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Thinking about using a mini pc/NUC for remote lunar/planetary imaging.


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I've now fully converted my Az GTi to EQ mode for sort of grab and go remote EEA but would like to get into remote lunar/planetary imaging. I would be using my Mak 127 for this and it's probably too heavy for the Az GTi in EQ mode even for relatively short periods of imaging compared to deep sky. I know I can strip back the mount to use as a right side mounted alt az mount but I'd really rather leave it set up in EQ..

A solution I've been mulling over is to use a NUC/mini pc on my EQ5 to send images via wifi to my laptop using Sharpcap remotely, I'm getting on in years and have an auto immune rheumatic condition and the prospect of sitting in the warm during winter nights is appealing! Although I'm an experienced PC builder I'd rather buy a ready built one but the price for an occasional use machine is off-putting. I read somewhere (maybe on here) about relatively cheap mini pc's on Ebay or similar and I've been looking at some. What I'd like to know is what minimum specs I should be looking at considering my laptop indoors would be doing the donkey work.

Thanks for looking.

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I use a Miele Quieter 2 but this is for deep sky and I am not sure how good it would be for planetary. I would suggest that you do the work on the telescope PC and just use remote access to control it. If you use wifi, I think your frame rates are likely to be impacted by the wifi speed. You do not need anything too special for planetary imaging, it is mainly the transfer rates. I have used a big standard pentium to run planetary without a problem. Personally I went for a fanless PC as it reduces the risk of vibration.

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I have also been thinking through mini pc idea. I have to say when I have tried any wireless solutions I get endless problems. I have now bought a 20m cat6 cable which I can feed into the house and in my early experiments seems to work flawlessly. As for pc’s I have a raspberry pi which is pretty good and I have just bought an hp pro desk mini on eBay. It was cheaper than the pi and came with ssd so I am hoping it will work well. If you do go down this route make sure you get windows 10 pro license as you need it to remotely access the pc.

others will know far more than me.

good luck 

Ian

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6 minutes ago, Clarkey said:

I use a Miele Quieter 2 but this is for deep sky and I am not sure how good it would be for planetary. I would suggest that you do the work on the telescope PC and just use remote access to control it. If you use wifi, I think your frame rates are likely to be impacted by the wifi speed. You do not need anything too special for planetary imaging, it is mainly the transfer rates. I have used a big standard pentium to run planetary without a problem. Personally I went for a fanless PC as it reduces the risk of vibration.

Thanks for that. I hadn't considered letting the mini pc do the work I must admit. The unit you use looks good but it's too expensive for me at this time I had been looking at something like this:

SNUNMU Mini PC, 8GB RAM+128 ROM,Intel Celeron J4125,Windows 11 Pro Mini Computer, 2.4G & 5.0G WiFi, 4K UHD, Gigabit Ethernet, BT 4.2 Desktop Computers for Office, Business, Home, School : Amazon.co.uk: Electronics & Photo

I know I could use my Asiair but my lunar/planetary camera is an Altair.

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4 minutes ago, IDM said:

I have also been thinking through mini pc idea. I have to say when I have tried any wireless solutions I get endless problems. I have now bought a 20m cat6 cable which I can feed into the house and in my early experiments seems to work flawlessly. As for pc’s I have a raspberry pi which is pretty good and I have just bought an hp pro desk mini on eBay. It was cheaper than the pi and came with ssd so I am hoping it will work well. If you do go down this route make sure you get windows 10 pro license as you need it to remotely access the pc.

others will know far more than me.

good luck 

Ian

Interesting, have you a link to the Ebay unit you bought Ian?

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I had a look but the seller I bought from has sold off all their stock. My mini pc is an: HP Prodesk 400 G2 mini with an i3 6100t processor running at 3.2Ghz. It has 4x usb3 and 2xusb2. 
 

there are 2 i5 versions on eBay at the moment but no ram or ssd! Unfortunately like everything else prices seem to be going up as I cannot find anything as cheap as mine was. I will keep an eye out though.

Ian

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1 hour ago, Clarkey said:

I use a Miele Quieter 2 but this is for deep sky and I am not sure how good it would be for planetary. I would suggest that you do the work on the telescope PC and just use remote access to control it. If you use wifi, I think your frame rates are likely to be impacted by the wifi speed. You do not need anything too special for planetary imaging, it is mainly the transfer rates. I have used a big standard pentium to run planetary without a problem. Personally I went for a fanless PC as it reduces the risk of vibration.

I went the MELE route too, only the newer 3 but for our needs basically the same. 

To the OP, power is a consideration. The MELE is a nice one because it uses 12v, which you should have a ready supply of, some of these mini pcs are 19v which is a pita or the Pi route which is 5v. 

Any new out of the box mini pc will be fine but once again, I recommend finding a 12v one. 

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9 minutes ago, Anthonyexmouth said:

I went the MELE route too, only the newer 3 but for our needs basically the same. 

To the OP, power is a consideration. The MELE is a nice one because it uses 12v, which you should have a ready supply of, some of these mini pcs are 19v which is a pita or the Pi route which is 5v. 

Any new out of the box mini pc will be fine but once again, I recommend finding a 12v one. 

Thanks for pointing out the power consideration,  if it's 12v I can use my Nevada unit that I use as my normal power supply.

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3 minutes ago, LaurenceT said:

Thanks for pointing out the power consideration,  if it's 12v I can use my Nevada unit that I use as my normal power supply.

Yeah, I have 12v running from my workshop to my pier, also a nevada psu, makes things much simpler sticking to 12v where possible. 

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I use the Intel Compute Stick version of the Mele 2 for scope control . I think it's the same spec- Intel J4125 CPU, 8GB RAM & 128GB ROM, but limited to only 2 USB ports.

I've never used it in anger for planetary imaging but I've just done a test with my ZWO290  mono camera. Running 1920x180 resolution I got about 8-9 fps, at 640x480 RoI I could consistently get 55 fps and with a 320x240 RoI that went up to around 140 fps.

So for planetary you'll get reasonable frame rates if you use the RoI feature, but if you wanted to use the full resolution for lunar/solar then you might be limited because of teh relatively low framerate that you may get. That might be improved if you put a M2 disk drive in it and save teh video files to it becuase I expect it could be the write performance of the ROM that's the limiting factor.

Edit: I should add my camera is the 290mm mini- which is USB2 speed, but the frame rates I got were significantly lower than the specs suggest, hence I'm guessing that it's something in the PC rather than the USB bus that's limiting the framerate.

Edited by catburglar
Added comment re bus speed
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Anyone considering remote planetary imaging should first do some planetary imaging at the scope and then think about how they will perform the various operations remotely.  Getting the planet on the camera chip, in focus, and reducing the region-of-interest (ROI) can be tricky enough at the scope without trying to do it remotely.  I have yet to see a remotely-adjustable ADC. 😁  If you are going to do these setup operations at the scope it hardly seems worth the bother of going indoors to do the actual capture.

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36 minutes ago, catburglar said:

I use the Intel Compute Stick version of the Mele 2 for scope control . I think it's the same spec- Intel J4125 CPU, 8GB RAM & 128GB ROM, but limited to only 2 USB ports.

I think the 4 USB 3 ports on the Mele was a selling point - especially if running for deep sky. Planetary is obviously less of an issue.

1 hour ago, LaurenceT said:

Thanks for pointing out the power consideration,  if it's 12v I can use my Nevada unit that I use as my normal power supply

I would also add that although the Mele unit says it MUST be run using the 12v adaptor supplied, when the unit arrived it stated a voltage range up to 19v, so the standard 13.8v supplies will not fry it.

@Anthonyexmouth Did you find a cable to run to the USB C? I ended up having to make my own as I couldn't find a suitable one.

 

I think at the end of the day any of the standard mini PC's with a J4125 processor should be OK. Just be aware that the onboard eMMC memory is not too hot on most of these so adding an additional M.2 SSD may be needed. I tried a memory card - a good one - but the write speed was very slow from the PC itself.

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4 minutes ago, Clarkey said:

I think the 4 USB 3 ports on the Mele was a selling point - especially if running for deep sky. Planetary is obviously less of an issue.

I would also add that although the Mele unit says it MUST be run using the 12v adaptor supplied, when the unit arrived it stated a voltage range up to 19v, so the standard 13.8v supplies will not fry it.

@Anthonyexmouth Did you find a cable to run to the USB C? I ended up having to make my own as I couldn't find a suitable one.

 

I think at the end of the day any of the standard mini PC's with a J4125 processor should be OK. Just be aware that the onboard eMMC memory is not too hot on most of these so adding an additional M.2 SSD may be needed. I tried a memory card - a good one - but the write speed was very slow from the PC itself.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Female-Adapter-Connector-Extension-mobilephones-2/dp/B09XF64CP8

I used one of these. My power runs underground from my workshop to my pier and then into a breakout lead to power my equipment. 

 

I didn't even try the emmc, first thing I done was to reimage straight onto my m.2 drive. the emmc is unused on my device. 

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19 minutes ago, Clarkey said:

I think at the end of the day any of the standard mini PC's with a J4125 processor should be OK. Just be aware that the onboard eMMC memory is not too hot on most of these so adding an additional M.2 SSD may be needed. I tried a memory card - a good one - but the write speed was very slow from the PC itself.

+1 for this..I think that's what I was trying to say.

Personally I chose the compute stick because of the form factor- I use if for EEVA and it's fine because I only need 2 connections. But in hindsight I should have gone for the more flexible option because now the planets are at a better altitude I'm thinking of giving planetary a go and limited by the eMMC write speed.

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Thanks for taking the time to reply everyone. It seems that far from making my life simpler and easier I would be doing the opposite with a mini pc, the point that @Cosmic Geoff makes about doing some stuff at the mount and trying to the rest remotely is valuable as is @catburglar's comment about frame rates.

With a mini pc and an EQ mount I would still have to go through a polar align/plate solving routine before selecting my planet or the moon and track whereas if I simply reverted the AZ GTi to AZ mode in the Synscan app I could just select my target and slew manually, focus roughly and press the "point and track" button in the app. Sharpcap on my laptop will do the rest for me.

If I was truly lazy then I could spend the mini pc cash on a used Az GTi mount and use that for lunar/planetary exclusively 😅.

Once again thanks for all the advice.

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