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headless computers for cold weather?

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#1 alvacouch

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 08:53 AM

My recent observing sessions have been hampered by my laptop -- quite literally -- freezing in the cold. frown.gif

 

With a warm room nearby and available for use, I am considering switching to a headless controller in order to image in sub-freezing temperatures. I am interested the cold-weather performance of both turnkey imaging controllers (e.g., ZWO ASAir and its relatives) as well as build-your-own bare units (e.g., Intel NUC and its relatives). Unit must (obviously) support both mount control and imaging. 

 

What have owners of these systems observed about their ability to tolerate cold weather operation? What temperature limits have you have experienced? 

 

Many thanks in advance! 


Edited by alvacouch, 23 January 2021 - 08:57 AM.


#2 ebonnevi

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 09:11 AM

HI

 

I have a mini PC Beelink directly attach on my OTA. At -15 C the cpu is running at around 5 C. I left it open all night even after imaging session this way no frost stay on him. You can also put the mini pc in a case like this one : https://www.amazon.c...lv_ov_lig_dp_it

 

I'm controling my mount (EQMOD) and my imaging software with this (NINA, sharpcap..)

 

Hope this help


Edited by ebonnevi, 23 January 2021 - 09:25 AM.


#3 jrschmidt2

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 09:27 AM

How far away is your warm room?  I ask because I have had good luck with my active USB 2 cable at distances of 50'.  The same brand (Mutec Power) makes active USB 3 cables as well.  It comes with ~3 repeaters along the length of the cable and is powered by the same battery I use for the mount.  This then eliminates the need for an outside computer.



#4 ebonnevi

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 09:33 AM

Where do you bought this USB cable?  That's an option I want to try also. Did you drill a hole in your house to pass the cable or you left an window open? :)



#5 jrschmidt2

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 10:46 AM

I bought on Amazon.  Here is a link:

https://www.amazon.c...s/dp/B07RL3MMDF

 

Very good reviews, including those from a few other astro users.  There are a number of lengths as well as USB 2 and USB 3.  I've heard that sometimes USB 2 is more robust for long runs, but with the "active" cable and multiple repeaters it seems that others have had good success even with USB 3.  At 50' and USB 2 it is rock solid.  I cannot attest for the 65' ones or USB 3, but I am inclined to try the USB 3 cables when I get a camera with higher resolution.

 

Note that to make this work, you will want to make sure to get a adapter to power the USB cable.  This is essential to make it work.  I think it comes bundled with the longest 65' cables, but otherwise needs to be purchased separately. (I used a simple USB to 5 V adapter that could be plugged into my TalentCell battery.)

 

In terms of getting it into the house, I use a simple trick.  I actually pass it through my front door!  It manages to squeeze between the door and weather stripping on the very bottom corner of the front door.  If I were more motivated I would add a pass through via an existing junction box (i.e. for an existing outside outlet) and then add a USB faceplate inside.  (This would also reduce the required cable run by a good 20'!)


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#6 Pauls72

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 10:46 AM

The ASI-Air is a just a Raspberry Pi with ZWO's software.

 

Here is Raspberry Pi's official answer.

The Raspberry Pi is built from commercial chips which are qualified to different temperature ranges; the LAN9514 (LAN9512 on older models with 2 USB ports) is specified by the manufacturers as being qualified from 0°C to 70°C, while the SoC is qualified from -40°C to 85°C. You may well find that the board will work outside those temperatures, but we're not qualifying the board itself to these extremes.

 

I have used my Windows Mini-PC down to -20F (-29C) with out any problems.



#7 Pauls72

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 11:00 AM

The USB specification standards states for USB 2 and USB 1, a maximum cable length of 5 meters (16 ft 5 in).

The USB specification standards for USB 3 does not state a the maximum length, but there is a maximum practical length of 3 meters (9 ft 10 in) based on the rest of the specifications.

 

Many people ignore this and try and run longer distances using powered hubs and repeater cables. Some work and some don't. Just take a look at all the threads where people struggle with USB problems.



#8 alvacouch

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 11:02 AM

My warm room is about 30 feet away from my regular setup spot. There is a window that could allow passage of a USB cable. 

 

I already have a 25' USB 2 cable that I bought for another reason (connecting a music keyboard to a computer). But I was hoping to do this via WIFI. 

 

Because I have a limited horizon, I tend to move the telescope around based upon what I want to see. I use two main locations on a 100' driveway. The main rig is on wheels. 



#9 alvacouch

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 11:08 AM

I'm mostly looking for -10C to 0C capability. Anything colder will keep me inside. wink.gif  Even my meager laptop claims to work above 0C but "fails reliably" at -5C, which has been the observing temperature around here for a few days. 



#10 jrschmidt2

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 11:08 AM

Note that an ACTIVE USB cable is essential. The active repeaters built into the length of the cable are what allow you to achieve runs that surpass the above quoted length limitations. A stock long USB cable is unlikely to give good results, especially with USB 3.

#11 choward94002

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 12:02 PM

I'm mostly looking for -10C to 0C capability. Anything colder will keep me inside. wink.gif  Even my meager laptop claims to work above 0C but "fails reliably" at -5C, which has been the observing temperature around here for a few days. 

I use laptops as a "head" for each of my piers, and will see temps as low as -15C at some times ... they are totally exposed to the elements, literally a pier sitting out in an open area ... here's what I've found:

 

- Get a clear 30gal storage bin and place the laptop, the UPS (you need one, trust me, read the threads here) and the USB hubs inside of it ... with just the power and USB cables coming out through weathertight cord gaskets (I use WiFi for the local network access).  This has several advantages ... first, as it's a sealed box I don't have to worry about frost, rain, snow, insects, larger critters, etc. bothering the laptop or the electronics.  Second, the heat from the laptop cooling fan will more than compensate for the conduction cooling (not convection, it's a sealed box) ... even on the cold -5C nights inside the box it's rarely below 10C (and I have remote temperature and humidity sensors there).  Finally, the heat from the laptop inside of the box also keeps other equipment warm that doesn't like to be cold like the UPS, the USB hubs and my heating control computer.

 

- Swap out the laptop hard drive for an SSD ... it will be faster and tolerates temperature changes much better than a spinning platter

 

- If it gets really cold, below -5C or if there's going to be a bit of a wind I use a hydroponic heating pad (you can get those on Amazon) underneath the laptop and UPS ... that will keep the temps inside around 5C (and I've seen temps as low as -15C, as I said).  You can get a thermostat to control the heating pad, the same one that is used to keep pipes from freezing

 

Clear skies!


Edited by choward94002, 23 January 2021 - 12:03 PM.


#12 Cfreerksen

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 01:12 PM

You can just by a storage bin/tote. I did this before a got a mini PC. Lay the tote on it's side and cut a hole for the cables to go through. Get it all set up and snap the lid on it. It will self heat the area in the box and you won't have frost or dew on you laptop.

 

If you want to go with a mini PC they work fine. I have not had mine below -15C but have have had zero issues. It is just hung on the wall of my scope shed and works very well over a dedicated directional wireless repeater. Super stable, fast access to my rig in the back yard.  https://www.cloudyni...run/?p=10481110

 

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

 

Wireless access point : https://www.amazon.c...e?ie=UTF8&psc=1

This is no longer available but Ubiquiti has new devices.

 

Chris


Edited by Cfreerksen, 23 January 2021 - 01:31 PM.


#13 cytan299

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 06:42 PM

My warm room is about 30 feet away from my regular setup spot. There is a window that could allow passage of a USB cable. 

 

I already have a 25' USB 2 cable that I bought for another reason (connecting a music keyboard to a computer). But I was hoping to do this via WIFI. 

 

Because I have a limited horizon, I tend to move the telescope around based upon what I want to see. I use two main locations on a 100' driveway. The main rig is on wheels. 

I use WIFI with a WIFI extender. Here's the link:

 

https://www.amazon.c...P/dp/B004YAYM06

 

I connect my laptop to the extender with an ethernet cable. The antennae of the extender provides a reliable WIFI link to my indoors laptop. Works very well.

 

I'd suggest that instead of buying a NUC and going headless that you try out a laptop dew shield: 

 

https://www.dewbuste...eld-laptop.html

 

If you cover the front as well, it becomes a box to trap heat from the laptop and so low temps doesn't affect the laptop.

 

cytan



#14 t-ara-fan

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 08:44 PM

For my outside setup, I have

  • big cardboard box on it's side - with flip down lid extension.
  • 1" thick closed cell foam pad
  • reptile heating pad

 

No problems down to -20°C.  Well ... no problems for the laptop. My fingers get a little chilly.

 

20201214_152313_resized_1small.jpg

 

20201214_152318_resized_1small.jpg

 

In my warm room, things are a little toastier. Laptop, with two external monitors. A third external monitor (duplicate of the image on one of the external monitors) is on the wall of my cold room.  Hopefully 4 screens will meet my needs.cool.gif

  • NINA in upper left.
  • APCC Pro, AllSkyCamera, and some KPOP (Sunmi) on the upper right
  • PHD2 on the laptop screen

 

20210107_182109 small.jpg


Edited by t-ara-fan, 23 January 2021 - 08:46 PM.


#15 Fitz8710

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Posted 23 January 2021 - 09:07 PM

I have had zero issues with this so far.

 

https://www.amazon.c...ob_b_asin_title

 

I use a 150 foot Cat 6 ethernet cable.  I Run DSLR/usb hub/guiding camera.  I cant speak for planetary imaging but works great for DSO.  It saved my life last night.  It was 0 degrees F lol.

 

Clear skies buddy



#16 ratskrad

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Posted 24 January 2021 - 01:36 PM

My computer hookups over the past 8 years or so have evolved from leaving a laptop outside in a tote and no remote operations to a laptop to inside the house computer using remote desktop running a hardwired connection into the house to then using a wireless connection as wireless technologies have improved. A month ago or so I ditched the laptop in a heated tote to using a small form factor 4 core intel CPU, Win 10 Pro,  8gigs of ram and a 512gig Nvme ssd. No moving parts except for a cooling fan. Many nights over the past month it has gotten below -10C and not a single issue. 

 

Here is the unit I picked up and it was basically a close my eyes and pick one although I did come across the brand name here on CN.

 

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

 

Remote Desktop

 



#17 TWB

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Posted 19 February 2021 - 10:28 AM

I am a novice in astrophotography. But I do have some experience in the use of cameras, computers, and accessories in cold and remote locations, including skydiving into the North Pole. Here are three suggestions.

  

If you have sufficient electrical service, via extension cords or batteries, you can use an ordinary personal heating pad beneath your computer to keep it warm. If using 12 volts and you have a large battery, you can find 12 volt heating pads on Amazon. If you add a box of sufficient size, (including the one you store and transport your astrophotography gear in) you can put the heating pad in the box, along with your computer, batteries, etc., Have all of the gear you plan to heat inside and warm until you need them, so that the heating pad only needs to keep them warmer, not heat them up. One feature to avoid is that many newer heating pads have a safety feature that turns heating pads off after relatively short amount of time. Our home one does so after just a half hour. Thus you may have to dig around in your's and your neighbors' closets and cabinets, for an older one that stays on for the whole night of imaging.

 

A second option, for smaller items such as intervalometers, external batteries, or even cameras themselves around the battery compartment, is to use ordinary chemical hand warmers placed directly onto them. I have made over 500 cold weather skydives with camera gear, and on the colder days, using ordinary elastic bandages to ensure the hand warmers remain in direct contact with the gear.With some experimentation, you can determine the number of wrap layers needed to meet your needs. Note that elastic wrap layers limit the amount of oxygen that gets to the hand-warmers, reducing the amount of heat they provide. But this can be a good thing, for it also extends the amount of time the hand warmers work. You can also use a hand-held paper punch to cut holes in the elastic wrap, allowing more oxygen in, and increasing the heat they provide, but at the cost of not warming as long.

 

All of the hand warmers have safety labels warning you to not put them in direct contact with skin. But when skydiving into the North Pole, and later cold, but less extreme jumps, many of us put hand warmers inside our gloves, on both sides of the hands. You can't do a lot for individual fingers while using them, but warming the palm and back side of your hands does serve to warm up the blood going into the fingers. It helps.

 

Tom B


Edited by TWB, 19 February 2021 - 10:36 AM.



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