British Astronomical Association
Supporting amateur astronomers since 1890

Secondary menu

Main menu

Home Forums Computing
Terms of use

What mini/micro PC?

19 posts / 0 new
Last post
Anthony Rodda's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 days 6 hours ago
Joined: 01/09/2014 - 14:15
What mini/micro PC?

Sorry if this has been covered elsewhere (couldn't find anything!).

Thinking ahead to the next obsy refurb - and the fact that one of my existing desktop PC's just gave up the ghost...

What mini/micro PCs are people using successfully?  I'm looking for recommendations.

I need to run both Spectroscopy and Photometry software that generate a lot of sizeable files and require the usual connectivity for 2/3 cameras, filter wheel, etc.

Small enough to carry back into the house every night - to avoid the cold/damp.  Laptops seem to lack the connectivity.

Minimum 4 USB, LAN, good RAM (8Gb?), hard drive to handle the half-dozen astro software packages with catalogues, etc  and, preferably separate HDMI for screen.

I've seen stuff on Amazon and ebay roughly matching those specs but is anyone using them successfully?

Ant help appreciated.

Grant Privett's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 day 3 hours ago
Joined: 28/12/2014 - 18:30
Laptop

I'm using a Dell E5430 laptop for similar purposes. Its got 4x USB (3x USB2 and 1x USB3), is cheap - hence my enthusiasm - and spare parts are readily available. With 8GB it copes with TheSKyX and Python code coexisting - both are a bit memory hungry. I have an SSD in mine, but I worry a bit about how those feel about low temperatures - there was ice on the lid of the laptop on Saturday night. Also, some E5430 variants have an Express card slot so you can easily add 2 further USBs.

Alternatively, NUCs look nice and Seeed Studio make some fascinating alternatives.

Anthony Rodda's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 days 6 hours ago
Joined: 01/09/2014 - 14:15
Thanks Grant

That's exactly the feedback I'm looking for.  Thanks for taking the time.

Regards Tony

Daryl's picture
Offline
Last seen: 7 hours 54 min ago
Joined: 02/07/2015 - 21:35
Dell

Very interesting recommendation, we are thinking of one day replacing our geriatric laptop and the dell seems to fit the bill nicely. Nice to read a review from someone who has a good experience of a piece of equipment. 

Dominic Ford's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 week 12 hours ago
Joined: 10/01/2013 - 12:42
I'm a big fan of Intel NUCs.

I'm a big fan of Intel NUCs. There is a bit of fiddling involved in setting them up, as you usually have to buy the memory and SSD separately, and then install an operating system yourself, though a few pre-built kits are available. The higher spec models are very powerful machines, and they seem pretty robust. The one on my desk is 12-core / 32 GB RAM / 1 TB SSD - not a bad system for £750.

Conversely, if you go down the laptop route but are disappointed by the lack of connectivity, bear in mind that USB-C ports do give you some options. You can buy hubs cheaply that can split a single USB-C port into HDMI, ethernet, and USB ports. Despite being a tiny plug, USB-C is actually a 24-pin connector and so it can deliver roughly four USB-ports-worth of bandwidth. I'm no fan of USB-C, but the performance isn't *that* bad. :-)

Anding's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 4 days ago
Joined: 08/03/2014 - 04:09
Kindell
Grant Privett's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 day 3 hours ago
Joined: 28/12/2014 - 18:30
Fanless

Do they overheat in the summer or are they automatically throttled or something?

Anding's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 4 days ago
Joined: 08/03/2014 - 04:09
No throttling that I am aware

No throttling that I am aware of.  I have been using mine in ambient temperatures of up to 28-29C without problems so far.  There are a lot of reviews on Amazon.com 

Dominic Ford's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 week 12 hours ago
Joined: 10/01/2013 - 12:42
All modern processors have

All modern processors have quite sophistocated throttling (a.k.a. power management).

The CPU will slow down when it's idle, or when it gets too hot. Even in a desktop PC, the very fastest clock speeds (often called "turbo boost" or similar) can usually only be sustained for minute or so, unless you have some serious cooling.

So, I am slightly dubious about the wisdom of putting a power-hungry i7 processor in a "fanless" case. It won't overheat, but I doubt it'll achieve nominal performance unless you put it in the fridge.

Xilman's picture
Offline
Last seen: 8 hours 32 min ago
Joined: 24/03/2018 - 15:17
Fridge

You make a good point, but up here in the sub-arctic the night time is very often at or below fridge temperature (~5C). When it doesn't it often never gets dark at night anyway.

At the opposite extreme, a good calima in La Palma can result in the air temperature being higher than 20C all night and even a good two-stage Peltier cooler can't get a camera much below -15C.  Been there, done that.

Anding's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 4 days ago
Joined: 08/03/2014 - 04:09
monitoring

Interesting insights.  I should install some temperature / CPU clock monitoring software.  Do you know of any?

Mind you, I value this PC for its silence and lifetime cost-wise it made very little difference to take the highest spec i7, so I'm not going to be too disappointed if a little performance is missing.  Would a comparison against the same CPU in a laptop configuration be fairer?  I _hate_ the sound of those little laptop fans spinning at highest revs!

Anthony Rodda's picture
Offline
Last seen: 2 days 6 hours ago
Joined: 01/09/2014 - 14:15
Great info guys..

And those NUCs are starting to come up refurbed on ebay for way less than £100!

As Dominic says, add a larger SSD (or better still offload images to a server real time) and bingo. 

I also looked at the Odroid with Linux.  An Octa-core machine.

Much appreciated fellas.

Xilman's picture
Offline
Last seen: 8 hours 32 min ago
Joined: 24/03/2018 - 15:17
Odroid

I have an Odroid running Ubuntu and Kstars/EKOS as a proposed replacement TCS. I have been quite unable to find a driver for the dome controller (a Vellman board) and there are still teething problems with the mount (a FS2 controller). All the SX kit works perfectly; not yet tried the focuser. It will be months before I can return to La Palma and try to resolve these issues. 8-(

A Celestron NEXIMAGE 5 purchased via the BAA forum also fails to work under the local Ubuntu installation but I have found a package which claims to contain a driver for the camera.

Other people with more main-stream equipment have no significant problems with Linux-based controllers.

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 17/12/2017 - 10:14
NUC and Minix

I use both. The NUC states 19 volt DC but runs quite happily on 12 volts. The Minix has a better WiFi range due to its external antenna. The NUC is an i3 with 4gb ram and a 250 gb SSD. The minix is 8gb ram and a 64gb SSD. Both run windows 10 pro and I use Windows remote desktop to connect and control.

Robin Leadbeater's picture
Offline
Last seen: 10 hours 41 sec ago
Joined: 05/03/2014 - 00:50
The minix is 8gb ram and a 64gb SSD

My current observatory PC is showing signs of age. I normally use cheap refurbished desktops which last typically 3 years before expiring in the less than ideal conditions but this sounds an interesting alternative. How much space is left after a Win 10 pro installation? (I don't need too much as I offload to a separate server at the end of each run and don't have any huge megapixel cameras but 64gb sounds a bit tight ?

Thanks

Robin

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 17/12/2017 - 10:14
Minix

I have to load some more software on it so will report back. I must stress that its a command and control pc only with no image processing capabilities other than that offered by Sharpcap.

From memory it has the following astro software installed

Sharpcap 3.2, ANSVR plate solving, PHD2, EQMOD, Hitecastro focuser, and C du Ciel

Offline
Last seen: 2 weeks 2 days ago
Joined: 17/12/2017 - 10:14
Minix

Just put the Atik software on and it now has 33.5gb free. Even allowing for a few Gb for windows it still has plenty of room.

Images are stored directly onto a 32gb Toshiba memory stick and processed using APP on a laptop.

Also from memory I thought it was a 8gb ram but its 4gb. The model is a NEO Z83-4 Plus with 4GB DDR3L + 64GB eMMC 5.1 windows 10 pro (64bit

Robin Leadbeater's picture
Offline
Last seen: 10 hours 41 sec ago
Joined: 05/03/2014 - 00:50
Thanks!

Thanks ! Very similar to what my current setup is

astroshot's picture
Offline
Last seen: 1 week 6 days ago
Joined: 11/09/2014 - 21:37
I use the ACEPC mini PCs from

I use the ACEPC mini PCs from Amazon.