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MINIX NEO Z83-4 mini PC is In The House

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#1 james7ca

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 07:27 AM

Just received one of these today from Amazon and I'm going through the process of setting it  up for use as a scope-mounted PC. These units cost $170 (U.S.) and can be ordered direct from Amazon. Here are the basic specs:

 

MINIX NEO Z83-4

Atom X5-Z8300, quad core, 1.44/1.84GHz(burst) 

Fanless (images online show a very large internal heat sink that contacts the metal bottom of the case)

Windows 10 (64-bit), fully licensed

4GB DRAM

32GB eMMC Internal Flash Storage

Dual-Band Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.2 with external Antenna (which is a good thing)

Gigabit Ethernet

3 x USB2, 1 x USB3

HDMI and DisplayPort video outputs (simultaneous, dual display)

Analog audio in/out and audio over HDMI

Gigabit Ethernet

Transflash/microSD card slot

12VDC operation (user manual says the computer draws only 1A, but the power supply outputs up to 3A for any attached peripherals).

Dimensions 5" x 5" x 1.25" (approximately, not counting the WiFi antenna)

 

Thus far everything seems to be working fine. But, here are a few comments:

 

The Transflash/microSD card needs to be inserted with the card contacts facing UP (this seems upside down, I don't know if all units are like this).

 

Unfortunately, the Transflash/microSD card write performance seems to be pretty slow, about one half the speed that I've gotten on the 2016 Intel Compute Stick. The best I've measured on writes is about 40MB/s in the card slot. On the USB3 port with a card reader I've gotten up to 70MB/s, and on the USB2 port about 40MB/s. The microSD card slot on the Intel Compute Stick gets about 70MB/s on writes with the same card. The read speed is much better, about 70MB/s. But this is still worse than on the Intel Compute Stick where reads are about 90MB/s.

 

I've got to admit, this was one of my concerns/reservations about getting this unit, because I knew that the card slot on the Intel Compute Stick worked very well. If the slot is really limited to 40MB/s writes then this could impact the usefulness of this unit for high-speed, planetary image capture. It's always got to be something. I still wish someone would come out with a similar device using the faster Atom X7-Z8700 because that chip has twice the memory bandwidth and twice the number of PCI Express lanes (Z8300 is 1x1, Z8700 is 2x1/1x2). Of course, the Z8700 is a little more expensive (a few dollars, direct from Intel) but I suspect that the faster i/o and memory configurations would also increase the cost.

 

I've check the SD driver and everything seems to be up to date and I also have write caching enabled for the port.

 

Other than the above (and thus far, I still have a lot of setup and testing to complete) everything seems to be working well. I was able to make a system image backup to an external hard drive and I was also able to connect an external CD/DVD drive to the Minix and create a recovery disk. The WiFi connected immediately to my 5GHz Apple Airport Time Capsule and I haven't noticed any problems with the WiFi (as yet). I'm hoping that with the external antenna I can get some better wireless performance over what I observed on the Intel Compute Stick. 

 

I haven't yet tried to reduce the size of the system installation, but right now after updating to the Windows Anniversary Edition I've got about 13.6GB of free space left on the internal storage (15GB used out of the available 28.6GB).

 

In the image below you can get an idea of the relative size between the Intel Compute Stick (on the left) and the Minix Neo. Also, the four USB ports and the card slot (left) on the front of the Minix.

Attached Thumbnails

  • Minix and Intel Compute Stick.jpg

Edited by james7ca, 08 January 2017 - 08:06 AM.

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#2 pallikas

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 07:39 AM

I have a few pico/micro/mini systems with Windows 10 and similar specs. They all work well for scope mounted PCs however, I find that 32GB is not enough storage, due to how windows does updates. I am running a local astrometry.net service on mine, and the files take up over 22GB just for the data files. Windows updates when run sometimes use up 8GB or more of disk space for the download.

#3 james7ca

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 07:50 AM

Why don't you put any additional data files on an SD or microSD card? Unless your units don't have that. Of course, with a USB port you could always use an external drive.


Edited by james7ca, 08 January 2017 - 08:07 AM.


#4 FiremanDan

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 08:20 AM

This is the computer I was planning to get. Really disappointing on the slow write speeds. 



#5 james7ca

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 09:02 AM

This is the computer I was planning to get. Really disappointing on the slow write speeds. 

I've yet to do any actual tests with a camera when writing to the SD card. However, since my IMX178 cameras output files that are about 13MB is size (full resolution) that means I may only get about 2 or 3 frames per second, when on the Compute Stick I was getting about 5fps sustained (just as good as I would get with my Samsung T3 SSD). I don't know, maybe I can run a USB3 hub with just the camera and a USB3 card reader. I suspect, however, that might not be any faster, given that I'd be using that channel for both the image transfer from the camera and then back out again to the disk. Also, I'm not sure the camera would like sharing a single port with another relatively high-speed device (although on the Compute Stick I ran the camera through my Anker hub which had the filter wheel and a digital focus indicator and the mount control over that single USB3 port).

 

In any case, even with the "half speed" card slot it should be more than fine for DSO work.

 

Now, if the WiFi proves no better than I was getting on the Compute Stick (one of the weaknesses on that design) then any advantage that the Minix has could be limited to the 4GB DRAM (which could still be significant).


Edited by james7ca, 08 January 2017 - 09:26 AM.

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#6 pallikas

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 09:54 AM

I do have a secondary memory card, and in hindsight, should have put more stuff there to leave room for windoze on the boot disk. I have a ZOTAC Nano from Gigabyte, and put 8gb ram and a 512GB SSD in it. Same size, much better performance with the 8GB and no storage issues. Also, available with various CPUs, up to an i7. I have an i3 and it is a pleasure to use remotely. No discernable lags.
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#7 Xeroid

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 10:02 AM

A interesting application for the Minix PC:

 

- Install Tight VNC Server

- Install SharpCap

- Place outside next to your scope & mount with a 12 volt Li battery

- Run SharpCap

- Connect a ZWO USB3 Camera to the Minix USB3 port

- From your indoor home PC, run VNC Viewer

- View & capture scope images while drinking some hot chocolate

 

PS: turn off Background Apps to improve CPU performance.



#8 D_talley

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Posted 08 January 2017 - 02:42 PM

I don't need to do any high speed planetary imaging on this minix since I can do that from home with a i5 pc connected to the mount. One reason I am interested in the minix is it is powered by 12 volts and I can use that when I am in the field doing normal astro photography.  I will just connect a USB2 thumb drive to one of the USB2 ports and image directly to them.  

 

Thanks for your review of the one you received.


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#9 james7ca

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 10:24 AM

So, I've done some more tests and benchmarks as I've started to install my astro software and I've connected the Minix to my ASI178MM, ASI120MM guide camera, my filter wheel, my mount (serial, with a GearMo, two port adapter), and a digital focus indicator (serial). Thus I'm using all of the USB ports on the Minix. I'm also using the TransFlash port for image capture with a Samsung 64GB class 10 U3 microSD card. Finally, I'm connected over 5GHz WiFi and doing remote control with TeamViewer to my Mac mini running Mac OS X v10.11.6.

 

First, it seems to work fairly well although I've seen a few odd UI behaviors that may be related to TeamViewer (intermittently).

 

The WiFi on the Minix seems to have much better range than I was getting with the Intel Compute Stick. In fact I was able to make a solid connection to the Minix at my regular observing location (outside) without even using a range booster which is what I had to do with the Compute Stick. Somewhat by accident I also tried the 2.4GHz frequency on WiFi and that kind of worked even with the camera connected to the USB3 port. That was something that caused instant "death" to the WiFi on the Intel Compute Stick, although to be honest I think the 2.4GHz WiFi on the Minix suffered a little bit under that same configuration (i.e. probably best to stick with the 5GHz WiFi if you want to use a USB3 device).

 

The Atom X5-Z8300 processor can definitely be maxed out when everything is running (100% CPU and 110% frequency). However I've only seen that intermittently when I'm running PhD (actively guiding) and capturing images as fast as possible in either SharpCap or Firecapture and with the remote capture windows being updated (visible) on my Mac. This really isn't a situation that I think I'd use that often and if I hide the active windows the CPU usage always drops below 100% (best case maybe somewhere between 50 and 60% CPU). If I drop the capture rate to something like 0.2 fps (5 second exposures) then the average CPU usage falls below 50% with a CPU frequency in the 60% to 80% range (with both guiding and capture enabled).

 

TeamViewer itself (for the remote connection) seems to take anywhere between 10% and 25% of the CPU. I may try running the remote interface on my Acer Windows 10 notebook, that may reduce the load since I suspect that the remote updates to the Windows UI could run better on a Windows host.

 

As one would expect, with 4GB DRAM there is no problem with memory.

 

As for the transfer rates to the TransFlash port, I've seen intermittent rates between 50MB/s and 60MB/s when actually capturing to a .SER file from either SharpCap or Firecapture. That means I can do about 4.5 fps at full resolution with the ASI178MM in 16-bit mode (frame size about 13MB). Other times it seems to be closer to one half that rate (30MB/s and about 2 fps). I'm not sure why I'm seeing such large variations in the transfer rates. In any case, it's still not as fast as the Intel Compute Stick where I was able to get write transfers up to 70MB/s fairly reliably.

 

I also tried to run the camera and the microSD card from the same USB3 port using a hub with the microSD card in a Samsung card reader. That seemed to work, but it wasn't as fast as using the TransFlash port (although I didn't do a lot of testing in that configuration, so I'm not 100% certain that the data rate was slower since there seem to be several factors that can affect the performance of the system).

 

I've noticed that the bottom of the Minix can get a little warm and I placed a bulb thermometer under the unit (not in direct contact with the base, just within a millimeter or two of the trapped air under the unit) and I measured a temperature of 95F. I suspect the actual metal base is a little warmer than that, maybe 100F to 105F (feels a little feverish, not really that hot). Given that, it may be a good idea to try and isolate the Minix from the optical tube and place it in a position that won't cause heat plumes up near to the front of the telescope. Also, that temperature was measured when the Minix was running at nearly 100% utilization, which wouldn't be the case if you were doing DSO work.


Edited by james7ca, 09 January 2017 - 07:52 PM.

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#10 Xeroid

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 10:34 AM

Had a thought: How about using an external Solid State hard disk?

 

Like this one:

PNY Elite 240GB USB 3.0 Portable Solid State Drive (SSD) - (PSD1CS1050-240-FFS)
by PNY

 

They advertize 430 MB/s seq. Read and 400 MB/s seq. Write speeds



#11 james7ca

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 11:15 AM

Had a thought: How about using an external Solid State hard disk?

 

Like this one:

PNY Elite 240GB USB 3.0 Portable Solid State Drive (SSD) - (PSD1CS1050-240-FFS)
by PNY

 

They advertize 430 MB/s seq. Read and 400 MB/s seq. Write speeds

That probably won't work because it would have to go on the same USB3 port as the capture camera. The Minix has 3 x USB2 and 1 x USB3. In any case, these Atom X5-Z8300 systems are probably i/o limited since there is only one PCI express lane for the entire system. Given that, I'd expect that you can't just continue to add i/o and expect all of the ports to reach their theoretical limits.

 

In any case, I have a Samsung T3 SSD that can reach several hundred MB/s on both writes and reads. However, when I use that on my Core i3 notebook it seems like Firecapture has buffering problems so you may get a few seconds of really fast writes and then it hits a wall (because of the buffering) and the frame rate can fall to something like one frame every 5 to 10 seconds. In fact, on the Intel Compute Stick I found that Firecapture actually worked better with the microSD card than it did with the SSD (because the write speed is more closely matched to the buffering performance in the application).

 

In my hands, this capture software (Firecapture and SharpCap) is really, well, intermittent in its reliability and performance (that and the poor state of the camera drivers). But since they are "free" you can't really complain as quite often they work well enough to do what needs to be done. And certainly, for the authors of said software, they've done a massive amount of work to produce a very useful tool that does an amazing number of things very well, but with a few areas that are not as good as the rest.


Edited by james7ca, 09 January 2017 - 12:16 PM.

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#12 FiremanDan

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 02:52 PM

It seems this will work fairly well for DSO work. 
I really like the idea of having most or everything plugged into the computer vs a hub. 

I know you are still working through things, but as far as plug and play for DSOs what would you vote for between this and the compute stick? The base 2nd gen model which I think is what most people are using.



#13 james7ca

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Posted 09 January 2017 - 08:04 PM

It seems this will work fairly well for DSO work. 
I really like the idea of having most or everything plugged into the computer vs a hub. 

I know you are still working through things, but as far as plug and play for DSOs what would you vote for between this and the compute stick? The base 2nd gen model which I think is what most people are using.

I can't really say yet, since I haven't tried all of my software and devices. However, the 4 USB ports are nice (versus 2 on the Compute Stick), the WiFi seems better (but I need more testing), the 4GB memory is definitely better, and the 12VDC operation should be an advantage. If I could figure out what causes such extreme changes in the write rates to the TransFlash port/microSD card then I'd feel more confident in the device.

 

Interesting thing, when I have the best transfer rates in SharpCap to the microSD card (about 60MB/s) I also see a noticeably higher load on the CPU (maxed out to 100%). Then I'll reboot the system and do the same tests and the transfer rates are only 30MB/s and the CPU load decreases by about 20%. Okay, so slower transfers and less load on the CPU, that makes some sense but I have no idea what triggers this change. I don't think it is thermal throttling, it seems more likely it is something either in the capture software itself (buffering?) or the TransFlash/microSD interface/driver.

 

I should add that even at 30MB/s you can do pretty decent planetary capture as long as you use a region of interest (ROI). If I reduce the ROI to something like 640 x 480 I can get up to 120fps with the ASI178MM and that would be fine for targets like Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus. It's only when I'm photographing the moon with the full 6M pixel frame size that the transfer rates become a real bottleneck.

 

It's raining here (or threatening) so I'll have more time for tests tonight (indoors) and I still need to install Sequence Generator Pro and the drivers for my QHY cameras and the PoleMaster.


Edited by james7ca, 09 January 2017 - 08:15 PM.

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#14 FiremanDan

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 11:31 AM

Ok, good info. I hope to get some kind of mounted PC in the near future and this has been my front runner. 



#15 Poochpa

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 12:04 PM

What about something like this from Qotom? https://www.amazon.c...=I3VAA6OGCN2SI4 Has 8G RAM, 64G SSD, 3 USB 2.0 + 1 USB 3.0, Ethernet, Wifi & BT. What caught me eye, unlike the other mini-pcs, is that it has an actual serial port, thus eliminating the need for a serial to usb converter for mount control. I don't know much about CPUs though. Is the Baytrail J1900 an underpowered processor for our application?  This mini is bigger than the Compute Sticks, Minix Neo, etc., and may be awkward to mount on a scope or mount. It does have mounting screw holes on the bottom. Would certainly be ok on a tripod tray, though.

Mike


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#16 FiremanDan

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 12:07 PM

I think this is what Tolga was using. I had read a few blurbs saying these came with non-legit windows OS. I do like the 8gb RAM and larger HD though. 



#17 entilza

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 01:18 PM

Hi James goodluck with the PC.  If you are interested in testing write speed at it's limits you could create a ram disk (softperfect) and create a small 1 GB ram disk and do some write tests to see if there is any improvement in write performance.  Just to eliminate any hardware.  You can then find the bottleneck.  I thought I could improve the SGP download performance by writing to a small ramdisk then having a script move the files over but it was not any faster as the bulk of the delay was cpu related when dcraw does a conversion for DSLR.



#18 james7ca

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 06:29 PM

I looked at Intel's data sheet for the Atom Z8000 Processor Series and these chips have a dedicated SD card interface that is supposed to support data rates up to 800Mb/s. Thus, it should be possible for the X5-Z8300 to provide transfer rates up in the 80MB/s range which more-or-less agrees with what I was getting on the Intel Compute Stick. So, I'm thinking that the somewhat disappointing behavior on the MINIX NEO Z83-4 may be nothing but a driver/software issue. These system-on-chip (SoC) devices also support the SDXC memory capacity, which suggests support for cards with up to 2TB of storage (I guess Minix has tested up to 256GB).

 

These devices also seem to have plenty of direct support for USB2 and USB3, so my original comments about the Z8300's single PCI Express lane don't apply (i.e. shouldn't be impacting either the USB or SD card performance).

 

I also found that Intel has already released updated versions of the Z8300 (faster clocks and graphics). In fact, there is now a x7-Z8750 that can run at up to 2.56GHz with at least 8GB DRAM (dual channel). All this with the same Scenario Design Power (SDP) of 2W. Recommended pricing is $37, versus the $21 for the Z8300. However, the Z8700 chips have a larger package since they offer about twice as many pins for i/o and such (thus, the price difference would likely be well beyond what is suggested by just the cost of the SoC).



#19 ccs_hello

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 08:13 PM

James,

 

I would not equate these Intel new line of ATOM based products (Bay Trail, newer Cherry Trail, and the even newer one) as

its desktop class (Gen 2, 3,4, 5, 6) CPUs. The architecture is quite different and never intended to be as good.

Actually the former did so well that threatened the cash cow, Intel has put a halt on the new ATOMs, especially on "laptop wanna bes".

 

Clear Skies!

 

ccs_hello



#20 Xeroid

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 08:35 PM

Maybe I'm doing something wrong but I see 30 frames/second on SharpCap from the ZWO 178 at full reso connected to the Minix Z83-4 USB3.

 

I minimize the SharpCap window and my CPU utilization is running at approx 25% with TighetVNC Viewer on my Andorid tablet & enabled. I'm also connected to my iOptron ZE25GT  mount via a Serial-to-USB2 to the Minix and can take full remote control of the mount via SkySafari 5+ and Wireless via the Minix!

 

Powered by a 12 volt Li battery to boot! (I can only observe approx 30 minutes because my toes get frozen so I'm OK with that limited time  :) )

 

Golly, not too shabby given its the lowest cost Win10 REMOTE solution available today. 



#21 james7ca

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Posted 10 January 2017 - 11:56 PM

Maybe I'm doing something wrong but I see 30 frames/second on SharpCap from the ZWO 178 at full reso connected to the Minix Z83-4 USB3...

 

Golly, not too shabby given its the lowest cost Win10 REMOTE solution available today. 

Are you capturing in 8-bit or 16-bit mode and to what storage device are you writing? The internal eMMC interface has much higher bandwidth than the SD port, although I'm not sure whether the flash memory in the internal disk is any faster than what is in my Samsung Pro 64GB class 10 U3 microSD card (spec is 80MB/s writes, 90MB/s reads, one of the faster microSD cards, but oddly somewhat hard to find in the last few months and the price has increased dramatically since I purchased mine in early 2016). Since the internal disk is limited to 32GB it would probably be unwise to use that for image storage.

 

Also, you can get cheaper Windows 10 devices, the Intel Compute Stick is only about $130 and some of the other, lesser know stick PCs come in at around $100 or a bit less.

 

 

 

...Intel has put a halt on the new ATOMs...

Yes, I read just recently that there won't be any updates to the Atom this year (2017), so what we have now will probably be the "best" for the next year or two. But, I'd still like to see one of the new x7-Z8750 SoCs that apparently began shipping in Q12016  (the chip was available starting then and I've not seen any PCs based upon the Z8750).


Edited by james7ca, 11 January 2017 - 08:31 PM.


#22 james7ca

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 01:09 PM

I'm working on a new (to me) way to run the Minix remotely using my Acer notebook computer. I think it is going to offer better performance than the typical desktop virtualization methods that I've used before. Basically, it depends upon the wireless display technology that was enhanced in the Windows Anniversary update. That updated added a new feature that allows you to use the display on a Windows PC (or Windows phone/tablet) as the wireless display for a remote PC (over WiFi). The video performance seems very good and the CPU load is very low and you can even use the keyboard and mouse on the receiving PC to control the remote PC.

 

Besides the performance advantages, there is no need for any third-party virtualization software or even Microsoft's remote desktop. Thus far it seems very robust and I've got it setup so that when the Minix boots it automatically connects to the remote display and keyboard. I still have a few fairly minor annoyances to resolve, but when I get it finished I'll post a full report.


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#23 Ricky

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 02:58 PM

Argh!  I just p/u'd a Brix bb and bought win 7 Pro 64 oem...of course everything is installed so I own it...



#24 james7ca

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 09:02 PM

What about something like this from Qotom? https://www.amazon.c...=I3VAA6OGCN2SI4 Has 8G RAM, 64G SSD, 3 USB 2.0 + 1 USB 3.0, Ethernet, Wifi & BT. ..

Mike

Yes, that's a good looking unit, but although it may have more capable CPU it's also more expensive, particularly if you have to supply your own OS. Also, I'm pretty sure that CPU will draw more than 1 amp, note that the Atom processor in the Minix has a SDP of just 2 watts, while the J1900 has a TDP of 10W (I'm not certain how you can convert between SDP and TDP, but I suspect that the J1900 uses several times as much power as the Atom processor in the Minix). Also, no microSD card support in the Qotom (that's a big factor for me, since I might have to add an external card reader). I suspect that the Qotom is using older wireless technology, but that may make little to no difference. The Qotom seems to be a much heavier unit, the Minix is just 360g while the Qotom is listed as at least 630g (although the Qotom has a full metal enclosure, while the Minix is plastic with a metal bottom).

 

Overall it's probably a simple matter of personal preference, you give some and you take some (i.e. taken as a whole, neither unit seems that much worse or better than the other).



#25 Poochpa

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Posted 11 January 2017 - 10:44 PM

James, thanks for your input. With the Qotom, I should have one of the 4 usb ports available for a usb stick, if I need extra storage. I actually like that it does not come with an OS, as I'd rather install Win 7 over 10, anyway. Concerning the power draw, I have AC available where I image so it doesn't matter. Probably put the Qotom on my tripod tray, so the weight doesn't matter.  I thought about a lighter unit like the Minix or a stick pc to mount on the scope, but I would still have several dangling cables to contend with so I'm not sure it's even worth doing.  Even with multiple 12v outlets up top, I would still have to run a separate power supply for my Tak EM-200, which is 24v.

Mike




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