Letter Re: Off-Grid Laptops

Dear Editor:
I recently came across the announcement for a new upcoming product. With Intel creating Atom processors with lower and lower power consumption, Samsung was able to design a netbook with integrated solar panels.

It immediately occurred to me that this would be an ideal solution for off-grid computing. You can archive thousands of books and references on a single hard drive, have some instructional videos, maps, and more. You may even run lightweight CAD programs that would give any aspiring designer a significant advantage in a recovering economy where no one else has access to any computational power. Since it can charge itself with solar power, you don’t need to use up your stock of batteries or generator gas to keep this resource available. – Walter H.

JWR Replies: First, let me state forthrightly that beans, bullets and Band-Aids come FIRST. Everything else should have much lower priority in you prepping. Don’t get caught up in buying gadgets at the expense of first keeping yourself fed, warm, dry, and safe.

Samsung’s solution will work, but it leaves you dependent upon a netbook an integral PV panel that lacks a CD-ROM drive. My recommendation is to instead go modular and buy the following:

A.) A slightly more capable rugged laptop (new or refurbished) with a modest sized-screen for low power consumption. (A Panasonic Toughbook would be ideal), and

B.) A larger (5 to 15 watt) amorphous panel or hard panel (depending on your mobility constraints), and

C.) A 12 Volt DC jump pack and the requisite cabling.

Not only does this approach add CD and DVD capability, but it also divides your risk. While wonderfully compact, an integrated laptop with PV panel represents all-or-nothing concentrated risk. With my approach, if either the PV panel or the laptop ever fails, they can be replaced. A further benefit is that the jump pack can also be charged by your vehicle and can used a hub to power other small devices and a DC-to-DC battery charging tray. In a worst case world without fuel, your vehicle’s battery can still be a useful stationary battery, and your vehicle’s dashboard makes a good weatherproof place to position a solar panel. But if you are in an urban or suburban environment where auto burglary is a risk, then remove the battery, and wire it up in a room on the sunny side of your dwelling.