YotEeePC .... formerly Cruiser's Computer Back to Valhalla's Mooring Page
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This project resulted from some recent hardware failures I've experience with my laptop computers and from questions from other cruisers regarding my recommendations for 'first time' electronic navigators. I decided to look for something among the recent development of small machines.
CONSIDERATIONS Here were my considerations:
1. Power. Modern laptops on the market consume 65 to 90 watts of power (at the maximum when charging the internal battery).. Once the battery is charged the consumption seems to drop to about 50-55 watts. And they are designed to be operated from 100-240 VAC power with adapters that convert the power to a nominal value of 19 VDC. Using an inverter to create AC power from the boat's batteries (at approximately 85% efficiency) then adding the adapter (also at approximately 85% efficiency) results in a power budget reduced by approximately 75%. I'm using 'approximates' here since not all units are alike. So, to generate a steady-state power of 50-55 watts to the computer you need to draw 67-73 watts from the batteries. Assuming your batteries are fully charged (12.6VDC) gives a draw of 5.3-5.8 amperes ... roughly 130 AH per day. An alternative to the inverter-adapter configuration is to use a DC boosting device which converts the battery voltage directly to that needed by the laptop. These 'boosters' reduce the steady state draw to around 4 amperes but are often hard to find (surprisingly I was able to buy one from DELL when I purchased my first DELL machine in 2005). So my first consideration in POWER was to look for a machine that ran directly on 12VDC.
2. Screen size. The larger the better ... but that spells more power for the larger machine. What is the minimum size that would be acceptable? One of the things to be answered by this project.
3. Operating system. Mention the word 'Vista' in any group of cruisers and you will hear loud screams of distaste. It seems that the majority of cruisers are using navigation programs that don't run properly under the Microsoft Vista operating system. Installing the Windows XP operating system on a machine designed for Vista isn't always possible due to the lack of hardware drivers. So the Microsoft XP operating system (now upgraded to Service Pack 3) is another consideration. Linux? You still need to run Windows programs for the common and popular navigation programs so I don't see the utility of running a Windows visualization program under Linux, especially for the 'first time' electronic navigators.
4. CPU/RAM/HDD I think that for the cruising application you don't need to max out these features. I think a CPU speed of 1.5MHz, RAM size of 0.5GB and storage of 60-80 GB should suffice.
5. CD/DVD(-R/RW) Nice to have. Simplifies loading programs and allows copying of data..
6. Wi-Fi. Gotta' have it. It should be built-in to avoid the complexity of external adapters and the use of a USB port, normally in short supply.
7. USB Ports. The more the better. Will need ports for things such as a mouse/trackball, GPS, Pactor modem, camera 'memory' device, etc.
8. Bluetooth. Optional in my view but very handy to have. Some devices that have previously used serial (com) ports or USB ports are now available with Bluetooth interface. These include GPS, Pactor modem, mouse, cell phones and the like.
9. Camera. Optional in my view but also handy when in a marina and connected to a wireless link to the Internet. Great for those Skype calls!
10. Cost. The less the better .. saves money for booze!
THE CHOICE With the above considerations I spent some time searching the Internet and the computer stores in Cebu, Philippines. One thing I found NOT available in Cebu are the DC boosters which were prevalent in places like Singapore and Malaysia. I then discovered the machine of my choice, an ASUS EeePC 1000H.
Here's how it matches my 'considerations':
1. A 'biggie' for this machine is the power. It comes with an AC adapter (100-240VAC) that outputs 12 VDC! Power consumption is listed at 36 watts (2.9 amperes at 12.6 VDC). Battery life is an amazing 4-5 hours!
2. Screen size of 10 inches. Remember that's measured diagonally (holdover from the first days of television?). The width of the screen is 8.65 inches. My first impression (and the opinion of other cruiser who have seen it demonstrated) is that this is sufficient for viewing electronic charts ... but not from the cockpit if the machine is down below of course. (Does this suggest a waterproof housing for cockpit use? Hmmm)
3. Comes with Windows XP Home edition. I have upgraded it to Service Pack 3.
4. CPU speed is 1.6MHz, RAM is 0.99GB and HDD is 80GB. More than adequate. The smaller models of this product have solid state 'drives' of up to 30GB, which would be just adequate for my considerations, but the screen size (9 in) and keyboard are a bit too small ... especially for my 72 year old eyes and normal sized fingers. Interestingly, the power draw is listed as the same for this larger model.
5. CD/DVD. None.
6. USB Ports. Three 2.0 ports plus one SD slot (useful for video and still cameras, transferring data, etc.)
7. Wi-Fi. Built in and can be turned off with a click to save battery power.
8. Bluetooth. Built in and can be turned off with a click to save battery power.
9. Camera. 1.3 megapixel camera built in and can be turned off with a click to save battery power.
10. Cost. Less than $500. And perhaps can be found for less in the future. I saw one on a Manila website for $451. (http://www.sulit.com.ph/index.php/view+classifieds/id/674185/Asus+EeePC+1000H+Atom+Processor+1.6GHz)
DOWNSIDES 1. Lack of CD/DVD Probably just not enough physical room plus added power drain. If absolutely required then the solution is an external device. Workaround is to use a flash drive/memory stick to load programs and transfer large amounts of data. Such drives now are available in up to 16GB size but I find my older 4GB one to be adequate.
2. An annoying feature stems from my training and experience as a touch typist. The keyboard layout has been designed with the up/down/left/right keys in the lower right hand corner. The 'up' key has been placed directly above the 'down' key (logical, right?) but that places it exactly where a trained finger expects the 'shift' key to be!.
The 'shift' key is one more key to the right so until you get used to it you are sending the cursor to the upper line ... yuk!
BUT SEE THE 16 JAN 09 UPDATE BELOW FOR A SOLUTION.
POWER CABLE The power cable connector must be unique to the manufacturer, ASUS. I could not find a matching one at any electronic parts store in this part of the Philippines. A cable and connector in the junk box had the right size inner conductor but the outer shield was a bit small. Careful application of solder and a bit of filing made it a snug fit with good conductivity.
The cable is connected to the ship's battery through a switch and fuse
HARDWARE SETUP The following hardware has been added:
USB#1. USB Hub (4 port). Used for Logitech Marble Mouse trackball (1), Canon i90 printer (1), Edgeport USB-Serial Port converter (1) and AIS (1). The Edgeport converter provides 4 serial (Com) ports, used for Sailmail (2), GPS (1) and spare (1). The Sailmail connections are to an SCS PTC-IIex (1) and remote control of the Icom M710 HF radio. The GPS connection is to a fixed mount Furuno GP-32. The AIS input is from a Nasa A.I.S. Engine receiver.
USB#2. GPRS Module. When needed, used for connection to the Internet via cell phone carrier.
USB#3. 'Hockey Puck' GPS. When desired, for completely portable operation (or as an alternative to running the fixed mount GPS with it's attendant power consumption), a GR-213 GPS can be connected.
SOFTWARE SETUP The following software has been loaded:
1. FOR NAVIGATION: MaxSea 10.3.2.1, Sea Clear II, Yacht-AIS Pro, WxTide 32, GPS Utility, Virtual Null Modem, and Visual Passage Planner 2.
2. FOR WEBSITE MAINTENANCE: Microsoft Office with Front Page and Corel 12 Photo Paint
3. FOR COMPUTER MAINTENANCE: AVG Free antivirus, Advanced Windows Care, CCleaner, and Easy Clean.
4. FOR RADIO EMAIL AND WEATHER FAX: Airmail 3 with GetFax and ViewFax.
5. FOR INTERNET BROWSING: Firefox.
6. Plus miscellaneous.
EVALUATION Ongoing. Will report results in a future update.
(Update 16 Jan 2009)
The cumbersome and, at times, frustrating problem with the right shift key has a solution!
It's a program called 'KeyTweak' which allows remapping the code for the keys. You can download the program and detailed installation and setup instructions >>>>>>
An external CD/DVD reader/writer has been purchased off eBay for $50, delivered from Hong Kong.
So the DOWNSIDES mentioned above are overcome.
(Update 22 Jan 2009) Revised the document 'REMAPPING.doc' (download by clicking on 'Click Me!' above) to include an option to remap the old 'Right Shift' key to a 'PgUp' key, essentially interchanging them.
(Update 24 Jan 2009)
POWER TEST A complaint I've heard in the past from cruisers about running a computer full time is the depletion of the vessel's batteries. Using a conventional laptop this is indeed the case. My experience with Compaq and Dell laptops is that a constant consumption of about 3A is the norm using DC-DC conversion to obtain the 19VDC required by the machine. If power is being derived from a AC inverter and AC-DC adapter this increases at least 0.5A.
In an effort to determine the expected power consumption of this ASUS 1000H, I first installed a laptop battery monitoring program. See the 'Downloads' page for this program. I made settings in the program to display 1) Capacity in percent, 2) Remaining time and 3) Current power consumption.
Over the better part of a day (ten hours) I recorded those selected parameters under various conditions:
1) AC on (actually using the house 12V batteries directly) and BATTery on.
2) Active operating conditions:
a) Surfing the internet using a GPRS modem
b) Running navigation programs I would ordinarily use if underway on a passage. These are: 1) MaxSea in a tracking mode with GPS data sent by the simulation program in the Furuno GP-32 GPS), 2) Yacht-AIS Pro program receiving data from the NASA AIS receiver, 3) Virtual Null Modem program which links the previous two programs for AIS target display in both programs, and 4) Microsoft Excel program for data logging.
The day's collected raw data is contained here on Sheet #1. NOTE: The calculation of current draw in amperes has used 12VDC as the input voltage. This give the worst case since the battery voltage is often above this value.
The test and results: With the battery fully charged I switched to the AC mode to begin surfing the Internet using the GPRS modem. The current draw was negligible so I switched to BATTery. I began a download and continued surfing. After 75 minutes the average current draw was 1.097A and the battery was reduced to 83% of charge. I restarted the computer and launched the normal navigation programs mentioned above. After two hours of running the programs the average current draw was 1.126A, while it increased slightly to 1.143A while tracking on the MaxSea program. At 4 hours 9 minutes the LOW BATTERY alarm came on as the remaining charge reached 10%. Four minutes later the remaining charge was 5% and the machine went into the STAND BY mode. (See Sheet #3 for a graph of the current draw) I switched to AC power and exited STAND BY at 10:26 a.m. I left the navigation programs running (plus started a SUDOKU program to while away the time) as the battery was being charged. It took 3 hrs 40 min to restore the charge to 100%. As shown by the data, the charging current began at 1.85A and, typical of battery charging, tapered off to 0.167A just prior to reaching full charge. (See Sheet #2 for a graph of the power consumption during the charging cycle) I then switched back to BATT and left only two programs running. After 45 minutes the average current draw was 1.007A and the charge was at 85%. I again switched to AC to recharge and launched the normal navigation programs. Recharging from 85% to 100% took 1 hour 17 minutes.
1. When the battery is fully charged, the power consumption running my normal navigation programs is approximately 13,5 watts (1.13A).
2. Charging the batteries (from 5-100%) takes an average of 15 watts (1,25A) over a 3.67 hour period. This draw must be added to that of running any programs.
3. THIS NETBOOK IS A POWER MISER! It's even better suited to a cruiser's computer than I first thought.
(Update 17 Feb 2009)
My satisfaction with this netbook leads me to rename this project as "YotEeePC" ( That's 'Yachtie PC")
(Update 4 Mar 2010)
On a recent trip to Singapore I found an ASUS 1000 netbook with Linux operating system and 40GB SSD (solid state drive). I installed Windows XP and all of my navigation programs. The power consumption of this machine is a miserly 800mA while simultaneously running five navigation programs. Now THAT's more like it!