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Laptop on board

I wanted to use the Raymarine C120 as the primary means of electronic chartplotting while on board – it is interfaced to all the instruments as well as the the DSC radio, radar, and AIS.

DSC00011s

But while onshore, at home, at anchor or in a marina it is often more convenient to use a laptop. It is now so easy to download grib files, look up weather forecasts, email, browse the web, and forums and so on.

I thought I would use the laptop for two main additional purposes.

a) Chartplotting using the software I already had before installing the Raymarine kit on board ie. Garmin’s Map source software which uses the Bluechart charts – all proprietory to Garmin.

b) Interface to the Target SSB radio so that I could get Navtex, RTTY and Weatherfax transmissions and store them on the laptop for reference while on passage.

c) Transfer data to / from the laptop / C120 and the RC400 using a 1Gb Sandisk Compact Flash Card

 

DSC00008I have been able to achieve all of this but I must admit that using the SSB is a lot more tricky than I anticipated. The picture here shows the audio cable from the SSB radio into the MIC input of the laptop….

 

The laptop is an ACER Aspire 5020WLMi and is – in hindsight – probably way over specified now that I have experience of using it in action..it has a built in card reader (very useful) 1Gb of RAM and a 100Gb HDD – but at least it will cope with advances in nav software which like all PC software is destined to bloat and bloat..

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USB to Serial Adaptor

If you search the forums you will see some references to difficulties in using serial to USB adaptors on a PC or laptop. Issues are described where Windows treats the adaptor as if it were a mouse, comm port conflicts, baud rate errors and so on.

USB adaptorI searched for a suitably qualified company that would use drivers that the ‘experts’ say are reliable and eventually bought two serial to USB adaptors from Easysync .

I can report that the products have worked flawlessly on my laptop (Win XP) and I have had no comms issues at all.

Of course it is still advisable to keep a shortcut on the desktop that takes you straight to the ‘System’ settings of Control Panel – because software you use will reconfigure your nicely configured virtual comm ports when you least suspect it …but it is obvious when that happens and easy to put right – this is not the fault of the adaptors.

The main points to note are:

1 – these adaptors work
2 – the virtual comm port drivers are from FTDI and they work
3 – there is a generous FIFO buffer of 128 / 384 bytes
4 – They have xmit/rcv lights so you can see whats going on!

The following is taken from the suppliers web site..
http://www.easysync.co.uk/

* FIFO: 128 byte transmit buffer 384 byte receive buffer
* Enhanced RS232 transciever gives serial port speed of up to 500K bps – this is faster than most and will help to avoid any further speed issues.
* Adds one RS-232 serial port by connecting to USB port
* Installed as standard Windows COM port
* Works with USB 1.1 & 2.0 host port
* One DB9 male connector
* Serial Communication Parameters
-Parity: None, Even, Odd
-Data bits: 7, 8
-Flow control: RTS/CTS , DSR/DTR, X-ON/ X-OFF, None
* RxD, TxD LEDs for monitoring port status & easy diagnostics
* integral 1m USB cable with moulded strain relief
* Quality 4-layer pcb design
* COM Port Number can be changed to COM1 to COM4 to support HyperTerminal, or any other COM port number required
* Industry Standard FTDI chip set & drivers for maximum compatibility
* Supports Windows XP, 2003, 2000, ME, 98, Linux, MAC-OS8,9,X
* Full RS-232 modem control signals
* RS-232 data signals: TxD, RxD, RTS, CTS, DSR, DTR, DCD, RI, GND
* Powered by USB port. No external power adapter required.

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