I finally jumped in and bought a 6040 CNC machine.. mostly for hobbiest use and to learn..
However I'm now looking at what PC to pair it with.
I'm not 100% sure on what software I'll be using yet but may perhaps use Mach3 as it seems to be the most popular..
In regards to the PC, I'm thinking at this stage that I'll do a dual boot with XP 32bit for the CNC side.. and a fairly powerful windows 7 side.
I'm currently thinking I want a motherboard with:
Dual PS/2 ports.
However upon searching, I'm wondering is there any trap I should look out for when searching for parallel ports? There's blue or pink varieties.. are they the same?
I've read somewhere about some providing a lower voltage.. is there a way to confirm this beforehand or is it only PCI adapters that do this?
You will be wasting your time with the Parallel port. It is much better to buy a good or medium ready working PC with USB mice & keyboards and use a motion controller. If you factor in that you can pick up a ready computer for around £100 and then another £130-200 for a very good motion controller you should be quids in.
All too many people want to skimp and use the parallel port in a windows system (not used EMC since it was not compatible with my Asus mobo years ago). The end result is usually that they come here complaining of lost steps ugly noises, broken endmills. A motion controller is the way to go every time.
Stocking more goodies than just Smoothsteppers
Agree 100% with George.!!
But if you must go with PP then I wouldn't buy a newer PC because it's highly likely it will be 3.3V and the CPU with have energy saving features you can't turn off which is what causes lot of the problems people have with PP.
You can buy Breakout boards that will buffer and boost signals to 5v but this is work around and not idle really.
PP is dieing donkey and unless your just testing the waters with CNC then I wouldn't waste a penny buying with PP in mind. A Motion control card is the only way to go really if you intend keeping with CNC and the extra initial cost will pay back long term in hassle free cutting. Also because most Motion control cards sits between PC and CNC control side they can move with you from machine to machine without too much hassle.
Hi, Thanks for the advice. Really appreciate it.
A friend is giving me a Asus H61M-Pro which they're no longer using.
I've not bought anything else yet though so can always go the route of a cheaper older PC as you've said yes.
Not 100% sure on power saving features on that motherboard.. but as it would be handy to have a higher spec machine too in the workspace (I was going to do a dual boot system with XP & windows 7) I wonder if it's worth trying it to see.. or would you say it's an absolute no-go even with a controller?
Is there a way to test whether there will be problems with the board? DPC latency checker I've used before when testing for audio realtime performance. Is the problem related to latency?
I was looking into controllers yes. From what I've read from people's experiences with my machine, is that as is, the electronics are horrible however with a rewire with some shielded cable, all is well. Coming from an electronics background myself, I'm not afraid of getting stuck in with that type of thing.. (rewiring, building better PSUs, replacing chips etc etc) however if it's the case that it's still not 100% reliable, then I guess a controller board is the way forward..
I guess I'm a little confused on the way to procede..
I guess my questions are:
Shall I go ahead and try with the Asus board? ie. buy the case & cpu etc.
Is it worth trying the system with the controller that comes with it and improving it.. or jumping to a USB (or ethernet perhaps?) controller straight away without the headache?
PS. My intentions as far as CNC is concerned: At this moment in time, my main use for the machine will be to help me make prototypes of electronic gadgets I make. So my thinking is, initially I want to just use the machine to mark out the holes and then I'll drill by hand.. Then once I've learnt more, use it to drill the holes itself and cut the panels..then once I've got a good grasp, make PCBs too.
However, I have a hell of a lot to learn about it all, so am wondering if it's worth just going with something basic first before upgrading/modding to my specific needs...
The cheap chinese machine electronics are a lottery really. Some work fine some fry in days or weeks.??
Common problems are cheap brittle wires cramped into too tight space and poor grounding. With a little re-wire these are sorted quick enough.
elelcronics side ie: Drives PSU then like I say it's a lottery and if they die then just replace with newer decent gear.! . . simplizzz.
The Type of connection and Pc spec however matters to how well the machine works. The PP is slow and unreliable. It does however easily keep up with these low spec machines. Still however I wouldn't use it if could afford the better option.
I also wouldn't go with USB if taking the better route and would go with Ethernet for all the connection and stabilty options it gives.
Now your Other problem which you may or may not be aware of is that Mach3 parallel port driver doesn't support 64bit OS so if your thinking of using it then you can't and you'll need XP or Win7 32bit. Both work fine.
Mach3 the program will work fine with 64bit OS but the Parallel port driver doesn't. External motion control cards however like the ESS etc don't use this driver and have there own Plug-in to control the device and happily work with 64bit OS.
Awesome thanks again for the advice. So ethernet is the way forward then. That's the way I'm leaning at the moment.
Yes I still have my old XP 32bit disk somewhere which I was planning to use. Although I'm not going to use the parallel port now but I've also heard XP runs Mach 3 better..
Delving a little deeper in controllers, I've come across planet-cnc. More specifically a couple of videos which seem to show off some great features regarding PCB milling which intend to do in the future. (lining up pcbs with a camera mount & mapping an uneven surface)
Would that be a controller that you'd recommend? Or are there others that would be more suitable to what I need? I hadn't seen any videos of camera mounts on cnc machines before so wasn't aware that it could be a possibility. Looking now though I see it's also a feature you can have in Mach 3. Although I've not come across the mapping/warp feature...
(they also seem to have a PCB only controller which I solder up myself which is tempting.. although I'm not sure if it's the latest version.. maybe it's a earlier one..)
I think the DIY board was a MK1 and does not have many of the features of the later versions and is not supported anymore.
One thing to bear in mind is that the board will only run on their software, which is free, but will only work up to 25 lines without buying a license for the board, so the cost is Board + License and the license is tied to the board, not always apparent.
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You have plenty of options when it comes to controllers but personaly I much prefer Ethernet than USB for it's reliabilty and most of the cheaper ones are USB.
Software like John pointed out is one thing to bare in mind has you may want to factor in the support base out there. This Depends on the type of person you are really, some need lots hand holding others just like to get on and figure it out them selfs. But the true test is when you have problems that are not user error or lack of knowledge. IMO nothing comes close to Mach3 user base in this regard.
Personly I'm not a Fan of planet software and found it a little basic for me but others like John have no problems which is all that matters in cutting terms. I also don't like being tied to one board or make of board.
Mach3 will do anything the others will do regrards Cameras and surfacing mapping etc because they are just special macros or scripts which are written then tied to the screen set. Thou I don't know of a surface mapping macro I'm sure there will be one if you ask around. If your handy with coding then get writing has it shouldn't be too hard.
There also Linux CNC which should seriously be considered and will work with the PP and I believe 64bit.? But don't hold me to that.!
It matches and surpasses Mach3 in lots respects, esp with the PP side of things. It's the Geeky user base that becomes a problem and lack of quick support that often puts people off, thou I do believe it's getting better!. OH and not to mention Linux OS it's self which puts folks with little PC knowledge off.
To be honest think if on Budget and you know your way around PC's and dealing with OS's and software then I'd have a serious punt with Linux Cnc has it's free and very capable software.!
I run LinuxCNC and it's fine for most use. I haven't found too many limitations with it. I recently had to change the motherboard in my PC as the old one blew up (I suspect that letting the CPU heatsink fill with dust once too many times did for it!) and as many have found, cheap motherboards do not have parallel ports any more. I bought a cheap PP PCI adaptor from Novatech and that has been working fine with LCNC, in conjunction with a cheap BOB. However, my current router is not too demanding in terms of pulse rate. I'm using a low-end AMD CPU and the latest LCNC download. There's plenty of info available for doing things like changing the PP address so that LCNC can find it when you are not using a standard motherboard port; this is the kind of thing that Windows usually manages for you.
What are the limitations? Some of the free CAM software generates G2/G3 arc instructions, and LCNC is incredibly fussy about these. It wants the start/finish points to be correct to some large number of decimal places and bitches if not. I spent a lot of time in the early stages tweaking gcode by hand to fix this. However, since I switched to using Vectric VCarve for most of my CAM, I haven't seen this as an issue. Bigger problem is that LCNC really doesn't support twin leadscrew designs in that it can't handle homing/squaring properly. This has been an ongoing issue in the LCNC community for years. My new router will be twin ballscrew, so this is a problem. It is also very limited when it comes to external motion controllers (really, I think it just supports/is supported by the Mesa cards). There are apparently very good, but that's the only option. I'm going to be moving to Mach3/Mach4 (haven't yet decided) and CSMIO/IP-M motion controller, hence I shall also have to move to Windows. There are plenty of people who will tell you that the LCNC control screens are an old-fashioned heap of junk, but I use the standard screen setup that comes out of the box and it works.
My first router was a bit of an experiment, cheaply built, to see how I got on. I used LCNC to keep cost down, and never regretted it. I don't see why it shouldn't do a perfectly adequate job with the cheap Chinese routers and I wouldn't hesitate to use it in that situation.
Last edited by Neale; 24-10-2015 at 04:00 PM.
I also run Linuxcnc and find it very good I have just used the pp for my mill and lathe but I have just bought a mesa card mainly for all the extra input/outputs including encoder for the lathe spindle speed etc. I also find the standard screen set OK there is a new one out though called Gmoccapy and it seems very good...Clive
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