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How powerful does a mini PC have to be for astro imaging?

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#1 Don Marcotte

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 02:27 PM

I use SharpCap, PHD2, Polemaster and ASCOM to run my ASI1600, Altair Hypercam 174, ZWO EAF and ZWO EFW and iOptron CEM25P. To avoid having to lug a laptop out, I purchased ZWO's ASiair. Unfortunately it only supports ZWO cameras. I much prefer Polemaster to ZWO's or SharpCap's polar alignment. Lastly ASiair's menu system is not intuitive. Hunting for features is annoying and documentation non-existent. My back woes make it painful to hunch over a laptop so sitting in a chair with a tablet is much less painful. Not to mention not having to carry a laptop. At home it's only a few steps into my patio but at the resort where I'll be staying in California it's 300 yds. That's the background.

 

So what app and what hardware do I need? It took several hours and a new, tiny GL-inet Mango router to control a Win 10 Pro laptop from my Samsung tablet, using Microsoft's Remote Desktop and Android RD client. However, when I went to Amazon looking for mini PCs I discovered a couple of things. First of all, running Win 10 Pro would force me to buy a much more powerful and heavy mini PC. Not only that, the mini would need a 19V power source.

 

I noticed that some people here are using BeeLink minis. Others more powerful minis. Due to my relatively lightweight setup, and need to transport it 300 yds at the resort, weight and size are an issue. Most of the gear will be on a trolley.

 

I am looking for a recommendations for a 12v DC powered mini that could run my setup and a remote control app that will work without an internet connection. MS Remote desktop meets the latter requirement but is too onerous in terms of overhead. Someone here recommended TightVNC but it has some negative reviews.

 

A non-astro imager friend recommended a BeeLink T34. What BeeIink model(s) are being used by members?


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#2 bobzeq25

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 03:17 PM

What I use in my observatory. 

 

An i3 NUC (somewhat more powerful than is needed) with Windows 10.   It runs fine on 12V.  I believe all NUCs do, though they can accept up to 19v.  I use Teamviewer over my home wifi network, TV may run on local nets.  Connect either by a laptop for PoleMaster alignment or by my desktop for imaging.

 

Very similar to this. 

 

Item Weight  2 pounds
Package Dimensions  7.2 x 6.4 x 5.9 inches

 

Too costly and heavy?   Don't know if Bluetooth would work for you.

 

https://www.amazon.c...l/dp/B07CGV4MQX


Edited by bobzeq25, 08 December 2019 - 03:18 PM.

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#3 Noah4x4

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 04:09 PM

My advice. Don't skimp on processor or battery power if you want a reliable experiance notably now camera sensors are getting ever larger, having more pixels and hence demand an increase processor power and storage.

 

An Intel NUC will run on (Intel guidance) "12v to 19v + or - 10%". However, it's lower limit is a strict  11.6v before shut off. Many cheap Li-Po batteries have a discharge curve that can fast drop below this and that can be an issue. So, I use a 20v MaxOak K2 "50,000 mAh" battery which actually outputs 19.3v and hence still within a NUCs tolerance. It's footprint is small, about the size of a paperback book (price circa £110). Another solution is to use a regular 12v battery and an inverter to step up its voltage to 19v. But you won't find a more portable solution than the MaxOak battery or better value/power than a NUC.

 

I have a 16 megapixel resolution camera (Atik Horizon) that (ideally) needs at least an i3 processor for single exposure AP. However, if you are stacking frames (like EAA), I suggest a minimum of an i5 with fast graphics. Hence, why I chose an Intel NUC i5 with Iris plus graphics. I do know people that run 1080p HD resolution cameras quite happily on Raspberry Pi or stick computer, but once you get into megapixel resolution territory you will be wise not to underestimate the computing or battery power required.

 

You also allude to Remote Desktop which suggests wireless remote control. My advice there is similar. The best solution is Windows 10 Pro Remote Desktop with RemoteFX compression disabled to permit the full flow of screen data without compression. For larger sensor high resolution CMOS cameras you will probably need 802.11ac wireless. 

 

If you head over to the EAA Forum you will find oodles of information about this and about wireless remote control of relevance to both EAA and AP. Also, once you have determined the kit, the next question is how to make it portable and easy to affix to your scope. Again, ideas are abundant in the EAA Forum.


Edited by Noah4x4, 08 December 2019 - 04:11 PM.


#4 Don Marcotte

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 09:14 PM

Thanks. I went to my Help Desk. He's a friend from my Toronto days who runs a client support business involving PCs and Networks for Professionals. I was leaning in the direction you recommend but I have a herniated disc and Sciatica which limits what I should be handling and how I should handle it. The more powerful units are quite a bit heavier especially when you add bigger batteries. He sized up my app load and recommended a BeeLink mini. I had looked at it but wondered if it was powerful enough. When I'm in California for 3 months starting in 10 days, I have to roll my mount, cameras, batteries and scopes about 300 yds and then setup. The trolley makes it much easier since the gear will be largely in place. Amazon will deliver it on Wednesday so I can play with it and see whether it can do the job. I had to give up Microsoft's Remote Desktop because the BeeLink doesn't have Win 10 Pro. I set up TightVNC on a Win 10 Home laptop and connected to it with my Samsung Tablet.

 

So I won't need more input unless th BeeLink can't get the job done.



#5 gregj888

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Posted 08 December 2019 - 11:33 PM

My 2 cents. 

 

Depends on if you plan to process data on it of just capture.  I  just capture, so a little quad core Atom is enough if it has USB3, or even a Raspberry Pi (4 please).  Mine is an ACEPC T-11 but is also a year or two old.  5 volts to feed it and it's pretty low power.

 

I also have an I-3 NUC but it's loaded with Win7 Pro and the observatory in Linux.

 

In any case there are good DC to DC converters that will give you the needed voltage (high or low).  So if you want to use a NUC and LiPo pack, include on of those. 

 

I like low power so I don't need a lot of solar to recharge during the day.  For capture it's about moving data so SSD of fast SD/Thumb drive and USB3, IMHO.



#6 rdmarco

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Posted 11 December 2019 - 09:54 PM

Well, I am using a Celeron NUC with 8gig of ram to run sharpcap, capture software (byeos), and phd2. The nuc seems to be adequate to the task. To power the nuc (nuc6cayh), I use this: https://nexpow.com/p...station-yp-150/ . It outputs 16.3 volts, so no issues there. the nexpow is also a bargain, I paid $70.

 

As I also have a WiFi-enabled mount, I have a GL.iNet GL-AR150 Mini Travel Router (runs on a 5V power pack)  that I use to run a local network. I use TightVNC to remote from my laptop. Once the mount is aligned and camera focused, I can get out of the elements, if so desired.

 

BTW, The NUC runs along happily on anything from 12~20 volts.

 

Rob Marcotte


Edited by rdmarco, 12 December 2019 - 09:01 AM.

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#7 OldManSky

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Posted 15 December 2019 - 11:05 AM

I got this one:

 

https://www.amazon.c...0?ie=UTF8&psc=1

 

Win10 Pro, 4-core processor, 8GB memory, 128GB SSD (plus expansion bay for another SSD or mini HDD).

 

It's currently $249, but I got it on a Black Friday deal for $179.

 

It's been running constantly since I got it (three weeks now or so), as a "burn-in," with no problems.  Updates disabled.  Log-in with Chrome Remote Desktop or RDP work great.  It runs NINA, PHD2, ASTAP plate-solving, ASCOM drivers for iOptron mount, and drivers for ZWO 183mm-pro, CFW, EAF, and 290mm-mini guide scope without a hitch.  It's about the size of two decks of cards and weighs next to nothing.  And, finally, it takes a 12V power input, so I run it along with everything else from my 12V 30A supply.


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#8 CrzHrs

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Posted 21 December 2019 - 10:21 AM

The answer is related to what you have to do. 

 

Deep Sky can run almost on every system, planetary requires at least a high end celeron. More important is the battery that can deliver constant clean 12V



#9 bmurphy495

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Posted 28 December 2019 - 10:37 AM

I have a Minix N42C-4 and I'm pretty happy with it. It comes with Win10 Pro so I can use built in windows remote desktop which runs great. It's retailing on Amazon for about $270 US. They have one that is a little faster at about $300 US. 

 

The only thing I did to it was put a 250G SATA SSD into it and some more RAM that someone gave me. I did migrate the OS over to the SSD and that was more complicated than simply cloning the drive, but with the forums on the minix site things worked out ok. 

 

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#10 Don Marcotte

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Posted 10 January 2020 - 02:09 PM

Update - I bought a Beelink T34 mini PC. It is working nicely with my Samsung tablet, wireless K/B + touchpad, Mango router and NoMachine remote app.

 

The remote app turned out to be the biggest challenge because I don't have internet coverage at some imaging sites. I tried unsuccessfully 6 or 7 remote apps. It wasn't until a geek friend from 20 years ago who mentioned NoMachine that I got an app that worked with my setup and locations.

 

It will work at home where I can sit in indoor comfort. However, at the resort where I'm staying right now in California, I have to guard it. That means being quite close by.

 

Don


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#11 rdmarco

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 09:05 AM

I have 3 NUC's My "desktop" is a quad-core i3 with 16gig ram. Way more than needed, but nice. My scopeside is a NUC6CAYH, 8gigs ram. It has a celeron J3455 processor(quad-core), which is more than adequate to run Sharpcap, PHD2, BYeOS, APT or NINA. Any thing more powerful would be superfluous. I also have had a Zotac mini-pc as well, they are OK.

 

One feature that strongly favors the NUC is the bios, It's the best there is, the most configurable, and Intel updates it on a regular basis - even the older models! You won't get that on a cheap mini-pc.

 

Also, the bios can be updated from the browser, no flashdrive needed.

 

As I have said before, the NUC will run just fine on a wide range of voltages, anywhere from 12-20V.  It's not critical, don't listen to the FUD. 



#12 Noah4x4

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 05:20 PM

Be cautious;....

Few of the above posts mention the camera specification or detailed tasks undertaken. It is really easy to get lulled into underestimating computing and power requirements.

If all you are doing is capturing and saving images local to the scope you can indeed succeed with low computing power (even Atom). So for basic AP, most budget computers will suffice. However, if you are stacking multiple frames and ‘near live’ viewing (as per EAA) that will inevitably require a little more ooomph.

If running a 10 or 16 megapixel CMOS (or even larger DSLR) and transferring 4K UHD screen data to view indoors using RDP (wireless or cable) I can testify you will (ideally) need Intel i5 even if all captured data remains at the scope. I also had to disable remoteFX compression to get such levels of screen data transferred over wireless. Much depends on camera and tasks.

Many folk in our AP community. are still using (perfectly satisfactory) modest resolution CCD. But driven by sensor manufacturing trends in other sectors, the current crop of CMOS are much more demanding. The same is true of power. My Atik Horizon demands a full 2 Amps. It is also demands a powered hub or active USB3 cables if beyond 3 metres (overall USB limits also apply).

There is loads more information about this topic in the EAA Forum. My advice is invest in computing power for your NEXT camera to build in some future proofing as sensor resolutions (hence computing demands) are heading skyward. Top end DSLRs are now reaching the dizzy heights of 50 or even 100 megapixel. Even my three year old modest Nikon D5200 is 24 megapixel. Astro cameras will surely follow suit whilst lower resolution CCD (however desirable) may potentially get rarer and more expensive. If you ask for advice in the EAA Forum about specific cameras I am sure you will enjoy excellent actual user feedback. But pairing camera + task to computing power needs careful thought.
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#13 Noah4x4

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Posted 11 January 2020 - 05:31 PM

With reference to post #11

 

The Intel NUC specification is 12v to 19v + or minus 10%.
 

A problem I discovered is many cheap “12v” batteries are actually 11.6v and have a discharge curve that rapidly depletes below 11.3v. Many NUCs might also demand 55 watts at peak. At 12v that requires a steady draw of almost 5 Amps. It’s important to not underestimate the voltage and power required. I ended up using separate batteries for camera and NUC as this was notably challenging, especially as my 16 megapixel cooled camera draws 2 amps on its own. 



#14 astrohamp

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Posted 29 January 2020 - 10:17 PM

It is good to read about some working systems out there.

 

Being that my dark sky observing (now mostly 4k EAA) is 12v AGM battery powered I needed my equipment to be low power.  The tripod mounted NUC (J5005 processor TDP 10w) PC I've been using seems to handle my longer duration subs (10-300s) fine.  I am also able to view 4-9fps frame rates from the ASI294 Pro camera for alignment, focusing, and real time planetary viewing.  What's running is SharpCap Pro (live stacking with dark and flat frames), PHD2 with ASI120 guide camera, and ECU planetarium software, while pushing UHD to the monitor.

This does require an active HDMI cable connection from the NUC to monitor located in my portable dark shed.  I had Bluetooth keyboard connection problems using the 100' HDMI cable distance so now must stay within the limitations of a 30' cable with a happier keyboard.

I also need to have Ethernet available, which the router enables, for venues that limit/prohibit local wireless, .  The travel router also provides more powerful wireless and allows disabling NUC and mount broadcasting.  It has provided limited throughput success driving  200' of wireless back haul mesh nodes through trees, on two occasions.

I bring this up as my success story of sorts, in solving one instrument arrangement.  Displaying in full color but at black room intensity settings, I am barely able to operate for a single night.  Three dew heaters and occasional tripod mounted mini HD display use can put me over the 100w power level.  Remember 1 amp AC equates to 120watts of power use, and 10 amps @ 12volt (nominal) on battery.
Still looking for an inexpensive 12v DC UHD 4k monitor rather then the 19v (needs a DC wall wort) one I am using.

 



#15 cmooney91

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Posted 21 February 2020 - 11:37 AM

You can us a DC-DC boost converter to convert the 12V to 19V, it is a lot more efficient than using an inverter+wallwort.

 

I am also shopping for a 4K monitor for feild use, so i'm in the same boat.

I wish they made small OLED monitors. 


Edited by cmooney91, 21 February 2020 - 11:37 AM.

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