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Thread: GS-911 on a Budget

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    GS-911 on a Budget

    All together now: The cheapest thing on a BMW is the rider.

    I've ridden and worked on BMW motorcycles since I began riding /2 bikes in the early 1970s. These days, on-board computers and electronics are prevalent, and I thought it'd be interesting and useful to have a modern tool to assess function and assist in fault diagnosis on my current R1200R.

    My riding buddy Rad also has an R1200R, and both of us have been interested in HexCode's GS-911, which provides this specialized functionality. Rad left the computer setup to me; while not a computer expert, I'm comfortable in that environment, especially since I have another friend who's a first-rate computer resource when I need help.

    This thread isn't about using the GS-911 or the HexCode software. HexCode's online manual and help forums as well as MOA members' postings in the MOA forums all do a good job of showing how the GS-911 and its software work. Instead, this describes how we reduced the cost of buying the GS-911 and purchased a less-expensive older PC laptop to run the GS-911 software, as well as the challenges we faced getting the setup to behave as we wished.

    Buying a GS-911

    The GS-911's US Distributor is Ted Porter's Beemershop. Rad and I liked the GS-911 functionality but were put off by the cost. We did these things, and suggest them to lower your expenditure:

    a) Share the device. We decided to share a single GS-911 between us: we live fairly close so transferring the GS-911 back and forth isn't a chore. This halved the cost for each of us.

    b) Pick the right product. Because we each own only one bike, and don't envision buying additional BMWs (or at least not too many), the less expensive 10-VIN "Enthusiast" model was suitable. We have toured comfortably for years without significant roadside repairs. Hoping to keep that streak intact by working only in our garages, we chose the USB-only model, which was a bit less expensive than the Bluetooth one.

    c) Buy it on sale. Usually $299, the Enthusiast GS-911 USB was on sale in December 2013 for $269.

    The GS-911 (in computer parlance: a dongle) provides the USB connection between the bike's diagnostic connector and the user's computer. The real magic is the HexCode GS-911 software, an application that runs on the user's computer and allows the user to view and change many aspects of the bike's electrical life. However, don't connect the GS-911 to your computer just yet - wait until you've been instructed to do so by the HexCode software.

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    Last edited by dbrick; 01-11-2014 at 03:46 PM. Reason: punctuation
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    What Computer Should We Use?

    The HexCode software runs on Windows PCs only, and my sole computer is a Macintosh. How could Rad and I both use the GS-911?

    We considered using Rad's PC laptop, but discarded that idea because while he can use it at home, it's really his wife's computer and holds her business files. It's OK for him to use it in their garage, but it'd be a stretch to use it in mine: her files are private, and should stay under her control.

    The HexCode software can run on multiple computers, as the GS-911's VIN record is maintained in the dongle itself, and not in the software. Thus, we also thought about running the Hexcode software on both Rad's wife's PC laptop (for him) and on my Mac (for me); my Mac laptop can run Windows applications. But the Mac is my only computer and, like Rad's wife, I didn't want my computer to be absent from my desk or get greasy in the garage. In the end, we didn't pursue the running-on-two-computers idea.


    Buying a Computer

    That left the option of obtaining a shared PC to run the Hexcode software; this turned out to be a viable solution. New PC laptops start in the $350 vicinity, but new wasn't necessary. Neither Rad nor I had an extra PC in our closet, but off-lease and rebuilt laptops are cheaper than new ones, and plain old used ones less expensive still. I considered buying from a Craigslist ad, but I wouldn't know the seller and while I'm familiar with and comfortable buying Macs, I felt less comfortable in PC-land.

    A lot of used computers are for sale on eBay. I looked for a PC with a 12" or 13" screen (big enough to read easily but small enough to carry on a bike if we wanted) and 2 gigabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory), all from a seller with a good rating and reasonable return privileges if the computer showed up and didn't work. Because the computer's operating system (a version of Windows) and the HexCode application would be the only software we'd use, we didn't need a large hard drive; in addition, for our use, the speed of the computer's CPU (its Central Processing Unit, or "brain") was irrelevant. Because I planned to install a fresh operating system after the computer arrived, the particular OS it had (or even if it had no OS) didn't matter either, although the computer would need a DVD drive to run the HexCode software, one would have to be available to install the new OS. eBay's search tools (on the left side of the eBay window) made it easy to specify what I wanted, without having to scroll through thousands of listings for computers and parts.

    There were many suitable candidates starting at $65 and ending in the stratosphere. I bought a used Hewlett-Packard NC4200, a 12" PC laptop; the seller had a half-dozen for sale. When new in 2006, the NC4200 sold for about $1700; I paid $101 for this used one, including shipping. The NC4200 has no built-in DVD drive, but came with an external DVD drive that connected with a USB cable. Running the HexCode software won't require a DVD drive; without an internal DVD drive, the computer itself could be lighter and smaller - although this nine-year-old model still weighed almost 4 pounds. Smaller than a 13"-15" laptop, it could more easily be carried onboard if we chose.
    Last edited by dbrick; 05-03-2014 at 02:53 PM.
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    Arrival and First-Time Startup

    The computer arrived. Here it is, along with its power supply and cables, and the external DVD drive and its USB cable:

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    I plugged in the power supply and turned it on: the computer started up, loaded the Windows XP operating system (OS), and ran correctly. The OS controls the computer hardware, and allows a computer to run other applications - in our case, the HexCode GS-911 software. I'll return to the OS shortly.

    Because I didn't know where this computer had been, and how it had been cared for security-wise by its previous owner(s), it might be hosting viruses. If viruses were present, and I connected the computer to my home network, a virus might migrate from this computer to other computers connected to the network. Thus, I did not at this point connect the computer to my home network, either via Ethernet (cable) or wi-fi.
    Last edited by dbrick; 01-10-2014 at 05:47 PM.
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    Digital Cleanliness

    The conclusive method to make sure there aren't any viruses present on a computer is to reformat the computer's hard drive, which erases everything on the drive, and then load a fresh operating system. Thereafter, be assiduous about installing software updates and careful about net connection and security. The ongoing tasks will be simple for Rad and me as this computer would be used only to run the GS-911 software, and would not be used for email or browsing the web.

    A new operating system is installed on the computer's hard drive using an installer program; the installer is usually contained on a DVD inserted in the computer's DVD drive. (Some current computers download their OS from the manufacturers' websites, or maintain a separate part of the computer's internal hard drive that contains an OS installer.)

    Windows XP -> Windows 7

    The NC4200 came with the Windows XP operating system already installed. My friend had an unopened retail-package Windows 7, a more recent OS, that he'd bought for a computer now long gone; he contributed it to the project. Having to buy an OS would of course have increased our cost; as I write this, Amazon sells Windows 7 for $89.

    Loading the Windows 7 Installer

    The first task was to load the Windows 7 installer into the new computer; the installer would reformat the NC4200's hard drive and install the fresh operating system. Reformatting the drive required the computer to start up ("boot") from the external DVD drive. With the computer off and after making sure the Windows 7 DVD was in the external DVD drive and that the drive was plugged into the NC4200's powered USB port, I turned the computer on. The external drive spun up and the screen displayed "To boot from an external DVD drive, press any key." I pressed and held the "a" key until the computer acknowledged with a beep, then I released the key. Windows loaded a lot of files...slowly...with a thermometer across the bottom of the screen indicating progress. Finally, the Windows 7 installer appeared on the screen.

    Reformatting the Hard Drive and Loading Windows 7

    Reformatting the hard drive and installing a fresh OS are both done by the Windows 7 installer. The screen prompts are easy to follow. One must specifically direct that the hard drive be reformatted: when the installer screen asks "Which type of installation do you want?" select "Custom." The installer screen will then ask "Where do you want to Install Windows?" Respond by clicking on "Drive Options," then select "Format."

    Reformatting a drive erases all the data on the drive. To protect user files and prevent their inadvertent erasure, installers don't make it easy to reformat a hard drive - many warnings are given, and the user must several times confirm that reformatting will completely erase all information on the drive. I didn't have any data on the drive, and to ensure there were no viruses, did want the drive erased and reformatted. The OS installation also required that I enter the Microsoft product key provided with the retail package DVD, to verify that the software was legitimate and legal.

    After the installation was complete, I shut the computer off and disconnected the DVD drive. Then I turned it on again, checking to see that the computer booted Windows 7 from the internal hard drive. It did.

    OS Updating and Wi-Fi Challenges

    Making sure the OS was updated was next; updating is accomplished by connecting the computer to Microsoft's update servers on the net. I wanted the computer's wi-fi operable, to connect to our local network and the net; in our use, an Ethernet (cable) connection would be very inconvenient. This did not go well: following the directions in Windows 7's help files led to a dead end - the computer did not display a wi-fi icon and thus would not connect to my available wi-fi network; in fact, no networks appeared. Further, the OS's Device Manager, one of the computer's Control Panels that shows what hardware is present, didn't show the presence of the necessary hardware, a wi-fi networking card.

    With some web searching, I learned that Windows 7 was introduced several years after the NC4200 computer was first sold, and that H-P never provided drivers for Windows 7 - "drivers" are small bits of computer code that enable the CPU to talk to the hardware. With no drivers, wi-fi with Windows 7 on this computer appeared to be a non-starter.
    Last edited by dbrick; 03-20-2014 at 03:47 PM. Reason: punctuation
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    Back to XP and Wifi Success

    I shifted into reverse and backtracked: I found an XP install disk and a product key, and reloaded Windows XP, the older OS that had been on the computer when we received it

    With XP running again, wi-fi still didn't show up in the Task Bar (the bar across the bottom of the screen), and wi-fi hardware still didn't show up in the Device Manager. This was frustrating: the eBay listing said this unit contained a wi-fi network card, and the seller had a first-rate satisfaction rating among his customers.

    My computer friend is more familiar with PCs than I am, and thought that the appropriate wi-fi driver might still be missing. On our adjacent working computer, we went to the H-P support site, followed the link to the Downloads page, and searched for "NC4200." This yielded a list of drivers for download, suitable for an NC4200 running the XP operating system. We downloaded the networking and wifi drivers, copied them onto a USB flash drive, moved the flash drive to one of the NC4200's USB sockets, and then copied the files onto the NC4200. We installed them and the wi-fi icon immediately appeared in the NC4200's Task Bar; clicking the icon brought up a window listing available wi-fi networks, including mine, and walked us through the connecting process. Success!


    Security and OS Updates for XP

    With the computer connected to the wi-fi network and the net beyond, it was time to download and install security and OS updates. From the Windows XP "Start" menu, I began by seeking updates to Microsoft Security Essentials. The download repeatedly stalled mid-way and appeared to make no progress. After several attempts, I gave up, removed the application from the computer (using XP's "Add or Remove Programs" Control Panel ) and downloaded Avira Free Antivirus, which loaded and run without incident.

    I had no better luck with Windows Update, which uses Microsoft's Internet Explorer: the Updater spent hours "Checking for the latest updates for your computer" but never presented results. This might have been connected to Microsoft's upcoming (early 2014) termination of support for XP. In any event, I abandoned Windows Update.

    Loading the HexCode Software

    With a reformatted hard drive, fresh security but no updated OS, the computer was now ready to load the HexCode's GS-911 software.

    While Microsoft's Internet Explorer must be used for OS updates, I wanted to use Mozilla Firefox for downloading the HexCode software. I downloaded Firefox from the Mozilla website and installed it. Then using Firefox and following the instructions on HexCode's website, I downloaded the HexCode Downloader. This application examines your computer's OS, and advises which version of the HexCode GS-911 software is appropriate. For us, the Downloader presented both the current Windows version of the GS-911 software, as well as the current beta (that is, provisional and still under development) version; both versions can be loaded and used in the same computer. We downloaded the beta version, and given security concerns, then turned wi-fi off.

    Installing the HexCode software was frustrating. At the installation seemed to finish, the Avira virus scanner repeatedly identified some part of the installation as dangerous, and halted the installation. I tried it again with the same result. I found no way to override Avira's block. I then uninstalled the Avira software, rebooted the computer, and ran the HexCode installer again. This time, the HexCode software was loaded correctly and the GS-911 introductory screen popped right up.

    The software was easy to manipulate, and did just what HexCode said it would.
    Last edited by dbrick; 01-11-2014 at 03:48 PM.
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    Moving Forward Without Burning Bridges

    I still wanted to use Windows 7; it's newer than XP, still supported by Microsoft, and felt quicker, but its lack of wi-fi connectivity had stopped me. With XP now running adequately, the pressure was off. I spent some time online, reading discussion boards and posts about the NC4200. With XP running, the Device Manager now showed the wi-fi network board to be an Intel PRO/Wireless 2200BG.

    While I wanted to use Windows 7, I didn't want to overwrite our now-working XP installation, which would make XP unusable, and then possibly still be unable to get Windows 7 to operate and connect to wi-fi as I wished. To preserve the computer's hard drive (with its working XP installation), I found a used 2.5" hard drive locally, removed the NC4200's caddy (a metal frame that contained the computer's hard drive), removed the drive from the caddy, installed the used 2.5" drive in the caddy, and reinstalled the caddy with the newly-acquired drive back in the laptop; these steps took only a few minutes with a small Phillips screwdriver. I retained the old XP hard drive just in case.

    Now I could work on a Windows 7 installation and operation while retaining our ability to switch hard drives and use the HexCode software under XP. I inserted the Windows 7 install disk in the DVD drive, plugged the drive into the NC4200, turned the computer on, and installed Windows 7 on the newly-acquired hard drive. As before, Windows 7 was loaded without incident.

    Windows 7 Wi-fi Success

    And as before, the wi-fi didn't work. Neither H-P (the computer manufacturer) nor Intel (the network board manufacturer) provided drivers for this particular network board running under Windows 7. However, other users reported that Intel drivers for Windows Vista would work, and pointed out a half-dozen other drivers that might. I downloaded them all on my other machine, moved the files to the NC4200 using a USB flash drive, and installed them on the PC.

    I tried the most recent Intel driver for Vista (9.1.1.15) first. I used the driver's own installer; working from within the PC's network board itself or the running OS on the laptop wasn't available, because the network board - having no viable driver then installed - didn't show up in the Windows 7 Device Manager. (I learned later that H-P's Wireless Assistant, an application that I could have found on the net, might have enabled the network card to show up in the Device Manager even without a driver.)

    This approach was successful: after installation and a reboot, the wi-fi icon appeared in the Task Bar and the wi-fi connected to my home network.

    Updating Windows 7

    With wi-fi available, Windows 7 would work as our OS. I now returned to updating: navigating to "Windows Update" launched Internet Explorer. Checking for updates found more than ninety. Because updates will only load one at a time, and only in the correct order, the user must run Update, then run it again, and keep running it again until the update page returns "No new updates available." I elected to not load the "optional" updates, and still had to run Update five times to load forty-five updates; it took several hours.

    I assume that internet security is better integrated in Windows 7, for I was presented with no exhortations to "check" or "update" security, and was shown only a reassuring "Your computer is protected" message. While emotionally reassured, the cynic in me remains wholly unconvinced.

    Loading and Running the HexCode Software

    I again downloaded Firefox from the Mozilla website and installed it to use as my web browser. Because a user can run multiple copies of the HexCode software, there was no difficulty in downloading it a second time for the Windows 7 OS; with no Avira security in place, there were also no Avira installation headaches. The HexCode software ran just as it should. The intro screen looks like this:

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    All in All

    There were significant detours, but in the end Rad and I moved from "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if we could..." to "Wow!" If we'd spent more money to purchase a newer laptop, some of the detours might have been avoided. But I liked the challenge, and enjoyed learning instead of just writing a larger check.

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    Last edited by dbrick; 02-21-2014 at 06:18 PM. Reason: spelling
    David Brick
    Santa Cruz CA
    2007 R1200R

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    Quote Originally Posted by dbrick View Post
    The HexCode software runs on Windows PCs only, and my sole computer is a Macintosh. How could Rad and I both use the GS-911?

    We considered using Rad's PC laptop, but discarded that idea because while he can use it at home, it's really his wife's computer and holds her business files. It's OK for him to use it in their garage, but it'd be a stretch to use it in mine: her files are private, and should stay under her control.

    The HexCode software can run on multiple computers, as the GS-911's VIN record is maintained in the dongle itself, and not in the software. Thus, we also thought about running the Hexcode software on both Rad's wife's PC laptop (for him) and on my Mac (for me); my Mac laptop can run Windows applications. But the Mac is my only computer and, like Rad's wife, I didn't want my computer to be absent from my desk or get greasy in the garage. In the end, we didn't pursue the running-on-two-computers idea.


    Buying a Computer

    That left the option of obtaining a shared PC to run the Hexcode software; this turned out to be a viable solution. New PC laptops start in the $350 vicinity, but new wasn't necessary. Neither Rad nor I had an extra PC in our closet, but off-lease and rebuilt laptops are cheaper than new ones, and plain old used ones less expensive still. I considered buying from a Craigslist ad, but I wouldn't know the seller and while I'm familiar with and comfortable buying Macs, I felt less comfortable in PC-land.

    A lot of used computers are for sale on eBay. I looked for a PC with a 12" or 13" screen (big enough to read easily but small enough to carry on a bike if we wanted) and 2 gigabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory), all from a seller with a good rating and reasonable return privileges if the computer showed up and didn't work. Because the computer's operating system (a version of Windows) and the HexCode application would be the only software we'd use, we didn't need a large hard drive; in addition, for our use, the speed of the computer's CPU (its Central Processing Unit, or "brain") was irrelevant. Because I planned to install a fresh operating system after the computer arrived, the particular OS it had (or even if it had no OS) didn't matter either, although the computer would need a DVD drive. eBay's search tools (on the left side of the eBay window) made it easy to specify what I wanted, without having to scroll through thousands of listings for computers and parts.

    There were many suitable candidates starting at $65 and ending in the stratosphere. I bought a used Hewlett-Packard NC4200, a 12" PC laptop; the seller had a half-dozen for sale. When new in 2006, the NC4200 sold for about $1700; I paid $101 for this used one, including shipping. The NC4200 has no built-in DVD drive, but came with an external DVD drive that connected with a USB cable. Running the HexCode software won't require a DVD drive; without an internal DVD drive, the computer itself could be lighter and smaller - although this nine-year-old model still weighed almost 4 pounds. Smaller than a 13"-15" laptop, it could more easily be carried onboard if we chose.
    You can some time get used laptops at GoodWill. $10 to $30.

  8. #8
    Ed Kilner #176066
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    An excellent set of posts

    I have been considering a GS 911, and this was informative.

    Will likely pay for a new laptop to support on- trip video editing and wifi, etc.
    Ed
    2011 R1200RT Thunder Gray Metallic; 2000 Triumph 900(sold)
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    rabid reader dbrick's Avatar
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    Thanks, Ed. I'm glad it was helpful.

    You will have seen several other threads on the Forum that discuss the new HexCode GS-911, now in beta testing. The new model can connect via USB, like the current model, but also connect using wi-fi; the wi-fi mode will operate with any computer or smartphone (even Macs) that have wifi and a web browser. I don't know when the new model will hit the market, but it will give you more choices for your setup.
    David Brick
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    2007 R1200R

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    BMW Pilot runnr548's Avatar
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    Cool

    GS-911BT I bought last year is awesome! On our first trip out used it with my Android cell & it saved the day. At home I use it with a Asus convertible laptop/tablet & it ROCKS! The Asus was $169.00 new running Windows 8...touchscreen...etc... I enjoy playing with old PC's, but decided to go with new and spend more time doing other things.

  11. #11
    2011 R1200RT ka5ysy's Avatar
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    MAC USERS, you are still in the game !

    Monday I had to reload an operating system on my Macbook Air, using Parallels 9 and decided to do so with Windows 8.1 (gasp!) because I could not locate my old XP install disks .

    For those unfamiliar with Mac's, we have the ability to run native windows standalone, the OS-X native Mac OS standalone, or by installing Parallels, a third party PC emulation system, any of several other operating systems including Windows as if it were running on a hardware PC box. Depending on how you configure it, your computer will look like a Mac desktop and show the Windows app icon, or it will look like the initial Windows (or Linux, etc) inside a pop-up window screen which can be expanded full screen.

    I did a full setup with Parallels 9 and let it do the install of the Windows 8.1 system, then I accessed the GS-911 website and downloaded the appropriate updated drivers. When it instructed me to plug in the GS-911, I did so and it loaded the proper drivers, updated the firmware and then went into the testing software. Having just finished an oil change, I needed to reset the service reminder, and the unit did so without any problem.

    Other than taking time to reinstall Parallels and add the OS, the whole thing ran flawlessly. The tool works as advertised without any problems with running under Parallels and the current Windows system software, and you do not have to purchase a Windows PC or laptop to use the GS-911 .

    I only have one other program that is native PC, and that is the Stamps.com system. They steadfastly do not want to write a native OS-X version, so I am stuck with using Parallels and their program to do my mailing.


    Parallels information is here:

    http://www.parallels.com/landingpage...FRBk7AodqgUAJw
    Doug, 2011 R1200RT Polar Metallic
    MSF #127350 NAUI #36288

  12. #12
    Cam Killer marchyman's Avatar
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    If you are an infrequent windows user the free Virtual Box software also works quite well for hosting windows on your Mac. I can run windows in an OS X window, save windows output in a place where I can grab it under OS X, and copy and paste between the two systems.

    Probably not as feature rich as Parallels (or Fusion), but the price was right for my use. I've been using VirtualBox for the RepROM, GS-911, and other windows only software for years. I have it on both my desktop and my laptop.

    https://www.virtualbox.org/

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    Appreciate the Mac info guys. Got a 2008 vintage MacBook that got ram crammed and had its slow HD replaced by an SSD so plan to use it for a while yet.
    I run my GS-911 stuff on a 6 cell ASUS netbook with XP OS and on a current HP portable with SSD running 8.1 (what a pos that is- it makes Vista look good). Both also hold all 5 of our shop manuals loaded whether as pdf's or the RepROM format. The netbook is the bike computer except when I need the editing capabilities of the faster HP (netbook ATOM processors are not exactly rocketships)

  14. #14
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    Great write-up!

    I have had a GS 911 for a few months now. Really a great device.

    For full functionality, which includes the maintenance functions you need the GS 911 hooked to a PC. I prefer to travel light and quit carrying a laptop on most trips a few years ago. With the Bluetooth version you can use a compatible phone or tablet. The maintenance functions like parking stepper motors aren't available but the functions you are likely to need in most likely roadside situations are. There isn't an apple app available. I use a Nexus 7 and pairing to the GS 911 is always quick and easy.

    For those that wrench on their own bikes or travel I think it's a worthwhile investment. With the dealer network scarce in some areas at least having the ability to read fault codes could be a real help.

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