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Mini PC/Laptop for imaging management

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#1 RoscoeD

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 12:14 AM

I'm a Mac guy but realize that non-Mac gear is cheaper and inherently more flexible...and more S/W is available for Windows than for MacOS.  Bottom line, I'll probably get a windows-based computer for managing imaging sessions.  So, I's got's questions:

1) What minimum-sized SSD should I get for image storage for one night (Current camera is ASI294MC Pro, but I have no clue what the average file size it outputs).  If I plan to operate on a road trip for extended nights I'll scale appropriately.

2) I'm intrigued by remoting into a mini-PC from inside my house (Cheyenne can get quite cold)...what Mini-PC would folks recommend?  For that matter, what laptop if I choose to go that way? (I assume the specs would be similar assuming that neither will be used for image processing)

3) Is it possible to "stack on the fly" as a quality control during the imaging session?  Would I be right in assuming that would take more computer horsepower?

 

 


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#2 dswtan

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 12:22 AM

1) What minimum-sized SSD should I get for image storage for one night (Current camera is ASI294MC Pro, but I have no clue what the average file size it outputs).  If I plan to operate on a road trip for extended nights I'll scale appropriately.

2) I'm intrigued by remoting into a mini-PC from inside my house (Cheyenne can get quite cold)...what Mini-PC would folks recommend?  For that matter, what laptop if I choose to go that way? (I assume the specs would be similar assuming that neither will be used for image processing)

3) Is it possible to "stack on the fly" as a quality control during the imaging session?  Would I be right in assuming that would take more computer horsepower?

1. You don't need a lot if it's just for temporary storage and you're diligent about moving it to a desktop every night or week. A few 10s of gigs is sufficient. If you do planetary imaging later/as well, you need as big as you can afford. Larger cameras collect more data. I use 1TB SSDs as standards. I am fairly extravagant. I don't like running out of space. 

 

2. There are a few threads on this, which a longstanding default one here: https://www.cloudyni...ini-pcs/page-24. I use Intel NUCs exclusively and do not personally recommend the cheap Chinese options. Lots of others get on with them fine. I am fairly extravagant.

 

3. Yes. But I choose to sleep, so I never bother doing that. I doubt it takes much CPU power to stack per capture. Modern CPUs are very capable. Maybe it's harder if you're using a small Raspberry Pi or something, but they are getting very capable too. 



#3 RoscoeD

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 12:26 AM

Thanks...#3 was more of a "show and tell" feature for my grandkids or anyone else I want to "excite" about astronomy.  I would think the ability to see the picture emerge from the noise would be kinda cool.  But yea, sleep is good smile.gif


Edited by RoscoeD, 03 March 2022 - 11:53 PM.

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#4 bobzeq25

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 12:28 AM

I use an Intel NUC.  Mine has a 512 SSD, 256 would work fine.  Even for multiple nights.  128 is getting tight, with the OS and various astro programs needing space.

 

I connect it to the desktop inside the house with Teamviewer over wifi.  TV is cross platform, so it's simple to connect anything to anything.  That's for data capture and analysis.  I transfer the files to the desktop the next day with a portable SSD and sneakernet.  <smile>  Transferring them over wifi would take forever.

 

I check the lights individually with PixInsight.  Generally use the SubframeSelector tool.  You can compare multiple lights for a variety of parameters, I look at FWHM, eccentricity, median level and star support (number of stars).

 

If you want to see an image emerge from a stack of lights real time, check out Electronically Assisted Astronomy.  That's what they do.

 

https://www.cloudyni...-astronomy-eaa/


Edited by bobzeq25, 03 March 2022 - 12:34 AM.


#5 arbit

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 12:42 AM

I've just moved to a mini PC. Got an MSI cube, with i5 mobile processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. You can add more RAM upto 16GB, and another SSD (apart from the 512GB)

It does 5 things simultaneously
1. Imaging with NINA, PHD2, and iOptron Commander.
2. Platesolving with ASTAP or Platesolve2
3. Running a Sharpcap instance with folder monitor camera which livestacks images as they come in. Its fun to see, plus as you said, gives a way of a quick QC check.
4. Run the NINA Remote Copy plugin to copy the captured files to the main pc as they come in. This makes a real time backup plus easier to clear up the mini-pc drive.
5. Run Teamviewer for control from main PC.

Works smoothly and never crashed so far.

This is kept close to the scope, but not attached to it.




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#6 RoscoeD

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 01:08 AM

I've just moved to a mini PC. Got an MSI cube, with i5 mobile processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. You can add more RAM upto 16GB, and another SSD (apart from the 512GB)

It does 5 things simultaneously
1. Imaging with NINA, PHD2, and iOptron Commander.
2. Platesolving with ASTAP or Platesolve2
3. Running a Sharpcap instance with folder monitor camera which livestacks images as they come in. Its fun to see, plus as you said, gives a way of a quick QC check.
4. Run the NINA Remote Copy plugin to copy the captured files to the main pc as they come in. This makes a real time backup plus easier to clear up the mini-pc drive.
5. Run Teamviewer for control from main PC.

Sounds like what I'm looking for.  Can you be more specific on the hardware model?  I searched on MSI cube and got nothing like you described...and what does one of those co$t?



#7 arbit

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 01:19 AM

MSI Cubi 5 10M. I got the one with the Intel Core i5-10210U processor.

It was on sale in my country at the time, and cost the equivalent of about 400USD. Don't know what the price is now.

Edit: I got the i5 only because of the livestacking. If thats not critical, most people use a lower cpu version, including Celrron J4125 without problems.

For a laptop, similar specs will do. Desktop CPUs are inherently more powerful than mobile ones, so any i5 or i3 from the last few years will be more than enough. My previous capture laptop was a 2014 i5.

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Edited by arbit, 03 March 2022 - 01:26 AM.


#8 Ohseven

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 02:20 AM

I went with a cheap Chinese mini pc from Amazon and it's working well.

1. Storage space is fairly inexpensive. 128gb will be plenty, but went up to 256 for small cost.

Random tidbits: mine runs on 12V USB C that's not power delivery. It's actually quite hard to find this type of connector which was needed to connect to my battery pack without using the AC outlet and transformer. Also, it has limited power output from all the usb ports. It's fine for data to 4 ports, but I could not power dew heaters or a DSLR reliably with other devices connected.

2. They should all have wifi built in. I use TeamViewer. If you need wifi in a remote area with no cell signal, or need connections over a long distance, you'll want a dedicated router

3. A laptop would be more convenient in the field. Since mini PCs don't have dedicated monitor/keyboard/mouse they requires a second device to remote into, or all those accessories plugged into it which is a pain either way. For home use, I'm happier with the mini pc on the scope

Your last question was actually about live stacking I guess. As someone else mentioned, EAA is what you want to look into. I haven't figured out a good way to calibrate subs on the fly which would be really amazing

Edited by Ohseven, 03 March 2022 - 02:23 AM.


#9 astrohamp

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 10:22 AM

Raw frame fits file size is just under 23MB for the image files I just opened from my ASI294.

So many mini PC choices out there although for me performance and low power consumption were a balancing process since I battery power in field.  A forum search for 'mini PC' or NUC should provide many hours of reading/confusion/discussion and recommendations.  12v DC power for any/all tech is benificial for remote site use although voltage boosters (to say 19v DC) are there for computer or monitor powering like I have to do at times.

My primary (at scope) NUC has 500GB HD and 16GB RAM although I'm building a same model club NUC with 256GB HD and 8GB RAM.  The club NUC HD is already half full with at least 35GB of astro/program related files, 30+GB of installed programs and Windows files, and shows 75GB of 'Users' files.  No acquired camera images onboard yet.  My vote would be to go 1TB HD and a dual SSD system would be a good thing.  YMMV

Stacking on the fly is what I do using SharpCap Pro for EAA observing.  Using a scope (tripod) mounted Windows 10 Pro mini PC and several PC alternatives (desktop, mini/full size laptops, 2-in-1 tablet, 2nd NUC) I Windows Remote Desktop (RDP) to it on a regular basis.  At home or in field on batteries through a local only travel router.  A forum search will yield vast info on this activity.

Just show the interested parties AFTER you get things up and running so as not to scare them off with the 'head banging' that might occur at startup.
 


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#10 jonnybravo0311

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 10:33 AM

Not sure if you use PI... if not, this won't be at all helpful (or maybe it helps convince you to buy a license). The EZ suite has a live stacking script that is pretty slick. I've used it, and it's fun to see the subs turn into a more detailed, color image. Yep, it even allows those of us with mono cameras to live combine the R, G and B (or S, H and O) data into a color image :).

 

I run PI on my machine in the house because my scope-side mini PC is only specced for image acquisition: quad-core Celeron J4125, 8G RAM, 256G SSD. If you were to put a more powerful PC scope-side, you could run PI on it and do the live stacking there... then just remote into it from inside the house to show the kids/grandkids.


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#11 ismosi

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 09:19 PM

I have a not-yet-battle-tested MeLe Quieter 2q (8gb RAM, Celeron J4125, 128gb eMMC but I installed 512gb NVMe). Runs on 12V and Buckeye Stargazer 3-D prints a bracket I can use to mount it atop the telescope.

 

I planning to use it for acquisition only, no live stacking.

 



#12 arbit

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Posted 03 March 2022 - 09:42 PM

Not sure if you use PI... if not, this won't be at all helpful (or maybe it helps convince you to buy a license). The EZ suite has a live stacking script that is pretty slick. I've used it, and it's fun to see the subs turn into a more detailed, color image. Yep, it even allows those of us with mono cameras to live combine the R, G and B (or S, H and O) data into a color image smile.gif.

 

I run PI on my machine in the house because my scope-side mini PC is only specced for image acquisition: quad-core Celeron J4125, 8G RAM, 256G SSD. If you were to put a more powerful PC scope-side, you could run PI on it and do the live stacking there... then just remote into it from inside the house to show the kids/grandkids.

Another option without upgrading the scope-side PC would be to use Robocopy to copy the captured files as they come in to the main PC. Then run the EZ script / PI on the main PC. NINA has a remote copy plugin that works very well, or Robocopy can be run standalone. Apart from being faster, it also creates a creating a real time backup :-)

 

For a scope-side PC, Sharpcap is much lighter. 



#13 RoscoeD

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 12:12 AM

note: Intel NUC has been discontinued, MSI Cubi models have skyrocketed in price...

 

For a scope-side PC, Sharpcap is much lighter. 

Lighter than what?  And by lighter, you mean...???



#14 RoscoeD

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 12:28 AM

Here's something I hadn't thought of...without a monitor etc., how does it get started up?  I've seen some that can be configured for auto-on with power.  I then assume that you give it a few potatoes then log in remotely to get all the tools running.  



#15 idclimber

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 12:46 AM

I also use an NUC sold by Simply NUC at the scope with Windows 10 running Voyager as an automation suite. I have a 1tb drive but it would be fine with 512 or even 256. The larger drive allows me to keep a copy on there as another backup while it is processed on dedicated workstation. Right now there are couple dozen nights of raw data on it that I can delete now that the data is processed and stored elsewhere. Prior to this I used an old MacBook Pro at the scope to collect my data and run my software. 

 

I process the data on a Ryzen 9 -16 core running Linux (Kubuntu). Great for speed, but lacks color calibration options. 

 

Therefore I bring the final color image over to my Mac that is properly color calibrated. I use Photoshop for that for a final tweak. I am also a Mac guy going back to 1986 when I bought my Mac Plus.



#16 bobzeq25

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 01:30 AM

note: Intel NUC has been discontinued

Huh?  They're certainly _very_ widely available.  Here's a recent one with Windows 11 Pro.

 

https://www.amazon.c.../dp/B09NDSNTR6/

 

Here's something I hadn't thought of...without a monitor etc., how does it get started up?

When I go out to my observatory for polar alignment I push the on button.  <smile>  Teamviewer is configured to run on startup (trivial), and I can remote into it with anything.  My desktop, a laptop, I imagine a cellphone.  You get the usual login screen, you just login.
 


Edited by bobzeq25, 04 March 2022 - 01:32 AM.

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#17 arbit

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 01:34 AM

note: Intel NUC has been discontinued, MSI Cubi models have skyrocketed in price...

Lighter than what? And by lighter, you mean...???

Lighter in terms of using system resources.

Relative to PI in this context. PI is quite resource intensive. I suppose you could run it on a low power processor, but IMO the system would struggle.

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#18 arbit

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 01:35 AM

Here's something I hadn't thought of...without a monitor etc., how does it get started up? I've seen some that can be configured for auto-on with power. I then assume that you give it a few potatoes then log in remotely to get all the tools running.

As Bob said.

I also use Teamviewer. System is set up with userid and password.

TV is configured to start up automatically with windows login when system starts.

You can connect to it from any other system once the mini pc is on.

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#19 DeepSky Di

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 02:06 AM

Mac user here. I reluctantly considered a NUC, but realized I would also need a power supply for dew straps, camera etc. I found the ASIAIR Pro (now superseded by ASIAIR Plus), which controls ZWO cameras, EAF, EFW, mount and provides power, so that was what I went with. It is controlled from an iOS or Android phone or tablet. The Pro came with a 64GB memory stick and that is more than enough for more than one night of imaging. The Plus has internal storage. I'm still not using Windows...



#20 rgsalinger

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 02:50 AM

I have three use cases and none of them include a computer on top of the OTA. I don't want a computer that exposed to the elements. I don't want to move it around when I change OTA's. I don't want to try to troubleshoot it with a keyboard, mouse and screen when it's sitting on top of the OTA. What I do depends on where I'm imaging. 

 

In my backyard, I've been using a two computer solution for imaging for about 11 years now. I have a cheap laptop (I5 chip, 8gb memory 512gb SSD) for that. I start up using the laptop and do my PA and anything else that might need me to be at the computer screen. Then I close the laptop screen, go into the house and do my imaging runs using remote desktop. Putting a computer on the mount saves exactly one cable overall. For a portable system set up you really want a screen, mouse and keyboard to get things going and for troubleshooting, IMHO. 

 

With my observatory systems it's a slightly different story for a number of reasons. Those systems have small cheap i5 chipped 512TB ssd refurbished tiny computers (one Lenove one Dell) that I bought off Amazon for around 250 bucks 4 and 5 years ago. They are headless. Since the mounts are permanently set up headless boxes work just fine. I use remote desktop to access them when I'm at the observatory and TeamViewer or AnyDesk when accessing them from home. 

 

When I go to a star party I just take the laptop and live with a single computer these days. I have a hefty LIPO battery pack and my MYT has built in power and USB so I don't even need a hub. When I had my old AZ/EQ6 (and my Mach 1 before that and my original iEQ45 before that) I had a single USB cable going to a 7 port Startech Industrial USB3 hub and a single power cable going to a powerwrx rigrunner. Those two devices are still in my possesssion and while expensive for that they do, are dead reliable. 

 

I use a google drive on all of my imaging computers. When I start a run I first create a directory for the light images. I tell the google drive sofware to synch that directory. That way I have them available as the night progresses without ever accessing the imaging computer directly. I can stack, inspect, etc as much as I want without worrying about straining the resources of the box running the system. 

 

Rgrds-Ross



#21 danb35

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 07:26 AM

My imaging computer is a Lenovo mini-PC that's probably overkill for the job, but I repurposed one I had laying around.  It's a little larger than a Raspberry Pi (it measures 7" x 3.5" x .75"), but not by much; I strap it to one of my tripod legs rather than to the OTA, at least for now.  NINA, PHD2, ASTAP, as others have mentioned.  The difference I haven't seen mentioned is the remote control piece--it runs Windows 10 Pro, and therefore has Microsoft Remote Desktop built in, so no need for any third-party software.  MS remote desktop logs you into the computer itself, so there's no need to log in manually, or set up the computer so that it's automatically logged in on boot.

 

Win10Pro gives you some other nice capabilities, one of the bigger ones being control over system updates--so, e.g., it won't restart in the middle of an imaging session.  In Win10Home, you can just turn off updates for a period of time, but in Pro you can make permanent, and more granular changes (I have mine set to download any updates as they become available, but only install when I explicitly tell it to).

 

Yes, this way you'll need a second device--probably a laptop, though a tablet can work too--to control it.  But that device doesn't need to stay out at the scope.



#22 RoscoeD

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 09:40 AM

I have three use cases and none of them include a computer on top of the OTA. I don't want a computer that exposed to the elements. 

It gets quite cold here in Cheyenne so I get that.

 

I start up using the laptop and do my PA and anything else that might need me to be at the computer screen. Then I close the laptop screen, go into the house and do my imaging runs using remote desktop.

Simple question...your laptop stays running when you close the lid?

 

When I go to a star party I just take the laptop and live with a single computer these days. I have a hefty LIPO battery pack and my MYT has built in power and USB so I don't even need a hub. 

What's an MYT?  Google gave me way to many choices, none of which seemed right.

 

 

I use a google drive on all of my imaging computers. When I start a run I first create a directory for the light images. I tell the google drive sofware to synch that directory. That way I have them available as the night progresses without ever accessing the imaging computer directly. I can stack, inspect, etc as much as I want without worrying about straining the resources of the box running the system. 

Never used Google Drive...how does that work, do you need internet access?  I assume it's syncing online



#23 RoscoeD

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 09:41 AM

The difference I haven't seen mentioned is the remote control piece--it runs Windows 10 Pro, and therefore has Microsoft Remote Desktop built in, so no need for any third-party software.  MS remote desktop logs you into the computer itself, so there's no need to log in manually, or set up the computer so that it's automatically logged in on boot.

Does the inside computer have to be Win10Pro as well?



#24 jonnybravo0311

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 09:57 AM

Roscoe - the MYT is a mount - a very nice one, too: https://www.bisque.c...elescope-mount/



#25 idclimber

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Posted 04 March 2022 - 10:11 AM

Does the inside computer have to be Win10Pro as well?

No, I control my NUC at the scope with my MacBook. I am using a software called TightVNC installed on the NUC. I can get a session running from the Mac Finder using the "connect to server" menu selection. It remembers the command and is essential a few clicks and a password. 

 

Now I just recently upgraded to a new M1 MacBook and that does not seem to like that piece of software. I will be trying the commercial RealVNC soon. 




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