View Full Version : Laptops for Geocaching
04-27-2006, 09:13 PM
At the event we saw several cachers using laptops. This got us to thinking about one. Need advise on what to look for in a laptop that will be used primarily for geocaching. Just looked on Dell at a B130 for $549. What do you guys use? I don't want to buy one and a week later say I wish I had got that on it. Just looking for your advise.
04-27-2006, 10:38 PM
A mistake I have seen made countless times is people buying without thinking through how they plan to use it and what needs that necessitates. How can you buy something to suit your needs when you don't know what your needs are?
Tell us what you plan to do with it and we'll (the technocrats among us) tell you what you need to accomplish that.
04-27-2006, 10:47 PM
You cachers who use laptops, help us out here. Tell us first how you use your laptop in geocaching and what can be done with a laptop. Give us some ideas. I'm interested also.
Maybe throw in some ideas how a laptop can be used other than for geocaching. But mainly cover geocaching, and what a laptop can do that a desktop can't.
04-27-2006, 11:03 PM
I have an HP that I bought for school. I use it for pocket queries and gsak. I bought cables to hook my Garmin up to it and download waypoints and I can hook my palm to it to. Wireless internet is the best part about it. Find a wifi hotspot and you can log finds, get maps, check for new caches, check email, and get hints. I also use mine for photos. Just dump the digicam images into the laptop and edit or whatever ya want. I also keep a lot of music files on mine and all of my school related stuff. My laptop can do everything that my desktop can, but on the road! You can even set up a laptop in your car as a navigation system. I have seen gps recievers that plug right into the usb port of a laptop. With the right mapping software it's just like having a built in nav system but with all of the other advantages of a laptop.
04-27-2006, 11:57 PM
Just looked on Dell at a B130 for $549.
I use a Dell Inspiron 1100 with various wifi cards. My laptop is very similar to the one you mentioned. It's a workhorse of a computer if you get enough RAM and works great in the field. I use mine mainly for school and storm chasing. They are durable.
As for internet in the field. There are a few options. The first would be a public wifi hotspot. This of course confines you to mostly urban areas but some small towns I have seen have the whole area wifi'ed. They are of course not around here. The second option can be costly but in some cases worth the money. Most cellular phone companies offer wifi cards that will pick up a signal from the normal cellular towers. This means if you can talk on your cell phone you can get on the internet. The cingular plans cost between $29.99 - $59.99. The cards cost from $150 - $250 and you have to sign a contract....figures. As an avid storm chaser this really comes in handy and geocaching can justify it for the rest of the year. I don't know if any of that helps but that's what I found when looking for a way to to get wifi in the field while storm chasing.
04-28-2006, 10:18 AM
I'll echo pretty much everything already said. Generally speaking, you'll pay more for a laptop than a desktop for the same amount of "horsepower". The advantage, though, is MOBILITY. Here are some things we use ours for:
1) Realtime maps. Having a large, color screen is great. Just connect your GPSr to the laptop using your data cable. Be aware that, for most older GPSrs, you will need either a serial port on the laptop or a USB-serial converter. (Most new laptops don't come with a serial port.) We use MS Streets & Trips, but most good map programs provide GPSr support.
2) Wireless internet. Available free at most motels and other areas these days. Great for logging finds, downloading the latest PQs, and checking your email while you are on the road.
3) GSAK. You can load waypoints to your GPSr, log finds, and export to a variety of formats, including CacheMate for you Palm and MS Pocket Streets maps for your PocketPC.
My (general) recommendations: Spend your money on processor speed and RAM. Most of the other built-on components will work just fine. Stick with either a Pentium or AMD processor. Buy from a reputable manufacturer (Dell, IBM, etc.). Get the extended warranty.
**Note: These recommendations, along with a buck and a half will get you a cup of coffee in some resturants.
I'll echo all the above too. Having a 14-15" screen while traveling is great. Like others said, you can use something cheap like Streets and trips, or the brand specific maps for magellan and Grarmin.
To save a couple of $$, buy one of the 12v to 110v inverters that plug into the lighter and plug the normal laptop power cord into that. No sence buying a special 12v adaptor for the laptop.
As far as WiFi, more and more places have it for free so it's not a problem like it was. I also have SBC (now AT&T) DSL which gives you wifi for $1.99 month at their hot spots at McDonalds, UPS stores, and other places. I've never been in a town in AR that doesn't have wifi in at least 1 McDonalds if the town is big enough to have one.
Another option I use is with my Verizon LG4400 cell phone. Since I get 300 minutes, unlimited night and weekends and free nationwide long distance ($35/mo), I can use my phone thru the serial port as a modem and just dial my local SBC number in St. Louis for a connection. That way there are no extra charges to Verizon as far as internet use.
Rich (St. Louis)
06-13-2006, 10:53 PM
1. Did you figure out how you want to use a laptop?
2. Did you buy one?
3. Has it worked out the way you thought it would?
If the answer to any of these is 'no' I will have some more comments, depending on which question has the no answer. Others might have additional comments also. Keep us posted.
06-14-2006, 12:32 PM
Sorry I haven't posted a reply to your comments on the laptop. Thank you all for your help.
No to all of Geezers questions. It was put on hold for the moment. Mrs Cachemate decided she needed a new car more than I needed a laptop. All you old married guys know which one we bought. I have a birthday coming up in August so maybe then. There are so many choices in laptops it confuses me. It will be used almost totally for caching, so I will still need your advise in the future.
Have you thought of getting an older used one? I have an old Panasonic CF-71 toughbook that I bought as gov't surplus that still works great for everything I want to use a laptop for. It's only a P-366 with 196mb of RAM and I got it for $100. I added a wireless network card to it and have been using it for a couple of years now.
The only thing that might make it better for caching is one of the new broadband cellular cards that allow you to use the internet from anyplace a cellphone works, but at $60 a month for the service I'll stick with my hotspots.
06-15-2006, 12:21 AM
ALL the above is good advice, maybe I can help keep it uncomplicated but still useful to your needs.
A few things I feel are minimum to have a useful Laptop for todays aps., be it new are old, and useful in a caching environment:
AMD or INTEL processor (laptops get hot so donít spare on the chip), other things will help cool but start here. *this is just a personal opinion*
An AC/ciglighter adapter (batteries are better now but Iím sure you will not think your laptop is as cacher friendly when unplugged)
A CD-ROM of any speed (almost all programs worth having are too big for any other device) very old ones didn't have them. R/RW/DVD etc are more useful.
At least 2 usb ports, you can hook lots of stuff to them and do sooo few things without them and I feel they are a must if you plan to cache with your laptop, 4 ports are better.
A PCMCIA slot (for all those things like WiFi). Better to have a cheap card in a good one than an expensive card in a cheap one.
A Mini USB (*optical only*) mouse. You are not going to like the things that happen if you are trying to use the touch-pad while bouncing around in your cachemobile.
A serial port or a serial adapter. Some cords use serial ports
USB cords for your GPS, PDA, Digital Camera, etc. *A cheaper way is to order a kit and make them yourself or get them out of Canada.* (your mileage may vary)
A cheap USB to RJ45 network/ethernet adapter for the Hotel/Motel that is still hardwired plus other uses.
A carry case with lots of pockets and a shoulder strap.
There are many more things you may find useful later (plus it is after midnight so I'm typing and thinking with one eye shut :wink: ) but I feel these are so basic and if there is anything I would drop from this list it would be the PCMCIA slot, but before I would drop the CD-ROM I would opt for a palm or iPaq, etc.
Also If you find your laptop it is actually useful it will lead a ruff life so getting a refurb with full warranty or an old used one and spending the extra cash for way-cool programs or even a GPS (they are small like chips) for your PC would be a good choice.
**The mileage of others may vary from mine somewhat but I bet it wont
be by much on the basic stuff.**
06-16-2006, 04:59 PM
A laptop for caching might be a little extravagant (and bulky in the field). Caching is a secondary use for my laptop which is primarily a business machine. As previously stated, a used machine (or maybe a refurb. Dell online option) may be more practical if you remain committed to the purchase. All the previous comments are "right on" for consideration. That said, the larger screen, speed, memory, interface capabilities make its use a pleasure beside a nice PDA (Axim is a bargain) for caching. (Can this stuff/game get expensive or what??)
06-19-2006, 09:46 PM
I lean toward a refurb for Geocaching. I have access to several laptops and I wouldn't take my main laptop out in the field. I have a backpack type carrier for our geocaching laptop and I throw it in the car/truck when we go. Sometimes we use it sometimes we don't.
The size is a disadvantage in a vechicle with bucket seats.
The on screen navigation is great!
With GSAK you can do so many things in the field including uploading waypoints into the GPSr.
With GSAK you can log your finds in the field and then post them on GC.com when you get back home with a couple of keystrokes per cache.
You might want to consider a PDA. You can get a Bluetooth GPSr and do a lot of things plus you can take it to the cache with you. We usually leave it in the car but the small size is really nice in a vehicle with bucket seats. We hang ours on an air conditioner vent. PDA's can get expensive just like laptops.
Our Geocaching laptop is a latitude C400. It is one of the small petit laptops that can be very expensive if purchased new. It doesn't take a lot of horsepower to run Microsoft Streets and Trips and GSAK.
Bottom line - a small form factor refurb machine would be a good choice. Two USB ports or one USB and one serial, depending on your GPSr. Processor 500 or above, RAM 256MB or above, integrated 802.11b wireless good but not necessary. Accessories, a 7 or 8 in one card reader for pictures, a 12volt to 120v converter to power the laptop. Microsoft Streets and Trips/GSAK
A PDA like an iPAQ or Dell Axim. Windows Mobile 5.0 or better. Integrated Bluetooth or a Compact Flash serial adapter depending on your GPSr. GPX sonar/B-Line GPS software/Navigation software.
To me, the ultimate geocaching tool is the laptop with navigation software and GSAK. The best compromise is a PDA.
My .02. YMMV
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