This is such a good idea I wonder why nobody's done it well before. Altec Lansing sent over their XT1 Portable Audio System for notebooks. A DVD-ROM equipped notebook is essentially a giant portable DVD player combined with an iPod with a larger color screen, but most notebooks have terrible internal speakers. Adding external speakers solves the problem at the cost of portability -- even if you did shlep them with you, you'd be dragging along another power brick, too.
The XT1 siphons power off your notebook's USB port which greatly simplifies setup and enables easy portability. Both Windows and Macs are supported. All the cables are included, and most of the time you only need two of them: one to connect the speaker to the PC's USB port, another to connect the other speaker to the first one. Several nice touches abound: the USB cable is provided twice, once with a self-winding mechanism for travel, the speaker connector cable has self-binding velcro tabs, and all the cables fit neatly into their own spot in the included molded protective case. The case is exactly the size of two John Grisham paperbacks lying next to each other (I tested and tested until I found a visual analogy that fits). It's not tiny, but definitely small enough to fit in a backpack along with your notebook. Setup and use is simple.
The tradeoffs are volume and bass. Your USB port provides just a trickle of wattage. The XT1 is plenty loud if you're sitting in front of the speakers (which is where you'll be if you're watching a movie on your notebook), but won't fill a large hotel room with sound. Audio quality is pretty good. Highs are crisp, instruments are well defined (my ThinkPad's audio is rather muddy), and there is plenty of mid-bass energy (also somewhat lacking on the ThinkPad). There is still no deep bass to speak of -- the official rating only goes down to 100hz, and I suspect that the response drops off a bit before that. In practical terms, this means that music and movies sound dramatically better than a notebook's internal speakers, but not as good as a comparably priced amplified sub/sat system. If you don't need portability, there are better choices out there (including several from Altec Lansing).
The XT1 thoughtfully provides an Aux in port and cable for connecting MP3 players and the like (though it still must be jacked into your notebook's USB port for power). I plugged in Sandisk's Digital Audio Player and listened to several hours of pop and classic rock encoded as variable bit rate WMA files. Music sounded rich and full and didn't lack much for low end punch -- drums had a decent thwack, and bass guitar notes were distinguishable. On movies, the low end was more obviously lacking. I tested both the THX logo (a test tone and a logo all in one!) and the sonic depth charge scene from the DVD of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Overly High Expectations. The asteroid chase was fun -- upper frequency sounds were clear -- but suffered greatly in comparison to my Klipsch THX system or the Logitech Z-5500 THX multimedia system I promise I'll finish reviewing one of these days. When the XT1 is pushed to the top of its volume range, there is audible distortion and some sibilance on dialog. No provision for using the XT1 with a subwoofer is provided.
The only directly comparable product I have in house is the Virgin boomtube. The boomtube's sound is a bit more defined, it plays a bit louder, and Virgin offers an EX version that provides actual bass. However, the boomtube is considerably heavier as it relies on batteries, an optional power converter, or both. The boomtube has multiple wires for setup and no place to store them (or the power adapter) in the case. The boomtube's aluminum speaker drivers are not covered by a protective grill - a big no-no for a portable device -- my four year old accidentally dented the drivers with his fingers within minutes of my unpacking the unit. I also question whether the boomtube's design is airport security friendly; the thing looks like a pipe bomb.
I love the boomtube, but the XT1 is probably the unit I'd take with me when I know I'm going to watch a movie on my notebook once I get to wherever it is I'm going. The XT1 design team clearly thought through the implications of portability, and, as a result, the XT1 also makes for a nice improptu music system on the road. However, it doesn't play loud enough for road warriors looking to give multimedia presentations in large conference rooms or for throwing a headbanger's party in your hotel room afterwards.