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Old 15-10-2017, 19:45   #1
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Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I didn't get any action on the open CPN thread, so I will try posting her to see if I get any input as to what type of lap top to get for my boat.

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, 11:10   #2
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I will have to go through this later this year myself. I'm surprised no one has posted a reply so far.

Really, it will boil down to what you want to use it for. You gave a few items, but one that used to be on that list, is a laptop you can take ashore easily to find a internet cafe to check email, etc. So size was a driving factor. A 17" screen is too big for that IMHO. But if you want to watch a lot of movies on it, then a 17" is a good choice.

Connections are the real rub though. It used to be you had to have a serial port so I bought PC's which had them. Now I would want one that has at least one USB port and preferably two. You can get multiport adapters too. I would never get a Bluetooth/Wifi only laptop. You can get separate disk drives but you will need a USB port usually. You should get USB 3.0 for sure, but it is becoming standard (or already is).

I would want a really good graphics card onboard - for movies and chartplotters. I would also go for a fast CPU chip and I wouldn't try to save a buck by going with anything other than Intel. I'm sure to be flamed for that but I want to be conservative on this.

It looks like Windows is the most widely used software now so most apps you might want to use will use that. I have a MacBook Pro right now and I love it. I think I will bring it along and still get a Windows PC too. I hate having to relearn the latest version of Windows but will have to do it.

Definitely want wifi and bluetooth. Big internal memory storage with a lot of graphics memory too. I think I would go with a solid state drive for the main memory with 1TB if I can afford it. I like touch pads too. I worry about touch screens though and don't feel like I really need or want one. They are fine for tablets though. I definitely don't want a tablet as my main computer on any boat.

And I want as big a battery as I could get. I also plan on getting a good external wifi antenna and will probably get a boat router. And a printer too. I hate the space they take up but it is handy to print out stuff for port officials.

This is just off the top of my head, and I haven't thought through all of this yet. I will make a big list of what I want in detail early next year.

Let us know what you end of with.
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Old 16-10-2017, 11:32   #3
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Are you using the computer for navigation, like for OpenCPN? Or just for housekeeping and entertainment?

If you are using the computer more or less continuously while underway, then I would strongly recommend you consider using not a laptop, but a fixed installed minicomputer, like this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bqeel-x5-Z8...+mini+computer

They are unbelievably cheap, unbelievably tiny, and use tiny amounts of power, compared to any laptop except maybe some netbooks.

Laptops on the nav table tend to fly around the cabin in rough weather, and are hard to use on a heel. I changed from a long series of laptops to one of these mini computers this summer, and it is SO great. A huge leap forward compared to using a laptop. I have a 22" 4k monitor fixed mounted above the nav table, and everything has hard wired 12v power supplies so I don't have to run the inverter.

Hook it up to a portable USB 3.0 hard drive for storage -- 2TB for $100 or so. Use an RF keyboard trackpad (or a full size USB mouse for more precise work in OpenCPN).

YMMV, but I find optical drives to be completely unneeded for anything I do.

The Bqeel computer I have has two video ports, so I can also connect my bulkhead mounted 32" screen I use for watching movies, OR I can put the chart up on it if I want to keep an eye on what's going on from inside the cabin.

I have not yet worked out a good audio connection, but there are several ways to do it.

It is SO great not to have the laptop occupying space on the nav table desk top. And not flying around in a seaway.

Bqeel is only one brand; there are many others to choose from.

I also have laptops on board, and I find that it is really great not to be using the same machine for my work, as the computer used for navigation and entertainment.


Note that these machines violate the advice given in the previous post to have big RAM memory and fast CPUs, and high end graphics cards. In my opinion, this advice is obsolete, because modern low power machines work differently. The Intel Atom Cherry Trail CPU used in this minicomputers has FOUR cores -- so it's like four separate CPU's. The board has built-in graphics which are highly advanced and optimized for video. It doesn't need as much RAM.

So my 100 GBP ($135) Bqueel computer with only 2GB of RAM runs OpenCPN MUCH faster and smoother, (plays 4K movies!) than my $4000 Sony high end laptop which is only a few years old, but a generation behind. Absolutely all you need for navigation or videos.
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Old 16-10-2017, 11:39   #4
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Just go for Microsoft Surface Pro and stop worriyng..
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Old 16-10-2017, 17:14   #5
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I will check out the Minicomputer and the Surface Pro.

My boat needs to enter the 21st century, and I am getting an education as to what that means. I just don't want to throw money at things that turn out to not be what I need, as I have done that too many times in the past.

The main thing I want to use the computer for is navigation, weather, and email.
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Old 16-10-2017, 17:51   #6
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Laptop on a cat is a different animal than one on a mono. More room, less heeling, and so a laptop is more versatile.

Definitely Windows 10 (which buy the way you'd need to buy separately, and install, if you bought a mini).

I would forgo the DVD player/burner unless you actually watch DVDs or need to archive large amounts of data. Flash drives have pretty much eclipsed them.

Personally I would go with something that is as small as you can comfortably manage without too much compromise. It will be easier to take ashore, easier to stow, use less power, fit on more tables, etc. It's just more convenient. Virtually anything you buy that's current generation, short of a netbook, will have the horsepower to run anything you plan to. It really comes down to whether the screen is big enough for navigation purposes.

Also, laptops can have a short service life on boats depending on where you sail and the exposure it gets, even if it never leaves the cabin. I know some who consider them borderline disposable in some climates. If in doubt, resist the temptation to buy more than you need on the theory it will have a longer useful life...it may not.
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Old 16-10-2017, 18:52   #7
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Consider a disposable Windows tablet. These things can be had for about $100 on Amazon and while the specs are not great, they will suffice for the type of work you plan to do.

My approach would be an 8" or 10" tablet depending on your eyesight. These tablets typically come with one charging/USB port. You get a powered USB hub and connect all your toys to it (in my case I have the soundcard for the SSB radio, the PTT switch, Ethernet for the plotter, serial port for NMEA. All this is tucked in nicely behind the panel and you have just one cable to connect to the tablet. You can run a similar cable to the helm or under the dodger. If you want you can connect wifi cameras directly to the tablet as well as a stereo. Then you take the tablet and stuff all the openings except for the charge port with silicone. You also need a Bluetooth keyboard. It takes a while to set this up but once done you will like it:

Use the tablet in the cockpit, at the chart table, in the head, wherever you please. Eventually, it will get wet - just replace it for $100.
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Old 16-10-2017, 19:45   #8
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I can see the value of going with a smaller disposable laptop as long as it has enough usb ports to do the job.

There must be some type of usb to serial port adapter for some of the electronics?

I never thought about it but the Vesper AIS can connect to the lap top by wireless methods - hopefully.
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Old 16-10-2017, 19:55   #9
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

[QUOTE=Dockhead;2500443]Are you using the computer for navigation, like for OpenCPN? Or just for housekeeping and entertainment?

If you are using the computer more or less continuously while underway, then I would strongly recommend you consider using not a laptop, but a fixed installed minicomputer, like this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bqeel-x5-Z8...+mini+computer
QUOTE]

Thanks for posting this DH.....I never realized they were designed to be mounted behind the monitor

Before, I had a laptop clamped to the chart table, but this is far more elegant with my new console.Click image for larger version

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Is there a reason you chose that particular model?
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Old 17-10-2017, 00:12   #10
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Quote:
Originally Posted by maxingout View Post
I can see the value of going with a smaller disposable laptop as long as it has enough usb ports to do the job.

There must be some type of usb to serial port adapter for some of the electronics?

I never thought about it but the Vesper AIS can connect to the lap top by wireless methods - hopefully.
Ports are not usually a big deal these days.

You absolutely don't need a serial port.

Even one USB port can be turned into as many as you need with a hub.

You can connect the boat network via a RS422 to USB adapter (you'll get everything you have in NMEA0183 that way) or a N2K to USB adapter (then you'll get absolutely all the network data, but the adapter is $$$), or by wifi via a GoFree module, Vesper, or any one of a number of N2K to wifi devices -- there are many solutions, not all of them expensive.

For large scale storage, like for movies, it's good to have a USB3.0 port so you can hook up a USB3.0 portable hard drive, but even USB2.0 works reasonably well.

If you want to use an external fixed mounted monitor (which I recommend), then think about an HDMI or displayport port. But you can also hook up even a tablet to an external monitor in different ways. It's much easier to connect stuff up these days, than it was just a few years ago.
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Old 17-10-2017, 00:17   #11
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

[QUOTE=Pelagic;2500847]
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
Are you using the computer for navigation, like for OpenCPN? Or just for housekeeping and entertainment?

If you are using the computer more or less continuously while underway, then I would strongly recommend you consider using not a laptop, but a fixed installed minicomputer, like this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bqeel-x5-Z8...+mini+computer
QUOTE]

Thanks for posting this DH.....I never realized they were designed to be mounted behind the monitor

Before, I had a laptop clamped to the chart table, but this is far more elegant with my new console.Attachment 157841

Is there a reason you chose that particular model?
I liked that it had a second monitor port, and it was dirt cheap. Otherwise, I don't think there is much to choose between them.

I was originally looking at the Intel NUC, which is a full fledged computer, but I think this new ultra cheap "media center" type mini computers are a much better choice -- performance is absolutely fine, even surprisingly snappy, and they use far less power than the NUC, and at the same time cost 1/5 or less. Also they have no fans, so make no sound whatsoever. Kind of a no-brainer.

They are amazingly tiny and can be mounted behind the monitor to the VESA mounts, or just under the nav table, which is what I did.

I used one of these:

Click image for larger version

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ID:	157852

Set into the vertical part of the nav table, to get access to the ports while leaving the computer itself hidden away out of the way and out of sight.

It's super neat, super uncluttered, super convenient. One of the best things I've done to my boat recently, and delightfully, as this is so rare with anything we do to our boats, it cost peanuts.
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Old 17-10-2017, 00:42   #12
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

Always windows guy, I use 15 inch solid state powerful windows laptop and 12 V charger that can be ordered separately. Uses 4A when charging and using.

Works great used for excel, speculation, videos, movies and even CF browsing.

Going new ways always littered with risks of spending days and nights sorting out installation details. Life too precious for that.
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Old 17-10-2017, 07:48   #13
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I was crewing on a boat and the skipper insisted on using an Apple iPad for the primary chartplotter. We also had a Furuno but he didn't want to use it. We ended up using it though as the iPad would not stay alive on the USB charge hardwired to the battery while running the chartplotter app. The iPad battery would steadily run down and then shut off, with it still plugged in. A faster USB port might have fixed that although I don't know. They also used it for other stuff at the same time and that didn't work out well.

If I were going to use a tablet or iPad for navigation I would want to make sure it will run continuously running the CP app. I know some have used them in the cockpit too for navigation. I wouldn't do that myself since it is such a wet environment.

Dockhead has some excellent comments. I don't have a spot for a fixed monitor at the nav desk though so that wouldn't work for me. Just want to make sure that my looking at using a solid state drive is not an optical drive. It has no working parts except silicon. Disk drives take a beating on a boat although I had good luck with ours.

BTW - I still have and occasionally use the 15" Toshiba laptop we had on the boat cruising for four years with constant trips to shore for wifi, and movies and games on the boat. It is absolutely chunky compared to today's laptops but was a real workhorse - Windows XT no less.

The one thing that is very helpful now, is dedicated USB fast charge ports hooked to your 12v system. I don't think four would be too many.
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Old 17-10-2017, 08:28   #14
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

We use Panasonic Toughbook C-53's. One as primary and one as backup. I like them because:
-They have a magnesium case and are very robust.
-They are splash proof, so if I spill my coffee on it, no big deal.
-The screens are high resolution and are built to be daylight view-able, but at the same time they can be dimmed way down for night viewing so I don't have to use the night viewing feature on Open CPN.
-The keyboards are back lit so I can use them in the dark
-The "F-11" key is red and printed in bold letters so I can minimize and maximize the screen on Open CPN without turning on the lights.
-They have 2 USB 3 and one USB 2 ports, which I find is plenty.
-They can be had with SSD hard drives for speed and reliability.
-They have a DVD drive so we can use the computer to watch movies, the HDMI port allows us to put movies and charts on the 24" TV screen.
-They have a very solid feel. You can drop them from waist high with the screen open without worrying about it. The CF 31 are fully waterproof and can be dropped from 6 feet, but I like the screens on the CF-53's better.


They run over $3000 new, but you can get used ones on ebay for roughly $500.

We have a Vesper AIS that doubles as a wifi hub so we don't need to make USB connections for AIS and GPS.
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Old 17-10-2017, 08:47   #15
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Re: Best Lap Top Computer for a Cruising Boat

I can see it is a different world now, and all the input is giving me lots of ideas.

The last time we were cruising, the connectivity was a massive issue with multiple types of ports and adapters required, and things talking to each other by wifi did not exist.

These days, USB seems to handle most things that require hard wiring as best I can tell from the responses.

I am starting to see a faint glimmer of hope on the navigation horizon, and I appreciate all of the responses that are making it easier for me to sort this all out.

Thanks to all who responded.
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