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Old 26-01-2015, 13:57   #1
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Two fried laptops later.

My husband and I bought our first sailboat just a few months ago, and we are having problems with regulating our voltage as we charge our electronics.

We have fried the logic boards on both our mac laptop computers in the past week, and we could certainly use some advice. My laptop went first, and the tech folks at the mac store told us that the logic board was damaged due to surges in voltage. The battery on my sister-in-law's iPhone also somewhat exploded after a week with us on the boat.

We charge our batteries from three 90 watt solar panels and an Air Breeze wind generator. We have an Outback FlexMax 60 charge controller for the solar panels and the wind gennie comes with a built in regulator. When both laptops died, we were on anchor with very little wind, so it seems as though the wind gennie couldn't be the culprit. The engines weren't running while we were charging our laptops either.

After the first laptop died, we bought an extra voltage regulator from Home Depot and wired it into our 110 outlet. We bought a bar surge protector, just to be sure, and plugged our remaining laptop in this when charging from the 110 inverter. We've also be monitoring the voltage coming out of our 110 plug with our multimeter, and it's always between 110-115 while we monitor it.

The second laptop (a old, backup that we had left behind at home, but my father-in-law just brought us from the states) died with in 10 minutes of charging on our inverter, even with the extra surge protectors in use. Interestingly, we also had a kindle charging at the exact same time, and it's completely fine. Clearly we are having problems with surging voltage coming out of our 110 outlet, but we aren't sure where to start. I'll take a look at the exact brand and specs on our 110 inverter when I get back to the boat. Without a computer on board, we are finding ourselves in Internet cafes all too often now.

Is the voltage safer coming through the inverter or through a direct DC plug and car-charger type cord for a laptop? The Outback is brand new. The batteries themselves not-so-new, but limping along fine.

Any advice on where to start?

Thanks everyone! Any direction would be greatly appreciated.
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Old 26-01-2015, 14:09   #2
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

The problem would have to be in the AC side of things. The inverter should handle any voltage variations in the DC side, if DC volts get too low or high it should shut down.


Your Outback charge controller will record your peak DC voltage anyway. Push the second button from the left, it will show your max and min battery voltage for the day. The two buttons to the right of that can scroll back to show voltages, amps in etc for the past 128 days.
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Old 26-01-2015, 14:21   #3
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

Is it posable you have either a square wave or modified wave inverter, if so most computers and electronics have problems with them, You need a pure sign wave inverter, better yet get a couple of 12 volt chargers for your lap top and phone, they are designed to run and charge your electronics in the car which is a very electrically nosiy environment and most likely more efficient that a larger inverter.
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Old 26-01-2015, 14:37   #4
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

Yes very strange..

If it was voltage spikes on the 110V side, I would expect the power brick to fail. The power brick is essentially an isolated switching power supply and would not pass spikes to the laptop.

Lets ask another question. Did you have anything else plugged in (ie. USB devices, Cat5 cable, ect). I'm thinking the spike may have come down another path.
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Old 26-01-2015, 15:20   #5
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

I'm with irwin37 and travellerw. We have fried charging bricks before (even an Apple one) using a modified sine wave inverter (a very reputable model).

However, problems on the AC side should be limited to damaging the charging brick and not the computers. I don't know what type of "surge" would cause a problem, since these brick transformers work from 110-240V and both 50/60Hz.

None of the charging sources could be the issue because they are all charging at DC voltages to the battery and have nothing in common with the AC side.

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Old 26-01-2015, 15:30   #6
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

I'm thinking condensation in the electronics, high humidity?
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Old 26-01-2015, 15:55   #7
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

Thanks so much for the suggestions. Back on the boat, and looking at our inverter. We have a Cobra CPI 2575 that uses a modified sine wave. So, this could certainly be part of the problem. Looking at our multimeter again, after the voltage regulator and inverter, we are only getting 100 volts out of the outlet. Wonder why it's low... ?

We've also fried several iPod/iPhone charging cables (just won't work anymore) while charging DC straight from the battery, and my sister-in-law's iPhone battery fried also after charging from the DC side.

I'd love if this problem were only confined to the AC system on the boat, and we'll probably go ahead and upgrade our inverter to a pure sine wave, but it still seems like we have some voltage surges on the boat to take care of. Hmmmm...

You guys still agree with the suggestions here?
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Old 26-01-2015, 16:03   #8
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

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Originally Posted by nimblemotors View Post
I'm thinking condensation in the electronics, high humidity?
This is one of the closest guesses that I can see. The DC charging side has nothing to do with AC powered devices, nor could the batteries directly cause this problem.

The 2 laptops use power bricks that can accept 110-220v, 50 or 60 hz, so they're very forgiving in terms of input voltage. Modified sine wave wouldn't do it unless the MSW inverter is damaged and putting out a really weird waveform, however again, the power brick is the device that is at risk, not the motherboard.

The culprit has to be either something else that plugged into the motherboards - like a USB device or an ethernet cable, or the marine environment.
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Old 26-01-2015, 16:24   #9
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

Hi Errantries.

I am glad you started this topic/thread. Sorry to hear about your fried computers. I am sure it must be frustrating. I lost a laptop (hardware failure) a few months ago and it is a bummer!
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Regarding the possibility of condensation causing the problems, can you tell us about your location (Pacific Northwest or tropics or ??) and if your boat is experiencing any heavy condensation (due to cold water and warm interior air, closed hatches + humidity)? Or are you in the tropics using some kind of air-conditioning or just natural air ventilation (open ports and hatches)?
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Old 26-01-2015, 16:39   #10
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

I wish it was just condensation, but so many of the electronics on our boat have been fried by (what I assume are) voltage surges, that it's hard to rule this out completely. The many iPad cords that don't work anymore... ? Odd, right.

The second laptop came from the dry, winter climate of Michigan, and was only here in the Caribbean for 12 hours before it fried.

I agree on the laptop bricks... that's got me so confused. How could the motherboard get fried with such a wide range of voltage that the bricks can account for?

The inverter, while yes being a MSW, is less than 6 months old, so failure is low probability. Although not out of the question. I've been reading about MSW versus PSW, and it seems unlikely that the MSW would be the single culprit for both our fried motherboards. Seems like they might make electronics a little wonky, but completely fry them.... I don't know.

There was nothing besides the power cord plugged in this morning when our second laptop fried. No USB, no external hard drive, nada.

Another interesting tidbit... I took the charger that was being used this morning when the laptop died, and I plugged in to a different, friend's computer and it works just fine. Charging cord didn't fry, but motherboard did??

I swear I'm befriending and buying many beers for the next electrician I can find at the marina...
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Old 26-01-2015, 16:50   #11
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

Hi Steady Hand,

Sorry, missed your message while I was typing mine. Sorry to hear about the loss of your computer as well! The simple life of living on a boat is great, and we have very little possessions (which is nice), but then losing a priced item like a laptop is quite a bummer. What is bumming me out more is the fact that I can't figure out what's killing them...

We are currently in Cartagena, Colombia, and, yes, it's quite humid here. But, we don't use any air conditioning. The boat is generally cooled by ventilation and the breeze, and we don't often (rarely really) close up the boat completely for any extended period of time.

Both computers fried while we were charging them with the 110 inverter, and both computers were opened up at a mac store here within hours of dying. I feel like the techies would have probably noticed the condensation inside the device then, right? In both occasions, they attributed the problems to surges in voltage.

Now it's just a matter of confirming if we do, in fact, have excess voltage surges or not... What do you think?

Thanks so much for your help and concern!
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Old 26-01-2015, 17:00   #12
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

I have had a similar (but different) experience wIth lap tops getting fried, except I was running off a generator, with proper surge protectors.

When a big piece of machinery came on like a thruster or galley warming oven, we would get a brown out and change in frequency as the generator caught up.

I am no electrical expert, but some of the engineers on board thought the change in frequency would mess up the computers internal clock. Or something like that any way.

Now I know an inverter is not a generator, but I wonder if variations in load on an inverter could have a similar effect?

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Old 26-01-2015, 17:28   #13
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

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Originally Posted by Errantries View Post
We've also fried several iPod/iPhone charging cables (just won't work anymore) while charging DC straight from the battery, and my sister-in-law's iPhone battery fried also after charging from the DC side.
The issues with your laptops frying... problems with the AC supply could possibly account for it, though it seems a specific cause hasn't yet been isolated - spikes or other transient events, average level, frequency...

But the above described problems with charging from DC - that's something else. Can you describe exactly how/what you were charging the i-things when they failed?
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Old 26-01-2015, 17:29   #14
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

He's lost DC devices too, and that sort of takes electrical power out of the picture to me.
I lean toward the condensation thing myself. Maybe next laptop, take it apart and paint everything with conformal coating?
Except for losing DC powered devices I'd say get a DC to DC convertor, a car charger to charge your laptops, one I have to charge my tablet will operate on something crazy like 6 to 36 VDC


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Old 26-01-2015, 17:41   #15
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Re: Two fried laptops later.

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Maybe next laptop, take it apart and paint everything with conformal coating?
Unless things have changed in the past couple of years, Apple laptop boards are conformal coated.

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