Our dashboard mounted laptop is one of the things that has really revolutionised how we navigate and plan our journeys. We have been using a laptop alongside our TomTom since our very first tour in 2008 and has in the past been balanced precariously on the dashboard or on the passengers knee and we wanted to find a better way of mounting it securely but also being able to quickly remove it without plugging in an endless array of cables.

The solution presented itself in the form of a cheap laptop manufactured by Dell and aimed at the corporate market. As such it is available with a huge selection of accessories such as docking stations, extended batteries, 12v power packs and so forth.

The view form the Drivers Seat - the screen isn't visable so no distractions
Click Photo to Enlarge
Our setup comprises of:
  • A Dell PRO1X Dock (£10 off eBay)
  • A 4.62A 12v Power Adapter to power the Dock & Laptop (£7 off eBay)
  • Dell D430 12" Ultra Portable Laptop, Dual Core Centrino; 1.2Ghz, 2GB Ram & 64GB SSD. (£125 eBay)
  • A Holux 510 USB GPS Receiver (£15 eBay)

The Dell D430 really does make this installation for a number of reasons. Firstly the 64GB SSD (Solid State Drive) means that the laptops internal drive is not subjected to the rough roads which would probably make it fail in a short space of time. It is available with 2 different batteries and should your power supply fail or is wired into the ignition it will continue to power both the laptop and the dock without an external source once booted.

Despite being a fairly old machine it cost around £2,000 in 2007 but owing to the fact so many were sold it has really hammered down the second hand price to around £100. There are various options available but I would try and get hold of a 1.2Ghz Dual Core model which has a 2Mb cache which really makes the difference in terms of speed, also try and find a version with XP rather then bloated Windows Vista. They all come with Bluetooth for connection to a mobile phone and some are available with built in 3G data cards.

The Docking Station Fixed to the Dash
Click Photo to Enlarge
In our 2007 Fiat Ducato we don't have a passenger airbag which makes mounting the laptop easier, the dock was simply fitted to a wooden base which was cut to shape the infill and then screwed into place with two self tapping screws. In 8 months and 17,000 miles it hasn't moved an inch!

Once placed on the dock the laptop automatically charges while connecting to the USB devices; the GPS antenna, the roof mounted wifi antenna and the USB 3G dongle. It can, if you wish, also connect to your vans headunit to play music or the speak directions through the cab speakers if you wish. No manual connection of cables is required and the dock holds the laptop so securely that it is impossible to come off and the keyboard and mouse are very usable in situe.

View from Passenger Seat running Map Point (to be replaced by Autoroute 2010) 
Click Photo to Enlarge
The laptop then fixes to the dock and is sturdy enough not to wobble and easily sturdy enough to use the mouse or keyboard without worrying about breaking anything - the dock really does clip into place well.

You'll also notice the location of the TomTom in the pictures, sat on top of the removable cup ash tray. I hate wires (the ones you see for the laptop will be re-routed soon) so I stuck a TomTom adhesive dashboard pad to the top of the holder and cut two very small holes at the back and the front of the wire so all the excess cable is hidden away and the TomTom plugs into the cig lighter. It is much easier to access from the passenger seat without heaving to reach forward to the Windscreen or the paperwork clip!

TomTom Mount
Click Photo to Enlarge

Post a comment

  1. interesting choice, would not a tablet running iOS or Android be more convenient? If it were me I would almost certainly choose a tablet now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We're going to experiment with an iPad this year, but I've yet to find an (offline) map that rivals Microsoft Autoroute. It provides unrivalled ability to interrogate data sets, full European street level offline mapping (2.5Gb) and of course a full size keyboard which is great for recording data while on the road. We're also big fans of Garmin's nRoute and the Open Maps website.

      Delete
    2. Hello

      Have you found anything else that matches this, or is this still your No 1 option.

      Kevin

      Delete
    3. Hi Kevin, the Dell D430 is an old laptop now - but you can pick one up with an aftermarket Solid State Drive (SSD) for under £100 on eBay and the docks are still about £10. The only thing I've seen similar is the Thinkpad X201 series which also has a dock - however its a full size plate rather than attach just at the back like the dell unit.

      Delete
  2. Do you still need the tomtom? And would you be able to use your smart phone (Android) instead of the tomtom? I am a great lover of using smart phones for anything you can. I hate using extra equipment if I can avoid it. Love your laptop set up and love laptops over tablets.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Hi Adam & Sophie, We live in Western Australia and are planing a trip similar to yours at the end of this year. We plan to be away approx 6 months to 2 years. We need a new computer and were thinking a light weight Dell. What would you recommend? We will want to use it mainly to keep in touch - Skype/email/Facebook etc, researching travel options general internet etc.
    Regards
    Jo & David

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Sophie & Adam. We live in Western Australia and are planing a trip similar to yours at the end of the year. We plan to be away approx 6 months to 2 years. We need a new computer and would like to know what you would recommend? To use mainly fro keeping in touch-email/skype/facebook and internet research.
    Regards
    Jo @ David

    ReplyDelete
  5. ...Thank you so much for all the information contained within....it is of such quality that I have bookmarked your site as a source of reference for my future plans. The 2013 Autoroute info is an examplary masterpiece, I have downloaded the info directly to my copy of Autoroute and plan to make good use of ALL it. I have bought `All the Aires...France, Spain & Portugal and Mountains from Vicarious Books and these can only be a compliment to the hard work you have put in.....CHEERS! Paul (Cardiff)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Guys, I have just started following you while I was browsing" Norway Camping" and am delighted with your general reviews, they are of great interest to me as we are just starting to plan our trip to Norway, Sweden and Denmark. I will keep you close on our travels and may share some of our travel news too. many thanks for the heads up.
    p.s. do you include a bike rack in the lenght of your van?
    Eileen Fitzgerald

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Eileen, the only place where the bike rack was taken into account was the bridge from Denmark to Sweden as they have a laser measuring device. There was 3 5.99m Fiat Ducato's in the layby before removing their cycle racks and bikes and storing inside for the saving!

      Delete

 
Top