Windows Based Mini PC:
Personally I think that this is the best option for those who are used to Windows PC’s and laptops. A mini PC is basically the same as strapping your desktop PC or laptop to the side of your telescope but in a much smaller format. When choosing a mini PC it’s best that you find one that you can power via a 12v cigar plug as that will more than likely be the only power source that you have when out with your telescope.
The main difference between a mini PC and your standard desktop PC is that it doesn’t come with a screen, mouse or keyboard so we need to connect to it somehow. But firstly you will need to set it up.
Just connect the mini PC to your TV or any monitor that has HDMI inputs, a mouse and a keyboard. You now have a normal desktop computer. All you need to do is to download and install all of the software and drivers that you will need to run your equipment. If you already use a laptop to control your equipment you will just mirror your setup on to the mini PC. If not, and this is your first time setting something like this up then this list is what I have setup on my mini PC:
•ASCOM Platform: (This is essential as this is how the software on your mini PC will talk to your equipment)
•Drivers for your equipment:
Most common mount drivers can be found on the ASCOM site along with other equipment here:
If your equipment is not on the ASCOM site then visit your equipments manufacturers website and download any available drivers for your equipment.
•Equipment control software: I use AstroPhotographyTool (APT) which controls my imaging camera, mount and plate solving. There are plenty of others out there like BackYardEOS/Nikon for camera control and N.I.N.A. which (like APT) is an all round equipment controller.
•Third party software: If you want to utilise the plate solving functions in software like APT or N.I.N.A then you will need to download and install some third party software like either ASTAP or PlateSolve2. ASTAP works best with N.I.N.A and PlateSolve2 with APT. These can be downloaded from within APT or N.I.N.A.
•Guiding Software: like PHD2. For this you will obviously need to have a set-up that includes a guide camera and scope. Even if you’re not guiding yet it will be worth downloading and installing this as you will more than likely need it in the future. Guiding is a must for long exposure Astrophotography.
•Planetarium Software: such as Cartes du Ciel. This can be integrated to talk to your mount control software so all you need to do is to click on the map and your scope will slew to the selected target.
The following are not essential but can be considered for download:
•Stacking Software: like DeepSkyStacker
•Image processing software: like PhotoShop or GIMP
When you have all the software and drivers downloaded and installed you now need to set up how you will connect to your mini PC.
As mentioned earlier, your mini PC will not utilise it’s own screen, mouse or keyboard while its running all of your equipment so we need to be able to mirror what’s happening on the mini PC on a laptop or tablet.
To do this the mini PC will need to create its own WI-Fi hotspot. This function is built in to windows 10 natively but it does not create a stable enough connection for the long periods of time that are needed.
There are lots of programmes that can control your Wi-Fi and create a stable hotspot but the best that I have found is Connectify. It is definitely worth the £25.98 cost for the Lifetime Hotspot PRO license. I was unable to find a free hotspot creator that was any good. Just set up the Hotspot with a username and password and ensure that you change the hotspot settings to force the hotspot to automatically start when you power on the mini PC.
Now shut down the mini PC and unplug the HDMI cable, mouse & keyboard. Power on your mini PC.
On your laptop click on the Wi-Fi symbol and connect to the hotspot that you created. If you have the PRO version of Windows then you can use Remote Desktop, if not, download TeamViewer to your mini PC and laptop and use that as your connection. When connected a new window will open and you will see the Desktop of your mini PC.
You can also connect your mini PC to your laptop / computer via a network cable and connet to it directly via Remote Desktop.
Your mini PC is now set up and all you need to do is to connect your equipment and test it all out.