Barebones Laptop

I've just returned from a trip to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands (and yes, it was fantastic). Due to strict limits on luggage amounts and weights, I decided to try a new strategy for my computing needs.

Dell 300M, iPad

Dell 300M, iPad

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a recent owner of an iPad, and have been very happy traveling with it. For movies, web surfing, checking email, listening to music and some basic word processing and spreadsheets and the apps, it’s great. However, while the camera connection kit has recently released for it, that’s not a viable option for me to download large quantities of RAW photos. For that I’d need either a digital wallet or a computer.

I’ve got an Epson P-3000, which is one of the better digital wallet devices out there. With a nice bright screen I can download cards to its internal hard drive and check them onscreen. However, it’s only 30GB, a bit small for a trip like this, and I also wanted to start marking, sorting, adding metadata and copying images. For that I really needed a computer.

From Quito we’d be taking another flight out to the Galapagos islands on AeroGal, and while they fly fairly large jets, they only allow one checked bag of up to 20 kilos (44 pounds) and one carry-on of up to 10 kilos (22 pounds). That meant I had to plan carefully while packing, and wanted to take the smallest, lightest laptop I could. I’ve wondered about using a netbook for this sort of thing, but for a test I took an old Dell 300M from 2003. Pulling the 30GB drive it had, I replaced that with a 120GB one I had on the shelf. It has 312MB RAM, which is very low, but ran fine with an installation of Windows XP. Plus the only software I really had to run on it was Photo Mechanic, which would handle all the tasks I needed. For good measure I also installed an old version of Photoshop Elements and the free Outlook Express. Without the battery it weighed-in at about 2.5 lbs, and I made a soft sleeve for it out of foam rubber and put it in my checked baggage with its power adapter.

So how did it work? Just fine. It allowed me to download, mark, add info and all the usual stuff I need to do. And I backed everything up to a 64GB SanDisk Ultrabackup USB stick, which is currently my favorite way to back-up on the road. Hard to beat that size! However, having a laptop and not being able to do much else was a little frustrating. That means I’m now in the hunt for an ultraportable laptop, perhaps a netbook. While I wouldn’t want to use one of those for the majority of my computing work, a small 2.5 lb. unit with great battery life would actually let me get some real work done. So that will be my next move, getting one of those. With it in my checked luggage and the iPad in my carry-on, I’ll have the best of both worlds. And that’s a good thing!

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