or two-year service contract.

Now for the bad news. You're still stuck with a choice of proprietary hardware for different service providers. Get your laptop built with a preinstalled Verizon mobile broadband modem, and if you switch to Sprint, you're out of luck. That may be an argument for using an expansion card or USB modem instead, although they can be cumbersome and stick out from the laptop awkwardly.

The Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7.

More bad news--some of the most popular laptops around don't offer mobile broadband options (we're looking at you, Apple), so a USB dongle may be your only choice. Besides Apple's MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, popular new laptops such as the Asus Eee PC and HP 2133 Mini-Note (both in the new netbook category), don't offer built-in mobile broadband--even though it seems like a natural match for small, highly portable computers like that.

We took a look at the most popular laptops on CNET right now to see what kind of mobile broadband options are available. We'll kick it off by pointing out that the current top two laptops in terms of reader popularity right now are the Asus Eee PC and HP 2133 Mini-Note, so we're off to kind of a slow start as it is.

1. HP 2133 Mini-Note
No built-in mobile broadband options offered.

2. Asus Eee PC
No built-in mobile broadband options offered.

3. Lenovo ThinkPad X300
Verizon or AT&T--Verizon included in the preconfigured $3,300 model, extra $45 for AT&T.

4. Dell XPS M1530
Sprint or Verizon--$150, but rebates are available.

5. Dell Inspiron 1525
Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon--$150 ($170 for AT&T), but rebates are available.

We also looked past the current Top 5 and picked a few other popular ultraportable laptop models:

Sony Vaio TZ 2000
Sprint included in systems starting at $1,799. Some older Vaio models have AT&T antennas.

Toshiba Portege R500
No built-in mobile broadband options offered.

Panasonic Toughbook CF-W7
Sprint or Verizon--but only though resellers, for an exaggerated $235.

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