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Author Topic: Laptops for ham radio?  (Read 6643 times)
N5RWJ
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Posts: 461




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« on: January 28, 2011, 09:17:50 AM »

What is needed when picking out a laptop for ham radio as well as Gen use computer?
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KA1DBE
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Posts: 121




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« Reply #1 on: January 28, 2011, 09:21:22 AM »

One thing that I look for and it is getting rare is a serial port.  I do have a netbook with a usb to serial converter that works.  Basically find something that will fit your needs.  I have used everything from a Tandy 100 to a full featured laptop.  Good luck in your search.

73's,
Jeff
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KE4DRN
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Posts: 3714




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« Reply #2 on: January 28, 2011, 03:26:44 PM »

hi,

I like the Thinkpads, never had any trouble with them at field day or at home.

you can get them used off lease direct from IBM with free shipping, complete
with Window o/s and money back return if not happy with it.  Desktops too.
Less then three years old and they look almost  brand new.

Check daily, inventory is always changing.

http://www-304.ibm.com/shop/americas/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/default/HelpDisplay?subject=2576394&storeId=1&catalogId=-840&langId=-1

73 james
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N0MKC
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Posts: 68




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« Reply #3 on: January 28, 2011, 04:28:39 PM »

Whatever you get for general purpose computing should do quite well for ham radio; I second the recommendation for a real serial (RS-232) port - there's a lot of software & hardware which isn't USB-friendly.  Converters can be hit-or-miss; if one is necessary, get a name brand (Belkin is well regarded), although there may be configurations where no converter would work.

Another good source is the Dell outlet ( http://www.dell.com/content/segmenter.aspx?c=us&l=en&s=dfo ). Refurbs, returns, scratch & dent (cosmetic only) are found there, with full warranty and good pricing.
« Last Edit: January 28, 2011, 04:31:43 PM by N0MKC » Logged
W8JX
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Posts: 5443




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« Reply #4 on: January 28, 2011, 09:01:34 PM »

I would tend to stay away from Dell as their tech support is not the greatest. Also consider this. I am putting twins through college (one has bachelors working on masters and other a Pharmacy degree) and I have been keeping them in laptops. The first set was HP's and after 3 years they were still working fine though dated. I bought them new dual core 64 bit Vista HP's and they are nearly 2 years old now and trouble free too.  I recycled the two 5 year old laptops with new bigger and faster HD's,(I imaged copied data so I did not have to reload) more ram and even faster CPU's (fastest they would support) and use one for ham radio and the other wife uses around house. Furthermore my daughters told me about friends that had Dell laptops that went belly up in a year of hard college use and it was not rare either. Toshiba makes a good Laptop too.  As far as serial port this is a non issue because it is easy to add a virtual USB one (i have two on my ham shack laptop)  just do not unplug them as WinDoze tends to assign them new resources and port address when you do this especially if you plug it into a different USB port. Right now in this household there are 6 laptops at when all are home and all are HP.
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N0MKC
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Posts: 68




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« Reply #5 on: January 29, 2011, 09:51:58 AM »

I should have mentioned...

The secret to buying from Dell is to go with the business-oriented line - Optiplex, Latitude, etc.  They aren't going to be cutting-edge, being designed for business needs, but in my experience I have found them to be reliable.  They also maintain replacement parts (power supplies, optical drives, motherboards, etc.) for a longer period of time than for the consumer models.

If you are thinking about using Linux, the Dell business-class computers do quite well, with the notable exception of the Broadcomm wireless chipset; getting it to work under Linux is a PITA.
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KF7CG
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« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2011, 10:38:00 AM »

My HP experience of late has been spotty. One desktop dead motherboard after warranty expired. I newer 17" laptop top, motherboard failure due to bad charger connector, in warranty. One charger connector failure subsequently under warranty. Final motherboard failure when out of warranty again due to charger connector failure.

Post mortem showed very weak design for case support of charger connector. Older HP Laptops designs showed no problems in this area. On laptops charger connection is a weak spot and the charger/power supply can be a source of noise.

KF7CG
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W8JX
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« Reply #7 on: January 29, 2011, 11:40:16 AM »

I have 4 HP desktops too and a few of them use ASUS mother boards from factory. I know because when I took a lightning hit a while back it took out on board NIC in two of them. I found new replacement MB's for them on line from China (where they are made) via Ebay for 50 bucks each. One dual core and other quad core. I used one of them with no issues and did not even require a reactivation of Vista either. Have not swapped other yet as I am using a PCI NIC card in it. On power adapters for laptops, being that I have so many HP laptops and have kids in college I always have a few extras for spares and they do not need to bring theirs home on weekends with laptop. I buy those on Ebay too out of China as well and they have been OEM ones as well more often than not and usually pay 15 to 20 bucks tops for them. What Chevy was to cars for finding parts, HP is same way if you search by part numbers on web. I NEVER get parts directly from HP because it is far cheaper not too. Same with batteries as I have been getting those out of Hong Kong or China for many years too with good results and about 60 to 70%  cheaper than OEM. Sometimes they are OEM and sometimes after market but they work as well or better than OEM I have found.
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AD6KA
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Posts: 2232




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« Reply #8 on: February 01, 2011, 02:28:14 PM »

I wish that the newer laptops had more audio input & output
choices for digital modes than just "Mic In" and "Headphones". I.e. my old Toshiba,
which is dying,(well, DEAD) has Line In, Line Out, Mic In & Headphone connections.
A nit I know, but just my wish list.
Maybe I am looking at the wrong brands, I have
just noticed this while "window shopping" in big electronics stores.
73, Ken  AD6KA
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N3OX
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Posts: 8852


WWW

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« Reply #9 on: February 01, 2011, 03:24:39 PM »

I wish that the newer laptops had more audio input & output
choices for digital modes than just "Mic In" and "Headphones". I.e. my old Toshiba,
which is dying,(well, DEAD) has Line In, Line Out, Mic In & Headphone connections.

An external USB audio box is probably better for most uses than the internal sound system anyway.
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73,
Dan
http://www.n3ox.net

Monkey/silicon cyborg, beeping at rocks since 1995.
WZ3O
Member

Posts: 43




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« Reply #10 on: February 04, 2011, 10:58:51 AM »

I wish that the newer laptops had more audio input & output
choices for digital modes than just "Mic In" and "Headphones". I.e. my old Toshiba,
which is dying,(well, DEAD) has Line In, Line Out, Mic In & Headphone connections.

An external USB audio box is probably better for most uses than the internal sound system anyway.

...Interesting point, I use Digital modes with the sound-card as in/out to receive & key the transmitter. I won a Buxcomm RASCAL-II & had issues with my ASUS Netbook's internal sound card not providing enough Umphh. I resolved that issue by buying a USB sound card from E-bay for $7 to $10 +/- shipped, looks just like a Thumb Drive...

.....As to what computer, it's been my experience that a Windows Vista or XP work most Ham related software well and agree with a name brand USB/Serial converter, as it's highly unlikely you'll find a "modern" laptop with an RS-232 "real" serial port.

...Now for my 2¢'s, I now use an ASUS EEE netbook with XP, works perfectly for logging, rig control, digi modes, etc only USB ports with Serial adapter. Also used a LARGE Gateway laptop, before with same results (no room in shack for the "beast")......so I would agree with posters thoughts above "Whatever you get for general purpose computing should do quite well for ham radio"...

....So now that you're completely confused by all the opinions <HiHi>, good luck & have fun......  Tongue
« Last Edit: February 04, 2011, 11:01:50 AM by KB3RPE » Logged
STAYVERTICAL
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Posts: 854




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« Reply #11 on: February 05, 2011, 04:10:08 AM »

For ham radio the most demanding applications will be Digital modes programs.
I have used everything from old 2002 model toshiba's running XP to dual core laptops with windows 7.
They all work fine for ham radio, so most any modern PC will be ok.
Also Windows XP/Win7 have always worked fine for me. I have never used Vista so can't comment on that OS.
It would be nice to have a real serial port, but they are very rare these days, and selecting a PC for just that function may yield a sub-optimal choice in other ways.
I have been using USB-Serial converters for 5 years without any issues.
It is true that some USB to Serial converters are not very good, but they are cheap and there is plenty of internet information showing which models work trouble free.
Just make sure you have a USB2 port (called enhanced in device manager), which is of course default on modern laptops.

For digital modes having a good onboard soundcard is an advantage, but I have never found one in a laptop which does not perform well to date.
A lot of users are now using external USB based digital interfaces such as the USB-Signalink from Tigertronics, which is optimised for digital modes, so the onboard soundcard is still available for music etc, while operating digimodes.  

In short, any modern laptop you buy will most likely be just fine for ham radio.
Your limitation is more likely to be if you play computer games, which are traditionally the most demanding on computer power.
As regards models and price, the normal PC buying criteria apply , but in my case I bought a cheap Toshiba dual core duo/4GB RAM which is more than enough for ham radio and easily supports my 3D animation programs.

So I would not worry about ham radio support on any modern laptop, you are more likely to hit the wall with games, which would benefit from having a good onboard graphics card with lots of graphics RAM.
Different users have different criteria, such as quiet fans (some laptop fans are like jet engines when they come on), so it is wise to listen to the PC in a store.
Other factors such as Hard Disk size are all pretty large these days, but make sure you get as much RAM as you can afford, as this will make a big difference in the effective speed of the laptop.
If you don't have sufficient RAM the Operating System will use the Hard Disk as a virtual ram, but the the hard drive is a lot slower than semiconductor RAM, so insufficient RAM will be a big speed bottleneck.

Finally, be aware that the power packs supplied with laptops are frequently switch mode units, which generate a lot RF hash, , although these days they are generally screened under the plastic and fitted with ferrite suppressor cores.
If you are concerned by this, you may want to take a small short wave receiver into the shop and put it near the laptop power pack to see how much hash it generates. This problem is a lot rarer nowdays than in older laptop power packs which were generally poorly screened, but I have included the comment for the sake of completeness.

I have been using purely laptops for all my ham radio (and other work) for about 10 years, and have found them very good and convenient, so I am sure you will find a solution right for your needs.

Good luck and 73s
« Last Edit: February 05, 2011, 04:33:04 AM by STAYVERTICAL » Logged
K3AN
Member

Posts: 787




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« Reply #12 on: February 05, 2011, 01:49:22 PM »

My top three choices for a laptop are:

1. Thinkpad
2. Thinkpad
3. Thinkpad

Never had a problem with any of them I have owned and I have always bought them used. They don't QRM the HF radio and the HF radio doesn't cause them to hiccup, even when connected together (CW keying, voice messages and digital modes, computer control of the rig).
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W8JX
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Posts: 5443




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« Reply #13 on: February 05, 2011, 01:55:14 PM »


It would be nice to have a real serial port, but they are very rare these days,


 Depends on how you define real because a virtual one via USB is "REAL" as far as software using it is concerned and will not change its setting unless you unplug it from USB port.  On a modern PC there is no native hardware support for a old style serial port in chipset so if there was it too would be virtualized via USB with on board hardware.
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WZ3O
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Posts: 43




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« Reply #14 on: February 08, 2011, 01:20:39 PM »


It would be nice to have a real serial port, but they are very rare these days,


 Depends on how you define real because a virtual one via USB is "REAL" as far as software using it is concerned and will not change its setting unless you unplug it from USB port.  On a modern PC there is no native hardware support for a old style serial port in chipset so if there was it too would be virtualized via USB with on board hardware.

My suspicions are "STAYVERTICAL" (is that vanity call Roll Eyes) meant a real RS-232, which is unlikely (just short of impossible),to be found in any/all laptops manufactured in at least the last 5-7 years..... 
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