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Old 15-10-2017, 11:31   #1
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Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

It's time to update my computer on board Exit Only.

My last computer had a C/D DVD drive and ran windows XT. The connections to Pactor II/III were compatible with ten year old technology found on laptops of that vintage.

It's time to start over, and I am trying to figure out what kind of a computer to get to be able to run Open CPM, Sail Mail, Win Link, and whatever else is a good idea and helpful for a cruising yacht.

Most computers don't have a DVD player/recorder and it looks like they interface by USB and outboard CD/DVD drives.

Do I need a CD/DVD drive in the laptop?
Is everything connected by USB now?
Is Windows 10 the way to go?
Are smaller laptops or larger laptops better for the job?
Are there laptops to avoid?
How many USB ports do I need?
Can smaller laptops provide enough power through USB for all the things needed with communications and navigation?

I want to get this right the first time when I purchase a laptop. There are so many models to choose from, and I don't know what I should buy or what it should have in terms of features and ports.

When I was in Australia, I purchased a lap top that I planned to use in New Caledonia. That new laptop failed in less than a month, and I had to cruise an entire season in New Caledonia without the computer as they could not get replacement parts to fix it under warranty.

What computers are people using out there, what operating systems, and is their anything to avoid?
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Old 16-10-2017, 20:58   #2
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Do I need a CD/DVD drive in the laptop? - No, not really. My SurfacePro has none, and I haven't missed it. SurfacePro has one USB that I connect a USB hub + gigabit ethernet port which is very useful.

Is everything connected by USB now? Yes, mostly. USB3.0 which is faster than 2.0 significantly (not as fast as firewire). The USB hub is acting essentially like a multiplexer bringing data together from various pieces of equipment.

Is Windows 10 the way to go? Maybe if you are familiar with it and like the programs, like WinLink

Are smaller laptops or larger laptops better for the job? I wouldn't get a huge one if you want to take it home too. Depends on your eyes and wallet.

Are there laptops to avoid? Unknown internet deals by unknown companies...but there are some good functional tablets that will work...

How many USB ports do I need? You're the one who knows your instrument and chartplotter setup....depends on the data bus you have too - nmea0183, nmea2000, Seatalk, STng, etc. there is a long list.
Pactor,
GPS,
Instruments?
AIS?
VHF?
Backup Hard Drive?
USB to serial converter for instruments or AIS?

Can smaller laptops provide enough power through USB for all the things needed with communications and navigation? New Computers today are quite powerful, you will notice a big difference. Yes they do have enough computing power, (I'd get 8gb Ram) but if you are going to connect a lot of devices that require a source of power from usb, you'll need to have a small plug and 12vdc to 5vdc transformer to provide extra power. (The GPS does not take much power and most of the devices listed above have their own power, so you may not need additional 5VDC.)
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Old 16-10-2017, 21:01   #3
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

PS: The low power RPI route is a very attractive route because of energy use, and it should be considered.
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Old 16-10-2017, 21:16   #4
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

My choice is a netbook with 12" display and SSD.

Will need a USB hub since most of these configurations only have 2.

W10 is about all you will find but it's getting better with updates.

The one I'm using right now is an Acer Switch Alpha 12 but there are many out there just like it.

Terry
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Old 16-10-2017, 21:50   #5
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

I've never bought a laptop that didn't have an optical drive but it wouldn't put me off one now. For very little money you can buy an external optical drive that connects to a USB port. I don't use my optical drive often so it doesn't make sense to carry it around everywhere. It makes more sense to have an external optical drive available when you need it. There's no need to give up space, weight, and power for an optical drive that remains unused most of the time.

Fabbian
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Old 16-10-2017, 22:16   #6
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Quote:
Originally Posted by fgd3 View Post
I've never bought a laptop that didn't have an optical drive but it wouldn't put me off one now. For very little money you can buy an external optical drive that connects to a USB port. I don't use my optical drive often so it doesn't make sense to carry it around everywhere. It makes more sense to have an external optical drive available when you need it. There's no need to give up space, weight, and power for an optical drive that remains unused most of the time.

Fabbian
I am leaning in the direction of an external optical drive with a smaller laptop.

Do you need an external drive to get C-map and other charts on your computer?
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Old 17-10-2017, 03:06   #7
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

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Originally Posted by maxingout View Post
I am leaning in the direction of an external optical drive with a smaller laptop.

Do you need an external drive to get C-map and other charts on your computer?
Not if you download the charts directly to the computer. I seldom see charts being shared these days on CDs. With memory sticks and external hard drives the optical format is disappearing.

Terry
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Old 17-10-2017, 03:36   #8
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Quote:
Originally Posted by yachtvalhalla View Post
Not if you download the charts directly to the computer. I seldom see charts being shared these days on CDs. With memory sticks and external hard drives the optical format is disappearing.

Terry
I have a usb cd/dvd drive but really can't remember the last time it was used. Must be close to facebook "Are you old enough to remember one of these" by now.
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Old 17-10-2017, 06:04   #9
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Quote:
Originally Posted by yachtvalhalla View Post
Not if you download the charts directly to the computer. I seldom see charts being shared these days on CDs. With memory sticks and external hard drives the optical format is disappearing.

Terry
The pproblem has been in the past that often self burned CD/DVD doesn't run with another CD/DVD drive but only with the drive they have been burned with. USB memory sticks and external hard drive have completely replaced CD/DVD.

Gerhard
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Old 17-10-2017, 08:52   #10
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Thumb drives did not exist the last time we were cruising, and I am having to rethink how we store and move data.
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Old 17-10-2017, 09:04   #11
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxingout View Post
Thumb drives did not exist the last time we were cruising, and I am having to rethink how we store and move data.
Portable hard drives are the ticket for storage.

Moving data is easy now if you set up a network (which is now 10000x easier than it was back in the day). In fact you can set up your boat computer as a server and access movies, music, documents, and other data on its hard drive from any device on board.

But having a couple of thumb drives around for a quick and dirty file transfer is also a good idea. And that may be the only way to get data onto your chart plotters -- it is for my Zeus plotters, even though they are also connected to the wifi network via GoFree. Some newer plotters don't have USB ports so you might need a micro SD card for transferring files to them.
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Old 17-10-2017, 17:02   #12
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

The other decision aspect which I still don't have a clear picture on (excuse the pun)...is a PC monitor vs a Smart TV?

I have a Smart HDTV at home with two USB's connected to two portable hard drives 1 & 2 TB for stored music and movies for cruising. (This TV will fit in our cabin)

Networked to my laptop and internet it really is nice.

But is the screen characteristics of an HDTV suitable for a computer monitor where you want the processing power for chart work? Or should I just get a dedicated monitor?
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Old 17-10-2017, 22:55   #13
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

Regardless of the type of screen you choose, do look at the monitor's power consumption and include that in your power budget. Also look at how you will be powering the monitor (and computer). Some monitors burn way more power than others, and if you plan to use the computer a lot then the system power consumption may become an issue.

Don't let this create a nasty surprise. Do a power budget.
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Old 17-10-2017, 23:12   #14
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

I have not looked at power consumption as a parameter to decide what type of computer to have on board. I will have to check that out among the available choices.

When everything is turned on, I could see that there would be possible power issues.

In the past my biggest power consumer was the autopilot and water maker. When I was in the trade winds, my two Aerogen 6 wind generators produced a combined 400 amp hours each day, and I could run anything I wanted. But outside the trade winds and in the calms, power became more of an issue.

All of these electronics/computers/plotters/displays/AIS/radios start to really add up, and it important to consider how much power it all takes.

It's like a giant electronic and electrical puzzle, and the solution is different based on the choices that each yacht makes.
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Old 17-10-2017, 23:21   #15
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Re: Best Computer for Open CPM - Sail Mail - Winlink - Pactor

I'll throw in my 2 cents!

I gave up on laptops for onboard use about 7 years ago. They are too susceptible to damage and make upgrading, without purchasing a new laptop, nearly impossible.

I purchased a small case that can hold a couple hard drives and it also has a DVD but I truly can't even remember the last time I used it.

I looked around at Mini-ITX motherboards that could support multiple hard drives, onboard video, 2 monitors, plenty of USB ports, at least one legacy serial port and a processor capable of functioning as a home theater system.

I found the perfect board for what I was looking for, a Jet NC9R-1037. It has:

An Intel Celeron 1037 1.8GH dual core processor 17w
Onboard Intel HD Graphics
Up to 16gb of memory
2 PCI expansion slots (Great for adding extra USB ports, but no need for me)
3 SATA 3Gb ports 1 SATA 6gb port(hard drives & DVD)
Realtec 5.1 Channel Audio
4 USB 2.0 ports on backplane, 2 more 2.0 ports internal and 2 3.0 USB internal ports(These can be connected to the ports on the case)
2 Legacy Serial ports (One for GPS, one for AIS)
HDMI, DVI-D and VGA monitor ports
RJ-45 Lan port, Audio ports, PS-2 port and more!!

As configured for my use, I have:
A 19" 12 volt monitor at the nav station
Another 22" widescreen monitor mounted on the wall for movies
A 160GB Intel Solid State Hard Drive for C Drive.
A 3TB Seagate Green Energy Drive for movies, photos and other storage
A full sized keyboard and mouse at the nav station

The system is surprisingly fast. I can be running all navigation software while the Admiral watches a movie at the same time. The Solid State drive is lightening fast and uses very little power. The green drive spins down and saves power if not being used. The 2 serial ports are perfect for the GPS and AIS, are more reliable and free up USB ports for Pactor modem and other uses.

I added a backplane spine that contains another USB port and an E-SATA port for doing offline backups to other 3TB hard drives.

Now, for the best part!! I bet you're wondering how much power this thing uses? It's powered by an 250 watt(overkill for my setup) M4-ATX 12 volt power supply connected directly to the ships battery supply as is the 12V monitor at the Nav station. No inverter necessary! Total power consumption at idle with monitor turned off, 2 amps at 12volts. Add an additional 1.5 amp for the monitor. Even while watching a movie, I notice no discernible increase in power consumption.

The best part of going this way is that it's very easy to upgrade. I can upgrade the motherboard and still keep everything else. If a monitor fails, I buy a new one and plug it in. Hard Drive fail, buy a new one. Need more memory, buy it and plug it in. Space bar on the keyboard fails, buy a new keyboard for $10 and plug it in.

The mother board I have is now about 8 years old and was actually designed for retail point of sales systems. Hence the serial ports and multi-monitor. If you decide you need extra USB ports, you can buy a PCI expansion board and get 4 more with no problem!

You'll spend more initially putting a system like this together, but you'll save tons of money in the future in upgrading and replace failed parts. You can also store the computer away in a safe dry location rather than having your whole computer sitting in front of you vulnerable to that inadvertent spilled glass of wine that causes the space bar on your laptop to quit working!

I currently use Windows & and purchased my copy so that I can reload it for a new installation if needed and I won't be forced to go to Windows 10 because Microsoft thinks I should. Which reminds me that the original install of Windows 7 was the last time I used my DVD drive. I'll continue with windows 7 until Microsoft no longer supports it and then I'm leaving Microsoft for something else. Anything else!!

Putting together your own system is pretty easy if you use one of the motherboards that has the processor, video and audio on the board. You just need to make sure you get the right type of memory for the board. After that, it's just plugging in the hard drives, monitors, power supply and installing the operating system.

Hope this is helpful!!

Gene
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