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Setting up a Mini PC for astrophotography

Astrophotography
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#26 Mert

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:32 PM

You can also use a powerlink plug with an ethernet conector at each end.
Asuming you run a powercable from your house to the observatory

#27 Topographic

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:35 PM

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.

Trenching shouldn't be an issue and when they fit the fibre optic cable through the wall they can push the ethernet cable through with it. It will go nicely with the two traditional satellite dishes, smart electricity meter box and fibre junction box.

 

We also have trees that won't help any wifi signal.

 

thanks



#28 rgsalinger

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 01:51 PM

Unless you have a really weird location - like downtown Los Angeles - you'll be just fine with a modern wireless solution. I have two imaging systems in my observatory. One is accessed with wireless and one has an wired LAN connection. It's been over 2 years now without a single failure. Modern wireless is super reliable. I've never seen a mouse eat a wireless connection, but they have sure chewed the wiring to my systems in the past. Less wire, less food for the mice. I provide a wireless connection to another observatory about 50 feet away and again, in over 2 years not one reported problem, even when birds land on the antenna. 

 

When portable I like a laptop at the mount. I've come to prefer that over a two computer soluting for portable imaging. When there's a problem I just open up the screen and see what's doing. No carrying out a keyboard/mouse/screen when a problem arises or trying to change guiding parameters on a 7" phone screen. Yes, to be comfortable I bought a 500 watt lithium batter pack which was pricey. On the other hand I no longer need a second computer and a router and I would always need a battery anyway. 

 

Rgrds-Ross 


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#29 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 03:04 PM

Trenching shouldn't be an issue and when they fit the fibre optic cable through the wall they can push the ethernet cable through with it. It will go nicely with the two traditional satellite dishes, smart electricity meter box and fibre junction box.

 

We also have trees that won't help any wifi signal.

 

thanks

Sounds like a plan.  Trees can definitely be a a problem, especially with the distance involved.



#30 Topographic

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 03:50 PM

Sounds like a plan.  Trees can definitely be a a problem, especially with the distance involved.

I have no line of sight from observatory to house, even to the roofline, blocked by several wild Cherry trees, laurels and large oleaster hedging.  I am not sure that an omnidirectional or directional antenna would work.



#31 TelescopeGreg

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 04:19 PM

I have no line of sight from observatory to house, even to the roofline, blocked by several wild Cherry trees, laurels and large oleaster hedging.  I am not sure that an omnidirectional or directional antenna would work.

Oh, definitely would be a problem.  Omni or beam, WiFi doesn't do as well going through anything that's wet.  Recall how microwave ovens work.  Concrete is worse than foliage, but even foliage is a problem.



#32 fielderda

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 07:53 PM

I've had a Minix N42C-4 mounted on my telescope for about 3 years and it's great!

 

Fanless, quiet and great value for the money.

I updated to 32GB; it comes with Windows 10 Pro (doesn't do automatic updates during imaging!) and Microsoft Remote Desktop. Memory was upgraded and it handles all my astro software and tons of images. AND it also works in Cold weather -at least down to -15C!


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#33 SnowWolf

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Posted 22 October 2021 - 11:51 PM

I just finished doing this today - moving from a laptop to a mini-PC.

 

My gear - CEM60 mount on a tri-pier.  The scope is the Edge 8 with a Moonlite focuser, ZWO oag with an ASI290mm-mini camera, ZWO 8 slot filterwheel and either an ASI1600MM or ASI183MM camera. Also in the mix was a powered USB3 hub. All run by an HP laptop sitting outside next to the rig.

 

The mini-PC is a Beelink GK55.  8G ram, 256G SSD. I just spent 2 hours running a dummy acquisition run indoors with PHD2 looping on the guide camera and NINA taking images from the main camera.  All went well.

 

The rig was connected to my LAN via ethernet cable to the laptop, but WiFi would reach it as well and communication was by using Chrome Remote Desktop.  The laptop was connected to the rig via a USB3 cable to the powered hub, but since the Beelink has 4 USB ports and 4 were the most I used on the hub, it is gone.  The Beelink is mounted on the pier where the hub used to be.

 

The software I use:

 

ASCOM - base for communicating with devices

ASTAP and an associated database for plate solving

NINA - main acquisition program

PHD2 - guiding

Chrome w/Chrome Remote Desktop - communication with PC in the house

iOptron drivers and Commander for the CEM60 - control of the mount

Moonlite drivers and applications for the focuser - control of the focuser

Spik-a-flat driver and application - control of the flat panel

ZWO drivers for the cameras and filterwheel - control of the cameras and filterwheel

Polemaster drivers and application - control of the polemaster

 

I was able to copy over the saved NINA profiles and sequences from the laptop, saving a lot of work re-creating them.\

 

When I need to do a polar alignment or fiddle with focus things manually, I'm gonna take the old laptop out and connect it to the LAN using WiFi and Remote Desktop into the Mini-PC.

 

So, to answer your questions:

 

1. The Beelink GK55 is being sold by Amazon now for $269.  It's up to the task.

 

2. The software is listed above.  You'll have to adjust for your specific gear.  But the idea is to move the computer to the scope and then have your indoor computer be the keyboard/mouse/display via some kind of remote desktop software, so you already have a good idea of what software you need there.

 

3. Chrome Remote Desktop application works well for me for the software connection.  For the hardware connection, I use a 50 ft Cat6 Ethernet cable plugged into my Netgear hub but I have used a 75 ft cable      when the scope is set up in the front yard with no problems.  You will need a keyboard, mouse and display for the initial setup of the mini-PC.  But once you get the remote desktop software working, those can be removed.

 

3. No extra memory or hard disk space was needed.  The hard drive has 200Gb free after all the software was loaded, so that'll more than hold several nights data. Since the Beelink is connected to the LAN, I can copy the data directly from there to my NAS the next day. It could probably be set up to write directly to the NAS, but that's a job for another day.


Edited by SnowWolf, 22 October 2021 - 11:52 PM.

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#34 mrlovt

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Posted 23 October 2021 - 12:08 AM

I run two scopes in the backyard observatory, which is about 200' from the nearest wireless extender.  Wireless wouldn't cut it.  So, I ran a trench and put this cat7 cable in conduit and now connect from my office over remote desktop.  Overkill?  Absolutely, but I have zero problems.

 

Also, I don't think your cat6 cable is the problem, but you can surely rule it in our out by testing with another cable.

 

To the OP's original questions:

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)?

1. What mini PC?  I use this fanless PC, but it also is overkill.  Any modern processor can do the job.  Seriously, it's minimal processing power and RAM to do AP image capturing.  (Image processing is entirely another story.)  I wanted the ability to do a little processing on the fly, such as run PI from the observatory computer, thus the higher spec computer I use.  Check the specs for the most intensive software you want to run and get a mini PC that meets the recommended specs.  I think it's always smart to get more drive space than you think you'll need.

 

2. Software? As others have commented, whatever software you prefer for imaging:  I use Stellarium, SharpCap, NINA, etc...

 

3. Connect to the mini PC?  Software for connecting to the PC is as easy as Remote Desktop in Windows.  Hardware, as long as you have a connection to the PC you're good.  I'm going wired ethernet from an extender to an AP in the observatory.  I did wireless at my old house when the observatory was much closer to the router, and set up an extender with ethernet ports in the observatory.

 

4. How much memory?  External hard drive?  Back to the specs of the software you're using for RAM, but again, capturing isn't a highly RAM intensive task.  This isn't processing, gaming, etc.  When image capturing, get as much hard drive space as you find reasonable for your situation.  It might be easiest to save captures to a USB thumb drive or other external drive and then bring them inside to your home computer for processing.  The larger the disc space, the longer you can go between data imports.  You can fit a lot of data on a 1TB USB3 thumb drive.



#35 Mert

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Posted 23 October 2021 - 09:22 AM

Why not use your powerline to the scope and superpose internet over that cable?
It's cheap and works quit fast ( over a couple of extensions gives me >32Mb/s

#36 ssa2294

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 09:33 AM

I have the Beelink GK55, and I can not recommend it unless you are willing and accepting dealing with issues. First problem I encountered turned out to be an easy fix. As the dew point set in the unit's connections (USB & ethernet) would intermittently fail. I put a dew strap around the back of the unit and never experienced these issues again.

 

The one serious issue I have is that often (usually at beginning of the night) Windows will become un-responsive or unusable. Applications will cease to respond, and it usually requires a power cycle. Too often this repeats over and over, then will suddenly work normally.  A few nights back it took over an hour of power cycling/rebooting. This is almost always at start of the night. Yet next day I can take the unit inside, power it up, and runs for days without any issue. ONLY when I actually need it!

 

One other issue I experience when I first got it. After one evening the unit had issues loading Windows, eventually turned out to be the 2nd SSD drive I installed. Replaced it, but the drive itself is fine (using it elsewhere now), but the unit itself just stopped seating this one particular drive.

 

One advantage is it does have 2x ethernet which allow meet connect both LAN & mount without need of a 2nd device (switch). As it gets colder I guess I will find out how well it holds up in the cold of night in Minnesota.

 

One last thing, there is discrepancy between Beelink's own support forum and their reseller page on Amazon on what can be upgraded with their products. I.e. Amazon reseller will say X can have memory upgraded, their support says differently. 



#37 ngatel

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Posted 25 October 2021 - 11:42 AM

I have two BeeLink GK55 units. Overall happy with them.

The memory cannot be ungraded unless one is into soldering motherboards. The internal SSD can be changed, but one needs a method to copy the disk image to the new SSD. A second SSD can be added. For me, a 1Tb Samsung T7 external SSD works better for transferring files to my Mac.

One unit, which I use almost every night had problems with the real time clock. Support is via email and the folks in China aren’t real good with English, plus it seems they have holidays every month so responses sometimes isn’t timely. After several email exchanges, I sent it to China for free repair under warranty. Took a couple months as return shipping took a long time.

On the unit I use the most, sometimes the ON button is somewhat unresponsive. I’ve had it apart several times, but haven’t gone back into it to diagnose the button yet. I just went into the BIOS and set it to power on automatically when power to the unit is turned on. I like the auto power on feature and I may not even look at the switch.

Zero problems with Windows 10 Pro or any software. They just work night after night with zero glitches. I never connect to the Internet and never update Windows, except during the initial set up.

I don’t expect to ever use it in temps under 25F. Desert dwellers like me avoid cold climates ;-)

They are inexpensive units. The only real drawback in my mind is dealing with support in China. I suppose they are like lower priced mounts. You may get a bad one.

#38 BlueGrass

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 01:27 PM

I also have two of these GK55 units and so far they seem to work well with my software packages, but they

do have some limitations.  I'm just now at the point of getting them configured and setup in a running

imaging configuration, but have noticed that typically allowing them to check for and process windows

updates bogs them down.

 

 Also, transferring a lot of data or files across wifi via remote desktop can cause the mini's to stop responding

while the transfers take place..  so it appears that they can get bandwidth saturated moving large blocks of

data but I don't think that will be a problem with the typical bursts of USB or LAN traffic seen during an

imaging session.  All in all though, so far I like 'em... I bought two just to have one as a backup and to also

use it as a pfSense firewall ...


Edited by BlueGrass, 31 October 2021 - 01:29 PM.


#39 DesertCrawler

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 04:46 PM

You may wish to consider disabling Windows automatic updates. Others may be better advised to just let MS update do its thing, just something to consider.

 

That process can bog things down at inopportune times in my experience, although there are was to tune it a bit. There's a couple of ways to disable the service, however, depending upon Windows version. A search will likely point you to group policy editor (gpedit.sc) or disabling the service completely (services.msc). Pretty sure one can also set an update schedule that is far into the future. Just remember that the future has a way of becoming the present, and for me, that would no doubt come with a forced unprompted reboot coincident with a crucial imaging operation about 3 minutes after I left what should have been an unattended all night imaging session.

 

I choose to disable Windows Update on all my Windows boxes via the services manager and check now and then for critical releases to select only updates of interest rather than blindly updating at MS's whim. YMMV.

 

Transferring files by rdp can be slow even with a fast connections. There are resource friendly folder synchronization tools out there, some of them free, that may provide better performance and a reduced burden on Windows.

 

In the end I opted for sneaker-net. I have 1Tb USB 3 SS drives for fast but slightly less hands off file transfers. If time is not an issue, copying secured shared folders works okay (not via rdp). An ftp/tftp approach can work too and is pretty easy to set up.

 

The best upgrade I did to my GK Mini was an Intel AX200 WiFi module and external antennas. I also added an internal SSD.

 

 

I also have two of these GK55 units and so far they seem to work well with my software packages, but they

do have some limitations.  I'm just now at the point of getting them configured and setup in a running

imaging configuration, but have noticed that typically allowing them to check for and process windows

updates bogs them down.

 

 Also, transferring a lot of data or files across wifi via remote desktop can cause the mini's to stop responding

while the transfers take place..  so it appears that they can get bandwidth saturated moving large blocks of

data but I don't think that will be a problem with the typical bursts of USB or LAN traffic seen during an

imaging session.  All in all though, so far I like 'em... I bought two just to have one as a backup and to also

use it as a pfSense firewall ...


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#40 Northrim

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 06:59 PM

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.

Could you tell me what 12v wifi router you are using?

My situation is that  I live in an apartment  and always have to  drive  to my imaging site which has no wifi.  I set up then stay in the car while the imaging plan is running.  I have to go out to check progress, change targets, focus and sovon.  In cold weather it would be nice to  be able to spend less time outside.



#41 ngatel

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 07:45 PM

I use this router. Comes with a wall wart and the plug is 2.1mm X 5mm and 12 volts. 

 

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



#42 Northrim

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 08:18 PM

I use this router. Comes with a wall wart and the plug is 2.1mm X 5mm and 12 volts. 

 

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

Thanks!



#43 BlueGrass

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 09:19 PM

I choose to disable Windows Update on all my Windows boxes via the services manager and check now and then for critical releases to select only updates of interest rather than blindly updating at MS's whim. YMMV.

 

Transferring files by rdp can be slow even with a fast connections. There are resource friendly folder synchronization tools out there, some of them free, that may provide better performance and a reduced burden on Windows.

 

In the end I opted for sneaker-net. I have 1Tb USB 3 SS drives for fast but slightly less hands off file transfers. If time is not an issue, copying secured shared folders works okay (not via rdp). An ftp/tftp approach can work too and is pretty easy to set up.

 I haven't disabled auto update yet since the Bee will only be using off-WAN connections to the mount's CP4

via LAN and the adhoc WiFi used for RDP running on my Lenovo laptop. I'll probably try disabling the service

once I'm at the point of wanting to freeze the setup, but for now I'll continue to update the OS during testing.

 

I also installed a 2.5 Samsung SSD to handle additional data storage and think, at least for me, the only

reliable way to transfer the data is with a USB3 stick on the unused port. The files can stay on the SSD

data drive for some time until I need to make additional room.

 

So far, the supplied Bee's Intel WiFi card has been stable running the RDP sessions from the Lenovo

but I am thinking about upgrading or replacing it... thanks for the info on the AX200 ... 


Edited by BlueGrass, 31 October 2021 - 09:21 PM.


#44 ngatel

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Posted 31 October 2021 - 11:34 PM

Paul,

 

I disassembled the GK55 to look at everything — I disassemble things like cars, motorcycles, computers and cameras just because I can ;-)

 

Anyway, the WiFi antenna is just a couple wires with weak slide-in tabs . . . very easy to come loose. I tried the popular TP-Link that runs on USB.

 

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

 

Connected to USB the 2.4 Ghz gets interference from USB and hardly works. The 5 Ghz kept dropping connections with MS Remote and I have a straight line from my living room to the scope about 50 ft away. Even placing an extender between the two wasn't much better. The one I linked to earlier never drops. It really makes things easy in a campground too.



#45 tloebl

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Posted 02 November 2021 - 07:01 PM

 

I choose to disable Windows Update on all my Windows boxes via the services manager...

Can you describe your procedure to do this? Is this only in the Pro edition?



#46 DesertCrawler

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Posted 02 November 2021 - 07:44 PM

I've been deeply involved in the tech industry since well before Windows. Not boasting, just that a bunch of this is routine and I have the experience to detect and undo things I break, which happens. I'm not a professional writer of tutorials, nor do I want to be one. I may miss things. I'm in a position to fix my personal systems that I break and take on my own liability. I'm not in a position to do that for others.

 

Your favorite search engine will reveal tutorials online that may work for your style and that you trust.

 

I do not recommend this or any other setting change without the user understanding the consequences. For me, this approach is easily reversible. The general approach I use on my personal Windows 10 Pro or Home systems:

 

Open the services manager (run services.msc)

Find Windows Update in the list of services. Double click the service to pop up a dialog with options for the service.

If the service is running (it likely will be) select the Stop button.

There will be a Startup Type drop down list. Select Disabled from that list.

Click OK which saves the setting and dismisses the dialog. Close services.msc.

 

It is up to you to decide for yourself if this is something that is useful or desirable for your circumstance.

 

It is conceivable that some piece of software will reverse this setting. You'll also have to decide when and how updates do occur.

 

There are many other ways, some intrusive. Suggest one tread carefully if in unfamiliar territory.

 

 

Can you describe your procedure to do this? Is this only in the Pro edition?



#47 rupeshjoy143

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Posted 02 November 2021 - 08:26 PM

For what it’s worth, I used to have a Seeed Odyssey x86j4105. I really liked it, but I eventually ended up upgrading to a PrimaLuceLab Eagle 4S. They now have a cheaper version that is around $850 it’s called the LE I think. 

 

I really liked the ease of use and the power management and now I have very good cable management. 



#48 tloebl

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Posted 03 November 2021 - 01:38 PM

 

It is up to you to decide for yourself if this is something that is useful or desirable for your circumstance.

Appreciate that. I know enough Windows/Linux to be dangerous so will handle this info carefully.

 



#49 Topographic

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Posted 05 November 2021 - 06:05 AM

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.

Having done more research I think fibre would be the way to go we get lightning strikes locally which could be an issure with standard ethernet cables. Plus fibre cable is cheap enough here. What I would appreciate is a link to examples of the Ethernet 'switches' you mentioned. I would prefer not to have something that needs powering at the observatory or would be 12v or 5v for battery power.  



#50 eshy76

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Posted 05 November 2021 - 09:53 AM

I've had a Minix N42C-4 mounted on my telescope for about 3 years and it's great!

 

Fanless, quiet and great value for the money.

I updated to 32GB; it comes with Windows 10 Pro (doesn't do automatic updates during imaging!) and Microsoft Remote Desktop. Memory was upgraded and it handles all my astro software and tons of images. AND it also works in Cold weather -at least down to -15C!

I have the same Minix model and can also vouch for it as an imaging workhorse - it just works and I've had mine for about 3 years too. Upgraded memory to 16GB and installed a 500GB M2 SSD, which is plenty for imaging. Windows 10 Pro is simplicity itself for remote desktop use, as long as your indoor/other device is on the same network, it works almost flawlessly.

I've been fiddling with a RPi4 for my smaller rig, but I'm close to biting the bullet and getting another Minix, or similar W10Pro miniPC.


Edited by eshy76, 05 November 2021 - 09:54 AM.



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