Category : Astronomy Software

Upgrading the Observatory PC from Windows XP to Windows Vista

The support for Windows XP is finishing in April 2014. So really it was time to upgrade the observatory PC. I was previously using Windows XP Professional 32bit edition for quite a while in the observatory. I had no real issues with it, and I know a lot of people still use Windows XP on their Laptops or Desktop PC’s for running their observatories.

I had a spare copy of Windows Vista Business 64bit lying around, so I decided to use that, instead of paying £50 or more for a copy of Windows 7. Come to think of it, it would have been a lot more as I would ideally have wanted the Business edition of Windows 7 which can be quite pricey (as I like to remotely control the observatory PC from in the house by using Remote Desktop Connection and that’s only available if your Windows PC is the Business or Professional editions).

My main worry when upgrading was drivers, and especially 64bit drivers! I went for a clean install of Vista and after it was complete I was amazed to see that the internet was already connected (so the ethernet driver had been installed for me) and the sound was working (so sound driver installed OK), and it had installed the driver for my USB Hub PCI Card. As I use about 8-10 USB ports on my observatory PC.

A great surprise and my biggest worry was my old NVidia graphics card which runs 2 monitors, but once Vista started to do it’s hundreds of extra updates – which took it to  service pack 2, the graphics card was recognised and the driver came from Microsoft and everything worked.

So that was the basic drivers, now came the main astronomy software, namely:

QHY5 software
Atik drivers
Maxim DL
Lakeside Focuser drivers
Starlight Xpress filter wheel drivers
Imaging Source ICapture and Drivers

Before the install I had backed up my FocusMax settings, Maxim Configurations and my EQMOD settings (as my EQ6 mount was still parked).

I had no problems installing any of the software on Vista 64bit, and once the main software was installed I overwrote the default settings files with my own backed up ones.

The only problem I ran into was with the classic USB to Serial adaptor software drivers, as I have 3 of these. 1 for EQMOD, and 2 for the Lakeside Focusers. There are so many different USB to Serial adaptors. I bought mine from eBay. I kept the original CD driver disks, but there are usually newer drivers if you know where to look and make sure you get the correct driver – as there seem to be hundreds of different ones.

Then it was a matter of checking which adaptor was set to which COM port and then telling EQMOD and the Lakside ASCOM software which COM ports these were. I then fired up Maxim and checked all the connections worked to the cameras (QHY5 and Atik 314L+), filter wheel and EQMOD.

Early days yet, as there is no real test like actually opening the observatory roof up and doing some observing or imaging to really test the software and Vista 64bit.

I am glad I left the PC in the observatory whilst doing the upgrade, as it meant I did not need to unplug any of the many cables in the back of the PC. Plus as it was a Professional version of Windows I could go into the house and use Remote Desktop Connection to remotely install and test the software without sitting in the observatory.

Now I shall stick to Windows Vista until they drop support for that, which hopefully will be a while yet. Then I suppose I shall be installing Windows 7 Business 64bit.

BTW my PC specifications are: Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz CPU, 3GB RAM and 500GB SATA Hard Drive.


Control your Observatory PC from your iPhone

Since I wrote the post on controlling your observatory PC remotely (and I had the letter about this published in Astronomy Now).

I have now discovered that you can now control your Windows based observatory PC from your iPhone, iPad or Android device – whether it’s a phone or a tablet device.

Why and How can I do it? Well you can do it as Microsoft have released a Remote Desktop app.

Just make sure your observatory PC is running a Pro, Business or Ultimate version of Windows XP, Vista, 7 or 8.

I have tried the app out on my Nexus 7″ Android tablet, and it works really well, even though the PC desktop does look quite small on a 7″ tablet. I think controlling your PC via a smartphone sized screen would be a bit too small.

You can download the apps on Google Play and from Apple AppStore. Search for ‘Windows Remote Desktop App’

Have a play and see what you think. Tell us how you get on.

FocusMax now behaving itself again

After FocusMax not working as it should after I installed ASCOM v6 and the latest FocusMax version, FocusMax v3.4.0 now works perfectly tonight.

All I did was remove ASCOM v6 and put v5 on, then tried lots of different FocusMax versions – still no joy. I then decided it could not be ASCOM, so put v6 back on again. I then re-installed FocusMax v3.4.0 and now its fine tonight, although it did not work the other day. My PC must have a mind of its own or the pixies have been working overtime in the observatory at night.

FocusMax not behaving

After the easy upgrade to ASCOM v6 and the install of the latest FocusMax it now turns out that it does not work anymore.

The thing is now I don’t have a copy of ASCOM 5.5 anymore and I can’t fine a copy online either. I do have ASCOM v5.0 as that may be worth a try.

The thing is all I did was upgrade ASCOM and install the latest FocusMax and now FM won’t create a V-curve when setting up the ‘First Light Wizard’. I can’t even get it to work by using the ASCOM simulator. I think I need to get back to the Yahoo FocusMax Group and ask them a few more questions.

I have been thinking about just using the in-built focus functionality in Maxim DL, as it seems similar. The worse thing is you cannot try to fix it and test it all out unless it’s a clear night, but you don’t want to be messing about trying to fix things – you want to be imaging or observing.

ASCOM Version 6 Upgrade

I thought about it for a while, but finally decided to upgrade from ASCOM v5.5 to ASCOM v6 as I wanted to use the latest version of FocusMax and that only runs on ASCOM v6.

The upgrade is painless, go to the ASCOM website and install the v6 software straight over the top of v5, no need to un-install your old ASCOM software as the new v6 installer takes care of it.

I then checked my Starlight Xpress USB filter wheel, Atik 314L+ camera and Maxim DL, and everything seemed ok. It was not until a clear night arrived I then found a problem. Maxim would not connect to the HiTech Astro DC Motor Focus controller.

So I looked on the HiTech Astro site but they said all their drivers had been tested on ASCOM v6. I then noticed that the HiTech Astro DC Focuser required .Net Framework v4 and I only had .NET v2 installed. So I downloaded that from Microsoft then waited for the install and then waited again whilst it found more updates. I then re-booted the PC and found I could still not connect to the focuser in Maxim or through the Hitech Astro program. I then decided to un-install the Hitech Astro program and re-install it, still no good.

My final try was to use the ASCOM v6 diagnostics program that comes with ASCOM. It runs through all your attached devices and checks them.

About 30 seconds later it then said “There is something wrong with your HiTech focuser software do you want to fix it?” Of course I clicked yes, and it fixed it! Brilliant.

So if you are ever in a fix with something not working in ASCOM, it is worth running the ASCOM Diagonstics program.

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