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Observatory computer?

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#26 psonice

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 04:31 PM

Sounds like a good setup. Even if that fan freezes, if the CPU starts getting warm it'll warm the fan enough to get it going again :)

Actually, if conditions are going to get THAT bad... how about condensation / melting ice buildups? Not a good mix in a computer. In an obsy, maybe not an issue, but if you're planning to use it outside maybe put it in a wooden box or something?

Also, I recommend a cheap lcd screen. Not for actual use, just to see what happens when it gets really cold :D

#27 mclewis1

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Posted 17 November 2010 - 07:27 PM

I have the cheap LCD ($79 and has alternate video inputs for things like my Mallincam). I'm also curious about how well it will handle the cold. It will be somewhat protected ... under a dew hood when in use, in the unheated garage when not. Condensation is indeed a concern, especially as I'm planning to move up to a true 24x7 observatory in the near future. I'm thinking that with the observatory I may be looking at keeping the PC in a slightly more enclosed space (the bay in a POD) and possibly adding some slight warming capabilities (low wattage bulb or something like the heating wand from Scopestuff). It will be interesting to see how much heat the 19v and 12V DC power supplies (for both the PC and the LCD) give off by themselves. The plan with the observatory is to have a dehumidifier run every once and a while to keep the humidity levels down.

If I could find a way to keep WinXP from writing to the disk every once and while I'd consider keeping the system powered on all the time. I may be able to enable hibernation or sleep functions as the BIOS supports the appropriate features. Low power modes will mean the system will still put out a bit of heat at the expense of only a few pennies per day of power consumption. Even running without any power management the system won't draw that much power. The external adapter is a 65w unit, with the SSD I figure the system will draw less than 30w and maybe even down to 20w or so.

#28 psonice

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Posted 18 November 2010 - 05:30 AM

LCDs start getting very slow when they get cold. If you ever used an LCD laptop in the olden days, it's like that. The colder it gets, the slower. At some point I think they stop working altogether.

As to keeping it running: put as much RAM as possible in there, and turn off the swap file, that helps. There's a ton of services you can disable that like to sit in the background poking the disk now and then, search for guides for that online. Then again, an SSD has zero moving parts, no disk spin up, low power usage and can wake up and sleep instantly, so this isn't much of an issue :)

The dehumidifier is a good plan, it'll help the optics too. Maybe put lots of water-attracting stuff around too, like those little packs of silicon crystals and some metal wool.

#29 mclewis1

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 03:02 PM

Ok, as promised a few pictures and some comments on setting up the new "observatory PC".

I installed a 2GB and 512MB memory modules (had the 512 from a previous laptop upgrade) and a 500GB 3.5" hard drive. Checked everything out in the BIOS and then started the install.

I configured a 30GB bootable partition, loaded up a copy of WinXP Home and then installed and configured the following apps ...

Drivers for: SPC900 webcam, NexImage, DSI-P, and Canon XT/350D
ASCOM 4.1 (yes I know it's older but it works and it's smaller), Celestron mount driver
Cartes du Ciel 3.2
AMCAP
WxAstrocapture
ManyCam
NexRemote
Nebulosity
PHD Guide
DSS Live

Then I installed a 30GB SSD (and now you know why I created a 30GB partition on the HDD), copied everything over (removed the HDD) and I now have a configured PC without any moving parts. Yes there is a small rear fan but it doesn't do too much and as I've mentioned before if it fails in the winter I don't think it will be a big deal. I also "tuned" WinXP for the SSD a little bit by turning off stuff like the swap file. The idea is to reduce or eliminate the OS from writing to one area of the SSD over and over again.

So, here are the pictures ...

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  • 4225914-PC 1.jpg


#30 mclewis1

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 03:03 PM

#2 ... the unit is basically similar in size to regular sheet of paper.

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  • 4225918-PC 2.jpg


#31 mclewis1

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 03:08 PM

#3 ... the most interesting thing here is the serial port ... that's right a real 9 pin RS232 port. Mount control will be done through this port, it means another cable but keeping it off of the USB ports means I get a USB-serial adapter back and in the event of problems it's very nice to have two different channels to work with (to prove functionality). Yes that is the external (laptop like) power supply.

The unit is a very interesting "hybrid" of laptop and desktop influences. CPU and RAM are laptop like (RAM is small SODIMM modules), HDD location is a 3.5" slot ... desktop like. There are some power saving capabilities in the BIOS but overall it feels more desktop like than laptop like.

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  • 4225927-PC 3.jpg


#32 mclewis1

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 03:16 PM

#4 Here you can see the "influences" I mentioned before. Also notice the SDD is bolted in on one side ... I didn't bother trying to add rails to it. Because of that I could have saved myself about $10 by ordering the SDD as a notebook upgrade not a desktop upgrade.

The total price was around $300 CAN (system, 2GB RAM, 30GB SDD). I already had the WinXP license. I would have been under $200 if I'd used my leftover memory and an older HDD. So far everything operates like my other desktop systems, all the cameras and mount controls work together. I run the unit remotely via a VNC module, there is no keyboard or display normally plugged in. The only connection is a 100Mb Ethernet line back to the house.

I was thinking of going wireless with either a USB module or by buying the microPCI card for this unit (it is pre wired for the 2 internal antennas). Because I may end up doing some video broadcasting (from a Mallincam) I've opted to stay with a hard wired connection for now.

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  • 4225943-PC 4.jpg


#33 rboe

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 04:51 PM

Pretty darn slick. :bow:

#34 psonice

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Posted 03 December 2010 - 07:04 PM

Yep, looks very good. Adequate ventilation combined with protection from the elements (could be a tough combination!) and I suspect that'll be rock solid for years to come. Only thing it may possibly be missing is 1Gb networking, but that could be added later (100Mb might be low if you end up doing video over it, depending on how the video is compressed, but it might be enough).

#35 mclewis1

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Posted 05 December 2010 - 12:23 PM

PC Connectivity Diagram

Here is how the observatory PC is connected to the various mount and imaging components.

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  • 4229879-PC connectivity diagram.JPG


#36 WhistleStop

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 10:42 AM

That's some neat rig...where did you buy the unit here in Canada ?
I'm looking to replicate the setup for my obs which is 70 feet from the house...currently warm up laptop in the house and put it in an insulated box with small heater in the obs.
If I can get the same unit here in Ontario I'd seriously consider following in your footsteps
Cheers
Lynn
www.nightoverontario.com

#37 mclewis1

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 03:32 PM

Lynn,

I got the ECS system unit off of Amazon.ca so no shipping costs (and where it appears that they are now out of stock, and the price has gone up :ohgeeze: ). The SSD and the RAM were also mail order (Newegg.ca I believe). Unless I can completely control the shipping (and ensure that the seller uses USPS and not a courier) I won't order from the US :shameonyou: . It appears that I'm not alone in my preferences, I'm noticing quite a few more of the major mail order places have Canadian versions ... I believe that even when they ship from the US that they have already taken care of any duties and ship from a controlled warehouse, they also add the GST up front.

The primary reason for my observatory PC being configured like this is because I want to use it unattended ... remotely viewed from inside the house. Currently there isn't an observatory, the scope is rolled out from the garage. The PC will get a prolonged "cold soak" on these winter nights.

Because the scope isn't permanently mounted (yet) I still have to interact with it for the initial setup and alignment, and this is the only time I need a display. I'm going to try an inexpensive small LCD display, but it will be interesting to see if it handles prolonged cold. The alternative is to bring the LCD in after each use or go with the insulated box idea.

Nice website by the way. :waytogo:

#38 WhistleStop

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 05:06 PM

Thanks Mark...I've ordered the unit from Amazon and will await new stock...also ordered the parts from NewEgg.

Any other advice ??
I'm not a computer whiz but have managed to install HDD's, video cards and new power supply...so this is a good next step.
It will be nice to have a more robust XP machine in the obs.
Thanks for the comments re web page...lots of fun.
Cheers
Lynn

#39 tjay

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 06:29 PM

Lynn,

I got the ECS system unit off of Amazon.ca so no shipping costs (and where it appears that they are now out of stock, and the price has gone up :ohgeeze: ). The SSD and the RAM were also mail order (Newegg.ca I believe). Unless I can completely control the shipping (and ensure that the seller uses USPS and not a courier) I won't order from the US :shameonyou: . It appears that I'm not alone in my preferences, I'm noticing quite a few more of the major mail order places have Canadian versions ... I believe that even when they ship from the US that they have already taken care of any duties and ship from a controlled warehouse, they also add the GST up front.

The primary reason for my observatory PC being configured like this is because I want to use it unattended ... remotely viewed from inside the house. Currently there isn't an observatory, the scope is rolled out from the garage. The PC will get a prolonged "cold soak" on these winter nights.

Because the scope isn't permanently mounted (yet) I still have to interact with it for the initial setup and alignment, and this is the only time I need a display. I'm going to try an inexpensive small LCD display, but it will be interesting to see if it handles prolonged cold. The alternative is to bring the LCD in after each use or go with the insulated box idea.

Nice website by the way. :waytogo:


Mark, have you considered using a old CRT monitor instead of an LCD? They don't have the issue with getting sluggish in the cold...

#40 mclewis1

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:12 PM

Tom,

Yes that would be a good option ... I'd need to find a relatively small one. I wish I could use my Speco 9" CRT (a preferred monitor for video imaging). That way I could kill two birds with one stone (the Speco spends a lot of time around the telescope).

#41 mclewis1

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Posted 06 December 2010 - 08:51 PM

Lynn,

Do you have a CD of WinXP?
Memory is 533Mhz DDR2 SODIMM modules ... look under laptop memory. A 2GB module should be under $30 CAN. You'll probably only be able to find 667 or 800Mhz modules ... they will be fine. I'd probably go with a 2GB and a 1GB module, the other option is 2 x 2GB and waste 750MB. Memory is cheap and more means less accessing the SSD which means a longer SSD lifespan.

I bought the Kingston 30GB SSD upgrade package. It comes with a bootable CD that contains a disk copy utility. I swapped a 3.5" HDD between the system unit and an external USB enclosure when I was building it up. The ECS system only has one SATA connector so you can't have both the SSD and HDD running internally. Like I mentioned in an earlier post if you go this route (the Kingston kit) get the notebook version, you won't need the rails.

I did all the swapping back and forth because I had already created a 30GB partition with my astronomy apps on another PC (for testing). I was also unsure if the PC I ultimately ended up with would have a CD/DVD reader on it. The ECS unit does have the slime line DVD built in so you could forgo all the HDD swapping and simply install the SDD, boot XP from a CD and continue with the installation.

There is a manual on the ECS site (link in an earlier post), it's for the motherboard and not the system itself but is useful for all the BIOS information. You likely won't have to make any changes but it's there if needed. There is also a quick guide installation document, it's useful since it tells you how to open the cabinet (not obvious the first time), and how to easily get at the carrier for the 3.5" HDD. One thing that wasn't obvious to me even with the guide was that the side panels simply slide off once the back cover has been removed.

Everything basically went smoothly during my build/installation with no real surprises. With WinXP loaded (Dell OEM version) I had a semi functional system (no network, basic video, etc.), and once the drivers on the included CD were loaded everything started working as advertised.

#42 psonice

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 06:40 AM

On the screen side, how about something along these lines: http://www.scan.co.u...0-350-cd-m-4001

It's tiny, USB powered.. you could put it in your pocket and take it out with you whenever you go out to the scope. Pretty inconvenient to use though on account of the small size/low res, and quite expensive. I guess it's not going to work in bios/safe mode etc. too.

Well, maybe there's a tiny VGA USB powered screen out there for a reasonable price?

#43 WhistleStop

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 09:12 AM

Thanks Mark....I got confused on the memory, so it will take 2-2GB modules, 200pin DDR2,533 (Laptop) ?
I have a XP CD so no need for the Hard drive...right ?
The rest seems pretty straight forward.
If I run into any problems I trust I can pick your brain :)
Thanks again
Cheers
Lynn

#44 mclewis1

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 10:10 AM

Lynn,

Yes on the memory (2 slots, 4Gb max)
Yes on not needing the HDD, you should be just fine letting Windows setup the SSD.
Yes on the brain picking ... but no guarantees on getting anything useful.

:smirk:

#45 psonice

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 10:46 AM

Just to make that a little clearer: the SSD IS the HDD. The only difference is one has a spinning disk inside, the other has chips, but as far as the computer and windows is concerned they are the same thing.

#46 WhistleStop

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 01:08 PM

Thanks Mark...BTW, any point in upgrading to 64GB Kingston SSD...? I will be running the OS (XP) and camera capture software and planetarium programs.. The SkyX professional, CCD Soft, Gemini system for mount, PinPoint,etc....
Might be safer to bump up the GB's
Cheers
Lynn

#47 mclewis1

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 03:53 PM

Lynn,

I don't know about the capacity issue. I just looked at my system and the c: drive (the SSD) has 6.3GB used. That's with ...

WinXP Home (swap file turned off)
ASCOM 4
Nebulosity
PHD Guide
NexRemote
Cartes du Ciel with the big catalogs loaded
Meade Envisage
Canon EOS utility
and a bunch of other small items

Yeah the extra capacity is always good insurance ... and if you ever plan to upgrade to Win7 it's probably a good idea to have extra. The one that I would be interesting in the total size of is The SkyX Pro, with the graphics I'll bet it's quite large. Otherwise I think you'll be surprised about just how little space everything else uses ... I know I was.

#48 Paula E

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 06:12 PM

TSX Pro is about 2.5GB in size.
If you add the addon database disk this can be up to 200GB. (10GB for UCAC3, 125GB for NOMAD, 60GB for the Palomar DSS images.)

#49 WhistleStop

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 06:24 PM

Thanks...I'm going to stick with the 30GB for now. Yes, SkyX Pro is about 2.5GB and PinPoint has the Guide Star catalog and that's big...I won't be adding the SkyX add ons....they would need a drive of their own !!
Thanks for the help
Cheers
Lynn

#50 psonice

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Posted 07 December 2010 - 06:57 PM

Best bet would be a smallish SSD as the main drive for this usage I think. If you need more space, add an extra HDD for data storage. You could put that on the network so it can stay nice and warm indoors :)


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