A New Best Windows Computer For Navigation

Eighteen months ago we published my recommendation for the best computer to run Windows-based navigation software.

And now I have a new recommendation :

The new Mac mini running Windows under Boot Camp.

Why?

  • Tons of power
  • Super small size
  • HDMI port for the monitor
  • 2 USB-3 ports
  • 3 USB-C ports (we can always use one or more USB 2/3 hub(s) if we want to connect everything on the boat to it…including the coffee pot)
  • Super low power drain (I have not actually verified this, but Apple does this better than anyone—our Macbook Pros and Air are amazing in this regard)

So why didn’t I recommend the Mac mini last time around? Simple, at that time it still came with a mechanical disk drive, and I just don’t think that’s a good idea on a boat. But now all the new minis use solid state storage, so all good.

And how much does it cost? US $800.

Yeah, I know, we can buy cheaper computers, but not, at least as far as I know, with Apple build quality. And do you really want to use the cheapest, junkiest, no name computer for something as important as navigation?

Pair a mini up with one of these Argonaut waterproof daylight readable screens installed on deck and we have a powerful navigation system for US$2300. Certainly not chump change, but way less than a good large-screen plotter, and way more flexible.

And for those who want to use a laptop at the chart table and to drive a waterproof screen on deck, as we do, the new Macbook Air—my original recommendation—looks pretty sweet, too.

Further Reading

Coming Next

Of course this short piece brings up the eternal question, which is best for electronic navigation: plotter or computer? And that’s the subject of my next article on the subject.

Comments

Yeah, I know, those of you who did not read the original article (and probably some of you who did) are now convinced that I have been hitting the hooch a little too hard.

But, seriously, before you completely discount the idea that Apple makes the best Windows computers, at least for navigation, have a read of my reasoning and have a scan of the comments, too, so we don’t re-cover a bunch of old ground.

Also, please don’t front run the the next article.

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

67 comments… add one
  • RDE Jan 28, 2019, 1:44 pm

    Hi John
    I’ll be a nice guy and refrain from tweaking the tail of an old Applehead—-LOL

    One comment: Will there be ANY best navigation computer running the Windows 10 operating system once the next version arrives with it’s integral mandatory always-on upgrades? (Got to keep the servers at the new Utah homeland security tracking station supplied with up to date data—-.)

    • Andre Jan 30, 2019, 10:44 am

      Hi RDE,

      I’m still working as an IT consultant on Windows deployment project, the latest one being in a highly securized organisation with 5000 PC. Windows 10 can be made secure but you need to spend much time removing some service and you need the Pro version. Oh an i also spend 11 years as a Microsoft employee so i know pretty much intimately every version of Windows since Windows for Workgroup LOL. My personnal computer setup is the following. Navigation is Furuno (Windows embedded). The PC counterpart is with the TimeZero MaxSea Nobeltec and i have OpenCPN as a backup. I have two laptops on board, these are HP 17 inch G7 variant with Intel I5, 8 Gb of RAM, hardware video acceleration and a retrofitted 500 Gb of solid state memory. They are both running Windows 8.1 Pro version 64 bit edition. One bought at Costco when new for 600 CAD and the other one as a backup purchased 3 months ago on Ebay for 150 US. They run Windows 8.1 which is the slickiest, simplest, fastest of all Windows ever invented… why ? I was made for running on phones… PC boots in 8 seconds. Those laptops use 65 watts power supply and the processor have power management so i feed them with a low cost DC-DC converter purchased on Amazon for 20 $. (i have 3 as spare) They usually draw about 3 Amperes on 13.5 Volts. This configuration as been working for the last 7 years without any problem so far but they are cabin laptops, not made for being on the deck. The Furuno chartplotter is on the deck and does all the dirty work. Windows 8.1 is the way to go while it is supported by manufacturers of software. One day i’ll have to change for sure but not before many years.

      • Marc Dacey Jan 31, 2019, 3:33 pm

        It’s always nice to see one’s prejudices supported!

  • Marc Dacey Jan 28, 2019, 3:06 pm

    Well, the price is right! I was considering just building a fanless mini-ITX rig, boxing it with all the connections I wanted and just running Windows emulated under some form of Linux. Or beefing up an old Toughbook. But this works, too. The actual computing power needed for a boat is puny. Connectivity and reliability trump speed. And Windows 10? Feh.

    • John Jan 28, 2019, 7:21 pm

      Hi Marc,

      To run modern charting software you need more than “puny” computing power. Windows 10: I’m no fan of Windows, but I think it’s by far the best version so far, in fact it comes closer to realistically competing with Apple than anything else I have ever seen. As to running Linux, I used UNIX for years in a past life and based on that I can see no good reason to add the complication of yet another operating system layer. Bottom line, Maxsea running under Windows 10 has been really solid for us for the past couple of years.

      • Marc Dacey Jan 29, 2019, 12:59 pm

        John, I’m speaking as a graphic designer who buys top-end gear on a cycle made to impress the tax man. I run Open CPN presently on a elderly ASUS netbook running Windows 7 with a yappy-dog processor…but I maxed out the RAM. While I could and will certainly do better, I have never seen the requirements for the typical cruiser to exceed that of a fairly stock business-grade laptop, given a reasonably decent GPU. I haven’t “gone” to Windows 10, save for decrapifying my son’s school laptop, a rather modest HP 15″. But I probably won’t have a choice when we get our next ship’s computer, admittedly. That was the basis of my comment.

  • PaddyB Jan 28, 2019, 4:42 pm

    Anyone else using a raspberry pi/openplotter?
    I’ve had (not the same) one running all day every day for must be coming on 4 years now. Rock solid, cheap, extremely feature rich with signalk built in. No way could I got back to not having signalk running on the boat even without the extra stuff the Pi does, just too useful on a cruising boat.

    • del monaco michele Jan 29, 2019, 4:44 am

      Could you give us more advice on the items you have connected onboard?

      • PaddyB Jan 30, 2019, 11:07 am

        Zooming out a little, a big benefit is how easy it is to plot data on a graph. Most used data in that respect is battery voltage and battery current plus barometer. I never knew the pressure had tides! 🙂 https://imgur.com/WeC3tSj About 10.30 11.30 most days there’s a 2mB bump. I keep meaning to do a quick overview of my system in case anyone is interested. But very basically, the openplotter image is easy to install and makes getting at the data easy, usb/serial nmea0183, N2K (with a canbus/usb, haven’t played with that), send signalk, MQTT or nmea0183 over wifi and it will get converted into signalk. Lots of sigK apps to do what you want. Simple to set up a database and send what you want to that then plot it on a graph. More apps appearing to deal with stuff like Victron bluesolar or battery monitors https://imgur.com/B5r8Ajm
        Then openlotter spits it out over wifi for any device to view. I have temperature sensors on engine/alternator/exhaust bend, barometer & battery voltage/current. All very accurate and mostly cost less than a london beer. 🙂 I also have a hifi amp which plus into the Pi so all music/podcasts/web radio etc gets taken care of by the Pi controlled over wifi. One of the better additions, draws so little current, way less than a car radio.
        As the current draw generally is so low for the Pi it stays on all the time, well worth considering even just as an add on to an existing setup. Graphed data is like standing in a room looking around instead of trying to see whats going on by looking through a keyhole 🙂

    • Richard Hudson Feb 1, 2019, 4:27 pm

      >Anyone else using a raspberry pi/openplotter?

      PaddyB, I’m not cruising right now, but have cruised for several months with a Raspberry Pi as a navigation computer and have cruised many thousands of miles with a single-board computer running OpenCPN as a similar navigation computer. My setup was detailed in the comments to the first “best windows computer for navigation post”, https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/08/14/the-best-windows-computer-for-navigation/

      I found the Raspberry Pi to be an excellent navigation computer–it was reliable (I had spares, but never used them), inexpensive and had extremely low power consumption.

      On my list of things to do before cruising again is to install openplotter and setup some monitoring with Signal-K, so your posts detailing your setup and experiences with that are of much interest.

      Richard

    • Richard Phillips Feb 11, 2019, 10:26 am

      I am also setting up a Pi based system using OpenCPN on OpenPlotter OS (http://www.sailoog.com/openplotter) – this provides a full marine operating system with all sorts of tools for gribs, nmea and so on.

      All my nmea 0183 data is feed into the Pi so I have the equivalent of a multi-thousand £ system… though I used a few bits to make it more resilient so I think my cost so far is about £400.

      The most vulnerable part is the Pi itself – but at £35 I can keep a spare – and a couple of copies of the usb card containing the OS and data.

      Not finished and operational yet – so good to hear someone else is making this work!

  • hansjakob Jan 28, 2019, 5:12 pm

    hi john
    do you use a 12V-DC-poweradapter for the mac-mini and the screen?
    or do you have 110/230V inverter 24h available?
    kind regards
    hansjakob

    • John Jan 28, 2019, 7:49 pm

      Hi Hansjakob,

      Good question.

      I don’t actually use a Mini, I just thought it was worth highlighting as a possible option. I use a little adapter I bought from Amazon to run my Macbook air navigation computer, and that works well. For the Mini, one would need an inverter, since it has an internal power supply. I think my approach would be to buy a small inverter for just that purpose, rather than needing to have a larger one on all the time when underway. As I understand it, small inverters are about 85%-90% efficient, so there is a bit of a power usage hit here, but on the other side of things, I have generally found Apple computers so power efficient that I’m guessing it will come out in wash when compared to a 12 volt black box computer.

      Here’s a small inverter from Victron that looks good: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01EW5ZA94/ref=sspa_dk_detail_1?psc=1&pd_rd_i=B01EW5ZA94&pd_rd_w=YOYuz&pf_rd_p=f0dedbe2-13c8-4136-a746-4398ed93cf0f&pd_rd_wg=WUZOY&pf_rd_r=BAYYPYJZ6WWXVX21SY4K&pd_rd_r=c5e19bd9-2355-11e9-b1bf-7d7bb058b622

      https://www.victronenergy.com/upload/documents/Datasheet-Phoenix-Inverter-180VA-1200VA-EN.pdf

      • Kit Laughlin Feb 2, 2019, 2:58 pm

        John, I have the Victron 12/375; it provided iPad + Garmin GLO backup GPS on Sea Biscuit’s recent trip (Brisbane to Greenwell Point, 550nm, in 62 hours). In fact, while we sort SB out, it is the only inverter we have and it performs silently and flawlessly.

        • John Feb 3, 2019, 1:41 pm

          Hi Kit,

          Thanks for the real world report. I tend to be a bit of a Victron fan-boy, so good to have independent verification.

          • Kit Laughlin Feb 3, 2019, 5:46 pm

            I will be getting the Victron Phoenix Inverter 12/3000 230V VE.Bu to round out my system; in the weeks I have been living on SB full-time, I have been doing an energy audit. I really only need the bigger inverter to run power tools (and the George Foreman grill!). I am so impressed with the build quality.

  • Matt Jan 28, 2019, 9:46 pm

    While I’m not a huge fan of Apple’s price premium, their hardware does tend to be very well built…. particularly in comparison to most of their competition. It can be very hard to find robust, well-built computers at any price. Most of what you find under $1000 is either a Chromebook (virtually useless without high-speed internet), a flimsy piece of junk, or both. Most of the machines worth more than $1000 are so thin and light that I’m constantly afraid of breaking them with a knock from an errant elbow. A Mac Mini strapped down somewhere safe and dry…. that, I think, stands a good chance of staying reliable for quite a while.

    As for Windows 10…. it’s definitely not without its problems, but you can mitigate most of them by choosing a “Pro” or higher edition, staying away from the “targeted” update branch, and generally locking it down according to readily available best-practices guides. Just because it’s an ad-infested nest of spyware fresh out of the box doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can be used. My own preference would be to run a good Linux distro; Mint 19 is currently my go-to default for any computer that needs to just work, without fuss, every time. But then you lose access to most of the navigation / ECDIS software choices. OpenCPN is getting better, but it’s not really in the same league as TimeZero. Running Windows nav software under WINE on Linux seems like a recipe for frustration.

    • Robert Bell Jan 29, 2019, 4:39 pm

      I suspect running Windows Nav software under Win10 with VMware or VirtualBox would be a much better option than WINE….the latter sounds really painful 🙂

      (…and nice description of the Windows out-of-the-box experience 🙂

      • John Jan 29, 2019, 8:34 pm

        Hi Robert,

        Maxsea specifically warns against running TimeZero under VMware or the like. Not sure why, but I’m sure they have good reasons.

        • Robert Bell Jan 30, 2019, 3:57 pm

          That’s interesting. I didn’t know that. Although it wouldn’t surprise me if the reason was they didn’t want to support it. I can easily imagine a support call from an angry, confused Maxsea user when the issue was really their VM setup and not Maxsea’s software. It’s a reasonable warning.

          • John Jan 30, 2019, 5:54 pm

            Hi Robert,

            You are probably right. That said, I like to keep my navigation computer as clean and simple as possible, so even if Timezero ran on a VM, I wouldn’t. In fact that’s one of the things I really like about using BaseCamp: a completely clean windows partition with nothing else running on it—reduces crash risk to near zero. More in the original piece.

        • Pierre-André Folot Feb 1, 2019, 9:58 am

          I suspect the main reason for not supporting virtualization is to reduce their support cost, mainly related to licensing. I have been running Timezero Navigator 3 in Parallels Desktop without any problem, except for the licensing. Each time you change the specs of the VM such as changing the amount of ram or number of processors, you run the risk of Timezero not recognizing the hardware anymore and thinking it’s a different machine, which then requires a call to support to fix.

          I mitigate the risk by also having Timezero installed in Bootcamp or another computer. Hopefully, they will fix their licensing model in Timezero 4 due out this spring to properly support VMs, or better yet go back to their origins an offer a native MacOS version.

          • John Feb 1, 2019, 11:55 am

            Hi Pierre-André,

            That’s exactly the sort of problem that drives my decision to stay with BootCamp and keep everything as simple as possible—anything for a quiet life and more time to both cruise and work on important stuff on the boat.

            And I agree, a Mac native version would be really a good development.

  • Phil Jan 28, 2019, 10:12 pm

    I think there is a little bit of bias from an former Apple dealer 😉

    Intel, with the NUC series is making a great good little equivalent box, a bit smaller and for less $.

    • Christopher Jan 29, 2019, 5:58 am

      +1
      get something like a nuc8i5bek for half the price and be equally as happy …(https://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/products/boards-kits/nuc/kits/nuc8i5bek.html)

      • John Jan 29, 2019, 8:25 pm

        Hi Christopher,

        That does look like a really nice budget option. Of course you don’t get a Mac into the bargain, but, as you point out, half the price and probably perfectly adequate.

    • John Jan 29, 2019, 11:47 am

      Hi Phil,’

      I have never claimed to be anything other than a total Apple fan boy. Love that koolaid. See the original post.

  • Jess Jan 29, 2019, 9:07 am

    As a programmer, I’ve been using Apple products for many years… originally under duress, but eventually by choice. Admittedly, I have never owned a Mini but often considered it.

    I’m curious where you found your $800 price. As I just looked at the Apple site, I see $999 as the starting price (for the just-released version). Is your pricing based on the previous model that hadn’t been substantially updated in many, many years?

    Thanks for any clarification.
    Jess

    • Jess Jan 29, 2019, 9:37 am

      Never mind. I just realized that, although the $800 price you quoted was U.S. dollars, the link you provided was for Apple’s Canadian site, hence the difference in pricing from $799 (USD) – $999 (CAD).

    • RDE Jan 29, 2019, 10:50 am

      Hi Jess
      re cost:
      My Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 recently cost me $250 on Amazon. It’s a direct competitor with the MacAir for sturdy build, performance, and solid state hard drive. It came with a 1.5x5x3.5″ ThinkPad Pro docking station that offers more connectivity than an Apple Mini. And it has the advantage of being 2 years old, so the phase where most electronic problems occur has past. To me it only makes sense to buy two identical used Lenovo X1 Carbon laptops & load both with navigation software for back-up redundancy, but reserve one solely for navigation purposes and use the other for communication and exposure to wireless internet hot spots. The remaining $500-$750 could be best spent by improving the quality of one’s wine cellar—.

      I agree with John that the mini is a nice unit for a boat computer application, but it still does not compare directly to a laptop. (It needs a screen and keyboard for starters, so is closer to a $1,000 unit. And you still need a portable laptop to take ashore to a wi-fi hotspot and rub shoulders with all the other addicts.

      • Marc Dacey Jan 29, 2019, 1:06 pm

        That would be my preference, with maybe a third ghosted laptop wrapped in bubble wrap and silica packs inside a Pelican case that gets updated every three months or so. But different keystrokes for different folks. Certainly, as I integrate Android tablets into my boat monitoring and file-keeping (logs and stowage and showing me the plotter screen remotely), it seems that the promise of onboard computing is being realized after decades of kludges. SSDs are part of that: I love ’em.

      • Brent Jan 29, 2019, 1:20 pm

        Funny story … Do you know where those relatively new Thinkpads are coming from? I strongly suspect that I do. As an ex-IBMer who used Thinkpads from the very first one back in the early 90’s and paid more than $2K for my last one Carbon X1 with 16GB ram and 256G SSD), I used to think the same way as you – especially after having bought or been given a few HP’s/Toshiba’s which were much worse in the reliability department. On top of that I was a total Trackpoint (the little red nubbin you push around to drive the mouse) junkie. I had tried Mac’s over the years and just didn’t see the point in them. I was a committed OS/2 (and later Windows NT/7) and Thinkpad fanatic.

        At the end of my career, IBM having divested themselves of the PC business when they saw they were becoming commodities, decided to give their employees a choice of MacBook’s or Lenovo (formerly IBM) Thinkpads. In the first year, about half of the eligible people (we replaced the entire fleet every three to four years so 1/3 of the population) switched to MacBook’s and it got bigger from there. They did this for employee morale as MacBook’s were seen as a status item so the thinking was that you made a bunch of happy employees for a few hundred bucks extra cost spread over 3-4 years. They thought it was a good thing to do – especially since the millennials they wanted would only want a MacBook and used to complain bitterly about being forced to use PC’s. It was a very popular move with the employees.

        But a very surprising thing happened – they found that our support costs dropped by a HUGE amount – to the point where it made sense to switch our employees away from new Thinkpads that hadn’t even been in service for much more than a year into new Macbooks. The difference wasn’t small. It was 300% cheaper to support a Mac than a PC. We found that only 5% of our MacBook employees needed help-desk support vs 40% for PCs. Repair costs fell through the floor as well. Even after the significant initial cost premium of a MacBook over a new PC, it still made sense to swap out relatively new PC because of the operational savings (especially since they could sell the old PC’s on the refurbished market).

        That’s why you can buy used Thinkpads so cheap now (there are about 400,000 IBMers). A few years ago, we could sell those Thinkpads for >>> more (I know because I’ve bought dozens of them over the years for friends and family on the employee discount plan).

        If a company with 400K PC’s sees these kinds of support cost drops even after having the employees switch over to an entirely new OS and different user interface (and they gave us exactly ZERO training on them so you’d think support costs would have went up), I think It more than proves John’s point.

        • John Jan 29, 2019, 2:12 pm

          Hi Brent,

          Now that’s a fascinating story. Obviously fun for me since it supports my thinking, thank you. The other take away, completely unrelated to anything here, is what it tells us about a really smart culture: IBM. I know there’s a big trend now to dump on IBM for the drop in shareholder value in recent years, but, to me at least, that was inevitable. What often seems to get lost when discussing IBM is what a great job the company did mitigating the damage while transitioning from a hardware company to a services company. I had to do much the same with my tiny computer systems integration company. It’s really hard to do, as companies like the BUNCH, DG, DEC and Wang found out.

          • RDE Jan 29, 2019, 8:00 pm

            Hi John & Brent
            Interesting story! Pretty hard to argue with that quantity of data. Are we comparing apples (MacAir) to oranges (X1 Carbon) here? Is the $2,000 X1 Carbon a high end product as it’s price tag would suggest and the base Thinkpad a different animal, or are they the same under the skin?

            I just went to the refrigerator and took a long pull of Honeycrisp Apple juice. Must admit it tasted pretty darn good!

          • John Jan 29, 2019, 8:12 pm

            Hi Richard,

            Beats me, I have really not done any sort of comparison, but I bet Brent will know. And do be careful drinking that stuff, I just started with one sip and now look at me…

          • Brent Jan 30, 2019, 4:03 pm

            The best thing about IBM has always been the smart people who work there. Theyve created an awful lot of stuff that we use every day but often don’t manage to fully capitalize on it. That said, they’ve also managed to pull the company from the brink three different times which is pretty astounding considering their business environment. It’s been painful but when you look at most of their competitors over the last 100 years, they no longer exist. That said, I really think they need another external shakeup because they’ve forgotten that it isn’t the beanies who drive revenue and profit but rather the smart people being unleashed. They’ve sorta faded from general consciousness because they no longer focus on the end users but are really focused on businesses. (International BUSINESS Machines… go figure).

          • John Jan 30, 2019, 5:51 pm

            Hi Brent,

            I think that’s perceptive. A problem a lot of companies eventually succumb to.

          • Robert Bell Jan 30, 2019, 4:10 pm

            Hi Richard…I have had both machines and, in my opinion, I find them comparable as far as build quality. They are both good laptops and they both have premium price tags. I personally prefer the X1 Carbon hardware; Unfortunately, I prefer the Mac operating system. Everything is a compromise 🙂

            Robert

          • Brent Jan 30, 2019, 4:25 pm

            RDE. It changed depending upon the current machines in the market at the time but to give you an example, when I switched to a MacBook, I had the choice of a MacBook Air or a 13” MacBook Pro with the fancy touch bar (I went with that). They both had 256GB SSD drives and 8GB of memory as I recall. If you were a developer, you could order up a 15” with a much bigger drive and more memory but most aren’t so that was the rare configuration. I also could have chosen from a 15” Thinkpad T60 (I think), a 13” Thinkpad Carbon X1 or the cool 11” flip screen Thinkpad all with the same memory and SSD configurations.

            Desktop users (very few would go that route as we all could choose laptops if we wanted) could go with similar configurations but I don’t even know anybody who did that. IBM had a great flexiplace system where you could work from home/customer or the office so most of us had laptops that would allow us maximum mobility- although that usually meant we were doing work at all hours of the day and night because we had our machines (and phones) with us so I think the company made out alright on that front too!

            The Carbon and the MacBook Pro are about the same thing although I’d still give the MacBook’s a bit of an edge on build quality. The Air’s would be similar to the flippy screen Thinkpad models. We used to get reports on our IT spend, and I noticed that the Apple machines were about $200 more in capital than the equivalent Thinkpads which amortized over 3-4 years wasn’t a lot but to answer your question, it really was apples to apples. My personally owned $2K Thinkpad was fully tricked out but as employees, we didn’t get that by default.

            Richard, I own both and I’d take the MacBook any day for build quality.

        • Marc Dacey Jan 29, 2019, 4:17 pm

          That’s a fascinating story. I’ve owned Apples (in the ’90s) for commercial purposes and I haven’t ruled them out at all…and I do prize reliability at sea.

        • Ronnie Ricca Feb 6, 2019, 11:11 am

          Brent,

          That’s very interesting about the support numbers. I don’t doubt the numbers, though I do have a question. Do you know if the Macs support were in house or were they sent to Apple stores (Apple Genius techs) and thus the numbers were smaller?

          We have a top of the line macbook Pro , but using a Mac with Windows in bootcamp just isn’t the same as running a dedicated Windows system, at Least the last time I messed with it a couple years ago. Now that could have changed since then with updates and tweaks.

          For our navigation computer we are undecided, but the software we want to use is Rosepoint Coastal Explorer since it’s the closest resemblance to the ECDIS software I use at work. I’d like a Microsoft Surface or a Lenovo with Win 10. And like I mentioned, we still have the MacBook Pro with Opencpn on it.

    • John Jan 29, 2019, 2:15 pm

      Hi Jess,

      Oops, sorry for the inconsistency. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • John Jan 29, 2019, 11:50 am

    Hi All,

    I’m not going to get into defending the Mini since my only purpose in publishing the piece was to point out a good option, not claim in any way that it’s the best option for everyone—there is no such thing.

    • Brent Jan 30, 2019, 5:00 pm

      One additional advantage John of the Mini is that it runs the new USB-C/Thunderbolt standard which means it can power, or be powered by (up to 100W) of connected accessories like say for instance, 5K monitors. This also means a 12VDC USB style power adapter (of sufficent power) could potentially power it bypassing the need for an inefficient AC inverter. I was able to run my MacBook Pro off a 5VDC/3A USB adapter last fall. I certainly wouldn’t use to to simultaneously charge the battery but it was enough to keep it from discharging my battery and run for days without having to connect up my 85W power supply to the inverter. Going from 12 or 24 VDC down to 5VDC is a lot less of an issue than having to go from 12/24VDC up to 110/220VAC and then back down to the 5VDC used by the computers.

      This also means that you only need to have one cable going from the machine to the watertight enclosure where the monitor is which would probably help with reliability in a marine environment as there are less “openings” to have to perfectly seal.

      I’m guessing there may be PC’s out there with full USB-C/Thunderbolt support as well so it doesn’t only have to be a Mac only thing for those that are allergic to Apples. 🙂

      • John Jan 30, 2019, 6:02 pm

        Hi Brent,

        Wow, I did not realize the Mini could power off USB-C, like my Macbook Pros can. I just assumed that since the Mini had an internal power supply that that was the only option. Way cool to know about that, thanks.

      • Pierre-André Folot Feb 1, 2019, 10:23 am

        Brent, have you actually powered the Mac mini 2018 via USB C? I have made a lot of research online and everything I find is that the mini can only be powered by its internal power supply.

  • Geoff Jan 29, 2019, 5:04 pm

    Excellent piece and commentary, but no mention of the “navigation software” that is ‘best’ to use on windows. I used to use the original version of GPS.NAVX on my apple laptop, but when they became an app. I stopped using a computer based nav program, relying on Mr. chart-plotter instead. Would like to get back to it. Thanks in advance for suggestions.
    geoff

    • John Jan 29, 2019, 7:46 pm

      Hi Geoff,

      You are right, and that’s intentional since I don’t think it matters a huge amount. Most of the established programs are, I think, pretty good. I have used Nobeltec and then Timezero for years and had good results, so can recommend the latter, but I have also heard good things about Coast Explorer, and then there are people that like to play with tech, who swear by OpenCPM.

      Bottom line, it’s all very subjective so that any sort of “best” review would probably not be that useful. The other thing is that to be perfectly honest there are few things I would find more boring than doing comparison tests on navigations software and writing the results up.

  • Grinnell Jan 29, 2019, 11:13 pm

    Since the discussion has turned to notebooks I’ll mention Microsoft’s Surface Pro. It’s a very sleek and sturdy 12-inch display all-solid-state tablet that turns into a capable notebook with the addition of an optional keyboard. Being native Microsoft it’s unlikely one will find a more Windows compatible machine. Build quality appears Apple-like and the overall design is elegant. An optional Surface Dock module provides 4 USB ports, Ethernet, 2 display ports, etc. I felt a little silly upgrading from an impressively chunky engineering notebook to this svelte little jewel a year ago but have not looked back.

  • Oliver Schonrock Jan 31, 2019, 7:07 am

    Hi

    Like John, I often find the “latest trend” Windows hardware to be not great. Conservative – business road warrior – hardware seems a lot better, but can be expensive.

    So, as a very simple alternative – not suggesting “best” or even “better” by any means, just an Alternative: I have been buying ex-corporate second hand Lenovo Thinkpads for the last 10 years, something like this:

    Lenovo ThinkPad T440 i5-4300U 8GB 240GB SSD 14.1″ 1600×900 Webcam: for just £299.

    The corporates rotate their machines every couple of years, you pay about 1/4 or less of the original price, for hardware which is often in superb condition, (never had a problem in 10 years and about 5 such machines – they are all still running fine, despite much abuse), and still a superb level of hardware (Moore’s law has nearly stopped on a “per CPU core” basis).

    I personally run Linux on them (for which the thinkpads have a superb level of hardware compatibility), but obviously they come with Windows as standard.

    Just a thought. Recycling is good…?

    Oliver

    • John Jan 31, 2019, 11:53 am

      Hi Oliver,

      You will find much more on the Thinkpad, including a fun story about how many of them came to be so inexpensive, further up in thread. And yes, I agree, a good option, as long as they can run the latest version of windows with the latest security patches going forward for a reasonable period.

      • Oliver Schonrock Jan 31, 2019, 2:52 pm

        Hi john

        Interesting. Not sure we are getting those ex IBM machines on the UK market – might be but I doubt it, since they have been continuously available at similar prices for 10 years. The models change slightly , but that’s it.

        The below is my personal opinion only:

        I 100% agree that Windows is a truly awful OS and agree that it is unstable, insecure, slow and a maintenance and support nightmare. The gods must have been feeling unkind when they allowed Mr Gates to rise to power and foist this terrible affliction on the world. I haven’t used it for 15 years and every time I am forced to use one, I get angry. It’s that bad. If I had to run one for a particularly application (like nav) I would do so only very grudgingly, and probably in a VM if at all possible, despite your justified concerns with that.

        Mac OS is infinitely superior, especially for your average non-technical computer user. However, I object to the Apple “walled garden” philosophy on principle, so I would never use it regularly for that one personal reason. Computing and networks should be open – the only justification for anything else is profiteering.

        I have not used anything but Linux for 15 years now. I find it it’s another step up from MacOS for a technical user who works in the industry like me. Same or better robustness and performance compared with MacOS with more control and a more qualified community – at the cost of being a bit more complicated, which for me is a positive. I find that I lack nothing in terms of apps. Nav is such a niche, that this may be an exception.

        This is a dangerous topic, isn’t it. And it’s not even anything to do with sailing or cruising… 😉

        Oliver

        • John Jan 31, 2019, 3:52 pm

          Hi Oliver,

          Very dangerous, let’s not go there.

        • Brent Feb 1, 2019, 10:18 am

          Oliver, I would still bet that many of those Lenovo’s are coming from IBM as we also used them on our outsourcing deals – i.e. a (corporate) customer would pay us to manage their PC’s and we’d swap them out over time for Lenovo’s to keep them on a standard we had all the tools to optimize for (as the bulk of Lenovo used to be the IBM PC Company). When those machines were up for rotation, we’d put them on the used market through our IBM Global Financing company so you’d always see a mix of IBM’s and IBM’s customers machines there. We even sold them on eBay sometimes when we had big batches to unload! I don’t know about the UK specifically but in Canada we had about 25K employees and multiples of that for customers on a three year refresh cycle (we only ever maintained PC’s that we would buy full 3 year warranties for) so you’d see tens of thousands of them go on the used market annually. As you said, this was before the switch out to MacBook’s – in fact if you look at the IBM refurbished sites now you can sometimes see MacBooks but they go really fast and the employees get first crack at them so they’re much rarer – and not much of a deal IMHO.

          FWIW, I agree with on Windows 100%. It’s kludge on kludge for 40 years. I’m still annoyed they killed OS/2.

          • John Feb 1, 2019, 11:48 am

            Hi Brent,

            I’m still grieving for CP/M. Now that dates me!

          • Marc Dacey Feb 1, 2019, 11:52 am

            I ran Windows 2000 until it became impractical on my graphics workstation (no W2K drivers for an upgraded video card) because I was able to disable the parts I didn’t need and … because it reminded me of OS/2. On a dual-processor machine it was exceptionally fast. Its stable mate, XP, was junk.

  • Frans Feb 1, 2019, 6:51 am

    My choice would be a fanless computer.
    The one in the link provided has been the choice of a professional Dutch marine company who claim to have very good results with them and installed over 25 in a professional marine environment. https://nl.aliexpress.com/item/HYSTOU-Fanless-Industrial-Mini-PC-Win10-Core-i3-i5-i7-2-Intel-82583V-Gigabit-NICS-6/32683017003.html?spm=2114.48010108.12.3.t0QG4Y
    You could buy two for the price of a one Mac mini.
    Both Apple and Microsoft can’t count on warm feeling from my side for different reasons by the way….

    • Frode Feb 2, 2019, 12:07 pm

      I recently purchased two of the computers Frans linked to, except I got the i5 instead of the i7. One was installed on a friend’s 60′ catamaran, and is currently running OpenCPN under Windows 10 (I’ll skip the OS debate, as I have many different ones running on my boat, but I feel Windows 10 is a very solid piece of engineering).

      Since we’re talking about hardware here, I was quite excited to find this type of industrial computer. It has six RS-232 ports, for connecting to my Pactor modem and Inmarsat-C receiver, controlling the Icom radio, interfacing with NMEA 0183 equipment, etc. It has dual HDMI monitor outputs, which allows me to drive the dual 22.5″ touch-screen monitors at the helm. Four USB 3.0 ports, and four USB 2.0 ports round out the physical connectivity.

      The two antennas on the back connect to a Bluetooth and a WiFi card (your choice, and field-upgradable). If you don’t want Bluetooth, you could have dual WiFi instead. With 8GB of RAM and whatever size SSD you desire, it has plenty of room to grow (vastly more than a nav computer will ever need).

      I was concerned that the totally enclosed, no-fan design would be running hot, but it doesn’t even get warm, even when OpenCPN is struggling under rapid zooming and panning in chart areas that have lots of charts.

      It’s powered directly from the boat’s 12V system. No need for a wall-wart or any kind of DC-DC converter/stabilizer unless your system is not 12V-based. I have yet to observe over a longer period of time, but around 1A (2A at peak) seems to be the current consumption.

      As a hacker, I prefer open designs, both in hardware and software, and realize this is definitely not for everyone. We’ll see how well this Chinese designed and built computer holds up over time, but for now I am still impressed.

  • Ben Ellison Feb 3, 2019, 10:46 am

    John, I installed a Mac Mini in 2011 and it’s still running fine despite having a hard drive, details here:

    https://www.panbo.com/long-test-chart-table-21/

    I’m especially impressed with BootCamp as I’ve yet to come across any marine utility programs like NMEA 2000 gateway software that doesn’t run as though it’s on a real Windows PC.

    But I’m shopping for a replacement now, and I’m almost certain it will be an Intel NUC, mainly because DC-to-DC power conversion is more efficient and convenient, and also due to the wide selection of NUC models at a performance/value ratio that should shame Apple. I adore my iPad but see no reason anymore to get a Mini if, like me, you’re going to run Windows charting and other programs on the boat.

    • John Feb 4, 2019, 10:32 am

      Hi Ben,

      Welcome back! Sure, I can see that option. Someone earlier in the thread linked to the Intel NUC and I agree it looks compelling. Of course one does not get a Mac in the bargain, but then many people have not drunk as deeply from the Apple Juice jug as I have. That said, for those that want a laptop below with a screen above (the way we are set up) I still think there is a compelling case for the Air: https://www.morganscloud.com/2017/08/14/the-best-windows-computer-for-navigation/

  • Terry Thatcher Feb 5, 2019, 12:02 am

    I understand only 2% of all this. I am quite unhappy with my IPad because the battery is 2 years old and speed of unit is fading fast. For home use, I have acquired a Surface. But I have to keep the IPad for the boat, because AyeTides, which I used all over the Pacific is only run on Apple devices. Anyone know of a Windows compatible world wide tide program?

  • Robert Patterson Feb 6, 2019, 8:32 am

    What’s this all about?
    I just installed a B&G Vulcan multifunction display with a3G radar and new sensors on a NMEA2000 backbone. I don’t understand why I would need more than that.
    I haven’t upgraded the autopilot to NMEA yet.
    I do have a cheap tablet and two Android phones with Navionics and an old laptop with OpenCPN but these aren’t connected to sensors.

    • John Feb 6, 2019, 10:32 am

      Hi Robert,

      I will discuss the trade offs between plotters and computers for navigation in the next chapter.

  • Simon Feb 9, 2019, 5:31 pm

    Hi John
    I would find it very useful to understand, schematically, how you have all of your nav equipment linked together, especially how you bring the laptop into the nav system picture. I think one of the biggest bugbears of creating a usable suite of nav equipment is making it all work together or, if someone else has installed it for you, making sure that you have a good grasp on the linkages between all of the system elements so that when it stops working you have a better chance of figuring out how to get back up and running.

    Simon

    • John Feb 10, 2019, 4:08 pm

      Hi Simon,

      Yes, connection can be challenging. Some years ago we ran 16 conductor cables from a central point near the chart table to both navigation pods in the cockpit and terminated the cables on blocks. The result has been that it’s pretty easy to make the connections we need for NMEA 0183. Of course all that’s changing with NMEA 2000, so we have a bit of that too, although I don’t see any reason for a wholesale migration to the new standard—it’s not broken, so we don’t fix it.

      As to providing a schematic, I’m not sure that would help much since like many older boats we have a mix of gear ranging from 20 years old to last year, so the way we are hooked together is not going to help someone starting from scratch today.

      That said, I do have one post that points out a potential gotcha to watch out for:

      https://www.morganscloud.com/2013/05/26/nmea-2000missing-the-obvious/

      And here’s another one that relates: https://www.morganscloud.com/2010/12/17/chart-plotters-and-autopilots-never-the-twain-should-meet/

      And finally, if you read through our navigation book, you will get a pretty good idea of what we recommend and how it all hooks together:

      https://www.morganscloud.com/series/navigation-knowing-where-its-at/

  • Bob Hinden Feb 16, 2019, 11:58 pm

    When I was upgrading the computer on Surprise, I went with an Intel based NUC computer from Logic Supply (https://www.logicsupply.com). They supply industrial style systems, I selected one that ran on DC (12-36volts), no fans, solid state disk, and lots of RAM. It has worked very well and is now running Windows 10. I run Expedition and Costal Explorer for navigation, Sail mail for communication (SSB and Iridium). It’s connected to dedicated 12volt display when you could still buy them in the computer market.

    It’s very close to what you describe in a Mac Mini. They can be configured with a range of interfaces.

    • John Feb 17, 2019, 10:54 am

      Hi Bob,

      Yes, several people have mentioned the Intel NUC earlier in the thread. Sounds like a good solution and certainly less expensive that the Mini. Good to hear it has worked out well for you.

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