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Old 02-02-2009, 10:11   #1
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Desktop Users?

Is anyone out there using a desktop computer on board?. My experience with laptops has been not good and am thinking to place a dedicated desktop on board for use as the ships computer. I was thinking something like a small form factor HP or IBM, 15 inch LCD, and a wifi PDA for internet access, and general usage off the boat. My theory is that all the parts on a desktop are replaceable just about anywhere. If anyone has any thoughts, would be much appreciated
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Old 02-02-2009, 10:51   #2
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Obviously, laptops are nice because they are small, portable, and don't require a constant power source. IMHO, that makes them more practical to have aboard than desktops.

If I were to install a desktop in the boat, however, I would place the tower (making sure it's properly secured and won't fall over) near the telvision I already have mounted, and use the tv as the computer's monitor to save on space. Then I would get a wireless keyboard and mouse to be able to use it from anywhere in the salon.

Could definitely work, just need to have a constant power supply to it. They probably sell some type of backup batteries you could install in case a power supply is unavailable.

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Old 02-02-2009, 11:12   #3
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the small form factor desktops are a reasonable choice and can be seen at wootalyzer.com for less than $200 REFURBED. The downside is that they may have more proprietary components in them than a larger desktop or tower. The solution is to buy two! They will run fine on a small inverter, and if they last three years on a boat you area ahead of the game.

Many of them are based on mini- mciro- or pico-itx boards that have embedded video, network, audio and other functions. The beauty of these boards is that you or a system builder can make one the way you want it, with say two db9 serial ports and 4 usb ports for example. While Vista really needs dual core processors and 2 gig of ram, (which can be done in this format) all the available nave software runs on XP. Several cruisers are running popular nav programs on Linux (or a sub flavor thereof) thru a Windows XP emulator, on machines that couldn't run XP!

I've built a couple boat pc's using mini-itx boards and have a new one on the doodle pad that will be temperature, shock- and saltwater proof, for about the price of a netbook [excluding peripherals.]

CAUTION: married users must obtain written permission from the Admiral before perusing wootalyzer.com All others are encouraged to place their credit cards in a large can of water and freeze it before opening that site.
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Old 02-02-2009, 11:21   #4
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I was thinking of a " shuttle " computer. Draws 36 watts under full load, super small. tucked in a locker somewhere might be just the thing.....
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Old 02-02-2009, 11:36   #5
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Great, now you guys got me thinkin about installing a desktop. Thanks alot

Cheers

Bill
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Old 02-02-2009, 12:03   #6
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The Shuttle cases are really nice, and can be filled with fast dual core processor, lots of memory, gamer-fast video, and a couple of huge drives. Most of them are aluminum, a big plus. They are designed for a different market though. Google mini-itx for some of the suppliers and builders of this niche design; mobile computing and embedded computers. You will find smaller cases, a lot of laptop components, 12 VDC power supplies and other boat-friendly things. I've left a lot of posts about boat PCs here, SSCA, and other boaty places about these gems, and met a lot of people with similar projects and experience. I've learned a lot.

when finished, my latest upgrade on Page 83 will include a PC thats little bigger than an old 5 1/4" CD drive hidden in my electronics bay, and an ASUS Eeepc for internet Cafes and emergency navigation. It lives in a Farraday Bag when aboard.

My first boat PC was an 8088 with 64 K and two floppy drives. Not great.

My first laptop was a 386 with a color screen that could not be seen in dark shade, with its own powersupply, a Garmin 45 with cables to the laptop and the antenna and a separate power supply, and DeLorme software and the very first product from Nobeltech: somewhat better but the mare's nest of cables was obscene.

My next one will live in an oilbath, and take up a little more space than a quart of thinner.
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Old 13-04-2009, 21:50   #7
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perhaps someone could enlighten me regarding mobile broad band. I understand that this is the answer for internet off shore.
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Old 14-04-2009, 04:02   #8
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Is it correct that all computer based nav software runs on XP? If not which programs off Vista or Mac OS versions?

if most are on XP, is XP still available easily? And doesn't it seem that these programs would have to offer Vista versions or whatever the latest and greatest windows op is?

This may be yet another reason to stick with plotter based navigation until the op system hurdle is passed.
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Old 14-04-2009, 06:15   #9
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We have been running a desktop computer on our boat for 4 years now. We use it as an entertainment center (Music, video, internet, DVD, CD and TV when we have cable), work, and Navigation center. We have it connected to a 24" Dell Flat panel display, that is mounted on a swing arm. We use a wireless keyboard and mouse.

Currently we are using AC through our inverter for power. I have purchased a DC-DC power supply and will install that in the near future. This will eliminate the need for a UPS (Battery backup, which we also had aboard). The ships batteries will be all the battery backup we'd need.

We have the computer built into a panel near the nav station. This looks great, it is flush mounted and the back is accessible through a cabinet on the other side. The issue with mounting it like this is one of heat. When we leave the cabinet close, it does not get enough air circulation and after about a half hour we start getting CPU heat warnings. I have purchased a water cooling system that will eliminate this problem. This is somewhat overkill because I can really just open the cabinet door and problem is solved.

We have the audio output going to a 6 channel car amplifier. This powers 4 speakers right now. Two in the salon, two in the cockpit. I have a request to mount two more out on the bow for music on the tramps. This is another one of those, future projects.

We run a program call Raynav on this computer, that lets us connect into our Raymarine seatalk buss. This means we can get navigation and instrument settings at the nav-station. We can plot our course and control the autopilot with this program also. Great for those rainy or cold evenings when your plotting the next days course. Don't have to sit outside at helm. We don't have the Radar option connected yet, another one of those future projects. The Raynav navigation system was probably what drove me to installing the desktop. It has some many bells and whistles with the corresponding need for lots of connections that it was going to make connecting it all to a laptop impractical. After I was committed so many other things just became so possible.

All in all, it has worked GREAT. No problems but the heat and when I switch from shore to inverter power or back I lose power to the machine and this caused a reboot. I solved this with the UPS, but the better solution is the DC-DC power supply. It is more power efficient than the AC-DC power supply currently installed. The nice thing is I can upgrade components as I need. (Power supply, water cooling, and keyboard so far)

Please note however that this did not eliminate the need for a laptop computer while we were cruising! We use the laptop for Skype and making calls to home. Often the only way to get WiFi is to go to an internet cafe or somewhere the WiFi on the boat won't reach. The laptop provides this portability. Oh, did I mention the wireless router that allows the laptop(s) to connect to the built in...
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Old 14-04-2009, 07:26   #10
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Strygaldwir,
thankd for the info, much appreciated. How much is your power consumption on the desktop. Just bought a Dell optiplex small form computer with a 15 inch LCD. I am planning to do pretty much the same thing you are, use the computer for nav and music/ entertainment.
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Old 14-04-2009, 08:42   #11
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thanks for this. do i understand correctly then that you have internet only when you are close to a harbour or a cafe?
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Old 14-04-2009, 09:33   #12
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I'd like to hear about "air card" experiences, that is how far from land are they working? How well do they work in harbors. I am interested in Southern NE.

The same question would apply to WiFI and amplified signals/antenna etc. How many free access points are there these days?
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Old 14-04-2009, 09:45   #13
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Rhosyn;

Hmmm... I don't have a convient way of measuring my AC use. I guess I could put it on the inverter, turn everything off and measure the DC amps going out. I have not done that to date. The current power supply is rated at 450 Watts. I'd bet I use a great percentage of that, and depends on what I am doing. BUT, I do have an excessive machine. It has a video card (Radeon OLD high end) that has to have a separate power supply to the card. I have two 250 gb hard drives, DVD/CD RW drive, PCMCIA adapter.... and the list goes on. Going to a DC-DC power supply would cut the consumption significantly. When I install, I'll measure and see what it actually uses.
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Old 14-04-2009, 10:20   #14
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luepetri;

Yes, you understand correctly. I only have internet access when I am close to a harbor. More specifically, close to a WiFi source. There are many solutions for rectifying this. One that has some appeal for me is the Cell phone digital access solutions (Air phone?). There are any number of solutions ranging up to and include satellite connections ($$$$), ($$$$) .....($$$$ come to think of it!)

If you are going to travel outside of the North American Territory, your options and coverage starts to get more and more limited. Lots of discussions available in here cruisers forum.

But, I am not cruising currently and the marina I am in has free high speed wifi. I do have the boat wired for DSL and Cable and I have used that on occasion.
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Old 14-04-2009, 13:33   #15
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What about the bouncing environments effect on the hard drive? Are lap top hard drives configured differently than desk tops to make them more tolerant of movement? I don't have a clue about this stuff ....but I want to learn!

Talk more about the DC-DC conversion please. I think it's a great idea, but exactly how do you do that? My boat is 24V does that make a difference?

Regards,

TJ
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