The Intel NUC Computer

As I mentioned in my previous post about the Great Conjunction, I’ve finally bought myself an Intel NUC mini PC. This is to replace the family laptop that I have currently been using. This will allow me to install whatever programs that I require for my astronomy, and not have to fight over using the laptop in the evenings.

I specifically went with the Intel NUC8i5BEKPA model for it’s powerful i5-8259U quad-core processor. This makes all computational calculations, such as plate solving, stacking software and just the overall general performance much faster than the i3 laptop I was previously using.

The size of this mini-PC is quite remarkable when you consider it’s power; the chassis of the computer being smaller in dimension than my iPhone! It easily fits in the palm of my hand, and comes with a VESA mount that I’m looking at jerry-rigging to the tripod leg. This would allow me to get rid of the USB hub and plug all my devices straight into the 4x USB 3.1 ports.

The Intel NUC computers usually come as a barebone kit; the hard drive, RAM and operating system have to be purchased separately. I had to do the same with mine, but it has its advantages of allowing the user to choose specific RAM modules or hard drive sizes.

The Intel NUC Barebone Kit

Since I am planning on using this for image capture and post-processing stacking, I decided to go for 16GB of Corsair Vengeance DDR4 SODIMM. This can be further upgraded to a maximum of 32GB at a later date if I ever feel the need. For the hard drive, I went with a Sabrent Rocket 512GB NVMe. I figured that I’m going to be using my portable 1TB hard drive to transfer all my images onto my main processing computer after each session. So as long as there was enough storage to hold a weeks worth of constant imaging, I will be safe for storage capacity. If not, I can always add a microSD card in the side slot.

Intel NUC with SSD and RAM Installed

With everything installed, I powered it up and after a few power cycles I eventually figured out the correct button to open the BIOS. In the power options, I set it so it would power back up after a ‘power failure’, this allows the NUC to power up instantly when it has power. Great for if I ever have to install it inside a weatherproof box.

Once everything was set correctly, I installed a Windows 10 Pro licence. I needed this specifically to allow me to use Microsoft Remote Desktop (MRD) to control the NUC from another computer inside the house; either my MacBook or my main computer. Using MRD allows me to use the NUC in ‘headless mode’, which means that I don’t have to connect an external display to it, great for in the field eventually. The resolution of the NUC is then emulated as the display of the controlling computer.

I spent a good day setting everything up and downloading all the required software. This included Stellarium, the ASCOM platform, EQMOD for controlling my EQ5 Pro, PHD2 Guiding ‘v2.6.9dev2’, which includes the new ‘multi-star guiding’, and Nighttime Imaging ‘n’ Astronomy, specifically ‘Version 1.11 NIGHTLY #032’. This nightly build includes the new Sequencer 2.0, which I thought would be a good thing to start learning how to use. However when I tried it, I found that the Bayer Pattern was completely wrong for my camera, even when I changed the order to the correct RGGB, it still displayed the wrong colours; the saved images were correct though luckily. So for now it’s unusable for my DSLR and therefore I reverted to ‘Version 1.10 HF2’ for the time being. I did save my sequencer preset though for the new version, so I’ve got that saved for when a viable version is released.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I have also downloaded some planetary stacking software; Planetary Imaging PreProcessor, Autostakkert!3 and Registax 6, which I’ll keep for the times when I do any planetary work in the future.

Overall, I’m very happy with the Intel NUC, and I cannot see me needing to upgrade anytime in the future as I’ve built it to be future-proofed in regards to resources, especially for image capturing. If anything it is overpowered! I could have gotten away with using a lower generation i3 if it was just being used for image capturing, but as it is being used for stacking, I required the more beefy processor.

So from now on, I’ll be using the Intel NUC for all my astrophotography work, and all being well I can use it in the field as well, as apparently it can use voltage between 12V & 19V. However, I would feel safer if I just use a 12V-19V step-up converter to get the voltage supplied by the provided power supply. It might drain the battery slightly more, but I don’t want to under-volt the PC and damage it beyond repair. Using it on portable power is a long way off yet though! Don’t run before you can walk, as they say!

The weather looks cloudy for the next week or so in the run up to New Year, so I doubt I shall have the chance to get back outside. However, I do have a little surprise that I captured on Christmas Eve, so stay tuned for that!

So where ever you are, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, and that you have a very Happy New Year! And as always, till next time, clear skies!

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