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From Laptop to PC in Observatory? Help build?

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#1 MalVeauX



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Posted 03 August 2020 - 12:31 PM

Hey all,


I've been using my laptop in my observatory for a few years. It's getting long in the tooth, but it works, more importantly some of the keys have stopped responding (important ones that I use often like the control key, some number keys, etc). And now the track-pad on it is also having weird issues. I'm using a USB keyboard & mouse at this point to make up for it. The laptop itself is just an i3 based Toshiba with a 1TB SSE and 4Gb RAM. Nothing special. But it's done the service for years now.


I think I'm ready to replace it though. I generally run high data rate cameras, such as IMX183 sensor (20Mp), and smaller but fast cameras like the 290MM & 224MC via USB3. I do a lot of solar system imaging (solar, lunar, planetary; mostly solar). From my understanding, I would benefit from more RAM than anything, so I'm thinking of getting 16Gb RAM since its cheap anyways and will try to get faster RAM if price allows. I will re-use the 1TB SSD (its a Samsun EVO series). I generally use a USB3 powered hub to do everything, but I think I would like to avoid running my cameras and stuff on the hub and directly connect to the bus to avoid any issues there and let the hub be for peripherals and stuff that don't need best rates on the bus. I recently experienced this when I tried to use my wireless USB mouse while copying over my USB3 hub to a USB3 128GB flash drive (Patriot Supersonic Rage 2) and the mouse was cutting in and out, so those ports on the USB3 hub are likely shared. I want to avoid that, so I will likely keep my high data throughput devices off the hub and on separate ports on the computer itself.


What I'm trying to figure out is.... do I get another laptop? Or, do I just build a minitower PC box? This is in my observatory, so basically think of it like a machine sitting in a garage, covered mind you, but not totally sealed or in temperature control. I'm in Florida, so it stays hot, but it rarely gets super cold and the heat in there is fine (its cooler than ambient, observatory is white). If I do another laptop, it will likely be around $300 USD, nothing powerful, and I'll just put my 1TB SSD in it. My needs would be the ability to upgrade the RAM to 8~16GB and other than that, a basic i3 or i5 process or AMD equivalent would be fine likely. The important thing is the bus speed and handling for USB3 traffic. It's strictly acquisition driven. The alternative is, I could just build a PC instead. I could do much more robust hardware for the same price, again, around $300 USD (because I already have most of the peripherals available).


So, if I were to build a PC, I was thinking:


AMD APU (build in graphics to avoid adding another card) to keep it simple:


Athlon 3000G (APU; dual core, hyperthreading 4 core; $50 all in, modern Zen architecture)


Ryzen 3 3200G (APU; quad core; $99 all in, modern Ryzen 3 architecture which is Zen+)


Add appropriate AM4 motherboard with 4x USB3 and/or USB3.1 ports and two PCIe (the small ones) slots for any extra things I might add (such as more USB handling or 5Ghz wifi NIC). 2 RAM slots is fine.

Looking at the Gigabyte AM320M-S2H (microATX). I have a Regor 245 laying around to flash the BIOS if needed. This is about $50 for the board.

My only reservation is whether I should go for a 450 chipset, or if it will matter. I'm not sure it will matter for this purpose. I just need the bus to be fast and the memory to be fast (dual channel).


Targeting 16GB DDR4 RAM, it's so inexpensive, might as well fill it up, it acts as the buffer for the cameras anyways. Will go for the fastest dual channel I can within reason.


Reusing Samsung EVO 1TB SSD.

Reusing Windows 7 key (if I can).


What I have laying around for use:
Appropriate PSU

22" and 23" DVI/HDMI LCD monitors with stands

Wired & Wireless Keyboard/Mouse


I have lots of computers and build them often. My reservation is of course, how do I keep it from becoming a spider/scorpion nest out there. My laptop is open to the observatory but covered, but the key difference is that there just isn't much physical space in a laptop for anything to get into except the tiniest of bugs. A minitower on the other hand could become a lovely home for all kinds of things. So I'm thinking, if I attempt to put a PC minitower out there, I will seal it up as much as I can and put two layers of filter mesh over the intake/outtake fan ports and I will cover all ports that would allow things to next that are not used. This is where the hang up is, how to do this right without choking it out and without letting it become bug house.


I primarily run:



Stellarium + Stellarium Scope (GoTo software, planetarium)


FireCapture (acquisition for all solar system imaging)

SSM Monitor


APT (DSO acquisition)



I will eventually add an electronic filter wheel and possible a motorized focuser to control, but this shouldn't matter much and functions over ASCOM.


I don't connect to the internet on it.

I don't do any fancy video or anything.
It's strictly a data acquisition machine and I need the most throughput on the bus and to the physical media within reason for cost.

I copy the data over to a flash drive / external drive to take inside; networking is just too slow for cost for 100~200Gb of data in a session (I make this per hour often in solar and lunar).


Any advice?

Do it and post pictures of the ant nest covered in spiders and scorpions and mice nests when it bursts into flames or rusts through the floor?


Very best,

#2 Xeroid


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Posted 04 August 2020 - 10:20 AM



You may wish to consider a mini computer running Intel Core I5 or I7.


Most will accept your orig SSD but check on max RAM.


Recently got a Beelink U57 and its not too shabby but 8 GB RAM max

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#3 glancey


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Posted 04 August 2020 - 12:23 PM

Get an Intel NUC with at least a 10th generation I7 processor. Add your memory and hard drive and you'll have everything you need in a compact package. 


I have one attached to my mount and another inside for complete remote control over Remote Desktop.

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#4 Alex McConahay

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Posted 04 August 2020 - 07:46 PM

Yeah, as long as you are not processing the images back there, you can get by with very little. My Observatory runs on a ten year old, refurbished laptop. That, a $20 wireless keyboard/Mouse, and a salvaged monitor does the job for me.


One nice thing about old computers like that is that they have serial ports built in for my RoboFocus and mount. And lots, and lots, and lots of other ports.




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#5 MalVeauX



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Posted 05 August 2020 - 07:04 PM

Thanks all,


I am liking the idea of the mini PC a lot more than building a big clunky box. I was focused on being able to replace parts as needed in a normal PC. Didn't want another laptop with parts to fail (keyboard, etc) to fool with. A mini PC would be a nice in-between to get a decent machine with a small foot print.


I will check these out!


Very best,

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