What Computer Peripherals
Should You Have in an RV?

Updated on June 6, 1999

A peripheral is something you attach to your computer to do a particular operation, like printing or scanning. Some peripherals are required and some are like toys, you collect more than you need. Here are computer peripherals that we have. We like them all.


Epsom printerEveryone needs a printer, right? Yes and No. We have an Epson 600 Color Stylus printer. It cost about $275 a year ago. It prints up to 600 dots per inch, but usually we only print 300 dots per inch on regular paper. There are finer printers (that cost more) that will print over 1200 dot per inch on special photographic quality paper. We print only about ten pages per month because most of our information stays in the computer.

There is one great use for a printer every RVer should look into: printing personal "business" cards. You can buy business card stock at many office supply stores and design and print your own cards to pass out to people you meet.

Zip Drive

Zip disk driveThe Iomega Zip Drive that we use reads and writes special removable diskettes that hold 100 megabytes of data. There is another version that goes up to 250 megabytes, but it is more expensive.

A floppy diskette holds only 1.44 megabytes. If you collect much data, such as photographs, it is far easier to store that data on Zip disks than on floppy disks. It is also good for backing up other files on your hard disk.

Our Zip drive connects through a parallel port. You can also connect one through a SCSI port. There are competing products that provide even greater storage capacity. We have attached the Zip drive to the desktop PC and use the Local Area Network to allow the laptops to access it.


scannerA scanner scans an image into a digital file. The file can then be viewed as an image on the computer screen or processed by OCR (optical character recognition) software to create a text file of the printing in the image. We attach the scanner to the parallel ports of the laptops to do the scanning when we need it.

We use our Umax 1220P Scanner (it cost $200 a year ago) to archive our old photographs and to make copies of interesting articles from magazines. The photographic images are stored on Zip disks. We will give the photos back to our kids for their disposal. When we have extracted the interesting articles from a magazine, we can dispose of the magazine and reduce the weight in our rig.

We also make copies of the campground maps for future reference.

One use of a scanner is to act as a copier. We scan the document we want to copy, then print the image. It is much slower than the Kinko's Xerox machine, but we have the time.

Global Position Satellite System

GPSThere are 24 satellites circling the earth at about 10,000 miles up whose signals can be used by a Global Position Satellite (GPS) unit to compute the position of the unit on the surface of the earth. Our GPS unit sits on the dashboard of our truck (the puck-sized white thing on the dash) and connects to a laptop.

The TravRoute Co-Pilot program running in the laptop uses the readings from the unit to continuously compute our position and display it on a map on the computer screen. The Co-Pilot program will also determine the "best" route to our destination and show it on the map as well. We use the GPS whenever we are traveling to a new area.

I highly recommend use of a GPS with routing software to anyone who is traveling extensively into areas where he or she has not traveled before. I am no longer white-knuckled going into new areas because I know when turns are coming up. I have an accurate check on my speed, and even though I may make a wrong turn or go the wrong way, I will not be lost, just temporarily misplaced.

The GPS is attached to the serial port of the laptop. We have a 200 watt DC to AC inverter which plugs into the cigarette lighter connection in the truck to supply power for the computer.

A comment on the Co-Pilot software. I have version 1.0. From what I hear, version 2.0 has some improvements and some omissions. Version 2000 does not appear to offer much more than version 2.0.

Graphics Tablet

Graphics tabletI have an older Wacom graphics tablet. It is a surface that can sense the position of the special pen provided with the tablet. It can be used as a mouse device, or with certain software, it can be used like a paint brush to create an image.

I also have Fractal Design's Painter software which I use with the tablet. It is great fun creating images. Unfortunately, having nice equipment does not bless me with much in the way of talent -- maybe practice will help.

Snappy Video Capture

SnappySnappy is an older video capture device. You feed the video signal from the TV or a Camcorder into the Snappy and upon command, it will make a copy of one frame of the video as a digital image. This can then be saved or modified as you choose.

Since I do not use it very often, I attach Snappy to my laptop's parallel port when I need it. The other end of the cable goes to the TV.

This is one way of obtaining digital images of your family or scenes you like. It is also a good way to capture a picture from a favorite movie or ballgame. I found that it reproduced all the distortions of my camcorder or that were in the TV. That was one of the reasons I went to the digital camera.

Digital Camera

digital cameraThough it is not a direct peripheral to the computer, our Sony Mavica FD-7 digital camera is closely tied to the computer. When I snap a picture with the Mavica, it stores the image on a floppy disk as a .jpg file. This floppy disk can then be read into the computer for viewing the image. I get an average of 17 images on each floppy disk. After I have copied the image files to the computer, I can delete the files on the floppy and reuse it. It is like having reusable film and no development costs.

All of the images on these web pages were shot with our Mavica camera. One of the more interesting pictures was the one above where I had to take a picture of the camera taking a picture of itself. I need to work on this shot.

Our daughter, Deb, has a digital camera with much higher resolution. The images are stored on a flash memory card which is reusable but costs a lot more than floppy disks. You can see some great photos at Deb's website.

Local Area Network

Local Area NetworkingI had the trailer wired with Category 5 wiring and planned to install an Ethernet hub so I could hook the computers together into a Local Area Network. This was so I could share files amongst computers and share use of the printer. However, I never got around to installing the connectors on the wiring.

After seven months I decided to take a different approach to upgrading and went to a wireless LAN from Webgear. The black device on the back of the laptop is the wireless LAN unit. I went this route because of costs and other difficulties. But I had some difficulties making it all work. You can read about that experience in RV Report on PC LANs.

Palm Pilot

Palm PilotOne of the "toys" we have for the road is a Palm Pilot. Alice now swears by this device. We use it to keep an address and phone list, grocery list, general shopping list, to do list, calendar, and scheduled task reminders. It reminds us of haircut day, when to wind the clock, when to order mail, and when we have meetings we should attend.

The Palm Pilot is normally carried in her purse, but it can also be linked to the computer and synchronized with the database stored in the computer. It takes a lot of abuse as it is carried around, and it has held up well.

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