After getting my rig up and running just the way I want it, it’s time to un-plumb it all from the confines of four walls!
Now as I’m playing with digimodes I want to be able to get the necessary software running on a portable device. The obvious solution in the day of the i-device is a smart phone or tablet.
As I’m an Apple slave on the tablet front, there’s nothing in the App Store which does the job. My laptop is OK but the battery life isn’t brilliant and it’s not overly portable. I discovered an old Dell Inspiron Mini laying in the bottom of a cupboard and had a good go at resurrecting it but unfortunately the battery was shot and with only 1Gb of memory it really struggled to do anything. The repeated blue screen of death at boot under Windows XP (it’s what it came shipped with!) warning of a memory mismatch didn’t fill me with joyous feelings.
A new battery, SSD disk and a stick of memory would set me back almost £125 and still give me something which really wasn’t fit for purpose.
A mooch around the internet offered up a variety of options but in the end I plumped for a Panasonic TOUGHBOOK CF-19.
The CF-19 is so hard it has to shout it’s name in block capitals just to remind lesser devices that they can’t be dropped from a height of six foot, be jet washed with a hose or run over by a Land Rover and survive unscathed like it can!
You get the general drift? This thing is as hard as nails and has no doubt been on several world tours to all the top holiday destinations such as Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia . . .
My main concern over taking things outside is moisture. Admittedly I’m not likely to leave things sat in the pouring rain but the ambient moisture and the occasional summer downpour wouldn’t do things much good.
A friend of mine who works in the Neutrogena Hand Cream sales man’s paradise which is the North Sea oil fields had one of these and several years ago asked me to reinstall it all for him. It was pretty salt encrusted and I was pretty impressed at the punishment it had taken. The rubberised covered ports and ridiculously engineered build quality meant it could and had taken a fair amount of punishment. One of the forums I looked at suggested that if ever mugged, beating the assailant over the head with the CF-19 would a/ make you feel good, b/ avoid any offensive weapons charges, c/ do absolutely no damage to the device what so ever!
PC Warehouse Online http://www.pcwarehouseltd.co.uk/ specialise in refurbishing laptops and netbooks, which at a guess are bought up in bulk from organisations who issue them to sales staff, spies, soldiers and other black ops people. Their eBay store has a fair selection of devices from bargain basement to midrange. I plumped for midrange and they accepted less than their listed price so happy days. These things originally retailed in the £3K bracket so to pay a bit more than the Dell Inspiron repair costs seemed a bargain.
A few days later a large Tetley Tea box smelling strongly of Orange Pekoe arrived. To be honest you could have just stuck stamps on the TOUGHBOOK and put it in a postbox but the bubble wrap and foam chunks were a nice thought.
This puppy bore a few scars but nothing too dramatic. I missed the fact there was a big scratch through the screen as I originally fired it up post midnight when I got home from work and in the gloom didn’t notice.
My heart sank! I spent about an hour trying to come up with a desktop colour scheme which made it less obvious. At this point my glum feelings returned to positive when I realised these things came with industrial grade screen protectors! After gently pealing it off I was rewarded with a pristine screen. All the damage had been absorbed by the screen guard which is fair testament to it.
A Buff Ultimate Screen Protector http://bufflabs.com/ from http://www.ephy.co.uk/ soon sorted the screen’s nakedness, along with replacement plastic parts for the lid area which had seen the worst wear. I even lashed out a whole £3 on a new stylus as the one that came with the device looked like it had been used to mine diamonds or pick someone’s nose but in a Bear Grylls jungle survival style!
It took a few days to set up Fldigi, the device audio for using with the Signalink and USB RigCat but there it was, working a treat.
Not wishing to bang on about how good this little breeze block is but it’s got a rotating screen, touch sensitive display, 3G, GPS, Bluetooth, WI-FI, Firewire, USB, serial comm port, VGA port, SD card slots, PC card slot, PC express card slot, 500GB hard drive, 4 Gb memory, Intel Core 2 duo processor and came with a pucker copy of Windows 7 x64 installed. If that little skill set can’t be utilised to the full in portable radio matters there’s something wrong!
There are a bucket load of other features but I’m starting to drone on! All I will say is the GPS functionality is really good fun. The Panasonic stock software isn’t much but if you install U-Centre from u-blox https://www.u-blox.com/en/product/u-center-windows it does all sorts of really fun visualisations and bits. When I get to it I’ll sort out a way of converting GPS co-ordinates to Maidenhead locator format. I know you could just look them up but hey, it’s a project!
Now the only possible upgrade this thing may need would be to replace the hard drive with a SSD disk. Firstly this would give a massive speed increase and secondly remove about the only moving part which could potentially get upset if the TOUGHBOOK was ever dropped to earth from the edge of space.
As if by divine intervention, ebuyer’s deal of the day on Friday was a 240Gb SanDisk SSD Plus for £49 with free delivery including next day Saturday. Opportunity too good to miss!
It took about 20 minutes to clone the hard disk from the TOUGHBOOK following the guide published by lifehacker http://lifehacker.com/5837543/how-to-migrate-to-a-solid-state-drive-without-reinstalling-windows which uses EaseUS ToDo Backup Free to do the necessary optimisation and cloning to a SSD.
Admittedly SanDisk also provide this for free with the drive but the lifehacker method is tried and tested.
The hardest part was getting the drive container apart! It looks like something off of the flight deck of the Nostromo from Alien and contains all sorts of insulation, padding and a heater to keep a conventional hard disk safe from the real world, if the real world is south of The Falkland Islands!
With a bit of patience everything was reassembled and working. OK, I’ve reduced my available disk space by half but with a full installation of Windows 7, Libre Office, all of Panasonic’s drivers and stock software and Fldigi and a recovery partition I’ve used just under half the disk. More than enough room for something I’m sure!