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What external motion controller do I choose?
« on: December 14, 2012, 10:15:34 AM »
Hi. I am new on this forum.

I have almost completed a new X2 mini mill CNC conversion. The ballscrews and steppers on all three axes are mounted. The machine has been stripped down completely, cleaned, lubricated, and built up again.

I have a 48V SMPSU (switch mode power supply) wired up, the stop button is connected, and a Geckodrive with a parallell port connection is set up. I have been able to get at least one of the axes running via the LPT port on my old Windows XP machine. This looks good so far.

However, I want to go to 64 bit Windows 7 in the near future. On that Windows installation I use new hardware: there is no LPT (Parllell port). As I understand: on 64 bits system I am required to use an external motion controller.

So to the question: What external motion controller do I choose?


Here are some criteria for selection the external motion controller that I can think of:

Should work under Win 7, 64bits
Should have a standard interface ( probably USB or Ethernet )
Should be fast enought to run hobby mills like the X2, X3. Should also be usable for a  future CNC'ed lathe project
Should work with Gecko drives with no issues
Should be able to handle 4 axes, possibly 5 for future expansion
Should have a reasonable user base, so support is available
Should not be a beta version
Should be fairly easy to get up and running
I/O ports should have proper connectors and be reasonably buffered
No need for closed loop control at the moment, stepper control is fine
Should not be a very old design that will go end of life anytime soon
Should sell at a reasonable price
Should be possible to use on Mach 4 in the future




Question: what external motion controller you suggest that I acquire?


Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2012, 11:28:20 AM »
Pretty much ANY of the existing motion controllers will do everything you suggest.  But I have to wonder why on earth you'd choose 64-bit Win7 as the OS for a machine controller?  There is absolutely no advantage whatsoever.  And if you're planning to use the same machine for other purposes, that's really not a great idea.  When running Mach3, you really do NOT want to be doing ANYTHING else with the machine if you want the machine to operate reliably.

Most people would use a dedicated PC with WinXP.  If you don't have one, they are readily available for next to nothing, as there is no need for a particularly fast machine, nor for a lot of memory.  And with XP, you can simply use the parallel port, which is MORE than adequate for running any X2.  I ran for several years on a PC I got for free - 544MHz, 512M of RAM.  Never had a single problem that could be blamed on the machines performance.  And that was running a servo-driven machine that is FAR more demanding than any X2.  My next machine was a use Dell bought on EBay for $80 delivered to my door - 2GHz, 1Gb RAM.  My current machine is an HP I paid $100 for - 2.5GHz, 3Gb RAM, dual-monitor video.  ALL came with XP-Pro pre-installed.  ANY motion controller will cost you considerably more than simply buying a dedicated PC running XP, and will give you absolutely no functional benefits whatsoever.

Regards,
Ray L.
Regards,
Ray L.
Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2012, 11:34:03 AM »
Hello Mike, and welcome to the group !
This is a topic that has been discussed to great length.
The SEARCH engine on this forum will reveal gads of info on the subject.
Place this    "External Motion Controller"    into the SEARCH box( be sure to use the " 's) and check out the latest pertinent posts.

Any further questions will be addressed by very knowledgeable folks here.

Kind regards,
Russ
 :)
Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #3 on: December 14, 2012, 11:34:31 AM »
Hi Ray. Thanks for answering. There are several reasons for transitioning to 64 bit:

I want one OS platform for all machines
I want to phase out legacy platforms
   Win XP will be end of support in few years from MS. That means no service packs, no security fixes, no .NET upgrades, less and less  support for new mainboards
   You can no longer purchase win XP
   I do not wat to use pirated versions of xp as the trouble is not worth it
   Vista is no option
   Windows 7 or Windows 8 is the future os'es from Microsoft to go for. Those are the only ones you can buy at the moment if I am correct
   Finally, most users are going to 64 bit when going to Windows 7 or 8. 32 bit Windows 7 is a "strange" platform many people say.

Tnx Overloaded, will try the search!


Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #4 on: December 14, 2012, 11:51:44 AM »
Not sure why XP support should be and issue at all.  It is the most stable OS for this application at present, and, as I said, if you're planning on using the same PC for other purposes, you're asking for trouble anyway.  Not being able to "buy" XP is a non-issue, as you can easily buy a machine that has it pre-installed, which gives you a valid license, so why would you ever need to buy it?  64-bit offers nothing of value in this application.  Again, you're more likely to create problems for yourself, and there's nothing to gain to offset that risk, so why do it?  "Most users are going to 64 bit...."??  On what do you base this?  I know very few people who've gone 64-bit, and those few are using big-memory applications - PhotoShop, commercial CAD programs, and other things where it's needed.  There's absolutely no need for it here.  You'll be one of a VERY small number of people using the setup you're suggesting, which almost certainly means you'll have problems that nobody else has, and fixing them will be a low priority for the developers.  Makes no sense to me, when XP is cheap, stable, available, and has been proven to work well by 99% of the Mach3 user base.

Regards,
Ray L.
Regards,
Ray L.

Offline ger21

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Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2012, 12:39:05 PM »
Quote
"Most users are going to 64 bit...."??  On what do you base this?

Probably the fact that 99% of new PC's come with a 64bit OS.

The biggest issue with motion controllers is support of the plugin. Because Mach3 is so complex, I'd be willing to bet that no plugins support all of Mach3's features 100%. Most users will probably never notice this, though. The question is how good are the developers at fixing issues when bugs arise.

From what I read, I'd say that the Smoothstepper is the only device with what you might consider a "reasonable user base". It's hands down the most popular by a huge margin.

Quote
I/O ports should have proper connectors and be reasonably buffered
Not sure what you mean by proper connectors, but most of these devices still require the use of breakout boards, often connected with ribbon cables.
Gerry

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Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #6 on: December 14, 2012, 01:05:00 PM »
Quote
"Most users are going to 64 bit...."??  On what do you base this?

Probably the fact that 99% of new PC's come with a 64bit OS.


Yes, but he's not talking about a new PC, he's talking about an existing Win7 PC.  And, among Mach3 users, Win7 is a tiny minority of the installed base.  The VAST majority are running XP.  I can't understand people who want to add some "Gee Whiz" feature, just because it's the feature du jour in the rest of the world, even though it has ZERO benefit in this application, AND it puts then well outside the mainstream of users.  As finicky as Mach3 is, and as many problem as users have when they keep within the mainstream, it just makes no sense to virtually "blaze a new trail" when there is no benefit, and no need, to do so.  This means when they do run into problems (and they pretty much always do....), there will likely be nobody to help them solve those problems, because nobody else will be running the some configuration, and the developers will have little interest in spending their very limited time helping someone resolve a problem that will only affect a tiny number of users.

Regards,
Ray L.
Regards,
Ray L.

Offline Jeff_Birt

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Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #7 on: December 14, 2012, 01:23:28 PM »
While there are more existing Mach installations using WinXP at this time, about 95% of new installations I see now are using Win7-64 (a few Win7-32). Some problems are that for newer PC hardware you may not find WinXP drivers and if your manufacturing a machine you want to make sure that the OS you install now will have support for as long a time frame as possible. From this long term support perspective XP is dead.

I've been running Win7-64 with both USB and Ethernet SmoothSteppers for more than a year now. It works very, very well. The PC I'm using in the shop is not a high dollar, fast machine either. It's a Asus all-in-one touch screen PC that I picked up for about $350 from Newegg. I have lots of customers using both XP and Win7 but as I mentioned before 95% of new installations are using Win7-64.

For new installations I like to recommend the Ethernet SmoothStepper over the USB version. The Ethernet version is much more stable in environments where electrical noise. I'm seeing the sales of controllers (w/SS built in), SS enclosure, and bare SS boards are moving more toward Ethernet as well.The big thing to consider with an external motion controller is that it supports all the functional requirements you have. For some systems a board like Galil may be a better fit.
Happy machining , Jeff Birt
 
Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #8 on: December 14, 2012, 02:36:36 PM »
Hi Jeff. Yes I agree with you. Since practically all new PCs today are shipped with a 64 bit OS, - 64 bit will be the standard in a few years. 32 bit will likely be on the decline in a few years on the Windows platform (on new machines shipped).

As the other gentleman wrote, of course you can buy an old XP machine with a valid XP license, but why would I want to go to an old OS if I don't have to? In a few years XP will not be supported by Microsoft anymore and as soon as a new security issue arises, it will be difficult to close that security hole. XP is approx 10 years old now if I recall correctly.

The Win 7 install is for a new machine by the way. Solidworks and other cad software will also be installed on that machine. Later I will go to Win 8.

OK, thanks for mentioning Smoothstepper. I will take a look at it.

Re: What external motion controller do I choose?
« Reply #9 on: December 14, 2012, 05:05:52 PM »
By the way, what I mean by "I/O ports should have proper connectors and be reasonably buffered" is that there should be a breakout board with screw terminals available or the motion controller should have screw terminals on the PCB.

With buffering, I mean that the IO signals should be run thru a buffer so that in case an overvoltage, static spike, short or something damages the controller it will only take out the buffer. Buffers are easy to change. Alternatively the IO should have very good protection. (I am not sure if these specs are available on controllers like these, but they are on most industrial equipment).