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Laptop for MC Use


Albert

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Mods if this isn't the right forum feel free to move.

I'm thinking of getting a small laptop to carry on the bike. I'd like something with a real keyboard but small enough for motorcycle use. Other than email, word processing and spreadsheets I'd like to be able to run Mapsource or Basecamp for gps routing. Anyone have favorites or things to look out for? TIA

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If you just want something cheap. Check out a Netbook. They can usually be picked up locally off of craigslist for $50-$100. Does all of the basics including Mapsource, and the memory is solid state, so there are no worries of hard drive damage from vibration.

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markgoodrich

I'm gonna disagree with Keith, but only on a single issue with netbooks: the keyboards are extremely small. I bought one for bike travel two or three years ago, and literally could not type on it (I'm a touch typist). I bought a slightly larger notebook, and find it useable. However, it was a lot more expensive than a netbook. These days, if I wasn't going to use Mapsource, I'd probably just take my android smartphone along and stumble-thumb along.

 

Albert, if you already have a laptop, try packing it, see if it will fit.

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Most netbooks, especially the ones that come with spinning drives, not SSD. That said, modern HDDs are awfully rugged; I took an Apple Macbook to Alaska and back, and rarely shut it down.

 

I have had an 8.9" (too small) Acer, 10.1" (pretty good compromise) Acer, and a Google Chromebook with a 12" screen; the Chromebook is on the upper end of what I like for portability, but a full-size keyboard is wonderful to have. A solid state drive is both rugged and fast; boot times on the 10.1" Acer are about 30 seconds. But, unless you want to spend a lot of money, SSDs are pricey per byte.

 

Last month I set up an Acer 11.6" for someone, and it was a damned nice little laptop, with a decent keyboard, better than expected trackpad, and claimed 7 hour battery life. At the time, these were going for $279 at Target; I just checked target.com, and they are now $289.99 store price for a netbook with a decent size screen and keyboard, and AMD Dual-core Processor C-60 rather than the usual Intel Atom.

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I have a laptop from work that I carry when I ride for business (it doesn't belong to me). Unfortunately it takes the entire top case and barely fits. The Netbook option might be the way to go.

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I had a Dell netbook. Loved the thing. 160gb internal SSD and could pack it anywhere, even a cargo pocket (it stuck out the top). Need more storage, use an external TB drive. I ended up giving it to my daughter so she could have a portable machine. Yes the keyboard is small, but it is easily typable and for the requirements that you describe, the little machine would work. I do intend on getting another one just for what you described and also to add on the road videos to.

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I've carried my small Toshiba Satellite with me for years. It packs nicely in the topbox of the RT. I have it loaded with MS Streets & Trips, Garmin Mapsource software and the programs needed to process my digital photography at the end of the day. I found this proper laptop with its small screen and full keyboard provides the connectivity I desire for all my devices (MP3 Player, Digital Camera, Video Camera, portable hard drive), as well as allowing connectivity via VGA or HDMI cable to motel TV screens, where I can stream Netflix or other media (like my day's video footage). It's also more comfortable for Skype or networking than the alternatives.

 

I've tried replacing the laptop with a tablet, but there are too many limitations for my purposes in those at the moment.

 

I suspect a small laptop would set you back ~$400, or much less if used.

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Regardless if you decide to go netbook or small laptop, check out Newegg and Tigerdirect for factory refurbed models.

 

no sense in paying full retail for something that is going to get bounced around and beat up.

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I used to carry an Acer netbook on the bike, so I could run Mapsource for my GPS. We've since switched our household entirely to Mac, so I now carry a MacBook Air to run Basecamp for GPS purposes. It's very thin and light, but noticeably faster/more powerful than my netbook. Using it to run the mapping software is much, much better the netbook ever was. All this, of course, comes for a price. It was about three times the price of the Acer. That was offset by the fact my wife bought it for me for my birthday.

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+1 for a netbook. I also had a Toshiba that I carried everywhere and loved it. The only aggravating part for me was the mouse touch-pad, which I solved with a small wireless mouse. All in all it was a great little package. I ended up cracking the screen though on a recent trip. The cost of a replacement screen was not much less than a replacement netbook, which I have yet to acquire.

 

Good luck.

 

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I have a netbook, and though it is a bit dated now, I would not go back to one again, and I would avoid any that use an Atom processor. Mine is painfully slow even when just using the web. Ultraportbles and tablets have taken away much of the netbook market. For your application you would not want a tablet, so I would suggest something like this.

 

The HP Pavilion has a good processor and a bigger screen and keyboard while still being way smaller than a full-size laptop. It seems like a good compromise. I getting ready to pull the trigger on one myself.

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A while back I stumbled across an older Sony VGN-T150 on Craigslist that some guy was looking to unload for $125. Works fine for the basics, which is all I needed, and it's compact and light. What's interesting is that for its small size it has an actual DVD drive on the side.

 

The only drawback is the limitations of the HD inside - typically smaller capacity (40G-60G, 80G if replaced with a Toshiba MK8007GAH), and somewhat slower response time (Parallel ATA interface, with a disk speed of only 4500 RPM).

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We've since switched our household entirely to Mac, so I now carry a MacBook Air to run Basecamp for GPS purposes. It's very thin and light, but noticeably faster/more powerful than my netbook.
Agree. If money isn't a big factor the Air is the box to get. It's all solid state, not even a SATA interface to slow down the "drive". I scrapped the Mac OS and loaded Windows 7 on it. Works great and I didn't have to learn another OS or have an emulator or other stuff getting in my way. The 13" version fits into the left side case of a 1200RT (up against the outside).
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I have a netbook, and though it is a bit dated now, I would not go back to one again, and I would avoid any that use an Atom processor. Mine is painfully slow even when just using the web.

That's largely an artifact of Windows and the HDD. With a 32gb SSD, 2gb of RAM, and Linux, my netbook flies — every application other than a Photoshop-like graphics program (GIMP) loads in 2 seconds or less. Startup 30 seconds; shutdown 4 seconds. Even after 2 years of use, I have about 20gb free space on the solid state drive.

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Jerry Johnston

I’d recommend going to a store and checking out the netbooks to see if you’re ok with the smaller screen & keyboard. I have both a Sony Vaio T150 & an Acer AOA150. I like them both. The Acer being newer is faster than the Acer and I carry a USB DVD for the Acer when I think we need it. Both have very bright screens and long battery usage. I just purchased a new battery for the Acer. A 9 cell at a cost of $30 on ebay. It gave the Acer nearly 7 hours of use vrs 1.5hr on the old. The sony has a 9 cell which shows 4.7hrs when fully charged, however varies greatly depending on how bright you want the screen. A local college had a sale on computer equipment and sold the Sony at $30. I had to add a hdd and memory as well as operating system. I also have two laptops, a Dell and a Gateway. For motorcycling if you’re just using a map program and emailing the netbooks seem ideal to me – much lighter than the laptops.

The way I see it the bottom line is…..you need to go check them out for yourself. It’s kind of a personal choice. If money were no object I’d definitely get an Apple netbook. I love their sturdy aluminum case and no fan to worry about.

 

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Shiny Side Up

I don't know much about PCs, but have a Dell netbook with wireless capability and external USB CD drive (powered by the PC - no wall wart) it works fine for MapSource and an occasional web browse when I can fine a wireless router that is unprotected!! Probably not real fast but neither am I anymore!!

Matter of fact - using it right now in the living room!!

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What ever computer you get, back it up before each significant trip if you keep any important data or files on it. You never know. It might get stolen, damaged, or pick up malware from unprotected public WIFI. Also, consider keeping your data in the cloud with something like Dropbox and then you don't have to worry quite as much about lost data.

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Lenovo's X220/X230 is another option. Full keyboard, good display, extremely robust. 12.5" display which is very usable. Great battery life, and swappable batteries. On sale in the $700 range. dealnews.com is a good place to look for deals on this or any other laptop.

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szurszewski
We've since switched our household entirely to Mac, so I now carry a MacBook Air to run Basecamp for GPS purposes. It's very thin and light, but noticeably faster/more powerful than my netbook.
Agree. If money isn't a big factor the Air is the box to get. It's all solid state, not even a SATA interface to slow down the "drive". I scrapped the Mac OS and loaded Windows 7 on it. Works great and I didn't have to learn another OS or have an emulator or other stuff getting in my way. The 13" version fits into the left side case of a 1200RT (up against the outside).

 

+1 on the MacBook Air. I recently killed my previous laptop, and was about a month away from getting a new machine from one of my employers (turned out to be two months), so I bought an open box last year's 11" Air for a good price. I needed something to run presentations from, but was thinking I'd use the new/larger laptop I was soon to get for doing document editing and such. Turns out that I like 11" Air so much, I almost never use the new, larger machine. I do still prefer my 27" iMac when I need to have several documents open at once to edit between them, but for most things, and all things travel, the Air is great.

 

At that size it packs easily on my bike (if I had the bigger map case for my Big Mak tankbag, it would fit in there), runs programs like a real computer instead of netbook, and has pretty good battery life to boot. I don't know how it's keyboard compares to a 17" or so PC laptop, but it's the same, full size, keyboard that's on the MacBook Pros and I find it very pleasant to use.

 

 

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Another +1 on a macbook air. I run lots of OS's so to me the OS doesn't matter. I tried the netbook and it was just too much of a pain to type on. Yes, it was small, but too small to be useful for me.

 

I have an 11" macbook air partitioned to run both Mac OS and Windows 7. Believe it or not, I prefer Mapsource to Basecamp so if I'm going to be doing any mapping, I boot it into windows.

 

Fast machine, easy to touch type on. No moving parts (well.. there IS a small fan). No spinning disk to worry about and more than reasonable battery life. It's a decent windows machine as well...

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I have a Toshiba NB205 netbook which has everthing I want on it (mapsource, word, excel, streets & trips, plus other handy utilities. Mine is a few years old now and a bit slow, but the keyboard isn't too bad. I went into a local Fry's which had a number of different companies with the intention of getting an ASUS, but after trying a few out, found the Toshiba had the best 'feel' for a keyboard. I don't like the built in trackpad, but I have a small mouse I plug into the usb port and it works just fine.

 

One of these days I'll try loading a UNIXy OS on it and see how I like it. The Toshiba does come with a lot of extra crap programs, but they're easy to delete.

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Bill Murray

Another +1 on a netbook.

 

Mine is an HP that I increased the RAM to 2 Gb and installed a 90 Gb SSD drive. I am running Windows 7 Professional, BaseCamp, Mapsource, Word, Excel, and many useful GPS utilities. A small travel-size mouse makes it much easier to use while on the road. It packs well and is far more versatile than a tablet while traveling on the motorcycle.

 

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Lone_RT_rider
Another +1 on a netbook.

 

Mine is an HP that I increased the RAM to 2 Gb and installed a 90 Gb SSD drive. I am running Windows 7 Professional, BaseCamp, Mapsource, Word, Excel, and many useful GPS utilities. A small travel-size mouse makes it much easier to use while on the road. It packs well and is far more versatile than a tablet while traveling on the motorcycle.

 

Albert,

 

You saw my Acer Netbook when I was at Snowshoe and I have had that thing for ages. I will ad one thing to the discussion I think has not been mentioned. There is a difference in the Keyboard size when you make the small jump from the 10.1 inch screen to the 11 inch screen. The 11 inch screen for all purposes is a full size keyboard. My Netbook has 320 GB HD, 4 GB RAM and a great processor. I paid around 350 for it delivered to the house. As Keith said, you may be able to get a refurb a bit cheaper. I am sooooo happy with mine. I have my Mapsource (and all Full version MS office programs) loaded on mine and it works flawlessly. :)

 

One sidenote though. You have to be careful with the power cord connection point. According to some of the forums, the internal connection tends to be a weak point. Specifically, do not rest the 90 degree connector on your leg when holding it in your lap. Make sure it comes out of the connection port without a side load from your leg. :)

 

Shawn

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Thanks Shawn. Yes I saw yours at Snowshoe, in fact that got me to thinking about one. I never got the chance to ask you about it so thanks for the additional info.

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For mc carry, where you must have a PC in order to run some programs that are only on the PC, I'd recommend a "netbook". They have a decent keyboard, plenty of storage, a USB port, etc. The only drawback is most if not all have low screen resolution compared to a regular laptop.....it's workable, but not something I'd use if I did not have a desktop and laptop.

 

Mine is a Toshiba; pretty much bullet proof, and very small to fit in the top case. I use mine for emails, checking weather, running Garmin's Mapsource, storing photos I take on the trip, carrying music and movies (MP4 format) I might want to enjoy, etc,

 

 

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