Computer Guide

Q & A


Travelling with a Laptop

I intend to spend a couple of months travelling though the outback and will be purchasing a laptop computer to be used to store photos from my digital camera, to send/receive e-mail and watch my investments by using my mobile phone that I was told can act as a modem and also would like to connect to my hand-held GPS that I may need for navigation. Could you tell me what features that I need in a Laptop?

You do not require a very powerful nor elaborate Laptop for these applications. The main requirement is that you must have a laptop that has a serial port. This may be essential for the GPS and possibly for the phone. I imagine that the camera will have a USB port and all new laptops have USB ports. Some laptops that do not have a serial port will have some adaptors that can be used to connect to a serial device. My strong suggestion is that you do NOT purchase any laptop unless you receive a written guarantee that this adaptor will work with all serial devices. I have seen two that do not work with a GPS (Global Positioning System).

The only other consideration is to have a CD or DVD burner as this should be used to create backups of the photos and mail. These CDs can be mailed home in case the laptop is damaged or stolen. Any new laptop with 256 MB of RAM should suffice. If you are a keen photographer with a big Megapixel camera then purchase one with a large hard disk.

Prior to starting test that you can use your phone as a modem. In some cases this can take a moderate amount of effort and several phone calls to tech support. Also be aware of the costs involved depending on the type of modem connection. The older type of connection is limited to about 14.4 kbps and you pay for the connect time. If you are using a GPRS (General Packet Radio Services) modem then this is much faster, 56 kbps, and you do not pay for the connect time but for the data downloaded.  This can be a trap when viewing web pages with large graphics or downloading images as you can quickly clock up a large bill due to the high speed. Reading Spam junk mail containing images will also be expensive. To minimise this cost use a program such as Mailwasher from  that allows you to view the size of the messages prior to downloading and delete unwanted messages on the server without downloading them and saving time and money.

If you do not have a cable for your GPS you can purchase one from for substantially less than from the manufacturers. That site has other GPS accessories and software. A good shareware program for Garmin and Magellan units is Gartrip. See: for details.

I have assumed that you are not referring to a movie camera. If you are then you need at least 512 MB or RAM, a DVD burner, the fastest CPU that you can afford and then ensure that your movie camera has a USB 2 port or a FireWire adaptor for the Laptop.

Finally, if you intend to run your laptop for many hours away from a powered site, purchasing an inverter to provide mains voltage from a 12 volt battery from electronics shops should be considerably cheaper than purchasing such an adaptor from the laptop supplier.

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For further details contact George Skarbek at