Strongly consider buying
a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (8GB RAM, i7 processor, 512GB SSD).
In my opinion, the SP3 hardware is on a par with the Apple hardware.
Windows 8.1 has no where near the "quirks" I was expecting and had heard of. For me, the ease of switching instantly from the W7 desktop
UI with which I am intimately familiar to the tile-based tablet interface is, to me, "slick" now that I have been using it for six weeks. I had used the Windows 8 tile-based GUI on my MacMini via Parallels X virtual machine software and thought it was clumsy - on a mouse-driven desktop
or laptop, I think it is.
After retiring from the computer industry in 2008, I have spent a good portion of the past 7 years cruising the South Pacific
, Tasmania, New Zealand
, and the Pacific Northwest
. Most recently, I spent 4 months this past summer cruising through SE Alaska
. That's where my 6 year old MacBook Pro died which put me in the same situation as you find yourself.
I was in a quandary as to whether to just go buy a new 13 or 15 inch MacBook Pro (I love Apple hardware) or go back to a PC laptop which would natively run my navigation
and other nautical software. After and a thorough analysis of how "I" have used and would like to use computers, laptops and tablets on my boat, I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with the i7 processor, 8GB RAM and a 512 GB SSD.
Frankly, I was skeptical that Microsoft could lure me back. I spent too many years at work dealing with Microsoft - both the good and the bad. But, the potential of being able to replace my MacBook Pro, iPad4, and my 2011 MacMini running Windows 8.1 via Parallels X with one highly portable machine which could be a fully functional desktop PC one minute and a tablet the next was just too hard to resist. Add to that the "potential" to mount the keyboard-less SP3 in a water-proof case on my binnacle to run the Windows version of the Navionics Boating
HD App, and I was hooked.
Microsoft gave me a 30 day return it with no questions asked guarantee and a two year "break and replace" warranty. The SP3 cost me $2,000US. With options like a wireless TV adapter (kind of like my Apple TV), extended warranty and a docking
station, I have spent maybe another $600US.
After a six week ordeal of re-installing all of the apps I owned or installing new apps I needed to buy, including: Nobeltec
Odyssey, Fugawi Marine ENC
4.5, Fugawi Marine
4.0, Actisense Nema 0183 Reader, etc., I can tell you I am 95%-99% happy with my decision.
The only significant boating-related issue I had to resolve was how best to provide access to a GPS
receiver. The MS SP3 does not have a built-in GPS
receiver. There are a lot of different ways to solve the lack of a GPS receiver. I decided to buy a $99 Bluetooth Garmin
Glo GPS Receiver which receives both US GPS and Russian GLONASS signals.
Initially, none of the navigation apps I have could interface to the Bluetooth Garmin
GLO. To solve the problem I downloaded the free version of Franson's GpsGate 2.6 software. After the typical installation
problems, I got Odyssey, Fugawi and Actisense to reliably recognize one of GpsGate's virtual com ports
which channels the Garmin GPS receiver's signal. I am still working to get Navionic Boating
HD to work.
For me, if I can find a waterproof enclosure which allows me to mount the SP3 to my boat's binnacle and use the SP3 like I use my iPad 4 running the Navionics
Boating HD app in its LifeProof waterproof case attached to the binnacle via a Ram Mount, I'll be totally satisfied.
If all goes as planned, I'll buy another SP3 as backup in case the first one dies. You have to have a backup. I have watched a number of Apple and PC laptops die due to prolonged exposure to the marine environment - damp salt
air, accidental immersion, flying across the cabin
and smashing into a bulkhead on a rogue wave
Bear in mind, I have yet to take the SP3 cruising. However, I am looking forward to:
1) Being able to leave the boat with a computer that doesn't weigh a minimum of 10 - 15 lbs with its case and accessories
2) Going to an Internet cafe (in God know where) to do my passage
planning using the computer which will be used for navigating.
3) Not worrying about someone breaking into the boat and stealing the navigation computer. It will be with me when I am off the boat.