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Good Mini PC for permanent piers?

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#1 mistateo

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 01:09 AM

Looking to get 2 mini pcs to pair with scopes on 2 permanent piers in a roll off roof observatory.  This one caught my eye for the following reasons:

 

Windows 10 PRO (can disable auto updates easily)
64GB internal storage (enough space if update is needed)
Gigabit ethernet port
Usb3
MicroSD slot (up to 128 GB)
Price ($150)

 

Can anyone identify any potential "gotchas" with this plan?  Are there better choices in the price range?  Obviously these will not be used for processing, just image capture, guiding, running stellarium etc over remote desktop.


Edited by mistateo, 24 May 2019 - 03:12 AM.


#2 Ian Robinson

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 02:46 AM

Don't think it'll last long exposed to weather outdoors especially of it's damp.

You'd need to put it inside a weather proof housing on the pier of some kind , which IMO kinda defeats your purpose if you want to save some $ on the mini dedicated PC.

There are rugged industrial mini pcs that are designed to withstand "weather" and in rugid housings as part of the kit.

#3 3snows

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 07:20 AM

Hello - I don't have an observatory but I just purchased one of these unit about 2 months ago and couldn't be happier: Link

 

I went with this one for a couple reasons. Up-gradable RAM and Storage and the fact that is has four USB 3 ports that eliminates the need for a powered hub.

 

I went with the 8GB RAM and 120GB storage and for what I'm running it works perfectly (Astrophotography Tool, Stellarium, PHD2).

 

Mine came with the VESA bracket and I'm glad it did.  I cable tied that to a tripod leg and I can mount the PC on that and remove it easily to store indoors.


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#4 rimcrazy

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 11:01 AM

I like using the Intel NUC computers.  All solid state, low power and plenty of performance.  The only issue is all of the (#*($(@#*@)(@)#(*)# RS232 interfaces that are still being used on lots of the astronomy peripherals.  If you use a NUC then you need to get a USB/Serial Port converter.  Some work, many don't.  Up to date manufacturers are SLOWLY updating hardware to bring interfaces up to at least USB and some are even going to Ethernet.  This by far is your largest sticking point to using just any cheap PC you can find.  YMMV.

 

Cheers



#5 gregj888

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 07:05 PM

I have a T11 ACEPC which has the same CPU.  I have setup for Linux, and it will be fine for a mount computer.  

 

I plan to put mine in a weather resistant housing but a dew shield is probably enough.  If in a really cold climate, you should probably keep it on in the winter.

 

The Atom based systems are nice as they are low power and can be fan-less.  On the other hand, if you are doing any processing other than plate solving then something more powerful is probably better.

 

On seemingly nice option for windows is the ALPACA extension to ASCOM.  With ALPACA you can simply run the ALPACA server with drivers on the mount computer and everything else on the main computer in your control room/den...  



#6 mclewis1

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Posted 24 May 2019 - 08:56 PM

Looking to get 2 mini pcs to pair with scopes on 2 permanent piers in a roll off roof observatory.  This one caught my eye for the following reasons:

 

Windows 10 PRO (can disable auto updates easily)
64GB internal storage (enough space if update is needed)
Gigabit ethernet port
Usb3
MicroSD slot (up to 128 GB)
Price ($150)

 

Can anyone identify any potential "gotchas" with this plan?  Are there better choices in the price range?  Obviously these will not be used for processing, just image capture, guiding, running stellarium etc over remote desktop.

That seems like a reasonable piece of hardware for your requirements. I'm always a little leery of running Stellarium on very basic video hardware ... but this is getting easier and easier as the hardware gets better (Stellarium puts a fairly heavy workload on the video processing side of your PC).

 

Primary storage is an eMMC drive so "disk" performance will be limited. Just don't do anything really I/O intensive and you'll be fine.

 

No external wifi antennas ... fine in your living room but depending on your physical setup - how far away your mount's are, strength of your wifi, etc. you may find wifi is an issue. It sounds like (since you specifically mentioned the GigE) that you're planning on a wired setup. This will make a lot more sense with the remote desktop usage.

 

My concerns would be more with the software side of things.

a) this isn't an activated version of Win10 so you'll eventually have to deal with that (spend some additional money or live with the non activated limitations). 

b) you can't entirely disable the updates. You can more easily postpone and manage system updates with the pro version, but eventually you'll be forced into an upgrade.

 

 

I had different requirements and ended up with a bit more capable system (Win7, no fans, i5, 8GB/128GB SSD, real RS232 ports) and obviously had to spend a bit more. https://www.aliexpre...2857778466.html

This PC has been bullet proof for the past 9 months (it lives in the observatory 24x7 with temp ranges of -30 to +40C). It replaced an ATOM based system that I've had outside for 4 years (and is still running well, I just needed more speed).

 

Rimcrazy - the real RS232 ports have been very useful as I have gear that requires legacy RS232 serial support (mount control and firmware updates, camera control, and a few DIY projects).


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#7 guyroch

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Posted 25 May 2019 - 10:39 AM

Like Mark above I went the AliExpress route.  I have 2 of these, one in my observatory at home in Canada and one in my observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile.  There are small, powerful, lots of SSD space, and fanless.  Best of all it is a 12v mini PC and this was a hard requirement for me... it makes it much more easy to power in the field.

 

https://www.aliexpre....6d884c4d56Clwi

 

I bought mine with 16GB RAM and without an SSD.  I bought 2x 1TB SSD (not HDD) off amazon instead; one for each mini PC.

 

I already had a W10 Pro license lying around so buying a PC without an OS was not an issue. 

 

The only thing you have to be careful with mini PCs without an operating system is that the default BIOS settings may not allow you to boot from a USB... but this is obviously needed to install W10 of a USB drive at first.... so unless you are comfortable (or know someone who is) with browsing and changing BIOS settings I would stay away from buying a mini PC without an OS pre-installed.  Other than getting over this little hurdle I have nothing negative to say about it so far.  The one in Canada in powered 24/7 in the observatory and the temperature ranges from +30c to -30c year round.  The one in Chile is also powered 24/7 and the temperature there ranges from +40'ish to -10c year round.

 

Regards,

 

Guylain

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#8 CharlesW

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Posted 25 May 2019 - 03:39 PM

If this is a scope-top PC, how are you going to attach all the other things to it that are necessary in an obs like the roof controller and Digital Logger, etc.? If this is a ground based computer, make sure it has enough USB ports to attach all the other stuff. 


Edited by CharlesW, 25 May 2019 - 03:40 PM.


#9 bdowne01

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Posted 27 May 2019 - 02:38 PM

It's not "mini" exactly, but I've been using similar to this machine in my obs since 2014.

 

https://www.neousys-...ter/nuvo-3000lp

 

It's "industrial grade", meant to run in harsh factory and in automotive environments .  Fanless and it operates in up to 70C.   It has screw holes, so I mounted it to the wall.  At the time old-school serial ports were important to me, and this thing had 3 on it.  Our area is wicked hot & dusty in the summer (110+ F) and it hasn't quit yet!  If it survives our environment, it should work just about anywhere.



#10 Raginar

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Posted 28 May 2019 - 09:15 AM

Looking to get 2 mini pcs to pair with scopes on 2 permanent piers in a roll off roof observatory. This one caught my eye for the following reasons:

Windows 10 PRO (can disable auto updates easily)
64GB internal storage (enough space if update is needed)
Gigabit ethernet port
Usb3
MicroSD slot (up to 128 GB)
Price ($150)

Can anyone identify any potential "gotchas" with this plan? Are there better choices in the price range? Obviously these will not be used for processing, just image capture, guiding, running stellarium etc over remote desktop.


I have one of these. It’ll work just fine. I’ve had it for 4 years now without issues. It’s been in an observatory (ROR) and just out when I went portable. Very solid devices.

#11 mistateo

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Posted 28 May 2019 - 02:33 PM

Hello - I don't have an observatory but I just purchased one of these unit about 2 months ago and couldn't be happier: Link

 

I went with this one for a couple reasons. Up-gradable RAM and Storage and the fact that is has four USB 3 ports that eliminates the need for a powered hub.

 

I went with the 8GB RAM and 120GB storage and for what I'm running it works perfectly (Astrophotography Tool, Stellarium, PHD2).

 

Mine came with the VESA bracket and I'm glad it did.  I cable tied that to a tripod leg and I can mount the PC on that and remove it easily to store indoors.

Thank you for pointing this out.  I literally canceled my purchase for the one I had previously selected after I saw this (and bought two of them):

https://www.ebay.com...OS/323805459471


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