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NUC / dedicated control box suggestions

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#1 archer1960

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Posted 22 September 2020 - 11:28 AM

I'm looking for information one how much computing power I would need for a NUC (or equivalent) box that I can leave mounted on my rig all the time. I run PHD, SGPro (for now, anyway), CPWI and BYE, along with my filter wheel controller and focuser control apps. I'm thinking a quad-core Pentium that one of the NUC models has would likely be enough if I shut down a lot of the random windows services and applications that run by default on Windows 10. Or should I step to a core i5? I use an i7 in my laptop, but that does a lot of image processing, and I know it's not needed for just image collection.  I could run Linux, but don't really feel like going that route right now due to a lack of time to climb the learning curve; maybe after I retire in a few years...

 

Along with that, will a NUC or other cheap box (Chuwi, etc) handle the temperature and humidity issues of staying outside 24x7x365 (covered, of course, but not climate controlled)? Or do I need to go to a rugged industrial computer? I've killed 3 laptops in the last 2 years even without leaving them outside all the time; I think the temperature cycling of bringing them in and out summer and winter over-stressed them, so I'm looking for something less susceptible.

 



#2 DSOs4Me

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Posted 22 September 2020 - 11:43 AM

Can you do a Cat5e or 6 back to your house? I toyed with the same idea but ended up buying an Icron Ranger 2304 USB to Cat5 extender and I do everything from my work room. Just a thought.



#3 D_talley

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Posted 22 September 2020 - 11:52 AM

This is what I use at my scopes. It has 4 real serial ports, 4 usb 3.0 and 4 usb 2.0.  More than enough ports for all of my mounts and cameras.  

I5 process or and 8 gb ram. Runs off of 12 volts. So far it runs my control software without issue. I have not had any problems with it being in my observatory in the summer or winter.  

 

https://www.amazon.c...aps,194&sr=8-13


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#4 airscottdenning

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Posted 22 September 2020 - 05:40 PM

I've been doing this for about 5 years 24/365. Haven't had any trouble with weather, though I have had all the usual computer and software problems -- sadly having a dedicated machine doesn't fix it all!

 

Capture and equipment control takes VERY little computer power. An R Pi is completely capable.

 

More to the point, you need to think about 12v distribution, powered USB hubs, etc. 

 

I will NEVER go back to running my astro-gear on a laptop. It's just a waste of a nice laptop, it's not safe outdoors, and it draws a ridiculous amount of electricity.


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#5 archer1960

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Posted 23 September 2020 - 06:18 AM

This is what I use at my scopes. It has 4 real serial ports, 4 usb 3.0 and 4 usb 2.0.  More than enough ports for all of my mounts and cameras.  

I5 process or and 8 gb ram. Runs off of 12 volts. So far it runs my control software without issue. I have not had any problems with it being in my observatory in the summer or winter.  

 

https://www.amazon.c...aps,194&sr=8-13

Thanks for that suggestion; I hadn't come across that brand before, and it looks like exactly what I'm looking for.



#6 archer1960

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Posted 23 September 2020 - 06:20 AM

I've been doing this for about 5 years 24/365. Haven't had any trouble with weather, though I have had all the usual computer and software problems -- sadly having a dedicated machine doesn't fix it all!

 

Capture and equipment control takes VERY little computer power. An R Pi is completely capable.

 

More to the point, you need to think about 12v distribution, powered USB hubs, etc. 

 

I will NEVER go back to running my astro-gear on a laptop. It's just a waste of a nice laptop, it's not safe outdoors, and it draws a ridiculous amount of electricity.

I have the power and USB distribution handled (12V power supply, distribution panel, 12V powered Startech USB hub, etc); it is just the issue of killing the control computer that was driving

me crazy.



#7 EFT

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 12:52 AM

Nothing more than a Celeron processor is needed for equipment control and data acquisition.  Even TSX only requires a very low powered computer.  For durability, the best thing is a passively cooled computer designed for at least light industrial use.  No fan to break down, cause vibration, or crud everything up inside.  While there are NUC variants out there that are passively cooled, they can be fairly expensive and there are smaller format boards (e.g., micro ITX) that make of a box close to half the size of a NUC.  Like most things, there is a choice between cost and durability.  Is it better to buy two computers over time or buy one that costs the same as the two but lasts twice as long?


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#8 rgsalinger

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 09:06 AM

I use cheap (around 200 dollars) refurbished tiny computers at the mounts in my observatory. These use micro-itx boards and have SSD's and i5 chips. You can go less powerful, but then you have to be disciplined about what you run on the box other than your imaging suite. Given that you can get an i5 for 200, I really don't see the point. I've yet (3 or 4 years) to have one of the three break on me. There's a third box out there which can be used if one of the primary computers fails. 

 

I have no confidence that an NUC or that a fanless (expensive) computer is any more reliable than what I have. It's built with all the same parts. I do give the little boxes a clean once a year with a vacuum. So far, so good. 


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#9 archer1960

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 10:46 AM

I use cheap (around 200 dollars) refurbished tiny computers at the mounts in my observatory. These use micro-itx boards and have SSD's and i5 chips. You can go less powerful, but then you have to be disciplined about what you run on the box other than your imaging suite. Given that you can get an i5 for 200, I really don't see the point. I've yet (3 or 4 years) to have one of the three break on me. There's a third box out there which can be used if one of the primary computers fails. 

 

I have no confidence that an NUC or that a fanless (expensive) computer is any more reliable than what I have. It's built with all the same parts. I do give the little boxes a clean once a year with a vacuum. So far, so good. 

Do you assemble them yourself, or did you buy them? Can you post the model/mfr?



#10 rgsalinger

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 11:00 AM

Amazon sells tons of these. Here's an example.  Whatever you buy should have Win10 Pro plus an SSD of reasonable size. These use an ITX form factor and are something like 5x7x2" (maybe a little bigger). I can't figure out how to build one. I wish I could. 

Rgrds-Ross



#11 D_talley

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 12:37 PM

What I like about the fanless PC I posted above is that it has all the ports I need for my setup. My AP1200 mount uses 2 serial ports and a camera rotator uses another serial port. The computer has 4 built in serial ports, so I am not running three USB dongles to convert to serial.  

Plus I need USB 2 and USB 3 for the numerous cameras I have attached and have plenty of ports left over. In my case if I chose a cheaper system,  the cost of three serial dongles and the need of a USB powered hub makes up the difference in price.

 

I live in a very dusty desert area and do not have to worry about dust taking out this computer since there is no fan sucking in the dirt and dust. 

The case has room for an additional drive, which I have installed a 1tb drive as a file backup drive. 

 

Overall, there are a lot of cost saving computers out there, with ample choices to fit your needs. 


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#12 rgsalinger

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 03:05 PM

Well, let's see. Using that computer you seem to say that you run 4 long serial and 4 long USB cables from the mount to the computer, all carefully routed to avoid problems with meridian flips or any other issue. Then you have only a tiny SSD and one video port. I can see the use case when you have those old AP mounts. I can't see the use case when you have a mount controlled via USB and with its own built in hub - more modern designs.

 

FWIW you can buy a usb to 4 serial port converter for 60 dollars. Then you could mount it on the OTA and have only one wire. Same with a hub. Just mount it on the OTA and have only one wire going back to the computer. Much easier to manage the cabling and at no additional expense.

 

Fortunately I don't have an old AP mount. Mine have built in hubs and don't need serial connections.  

 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#13 archer1960

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 04:10 PM

Well, let's see. Using that computer you seem to say that you run 4 long serial and 4 long USB cables from the mount to the computer, all carefully routed to avoid problems with meridian flips or any other issue. Then you have only a tiny SSD and one video port. I can see the use case when you have those old AP mounts. I can't see the use case when you have a mount controlled via USB and with its own built in hub - more modern designs.

 

FWIW you can buy a usb to 4 serial port converter for 60 dollars. Then you could mount it on the OTA and have only one wire. Same with a hub. Just mount it on the OTA and have only one wire going back to the computer. Much easier to manage the cabling and at no additional expense.

 

Fortunately I don't have an old AP mount. Mine have built in hubs and don't need serial connections.  

 

 

Rgrds-Ross

And mine is in between yours and d_talley's: I don't need any RS-232 ports, but my mount doesn't have a usb hub built in, so I have an external hub hanging off the mount to give me the extra ports I need for 4 cameras (between the two guiders and two imaging cameras, they have 4 different USB connectors, so I keep all 4 cables in the bundle and just connect the ones I need at any given time), focuser and mount.



#14 D_talley

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 05:05 PM

I do like you do and have placed all of my cables in a bundle and the computer is small enough to fit under the mount, so cable runs down the mount and under it. No tangles or the cable mess I had years ago  when I started this hobby. The mount, once setup correctly should fade into the background when you are working remotely.  

I have three cameras and three scopes on my mount at one time.  Two of the cameras, Apogee U16m and U8300, require two USB cables each. One for the camera and one for the filter wheel. Then there are the focusers, that is two and the guide camera and the last camera, QSI660.  That totals up to 8 USB cables running to my fanless computer which has 8 USB ports. 

 

With the computer running Win 10, I connect to it from my Mac in the office with Microsoft Remote Desktop software. I have two monitors attached to the Mac and when I connect, I can spread out the running aps across both monitors, which makes it much easier to see what is going on. 


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#15 archer1960

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 06:23 PM

I do like you do and have placed all of my cables in a bundle and the computer is small enough to fit under the mount, so cable runs down the mount and under it. No tangles or the cable mess I had years ago  when I started this hobby. The mount, once setup correctly should fade into the background when you are working remotely.  

I have three cameras and three scopes on my mount at one time.  Two of the cameras, Apogee U16m and U8300, require two USB cables each. One for the camera and one for the filter wheel. Then there are the focusers, that is two and the guide camera and the last camera, QSI660.  That totals up to 8 USB cables running to my fanless computer which has 8 USB ports. 

 

With the computer running Win 10, I connect to it from my Mac in the office with Microsoft Remote Desktop software. I have two monitors attached to the Mac and when I connect, I can spread out the running aps across both monitors, which makes it much easier to see what is going on. 

Nice!



#16 astrohamp

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 06:46 PM

My J5005 processor NUC runs all my EAA needs at the scope for a Windows Remote desktop link or to feed an active HDMI cable connect with a UHD 4k monitor in my dark shed.

iOptron Commander, SharpCap Pro, PHD2, and ECU planetarium/control software run fine although plate solving can be slow (down sampled x3).  It can absorb 200+ full frame ASI294pro lucky image camera files in about 10 seconds.

Hasn't been through a sub zero session although many HHH nights and been running near continuously this summer 90+ days.  Expensive yes, Plug-n-play yes, bomb proof industrial tested not quite.  Dedicated for astro use and no web access unless I say so.  Shut down everything not essential, eliminate bloatware from the get go, use management tools to reduce CPU load, run SSD or m.2 HDD and lots of RAM if doing any fast acquisitions.



#17 archer1960

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 06:59 PM

My J5005 processor NUC runs all my EAA needs at the scope for a Windows Remote desktop link or to feed an active HDMI cable connect with a UHD 4k monitor in my dark shed.

iOptron Commander, SharpCap Pro, PHD2, and ECU planetarium/control software run fine although plate solving can be slow (down sampled x3).  It can absorb 200+ full frame ASI294pro lucky image camera files in about 10 seconds.

Hasn't been through a sub zero session although many HHH nights and been running near continuously this summer 90+ days.  Expensive yes, Plug-n-play yes, bomb proof industrial tested not quite.  Dedicated for astro use and no web access unless I say so.  Shut down everything not essential, eliminate bloatware from the get go, use management tools to reduce CPU load, run SSD or m.2 HDD and lots of RAM if doing any fast acquisitions.

Thanks for the description. Plate solving doesn't seem like it would be particularly time-critical, since it's done only once per imaging target. Download speed from my imaging camera and especially the guide camera seem like they would be far more important. My main concern with processing power was how much PHD needed, but from what people have posted here, it seems like it's a lot less than I had assumed.



#18 EFT

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 07:29 PM

I use cheap (around 200 dollars) refurbished tiny computers at the mounts in my observatory. These use micro-itx boards and have SSD's and i5 chips. You can go less powerful, but then you have to be disciplined about what you run on the box other than your imaging suite. Given that you can get an i5 for 200, I really don't see the point. I've yet (3 or 4 years) to have one of the three break on me. There's a third box out there which can be used if one of the primary computers fails. 

 

I have no confidence that an NUC or that a fanless (expensive) computer is any more reliable than what I have. It's built with all the same parts. I do give the little boxes a clean once a year with a vacuum. So far, so good. 

I actually meant Pico ITX and I am referring to scope-top computers vs. desktop or pier-mounted computers.  That Amazon example is 8 x 7 inches and 4 lbs.  Except on a very large system, that is not a scope-top computer.  So we are probably talking about slightly different things.



#19 EFT

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 08:06 PM

Thanks for the description. Plate solving doesn't seem like it would be particularly time-critical, since it's done only once per imaging target. Download speed from my imaging camera and especially the guide camera seem like they would be far more important. My main concern with processing power was how much PHD needed, but from what people have posted here, it seems like it's a lot less than I had assumed.

Mounts that use plate solving with modelling can need to plate solve 100 times or more to develop a good model so plate solving is time-critical in that situation.  Even then, it still doesn't require a high-power computer to do.



#20 rgsalinger

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 09:28 PM

Yes, sorry I would never put a computer on top of a scope. I didn't realize that's what you were recommending. 

 

I always put them at the base of the mount for several reasons. A computer at the base of the mount (mine are tucked in just a bit) will not dew up. A computer at the base of the mount allows troubleshooting while the system is running if you've lost communication for some reason (like the computer won't boot). You can swap out focusers, guide cameras, even an OTA without touching the wiring between to the computer. You've got maximum flexibility - no weight issues, no balance issues, etc. 

 

Personally, I find that having an i5 chip as a minimum allows me to multi task when imaging without pinning the CPU. I have a google drive running at all times pushing my images up to the cloud. I have CCD Inspector running in automatic mode so I can see the quality of my images whenever I want to do so. When I used an Atom stick computer (not the best choice) I was really barely able to just run CCDAP and MaximDL. It's just so much easier and cheaper to put the computer at the base of the mount. 

 

Rgrds-Ross


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#21 AnakChan

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Posted 24 September 2020 - 09:56 PM

I've pledged for a GMK NUCBox on Indiegogo. It's based on a Celeron J4125 and comes with 8GB of RAM. I've also opted for the 512GB SDD storage with it. I reckon this with the PegasusAstro Pocket PowerBox Advance would make a small need combination.

 

From what I've read, image acquisition/scheduling doesn't require much power and Celerons would do. However if one is adding autofocus & HFR calculations, would that still hold true or would an i5 be better suited?



#22 EFT

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Posted 25 September 2020 - 01:58 AM

Autofocus, plate solving, etc. are not heavy tasks for a computer.  Everybody thinks they need a gaming computer these days when you only need those for gaming.  Equipment control and data acquisition is easy.  If you want to do image processing, then save that for the high-powered graphics machine. 

 

I can set up a scope-top system that can run numerous cameras, focusers, dew heaters, and anything else you need while only requiring a single cable running up to the scope.  What could be easier?  I can swap out components (if I ever need to) with no more work than a pier-mounted computer and I can swap out cables in a second.  Running TSX, MaximDL and any number of other programs has never been a problem with a Celeron scope-top system.  A computer with a Celeron processor, 8GB ram, 1TB SSD, two USB ports, two serial ports, LAN, and Wifi can weigh less than 1 lbs. so I don't see any weight problem on almost any mount.  On average, a fanless computer will use less power (even better when it uses a modern lower-level processor like a Celeron).  A fanless computer can be both dust and moisture free (the worst combination is fans + moisture) which are important in outdoor settings.  The computer is silent, without vibration, and not prone to fan failures in dusty environments even when run 24/7/365.  Computstick computers are an entirely different thing.  While they are fine for some people, they can be easily underpowered processor and memory wise, poorly suited to outdoor use, and are completely reliant on external storage (which is good and bad).  

 

As usual in this hobby, there are a lot of ways to do the same thing.  For me personally, I never plan on using anything other than a remotely controlled scope-top computer from now on.



#23 EFT

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Posted 25 September 2020 - 02:16 AM

There are some very cool little cube computers coming out lately that have some promise for scope-top astronomy use.  The that I have noted that I don't like are the likely inability to change/upgrade things like memory or storage size (at this size these are inevitably built into the board), fan cooling, and no external Wifi antenna (which can severely limit communication with a backyard observatory from inside the house).  The GMK NUCBox looks very nice but I wish it didn't use a fan and particularly a fan that sits on top of the computer with an upward facing opening.  That configuration is even more prone to stuff getting into the fan.  However, it's possible that the design using the fan and heatsink for cooling what not also pumping air (and dust) through the system which would be less of a problem.  I'm going to have to pick up one of the little cubes to play with sooner or later since I think that they would at least be a good step above a computstick.


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#24 rgsalinger

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Posted 25 September 2020 - 01:45 PM

I'd like to see the link to a one pound fanless computer with the specs you mention particularly designed to run in the environment that's present on top of an OTA. Please include the pricing. Genuinely curious.  My computers run around 200 bucks with 8GB an i5 chip and Win 10 Pro activated as well as installed. 

 

I've explained why it's better to have the computer at the pier. It's out of the elements. With a modern mount there are NO cables. You can swap an OTA for any reason is 5 minutes. You can swap computers for any reason in 5 minutes. It's trivial to troubleshoot problems while the system is running without a second computer (watch out when that wireless link gets flaky). Even if the computer weighs just 1 pound there's also going to be some bar to mount it on. 

 

I tried it Ed's way about 3 years ago and decided it just wasn't worth doing.

 

Even if you have an older design mount like the ones that Ed sells, just put a hub and a power distribution unit on the bar where he puts the computer and then you have two wires. Big deal. 

 

Rgrds-Ross



#25 CA Curtis 17

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Posted 27 September 2020 - 10:44 AM

Ross

 

That Lenovo ThinkCentre M93P Tiny Desktop you mentioned looks interesting but I am wondering how it is powered.  When I checked the Lenovo site for specs it appears that it runs off a 60w transformer which means AC.  Can you please tell us how it is powered and, if you know, how much power it consumes.  I am only looking for something that I can run off DC, preferably 12V but I can also handle 19V with a DC upconverter.

 

Thanks

Curtis




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