What computers are we using and have used on the road?

We were both computer programmers so taking computers on the road was very important to us.  Notice "computers" instead of "computer" since both of us have our own computers.  

Bill's original personal computer was an Apple II and he learned to program in C, Pascal, and 6502, Z80 and 68000 assemblers using that machine and add on boards.  Bill's favorite of the older personal computers was the Commodore Amiga, where Bill made money writing software for it.  He also owned a Radio Shack Color Computer and a Commodore 64 in addition to the Apple II and multiple Amigas.  His first IBM PC was a Northgate 386 machine though he had used original IBM PC and ATs at work.   At work Bill programmed all manner of computers in Fortran, C, C++, assembler, and PL1.  Most of our desktop PCs were built by Bill from parts.

Diane was a mainframe programmer mostly using Fortran and C.  Her first PC was a Gateway 386 she bought to learn how to program for Windows 386 to get a job, which was very successful.  From then on all she did was PC programming in a few computer languages, mostly C++. 

In the house we had a cable modem, a wireless router and multiple desktop computers along with one notebook computer Bill would take to work.  On the road all we have are notebook computers. 

The first notebook computer we took on the road was a Dell Inspiron 4100, a 1GHZ Pentium II with 512MB of RAM, a 1024x768 video display and a 40GB hard drive running Windows XP.  We used dial-up internet or Verizon Mobile Office with our Verizon cell phone to get email.  At the time, 2001 through early 2003, we do not remember any campground having wi-fi. 

When we decided to go full-time in the summer of 2003 we ordered a Dell Inspiron 5100 notebook for Diane, a 2.6HGHZ Pentium 4 with 512MB of RAM, a 1440x1050 video display and a 60GB hard drive running Windows XP.  We also got our own internet satellite dish for internet.  These two Dell computers worked well for us.  We backed up to a 120GB external USB hard drive and were both happy.

In January 2005 Bill's Dell Inspiron 4100 started getting very flakey.  We were not sure we could sit still long enough to get a Dell notebook mail order so we shopped the local deals at Fry's Electronics, Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Max, Staples, Office Depot and Costco.  The plan was to improve everything for Bill, CPU speed, memory, and hard drive.  We ended up with a Sony PCG-K37.  This computer has a 3.2GHZ Pentium 4 with 1GB (1024MB) of RAM, a 1280x800 video display and a 80GB drive.  It was powerful, used a lot of electricity for a notebook computer and was big and heavy.  The Dell 4100's problem was its hard drive so we put in in storage inside the motorhome to fix later.  Around this time we bought a 250GB external hard drive since we were now storing too much information for the 120GB external. 

In May 2006, just before our trip to Alaska, Diane's computer started having hard drive issues.  We went to the Costco in Kennewick, WA and bought an HP notebook computer.  It had a dual-core Intel processor, 512MB of RAM, an 80GB hard drive and a beautiful 1280x800 video display.  Within two weeks it showed itself as a lemon computer with a video problem and some instabilities.  In Anchorage Alaska we looked at Costco and they didn't have a computer that was any better so Diane decided to tough it out until we got back to the lower 48.  She had already become used to the faster speed and nicer video display on the HP and decided to order a new Dell when we came back to the lower 48.

We had two 80GB notebook hard drives sent to Bill's sister's house in Kenai, Alaska to get both the 4100 and 5100 working.  It turned out the hard drive problem on the Dell Inspiron 5100 had a software update to the drive firmware to fix it.  The hard drive would come up and complain it was failing and make us push "F1" to continue.  Even after the fixed update was successfully applied the drive would still put up the error message.  Bill investigated and found that the message would be with us forever even though the drive was probably fine.  We kept that 60GB drive as a spare and ended up using it later.

At Bill's sister Tanya's house we replaced both hard drives in both of the older Dell computers and installed Linux on them.  On the 4100 we dual booted Windows XP and SuSE Linux so Tanya could learn about Linux, leaving the computer with her.  We kept the 5100 as a spare and installed Ubuntu Linux on it. 

Diane ended up ordering a Dell Inspiron E1505 with a Core Duo 1.8GHZ processor, 1GB of RAM, a 1680x1050 display and an 80GB drive.  We picked the computer up soon after coming back into Washington State, transferred her information over and took the HP notebook back to Costco for a refund.  The E1505 computer is still going strong at the time of this article but has been upgraded to 2GB of RAM.

In the fall of 2007 Bill's Sony computer started being flakey.  He ordered a Dell Vostro 1500 notebook with a 2.0GHZ Core2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, a 1680x1050 video display and a 160GB hard drive running Windows XP.  This is the computer Bill is now using to manage the website and for his day to day usage.   The Sony's problem again turned out to be a hard drive so we put the old 60GB from the 5100 in it used it for a while to play with Linux.  An 80GB notebook hard drive is a $60 item at the time of this article so having the hard drive die is easy to fix.  We recently bought a 1TB (1024GB) external hard drive for $280 to handle our backups.

Diane's sister Misty was interested in the Sony notebook since her daughter has one just like it so Bill installed a new 80GB drive in the machine and set it up running Windows XP from the recovery CDs and DVDs.  This computer went to Misty in December 2008.

In October 2008 we bought an Acer Insprire One 9" netbook, which is a very small notebook computer without an optical drive (CD, DVD).  We use it to run VMSpc, which monitors our engine while driving.  We figure the computer will come in useful in other ways because it is small, light and can run on batteries for 5 hours.  This particular configuration has a 1.6GHZ Atom CPU, 1GB RAM, 160GB Hard drive and a 6-cell (5 hour) battery.  We needed the machine to run Windows XP but many like these netbook computers running Linux and using a Solid State Drive (SSD) instead of a rotating hard drive.  With an SSD the machine is less fragile and Linux runs better on SSD drives than Windows.

This photo shows our two main computers and the Acer and a fairly typical view of our computer desk.  Diane's computer is shut down and in back, the Acer is to the left and Bill' computer is to the right.  The Acer is small.

In April 2009 the Dell Inspiron 5100 was having memory issues so we looked for a new machine to run Linux full time.  We found an Acer Aspire 4730Z at Costco for $480 running Windows Vista, so now we have a machine running Vista and it works fine.  But this was to be a Linux machine so we picked up a couple new hard drives and Bill installed PCLinuxOS on one of them and is waiting for Linux Mint 7.0 to be complete for the other hard drive.  In five minutes he can swap the drives and be back running Vista.  This $480 machine is quite nice, it has a Core 2 Duo processor at 2.0GHZ (1MB of cache, instead of the 2MB on Vostro), 3GB of RAM, a DVD-DL burner and a 320GB hard drive.   Update, we now have four hard drives for this machine, one running Windows 7, one running Vista, one running PCLinuxOS and the other running Linux Mint 7.0.  We have Linux Mint 8.0 running on a USB flash drive (pendrive) and can boot and run it on multiple computers.  We do wish the Acer 4730Z had a processor capable of VT, then we could run "XP mode" on Windows 7.

The 5100 went to friend Dan so his high school students can try to fix the memory issue and have another computer in their lab.

In December 2009 the Acer Aspire One netbook quit working.  It would make some noise but no video would show and hitting keys did nothing at all.  It was out of warranty so Bill took it apart after watching a video on how to change the memory or hard drive.  It was a pain to take apart.  Bill unhooked and rehooked every connection he could, put it back together and no change.  It was dead and getting it repaired would cost as much as a new computer.  Bill opened it back up, removed the memory, wi-fi module, and hard drive.  We also took the battery and AC adapter and saved them for Diane's parents as spares since they have the same machine. 

Bill was able to order a Samsung N130 10" netbook for $280 that was running XP.  Hopefully it will last longer than the Acer netbook. By using the Acer netbook drive as an external drive Bill was able to transfer all the important information and application data to the Samsung netbook.  Bill thanks Roger for showing him the Sabrent USB to ATA/SATA device at Fry's Electronics that allows all internal drives, including CD and DVD drives, to be hooked as external drives.  It saved the day.

As of June 2013 Diane is running a Dell Vostro 1520 15" laptop running Windows 7 and Bill is running a Dell Studio 15 running Windows 7.  Diane has a 10" Acer A500 Android tablet, which she uses with a combination case/keyboard on trip away.  Bill has a 7" Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 7.0.

Wow, you got to the end of this article and were not bored to tears!

A short story about computers and how they have improved.  When Bill met Diane in the late 80s he was working for the supercomputer manufacturer Cray Research and Diane was working for a customer that was buying a $5 million dollar Cray XMP super computer.   That Cray computer was a 64-bit computer running at 120MHZ with 1GB of RAM, 20GB of disk space running Unix.   If Intel made a Core 2 Solo running at 100MHZ it would have about the same performance running 64-bit Linux as the Cray.  Bill's Dell Vostro 1500 uses a Core 2 Duo processor at 2.0GHZ which is over 40 times as powerful as the Cray XMP we both used to work on.  Core 2 processors are 64-bit even though most people are using them as 32-bit processors.   The champion supercomputer from 1989, an ETA10-G8, and Bill's notebook computer rate about the same performance.  The 2007 benchmark winner is about 50,000 times faster so progress is being made.    The engineers and scientists that used to run programs on the Cray that took hours now can do the same work on their office computer while reading email. 

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