As laptop sales keep climbing, the market for cases to protect those expensive computers is growing, too. In addition to solid protection, buyers want convenience and a touch of fashion.

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — The Performance Messenger bag at Gap will set you back $34.50 and has room for your laptop computer and maybe a towel to wrap around the delicate machine.

But will you regret skimping on a quality computer bag when the canvas tote accidentally crashes to the ground at an airline’s check-in counter?

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Laptop bags promise to keep your computer safe, and many are tested to survive a 3-foot drop. Comfort tweaks and pockets of convenience are innovations from the specialty makers, such as leading manufacturer Targus and rival Mobile Edge.

But the ergonomic handle, hidden airline-ticket pocket and extra padding are going to cost you. And people are willing to pay it.

“Computer bags are critical to business professionals who are carrying their precious computer with them, which can be $2,000 to $3,000 of equipment,” said Peter Cobb, co-founder and senior vice president of eBags.com, an Internet retailer that sells more than 1,000 laptop bags on its site. “It has everything in their life in there — their spreadsheets, documents. To some people in the population, it’s pretty critical to protect their computer.”

Laptop bags began replacing briefcases in the 1980s as the availability of portable PCs grew. Targus, founded in 1983, was one of the early companies to pounce on this growing niche with its iconic black leather bag.

Laptop-computer sales continued to grow, even as desktop-PC sales foundered in recent years. Last year, laptop sales were on target to grow 21 percent to $57.3 million this year, according to market researcher International Data Corp.

Computer bags have likewise flourished.

“When you go into a store to buy a [bag], it can be very overwhelming with 30 cases to choose from,” said Todd Gormick, Targus’ global business-development manager.

His tips? Start with a bag that fits your personality, from a sporty backpack to the new trend of fashionable cases. Make sure your computer fits. And look inside.

“It’s really about digging through the case and seeing the features and functions,” Gormick said. “You may look at the $99 price tag as expensive when you could buy a $19.99 bag at Old Navy, but then you see the construction, the quality.”

On its high-end bags, which top out around $200, Targus has AirTrak wheels, which are air-filled tires that offer a shock-absorbing ride. Its SafePORT Air Cushion is made up of a layer of foam and rubber and has small holes to allow air to escape when under pressure.

Other features include a pullout water-bottle holder, a removable CD sleeve and a retractable ticket holder that slides in and out of its pocket.

As the market has grown, so has competition. EBags carries some 50 brands of laptop bags, and everyday it adds more laptop-related products, Cobb said.

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The wide selection of laptop bags can overwhelm consumers, so start with a style that matches your personality, make sure your computer fits and examine the features inside.

“In the laptop market, you get what you pay for,” Cobb said. “The top brand names are making excellent products. What is interesting in the laptop category is that there is no true leader, and it has opened the market for some niche players, like Mobile Edge and Road Wired.”

Heavy competition almost persuaded David Cartwright to abandon the business after leaving a 15-year career at Targus. Then he discovered the undertapped market that mixed fashion and quality.

His new company, Mobile Edge, sells bags with style, such as the pink-suede laptop tote that shares 10 percent of its $200 price with the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

“Most of the designer bags that say they fit a computer don’t offer the protection,” said Cartwright, whose company uses SafetyCell, a heavy egg-crate foam, to protect PCs.

Mobile Edge tests a bag by dropping it on its edge from 3 feet. On its premium messenger bags, it added features such as gel-cushioned handles, a shock-absorbing bungee strap to alleviate shoulder pressure and a pocket made of zinc that kills wireless signals so that a phone can’t disturb a meeting.

For products geared toward women, Mobile Edge didn’t skimp on materials or features. There’s embossed leather, double-stitched handles to prevent thread breakage and special zippers from YKK Fastening that won’t fall apart.

“We use the same microfiber material as Kate Spade,” Cartwright said.