Updated on June 6, 1999
"A computer in an RV? Bah! Humbug," you might say. Well, Alice and I have many reasons for using a computer as we go full-timing around the country.
We have been using computers for years (since 1957 as a matter of fact). In 1972 we had one of the first "home computers" sitting in our living room: a DEC PDP-8 with an old KSR-33 teletype; our boys learned blackjack strategy playing on it. If you know what I'm talking about, you have been into computers too long.
When we went to full-timing we took along our 1-year old (already) obsolete AT&T Pentium 100 tower and added laptops for each of us. (Actually, I got a new Toshiba Satellite Pro laptop and gave Alice my old -- read that sloooww -- IBM ThinkPad). In our condominium we had had clean power and plenty of room. We did not have to worry about how much the computer weighed, or about bouncing around (even though we lived in earthquake country), or about surviving in both freezing and scorching temperatures. In an RV, all these are problems.
Since then I have moved on to a newer Toshiba laptop and given Alice my Satellite Pro. We also replaced the AT&T system with a faster, bigger PC (that only cost $489!). We gave the IBM ThinkPad to my sister to get her Online.
If you have a choice, I recommend you select a laptop for use in an RV. The price of suitable laptops has plummeted in the past few months so they are becoming affordable for more and more people.
The reasons a laptop is best are less weight, greater portability, and more ruggedness.
A desktop system consists of the computer box and separate monitor, keyboard, and mouse. My old AT&T Tower PC with all its parts weighs in at over 50 pounds; my laptop weighs less than 7 and that includes the display, keyboard, and mouse. I was about to threw out my desktop PC, then I found a use for it.
Obviously the weight has a lot to do with portability. Not having to keep track of all the cables also helps. Portability is most important if you want to use the Internet for email or Web surfing. Very few campgrounds offer telephone connections at the campsite, and cellular connections are not quite there yet, so you have to take the computer to the telephone jack, usually in the office or lodge. I carry my laptop with its power supply in a small backpack; I can go anywhere, and the walking is good exercise.
Laptops are very rugged these days. You have to worry a great deal about banging your desktop system and monitor around, but laptops have been designed to be wrestled about and even dropped (but don't do it to prove a point). They are easier to place in an RV and you do not have to be so careful.
I have some suggestions about what features a laptop must have to be useful on the road:
A couple of months ago I purchased a Toshiba Satellite 4005CDT meeting these specs for under $2,000 plus the warranty. I have seen laptops in catalogs and on the Internet for several hundred dollars less. Just be careful about going for the lowest price; you need a good dealer and reputable manufacturer to back up your warranty.
The old workhorse for many of us is the desktop PC with its heavy computer box and separate monitor, keyboard and mouse. It serves well in an RV unless you want to connect to the Internet, provided you can find some where to set it up to use it and some place to store it while traveling.
We do have a desktop system in our rig in addition to our laptops. I decided to keep it after finding out that a one-year old computer was nearly worthless on the open market. Alice and I use it as a file and print server for our laptops. I also use it for painting on the graphics tablet and for image processing; the monitor provides a better picture than do the laptop screens.
As you can see, a desktop PC takes considerable space. Of course, there is also a printer, scanner, and a bunch of diskettes and CDROMs, but the bulk and weight are in the PC.
I built a rolling cart for the PC tower and printer. It is stored under built-in shelving with a drop-down door that serves as a work space. The monitor has its own space and travels well with the door closed. There is also storage for a scanner, a Zip drive, and my collection of computer manuals and CDROMs. With the rolling cart I can pull the system out to get to the wiring in back of the system.
Comments on what peripherals should you have with your computer are found in another report.