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Setting up a Mini PC for astrophotography

Astrophotography
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#1 ArandomPilot

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 12:41 PM

In my last post, I figured that my issues stems from the long 75ft CAT6e cable that runs from my mount to my PC. Since connections keep dropping from that cable. With that being said, I have no idea how to set a mini pc up for astrophotography, let alone what ones will work. I don't want to spend more than a few hundred on this device. 

 

So here are my questions:

1. What mini PC will get the job done? 

2. What kind of software will be need?

3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?

4. How much memory do I need? Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)?



#2 ryanha

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:01 PM

FWIW, I spent the extra money to get a pretty nice NUC to mount on my tri-pier.  I think I spent $1000 on it.  But I was able to put PixInsight on it so I can do processing on it through the night (or live stacking, etc.).

I also have a secondary camera on a tri-pod so I can "watch" my telescope and make sure everything looks good.

 

As far as the software, it is just the same software that I use for imaging (ioptron commander, PhD, NINA, SharpCap).

 

For connecting, I use remote desktop and sit in my living room and control it that way. (my laptop acts as a remote mouse/keywoard/monitor).

 

I also bought a small keyboard / HDMI screen for when I am at a remote site just in case (e.g. to configure WiFi).

 

Mine has internal SSD (1 TB) and 16G of RAM.  That is probably overkill, but it is nice to be able to run PI on it and I image a lot so having 1TB means I don't have to do a lot of disk management.

 

You can for sure get away with lower specs, but I thought I would share my experience b/c I am very happy with my setup despite being very reluctant at first to spend the money.

 

--Ryan

 

 

 

 

 

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#3 corpusjonsey

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:10 PM

1. What mini PC will get the job done? 

2. What kind of software will be need?

3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?

4. How much memory do I need? Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)?

1. I use a Raspberry Pi 4 - Running Astroberry

2. Astroberry, Stellarmate

3. Wifi works great to remote into the RPi

4. I use an external drive (Corsair GTX) 256GB. Depends on if you want to store all of your past sessions on there or not.

 

The RPi runs Astroberry that runs the data acquisition/automation (Kstars/Ekos). After the data collection, I transfer the external drive over to a different computer (MacBook Pro) to process with PixInsight.


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#4 terrypaula

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:40 PM

I need to ask what you're using the Cat6e cable for?  I'm a retired network administrator and from my experience network cables can be over 100' long before you start loosing data. 

As far as running the mount for AP you don't need to spend hundreds of dollar on a computer.  An older i3 or AMD system works just fine.  My 10yr old 64bit laptop runs everything just fine.


Edited by terrypaula, 21 October 2021 - 01:41 PM.


#5 zakry3323

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:49 PM

This thread is a good one for insight regarding, very specifically, the best headless, 12v, fanless PC's currently available.  


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#6 bobzeq25

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:52 PM

In my last post, I figured that my issues stems from the long 75ft CAT6e cable that runs from my mount to my PC. Since connections keep dropping from that cable. With that being said, I have no idea how to set a mini pc up for astrophotography, let alone what ones will work. I don't want to spend more than a few hundred on this device. 

 

So here are my questions:

1. What mini PC will get the job done? 

2. What kind of software will be need?

3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?

4. How much memory do I need? Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)?

I use a NUC at the scope.  Doesn't have to be a powerful one.  A used laptop is the very cheapest option, either keeps Windows for its unmatched hardware/software compatibility. 

 

Remote it to my desktop inside with Teamviewer (free), over my home wifi network.  Did add a wifi booster for very reliable connections.  No wires are more than 5 feet, most are less than 3.

 

There are a couple of things to do outside (polar alignment, mostly), but the large majority of the time I'm imaging from my warm house.  That's added years to my career.  <smile>

 

Nothing to buy except the NUC (laptop).  The software you use is the software you have already.


Edited by bobzeq25, 21 October 2021 - 01:55 PM.

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#7 bobzeq25

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 01:58 PM

I need to ask what you're using the Cat6e cable for?  I'm a retired network administrator and from my experience network cables can be over 100' long before you start loosing data. 

As far as running the mount for AP you don't need to spend hundreds of dollar on a computer.  An older i3 or AMD system works just fine.  My 10yr old 64bit laptop runs everything just fine.

The OP is frustrated with his 75 foot cable.  In DSO AP, for a variety of reasons, trying to use long cables is asking for trouble and frustration.  Wifi works.  Short cables work.

 

They.               Just.                Work.

 

No reason to go anywhere else.


Edited by bobzeq25, 21 October 2021 - 02:00 PM.


#8 TheBrochan

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 02:01 PM

I used a dell mini PC i had lying around. Its an i7 with 16 gigs of RAM - It runs all of imaging software including ASTAP, Sharpcap, NINA, Cartes Du Ceil, Stellarium etc.

 

Look up the system requirements of all the applications you want to use with this PC and you will have a better idea of the specs you need. 

 

For network cables you want to avoid anything longer than 100'

 

75 should be ok. Have you tested with another cable?

 

I used a wifi adapter on mine and it was 10 bucks off amazon. I may get something a little more high-end at some point.

 

If you run windows, just use the windows remote desktop application and avoid teamviewer if you can.

 

Also avoid wifi extenders when and if possible. 


Edited by TheBrochan, 21 October 2021 - 02:06 PM.


#9 TheBrochan

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 02:04 PM

The OP is frustrated with his 75 foot cable.  In DSO AP, for a variety of reasons, trying to use long cables is asking for trouble and frustration.  Wifi works.  Short cables work.

 

They.               Just.                Work.

 

No reason to go anywhere else.

Long CAT6 cables are fine as long as they are made correctly with quality cable. I do long runs all the time at the hospital I work at and we have no issues. When running lines from jack to device we typically don't allow anything longer than 15 feet.


Edited by TheBrochan, 21 October 2021 - 02:04 PM.

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#10 ArandomPilot

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 02:11 PM

I need to ask what you're using the Cat6e cable for?  I'm a retired network administrator and from my experience network cables can be over 100' long before you start loosing data. 

As far as running the mount for AP you don't need to spend hundreds of dollar on a computer.  An older i3 or AMD system works just fine.  My 10yr old 64bit laptop runs everything just fine.

I use a USB to CAT cable converter, it can convert up to 4 USB devices. As of right now, I am technically using all 4 ports but adding another item which would be my autofocuser. I think the wires are getting frayed after the door has closed on the cable. The connection drops after 20-30 minutes. I have to completely restart the rig to reconnect the mount, and then I have to redo it again.  



#11 ArandomPilot

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 02:14 PM

I used a dell mini PC i had lying around. Its an i7 with 16 gigs of RAM - It runs all of imaging software including ASTAP, Sharpcap, NINA, Cartes Du Ceil, Stellarium etc.

 

Look up the system requirements of all the applications you want to use with this PC and you will have a better idea of the specs you need. 

 

For network cables you want to avoid anything longer than 100'

 

75 should be ok. Have you tested with another cable?

 

I used a wifi adapter on mine and it was 10 bucks off amazon. I may get something a little more high-end at some point.

 

If you run windows, just use the windows remote desktop application and avoid teamviewer if you can.

 

Also avoid wifi extenders when and if possible. 

I have nothing but windows products, so I'll get something with windows. 



#12 TheBrochan

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 02:21 PM

I use a USB to CAT cable converter, it can convert up to 4 USB devices. As of right now, I am technically using all 4 ports but adding another item which would be my autofocuser. I think the wires are getting frayed after the door has closed on the cable. The connection drops after 20-30 minutes. I have to completely restart the rig to reconnect the mount, and then I have to redo it again.  

Ahhh I see now I sort of misunderstood what was going on. It sounds like the converter and hub to me. 



#13 bobzeq25

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 05:17 PM

Long CAT6 cables are fine as long as they are made correctly with quality cable. I do long runs all the time at the hospital I work at and we have no issues. When running lines from jack to device we typically don't allow anything longer than 15 feet.

Be that as it may.  Long cables in DSO astrophotography often cause problems.  I'm not saying they should.  I'm saying that operationally, it happens.  And, they can be hard to diagnose.

 

In DSO AP, for the average imager, wifi is _so_ much simpler, _so_ much less likely to cause mysterious problems.

 

I can't tell you why.  It's just operational fact.  Why most people use wifi, if they can.


Edited by bobzeq25, 21 October 2021 - 05:18 PM.


#14 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 09:06 PM

Be that as it may.  Long cables in DSO astrophotography often cause problems.  I'm not saying they should.  I'm saying that operationally, it happens.  And, they can be hard to diagnose.

 

In DSO AP, for the average imager, wifi is _so_ much simpler, _so_ much less likely to cause mysterious problems.

 

I can't tell you why.  It's just operational fact.  Why most people use wifi, if they can.

Bob, you can't apply the challenges with long cheap USB cables to everything.  Ethernet cabling, when used for actual networking not something else as we have with the OP's situation, is designed at an international standards level for 100m (300') at gigabit speeds between two devices.  Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is designed for bouncing signals around an office space or home at short distances, with multiple devices.  Beginning with 802.11n, and refined big time with 11ac, signals bouncing around off walls, ceilings, and floors give a spacial component to the signaling, allowing multiple digital conversations to occur in parallel.  Consider how one can carry on a conversation with somebody else at a party, with your brain doing some magical decoding.  The multiple antennas on your home router are part of that ability.  Importantly, the modulation and protocols that make this work start breaking down beyond about 50 feet, forcing a back-off in modulation rates, limiting throughput.  One cannot get past the inverse square law that limits how far one can throw even a simple signal, and even then going some distance requires special beam antennas and such.  Finally, and especially on the 2.4 ghz band, interference from other stations and a myriad of electronic gadgets will affect your success in unpredictable ways. 

 

As TheBrochan said, properly implemented wired communication is by far the more reliable means for communication.  The devices you see in hospitals that use WiFi do so with an incredible bit of engineering behind the deployment.  Given the stakes, they do so only because there is no alternative. 
 


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#15 calypsob

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Posted 21 October 2021 - 09:32 PM

Lenovo make a fanless m90n which can be configured to suit your needs


Edited by calypsob, 21 October 2021 - 09:32 PM.


#16 ngatel

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:06 AM

In my last post, I figured that my issues stems from the long 75ft CAT6e cable that runs from my mount to my PC. Since connections keep dropping from that cable. With that being said, I have no idea how to set a mini pc up for astrophotography, let alone what ones will work. I don't want to spend more than a few hundred on this device. 
 
So here are my questions:
1. What mini PC will get the job done? 
2. What kind of software will be need?
3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?
4. How much memory do I need? Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)


I have a BeeLink GK55 with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD. It has a fan, is quiet, and doesn’t draw much amperage. Windows 10 Pro so I can run Microsoft Remote Desktop, which works flawlessly on my Apple MacBook Pro. Here’s the link:

https://www.amazon.c...da4dea34d6&th=1

For super-reliable remote connections I bought a regular router and created it’s own network, so I don’t have to deal with my busy home network, plus it works at remote campsite. Since it is never connected to the Internet, I don’t update Windows. The router came with a wall wart for power and is 12-volt, so I made a cable with a Power Pole connector and it connects to my 12 volt system at the scope. Here’s the link:

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

Software I use on the mini PC:
Stellarium
SharpCap Pro
PHD2
Celestron CPWI
NINA
ASIStudio

All my stacking and processing is done on my Mac.

#17 base16

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:15 AM

In my last post, I figured that my issues stems from the long 75ft CAT6e cable that runs from my mount to my PC. Since connections keep dropping from that cable. With that being said, I have no idea how to set a mini pc up for astrophotography, let alone what ones will work. I don't want to spend more than a few hundred on this device. 

 

So here are my questions:

1. What mini PC will get the job done? 

2. What kind of software will be need?

3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?

4. How much memory do I need? Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)?

If connections keep dropping with a wired cat6, you have bad cables.

 

I use a wired cat6 at 100ft. Cat6 is much improved over Cat5e, but try better quality shielded cables.



#18 Mert

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 02:29 AM

Myself I've tried a ethernet to USB 2 port device with a 5 meter long ethernet cat5 cable.
Nothing but problems!
Nowadays a cheap Gigabyte brix celeron minipc, with 8gb RAM and 500gb SSD plus a little wifi router do the job.
No problems every since ( > 2 years now )

Edited by Mert, 22 October 2021 - 02:30 AM.


#19 Topographic

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 08:20 AM

Bob, you can't apply the challenges with long cheap USB cables to everything.  Ethernet cabling, when used for actual networking not something else as we have with the OP's situation, is designed at an international standards level for 100m (300') at gigabit speeds between two devices.  Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is designed for bouncing signals around an office space or home at short distances, with multiple devices.  Beginning with 802.11n, and refined big time with 11ac, signals bouncing around off walls, ceilings, and floors give a spacial component to the signaling, allowing multiple digital conversations to occur in parallel.  Consider how one can carry on a conversation with somebody else at a party, with your brain doing some magical decoding.  The multiple antennas on your home router are part of that ability.  Importantly, the modulation and protocols that make this work start breaking down beyond about 50 feet, forcing a back-off in modulation rates, limiting throughput.  One cannot get past the inverse square law that limits how far one can throw even a simple signal, and even then going some distance requires special beam antennas and such.  Finally, and especially on the 2.4 ghz band, interference from other stations and a myriad of electronic gadgets will affect your success in unpredictable ways. 

 

As TheBrochan said, properly implemented wired communication is by far the more reliable means for communication.  The devices you see in hospitals that use WiFi do so with an incredible bit of engineering behind the deploymet.  Given the stakes, they do so only because there is no alternative. 
 

Greg

I am looking at going down the NUC/remote mini pc route when we get fibre optic Broadband late next year. My Nexdome is about 40 metres from the house as a trench would have to go. We have 18inch thick stone walls, (we are talking 250 year old French farmhouse) so wi-fi is problematic plus I then need to connect to a separate barn on the opposite side of the main house. I take it buried ethernet would be the best option to the router in the house. We run signal booster to the barn through the electric wiring at the moment----slower than snail pace with our satellite internet (only option currently, groan), though i could connect using ethernet with some effort. 

 

Are there issues with temperature? What would you use to protect the cable?  

 

cheers



#20 Alex McConahay

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 09:34 AM

Lotta discussion here about Cat six cables ability to go over 75 feet. I don't think that should be an issue at all. These cables are designed for four times that long a transmission. But, you know, the original post is about how the cable connecting the mount does not work. Later that was clarified to: "The Mount to "USB/Cat 6 cable converter  to my computer" does not work. In other words, it is not necessarily the Cat 6 cable not doing the job---it is the whole "USB/Cat6 converter and cable" not doing the job. This happens a lot with those converters and hubs. 

 

And that is a different problem. One should not try to run a backyard rig off an indoor computer. Just too many things to go wrong.  

 

What most people do is put a mini or laptop out at the rig, and run a Cat 5 or 6 to the house (or wifi) to monitor (via remote desktop) what that backyard computer is doing. That is a completely different idea than trying to run the rig from indoors over a "USB to Cat converter."

 

As was pointed out by zzarky3323 (post 5), there is a long thread about minis out the which has all the information about the latest and greatest.

 

>>>>>>>1. What mini PC will get the job done?

See the thread in post 5. Does not take much of a computer. 

 

>>>>>>>2. What kind of software will be need?

These things are full computers. Use whatever you like. In addition to your current imaging software you will need a program to watch your computer at the rig. There are lots. I use Tight VNC or Real VNC. 

 

>>>>>>>3. How do I connect the mini PC to mine?

the 75 foot Cat 6 cable should work fine (actually, it connects to your router, and you watch your rig's computer on your home computer with a remote desktop program). Wifi also works. 

 

>>>>>>>4. How much memory do I need?

Not much. Taking pictures is not all that taxing.

 

>>>>>>>Do I need an external hard drive (I do have one)?

No. Can't hurt. But you can save your files to the mini computer, and transfer them (with your remote desktop app) to your home computer. Or you can save it to the thumb drive on your mini computer and walk the files into the house now and then. Or, you can use your external hard drive. 

 

Good luck. 

 

Alex


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#21 Pauls72

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 09:53 AM

As long as you are not trying to process images on your Mini-PC, pretty much any Mini-PC, NUC or Stick-PC will do the job. You want at least 4GB of memory and at least 64GB of disk.Make sure you have enough USB ports or a powered hub to support all your devices.

WiFi or a network cable can be used for connection. Originally I had a Stick PC. For the last 5 years I have been using an Atom powered Mini-PC, until it just died. I just ordered one of these as a replacement and a 500gb SSD:

https://www.amazon.c...product_details

https://www.amazon.c...product_details

 

I use a 12v powered WiFi router when out in the field imaging. I normally connect the Mini-PC to the router with a 1m (3 foot) CAT5 cable. Then I use WiFi from my laptop or tablet to the router. I have a 50ft CAT5 cable in my kit as a backup, just in case.

 

This is what software I use:

 

Windows 10 Pro and I use Windows Remote Desk Top to control it

 

ASCOM, EQMOD

 

Planatarium: Cartes du Ciel, Stellarium, or Sky Tools 3 Pro

 

Capture: Nebulosity4,  SGP, or CCD Ciel

 

Guiding: PHD2

 

Platesolving: Astrotortilla

 

Polar Alignment: QHY Polemaster

 

 

What software you choose to use is more what do you feel comfortable with.



#22 DesertCrawler

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 10:20 AM

A Celeron J4125 with 4Mb of memory will run Windows 10 Pro with memory to spare, and everything required for acquisition. It won't be good for processing, but will handle live stacking adequately. Stellarium runs but not well enough for my patience level so instead point the imaging computer at a desktop or laptop running Stellarium.

 

I also use refurbished HP Prodesk 600 G3 Mini PCs with Intel Quad Core i5@2.7Ghz and 16GB. This is massive overkill, but allows running Stellarium without penalty, and even processing in a pinch.

 

Remote access is Windows rdp (be sure to use Windows 10 Pro for the server) or Chrome desktop, both work well and are free. There are other free alternatives that work at least as well, maybe better.



#23 Jared

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 11:07 AM

I have had good luck with a Beelink U57 mini PC running Windows 10. Nothing fancy. Mine is an i5 processor version with 8GB of memory and 128GB of solid state storage. That comfortably runs NINA, the various ASCOM drivers, Focus Lynx, APCC (for mount control) and remote connectivity software. No WiFi, all Ethernet since I’m in a shared observatory. I did have to install a BIOS patch so that the computer would automatically boot on power up since I can’t reach the power button from 1,200mi away. Obviously, this isn’t remotely sufficient for image processing, but for telescope control it’s totally fine.

#24 BlueGrass

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 11:33 AM

One additional point to make concerning using WiFi to link your systems. Win10 still allows you to create adhoc networks via the command line. This may allow you to do away with using a separate router in the field, depending on each system's wireless capability. You also may need to upgrade one of the system's wifi abilities with a newer card or usb wifi dongle to get the best performance. There are USB based micro routers that run off your computer or USB hub's power, but one less device using more power in the field is good... 



#25 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:12 PM

Greg

I am looking at going down the NUC/remote mini pc route when we get fibre optic Broadband late next year. My Nexdome is about 40 metres from the house as a trench would have to go. We have 18inch thick stone walls, (we are talking 250 year old French farmhouse) so wi-fi is problematic plus I then need to connect to a separate barn on the opposite side of the main house. I take it buried ethernet would be the best option to the router in the house. We run signal booster to the barn through the electric wiring at the moment----slower than snail pace with our satellite internet (only option currently, groan), though i could connect using ethernet with some effort. 

 

Are there issues with temperature? What would you use to protect the cable?  

 

cheers

I would certainly go with a wired solution as long as the trenching can be done.  Conduit of some kind in the trench, and cabling that's intended for burial.  Best to assume it will get wet inside the conduit, from condensation if nothing else.  Another approach is to use fiber optic cables in the conduit, with an Ethernet switch at each end; it partly depends on what sort of connectivity you need, and what the budget is.

 

That said, if you don't need the bandwidth I wouldn't totally dismiss the idea of a WiFi link.  It just needs to be constructed for that purpose as a point-to-point link with beam antennas at each end.  You are correct that masonry walls are opaque to WiFi, so you'd be running a wire to a separate outside access point & patch antenna, probably tucked up under the roof line.  Of course, that might look really out of place on a classic French farmhouse.




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