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Navionics Chart Updates

I must be getting slow..those senior moments are becoming my normal state!

Navionics1I recently bought two Navionics charts for my brand new Raymarine hybrid touch e125 chart plotter (…more posts on that to come…Smile)

Somehow I didn’t realise that I am eligible for chart updates for 1 year. There is an app to install on your PC that gives you access to your charts on the PC as well as on the chart plotter – duh.

Navionics have cleverly wrapped this offer up within the requirement to open an “account” in their online store. Once you download the software, you can insert your chart card into your laptop and copy one of 5 licenced copies of your chart to your laptop for route and waypoint planning. You can then update your chart card with free chart updates for 1 year. After you register you will be sent a zero cost invoice – seems a bit unnecessary but I suppose it hammers home the idea that this is only free for year 1 of your ownership of the chart area.


As Navionics says on their web site..”Buoys change, sand bars shift, new rocks and bottom structures are found, and new detail is constantly being added to our charts by using the latest technology: satellite imagery, airborne laser, sonar, Notices to Mariners, plus hundreds of thousands of changes made by our community members through Community Layer. In fact, we make more updates in one week than the leading hydrographic offices do in an entire year. Freshest Data are delivered to you every day, to make sure you enjoy boating with peace of mind and the absolute best chart content. Freshest Data is free for one year* and must be started within 2 months of product purchase…”






The whole process is fast and clearly described…that’s an innovation in the marine industry in itself Smile

PCApp2 PCApp1
Register your chart Download updates



Use the PC based software to import/export routes & waypoints

Having updated your chart data, you can then use a basic route and waypoint editor to import/export data to a Micro SD card (not your chart card!) and update your new e series chart plotter.

This sort of obviates the need to buy Raymarine’s Voyage Planner for $70 – if you just want to import/export data by SD card.

Raymarine’s Voyage Planner does do a lot more in the sense that it uses the built in WiFi connection in the new e series to carry out the import/export rather than rely on the SD card. Raymarine also offer their new Voyage Xchange web site where you can swap and exchange data with other boaters…

Looks like everyone has discovered “crowd sourcing” years after Active Captain explained how it applied to the boating community, and made a success of it… Smile


Virtual Comm Port …pitfalls, and crazy mouse

IMG_0737Well here we are in 2012, and navigation equipment manufacturers still don’t know that laptops don’t have serial ports anymore. If you want NMEA data fed from your instruments into your chart plotting software you are forced to use USB/serial port converters. This means that you will need to create what’s called a virtual comm port and that in turn needs a special software driver. This is when the fun starts.

Whatever you do don’t but any USB / Serial converters that use Prolific software drivers. Don’t do what I did and ask for or shop for “Windows 7 compatible” converters – that is not enough. Prolific are a good company but unfortunately for them it appears that there are a lot of cheap Chinese converters on the market with hacked Prolific IC’s and useless software drivers that simply do not work…

Here is the warning on the Prolific website: “Please be warned that counterfeit (fake) PL-2303HX (Chip Rev A) USB to Serial Controller ICs using Prolific’s trademark logo, brandname, and device drivers, were being sold in the China market. Counterfeit IC products show exactly the same outside chip markings but generally are of poor quality and causes Windows driver compatibility issues (Yellow Mark Error Code 10). We issue this warning to all our customers and consumers to avoid confusion and false purchase.”

Go for converters that use the FTDI chip set and matching software drivers. The one that I have gone for is the Startech.com FTDI USB to Serial RS232 Adapter Cable with COM Retention. This works perfectly with Windows7 and also as the name implies always comes up with the same comm port number when you re-use it. This helps with configuring chart plotting software to always look at the same comm pot on each use.

There is still something waiting to bite you however. Do you remember “crazy mouse”. That was when the operating system decides that your USB/Serial converter is a mouse – and your cursor and mouse pointer starts careering all over the screen launching program at random. I thought those days were over – until today!

For no apparent reason the perfectly working USB/Serial converters (I have two of them plugged in) were suddenly identified by Windows 7 as a “Microsoft wheel mouse”….and off it went – crazy mouse all over again – I couldn’t believe it! I realise that it is the stream of NMEA or GPS data that gets interpreted by the Windows as mouse data – but really – it is not beyond the wit of man to work this all out…well I guess it is beyond the wit of some programmers at Microsoft.

The solution in my case was to let the crazy mouse happen – unplug the converter (you get mouse/track pad control back then) and immediately go into Device Manager and “Disable” (right click) the erroneous “Microsoft Serial Ball Point” device listed. Generally I tend to boot the laptop with the USB/serial convertor disconnected; wait until all the drivers are loaded and the laptop is just idle (3 mins); then connect the USB/serial convertors. I also recommend creating a shortcut to “device” settings on your desktop – you will be in and out of these a lot checking on the virtual comm port drivers!

If the technique above doesn’t work for you, then I recommend reading this document from Jeppesen; or from CAP’N; or from  Coastal Explorer…and trying the techniques described there.

Good luck!.


New laptop…final verdict

ScreenWell I have been using the Acer Aspire 5750 for 3 months now and apart from MS Office and all the usual other bits of software have loaded quite a bit of sailing software to connect up with the new set up on my boat.

The laptop is fast and has taken everything that I have thrown at it. Some posts will follow about the connectivity challenges I have had – none of which are a problem with the laptop!

So the conclusion of this episode is – great laptop..


Buying a new laptop for the boat (part 2of2) ….

In part 1 of this posting I was trying to see how best to approach the task of getting a good replacement laptop for my old Dell XPS M1530 (deceased).

After digging around the web, and trying to judge what was good and what was lacking with my old laptop and the uses to which it was put, I came up with some selection criteria.

Pleaese look back at post 1of2 if you haven't read it already, but in summary here are my selection criteria:

    • Benchmark software capability – MaxSea TZ (3D graphics + real time signal processing from instruments)
    • Screen size – 15” (adequate for charts, and larger would mean more power consumption)
    • HDD – 320Gb (minimum)
    • RAM – 4Gb (minimum)
    • Battery Life 3 hrs (minimum)
    • TDP rating 45watts (or less, an idea of heat dissipation, indirectly power consumption)

    That is when the fun started.

    Top of the list overall in my table published before (look back here) is the Intel i5 2540M. it has a very high 3D and Whetstone score and its TDP consumption is 35watts.

    However, most popular Sandy Bridge processor options for Intel’s based laptops on the market are the Core i3-2310 and i5-2410M which are more affordable to the manufacturers.

    So my task was effectively to find the cheapest laptop with the following spec:

    • CPU – Intel i5 2540M / i5-2520M / i5-2430M / i5-2410M / i5-580M
      (all score over 30,000 on both 3DMark06 and Whetstone benchmarks)
    • Screen size – 15”
    • HDD – 320Gb (minimum, 500Gb preferred)
    • RAM – 4Gb (minimum, 8Gb preferred)
    • Battery Life 3 hrs (minimum)


    Search Tip – By the way in order to search easily for a specific processor like I am suggesting –  type this command into the Google search box:

    • i5 2540M site:simplyacer.com
    • or i5 2540M site:amazon.com
    • or i5 2540 site:.co.uk -amazon (only looks at sites in the UK, but omits amazon )

    … this uses the Google “site:” directive – and that way you can search specifically for one particular item – in this case a particular CPU on a specific web site without getting bogged down with a boggling number of results.


    So what does the search come up with?:

    The laptops that use the i5 2540M processor are pricey and include the following…

    • Fujitsu Notebook CELSIUS H910 – £3,527 !!
    • HP Notebook 8560w – £1,949
    • Lenovo Notebook ThinkPad T420s – £1,417
    • HP EliteBook 8460p – £1,147
    • Dell XPS 15 Laptop (n00x5m21) – £680

    But, here is a surprise, you can also get this i5 2540M CPU in some laptops for much less….

    • Acer Aspire 5750G – with 8Gb RAM / 500Gb HDD and the built in Intel HD 3000 graphics for £480
    • HP Pavilion g6-1384ea – with 6Gb RAM / 750Gb HDD and the built in Intel HD 3000 graphics for £499


    Changing CPU models down a notch, and you come up with a variety of good contenders:

    • i5 2430M … HP Pavilion g6-1217sg – £500
    • i5 2430M … Sony Vaio VPCEH2N1E/W.CEK – £486
    • i5 2430M … Toshiba Satellite C660-258 – £480
    • i5 2410M … Acer Aspire 5755G-2434G50Mics – £668
    • i5 2467M … Toshiba Satellite C660-2EV – £450


    Final choice….the Acer Aspire 5750G – with 8Gb RAM / 500Gb HDD …lets see if this lasts 4 years 🙂


    Buying a new laptop for the boat (part 1of2)…

    The time has come to retire my Dell XPS M1530. Actually it retired itself when the screen faded and drifted away. Despite my attempts to install a news screen which was a surprisingly easy operation – it just would come back to life. Luckily I have a full back up – so other than saying good bye to what used to be Dell’s “Xtreme Gaming “ laptop there was no drama involved.

    I bought this laptop in 2008 so 4 years use – and latterly on board the boat running Max Sea TZ software meant I had had my moneys worth.

    But what next – what about a replacement. Although I have spent a lifetime in IT I try to ignore the spam emails from all the laptops sellers and particularly avoid all things to do with reviews or benchmarking or advertising of laptops – until that is I have – like now – to go and buy a replacement.

    So how do you set about navigating through the mire of computer ads; half truths; obsolete technology dressed up as “specials” and so on?

    Well you must have selection criteria or you will get hooked on some ad blurb and get lead astray – I guarantee it!

    First, I thought I would pick on a typical piece of software that is guaranteed to get a sailor’s heart racing – Chartplotting software. Of the various types around of software package around the most taxing are those that do any sort of 3D manipulation in real time. So if you are using software that does not do this type of work then it is far easier to pick a laptop – any that can run Office 2010 will probably suit you just fine. In my case – since I am a geek about this sort of thing – I am using MaxSea TZ as my “typical application”.

    In 2008 my Dell XPS came with the following spec:

    • Screen 15.4-inch
    • CPU – Intel Core 2 Duo T7800 (2.6 GHz)
    • 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
    • 160 GB 7200 rpm HDD

    It ran MaxSea TZ “ok”, but it did falter at times and certainly the 160Gb HDD was nowhere near enough storage for the software, the charts and all the satellite images that come along with it – remember it was my personal laptop too, so it had all my documents and pictures on it as well! So this is the second criterion – I am assuming I will be using my chartplotter capable laptop as a personal laptop too – with all the Office 2010 software; photo editing software; video editing software and all my documents, photos and videos on it too. I would need more HDD storage than 160Gb.

    Lastly, there is the issue of battery longevity and also power consumption. I want as long a battery life as possible (lets say 3hrs) and as low a power consumption as possible (lets say 35watts, or 2 amps per hour at 12v). I could explain this but it gets very technical and tedious – click here and here for two excellent sites that will lead you off on a dark and arcane road.

    So in summary here are my selection criteria:

    • Benchmark software capability – MaxSea TZ (3D graphics)
    • Screen size – 15” (larger would mean more power consumption)
    • HDD – 320Gb (minimum)
    • RAM – 4Gb (minimum)
    • Battery Life 3 hrs (minimum)
    • TDP rating 45watts (or less)

    That is when the fun started.

    I realised there is a lot of hype about Intel i3, i5 and i7 CPU’s and that this seemed to be a direct determinant of laptop price. So I did a little digging and looked at the performance of these processors, their power consumption and yes – their price as CPU’s in the wholesale market.

    In the table below ( all credit to data from www.notebookcheck.net) , I have listed below the processor model; the TDP power; and the 3D and Whetstone speed benchmark scores of various common processors in this Intel family. I list the Thermal Design Power (TDP) rating, which is the maximum amount of power the cooling system in a computer is required to dissipate. Its not the power of the CPU. A TDP consumption of less than 35 watts e.g. 17 watts indicates a very efficient low power CPU that would be found in ultra light notebooks, and won’t have the other sort of characteristics that I am looking for. So it turns out that 35 watts is the lowest TDP rating that I could hope for in a decent laptop.


    Model                                      Series L2 Cache + L3 Cache TDP (Watt) MHz – Turbo Cores / Threads 3DMark06 CPU Whetstone
    Intel Core i5 2540M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2600 ? 3300 2/4



    Intel Core i5 2520M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2500 ? 3200 2/4



    Intel Core i5 2430M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 3000 2/4



    Intel Core i5 2410M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2300 ? 2900 2/4



    Intel Core i5 580M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2666 ? 3333 2/4



    Intel Core i5 480M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2666 ? 2933 2/4



    Intel Core i5 450M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 2660 2/4



    Intel Core i5 520M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 ? 2933 2/4



    Intel Core i5-2557M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1700 ? 2700 2/4



    Intel Core i5 460M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2530 ? 2800 2/4



    Intel Core i5 540M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2530 ? 3066 2/4



    Intel Core i3 390M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2667 2/4



    Intel Core i3 380M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2533 2/4



    Intel Core i3 370M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2400 2/4



    Intel Core i5 430M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 35 2260 ? 2533 2/4



    Intel Core i5 2537M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1400 ? 2300 2/4



    Intel Core i5-2467M Core i5 512KB + 3MB 17 1600 ? 2300 2/4



    Intel Core i3 2330M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2200 2/4



    Intel Core i3 350M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2260 2/4



    Intel Core i3 330M Core i3 512KB + 3MB 35 2130 2/4




    To be continued….