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Best laptop for use with a go to scope?

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#1 Paul McC

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Posted 02 July 2013 - 09:12 PM

I have a Celestron CPC 1100 telescope; it's a go-to scope all by itself, but I like linking it wirelessly via bluetooth to my laptop, and driving it around the sky using Cartes du Ciel (a free star chart/ scope driver).

Recently, my seven year old laptop- a Gateway 7320GZ- passed away. It had way too many issues of late, but it was always a pleasure to use with my scope.

So now I'm looking to buy a new laptop and I'm looking for best/worst experiences with various laptop vendors (Asus, HP, Samsung, Lenovo, Dell, etc). I'm not interested in using Apple products- I love Apple products, but I don't feel like setting up my iPad to use outside, and it doesn't run Cartes. I also am not considering Toshiba laptops at this time as the mouse pad on many of their laptops has an unusual surface that makes my skin crawl when I touch them.

I guess a cold hardy and dew hardy laptop is what I most want... but I'm not sure if they exist on the common PC market. Many laptops have lit keyboards that at first look tempting... unfortunately they are all white-blue lighting which is disastrous in astronomy! Anyone ever hear of or see a laptop with a red backlit keyboard?

Thanks for your input in advance!


#2 fmhill



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Posted 02 July 2013 - 09:30 PM

Panasonic Toughbook is what you need:

#3 RTLR 12



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Posted 02 July 2013 - 10:23 PM

I have a Toshiba Satellite E305 and I use a red skin on the back lit keyboard. The skin works very well to maintain night vision and protects the keyboard from moisture and debris as well. Only cost me $1.39.

I used a Toughbook CF-31 for about a year. I used it for troubleshooting, diagnostics and reprogramming in the field. Nice computer and very bulletproof, but hardly worth the price when bought new. They are made for use in far worse situations and environments than I put it through. It's designed for use by gorillas. A regular quality laptop will last as long if cared for and is cheaper to replace.


#4 okieav8r


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Posted 03 July 2013 - 08:08 AM

I've also been using a Toshiba that I bought new 3 years ago, and it's been a real trooper, both for home use and out on the observing field. It pretty much stays on all teh time. I don't know what I'll get when it comes time to replace it, but I'd definitely consider another Toshiba.

#5 rmollise



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Posted 03 July 2013 - 08:27 AM

The two things to consider, in my experience, are battery life and display size. If you're going to try to run without an external battery, you'll want something with long battery life. Many netbooks will last an entire run on their internal batteries. But, they have small displays. Make sure you are happy with the display size. With my aging eyes, I abandoned my wonderful Asus netbook for a Toshiba with a big honking screen. I have to run it with a jumpstart battery and inverter, but that is OK.

In my experience you don't need something like the Toughbook unless you are hiking with the laptop or something.

#6 Sorny


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Posted 03 July 2013 - 02:45 PM

Your iPad and Sky Safari are a match made in heaven for a CPC1100. Ask me how I know...

If you're set on a laptop instead of using a tablet, I'd recommend looking at ultrabooks (you know, the me-too wannabe Macbook Airs). They'll have the long battery life you'll want.

#7 iluxo


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Posted 03 July 2013 - 10:42 PM

+1 iPad with Sky Safari, or a MacBook Air.

I have an iPad3 (great screen) but I also have an iPad1 which is the best of all as this will run all night on a charge - upwards of 11 hours with the screen dimmed.

In recent months a lot of guys are adding a SkyFi box to their mounts here and using the iPad with Sky Safari.

On dobs I've seen, the common theme here seems to be a big stalk on the base with a bracket to hold the iPad securely where you can see it without bending, and it will rotate following the scope as you turn in azimuth.

You could rig up a holder on one of the fork arms on a CPC.

#8 jrbarnett


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Posted 03 July 2013 - 11:34 PM

You'll want a Windows PC. I'm a Mac guy at home, but astronomy is a throwback hobby technologically, and you'll have an easier time pairing your scope with atlas freeware for Windows PCs than with a Mac or other platform.

For field use, battery life is nice. You don't need much processing power if all you're doing is using the PC to slew the scope to targets. I'd recommend something as cheap as possible using one of Intel's new dual core mobile "Haswell" chips. An Ultrabook using a lowe power Haswell (like a MacBook Air wannabe, but stuck with Windows 8) would probably be best.


iPad is the way to go. Really. Laptops in the field suck eggs by comparison. Get a Lifeproof or similar Griffin case for you iPad. Waterproof, dew proof and shock proof. Slap a big swath of Velcro on the back of the case. Slap a big swath of opposite Velcro on the leg of the tripod. Now you have a place to stick it between uses. Try that trick with a laptop.

Skip Cartes du Ciel. Sky Safari for iOS PWNS it. And isn't all that expensive. You have a couple of options for pairing your iPad to you mount for purposes of driving with Sky Safari. Sky Wire wired connection and Ski Fi wireless hub. You can get by with a low-spec iPad 2 or better, too. 16GB is plenty. The iPad Mini is a great option too, as it has a smaller more mount-friendly footprint.

A third option that I'm playing with currently is a uber-cheap Android tablet (I'm using a Samsung Galaxy Tab 2), Sky Safari and a bluetooth adapter. Clunkier than the iOS implementation, but it works on the cheap. ~$200 gets you the tablet, the app and the adapter.

Good luck,


#9 Wilki


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Posted 04 July 2013 - 02:17 AM

Skysafari with the iPad and skyfi wireless link is the way to go. It is soo easy to use and it beats lugging a laptop around. You can also use it with the iPhone.

If you are leaning towards a laptop, I say go for the Mac. You can get skysafari for the mac osx. I have a MacBook Pro. Though I only use skysafari on my iOS devices, I can see getting it eventually. I also installed windows on my Mac via boot camp so I can use other astronomy programs nor compatible with Mac, mostly for imaging.

#10 gdd



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Posted 04 July 2013 - 06:33 AM

iPad is the way to go. Really. Laptops in the field suck eggs by comparison.

Skysafari with the iPad and skyfi wireless link is the way to go. It is soo easy to use and it beats lugging a laptop around. You can also use it with the iPhone.

How do you autoguide without a laptop? Standalone?


#11 jrbarnett


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Posted 04 July 2013 - 08:37 AM

Gale, the OP appears to be a visual user and to wants a laptop not for running imaging software but rather for use as a digital atlas/observing list management/mount direction tool. He mentions Cartes du Ciel which is a freeware star atlas/planetarium program. For imaging at present, I'm afraid you're stuck with lugging a laptop...and big battery...and inverter...and all those wires...and, and, and...:grin:

That said, it is just a matter of time before some geniuses come up with Android and iOS guiding and astro-image processing solutions. The chips keep getting more powerful and lower in power demands. Mobile devices soon will have more computing horsepower than PC laptops from a decade ago. I still use my decade-old laptop in the astro-shed to run SkyTools 3. I suspect that the next generation iPod chip using the upcoming A8 silicon will come close to what that clunky old beast delivers. In fact, I think Southen Stars would be very smart to start developing imaging solutions as add-ons for Sky Safari.

- Jim

#12 Brent Campbell

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Posted 06 July 2013 - 05:20 AM

Panasonic Toughbook is what you need:

Except for the fact that they are not all that tough. I work as the Information Systems Manager for a transit agency. We have assigned both toughbooks and the Dell equivalent to our Diesel mechanics. They still break them! And they are harder to repair once broken because of the added padding.

+1 on the sky safari. You can get a refurb IPAD for about $400.00. Also, android devices like the Samsung Galaxy Note (Costco has them new for $399 if I remember).

The PC route is not all that bad. Look on the Dell Outlet web page (www.delloutlet.com). I really like the Dell XPS 13 if you can find one. They are extremely light, have an SSD drive, and run Windows.

#13 jrbarnett


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Posted 06 July 2013 - 09:46 AM

Actually you can get a brand spanking new iPad 2 with 16GB of storage onboard from the Apple Store for $399 (about $20 less if you're a student or your employer has an employee discount deal with Apple). iPad Minis start at $329 with 16GB of storage. The cheapest new Antrod tablet I could lay hands on a month or two ago was the Galaxy Tab 2 7" for $170. It's harder to use an Android device successfully with Sky Safari to control your mount. There is no Sky Wire solution for Android. Wi Fi doesn't work unless you do some plumbing (rooting around) in your Android OS, voiding your Samsung warranty. The alternative I picked for the Tab 2 was to obtain a Firefly battery powered bluetooth-serial adapter and pair it to my mount hand controller using one of the cables that came with the Sky Fi hub (the one terminating in an RS232 male tip; my bluetooth adapter has a female RS232 tip).

iOS is much more polished, and Sky Fi/Sky Wire much easier (and "consumer") to setup and use, but you can do wireless Sky Safari on the cheap using Android. My biggest challenge, after assembling all of the extra bits needed to make Android work in this role was with the Samsung device specifically. Night mode is almost too dim in Sky Safari on that device, unless you are at a very dark site and use reading glasses if you are an old dude like me. I meant t play around with the Tab 2 last night to see if adjusting the native device brightness higher (rather than setting it to auto) and then switching to night mode in Sky Safari would correct the issue, but didn't get around to it.



#14 rigel123


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Posted 06 July 2013 - 12:09 PM

Does Sky Safari or Orion's Star Seeker app include the steps for doing star alignment as well when you first fire up the mount?

#15 oo_void


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Posted 06 July 2013 - 12:36 PM

@rigel123 Only a laptop with NexRemote will do alignment, but that's just emulating the hand controller on the computer. The only advantage of that approach (which isn't a bad one) is being able to use a wireless gamepad for mount contrl. I currently use both iPad and Nexus 7 for Sky Safari, and an old MSI Wind netbook. Option's I'd go with given currently available tech ...

* iPad Mini w/ Sky Fi - The simple solution.
* Nexus 7 w/ Sky Fi - The geek solution. Requires rooting for AdHoc wi-fi support but has some nice extras like multiple options for red screen filtering throughout the OS. I'd personally never buy a "skinned" Android device like a Samsung, stock only for me.
* Lenovo IdeaPad Y Series - The "If you ever think of getting into imaging" option. Good mix of build quality, performance, along with a night friendly lighting scheme.

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