Boat PC, how low can you go?


I’m back home, happily, and cogitating on a perennial issue: What’s a sensible compromise in terms of a compact and rugged, yet able and reasonably-priced, boat PC? A good place to start the conversation is a roundup of “marinized computers” written by Tom Tripp for MadMariner last summer (and recently expanded upon at Tripp’s blog). Just about all the marine PC specialists I know of are mentioned and linked to, but, as Tripp notes, the meaning of “marinization” is vague. Which is one reason I wonder if a good “carputer”—like the VoomPC2 seen above—might do.

Carputers are designed for tight but bumpy spaces, extreme temperature changes, lots of I/O needs, and even DC power surges. I’ve yet to find the ideal carputer information or gear site, but of interest are Xenarc, Mini-Box, Custom Carputers, and Can you picture a little fan-less PC doing all the navigation, monitoring, and communications tasks you might want at your helm? And if a carputer won’t cut the mustard, how about an industrial PC, like a Nexcom, or a small profile desktop like a Mac Mini or a Shuttle. The latter, incidentally, is what Big Bay Technologies bases its Mariner PC (below) on, and let’s acknowledge that boat PC possibilities are confusing enough that turning to a marine specialist just might be worth some extra dollars. What’s your thinking on a compact and rugged, yet able and reasonably-priced, boat PC ?BigBay_PC-MAR_Front and Back

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

34 Responses

  1. I prefer to use a good rugged laptop.Specially for racing boats. It will never fail, and you always can bring it to home or hotel

  2. Sandy says:

    I’m too lazy to try to profit on any of these ideas, but here are some thoughts.
    Boat computer useage can vary from dead serious to frivolous; from navigation and communication to entertainment. Many owners might not want to mix the two, and would have two computers on board; a rock-solid work machine that is marinized and bullet proof, then a large screen off the shelf play machine for internet, games and music. They could be networked together if needed. First the work machine:
    It should be low power, low heat, shock proof, and extremely durable in a marine environment of salt laden humidity and wildly varying temperatures. Peripherals exposed to the marine environment should be off the shelf and interchangeable. By default, that means USB mice, keyboards, optical drives, and file storage. Since the demands of navigation and communication software are easily met by P4 era processors, there is no forseeable need for dual core processing power. This machine would serve very well with XP as an operating system, and 1 gig of memory. In fact, it could run perfectly satisfactorily with a 4 GB solid state c: drive, so long as there is adequate peripheral storage.
    Some recent work [see,1203.html ] has proved that many computer motherboards (but not hard drives) run fine submerged in cooking oil, mineral oil, or preferably a very low viscosity dielectric heat transfer medium, possibly based on silicone oil. Mounted in a sealed,oil filled finned metal (or thermally transparent plastic) container, a small motherboard such as one of Via’s mini-itx or smaller, all in one boards, (see ) would meet every requirement above. This particular board has remote connections (serial, audio, USB, etc) for all but the network (and possibly the video) that could easily be mounted outside the oil bath, thru the simple expedient of topping the oil with a layer of polyester resin. The oil will still wick up the wires and harden the insulation, requiring replacement of the harness every two or three years, but the wiring is all on the shelf today. The last components required are a miniature 12 volt dc power supply (on the shelf) and a powered USB hub.
    This little box, smaller than a cigar box could live in any fairly well ventilated void, and would require no access for months on end. By choosing external peripherals, there would be no problem mixing and matching displays, input devices and storage media. Digital Charts could live on thumb drives, with a mirror image backup in the Farraday box. Every manual and other precious piece of paper on board could be scanned into another thumb drive, or memory card, or external hard drive.
    The cruise plan would be to have a spare for every peripheral stored in a vacuum food bag, that could be hot-swapped for the ones in daily use. You can find a mouse or a CD-rom easier than you can find the right oil filter just about anywhere you want to go.
    I personally navigate with purpose-made (read “garmin”) equipment, so my boat computer performs both serious and entertainment functions. I would still have a very portable wireless laptop like the EEEpc to take ashore for email access and internet crawling, but that’s a personal preference.
    Feel free to use these ideas, but if you go into production, send me one that works!
    Sandy Daugherty

  3. Bob Hinden says:

    I built up a similar Mini-ITX system for my Valiant 42. It’s currently based on a fanless Jetway J7F2WE-1G2 Mini-ITX Mainboard
    I picked that because it support adding additional RS-232 serial ports. It’s powered from a PicoPSU 60W Wide Input Range DC-DC Power Converter so it can run directly from ships power without an inverter:
    It drives a 17′ LCD display that also runs on ships power. Note it’s hard to find LCD displays that run directly off 12 volt power.
    It’s not the fastest PC in the world but works well for running RosePoint Coastal Explorer, Sailmail, and related software.
    I might put a sold state drive in it once the prices come down more. That should increase the reliability and reduce power consumption.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks Sandy and Bob!
    And here’s an Mini-ITX enthusiast site for boaters who want to roll their own:

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Andrew Murray reports that Globe Marine has had good luck with Mac Minis. Using the newest Bootcamp drivers, they’re runninng “MaxSea 12.6 & Timezero on them no problem (12.6 navnet and x7 system via the Ethernet port)” and for standard NMEA “usually use the Actisense NDC-4-USB’s and have had no issues. We also use USB to serial adapters (found the Prolific ones work well).”
    “We are working on a 12/24v power pack for them in house design should be ready in a few months. The thing i really like about the Mac Mini is that our main market is commercial fishing where the fisherman’s data is invaluable to them; with OSX also “secretly” installed on their pc, any Windows corruption that stops the system booting and would normally be hard to recover the data, you can simply boot into OSX, drag the info across to a USB drive and wipe windows and start again.”

  6. TomK says:

    How about the fit-PC for something extremely small and low power?

  7. Just to add another note we use bootcamp to run windows not sure how running parallels or vmware virutal machines would work; maybe a project for a rainy day!

  8. robert says:

    My $.02.
    IMHO, depending on your setup, “marinized” computers are way overkill and pricey. Their likely market are those powerboaters who can afford to hire a marine electronics specialist to handle all the installation and integration with every device on the boat.
    If you are just using it for nav software and communications, it is much cheaper to build your own (like the mini-itx platform) if you have a little technical skill. Even if you don’t, in this day and age of cheap laptops, hot swappable hard drives and thumbdrives, it can be cheaper to simply by an extra laptop for backup.

  9. For our first trip to Mexico we used a mini-itx platform running MaxSea. This was cabled to a Planar flat screen and a wireless keyboard/mouse combo. In a year of use we had one hard drive failure, the Planar monitor was getting flaky and the thumb mouse on the keyboard was getting intermittent.
    This was vintage 2003 gear with a (approx.) 800MHz CPU. It performed reasonably well until MaxSea came out with a new version that significantly increased the computing resources to run properly. It appeared that mostly the issue was video hardware. But in any case, with 10-15 seconds to redraw the screen, it was clearly time to reevaluate things.
    For our second trip to Mexico we replaced everything. We are now running a Mac Mini with Boot Camp booting into Windows XP Pro SP2. Cabled to it are a Samsung flat screen monitor, the original Mac USB keyboard and a Microsoft USB mouse. We have experienced no failures or glitches, other than trying to figure out why the led mouse wouldn’t work properly, only to realize that it was because of the red mouse pad. Arg!
    We vacillated back and forth on the power setup. We did find a 12vdc setup to power the Mini, but ultimately went with 120vac instead since we’d need it for the monitor anyway. For power, we installed a Samlex PST-30S-12A inverter dedicated to just the nav computer. This provides 300 watts of full sine wave 120vac power and has functioned flawlessly.
    For charting we converted to Rosepoint Navigation Coastal Explorer. This solution has also proved bullletproof. In fact, we installed their 2.0 beta in Zihuatanejo and have been using it ever since. We’ve experienced fewer problems with their beta than we have with any of the “production” versions we’ve used from other companies.
    I would happily reinstall our current configuration again. Our second trip was a much rougher trip, including some serious bashing coming north up the west coast of the US. All the gear has performed flawlessly.
    “Marine” rated Vs quality consumer grade? I’d go with quality off the shelf hardware any day. For the price difference you can replace the consumer gear three times over and still be ahead. Face it, if you are planning to protect yourself from turning the boat turtle, even marine rated PC gear won’t cut the mustard. Get quality consumer gear. Replace it every few years as the performance increases and the size and price decreases, and spend the extra money on more cruising.

  10. Microship says:

    I am just in the process of choosing the core computer for an always-on server role – not graphics-intensive navigation and entertainment, but data collection, security, and remote access. That “always on” bit is the killer, unlike machines only used while navigating or web browsing… every milliamp counts.
    I’ve lived in an all-Mac environment for over 20 years, so of course looked to the Mac Mini for this role. But it is still 20-30 watts (see the detailed report here, near the bottom of the page). The mini-ITX form factor has a lot going for it, and I’m also looking at hacking a Linux netbook-class mini laptop, as things made for battery operation are often the most power-miserly of all. The hooks in hardware like that are more fiddly, of course, but I/O is USB anyway.
    Sandy, interesting to hear of the cooking oil experiments. I hung around the oceanographic research community for a while, and mineral oil was a standard packaging trick for submerged electronics like hydrophone arrays. Might have to consider that for this…
    Cheers from the Nomadness lab,

  11. Dan (b393capt) says:

    An offering I think that would be ideal would include:
    – The computer black box itself is cheap (disposable) with no on board storage, but rather circuitry to allow storage to be external network based. Also circuitry for wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity and optional cat-5 ethernet port. Extremely simple for user to swap out or switch to spare unit. Extremely simple for user to manage having multiple live units, e.g. one for navigation, another for entertainment, etc. Basic ruggedization only (so not to drive up costs), e.g. allow for power surges, wide range of temp’s, lots of external I/O. Ideally the user could choose most any small form computer they desire, and achieve the above thru a usb dongle that plugs in with software and protocol support, so that most of the magic happens below.
    – Requirements for external storage. Ruggedized for marine environment (solid state, no moving parts, coated circuit boards, 12 or 24v power with occasional spikes) and designed to be external from computer (e.g. has it’s own housing), and connects to computer via bluetooth. Power delivered thru a connectionless technology (e.g. like those common with an electric toothbrushes). Internal storage management software allows two or more computers to be simultaneously connected. Although technically there should never be a reason for this to fail … ideally allow for mirroring when a 2nd similar storage device is on the network. Ideally storage management software will allow unused capacity to be used for backups, so users can access prior versions of files.
    – Loaded onto the external storage is a specially configured version of an operating system, virus protection, spamware, adobe viewer, flashplayer, and other file viewing components configured so they don’t require access to the internet, don’t use bandwidth when an internet connection is available, nor prompt users to download updates each time you use them.
    – Updates of the products above are managed through a single software update utility that can connect over the internet or instead be provided thru a flash drive. E.g. allow user to take a flash drive off the boat to another computer, connected to an online service to get updates that are stored on the flash drive, and user returns flash drive to boat to perform update.
    – Each software product user chooses to installs, is done in a virtual partition, so that a lack of most recent virus protection updates, etc. has no negative effect on other software on the computer (such as navigation software) is protected from virus. (e.g. only the software in a given partition is in jeapordy.)
    – Integrated into the operating system utilities above would include support for a network connected DVD or laptop computer, to provide for installation of new software, taking data files off the boat, or playing movies.
    – Also allow for wi-max, EvDO, or an external wi-fi antenna to be added to the boat network directly or thru a connected laptop computer or PDA, and be accessible from all computers.
    Dan (b393capt)

  12. Dan (b393capt) says:

    TomK, great post! Fit-PC looks marvelous. Just 3 to 5 watts of power! In addition to being fine as is .. it looks like it could be modified to meet my vision of a marinized computer solution (cheap computer, separate and highly marinized storage) in the post that followed shortly after yours with features like etherboot and built in wireless. Plug a Bluetooth dongle in to the USB port and your basically set on the hardware side.
    It could also be modified to be the bullet proof external storage device I envision with the right software, solid state hard drive, and an enclosure that totally seals out moisture.
    Now all that’s left, is software that enables this to be my vision of a marinized computer (e.g. run long durations without a need to update operating system, virus protection, etc.)
    Dan (b393capt)

  13. ibsailn says:

    I have built 3 boat computers thus far and just ordered parts today for my fourth. We have two shuttle (P4 processors) onboard mounted in a fairly small and not very well ventilated cabinet. Thus far (5 years) heat has not been an issue with both computers running with HOT P4 processors. The cabinet gets quite warm, but I think the side advantage of that is that it is not at all damp in there due to the high heat. Still, I may add a vent fan to the cabinet for heading to warmer environments. We run one computer for Navigation only, with two HD’s that are exact copies (imaged with Norton Ghost) and dual boot. All data is backed up daily (including setting and waypoint files) to the other physical drive so if windows crashes, we just reboot to the other drive and at most we loose 24hrs of waypoints and routes. The second computer is for music, video serving (to a modified Xbox running XBMC as a media center), and communications. The communications computer also has all the nav software loaded and ready to go in case of hardware failure of the Nav computer. It is accessible emmediatly in the Nav station and just the Keyboard, Video, & mouse cables must be switched over to see it in the Pilothouse as well. We went with standard AC Power supplies as the monitors need AC anyway and we just have a small inverter that we can switch over to should the main inverter fail. This also keeps the power clean and steady.
    I am about to build a new computer, again a shuttle (SD30G2) with a core2duo processor, 4GB ram, and again dual HD’s. This will become the Nav computer and the Nav computer will move over to Com usage. The Com computer was built in 2001 so we are replacing as a prophylactic measure. We did have some memory in this computer fail last year, leading to system instability, but it was a quick and cheap replacement to get up and running again. Ram failure has been the most common hardware failure I have seen both at home, on boats, and in my office, so I might buy a spare stick or two (Very cheap spares at $50 or so for paired sticks) if traveling outside the US.
    Also, in my experience from running 6 computers in a small office running processor intensive CFD (computational fluid dynamics) 24/7, the new core2duo processors using the 45nm process are WAY more energy efficient and therefore put out FAR less heat than the old 65nm P4’s. Two winters ago we had to leave windows open in our CFD office to keep it under 85 when running P4’s, but last year it stayed under 75 when running Core2Duo’s. We also noticed a big difference in the electric bill, so I am hoping that the new computer also reduces heat in the cabinet and reduces power consumption.
    Lastly, I built a micro-ATX system (Mobo & case by Aopen) for a client/friend this fall. Again, it was a Core2Duo based system where space restrictions forced that instead of a shuttle (replaced a laptop whose screen and keyboard were never used). Pics of that system and a small discussion are on my blog ( — or click my name for direct link). I will do a write-up on the new computer once I build it (probably next weekend) and link again.

  14. JonM says:

    I have a PC Engines alix3d3 board on order from ( )
    to use as a low power data logger and possibly
    general purpose on-board computer. It will run
    Linux from a 4 GB compact flash card, probably
    leaving more than 3 GB of free space. I plan to
    use a USB disk drive when needed.
    Extra serial ports will be added either via USB or
    the LPC bus.
    Among the initial plans are to log data from a
    CruzPro battery monitor and to look at AIS data
    “differently” than the E-80.
    I will try an 802.11 miniPCI card, but will
    probably not want to mount the system near the
    antenna. Mini-Box sells weatherproof enclosures
    for these (or similar) boards, but I am going to
    use the cheap aluminum box. I have an older PC
    Engines system running on my desk right now in the
    aluminum box and I cannot tell that it is running
    by touching the case, no fan, little heat
    If I could find a lightweight 12v LCD this system
    would likely handle Web browsing and similar

  15. David says:

    If you don’t need the latest speed from the
    Core2 dual processor chips but just need to
    run some navigation software and maybe watch
    a movie I’m a big fan of the ultra lower power
    Atom processors from Intel. (They are used in
    the popular mini-notebook/netbooks that are on
    the scene this year.)
    There are many options for processors with
    designs from ASUS/Dell/IBM/HP netbooks which
    either have a laptop HD or a solid state drive.
    They typically have a 9 or 10″ screen but will
    drive a larger monitor. If you won’t ever use
    it away from your main screen a nice option
    is the ASUS EeeBox about 1/3 of the size
    of a Mini. All of these boxes draw in the
    range of 12-20 watts (even with the 9″
    screen turned on)
    Starting around $300 pick up two and stick
    the second one in an electrostatic waterproof
    bag if you plan to go offshore.
    If you need the latest speed a micro-ATX
    build your own or a Mac-Mini seems like
    a good way to go although they’ll use
    more power. Or wait for the dual-core
    Atom chips with more system-on-chip
    integration which will likely use even
    less power.

  16. leigh says:

    I bought a couple of Fit-PCs for a work related project, though I really wanted to use them for my boat IT system… I loaded some different applications on them and they worked reasonably well until both units died. One was returned for repair and came back with a new mother board. It too, soon gave up, so both units are collecting dust.
    I ended up buying a Raymarine E120 display and have no regrets despite the silly money for these things.
    I can now sleep at night instead of dreaming about the ultimate onboard network…

  17. Dave Green says:

    I have used an AOpen mini-pc in my boat for over 18 months with great success, but due to the AC only configuration, I have to run an inverter for power.
    I was looking at new options and came across a waterproof enclosure for a pico-itx mainboards.
    The biggest restriction is 1GB of ram in the boards I have looked at, but the case looks bullet proof!
    Hmmm, it is Christmas time and I always start by buying a present for myself…
    If anybody has experience with these pico-itx (nano-itx) boards, please chime in.

  18. Eric Criens says:

    Have you seen these ones?
    From Finland as I understand…
    Like your website, thanks.

  19. Looutout Sailors says:

    There are a number of solutions for the PC as posted here. A readable monitor at a reasonable price is my issue. Sunlight viewable seems to be a challenge. Has anyone tried Xenarc?

  20. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Sailor, I’ve never seen the Xenarc monitors, but you might be interested in Argonaut’s transflective screens:
    Dave, I have no experience with pico-itx boards, but recognize that waterproof case as the one Port Networks uses for its MBW 250 WiFi bridge. It and the connectors appear to be really well made.

  21. Sandy says:

    Monitors: the Holy Grail of roll-your-own boat computers. Again there are two sets of requirements: A sunlight viewable splash proof screen between 6 and 12 inches diagonal and possibly a touchscreen interface for the helm, and something bigger but less bright for the nav station or entertainment that sips 12 volt watts.
    After several years of single-minded googling, I have found three close fits, a near miss, and a few disappointments. Somebody PLEASE tell me about some breakthrus for less than a boat unit!

  22. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Don’t be too concerned about the low memory availability and lack of memory expansion on some of these computers.
    Although lower memory is going to lead to the operating system using the disk much more often for swap space, this performance penalty can be reduced by either
    (i) using a solid state disk drive (which you might already be consider as they have no moving parts, are immune to shock, use less power, and generate less heat)
    (ii) attach a flash memory card, via adapter, to a spare ATA disk drive port then directing the operating system to use the flash drive for swap space.
    Dan (b393capt)

  23. Kees says:

    If you are considering using flash memory, please check whether the desired operating system supports putting the paging file and/or booting from it.
    The most relevant version(s) of Microsoft Windows (XP, 2003) do not support booting from removable media. I have not tried using a paging file on flash/USB, but suspect that that may not work either.
    The solution is to get a solid state disk that presents itself to the OS as a fixed drive. Anything sold as a “Solid State Disk” as opposed to straight Compact Flash and/or USB should suffice.

  24. Kees says:

    Also note that 4 GB is really insufficient for a boot disk with Microsoft Windows XP or higher. I’ve tried, and even if you get it running it is just too much bother — installing most software requires some space in your Windows directory for DLLs etc., service pack installations require large amounts of disk space, etc.
    My suggestion: XP, 2003: 8+ GB. Vista, 2008: 16+ GB.
    The most comfortable solution is to get double that. This gives plenty of space and allows you to install the navigation software on the same drive.
    Prices are coming down rapidly, I just checked and found a Transcend (slow MLC type) 32 GB SSD for just $93. The quicker SLC type 16 GB SSD at the same store was $206.

  25. Luc says:

    I have found some interesting marine solutions here:
    Is seems that all those are dedicated marine computers. It would be very interesting to put those computers on real high humidity and salinity test and compare it with standard computers to see if they are good investment.

  26. Kees says:

    Next, I’d like to point out that it is essential that you consider the amount of CPU power that you require.
    If you run just navigation software without anything else this you can get away with a low end (Intel Atom, VIA C7) style computer. For newer software (anything having to do with high refresh rates, like 3D or radar overlay) you need a bit more Oomph. As pointed out earlier, the current Core2Duo processors use MUCH less power than P4 and even P-M (the previous Intel Mobile processors). Underclocking allows you to undervolt the processor, which rapidly sinks the power requirements. In the past I’ve been able to run a 1600 MHz Pentium M (TDP @ 25 W) at 800 MHz @ 0.7V, which reduced top end power to about 8 W.
    Unfortunately, and that is true for almost all solutions in this power bracket, getting an entire system below 20 W is very difficult as when you reduce the power used by the CPU you are still stuck with the same power used by the chipset, memory etc.
    For example, almost all current Mini-ITX motherboards for use with Intel processors use the Intel 915 or 945GC chipsets.
    Intel quotes the following TDP:
    915GMS + Celeron 900 ULV = 22.7 W
    915GME + Pentium 1000 ULV = 22.7 W
    915GME + Core2Solo 1000 ULV = 15.8 W
    915GME + Core2Duo L7700 = 27.3 W
    945GSE + Atom = 11.8 W
    945GC + Atom = 29.5 W
    As you can see, if you are interested in low power usage you should look at total system power usage, not just how much the processor is going to use.
    It also follows that a Mac Mini (uses 915GME + Core2Duo) is likely to use less power in actual use than an Atom board with a 945GC chipset.
    If you want an Atom, make sure you get something with the 945GSE chipset.

  27. Richard Peirce says:

    I’ve had a Mac Mini running on my Sabre 34 now for 2 years. Works great – For Nav with GPSnavX and entertainment – music, video, etc. The remote app for iphone is also great for changing music, etc. while on deck.
    Pictures of my setup from Panbo are here:

  28. anonymoustroll says:

    – pico-psu wide input range with crank suppression (buy a spare or two and keep them handy).
    – passive or low volume air flow cooling (Intel Atom, Via C7, certainly nothing more than an underclocked, low NM fab Core2 series CPU).
    – easily mounted cast (as displayed) or maybe casetronic C138, extruded aluminum is good as it makes a nice little faraday cage (be sure to ground the case)
    – solid state hard drive (compact flash, SSD SATA, anything without moving parts that retains data without power)
    – plenty of serial ports (to get NEMA sentences into whatever software you’re running); at least three.
    – audio input, pass-through and mic (for decoding AIS, satellite and terrestrial weather broadcasts)
    – possibly a television card; doubles as composite in for a camera (surveillance / below the waterline inspection, etc.)
    – golden shellback coating for motherboard, power supply and other critical components.
    – if you’re going to go with an LCD that has 12vDC input voltage, you might want to consider voltage clamping circuitry… and a touchscreen can help to reduce cabin clutter and keep lost wireless mice from bringing the show to a halt. If you can’t get a touch screen, trackball over mice are highly recommended.
    Also, note that most motherboards are simply not made for a marine environment. The metal components of the motherboard will rust and corrode (yes, that include solder… and keep in mind that the external facing ports on the back will always be exposed no matter what type of case you use).
    In marina connectivity should use a dedicated, high gain router with direction and/or omni-directional antennas. makes some interesting solutions in this space. Device should be Power over Ethernet 802.11af capable. Depending on how you roll (or float, in this case), you might also want to include and USB or (mini)PCI wireless solution as well, since most routers aren’t very useful for cracking WEP/WPA
    Operating systems… ahhhh yes. the great debate. Either you already have software in mind or you’re open to suggestion. Either that software is cross platform enough that you still get to choose or you’re stuck with a crappy software vendor. In my mind flexibility is the key… and to cove the big 3 OS X, Windows and Linux, you’re probably going to need to go with Apple hardware (unless you feel like taking the time to figure out how to get OS X to run on commodity intel platforms, and then you usually need to be real careful about selecting the right hardware… has to do with choosing Intel CPUs that support the right mix of instruction sets)
    With the advent of Sun’s Virtualbox (free), you can run both Linux and Windows on Apple Intel hardware without requiring boot camp or some other half-assed dual-boot solution. If you’re going to go the OS X Virtual Box route to support your non-OS X software, be sure to verify that USB, serial port and network pass-through work as expected. Each version of Virtualbox seems to improve things, but you want to be sure that your devices are going to pass-through to the guest operating systems flawlessly. Virtualbox has the added benefit of isolating “perfect” nav-computer setups from general operating system abuse and allows for “perfect” snapshot backup to DVD for easy restore should the worse happen, requiring an entire system rebuild.

  29. Michael says:

    The idea of an inexpensive processing unit that consumes very little energy is a very good start. Let me suggest, for those who feel insecure about longevity and reliability of the equipment: it is very easy and inexpensive to couple two units together; normally the two could share the functions and each one could be backup of the other. Obviously, they don’t need to run together for crucial functions (ie navigation, DSC,AIS etc)
    The expensive part in both price and power consumption is the display(s). In my case I am looking for a solution for my sailboat “down below” with a cheap display that could be visible from the cockpit. I already use Coastal Explorer (free charts) on my laptop and planning the above mentioned set up.
    Last point: low power consumption units will evolve from other consumer and industrial applications giving boaters the opportunity to leverage them for applications beyond navigation: all-time engine management, all-time safety, security, maintenance etc.

  30. Mike says:

    I use a mac mini with a CarMP3 power supply. and the mini is cheap enough that i just carry a spare. it runs MacENC and GPSNavX with ShipModul MiniPlex-42USB interfaces for NMEA-0183. the display is a Furuno 15″ panel that also does the video cameras. keyboard and mouse are Apple bluetooth wireless units although i have a gyrotrac i wanna try when i remember to take it with me to the boat. “It just works.”

  31. Kees says:

    By the way, if you can wait for a little while longer then you should wait until you can get a motherboard with a Intel US15W chip set, TDP for that itself is 2.3 W so combined with a 2-4 W Atom we’re getting into real low power usage.

  32. For a vessel with a low power budget, and the requirement to operate continuously, I’ve selected the ASUS EeePC 1000H. It has the most important feature … it runs directly from the boat’s 12VDC batteries … and power consumption after the internal battery is charged runs about 25 watts. My webpage about this unit is at

  33. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    #10 on Terry’s boat computer priority list is….
    “Cost. The less the better .. saves money for booze!”
    Thanks, Terry, for an interesting analysis. I like the idea of charging the EeePC directly from the boat’s 12v supply, but are there any worries about power surges?

  34. No worries on power surge when using a $14 adapter I found on eBay. Input is 10-18VDC and output is a very steady 12VDC at 3A. One source is at
    I’m using it right now while charging the batteries at 14.15VDC and the output is 12.01VDC.

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