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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….


Stunning little computer ..for $25!

Those of you who follow this blog know I have an "attitude" when it comes to the big marine electronics companies.

I’m sorry, but very few of them seem to bring any real innovation to the table given the prices that they can command and the captive audience that they can "manipulate" or is it "influence".

Yes, yes I know that the market size is less than that for consumer electronics but I don’t care they could still produce a lot better products than they do… IMHO.

Rasberry PiNow here is a small bunch of people that show the sort of spirit that I am talking about – Rasberry Pi.

It’s a prototype ARM GNU/Linux computer for $25 !

The Raspberry Pi is a credit-card sized computer that plugs into your TV and a keyboard. It’s a capable little PC which can be used for many of the things your desktop PC does, like spreadsheets, word-processing and games. It also plays high-definition video. The intention is that it will be used by kids all over the world to learn programming.

There are two version of the Pi Model A and Model B. The Model B version of the device includes 10/100 wired Ethernet. There is no Ethernet on the Model A version (which they expect to be taken up mostly by the education market), but Wi-Fi will be available via a standard USB dongle

This clip below is from Eben Upton – the brains behind the idea of a miniature computer for kids.


Just like the old days when some of us discovered the fun of programming on Amigas, BBC Micros, Spectrum ZX, Commodore 64 and even the old Apple pc…

…do you think kids are really interested? – lets hope some of them are – I want to know that there will be people alive who can still fix stuff when I am 80 🙂


How many WiFi hotspots can you see?…

Wave ec-hpIts not at all unusual for cruisers whether they are weekenders or blue water adventurers to have a laptop, iPad, or smartphone – or even all three on board. Many people are expected to be in touch with work email 24×7 and if you have the younger generation on board with you, they will be Facebooking and surfing non-stop!

I am of course assuming that you are cruising in coastal waters, not too far from  some civilisation and not actually transoceanic. If you are 20 miles plus away from land then of course we would be talking SSB or satellite and that is a whole different kettle of fish!

A chance conversation with some blue water buddies got me thinking. They already have their Iridum phone and satellite connection for trans oceanic use, but when their supplier, Mailasail, offered a WiFi booster for “only” 900GBP ($1,400) to improve their Wifi connection when in a marina – it got me thinking – surely it cant be that expensive!

How do you get the most out of your wireless on board? and how can you make it the best it can be – without spending a fortune?

As usual the most advance systems are available in the USA and a quick trawl brings up the following systems:

It has to be noted that the “improvement” that you should expect will depend on several factors such as distance from the wireless access point you are trying to connect to (up to 2 miles is possible – 5 miles if it is a super WiFi hotspot with good transmitting equipment); the number of other people connected to the hotspot already (contention with other users can reduce the bandwidth available to each user dramatically); and finally the line of sight or obstructions between your aerial and the access point. I wont even start to go into other factors such as the weather…!

I prefer the Ethernet connectivity route to the extended USB – so I would recommend the Ubiquiti bullet 2HP or the Rogue Wave – unless you are confident with networking – in which case use the links in this table to assemble the components for yourself.

What are the components that you require?

Component Recommended Alternatives Notes
High gain omni directional antenna, and WifI amplifier


Galaxy 5248


Data Alliance

Alpha Signal Booster

ANT-012ON 12dbi

Digital Antenna

Site the antenna vertically, and at least 1 to 2 metres above the deck
Transmit Gain = 8db
Receive Gain = 8dB
Max power = 1W / 1000mW
Be careful about getting even higher gain antennas, more is not necessarily better. The high gain signal booster may ignore local marina hotspots and instead connect to more distant access points with greater probability of disruption.
Network Bridge Rogue Wave

Ubiquiti Bullet 2HP

If you want to go the USB route then try…
Alfa Network R36 AWUS036H

The Wirie USB System

There are two ways to go. (A) Create an Ethernet connection direct to an Ethernet port on a router (B) Use USB (such as the Alpha and Wirie systems) and link to an USB port on your laptop/wireless card.

The blue chip way to go is to use the Ubiquiti Airmax Omni Antenna plus their RocketM base station – may be too expensive for most boaters though! Also, most boaters may find the excellent AIR OS V software a bit overkill – great for us geeks however …

Power over Ethernet Injector (PoE) L-Com PoE Splitter

Data Alliance
There are literally hundreds of these…
Marine grade outdoor CAT5e cable Gel Filled CAT 5e   The cable run outside should be UV resistant and have a Static Drain Wire (Ground Wire) attached to an overall aluminium foil shielding layer.
CAT5e cable for inside the boat Shielded CAT5e   You dont necessarily need shielded – just belt and braces. Your cable runs internally in the boat are probably going to be quite short – but if you are worried about interference – use shielded cable.
Network router Netgear WGR614

Linksys WRT54G

Teltonika RUT105 (3G as well)

Cradlepoint CTR35

You can go further and have a 3G connection as a failover to the WiFi using systems from Teltonika OR  Cradlepoint. For the more technically savy use the
Buffalo G300NH router. BUFFALO has decided to use famous DD-WRT firmware as the factory default for its HighPower Routers WZR-HP-G300NH, WHR-HP-G300N and WHR-HP-GN distributed in the US and the EU. Combine the router with a CDMA or GSM broadband modem and you have a 3G and a WiFi router.

Make sure you use encryption such as WPA2-AES or other local boats may connect on to your network degrading the bandwidth !

You can also boost your cell range using the Wilson kit – USA only.

Brackets Shakespeare Stand off Bracket (Echomax)

Marine parts


Scanstrut T Pole



Note that when buying equipment that you want to site on the pushpit, mast or on an equipment post that “Outdoor” grade is not the same as “Marine” grade. IP67/NEMA6 are the standards to look for. It is shocking how many “marine” products are IP65 or less! Otherwise get used to using clear Rescue Tape or Bandit clear silicone tape

If you need handholding then Land & SeaThe Wirie and Island Time PC have good reputations in helping boaters get up and running with their recommended kit. But I hope the table above will help you understand what they are selling you and why they recommend their favoured products.


Sailing Junk…

Having just come back from a holiday in Turkey it was disheartening to find that I could not open the front door of my house ..why?… there was a pile of junk mail and other “useful” offers that just beggared belief ! So when that thoroughly good chap Jeffrey Siegel emailed from Active Captain to describe the very same problem that he has in the USA, it was very interesting to read about Jeffrey’s solution.

Catalog_ChoiceI am simply reprinting his comments here…” The first time we left our land-based home for an extended cruise, we weren’t sure how to handle the mail. Fortunately, we have a wonderful caretaker who watches our house and who gathered the First Class mail to send to us every month or so. Everything else was left for our return 6 months later. We were stunned by the mass of catalogs, credit card applications, and other solicitations that awaited us. Overwhelmed by the thought of calling hundreds of companies to get off of mailing lists, Karen searched the internet for help and found Catalog Choice on the web which was just starting up their service. Their mission was to provide a quick and simple way to manage the catalogs that flow through your postal mailboxes. Years have passed and our time onboard has grown to 9 months while the mass of junk mail that awaits us has shrunk to a manageable pile. In the meantime Catalog Choice has expanded to include phone books, fliers, and all manner of unsolicited mail. …..”


What a great idea ! Its a pity it only applies to the USA but that is a great start. Catalog Choice appears to have been in operation since 2008. They are a non profit corporation based in Berkeley, California. They now have over one million members and hundreds of participating companies.

Here in the UK things are not so good. But I would like to highlight one lone campaigner that deserves huge credit for his work. Check out the site Stop Junk Mail.

Junk_BusterStop Junk Mail is a free one-point-stop for contacting opt-out schemes it is also a one-man campaign.

  • Using the site you can :
    1. Get opt-out forms for the three main opt-out services for junk mail
  • 2. Cancel the Yellow Pages, Thomson Local directory and/or BT phone book

Of course in the UK you can also use the law if you want to contact each and every sender that plagues you. The Data Protection Act 1998 gives you the right to ask any UK organisation to stop ‘processing your personal information for direct marketing purposes’. This makes contacting individual junk mailers a very effective way of stopping junk mail. A data protection notice is a request to stop using your personal details for ‘direct marketing purposes’, made with reference to section 11 of the Data Protection Act. It’s a legally binding demand to stop (or not begin) sending you junk mail. Organisations that ignore a data protection notice can be referred to the Information Commissioner’s Office (the body enforcing the Data Protection Act)

But I am sure you would agree that life is too short for this approach….

My advice is to search out and support organisations like Catalog Choice and Stop Junk Mail – if there aren’t any in your country perhaps you could start one! I am pretty sure that whoever the poor soul is that agrees to look after your mail while you are away will thank you for doing your best to stop all this other type of “sailing junk”… Smile


Sorry to carp on about this…

I am pretty sure it isn't April 1st today – but this video just took the biscuit, and I had to share it – why don't the fish do this off the coast at Brighton !

If you take your boat along the Spoon River, which is tributary of the Illinois River, you may get more than you bargained for but watch out because the fish can weigh up to 45kg.

A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency said that boaters have suffered broken bones, black eyes, cuts, back injuries and concussion as a result of being hit by the fish.