Today's cars come equipped with sensors that can detect danger and automatically deploy air bags. Now laptops, too, are getting a similar defense mechanism.

Two new models of ThinkPad notebook computers, unveiled last fall by IBM Corp., come with a chip that can detect when the laptop is accelerating--such as when it has been accidentally nudged off a table and is plunging to the floor.

If the hard drive happens to be reading or writing data at the time, the chip tells the drive to stop temporarily. Hard drives are at their most vulnerable when reading and writing data, so...

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