What minimum computer hardware do you recommend?
A Pentium powered computer with 16 MB or more of RAM and a 1 GB or larger hard drive, an SVGA monitor with 256 color display, and a graphics accelerator with at least 1 MB of Video RAM. An active matrix display is recommended but not required for portable computers. More RAM will provide a significant improvement.
What type of color printer works well with most computer systems?
Any high resolution ink jet or laser printer works well. I recommend the Canon BJC-80 color bubble jet printer. This 3 pound (1.4 Kg) portable features a high resolution 360 dpi print quality and is excellent for printing charts. An optional NiMH battery pack is available with a 200 page print capability and an option module converts the printer into a high resolution color scanner.
What types of CD-ROM drives are available for portable computers?
Portable computers can use an internal or external CD-ROM drive. Internal drives are built into all new computers. For older laptops external drives are available in either PC Card (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association or PCMCIA standard) slot or parallel (printer) port interfaces. My computer lacks a CD-ROM drive.
What type do you recommend?
For portable computers I recommend the MicroSolutions Backpack and EXP CD-ROM drives. The Backpack is a heavy duty, parallel port interface, 8X speed unit with a stereo sound card that provides full multimedia performance. The EXP is a durable, compact 8X speed unit that uses a PC Card interface and doesn't require external power. For desktop systems any 12X speed or faster drive works well. Faster is better.
How can I run my 120 VAC powered computer from my vessel's 12 VDC power supply?
Direct Current (DC) electrical voltage aboard vessels varies greatly and there is a danger of surges and spikes that can corrupt data and damage hardware. I recommend using a small Direct to Alternating Current (AC) inverter that will act as an effective surge suppresser and line conditioner. The Power-To-Go 140 watt inverter is a heavy duty, compact, and efficient unit that can also run your TV, VCR, or power tools.
What is the best way to transport and store my portable computer aboard my vessel?
With a rugged, foam padded, non-corrosive case that is o-ring sealed against the marine environment. These cases are available in a variety of sizes to fit most computers and printers. Pelican Products is one company that produces this type of case.
What is a multiplexer and how does it work?
A serial multiplexer combines up to four NMEA instruments into a single RS-232C output for use by a computer. The multiplexer reads and stores the incoming data from each instrument. Whenever a complete message is received, the multiplexer automatically dumps it to the RS 232C output even while it is still reading the inputs. Therefore, complete messages are dumped as soon as they are received without any loss of input data. A "talker" port is also included to allow the computer to request specific messages from instruments with multiple message types such as LORAN or GPS receivers. Installation of the multiplexer is quite simple. The module may be mounted to any convenient surface with all connections made via a terminal strip. The unit is fully automatic in that once power is applied, it immediately begins acquiring data without user interaction. If more than four inputs are needed, multiple modules may be ganged together.