Motion Tablet Upgrade to SSD on the Cheap!
Updated 5/13/2009 - Important Update
2010 update: DO NOT BUY ANY OF
FLIGHTPREP's PRODUCTS!!!! You will be supporting a company that
working towards the demise of many valuable internet resources!
Nothing gets a geek more excited than
tearing into some hardware
to do an upgrade, and this was no exception. For the past couple
years, I've mostly forgone buying any navigational charts, and and have
been using my Motion LE1600 tablet as an EFB. First I used Golden
Eagle Chart Case Express. Then, at
OSH a couple seasons ago, they had an awesome deal on Seattle Avionics Voyager
where I could get the chart updates for a lesser annual cost...and get
their software too. Turns out it was a very nice deal, because with
their fuel price finder, I've been able to search for which airport I
want to stop at on an impromptu stop, to find a good fuel deal.
And once, I stopped and could not get fuel at my planned stop because
nobody was around, so I easily found the next nearby cheap fuel
stop. Very cool stuff, and the software has more options than
just about anyone's, including a larger selection of charts
this link for more info) Oh, and about the coolest thing in
the world happened to me a couple weeks ago....they ran a holiday promo
where the first 100 customers could pay a lump-sum flat-fee and get
chart updates for LIFE. I of course paid up and took advantage of
that one, so I now get all WAC's, TAC's, IFR Hi & Low, VFR
Sectionals, and approach charts for no more recurring fees,
forever. It's truly a fantastic thing.
Anyway, on to the hardware. I run this all on a Motion Computing
LE1600 tablet. I have a car charger semi-permanent mounted in my
sidewall so I can just plug the tablet in and charge it in-flight
anytime I want. I have a Holux Bluetooth GPS
(about $60 ... painted flat black) that is also semi-permanently
mounted on my glareshield that I use to provide GPS to the Voyager
software, and to my street mapping software for in-car use. This
not only provides for charts that show my position on them at all
times, but also an entire independent, self-battery-supplied system for
navigation if all else should fail. The Tablet comes in handy in
hotels and at FBO's if I need to get on the internet and email anyone,
and in general, it's awesome utility to bring a PC like this
along. I use a soft roll-up silicone keyboard that I can leave in
the plane or in the luggage, for times when I may be doing extended
text entry. The combination works very very well for most
things. I got the tablet on Ebay from a good seller, and one VERY
IMPORTANT feature was that it has the "View Anywhere" screen for better
There is one catch....it came with a standard 30GB hard drive, which I
upgraded to a 60Gb model, but they're awful slow at 4800rpm. Note
that LE1600's came with a couple types of hard drives, some are "ZIF"
(like mine) and some have a more standard connector. So, if you
do this mod, be sure to inspect yours before you buy the replacement
hardware, so you get the right stuff. The thorn in the side of
the tablet though is that hard drive. Not only is it slow, but in
general, ALL HARD DRIVES get real error prone when used at high
altitude. The drive heads rely on the cusion of air under them,
to keep the head from crashing on the disk. At 10,000' or more,
I've seen my tablet barely boot. That's a real pain.
Sometimes you want to USE your charts enroute. The only real
option is a Solid State (Electronic) Hard drive (SSD). But, that
too brings you a problem. When I started shopping for SSD's a
year ago, you could ONLY buy 32GB versions or less. Those were
about $800. When 64GB versions came out, the cost about
$1200. The prices are currently about $499 and $799
respectively. I waited a WHOLE YEAR for these prices to drop, and
they did, but man, usually electronics become cheaper than that.
So, I started to long for something different....something that I could
use ANY time.
There is a newer LE1700 that would make a good system. It's got a
dual-core processor, holds more memory, and they have an even better
new ULTRA VIEW ANYWHERE screen. The downside is mainly that it's
a got lots more pixels than this one does...it's 1400x1050, as opposed
to the LE1600's 1024x768. You may be thinking bigger is better,
but in mapping software like this, bigger means more pixels means
slower, and more map loaded at one time. So ideally, I'd get an
LE1700 which is now just recently available STOCK with an SSD, and have
a standard res scree, but I'd have to settle for the higher-res if I
got it. And, the worst part??? Price. I'd pay well into at
least $3000-3200 range to get the SSD model with the Ultra View
Anywhere screen. My tablet cost me around $1700, and they now
sell for about $1000 if you look on Ebay for the same versions.
What to do, what to do?
Well, one day recently I was JUST about to bite the bullet and just buy
an LE1700 or even a different brand of convertable tablet/laptop, when
I ran across a forum thread that INSTANTLY struck me. The guy
said he was going to try a ZIF to CF adapter that he got on Ebay for
UNDER $10. Then he reported back that IT WORKED!! That was
all it took. For about $10 or so I ordered up a ZIF to CF adapter
from a great eBay Seller who goes by the id "i88990"....actually a
Chinese seller. (you can get them other places...even Newegg.com, I
think!) I ordered my 32GB CF Card from Newegg.com for $100.
Note that this one is a 233X speed card, which you'll want to get at
least that fast. It will compare greatly with the standard hard
drive...it may even seem faster. But, there are some very
recently introduced cards by one company that are now pushing 50GB and
100GB or 64GB, at speeds of 233X to 333X, which would be awesome.
They're expensive, but as the price comes down, the upgrade will be a
BREEZE! One other benefit....my tablet has a PCMCIA card slot, so
using a PCMCIA to CF adapter, I put a 2nd 32GB CF card in the PC slot,
and now I have a 32GB C: Drive and a 32GB D: Drive. The D: Drive
is just for file storage and stuff. You can fit an entire Voyager
install, with all it's charts, and MS Office and a map program and more
all onto the 32GB C: Drive without problem.
So below you'll see photos of the mod. Basically, you just use
Norton Ghost or similar to copy the partition of your old drive off to
some other server (This step you can eliminate if you're willing to
re-install windows from scratch), pull the old drive, (learn how to
open ZIF connectors before you force them apart), stick the CF card in
the rubber shock mount and plug it in, and then use Norton Ghost to
restore your partition back onto the CF Card. Wala, it
works!!!! If you don't yet own a tablet, but need one for charts,
just find any 30GB system with a ViewAnywhere screen, and it will be an
easy transition. Easier to clone a drive onto a same or larger
drive than it is to clone to a smaller.
The result?? For a couple hours of time, and $110-115 worth of parts, I
now have a tablet with a CF card as an SSD, that will be useable at any
altitude, and provide continuous chart coverage for all types of
navigational charts during my flights!
Ok, if you've just read the above, make sure you don't miss this.
The CF card method had been working OK for me, but on a recent trip it
started to get slow...really slow. Along with that, a friend of
mine wanted the same thing I had in a tablet, so I helped gather all
the parts for him and put one together. During the process I did
a bit of digging and research into the current state of Solid State
Drives (SSD's), and the speed of my CF Card. Well, my CF card is
a 233X card. 1X = 150Kb/s, so 233X roughly equals 35Mb/s.
That's not too awful when you consider what a 4200RPM 1.8" drive has
for throughput, but not great when you see what's available. As
it turned out, those CF cards actually sometimes don't get anywhere
near that performance. Yes, spending a lot for some 300X cards may help
with that, but you're still under 50Mb/s for the most part. Worse
than that, some of those cards won't always sustain more than 16Mb/s at
times, and the 35Mb/s is the READ speed...writes are slower.
Well, if you do a little browsing for SSD's, you'll find that REAL
SSD's can go over 50Mb/s, with many even 80-100Mb/s throughput.
And they were spec'd as high speed for read AND write. So, I
decided to buy these 2 tablets the real deal. Turns out prices
are better now, too. I paid $244 Shipped, for an MTRON MOBI 3000
32GB PATA ZIF drive, from http://www.Rocketdisk.com.
tablet uses the ZIF connector. To throw a big curve at me, the
LE1600 that I got for my friend used the OTHER type of drive that they
used in the LE1600...his came with a 60GB drive that used a 50-pin
Toshiba connector. Darn! That made it tougher. After
a bunch of digging, I finally found a Samsung MCBOE32G8APR-0XA00 on
eBay for $225 new. This drive worked well for me. A side
note about that though....with BIOS version A12, it did NOT boot, but
with BIOS version A09, it did. A quick ghosting of the original
drive onto the SSD and he was in business. Another side note...you
want an SLC version of the SSD, not the MLC if you buy one. They're
faster and more reliable so I hear. So how did it work?
Well, these SSD's really ROCK! They make the PC boot very
quickly...doing a full Windows XP boot in 20-30 seconds. (One note on
that, you'll get the fastest boots if you just make these tablets lean
and mean for charts only...add tons of bloatware to it and it will slow
down) Once they are up and running, everything is very zippy,
with no hard drive platters spinning, and no heads to shift. They
definitely make the LE1600's feel fast. To add to that, I removed
the standard memory from the tablet...512Mb onboard and 1GB installed,
and replaced it with a 2GB stick for $26 shipped. The 512Mb
auto-disables for some reason, so you only get 2GB, but memory is
important, and with SSD's, you're far better off with extra memory so
it isn't paging info to the SSD unnecessarily...even from a longevity
perspective. So my advice now is....if you want to go forth with
the CF card, fine. They make 50-pin or ZIF adapters for them that would
work fine, but make sure you buy nice fast CF cards, and expect them to
perhaps be liveable, but not too fast. Mine reasonable for a
while but it really got slow for some reason on my last trip. But
for an extra $100, I'd just do the real SSD. I did get one vendor
who said he could sell me a 64GB 50-pin SSD for I think $349 or $399,
so even those are coming down in price. But, I decided 32GB would
be fine, because I've decided not to over-use the tablet by installing
too much software on it. I want it to be fast, and not have any more
drive activity than necessary for longevity. This will now be a
great system for a long time.
A note on LE1600 buying: If you're considering this, you may want
to act quick. Not only are the LE1600's becoming harder to find,
but the SSD's for the 50-pin models are too. Yeah, you'll
probably always be able to buy one, but finding that ideal,
"ViewAnywhere" version of the screen, may be harder and harder.
For my pal, I gathered up an LE1600, with an add-on AC/DC charger, an
SSD and a USB enclosure for his old drive to use as a portable, all for
under $800. That's not a bad deal on a charting PC with an SSD,
when you consder at the time of this writing it would cost me over
$3000 for a new LE1700.
I decided to post this here because it's just an awesome way to get
into an EFB for cheap.....a used tablet, with a CF card system.