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Old 04-06-2017, 11:51   #16
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by rthompsona View Post
i have a fairly new (2 yr old) samsung laptop that had loose cable to the monitor. With a fix to the cable, it makes a nice boat computer.

However, It was running Windows 10. With Windows 10, the system now wants to "phone home" for many of the applications. It appears that this is the approach that they will use going forward.

This is a problem for a boat computer that may loose connectivity for extended periods.

I switched to Linux instead. I still need wifi for some downloads, but now I have a lot more control over when the updates occur.
Yes, I didn't even touch on the OS issue. Needless to say, Windows 10 is garbage for boats because the drivers and recompiles for it in the very small world of sailboat-specific computing are rarely bothered with. I have netbooks running Windows 7 now, and would go with Windows 8.1, but no higher, unless I just went to a popular Linux distro and simply ran in emulation when needed. WXFAX, tidal and SailMail all run happily on older OSes...there is no reason to upgrade if you can handle your wireless security easily using the many end-user tools and utilities for port scanning, etc. I assume anyone reading this is probably at hobbyist level or better with PCs and will know how to run encryption, VPNs, Bluetooth and wireless on a boat enough to discourage the casual criminal.
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Old 04-06-2017, 13:34   #17
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I found most older equipment dies of age anyways. I keep the old machines onboard, but do not rely on them.

For navigation, we moved onwards from netbooks to tablets. I can easily handle and keep the tablet in the cockpit and it is so easy to plug all info wirelessly. And it is imho easier to step down 12 to 5 Volts rather than step up 12 to 19 (or to AC 110, if you want an inverter around).

A good tablet will easily last over 12 hours on a single charge. Also when full time on and plugged into a BT or wifi data bridge.

So, to sum it up, for navigation I am going for a new tablet rather than an old laptop.

We always have our Garmin handheld loaded with the planned route close at hand. It contains basic plotting aids, our WPTs, just no chart in it but that's fine.

Keep the laptop for planning and other such jobs that are done mostly at the dock.

Cheers,
b.
I do use a tablet and quite a lot. I remote control my Zeus from it under the sprayhood and use it with INavX and EDO Instruments.

But on my boat, this does not in any way replace a real PC for OpenCPN and ship's computer duty, which I keep running 24/7 at the nav table, displaying through a fixed 4k monitor.
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Old 04-06-2017, 14:52   #18
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I found most older equipment dies of age anyways. I keep the old machines onboard, but do not rely on them.

For navigation, we moved onwards from netbooks to tablets. I can easily handle and keep the tablet in the cockpit and it is so easy to plug all info wirelessly. And it is imho easier to step down 12 to 5 Volts rather than step up 12 to 19 (or to AC 110, if you want an inverter around).
I agree with you about electronics aging out. Keeping the OS and other software clean helps a lot but not forever. The hardware will last longer if treated with great care.

I've gone in the other direction, to stronger, more powerful laptops. My use case is a niche. As a delivery skipper if I don't bring it I may not have it. *grin* Boats are often not as advertised.

My go-kit today is a Lenovo TS-450S maxed out with memory, a big SSD, and a fast CPU. I have a GSM data stick and external antenna so I have email and Internet at both ends and out to about 20 miles. OpenCPN and a BU-353S4 GPS puck. Excel for boat issues and expenses. JVCOMM32 and a Kaito KA-1103 for weather fax.

Arriving tomorrow is an RTL-SDR USB stick V3. First goal is to get AIS into OpenCPN on my laptop - that is replowing ground others have plowed. Second is to use the new HF capability to get WEFAX into JVCOMM32. Two SDRs running in parallel along with OpenCPN and Excel and Win 7 is not a load I'm comfortable dumping on an old laptop.

I also do webinars and that means a lot of local processing, at least for audio. Not much different than Skype or Viber but quality is important.

On my own boat I have an AIS transponder and an HF/SSB. That moves the SDR load off the laptop. Even the WEFAX demodulation happens in my Pactor modem (Airmail/Viewfax on the laptop which is pretty lightweight). I could use a much lighter machine there. I just use my go-kit because I have it.

I do have a couple of generations of older machines as backups. The difference in performance is discernible.

I do find that a really good DC-DC converter is important. Energy efficiency is always of interest but RF noise is critical, especially with WEFAX and other HF comms. I've seen cheap "car adapters" and USB power plugs that make a lot of RF noise up into VHF.
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Old 04-06-2017, 16:17   #19
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Raspberry Pi does all you need and more
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Old 04-06-2017, 16:24   #20
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Raspberry Pi does all you need and more
I can see Raspberry PI for a fixed computer that runs OpenCPN and takes input from a navigation network. Maybe for cellular network connection but the UI could be a problem.

I don't see the horsepower for two SDR threads. Airmail and Excel are problematic.
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Old 04-06-2017, 16:50   #21
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Is anyone familiar with the Intel NUC at $230?
https://www.cnet.com/news/intel-nuc6...e-celeron-nuc/

I am interested but I don't actually understand how it can run on 12V. I use my iPad Air for nav at the helm in the pilot house but want to have a PC below for Open CPN and entertainment with a monitor.
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Old 04-06-2017, 18:38   #22
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

IMHO, biggest disadvantage to older laptops is their power draw. Newer units use a fraction of the power. My old Dell XP machine was great, but second only to the refer in power draw if left on for long periods. My Microsoft surface is an amp miser by comparison, and it is a lot faster and (arguably) more versatile that a Raspberry Pi (which I do have and play with.)
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Old 04-06-2017, 18:48   #23
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I found most older equipment dies of age anyways. I keep the old machines onboard, but do not rely on them.

For navigation, we moved onwards from netbooks to tablets. I can easily handle and keep the tablet in the cockpit and it is so easy to plug all info wirelessly. And it is imho easier to step down 12 to 5 Volts rather than step up 12 to 19 (or to AC 110, if you want an inverter around).

A good tablet will easily last over 12 hours on a single charge. Also when full time on and plugged into a BT or wifi data bridge.

So, to sum it up, for navigation I am going for a new tablet rather than an old laptop.

We always have our Garmin handheld loaded with the planned route close at hand. It contains basic plotting aids, our WPTs, just no chart in it but that's fine.

Keep the laptop for planning and other such jobs that are done mostly at the dock.

Cheers,
b.

This is correct just don't use Apple products... Which I know you don't. The old laptop will do for planning at the dock and a nice fast tablet for interoperable daily use.
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Old 04-06-2017, 19:06   #24
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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I wonder if I can just take the screen off of it and use it exclusively with the external*monitor? Does anyone know if such machines can be configured to look for a monitor on HDMI upon bootup rather than the built-in screen? It must be possible in BIOS, but I didn't see the settings for that.
I have done exactly that on an old Dell, running XP that I use as a FTP server. There is a setting in all versions of windows in the Display area. It is something like "what to do when lid closed" select the "do nothing" option. Take the lid off, then all you have to do is find the mechanical inerface that tells the computer when the lid is open or shut and jury rig it to the shut position, it could be a small switch or even be magnetic. You will see the boot process on the external screen.
personally I don't like using electronics not designed for the marine environment, and have seen a number of instances that have reinforced thst view, but that's my view point, yours may be different.
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Old 04-06-2017, 19:33   #25
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

fn/f3 change to external screen
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:26   #26
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post
Short answer: yes, why not? The point at which the raw graphics and processing power of average business machines passed the requirements of, say, the Excel provisioning and spares listing, the Word log book entries, OpenCPN, a weatherfax program and even an NMEA 0183/2000 "clearing house" feeding into separate (and marinized) displays as you suggest passed about the Pentium III/IV days. I've seen old "fleet" Compaq Armadas and IBM Thinkpads used very successfully.

Longer answer: Every thing has its season, and if the fans on an elderly lappie go, or if the contacts corrode on any part of it, you could have a big meltdown and lose your primary nav gadget. I prefer the following: Buy a bunch of "netbooks" of one to three years old of the same type/model for $200 or so each and "ghost" their drives so that they are fully backed up once a week or a month. Package two in bubble wrap with dessicant. Open them up first and spray conformal fluid around all contacts and corrosion-suseptible parts ... it's not like they are under warranty. Now you've bomb-proofed your computing by a) keeping the sea air off the circuits and b) duplicating your drives. If a machine goes kablooey, pop in its sister rig and resume operations. Clearly, this is laborious...but cheap and prudent.

A second course, dependent on one's comfort and skill level, is to build a fanless computer with a load of (gold plated) USB, video and serial connectors. Fanless (pico-ITX or micro-ITX) boards are compact, draw no outside air over the board and can be boxed into the headliner or any dependably dry place. Keyboard, mouse, video, Ethernet and other networking/peripherals are wired into the brain in a box and can be considered expendable. There are kits to do this sort of thing...it might involve 20 soldering jobs, but you have a fit-for-purpose computer with an SSD "hard disk" that is suitable for boat computing, but is far more "hardened" than an old laptop could ever be.

So I think your idea is quite doable, but that the odds of it being long-term are low, because the computer's age and (possibly) tendency to have corroded internally or to easily corrode in the sea air will make its remaining useful life short indeed.
OK, thanks.

I have a lot less problem with electronics deterioration on board than it seems many do. Maybe because my boat is large, dry, and well ventilated. I have devices which have been on board for many years and still work fine, including an Ur-IPad which is at least 10 years old, and has never been off my boat in 8.

But I get that a fanless computer is better (and not just for less vulnerability to sea air). That new cheap mini computer looks better and better.

I am never much bothered with data backup, other than photos. I never regarded computers as data repositories; only information appliances. Anything I really want to save I just email to myself, and let my office network with its multiple backup layers deal with it. Photos and videos I simply keep up on multiple media, on and off the boat.
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:29   #27
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Is anyone familiar with the Intel NUC at $230?
https://www.cnet.com/news/intel-nuc6...e-celeron-nuc/

I am interested but I don't actually understand how it can run on 12V. I use my iPad Air for nav at the helm in the pilot house but want to have a PC below for Open CPN and entertainment with a monitor.
It was referred to in the original post. I think it's a nearly perfect ship's computer, only with a decent specification it will be a lot more expensive than $230, at least on this side of the pond.

How to run it on 12v was also discussed. You just need a cheap buck convertor (like DROK), which besides converting the voltage, will also stabilize it. Simples.
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:50   #28
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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I have done exactly that on an old Dell, running XP that I use as a FTP server. There is a setting in all versions of windows in the Display area. It is something like "what to do when lid closed" select the "do nothing" option. Take the lid off, then all you have to do is find the mechanical inerface that tells the computer when the lid is open or shut and jury rig it to the shut position, it could be a small switch or even be magnetic. You will see the boot process on the external screen.
personally I don't like using electronics not designed for the marine environment, and have seen a number of instances that have reinforced thst view, but that's my view point, yours may be different.
Thanks, very useful!


I agree completely with you, that consumer/non-marine electronics are not to be relied on for primary navigation functions!! For that I have a pair of Zeus plotters loaded with updated cartography. I use the computers for other things -- OpenCPN with raster charts on a big monitor is absolutely superb for passage planning. I also love the AIS display for collision avoidance (but I could do it on the Zeus if I lost the ship's computer).
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Old 05-06-2017, 03:53   #29
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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fn/f3 change to external screen
But that only works after the OS has booted up.
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Old 05-06-2017, 05:29   #30
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by S/V Alchemy View Post
Yes, I didn't even touch on the OS issue. Needless to say, Windows 10 is garbage for boats because the drivers and recompiles for it in the very small world of sailboat-specific computing are rarely bothered with. I have netbooks running Windows 7 now, and would go with Windows 8.1, but no higher, unless I just went to a popular Linux distro and simply ran in emulation when needed. WXFAX, tidal and SailMail all run happily on older OSes...there is no reason to upgrade if you can handle your wireless security easily using the many end-user tools and utilities for port scanning, etc. I assume anyone reading this is probably at hobbyist level or better with PCs and will know how to run encryption, VPNs, Bluetooth and wireless on a boat enough to discourage the casual criminal.
Yes, I am amazed at how horrible Win10 is, and not just for boats.

I was able to downgrade to 8.1 on my work computer; I hope it will be possible on new mini-PCs. I like 8.1, best of all Windows versions by far, for me. There are some great innovations in the UI which I think few people either use or understand, but 8.1 really rewards study and learning. It's the first GUI, actually, which works really well for me, and old command line guy who never liked GUIs in general and who particularly hated everything Apple.

I am tempted by Linux (I cut my teeth on Unix, so it's a very familiar ecology), but I just don't want to invest the time in fiddling with it, even though I know I would enjoy it.
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