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Old 25-01-2009, 11:01   #1
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Coastal Explorer and MSI Wind netbook

For a number of reasons, we've added a netbook (weighs about 2 pounds, 10" screen, about the same size as a copy of Nautical Almanac but a bit thicker) to OWTW's inventory. Part of the plan is to have a laptop we can take ashore and use in internet cafes without toting "the big one" and risking losing it to water or theft (physical or digital). After looking at the specs for a host of machines including the Asus Eee PC, I settled on the MSI Wind U100. It has the same screen size as the larger Eee PC and the keyboard is slightly bigger (better use of the space). Additionally, the U100 has a six cell battery (lasts longer than the three cell battery the Eee PC uses most commonly although a six cell battery is offered in some versions of the Eee PC), supports 802.11 b/g and n as well as having Bluetooth support. Additionally, the U100 comes with a 160G hard drive, which is large enough to partition for space for another OS, in addition to WinXP (Vista can run on this machine but the graphics load poses problems). In fact, I loaded openSUSE Linux onto the machine as well, although apparently Apple's OS X Leopard will also load directly on the MSI Wind (albeit with a few wrinkles, most notably problems with the built-in mic, shakey support for the built-in 1.3M video camera, and an oddity with enabling the headphone jack - USB headset anyone?). Finally, none of the netbooks has embedded CD/DVD support. I added a self-powered USB CD/DVD drive - end of problem.

In addition to portable web browsing and e-mail, the MSI Wind is a backup for the big HP running Coastal Explorer. The good news is CE works like a charm on the Wind, too. While screen space is somewhat limited in a 1024 x 600 screen, an external VGA screen running 1024 x 768 is possible. The Wind has three USB ports and our present data setup requires using two of them for communicating with the boat's data buses (NMEA and SeaTalk) tying together the GPS', autopilot, instruments, etc. Keyspan serial to USB adapters do the work and connecting them to the Wind was simple: load the drivers in the CD drive, install same, and connect the data cables. Easy peasy.

At the moment, OWTW is on the hard so I haven't tested the installation as far as actually driving the boat, but with live data flowing on the buses, everything checks out. I was even able to get the radar tracking a target and designate it with the MARPA tool on the radar. The radar sent the target information to CE and there was the MARPA target icon on CE's screen.
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Old 25-01-2009, 13:23   #2
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Look at EBAY for ITRONIX . I have IX-250, and IX-260 for my boat laptops, and charting. Very affordable, and expendable. Most of them coem from ex- law enforcement or public works. I have and many of my friends have had good luck.
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Old 25-01-2009, 13:57   #3
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Um, interesting machine but dated in a number of ways (limits on RAM, for example, and no WiFi support) and now in "End of Life" from the manufacturer (support ends in two years - 2011). By the time the machine's cleaned up from the previous owner (almost all listings on eBay seem to be for used machines - no surprise considering the EoL notice) by installing missing drives, batteries, etc., might as well just get a new machine for the same money.
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Old 26-01-2009, 10:39   #4
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Didn't the HD pretty much triple the energy costs, thus negating the 6-cell battery benefit? I've been considering a similar move, but focusing plans on an externally powered storage for media/junk; my primary storage need - electronic charts - currently remains less than 2GB. But if the energy budget remains the same...
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Old 26-01-2009, 13:10   #5
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You're right in that an optical drive will take up extra power. However, aside from either watching DVD's, or playing music or viewing images on CD's, there's no need to have the drive plugged in. As far as music or imagery, there's card reader built in (SD and a couple of other formats) and there are always USB flash drives, all of which are less energy consuming. I bought the drive mostly for software installations - even the charts for CE were downloaded from NOAA's web site, no optical drive needed there. Once the data's loaded, but the drive away.

BTW, don't forget the Kensington power supply (model #33197) I mentioned. It's good with 110VAC, 220VAC, and 12VDC. The 12 volt plug, BTW, breaks down to allow plugging into aircraft power points, so you can fly and watch DVD's without fretting about the battery wearing out just when the movie gets really good.
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Old 26-01-2009, 20:34   #6
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Thanx! it's definitely on the "look this one up" list. I was referring to the 160GB drive you mentioned, not the external optical drive (I have a couple of those type, though probably not up to current tech.)


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Old 26-01-2009, 21:08   #7
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SSD's are general quicker but it looks as though the really big ones are still going through development problems, with repeated reports of write issues slowing the drives up. Between that and the cost, I'll stick with HDD's for now. But SDD's sure do have potential...
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Old 31-01-2009, 00:03   #8
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My Itronix IX-260 is awsome for charting and much more. They are very high quality and durable. I have no problems running music, charts, and doing my email and such at the same time. Your choice, I like my methods, to each their own is the phrase I guess...
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