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Gaius-S SmartBox - Computer Control, Power Distribution and Wi-Fi all in one box - and it works with Hypercams!


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Those of us using Hypercams from Altair face the issue of how to best control our cameras and harvest images. A laptop directly attached to the camera, mount and guider etc, is a common starting point. Then the cold gets to us and we think about remote control from inside and how to power everything comes up. There are all kinds of solutions and different ones may meet different needs best. On my large rig I've got a Pegasus UPBV2, a mini PC from Inside-Tech and a GL Slate for wi-fi. I looked around for what to do for my portable set up. The brand lock-in to ZWO astrocam gear rules out Asair gear, and the Eagles are good but, to me at least, expensive. A perfectly sound lightweight solution is to combine something like a PowerBox Advance with a Mele Quieter 3 and a wifi router. But is there a single-box option that does not break the bank and that works with Altair cameras?

 

One answer is the Gaius-S SmartBox, at least (so far checked) for DSO work. 

 

https://en.rbfocus.net/product-page/rb-focus-gaius-2022-smartbox

 

Mine arrived over the hols and I have been testing it out. The spec is on the RBF web site but the simple version is that is has 3xUSB3, 2xUSB2, one USB-C, 5x12V for cameras etc and 2 dew heater outputs, a quad core Celeron with 4G RAM and 256G fast SSD. And the best self-generated wifi I have yet to see. 

 

1. Powering it. I got the 10A 12V AC adapter that supplies the XT60 input connector. It also works with the Pegasus AC adapter for the UPBV2 and the XT60 12V output from my Ecoflow River. 

 

2. Initial connection. Connect to the wi-fi using the SSID and password on the box. Then remote login with something like Windows Remote Desktop. I've run it from my Windows laptop, my big iMac, and an iPad using the pencil and pop-up keyboard. 

 

3. Updating and installing software: The cool thing about the wi-fi is that while you are connected to the Gauis with its built-in wi-fi server you can also connect it to your house network so downloading updates and drivers is easy. [edit: I should clarify that it is best to make a second connection via another network adapter eg ethernet, or run both the Gaius and client over eg your house network, then restart the Gaius to back to its own wifi.] There is a lot you do NOT need to do: the web site list the preinstalled stuff but mine had ASTAP with the big H18 database, NINA (a late beta of 2.0 which I updated to 2.1 along with ASCOM 6.6), PHD2, Sharpcap, Polemaster stuff. I downloaded the drivers for my gear from Altair, ZWO, Primalucelab and IOptron mount, and also Altair Capture. I also downloaded and installed the image cache files for NINA to do framing etc even if you are not on the internet, and the Hocus Focus tool. There is about 180G for your images when all this is loaded. 

 

4. Altair Capture just works from installation. With NINA I had to go through the usual connection of the NINA control program to the various bits and pieces. I won't pretend it was absolutely gremlin-free. There were minor squabbles over ASCOM ports with PLL Play and the Gaius power manager, but I got it sorted out pretty quickly. I needed the focal length of my scope for ASTAP and had to make some step settings for hocus focus under NINA. 

 

5. First light involved switching on and connecting. The wi-fi is good. I connected from my iMac from inside my house to the setup outside with full strength wi-fi and smooth RDP. Then it behaves like any other NINA system. My concerns over whether the quad core Celeron and 4G RAM evaporated in minutes. The only place I noticed some slight sluggishness compared to my i5 mini was starting NINA. I tested with 

 

Altair Hypercam 26C (which did not need any fiddling with power saving or BIOS to work)

Sesto Senso 2 Focus Motor

IOptron GEM45

ZWO mini guide cam 120

 

Everything was powered by and computer controlled by the Gaius. So it does what it is supposed to and I grabbed about 70 subs on the Horsehead. It's a small light box that I just velcro'd to my dovetail. 

 

What don't I know? Does it work for high frame rate planetary? I need to check. Will it work with the big 61CFX/MFX - don't know yet! Long term robustness is not something I can judge until I've had it for a long time. 

 

Are there any problems. Not really. It is made in Spain and the OS has Spanish remnants in it, most notably the ZIP extractor ( look for the extraer button - it's pretty obvious!). The power cable is European with a UK adapter and is perhaps a bit short. I think the Pegasus one with a localised plug and longer cables (the one with the XT60 connector for the Ultimate) is probably a better bet. Minor stuff not really affecting the unit or its operation. 

 

It's another approach. It's not that hard to put separate mini PC, power box and Wi-fi router on the mount, and Altair make some risers to allow you to have a cage for them all. This is another option that works well with a variety of brands. I'll be trying it out next with a 24CFX imaging cam and 178M guide cam and an EAF motor, also sitting on a GEM45. 

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Edited by William Shaw
Fixed spelling mistakes in product name
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  • 3 weeks later...

Further testing took place with the 24CFX. All fine as with the 26C. I had the GPCAM3 178M working as a guide scope (also USB3) with the AA 60m guidescope and a ZWO EAF as focus motor this time. 

 

There was some discussion on FB recently about minimum PC configs for such Hypercams. It's a slightly tricky one. I don't see any contradiction between Altair's recommendation of a modern i5 or better for such cameras and my use of the Celeron-based Gaius. Generally speaking a modern i5 class machine or better will also come with better USB, a fast (possibly NVME) SSD and good power. My suspicion is that it is the total package and its set up that matters, especially with peripheral components that allow the data transfer from camera to SSD to work reliably. Poor or long cabling makes a difference too. I think that RBFocus have been careful with the choice of non-CPU parts to make this package work well. I hesitated for several months before ordering one precisely because it wasn't an i5, but then saw reports of certain Beelink and Mele with similar quad-core Celeron CPUs working just fine, so took the plunge. 

 

Here are a few photos of the Gaius mounted on my GEM45. I'm still fiddling with the placement. I think I will move the unit to the top of the scope so the wi-fi aerial is not obstructed by the OTA. It is very light and that will give line of sight to the wi-fi aerial more consistently. The close ups show (aerial side): wi-fi aerial, USB3 to GPCAM3, USB3 to 24CFX, power to 24CFX and GEM45; (other side). XT60 10A input, 2x dew heater power, USB2 to GEM45 and EAF, weather dongle. 

 

So unless you are desperate to control your rig from a phone this is a great alternative to the Asiair. I used it from my son's iPad Air with no difficulty, though Apple machine name weirdness meant I needed to add the ".local" to the name supplied on the Gaius box. That seems to affect every Windows RDP  from Apple set up I have used and is worth knowing. 

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