About the Stuff Inside
Inside the case is a large printed-circuit assembly called the
motherboard. On the motherboard are sockets for the processor
(the actual "thinking" part), the Random Access Memory (RAM), and basic
controllers for disks, video, usually audio, and general-purpose
interfaces such as USB and Ethernet. There may be a Firewire interface
Often, the processor generates so much heat that it needs to sit on
a "heat sink", essentially a radiator that is usually copper with
cooling fins, but, on some computers, actually has cooling fluid pumped
through it. The latter is unlikely to be needed on boat computers. You
will, however, almost certainly need a fan directly over the CPU, and
one or more fans on a chassis.
Beachwerks specifies a computer that will run in a boat cabin in the
summertime, we consider that it can get quite hot in there, and we may
specify more fans than the typical store computer. This is a very cheap
additional safety feature. You do need to make sure the air vents into
and out of the case are not blocked, and that the vent pulling in air
is not pulling it over a hot appliance.
We never want to hear about things hitting the fan on computers we support. :-(
Slots for add-on equipment
Most commercial desktop/tower computers will come with one Ethernet
and at least four USB outlets. Laptops may only have two. More USB
outlets are highly recommended. Since a damaged connector in the main
body of a laptop can be a very expensive repair, it is often wise to
plug a short USB extender cord into the computer connection, and then
plug devices into the other end. This minimizes the mechanical stress
on the laptop connector.
If you expect to use audible alarms, verify that the
motherboard of the computer supports speaker attachment, or you will
need an additional sound card.
It is wise to have a PCI or PCI-E slot for an add-on video card if
expect to be running 3D displays. If you use multiple displays, each
will need a video card or a video interface from the motherboard.
Putting additional video processing into a laptop may not be possible.
your computer is acting as a chartplotter, logger, VMS, etc, you are
going to need someplace to store the data involved. There are
several ways to set up disks, depending on your applications and your
needs both for data backup and possibly taking files and software to a
For boat purposes, assume that all your software and data will fit on a
single hard drive, but you may want additional hard drives for backup.
There may be case-by-case reasons not to do this, but let's talk before
making that assumption
Think of two broad types of hard disks: those that have to be internal
to a computer, and those that can be external. External drives can be
taken ashore with you if they have a backup copy of your data. Assuming
that you don't have a wireless way to transfer files (see backup), an
external hard drive is a good way to share data, if, for example, you
do your business records at home and need to take boat records to the
If you are sharing data, then think of the storage requirement on both
computers, so their disks can keep backup copies of each other,
possibly with the external drive, or a wireless link, serving to carry
the changes back and forth.
Whenever things are flowing among several computers, especially if any
of them are used for general connections to the Internet or searching
the Web, be very, very sure that all of the computers have adequate
security software. All the backup copies in the world won't help if one
of the computers catches something bad, such as a worm or virus, and
that computer disease gets copied to all the other computers, ruining
the data on all of them. We have a separate discussion about keeping
disks healthy; "malware" such as viruses and worms aren't the only
thing that can go wrong.
The two main kinds of internal drive are SATA and IDE. SATA has two
flavors, serial and parallel. We will select the best technology
available at the time if we build your computer. In general, however, a
disk with around 80 gigabytes (GB) of storage is adequate, unless you
are going to save a lot of graphics (charts, video pictures, etc.).
Disks are getting cheaper and cheaper for the samer amount of storage;
a 320 GB drive costs what a 40 GB drive cost a short time ago. Big
isn't always good; it can be slower to back up or repair a bigger disk.
We have a study underway that will give a more specific idea of storage
needs for specific applications, such as a track in Windplot II and
other chartplotters. It's possible to have multiple internal
drives, possibly using an automatic backup technique called RAID. Most
often, multiple internal disks are of the same flavor, and the first
connects to the motherboard, the second to the first, and so on.
Whether internal or external, look for two factors that govern
efficiency: rotational speed and buffer size. Get a disk that rotates
no more slowly than 7200 RPM, and has a buffer of at least 8 megabytes
Drives that can be carried away and plugged into another computer will
principally be USB 2.0 (1.0 and 1.1 are too slow for disks) or
Firewire. Again, if we are building a system for you, we'll watch the
requirements about the best place for them to connect, and the most
cost-effective at the time. If the motherboard has Firewire and so do
your other computers, it may be the simplest to use without watching
performance issues. USB 2.0, however, can be roughly as fast, but be
sure that the USB cable for the disk plugs directly into the
motherboard or to a supplemental USB card on the computer.
And where do I get the electricity for this, you ask?