A computer in a van?

Yes, that is a thing. And it’s even a thing we are doing. But a lot of people think that this is impossible to do on these small leisure batteries that most vanlifers are using. But is it?

Our case

We have at the moment a 110Ah leisure battery that supplies our van with 12v for all our needs. For those few things we need 230v we have a couple of inverters to convert 12v to 230v.

But when Axel started thinking about putting a computer in the van he spent a lot of time researching what the limitations would be and what machine he could get away with using in the van. Well, it turns out the timing couldn’t have been better as Apple announced their M1 lineup of Mac computers. And luck have it, the M1 chip punched well above it’s pay grade so to speak, at least for the things we wanted to use it for.

We got ourselves the Mac Mini M1 and from what Axel has put it through, it’s well worth the money. He has been testing it and using it to edit videos in Davinci Resolve, managing and editing photos with Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, as well as playing World of Warcraft – Shadowlands on it, albeit with the settings turned to 4 instead of 10 on the previous machine we had, but it’s playable!

All this on the bare bones Mac Mini M1 with 8GB of memory and a 256GB drive.

But here’s the kicker, and cherry on top.. The machine only draws 39W MAX! If we somehow were able to put the load on the machine so it was sucking that much in, we’d still be more than 700W below what the current gaming/editing machine we have at home uses at max.

Technical stuff

Here’s where things get a bit nerdy and technical. So, you have been warned! 😉

For reference here is the definition of an Wh.

One Watt hour is equal to one Watt of average power flow over an hour. One Watt over four hours would be four Watt Hours of power. As an example, a 100 Watt light bulb on a 400 Watt Hour battery (like the Yeti 400) would last, on paper, 4 hours.

And a Ah

Amp hour is the rating used to tell consumers how much amperage a battery can provide for exactly one hour.

A single 110Ah leisure battery, like the one we have, can serve us at most 55Ah since you never go below half of the specified Ah on the battery because you’ll ruin the battery. So, calculating how much that is in Wh (the amount of Watts it can sustain for an hour) becomes this:

55Ah * 12volts = 660Wh

If you then devide the 660Wh with our measly 39W it shows that this single battery can sustain it for close to 17 hours, and that’s if the Mac Mini M1 is going at 100% the whole time. This power per watt ratio is bonkers in our eyes.
If we were to run the gaming/editing rig at home on this power system we’d be lucky to get an hour since it can draw at max 750W.

Yes, these numbers don’t include the usage of the heater, fans, lights and such. But it shows you that a single 110Ah battery can last you a good while with “at home” amenities (a desktop machine).

So, what to take from this?

Well, first of all that things aren’t always impossible. There is a solution to every problem you might think of. Regardless if you find the solution straight away or not, there is always a way.

Image of electrical system in header is from Vanlife Outfitters