Computer Recommendations?

Looking for some advice:

You might have covered this, but I cannot find a string on it. I am new and just starting my build to have a multi machine (CNC, 3D printer, laser, …).

Question: What stand alone computer level would you recommend to hold the great programs you all speak about? Is a laptop good with Windows or MAC? Amount of memory? Any features to look for that have really worked out (wifi, Bluetooth, etc)? Anyone use a Rasberry PI 3?
I will probably use the CNC for woodworking the most, but if I get hooked on other items (3D printing, etc), I would like to start with something I will not have to repurchase. Do you work on your system and then Bluetooth the design to the machine or does it have to be in the shop, exposed to dust, environment, etc?

OK, that seems like a lot of babble, so I will stand bye to get your thoughts/recommendations from the vast experience here.

Right now, I am trying to convert to SD card so I can create my gcode somewhere else. Makes the machine’s reliability not tied down to your computer setup which is a plus. I prefer to use a laptop just for the portability, but if I have to model anything in CAD, I prefer to use my desktop because the controls and mouse are so much easier to use. My vote is windows because it has more support for things like this, it’s sort of the standard.

As for memory and other hardware, chances are you don’t need as much as you think. Unless you’re doing some really high poly count modeling or rendering, what you described was fine. I can model fine with on a desktop with an i3 6100, no graphics card. Though my friend just lend me a Geforce Titan X Maxwell card…it costs $500 USED. Not necessary.

It’s all about your workflow. Personally I would lean toward getting a screen and doing your gcode elsewhere, it makes things so much tidier in the shop anyways. Also, using a knob and a small screen is surprisingly easier than fiddling with repetier, connection issues, etc.

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PC is preferred, linux is fine if you know what you are doing, MAC is not maker friendly.

No special requirements are needed at all, old machines will be fine, even for CAD.

As Kevin said, you can do all the work at any computer and just dump the gcode on an SD card and use an LCD screen to run the machine for any function.

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I’ve never ran wine on a raspberry pi. I did run EstlCAM in wine in Linux, but as Ryan said, it’s not for the beginner. Soke SketchUp versions work in wine, but I’ve had less than great success with it.

Kevin’s right that at least having the option of using the SD card is great. I don’t like bringing the card to my computer and then back. I should probably just use two SD cards.

Arduino, EstlCAM, LibreCAD, Inkscape, Sandify… These all run an very little CPU and memory. Repetier host should, but it’s leaking memory in a recent version for CNC tasks.

OnShape, SketchUp, Fusion360 take a bit more, but still not very much. If it runs the latest windows, then it will probably be fine.

I don’t know of any Bluetooth connections to Marlin. I wouldn’t trust them if I had seen one. If you wanted to be slick, you could install octopi on your raspberry, and then load the gcode from your normal machine through the web interface.

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Good stuff guys. I appreciate all the suggestions. In this day and age, when you say not much memory, are you talking a GB or more to have Fusion 360 and other programs? I will also try to look through forum for pics of anyone’s setup.

On receive mode here.


If you plan on learning fusion that will be far and away the most resource intensive program,

If you’re planning to run Windows other than XP, you’re gonna need more than 1GB. For f360, probably more than 2 or 3 is going to be prefered. Again, all about how extreme your modeling is. Really though, the minimum people “in this day and age” typically go for is 4GB or more, meaning a 64bit operating system too.

This is good. I have the notes going.

  • Table top computer or laptop (mouse preferred)

  • Windows XP, 7, 4 GB+

  • SD card capatible

  • Fusion 360 software

  • LED screen for machine

Thanks for the link to Fusion. I will look over requirements and look forward to learning program. It seems many have enjoyed this program for several uses.

Please don’t run xp. That shit keeps me up at night(rebuilding client networks). Win7 is the minimum windows anyone should be running.

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Not sure of your budget, but if you are looking for a new “cheap” pc that should meet your needs I recently bought a “cheap” ASUS laptop for around $400 on Amazon. It has the Skylake i3 with 4gb ddr4 memory and 1TB harddrive. They dont currently have it listed so the next model might be out. I also added and additional 4GB of memory for a total of 8GB. I’ve been pretty impressed with it so far. There is a Acer with very similar specs with better battery life for the same price. I havent run F360 on it yet cause a have a high performance desktop also. But I have been running Slic3r, Estlecam, and Inkscape on the laptop without issue. Just something to think about.

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I highly recommend a SSD primary hard drive. This one item will have a huge effect on program and file load/save times. I put one into my 3 year old HP laptop (i3-3130M processor, 4GB RAM, WIN8.1) and it goes from full off to booted with solidworks ready to work in 23 seconds. With the stock 5400RPM drive, it was almost 2 minutes.

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I run pretty “outdated” hardware. My MPCNC uses a RAMPS/Marlin for control with the graphical LCD so I just load my gcode to SD and run it from there. I have a computer near it but it’s far enough a USB cable won’t quite reach so I actually have to disconnect the RAMPS and bring it over manually for flashing - which is a big part of why I’m still on RC6 even though some of it’s bugs drive me crazy.

My computers are also outdated. I use a mix of linux, mac and windows. estlcam is one of the only two reasons I still use windows (the other is photoshop, GIMP is ok but it’s no replacement for photoshop.) I’ve yet to have any luck getting estlcam to run under linux with wine which is a real bummer because I love estlcam and I love linux.

The computer near my MPCNC is my newest, and it was the cheapest system I could find in town about 5 or 6 years ago (maybe longer I forget) when my main desktop died and I needed something to keep working THAT DAY but had no funds. I forget it’s specs but it was nothing special even when new. It runs estlcam, slic3r and inkscape just fine. It struggles a bit with photoshop but my SLR is old enough it’s files are small enough that usually isn’t an issue. It can run Fusion360…but it’s kind of frustrating and painful. It was a Windows 7 system when I bought it but I did the free upgrade to W10 - and wish I hadn’t as it definitely took a performance hit with the “upgrade”.

My next newest computer is over 10 years old…closer to 12…maybe 13. Well, parts of it are. The motherboard finally died a few months ago so I swapped it for another outdated computer of a slightly newer vintage but lower specs. The video card is only a year or so old but bottom of the line. It was running Vista until last summer when I upgraded it to 10 - again huge performance hit but Vista is dead so not much of a choice. The system I rebuilt it with was a 7 machine. It runs…but crashes frequently. I’ve got Fusion to run on it but it’s not really usable. Fine for OpenSCAD and slic3r and onshape though.

I have a few notebooks that run linux - but they’re all old enough that they’re not even 64bit based systems. Still they can run a browser and onshape works tolerably on them.

My main work computer is the lowest end macbook air available as of this past December…which sadly makes it my most powerful computer. It doesn’t run inkscape as well as my windows machines due to how inkscape work on macos - but it does run it usably. Onshape is great on there and Fusion360 is tolerable…but just barely. I actually use it as my main computer at home as well due to my others being so limited. Honestly - I absolutely abhor finder and mac’s keyboard mappings drive me up the wall…but other than that it’s a great system and I spend most of my time in the terminal where it’s almost the same as being on my linux systems. It runs chrome, gitkraken, and sublime text just as well as anything else and those are the 3 things I spend 90% of my time with so fine for me. As a notebook it beats any windows notebook I’ve ever had as suspend and restore actually works as expected (something my linux notebooks also do better than they did when they ran windows.)

So…you really don’t need much. Newer hardware is nice and can make things faster…but this works for me.

I know djk4linux uses a cheap <$200 chromebook with ubuntu loaded on it for a lot of his work and says it works great for him. I recently got him hooked on onshape and he’s been doing a lot of designing on those little chromebooks in onshape quite happily.

I will say that since I run my gcode off sd card it does help having a built in SD card reader - which thankfully all of my systems have.

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You are getting some good advice regarding the system on which to do the design work. Windows10 with enough RAM and an SSD is a great system. More than one monitor if you can swing it helps a lot for referencing information required while doing the design. I have come to love Fusion 360 for this; a totally impressive tool.

I have found, however, that a general purpose computer has its own issues when used as a realtime controller for a 3D printer or CNC machine. Not the least of these is the location when dealing with lots of dust and flying chips, which is not exactly what you want when doing the next design as the current one is getting milled on the machine.

For both 3D printers and the MPCNC, I use a Raspberry Pi running Octoprint (Octopi load) as the realtime controller. This sits next to the printer/CNC in a small case and communicates through Wifi. From my design machine I can upload the Gcode files. The interface, which runs on a browser, tablet or cell phone allows easy project setup, including custom buttons for zeroing controls, and movement controls for the printer. It offloads my PC and even provides a very easy webcam interface that is easily viewed in the browser with no other setup required other than mounting the camera. The RPi plugs directly into the mini-Rambo/Ramps board.

Even though OctoPi is specifically set up for 3D printing, it works great for the MPCNC and is also much easier and more flexible than sneaker-net using an SD card, which I did for a year until I found this solution. An LCD controller is still useful, but I’d personally install the OctoPi system first.

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I very much agree with RandyS, Octoprint is very useful on the MPCNC

I currently run it with a laser only, but you can edit scripts, so when you abort an operation, it can turn off the laser, move Z up if you are milling and lift your tool away from the worksurface, etc. Octoprint also handles M0 and M1’s, so you can mill something and output pauses and machine will stop moving and wait for button input, very useful :slight_smile:

We have a small GRBL CNC machine at work, and CNCjs is also AMAZING control software, I wish CNCjs some day works on MPCNC because Octoprint can not do Gcode preview.



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Someone should convince Foosel (Is that her name) to make some edits for CNC machines. There are enough of them out there running firmware like this. I bet making the gcode preview work with CNC code wouldn’t be that much work. My only complaint about octopi and CNC.js is that you need to have the web page loaded to do anything.

I run CNC.js, but I use a raspberry pi and the piCNC board (which uses grbl). It’s nice, but it doesn’t handle pauses right, at least not that I can see. The developer is very responsive, and at my request added a bunch of event hooks for running arbitrary scripts. I have been meaning to make it record a timelapse automatically at start and stop of the job, but I haven’t :frowning: . I have seen here someone talk about grbl for RAMPS, but I don’t think I ever saw someone come back with any details. As long as it’s grbl, you can run CNC.js with it. There is a branch of CNC.js that even supports Marlin. I’m not sure if/when that will be in master. Marlin Support · Issue #162 · cncjs/cncjs · GitHub

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Great stuff all. It’s like learning a second language with all the stuff out there. Thx.

Anyone use something like this.