NUCs and Minipcs

Forums Computing NUCs and Minipcs

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    Grant Privett

    I use a Minipc which sits on top of the mount and runs TheSkyX and my camera control software. I talk to it via RDP from indoors. Lazy, I know.

    For 18 months I used a ACEPC Celeron J4125 based system with 8GB RAM – but that suddenly died with the SSD so corrupt it couldn’t even be convinced it really was a SSD.

    That was September. So, because the ACEPC system was slow – I bought a NUC10 i3 based system with 16GB. That was much nicer and went like something very smooth indeed off a shovel. It very rarely lost contact and was only running at about 35-45% usage.

    Alas, this evening one of the USB sockets has, for no apparent reason died (despite the fact its kept indoors).

    So, I’m in the market again and Intel have stopped production of the NUC – those you can still get are very poor performance or very high cost. Can anyone recommend a Minipc thats under £340 that they are very happy with.

    • This topic was modified 6 months, 2 weeks ago by Grant Privett.
    Jeremy Shears

    Sorry I can’t help Grant, but it makes me glad that my meteor camera laptop has been running more or less continuously for 10 years outside in the obsy in all weathers. It runs Windows XP and of course has a mechanical hard drive. I bought it second hand so it was probably already 2 years old.
    Having written this I’ve probably tempted fate…..

    A couple of years ago I bought a brand new ThinkPad for CDD work. It’s not left in the obsy. SSD died after 9 months. Replaced under warranty.

    Nick James

    This is probably not a very helpful reply but I’ve always found NUCs rather pointless and hard to maintain, as you have found with a USB failure writing off the whole box. I run everything in my observatory off a small-form-factor, low-spec, Dell Optiplex 790 which has a mechanical hard disk. It has been sitting out in my damp observatory shed for years with no problem but I do have a stack of replacements in the garage with a disk image ready to go if it does fail. It has the advantage that you can pick them up cheap (£50 a pop from eBay) and they are easy to maintain (you can fit low-profile PCI cards for USB3 etc. and memory strips are dirt cheap). I run two cameras (an ASI6200 and an ASI293) off it plus the mount, scripting software and some other stuff. It is run headless since I do all my observing from inside and seems perfectly capable for image acquisition. It is on a UPS and is left on 24/7 but, when idle, consumes around 40W, so costs around 30p/day and this helps to keep nearby stuff in the shed reasonably dry. Maintenance consists of hoovering it out a couple of times a year to remove spiders and stuff.

    Mr Ian David Sharp

    Hi Grant,

    Yes, I have several mini PCs on my various rigs. I like the ones from Beelink and also the MELE Quieter series which are fanless and silent.

    This Beelink is under 200 quid! :


    Grant Privett

    Thanks to all for their comments.

    Yes, Beelink and MELE look interesting – slightly confusing that the detailed Amazon info on the Beelink says DOS as the OS. Heard ASUS picked up the latest NUCs from Intel when they withdrew from the market, but it look like its the top end of the market only.

    With a new disc, the old ACEPC runs fine for Word processing and light browsing via Mint but lacked the grunt for TheSkyX plus a CPU intensive VB6 program.

    Have looked at the old Dell workstations and its a good solution, but can’t yet work out how to avoid cable tangle – the 100mmx100mm Minipc sits on the polarscope port of the EQ6.

    This morning it occurred to me that as the system is run headless (no keyboard/monitor/mouse) it could have done a Windows update without me knowing. Will check the Intel NUC site and see if there are driver or firmware updates I could try re/installing. Nothing to lose. Its under 3 year guarantee. Something to do this afternoon.

    STOP PRESS: A combination of 4 new drivers (2 relating to USBs) and 2023 Firmware upgrade got it going again. Just observed T Crb. Yay! But thanks to everyone anyway, its focussed my mind on what to do about Windows – also, I’m faintly ashamed I had not done a Firmware upgrade before.

    Dr Paul Leyland

    If you insist on running Windows your options will be limited.

    Arm-based single board computers like the Raspberry Pi and the Odroid are very small(only a little bigger than a credit card), take very little power (a few watts) and yet are thoroughly capable of running observatory control software, including schedulers for unattended observations. Even better, essentially all the software required is free.

    Sometimes, in my opinion, it is worth going outside one’s comfort zone. An investment of £100 or less will let you explore without breaking the bank.

    Grant Privett

    Its not really a comfort zone issue. I spent a good while writing SXcon VB6 code to control the SX CCDS I have owned and want to stick with it if I can. As you might imagine, having written the interface, its intuitive to me and I make fewer 2am errors. Change will be more likely once I fully retire and have time. 🙂

    At some point I will be making the move – RPi5s make it more reasonable (I don’t think my 4B has enough grunt), possibly used with Stellarmate – but was waiting for INDI to port to a more recent version of Raspbian. If I already had code that ran the SX 694 under Linux/Python I would already have started writing a QT interface.

    Nick James

    The Windows/Linux argument is very out of date now. Things have moved on a lot and you can Windows for the ARM architecture so it will run on Raspberry Pis and other similar hardware. It will even run x86 binaries using an emulator. There really is absolutely no need for Windows vs Linux arguments any more. You can run both on the same machine at the same time and select the one that best fits the job in hand.

    Grant Privett

    Yeah, When I plate solve images I run a Python script under Windows that does all the image processing and file handling which then kicks off a Linux session under the MS WSL Linux environment on the same machine. That runs and then hands back the results. Works really well – but took an evening or two to work out how to do the hand over (and it changed during the last year when WSL2 was updated).

    The only reason I don’t run Windows on an RPi5 is because I would then need to buy a £100+ W11 Pro licence and suddenly quite a lot of the cost case has gone away. Certainly I would like to but I have heard that setting up Windows on an RPi was a bit hard going.

    Over the years I’ve used DOS, CPM, VMS, SunOS, OSF, various Linuxes and every Windows instance excluding 2000, 95 and W8.0.

    Dr Paul Leyland

    Nick: sure but as Grant points out, paying for a Windows license costs more than the underlying hardware. Emulation costs a great deal in performance too.

    I’m agnostic. I run ARM and 86 architectures. I presently run Linux, Windows, MacOS and Android. In the past I’ve used CP/M, George 3, VME/B, MS-DOS, RSTS/E, RT-11, VAX/VMS, a whole bunch of Unices, and more which don’t spring immediately to mind.

    Horses for courses.

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