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Jon D 26-04-2010 18:27

I went the pansonic toughbook route. did a lease turn in CF29. cost more than a comparable big box sourced unit but came with xp and i got a 3 yr no question extended warranty. most of the remanufactured units are coming out of law enforcement. so timing is everything. I had 2 other units give up the ghost over time but I use the laptop for navigation so paid more for extra reliability. I'll know in a few years if it was really worth it.

Sumner 26-04-2010 22:20

I'm surprised no one has mentioned this option....

Marine PC's & WiFi by IslandTime PC

....very low power consumption, serial ports for NEMA if you are using something like SeaClear II or Open CPN and about anything else you need in a computer.

I'm making my own....

...and it will serve as a computer and chartplotter using Sea Clear II and the NOAA charts and I've been also using free USGS downloads for inland lake charts. It will give us a DVD capability for movies, TV for weather, will download routes to a handheld GPS to use at the tiller, will handle WiFi, word-processing, spreadsheets, any other computer need we can dream of and still with the monitor operate at under 40 watts on 12 volts with no AC or DC adapter. The computer will fit into a very small space and I can use a cordless mouse/keyboard and the 10 inch screen.

If you aren't up to sourcing the parts and building it I'd go to Island Time PC and get one.

c ya,


Boracay 27-04-2010 00:36

Salty splashes...
I'm currently inclining to the view that everything on the boat might get a few splashes of salt water on it from time to time, so the Panasonic Toughbook or similar is gaining priority. There's a few reconditioned Toughbooks available in Sydney at the moment.

Anyone had any experience with reconditioned Toughbooks?

I doubt if there's too much WiFi available up the east coat of Oz and through SE Asia so WiFi is not a key requirement. We do seem to have good broadband that connects through the cell phone towers and a USB "dongle" so that's looking likely.

Some sort of future satellite connection would also be nice.

I also have the impression that it's nice to take the computer off the boat to cafes and the like so I'm not incling towards a desktop type.

Hud3 27-04-2010 04:56


Originally Posted by Boracay (Post 442957)
...I also have the impression that it's nice to take the computer off the boat to cafes and the like so I'm not incling towards a desktop type.

Get a laptop. You'll definitely want to be able to carry it ashore, or sit in the cockpit, linked up to WiFi.

I had a standard Dell laptop aboard for over four years with never a problem. My company evaluated Panasonic Toughbooks vs. standard Dell laptops in RAM mounts in trucks for our troublemen, who went out in all sorts of weather (and weren't known to be the gentlest of users), and the Dells won out based on cost and user feedback.

jonc1948 27-04-2010 14:02

I visited a couple of websites offering the Durabook for sale and find that a serial port is still being offered along with all the requirements that you need except for a dedicated graphics card. To me the most important thing about a laptop onboard is that it continues to work in spite of the exposure to high humidity, vibration and possibly being knocked about while underway. Most laptops I am aware of will not survive a drop from table height without pieces falling off or the screen being damaged. The most important thing is to survive what ever life throws at the device. So for very few dollars more than a standard laptop you can purchase a Durabook with a lot of ruggedness built in without sacrificing much in the way of performance. I use my Durabook for electronic charting , viewing movies at anchor and checking email and surfing the web when in range of a WiFi. That is all I want and it has performed very well indeed. To keep power consumption down opt for a smaller screen version or a low voltage processor.

hellosailor 27-04-2010 19:51

Dedicated gaphics card will conflict with low poer consumption--you generally get one OR the other. IIRC there are a very few new machines with the Intel i7 core, which have the ability to use a graphics core that is ON the i7 CPU, OR a higher end video card in the laptop. That's something brand new to address this issue and very likely to really restrict your options.

Spill resistant also is problematic. A number of laptops now have keyboards with drains in them, so a small spill may run through without getting into anything except the keyboard. Which can be removed and flushed. But even then, I'd want to shut down and clean out the whole machine immeidately rather than take a chance on what might have gotten into the guts. And that leaves, basically, only the Panasonic Toughbook series. Yeah, Dell has an imitation, but Panasonic has THE product for abuse outdoors. Again--the other options will be limited.

I'd probabaly also add a Hitachi Toughdrive to the list, that's a USB external hard drive in a cleaver rubberized shell, with the USB cable converted into a "strap" that secures around the drive, making it all a bit more robust than most USB drives. Buy one or two, make sure you have a good backup of your entire laptop and put the backup in tupperware because even the rugged laptops fail, sooner or later. If you pick a well-supported model and yours fails, you'll be able to buy a replacement a year or three from now for much less, then restore the backup onto it, and keep on going.

Of course with laptop prices where they are ($600-700 buys a lot if you cross off the exotics like ToughBooks and i7's from the list) you can also make a good case for buying two, and knowing you have that spare in the next drawer, live and tested and ready to go.

Masquerade 27-04-2010 20:52

Wet laptops
The last comment is something I have considered as well. My view of laptops and cruising would be that two or three cheap ones that will do the basics (plotting, mapping etc email and so on) would be better than one with a little more grunt and a larger screen. I could be wrong (as I often am) but having had some discussions with a few cruising folk I have come to the conclusion that for a lot of the time the laptop should be in a waterproof, shock resistant case because that nasty wet stuff and humid salty air create some interesting problems with laptops. So I would like some comments on this...

hellosailor 27-04-2010 21:13

When my nice got pleasantly surprised with a new (and not cheap) laptop before she went off to college, I told her straight up that it probably could not be replaced, and that they were damned delicate, as I knew from mine. Trying to keep it simple, I said "Just treat this like a big glass plate. Don't toss it, don't throw it, don't sit on it. Just pretend it is made of GLASS and you'll get through jut fine with it."

She's post-grad and the machine is still totally undamaged, just needed a new battery.

I keep mine in a padded (neoprene) case and follow the same "GLASS" handling for it. And it works. I won't open it or use it in the wet, and I'd rather put the neoprene case in a hard shell (Pelican or Halliburton) if I had to stow or transport it physically out of my hands. 2" of foamed rubber in a storage case, even if that's a used Samsonite attache case for $5 from the secondhand store--will protect all sorts of delicate things. Optics, computers, electronics...not totally waterproof but damned cheap.

The salt air itself is more problematic, it may affect motherboards and literaly de-tune them so they stop working. Not much to do about that, because even if you use a conformal coating--that can cause the same problems! So you do the best you can, and remember that in two years, you'll be able to buy 4x as much computer for 1/2 the price. Or, you can try buying one of those 'all hazards even dropping it' plans.

MarkJ 27-04-2010 21:59

Hey Chris! :)

We bought a brand new laptop in Singapore for about $1,000 (seems a lot for those in the USA but cheap for Australia).

Its unique competitive advantage is its 8 hour battery life. It outlasts the old laptop by 4 to 1 effective!
Obviously we don't get 8 hours but we get close to 6 hours where the old laptop gets less than 2 hours.

Someone here slagged my chioce as the brand is Acer. But I have found it fine.

It has Windows 7 which is SENSATIONAL! Far better than any previous windows. I don't think it has ever crashed.

A booklet type laptop is no good because they dont have a DVD drive and as a crusier you need one because all the cruisers share stuff via DVD and thumb drives.
Sending backup photos/docs home by DVD is good and charts, well, they are too big for anything but DVD.
And you can watch movies :)

No laptop will have a seriel port now.

Ours goes off the 12 volt cigarette lighter socket into an step up voltage thingy that puts out 19 volts. Its good, silent, cheap, about $40

Now we have 2 laptops both running nav software, Google earth, gps etc we are great in the redundancy bizo so if one dies we are ok. So maybe instead of shelling out for the most expensive you could think of 2 cheaper ones, or one now and one when you get to asia?

I am sure, as the person on here told me I am a fool, idiot and moron for buying my computer, but I sure as hell love it! And its sure as hell worked so good for us I can now have it on all the time instead of having to 'quickly' turn it on just before we plow into some headland :)


Cormorant 28-04-2010 07:14

We took our old full-size Gateway laptop to the Bahamas for two months recently. We didn't use it for navigation (though we have SeaClear on it, with a USB GPS antenna). But we did use it for downloading photos from our camera, and daily emailed blog posts via our Iridium phone. Plus uploading larger amounts of photos to the blog on those rare occasions when we had wifi access. Here are a few thoughts/tips:

-- Our laptop is a power-hog -- and has a battery life of only about two hours. Totally frustrating. We only had a small solar panel, plus our outboard to recharge the boat battery (100 Ah). We often found ourselves running the outboard just to be able to use the computer. I will get a low power consuming netbook next time. That plus a bigger solar panel. . . .

-- To attach the Iridium phone to the laptop for data calls, we needed a serial port. The laptop did not have one. So we tried a USB-serial adapter. Two generic adapters would not work with the Iridium phone. The one that finally worked is a Tripp Lite Keystone USA-19HS. For anyone contemplating using Iridium or other fussy serial devices via USB -- get the good one first!

-- We kept the laptop in a large zip-loc plastic bag originally meant (I think) for clothing. We threw in about a dozen silica gel dessicant packets. These packets can have their moisture-absorbing properties renewed by being baked in a low-temp oven. So each time we used the laptop, we tucked the packets under the battery area where it gets quite hot. No idea if this really maintained a protective level of absorption, but it gave me peace of mind that at least we were attempting to thwart moisture-related trouble. . . .

The laptop made it home still in find shape, for whatever that's worth. We also backed up all our photos on an external hard drive. These are getting quite cheap, and with USB plug-and-play connectivity they're very convenient.

Sumner 28-04-2010 08:34

One more comment on getting a computer like I'm building or that you can buy is that $120 to $140 will get you a new motherboard. Everything on it is modular, so any of it is easily replace and it doesn't take an electrical engineer to do it. It won't get dropped as you have it mounted out of the way someplace.

To us the other big thing is that it uses 1/3 to 1/2 the amps than what most laptops use. We have room on the boat for about 180 watts of solar panels and want to run the generator as little as possible, so the reduced electrical needs saves us space and money as we don't have to generate as much electricity.

We will still have at least one other laptop with us as a backup and for one of us to use if we need it and the WiFi system will be available to it.

c ya,


hellosailor 28-04-2010 11:37

Mark, don't fret over Acer. They're only the second largest computer builder/seller in the world, behind HP.

"To us the other big thing is that it uses 1/3 to 1/2 the amps than what most laptops use." There's no magic in building it yourself. If you are using less power, you are either running fewer systems or using a lower power CPU. Odds are there's a lower-power laptop optimized to do the same thing. Build it yourself with no expensive case and bulkier generic parts, and sure, you can lower the cost again. But for the average SAILOR that also means no warranty, no service, no support. All of which might be worth the extra hundred bucks. And no operating system. (Which costs less than half of whatever you paid, when a manufacturer buys it and bundles it.)

osirissail 28-04-2010 12:24

Any "discount/chain" store selling lapbooks/notebooks will have units for great prices. I always look for "widescreen" with a lot of "brightness/contrast," beside the other items already listed in the revised listing post #12. A readable screen that is bright and clear is a must in the tropics. Most everything else is standard these days with little choice beyond the size of the hard drive. Get one with the biggest hard drive you can afford.
- - You can check them out at the discount/mega stores and then go on the internet and find the same unit for great savings over store prices.
- - Make sure the unit has internal WiFi that can be physically turned off. Then buy the best amplified external WiFi antenna system you can afford, preferably 1 watt (1000mW). Also an amplified USB extension cable - 15 or 20 ft so you can use the computer down below while the external antenna hangs from the spreaders.
- - I buy the best and latest for about 1/2 to 1/3 of the store prices - which sometimes come down during pre/post Christmas sales to match the on-line prices.
- - Also get a Pelican Case to fit for those times when you must take it ashore.
- - For a second computer get one of the "netbooks" - they are fabulous in that their size allows them to fit inside a gallon ziplock bag and then into your backpack or your wife's canvas carrybag. Lugging a heavy computer with or without a Pelican case while you are grocery shopping or doing other errands is a royal pain. The "netbooks" are perfect in these circumstances - but buy a pair of 3X reading glasses so you can read the screen without going blind.

rebel heart 28-04-2010 12:49

Our netbook (Asus 1000HE) gets a lot of use. You can get a 12v charger otherwise you'll be wasting a lot of power in the AC-DC transformer: - TIFA BG-C02-1203-475 BlackGem Car Charger For NetBook(ASUS, GIGABYTE)

You can get a USB DVD drive: Samsung USB 2.0 8x DVD Writer External Optical Drive for Mac and PC SE-S084C/RSBN (Gloss Black): Electronics

Netbooks are small and cheap; they work great.

rebel heart 28-04-2010 12:52

Here's a $360 netbook (the newer model than mine). Toss in another $20 to double the RAM, and you're set. 10+ hour battery life, no cables everywhere which is the biggest problem I've had onboard. ASUS Eee PC Seashell 1005PE-PU17-BK 10.1-Inch Black Netbook (Up to 14 Hours of Battery Life): Computer & Accessories

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