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Old 04-06-2017, 06:51   #1
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Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

This year I stopped using my business laptop as my ship's computer, and how happy I am that I did do. These uses are in constant conflict with each other.

I have an old Sony TT ultrabook, which cost a fortune in its day, with reasonable spec for this purpose -- 128 gigbyte SSD drive, HDMI, etc. It's badly beaten up on the outside (I must have travelled a million miles with it) but it works. The screen is starting to fall apart -- the bezel has disintegrated and the screen itself if hanging by threads.

I keep it in the dedicated laptop drawer at my nav station (which is too small for anything but netbooks or old 11" ultrabooks like the Sony).

I have a 4K monitor mounted above the nav table which I use it with. I use an external mouse, and usually don't need the keyboard when using OpenCPN, which is 80% of what I use it for. So it just stays in the closed laptop drawer.

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.

Anyone doing anything similar to this? The alternative would be to just buy an Intel NUC or Gigabyte brick and attach is to the back of the monitor. But with such a long list of things to buy for the boat, I hate to spend money on something like that when I have a perfectly good computer lying around doing nothing.
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Old 04-06-2017, 07:47   #2
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

I have debated this myself.

For $150-190USD one can purchase a laptop with- 2GB ram, 64GB storage (not a spinning hard drive), 14" display intel Celeron process and runs on 12VDC. Not enough gusto to run big spreadsheets, but powerful enough for Garmin, Ray or OpenCPN navigation software.

If I wasn't a cheap sailor, probably would have purchased one by now. Instead I am dragging my "good" laptop to boats.
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Old 04-06-2017, 08:21   #3
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

I gave up on laptops,, I use an Intel Nuc, solid state HD and a 22" HP monitor wired to batts with a Buck 12 to 19 converter... very very low power draw... don't use inverter much anymore.... wireless key board... Monitor serves as entertainment screen... we can move it even to cockpit!.. blue tooth speakers totally portable...

Very portable. use 32 gb usb drives which I can transport in pocket from boat to home computer or to ANY computer... has all my files and software...

Laptop with old HD and sticking keys is ballast and has been removed.
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Old 04-06-2017, 08:27   #4
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandero View Post
I gave up on laptops,, I use an Intel Nuc, solid state HD and a 22" HP monitor wired to batts with a Buck 12 to 19 converter... very very low power draw... don't use inverter much anymore.... wireless key board... Monitor serves as entertainment screen... we can move it even to cockpit!.. blue tooth speakers totally portable...

Very portable. use 32 gb usb drives which I can transport in pocket from boat to home computer or to ANY computer... has all my files and software...

Laptop with old HD and sticking keys is ballast and has been removed.
Yes, the Intel NUC is the ideal boat computer I have been drooling over one for a while now. Just don't want to spend the money on this when I have so many other things to buy for the boat, and when I have perfectly good computers lying around.

My monitor is already wired to 24v via a DROK buck converter. I have a bagful of DROKs to run any kind of DC gear from ship's power.

I run laptops off these as well, or off car adapters.
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Old 04-06-2017, 08:30   #5
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Snore View Post
I have debated this myself.

For $150-190USD one can purchase a laptop with- 2GB ram, 64GB storage (not a spinning hard drive), 14" display intel Celeron process and runs on 12VDC. Not enough gusto to run big spreadsheets, but powerful enough for Garmin, Ray or OpenCPN navigation software.

If I wasn't a cheap sailor, probably would have purchased one by now. Instead I am dragging my "good" laptop to boats.
I destroyed my extremely expensive work laptop (a Sony Vaio Z) using it this way. Got doused with seawater in a knockdown in the North Sea. I don't recommend using your "good" computer this way!!

Yes, a cheap netbook would work fine for OpenCPN and other boat stuff we use. I don't think any serious computing power is needed. But I think a mini-computer like the Gigabyte Brick or Intel NUC is even much better, if you're going to use it with a mounted monitor. That way you don't need it sitting on the nav table in the way, and vulnerable to falling objects or flying seawater.
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Old 04-06-2017, 08:32   #6
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Wow, there seems to be some new hardware in this space. Look at this:

https://www.amazon.de/Mini-PC-lautlo...e+Brix+Mini-PC

Seriously tempting for that kind of money.
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Old 04-06-2017, 08:32   #7
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Sandero View Post
I gave up on laptops,, I use an Intel Nuc, solid state HD and a 22" HP monitor wired to batts with a Buck 12 to 19 converter... very very low power draw... don't use inverter much anymore.... wireless key board... Monitor serves as entertainment screen... we can move it even to cockpit!.. blue tooth speakers totally portable...

Very portable. use 32 gb usb drives which I can transport in pocket from boat to home computer or to ANY computer... has all my files and software...

Laptop with old HD and sticking keys is ballast and has been removed.
FYI
Samsung makes a 24" TV, monitor, that will handle 12v fine. I've been using it for three years.
I wanted all my pilot house stuff to run on 12 volts.

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Old 04-06-2017, 08:45   #8
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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Originally Posted by Dauntlessny View Post
FYI
Samsung makes a 24" TV, monitor, that will handle 12v fine. I've been using it for three years.
I wanted all my pilot house stuff to run on 12 volts.

Richard
You can run any DC gear of any voltage via a $10 back convertor, which on top of converting the voyage, stabilizes it.
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Old 04-06-2017, 09:08   #9
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

With windows 10, I had to change my usb GPS...
Works well though with OPENCPN..
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Old 04-06-2017, 09:16   #10
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

I have an old NT machine. I dual booted and installed Navigatrix. That works fine but would not handle Sailmail and such. So I'm also using a small laptop with OpenCPN for Sailmail and other stuff. I also do some CAD drawings for boat Fab work and have legacy Windows files such as Family Tree Maker.

I found out that I use my iPad/iPhone pretty extensively in many areas. But there are still some places where I have old format charts not easily viewable in IOS. Thus multiple devices.
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Old 04-06-2017, 09:52   #11
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Wow, there seems to be some new hardware in this space. Look at this:

https://www.amazon.de/Mini-PC-lautlo...e+Brix+Mini-PC

Seriously tempting for that kind of money.
Be careful and read the reviews.
11 had 1 star but only 27 had 5 stars.
Also, i note that they do not deliver to Canada due to
"Produce specific and country specific restrictions"...
Whatever the Hell that means.
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Old 04-06-2017, 10:14   #12
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

My 1984 30 footer has a radio and old Radar as its only electronics. I'm looking into adding a chart plotter. Is (or can) the laptop replace a chart plotter and other marine electronics?
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Old 04-06-2017, 10:18   #13
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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.
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Old 04-06-2017, 10:57   #14
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

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.
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Old 04-06-2017, 11:45   #15
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Re: Repurposing Old Laptop for Ship's Computer

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
This year I stopped using my business laptop as my ship's computer, and how happy I am that I did do. These uses are in constant conflict with each other.

I have an old Sony TT ultrabook, which cost a fortune in its day, with reasonable spec for this purpose -- 128 gigbyte SSD drive, HDMI, etc. It's badly beaten up on the outside (I must have travelled a million miles with it) but it works. The screen is starting to fall apart -- the bezel has disintegrated and the screen itself if hanging by threads.

I keep it in the dedicated laptop drawer at my nav station (which is too small for anything but netbooks or old 11" ultrabooks like the Sony).

I have a 4K monitor mounted above the nav table which I use it with. I use an external mouse, and usually don't need the keyboard when using OpenCPN, which is 80% of what I use it for. So it just stays in the closed laptop drawer.

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.

Anyone doing anything similar to this? The alternative would be to just buy an Intel NUC or Gigabyte brick and attach is to the back of the monitor. But with such a long list of things to buy for the boat, I hate to spend money on something like that when I have a perfectly good computer lying around doing nothing.
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.
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