Laptop Computer.

Warning: This information is very out of date!

A laptop* computer has become an essential piece of equipment to carry in a campervan. Uses include:

Only one of these uses, storing a very large number of digital photographs, is likely to tax any modern laptop computer. It is certainly not necessary to have a particularly large or fast one, reliability is probably the most important consideration. My current favorite (shown above) is the very small Sony Vaio PCG-SR21K. (At 1.36kg, 259mm by 209mm by 32mm) mounted on a Jotto stand.(But now see here).


It is definitely not a good idea to buy a new laptop just before a major overland trip! The first three months of use is likely to be the time when hardware and software faults are discovered.

The minimum hardware specification for a suitable "overland" laptop include:

Processor Speed: this is not very important and any modern laptop is likely to be "over kill" for this application. If Microsoft Windows 2000 is being used a processor speed of 300MHz is adequate. If a new laptop is being purchased the best value for money is often found between 50% and 75% of the fastest processor speeds available.

RAM: although none of the probable applications require very large amounts of RAM, more RAM (up to a point) usually increases system stability. For Windows 2000 128MB is about right.

Hard Disk: with the exception of storing digital photographs it is very unlikely that you will generate significant amounts of data during an overland trip (and you certainly should not be adding any software after the start of your trip) so providing you have (say) 1GB free that should be enough. With Windows 2000 and a reasonable set of software 3GB should be sufficient. However if you intend to use your laptop for navigation (with a GPS receiver for example) then you need to be sure you have sufficient capacity to store all your digital maps on the hard drive rather than on CD-ROM. It is easy to accumulate a couple of gigabytes of map data. Storing digital photographs uses considerable disk space. A typical 3 mega-pixel photograph from a digital camera uses about a megabyte of disk space. On a recent trip to China we took more than five hundred photographs each month. We also agreed, within the group, to store each other's digital photographs (for reasons of security) so by the end of the trip we had more than 12,000 photographs occupying more than 7GB.

A USB CompactFlash card reader (left) and a PCMCIA CompactFlash card reader (bottom).Interfaces: Nearly all modern laptops come with at least one USB port and at least one PCMCIA (PC) card slot. Both of these can be used to read CompactFlash and SmartMedia cards (as used in digital cameras) using a cheap adaptor. Because a digital camera quickly becomes useless if you can not download the pictures from it I recommend you have at least two alternative methods of transferring data from your camera to your laptop.

A Sony Vaio SR21K connected to a Siemens C35 GSM phone via a USB to serial adaptor.In addition to using CompactFlash and SmarMedia cards to transfer data from your digital camera they can also be very useful for exchanging data with your traveling companions (far better than using floppy disk).

Most, but by no means all, laptop computers have a Serial/RS232 port that can be used to connect to the Internet via a GSM (cell) or Iridium (satellite) phone. This interface is also useful for connecting to a self contained GPS receiver. (Dedicated computer GPS receivers may use serial or USB or PCMCIA interfaces). If your laptop does not have a serial port and your GSM phone will not accept a USB connection then you will need to use a USB to serial (or PCMCIA to serial) converter.

A PCMCIA Network card.Many larger laptop computers also have a 10/100MBits/S Ethernet Network port, this can occasionally be useful if you can persuade an Internet cafe (or business oriented hotel) to let you connect to their network.

If your laptop does not have a built in network interface a PCMCIA network card can be used.

A Power source for your Laptop.

Targus 12 volt Laptop Power Suplly.All laptop computers come with a mains (230 or 110 volt AC) power supply (usually in the form of an external box). Assuming you campervan is equipped with a sine-wave inverter of suitable power this can be used to charge your laptop.

However if your inverter produces a modified square wave (and most of the big ones do) then you may be better off using a 12volt power supply from a company like Targus.

* Throughout this section I have only considered laptop computers based on the Intel Pentium or compatible processors running some form of Microsoft Windows, this is not because Apple laptops are unsuitable but because I know very little about them.

Home - This page last changed on 2015-03-02.