Originally Posted by hellosailor
If your laptop is not mission critical, and you won't mind taking three days off to reload software and set it up again...by all means, cheap and and replace it every 18 months instead.
And meanwhile, treating it like glass instead of luggage, helps them all.
Perhaps the best compromise are cheap, basic laptops kept in big baggies with dessicants. Buy three or four of the same model (this gives three or four backup power cubes, as well, which in my experience go bad faster than the laptops themselves). Use "ghosting" or "imaging" software to duplicate the set-up on all three or four before you go.
Then use a USB stick or other portable backup device to record and store data points like GPS entries, routing, waypoints, pictures, repair logs, and e-mails. The amount of raw data generated by nav programs, e-mail without attachments, PDFs of pilots and simple word processor documents is relatively tiny compared to high-res pictures or video or audio files, which can get huge. (I can store a 200-page graphics-heavy InDesign publication on a 1 GB MP3 player, for instance, and still have room for 50 songs).
This way, you simply keep a "running fix" of your data alone: the programs and all your custom tweaking of the OS, partitions, etc. is identical from laptop to laptop. If one goes south, you simply copy over from the USB stick. What if the laptop goes over the side WITH the USB stick? Simple: Copy the entire USB stick to a *second* USB stick. If you are in port with shore power, update all the laptops at once: 15 minutes (You can check for other problems, like dying CMOS batteries or buggered displays at this point, as well). That second USB stick is what? $20 these days? Not a huge consideration.
Four compact laptops take up the space of a 6 inch binder. I have two 6 inch binders just holding my shop manuals and gear instructions and wiring diagrams! So it seems to me that instead of a black box and a $3000 Raymarine 10 inch display, I can get four $500 laptops *that I can remove easily from the boat* and get redundancy and a better screen. Speaking of which, while I have a pilothouse and abundant shelter, I suppose you could have a waterproof LCD display on deck or on an armature rotating into the companionway, and then just have an IR mouse to switch displays, keeping the laptop "brain" stowed out of the wet.
Lastly, you could make one of the laptops a Powerbook, and have the others "ghosted" cheapies for the nav station.
Just my thoughts. I know enough about computing to resent the proprietary displays of the marine chartplotter manufacturers. I have no doubt that on a wet, driving race boat, they are the best choice, but I prefer the redundancy, large display and flexibility of multiple laptops of modest power.