Computer Choice

For typical fishing applications, possibly excluding 3D displays, most commercial computers capable of running Windows XP will run what you need.  If you want to run Vista, it will take more computer power.

In most cases, your most basic choice will be a laptop versus a less portable version: a vertically oriented tower or a horizontally mounted desktop.

Resource Requirements regardless of the Physical Form

For either, you will want a minimum of 512K of random-access memory (RAM) to run Windows XP. 1 gigabyte is recommended. If you expect to run Windows Vista, 512Kbytes is really marginal. Install at least 1 gigabyte, and consider 2 gigabytes if there will be many applications running.  For typical boat computer applications, you may be able to work at the lower end of the memory requirement, but that will be most influenced by the complexity of the graphics, especially three-dimensional, that you will use in applications such as underwater memory. Some applications may require additional video memory, which is different than the main RAM. Before making a final choice, talk to the vendors of the applications that will draw the most complex pictures.  

RAM goes on the main internal printed circuit board, called the motherboard. The actual processor will also go on the motherboard. For typical applications, you will want either an Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor, or equivalent. You do not need a processor chip with multiple "cores",  which essentially are additional processors in the same physical chip. The two major processor vendors, Intel and AMD, now compete on who can run with the least power and cooling, as well as on how fast their processors can run.  Whatever the physical form of your processor, be sure its vents have easy airflow, and do not draw air from anything that would heat it. '

Computers will draw several hundred watts.  To avoid damage to their electronics, always connect them to your AC power, minimally, to a computer-grade surge suppressor. It is wise to get an even safer uninterruptible power supply (UPS), with enough battery capacity to run the computer for 10-15 minutes, or whatever you consider the time it would take you to restore power and not lose navigational information.

Any standard computer will have one video output, and almost always always audio input and output. Again, you need to think of the specific applications to decide if you need more of these "multimedia" applications.

You will definitely need a drive that reads DVD disks (, which will also read CD-ROM disks. Software has long ago passed the size where it could be distributed on floppy disks, and usually now comes on CD-ROMs, which hold approximately 650 megabytes.  More and more, large software packages come on DVD.   In speaking of DVD here, the reference is to standard, not high-definition (HD) disks.  Standard DVDs hold 4.7 gigabytes on(single layer) or 8.5 gigabytes (dual layer).  If you want to watch high-definition TV on your computer, be aware that the format is still undecided; there is a competition between formats called Blu-Ray and HD-DVD.  Either high definition drive can read standard DVDs.

Even though its 1.4 megabyte storage is tiny by today's standards, you may want a floppy drive. There are some Windows recovery modes that need a floppy disk, and it is occasionally useful for hand-transfer of small amounts of data. When buying your computer, try to find out if it can do an emergency boot from a floppy, which will be a characteristic of the motherboard. Ideally, the PC will be able to boot from a USB-connected floppy, although this is something to confirm, if possible, with the technical staff of the vendor.


While they appear to take more space on your dashboard, they still will have a small screen and keyboard. There are ways to get more dashboard space, or larger screens & keyboards, and still use a tower/desktop.

They do have the advantage that you can easily take them aware for home or other uses.


If there is dry space, you may be able to mount it behind the dashboard.  Alternatively, you can put it in the cabin.  

The keyboard and pointing device will usually use a USB cable. The total length of USB cables, for all purposes, on a single computer is 75 meters. For the display, a different cable type is used, and the distance will vary on your specific video card. Tens to hundreds of feet will work.

It is entirely possible that by shopping carefully, you can get two desktop/tower computers for the price of a high-end laptop.  There are ways in which an application could be arranged to transfer automatically to a standby machine, if this is a requirement. Automatic failover will need additional software and some engineering services.

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 you 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.

 you need to decide on your operating system.