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Chris Wright

Mini PC - Required specifications

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Hi,

I am looking to purchase a mini PC to use with my imaging rig. It will need to run ASCOM, EQMOD, PHD2, Backyard EOS (DSO), Sharpcap (Planetary) etc. I will not need it for any image processing, just imaging and guiding. I want to ensure I get something with enough power and wondered what experiences other forum members have had with mini pcs and the specifications of your setups.

I will be looking to run Windows 10 Pro with remote desktop to my laptop. Is 4Gb RAM enough? I will probably use a usb storage device for storage of image files. I had also heard that there are some issues with non Intel chips and if so are Intel Atoms enough for the job.

Many thanks in advance and apologies if this has been asked a number of times in the past!

Chris

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What's your budget? I got one of these in the Amazon sales and it's been great. It's set to login without password and load VNC at startup. I can control it then from my phone. Haven't used a laptop since.379325745_Screenshot_20200523-142720_AmazonShopping.thumb.jpg.f5419537eba01745b7288cda3011743e.jpg

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Caution with low budget mini-PCs. It is easy to underestimate computing power.

If all you are doing is capturing and saving subs at a frame rate of 0.2 per second (e.g. 5 second exposures) for next day processing. You need trivial computing power. But if running at a frame rate of 120 FPS (as you might for planetary,) you inevitably need more. But then there is the question of camera resolution. For example, a 11.7 megapixel ZWO ASI294 Pro inevitably demands far more ooomph than a 1.2 megapixel ASI224mc, assuming the latter isn't running at its incredible maximum of 577 FPS. Next consider live stacking in (say) Sharpcap. If using the maximum resolution and FOV you need more computing power than if you select a smaller Region of Interest.

If doing traditional long exposure Astrophotography you need much less power than for EAA (EEVA). Many traditional Astrophotographers will recommend low powered computers because that is all they need. They then process the FITS that they have captured next day. By contrast, the EAA observer probably saves subs, live stacks, captures video, broadcasts (etc), all on the fly. I additionally stream 4K UHD screen data to my indoor mission control using WiFi and Windows Remote Desktop. Inevitably, all these factors compound.

I found a seventh generation i5 with 4Gb RAM too slow with my Atik Horizon simply because as an EAA observer doing all the above the demand was extreme. I now use an eighth generation i7 with 16Gb RAM and get the real time performance that I seek. However, an i5 with 8 Gb RAM should meet most needs. But here be cautious. A older generation i7 might be slower than a new i3. 

In summary, be absolutely clear what camera, what tasks and what other circumstances will apply. Astrophotography is a broad church. Yesterday, I read a question in another forum why a ZWO ASI294 runs slower in daytime than at night. The simple answer, in daylight you might be capturing 6 millisecond frames when at night it's more likely to be 6 second frames. Res Ipsa Locquitor.

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Thanks for the replies. It is very valid that adding video capture changes the game completely. I am happy to make the concession of taking my laptop out for planetary and lunar which will be far less frequent than 180s-300s DSO subs. 

I perhaps should have mentioned a rough budget. I would prefer not to go over about £200 having already spend over £2k in the last couple of weeks. This would simply be for long exposures and control of focuser, mount and autoguiding. 

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Posted (edited)

Personally, I don't believe you need anything fancy for astro-imaging, which is why last year I bought a very basic Lenovo 100e Winbook for just £129.99 new. 4GB RAM. They don't seem quite as cheap as that now, though.

I use it to run ASCOM, EQMOD, PHD2, Carte du Ciel, Sharpcap, Firecapture, Artemis and other programs with absolutely no trouble. It has USB3, so can download planetary images at high speed. It's only drawback is the small hard drive, so I have to remember to regularly transfer big files to a separate drive. It boots up very quickly too.

Edited by lukebl

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Posted (edited)

Thanks @david_taurus83, @noah4x4 and @lukebl for your responses and advice which is very much appreciated.

For info I have ordered the following:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0167PHS6U/ref=ox_sc_act_title_2?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&psc=1 - Barebones mini PC

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B006YG8X9Y/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?smid=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&psc=1 - Memory

And I have a 1Tb SSHD SATA laptop drive from a laptop that failed a couple of years ago.

 

Whilst I am happy to take the hit if planetary imaging is not quite up to scratch, I think it should suffice for DSO and will enable to keep my aging carcass in the warm on colder nights, using RDP into the box.

I have opted for 8Gb RAM which will always help and I have an MSDN subscription for work so the Win 10 pro license will not be an issue. The 1Tb drive will be more than ample for storage. I also like teh fact that it has 4 x USB 3.0 ports so can have dedicated for each of mount, focuser and camera.

Edited by Chris Wright

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Sorry my bad, the laptop drive is 1Tb not 1Gb. Duly edited. 

The camera is a Canon 600D.

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I use an older Gigabyte Brix (Linux Ubuntu and Wim 10) 8gb mem SSD - Will walk your Canon 600d mount ascom phd2 etc - as it has a USB2 interface so wont be able to used the extra download speed unfortunately.

The only "bug" I found with my model was the "awake on Lan" kept kicking in after I had powered off (bios change) and the Power Input is non Std 2.5mm connector plus it was 19V.

Other than that used it for over 1yr no problem (famous last words and touching my wooden head!) - well made bit of kit.

Enjoy Clear skies.

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