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Laptop vs. desktop for year-long RV trip
Thread poster: Sonya Gerisch

Sonya Gerisch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:09
Member (2004)
German to English
Aug 1, 2006

Hello all,

I will be traveling and working in an RV (recreational vehicle) for at least a year and am trying to decide whether to purchase a laptop to replace my desktop or to simply get a cheap laptop for those times when my Internet service might go down and I have to send files off from somewhere other than the RV. In that case, I would simply move my desktop to the RV. If I replace the desktop, the replacement laptop would be a sturdier Dell business laptop that has a docking station for use as a desktop.

Reasons for purchase:
Laptop more suitable for travel with hardier components.
Convienence of having only 1 computer that is both portable and stationary while traveling.
New laptop would be of course faster and more up-to-date
Business computer comes with enhanced service and warranty plans from Dell
Laptop is of course smaller and lighter, which is important in RV travel.


Reasons against purchase:
No. 1 is cost: around $2500 for what I would need and I am on a fairly tight budget. I have the money, but it would reduce my "emergency fund."
Also, my current desktop runs great without any problems but it is a desktop and I don't know how it would respond to that much movement in the RV as well as the climate changes.

I have already read the posts about laptop vs. desktop and it seems like there are an equal amount of opinions on both sides, but that many people use the laptop as an accessory to their desktop.

I am looking for specific feedback based on my unique situation.

Thanks so much in advance for any opinions or suggestions.


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Vito Smolej
Germany
Local time: 21:09
Member (2004)
English to Slovenian
+ ...
I would FIRST think of backups Aug 1, 2006

laptop, desktop, schleptop - they all can get stolen, banged up etc. So one (or even two) USB HDs and memory sticks are a must. Plus ... why not some site online, where you can keep all your familiy jewels and even work on eversywhere you get into the net.

The issue laptop vs desktop then remains, but it is less important - in view of the value of other assets like texts, TMs etc... If I set 2,5k for it, Id probably get a lowend (2nd hand, why not...) desk-top and a PDA ... Why desktop? Dragging laptop around seedy places with internet hotspot is asking for trouble. PDA? can do a lot of what you intend to do and its less obivous.

[Edited at 2006-08-01 11:30]


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Sonya Gerisch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:09
Member (2004)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Backup is not an issue Aug 1, 2006

Vito Smolej wrote:

laptop, desktop, schleptop - they all can get stolen, banged up etc. So one (or even two) USB HDs and memory sticks are a must. Plus ... why not some site online, where you can keep all your familiy jewels and even work on eversywhere you get into the net.

The issue laptop vs desktop then remains, but it is less important - in view of the value of other assets like texts, TMs etc... If I set 2,5k for it, Id probably get a lowend (2nd hand, why not...) desk-top and a PDA ... Why desktop? Dragging laptop around seedy places with internet hotspot is asking for trouble. PDA? can do a lot of what you intend to do and its less obivous.

[Edited at 2006-08-01 11:30]


Thank you for the info, but I specifically requested information about what I posted. I can assure you that no matter what I do, I will continue to have daily remote backup of everything just as I have done for the last 6 years.

Thank you for the PDA suggestion as well. Although, I will actually have a satellite system on my rig for continuous Internet access; I would only be going to "seedy" places with internet access if for some reason the satellite system went down. It is just a backup as well.


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Henry Hinds  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:09
English to Spanish
+ ...
Laptop Aug 1, 2006

Think of this. Unless you have it chained down quite well, the first time you hit the brakes hard your desktop will bite the dust. Best to get a laptop.

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RobinB  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:09
German to English
Go for the laptop Aug 1, 2006

Hi Sonya,

I'd recommend going for the laptop for exactly the reasons you give. Plus:

- If you have sensitive customer data, you can take it with you on the laptop (or even better: copy it to a pocket-sized large-MB USB drive and delete it on your computer). Certainly none of the customers we work for would ever permit some sort of Internet-based file backup system.

- As you quite rightly suspect, your desktop is designed to be anchored to a single spot all of its life. A laptop should be much more robust, especially if it's well packed away while you're driving.

But: you'd better check your insurance, which may not cover business electronic equipment in your RV.

And make sure your service plan is basically "anywhere, anytime".

You may not need a docking station, either. When I use my laptop in "desktop scenarios", I have a Logitech cordless keyboard and mouse (they work with a USB stick) that are so absolutely brilliant I bought them for my primary workstation, too! Then all you need do is plug in an LCD screen and off you go. Provided you have standard ports on your laptop, you surely wouldn't need a docking station.

And haggle like hell on the prices - Dell's share price is going through a sticky patch at the moment!

Robin


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Sonya Gerisch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:09
Member (2004)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Anything we have will be properly secured Aug 1, 2006

Henry Hinds wrote:

Think of this. Unless you have it chained down quite well, the first time you hit the brakes hard your desktop will bite the dust. Best to get a laptop.


We will make sure anything we have laptop or desktop is properly secured. The problem would be more the vibration from the travel or the climate changes.


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Sonya Gerisch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:09
Member (2004)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Fulltimer insurance Aug 1, 2006

RobinB wrote:

you'd better check your insurance, which may not cover business electronic equipment in your RV


Good point. You actually have to get special fulltiming Rvers insurance. There are companies that specialize in it.

It is good to point out though in case others are considering it.

Your average trailer insurance will not cover your valuables only damage to the trailer.


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Dr. Stephan Pietzko  Identity Verified
Canada
Local time: 12:09
Member (2002)
English to German
Laptop! Aug 1, 2006

I'd definitely take a laptop on the trip because compared to a desktop it is far more shock/vibration resistant. This is especially true for the HDs. Just check and compare those "g"-values of 2.5" (laptop) with 3.5" (desktop) HDs.

Another important point: laptops do consume much less power. So when you depend on your RV's batteries this will be a big advantage.

What satellite internet system will you be using? - I am interested because I also plan to be on the road soon.

Have fun on your trip!

Stephan


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Terry Richards
France
Local time: 21:09
French to English
+ ...
What about the monitor? Aug 1, 2006

I don't think you would have too much trouble with your desktop main box. If anything does shake loose, you can just plug it back in.

The monitor, on the other hand, would be far too fragile.

Unless you have an LCD screen...


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Jan Sundström  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 21:09
English to Swedish
+ ...
Check: options for spares and repairs? Aug 1, 2006

Sonya Gerisch wrote:
New laptop would be of course faster and more up-to-date
Business computer comes with enhanced service and warranty plans from Dell


You didn't describe your desktop PC, but these days there are very small casings (HTPC) that won't take up much more than a laptop.

My main reason against desktop PC would be the monitor. Even a flat screen LCD would be very difficult to secure against vibration, unless you box it up between each use. I'd worry that the foot would break or tip over. There's no easy way to rig it 100% vibration-free.

Besides, you didn't mention the power in the RV: 12/24V or 110/220? It's true that a desktop system would zap more current + you'll have no battery backup if the mains would go down.

My gut feeling says: if you got the money, stick to laptop only.
If you're forced to minimize the costs, spend a bit on upgrading your desktop system, and you might pull it through.

For laptop, there are still a few caveats:
- Will you have convenient access to repair/spares? If you're in the jungle/desert/on a mountain top, you don't want to drive miles to hand it in for repair. What are the conditions for the Dell deal? Will they give you a replacement on the spot, or will you be stranded for weeks? If that's an issue, a desktop PC is much more user serviceable and spares can be bought over the counter in any Radio Shack.
- I'd say that the laptop is just as prone to climate related problems, if not more, than most desktop PCs.

If you're forced to stick to desktop:
- Do a few modifications, or ask someone to do it for you.

I hang out at SilentPCReview, which has a great guide how to customize for tough conditions:
http://www.silentpcreview.com/article293-page1.html

Main points in order of importance:
- Upgrade the hard drive to a shockproof version (laptop type 2,5" can easily be fitted with an adapter), and suspend it with antivibrational rubber straps (SilentPCReview has lots of info)
- Get a high-quality PSU which won't fry when you feed it with dirty current (thunderstorms, car battery and generator failure, I don't know how reliable your power system is in the RV)
- Give unrestricted air flow to the PSU (custom made duct)
- Upgrade CPU fan and casing fans if necessary
- High-end casings today come with rubber studs for the mother board and all drives. If your current casing is flimsy and/or has poor electrical insulation, it's a good time to upgrade too.

If you do all this, you can have a bulletproof system which is more reliable than a laptop (think spares/repairs again). Still, it would probably cost you anything from $500 or more, + a few hours of labour.

Best,

Jan


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Jan Sundström  Identity Verified
Sweden
Local time: 21:09
English to Swedish
+ ...
Put the money on rugged gear Aug 1, 2006

If you have the money and zero downtime is a priority, I found a better option than Dell:

http://www.stealthcomputer.com/littlepc.htm

There are DC options, they're tiny, and you can get rugged LCD monitors with any type of mount you want: wall/ceiling, metal swivel arm, panel mount...

If I was preparing for the same trip and knew that I'd be spending a lot of time in front of the computer, I would seriously look into this range.

Let us know what you opt for in the end, Sonya!

/Jan


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Sonya Gerisch  Identity Verified
Local time: 15:09
Member (2004)
German to English
TOPIC STARTER
Satellite system Aug 1, 2006

Dr. Stephan Pietzko wrote:

What satellite internet system will you be using? - I am interested because I also plan to be on the road soon.


Stephan


Several people have asked about the satellite system. Here is what I wrote in a PM to someone earlier in case anyone else is interested. Keep in mind this post was specific to her questions so not everything will apply:

"The best place to do research is http://escapees.infopop.cc/eve/forums

You can register for free.

Go to technical trips and tips or to working from the road.
You can also do searches of the entire forum content.
I started looking into this about 4 years ago.

Here in the US at least, and I would assume it would be the same everywhere, you do not need a phone line. Satellite is satellite (sounds dumb but I don't know how else to explain it). You need a receiver. The problem with moving from place to place is "homing in" on the satellite at each stop.

We are probably going with Rv-anywhere.org. It is expensive at $3250 up front to set up. (But it includes a receiver for TV also.) This one requires that you do a tripod setup each time you stop. It supposedly only takes a few minutes once you get the hang of it.

It is middle of the road expense-wise compared to other systems though. If you have to have daily internet access like we do, there is not much else unless your whole country becomes wireless or every single campground has a reliable connection.
We plan to "boondock" some (stay without hookups) so we couldn't rely on that anyway.

The setup fee doesn't include monthly fees for access (from 60-100 dollars).

There is another system called "motosat" or "datastorm"; it is on-the-fly which means it homes in automatically but it costs about $6000 for the setup.

We haven't made a final decision yet though.

http://www.rv.net/forum/ is another place to do good searches for info.

HTH


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Jo Macdonald  Identity Verified
Spain
Local time: 21:09
Member (2005)
Italian to English
+ ...
Go mobile Aug 2, 2006

Hi Sonya,
I've been using a laptop as my only computer for over a year now and it's great. I also take it on the road in the kitebus for kite trips, get one that will fit in the safe. You might need a 12V power cable for the computer as mine trips the cutout on the converter when charging the battery. A 12V car/camper battery last ages if the laptop has a Centrino or other low consumption Cpu.

A Umts cell phone will give you good speed just about anywhere, get a flat rate deal, or hit a wirefire hotspot for real heavy up/downloads. Can be a bit of a hassle to configure the phone/Bluetooth/PC setup but once you get it sorted you'll be ok.

There should be another of my posts on this with other folk's comments too, see if you can find it.

Go mobile.


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