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BlueAstra

Computer Setup Powerful Enough?

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I’m currently running the setup described below, which works perfectly at switch on and during alignment. I quite often get situations where I find that after a long imaging run (~2 hours) communications with the mount is lost. EQMOD reports ‘Error: Timeout’. I believe it may be due to EQMOD failing to contact the mount during image download from the camera due to the camera taking all the system resources (speculation since I’m not a computer expert).

My question is, do you think the computer is powerful enough to run these tasks, and if not what is the minimum specification I should be looking for? Or are people ruining a similar setup without problems, in which case it could be some setup/port assignment/other problem with the computer setup?

System:

ZBOX HD-1D11 (Atom D510 @ 1.66GHz, 2GB ram, 64GB SSD, XP operating system) running:

Direct USB to Hitec EQDIR module/EQ6

Direct USB to Shoestring FCUSB.

Direct USB to SX-H16 CCD camera.

Direct USB to Powered 7 port Hub running: Lodestar guide camera, SX Filter wheel, Gamepad.

Software:

Maxim DL v5.14 running SX-H16 camera, SX filter wheel, EQ6 mount via EQMOD/POTH hub (sometimes EQ6 direct), Gamepad

PHD running Lodestar guide camera

FocusPal running FCUSB focusser

TeamViewer remote desktop software

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Another update.

The current system is a local Nettop running XP attached to the scope mount. It’s running XP, Ascom v5.5.1, EQMOD v1.23e, Maxim DL v5.1.4. It’s connected to the scope with a Hitec USB-EQDIR module (Prolific based). The latest Prolific driver for XP is 2.0.13.130. Maxim will connect to the scope with EQMOD OK. However, it will loose comms during a slew. The mount will continue to the target and stop, but no further comms is possible without restarting Maxim or a reboot. However, I can get a reliable system if I connect through the handset in PC Direct mode. I do get the occasional comms error with the handset, but they don’t happen frequently enough to be fatal.

If I use my HP laptop instead, it's running Vista and the latest Prolific driver is 3.3.11.152. It’s running EQMOD v1.19g, (not sure what the Ascom, Maxim versions are). My Vista laptop controls the mount without any issues at all using the Hitec EQDIR module (Prolific based).

The second setup shows there is nothing wrong with the mount or the EQDIR module. So the problem may be related to the EQMOD version (not checked yet) or, more likely, the Prolific driver. The driver is impossible to remedy in XP since the drivers are now for Vista/W7 and haven't been upgraded in XP for some time. It looks like I need to upgrade the operating system to get the latest Prolific driver. Again, I could try the Keyspan USB-Serial-Shoestring EQDIR route, but the all-in-one Hitec EQDIR route is neater, and I have shown it to work. This option may also suffer from the old XP driver.

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Hi, looks like no-one has dared venture an opinion on this one.

I am new to Astro imaging but I have been into computers since the punch card days (several decades)

I am setting up my system ready to start imaging some time later this year.

As you have found windows is a little weak at juggling the needs of multiple treads. Unfortunately most of the software we need to use only runs on windows.

I never buy into the latest fastest computers as they are expensive (just wait 6 months and the halve in price). I like to get value for money. I rarely buy from the big expensive names as they try to lock you in with various hardware or software cons.

I was going to build up a PC for imaging from parts bought for ebuyer.com as I normally would but saw a bargain in Tesco.

The laptop was a BARGIN in our local Tesco. Only £350 for an An Acer Aspire 5742 Laptop:

Intel Core i3-370 2.4GHz

3GB RAM

500GB HDD

15.6" TFT

DVD Writer

Webcam

Windows 7 Home Premium 64bit

Now ignoring the confusing i3 dual core naming it can run 4 programs at once so should (when windows is not off having a rest) be able to image and guide at the same time.

I have ordered 4GB of ram for about £30 to take it up to 6GB 3+4=6! from ebuyer. Dont get me started on windows and memory wastage.

Anyway as I say I have not yet tried it in anger but in theory this should be a good cheap machine. I t is very fast at DSS stacking though.

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As Focaldepth says there are a lot of bargain systems around these days.

I used to build all my computers, but cost wise it's hard to compete with "off the shelf" systems

Most modernish computers are plenty powerful enough. Modern processors spend lots of time doing very little.

It's my understanding that for imaging you need plenty of storage space (hard drive) but you can always plug in an external USB drive.

I don't think any of the astro' software is particularly demanding except when manipulating large amounts of data when Ram and drive space become big issues. (in photoshop for example)

As for multi tasking, all Windows PC's multi task to some degree depending on a number of factors. For example, if one particular program is a resource hog then everything else will grind to a halt. Having multi cores doesn't mean each program uses a separate core. Some programs are written to use all the available cores and some will only use one regardless of how many are available. Multithreading and Mutiprocessing is a complicated business.:D

I offer this info' as just my understanding of things :) There are guys and gals on here who have huge knowledge of PC's and imaging

Edited by nebogipfel

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I think I got lost a little in my typing in this thread (PUN!)

Any way where I was going was that the Atom D510 also has 4 threads in its processor and as quite fast at 1.66Ghz so should be, in my estimation be up to the task.

As you have 2GB of memory that should be just enough for XP but if you stress it even a little you may find things slow down and stutter quite a bit. It is quite a cheap option to double the memory size and see if it makes a difference.

The other thing to check, in task manager is that you are only running what you really need to run. You will often find software you have installed but are not using leave little programs running in the background, monitoring, updating, leaking, crashing etc. Schedule virus checkers to run during the day time.

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The i3 chip will beat the Atom hands down.

I would go with a small laptop, rather than netbook, so that if you're in the field you can use for capture and then processing (to see if you want to adjust parameters then next night). If more battery time I'd recommend going for a pure sine wave inverter and a large car battery to power the laptop along with mount, heaters etc.

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Many laptops have adapters for in-car use so will run off 12v DC.

It is a nuisance that much of the software required is Windows only. Unix based systems (Linux and OS X) multitask much better.

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I've not run into trouble with my Samsung 1.6GHz 2Gb netbook running imaging, guiding and EQmod. It is running win7 fine. The only slow thing seems to be finding the drivers when I plug some of the kit in... but otherwise things work fine... wouldn't want to do any heavy processing with it though.

Cheers

PEter

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Which specific software are you thinking of which has no Linux equivalent?

I find most software has a Linux equivalent somewhere.

Alan

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I think I have read a similar question on this site and it was suggested that there is a setting somewhere regarding USB ports going to sleep if they are inactive for a while. You would think that wouldn't happen, especially if guiding, but it might be worth a check.

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I think there's a setting to enable or disable that.

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Blueastra, the Atom 510 will easily handle those tasks.

My observatory runs mostly Atom 510/525 mini-ITX systems (powered off-grid via photovoltaics) and there is very little they can't handle.

Heavy lifting such as video encoding or 1080p HD playback can cause them to struggle, but they're golden for just about everything else.

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You can't run USB controlled stuff under Wine - AFAIK they still haven't sorted out USB support. There are other things I'd like to run under Wine but the USB doesn't work.

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Does Virtual Box support XP?

I use Parallels 6 to run Windows 7 in a VM which works nicely with everything.. only thing is I'd prefer to run it under native OSX.

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Yes, Virtual Box does support XP - I've used it. Very resource heavy though and XP is very sluggish even on my AMD64 X2 machine. USB works but I had trouble with FTP. Decided to use a separate box for XP.

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Don't be fooled into thinking that a processor with 4 cores and run 4 programs independently of one another. Each application will try to use all cores if it multi-threaded unless you manually set the core affinity.

The more powerful the CPU the better.

In all honesty, only processing software such as Pixinsight, Photoshop DSS etc will need the grunt. Out in teh field running EQMOD or other tracking software, pretty much any multi-core processor will be fine.

More RAM the better.

Loads of HDD space for captures.

Sorted :)

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As nebogipfel said

Multithreading and Mutiprocessing is a complicated business

Think of a family getting ready for school/work in the morning. If we have one bathroom things can grind to a halt. Getting an extra bathroom or even an extra 3 bathrooms can remove the deadlocks and we get to work earlier with less standing around waiting.

Although you now may find we get struck waiting for the toaster. Get another toaster and we now find that that only having 4 chairs at the table is the bottleneck. And so on....

Unfortunately windows does not include much in the way of tools to easily measure what the bottle neck is.

My suggestions would be:

Check for rouge programs lurking in the background (task manager and google each one).

Add more memory.

It may be worth checking you are running the latest versions of everything.

At a stretch it may help to have the camera on its own USB port and not share by a hub (try it and see)

You already have 4 CPU threads so this is good.

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I can't imagine what would happen if we entrusted either toast or bathrooms to Microsoft Windows :)

Good analogy though!

Alan

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I'm running my imaging kit - CCD, Eqmod, Guide cam, GPS on a 4 year old laptop, all through a powerd hub into 1 USB port on the lappy and have never had any problems with drop out. Luck of the draw?

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The lappy in the top post will be fine. As long as you don't try processing it'll run sweet.

My little netbook is a Atom N550 dual core with just 2gb and an SSD drive.

Runs, Eqmod, CdC, APT, PHD, and various windows open. USBs to Mount, camera shutter, camera usb, guide camera, wireless controller receiver, powered hub. All at once, of course.

Ram barely gets past 75% although I'm aware not to bounce around too quickly and cause crashes.

Most astro software I use is number crunching.

A core i7 in a lappy would laugh at astro stuff ;) My 12gb i7 main machine would get bored doing the control stuff. :) Need it for processing though.

Edited by astroimpulse

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Thanks for all the replies and advice. I found the original problem was due to a faulty mount power supply. As people suggest, the nettop is proving perfectly adequate for mount and camera control. The only situation were it struggles is live webcam video feed over remote desktop for planetary imaging, and that is probably due to the network link.

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