I’d like to buy a new laptop for the team, and it would have to be a
windows machine, but beyond that i don’t really know what we need.
What do would you suggest in terms of how much RAM is needed
for programming and other robotics tasks. Is DVD drive necessary?
etc. Any special considerations?

depending on ur budget
here are my minimum specs
intel centrino
512mb RAM
40gb hdd
DVD/CD-RW (id say dvd is needed in todays world)

hp is nice and averatec is pretty good too

Because the RC uses a serial port to interface with a computer, having one on a team laptop is a very good idea. This port isn’t present on many newer computers. If all you are doing is programming with it, many older machines will work fine. A DVD drive is certainly not necessary, and 128 MB of RAM will probably be fine running Windows 98. The code doesn’t take up much space, so if you aren’t planning to run any media on this thing a laptop with an old 4-5 GB hard drive will have more than enough storage. Likewise, it isn’t too much of a burden on the CPU to type code, so anything over 500 MHz is definitely not necessary. USB is nice for transferring files to and from the computer, and I would recommend at least one port.

A computer like that could probably be obtained second-hand for significantly under $100, probably even for free, if you found someone who is upgrading and doesn’t have a use for their old computer.

Of course, if you want to run a CAD program on it, you’re looking at the other end of the spectrum. I wouldn’t recommend trying to buy a team laptop for this, if you must have a team computer that does it look for a desktop. Laptops that are effective CADers are pretty pricey.

One thing I found out from where I used to work is that the Panasonic Toughbooks still have serial ports(at least the one that we had - about a year old - did). They’re generally a little bit more costly, but as their name suggests, you can beat them up pretty hard and not have any problems…

Dell stopped putting serial ports on there laptops a while ago for a short time, but now serial ports are on there way back, but only on certain models. You can also buy a USB to serial converter.

Having a serial port is a nice thing on a programing laptop. It is, however, quite difficult to find a serial port on a new laptop.

I think it’s time we all bit the bullet and excepted the evil of a USB to serial converter. While they seem to vary a great deal in terms of speed and reliability, there are workable converters for reasonable prices. It’s be discussed plenty on these boards, so we should all have a good idea of which converters work reliably.

A used laptop is kind of like a used car. It’ll probably work most of the time but it’s previous owner will leave his mark, and theres a good chance you’ll get stuck with a lemon. If you can get one from someone you know and trust, great. Otherwise, be wary. Getting stuck with a junky laptop can be worse then not having one at all.

The team might consider buying either a small external hard drive or a USB flash key that can be used as the central repository of code. It is then up to team members to use their own laptops or to take the drive home to write the code, but at least it isn’t stuck on any one computer. When it is time to travel, bring the drive with you even if you don’t have a laptop. You should be able to have another team download your code or make quick fixes. It’s not an ideal situation, but it may be better then going out and buying a brand new computer or depending on an old piece of junk.

-Andy A.

Look for laptops that are marketed toward “business users.” I’ve found that these types of laptops usually come with a serial port. For instance, my HP nx5000.