Optimizing your computer for Pixinsight

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Mark Scrivener

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Oct 13, 2016, 2:49:25 PM10/13/16
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Hey Gang,

I've been using PI for most of my image processing for some time now (also use StarTools), and never really gave much thought to what I could do to make things run faster (until now). Without  buying a new machine or spending much money I've managed to dramatically improve the performance of PI on my old machine. Here is the run down....

First off, for those unaware, PI has a benchmark script, and you can upload and compare results with other machines at http://pixinsight.com/benchmark/ On my ancient laptop (i5-2520M, 16GB RAM, W7 Pro) I was seeing a score of ~1100 (varies depending on what else Windows decides to do in the background) and the benchmark took about 7min to run. Ouch! Reading up a bit, I found:

1. PI uses multi threading and likes lots of cores - the more the better. If a new machine or processor upgrade is possible, go for the biggest multicore hyper threaded processor you can fit and afford. 

2. Currently PI does not use any GPU acceleration - so graphics cards aren't gonna help.

3. Apparently PI runs about 50% faster under Linux that Win (at least according to some users). So if dual boot is an option and you plan on doing a lot of processing this might be a option.

4. PI loves memory - so memory upgrades are worthwhile. 32 GB seems like a good number from what I read (way beyond what my poor old laptop will support unfortunately)

5. PI swaps a lot back and forth to disk - so an SSD is a HUGE upgrade!

I threw an SSD in my laptop and ran the manufactures optimization software - using all their recommended settings for max performance. My PI benchmark went from ~7min with a score of ~1100 to 2min 48sec and a score of ~2800! The CPU time to run the benchmark stayed the same (2:39) but the swap time fell from over 4min to about 9 sec!

Now this is still no PI monster machine (some are reporting scores in the 14,000 range!). But given you can spend $150 or so on a SSD and dramatically improve that old machine (plus keep the SSD for external storage when you kill the old cow) - why not!

Hope this helps some of you.

Cheers,
Mark


rob pfile

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Oct 13, 2016, 4:26:12 PM10/13/16
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i second the SSD advice - in fact i recently got a PCIe SSD which uses a x4 PCIe connection; i’m getting 1,300MB/s read and 700MB/s write performance (on large files anyway) on this disk. that compares to about 450MB/s read/write for a SATA SSD.

i had to buy a special one that works with older BIOS (i guess newer motherboards can directly support the m.2 drives on a PCIe riser card, but my motherboard needs the PCIe card to have an option ROM onboard in order to recognize it as a disk.)

if you are using an SSD as a PI swap device you can list the device multiple times in the swap configuration. there’s definitely a benefit to having 2 parallel swap areas on the same SSD.

one thing to take into consideration with the m.2 drives is that they do get hot and throttle themselves. some people have taken to putting small heatsinks on all the chips onboard the SSD, but i didn’t do this. i think there’s a bit more airflow in the PCIe slot; a motherboard that directly supports the m.2 connector has the SSD flush with the motherboard where there’s probably not a lot of airflow.

rob
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Paul Mahany

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Oct 13, 2016, 5:39:42 PM10/13/16
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Paul Mahany here.

I tried it on My W10 i7 ASUS with two discs, a  SSD and a hard drive I have PI installed on the 128 GB SSD called C:, and my data stored on 1 terra bit HD called D: 

*******************************************************************************
The Official PixInsight Benchmark version 1.0
Copyright (C) 2014-2015 Pleiades Astrophoto. All Rights Reserved.
*******************************************************************************

Benchmark version ...... 1.00.08
Input checksum ......... 2cd72b67e12fff2812ef5b5da054ab2a70a25e23
Serial number .......... Z6NMH4L5TUTH5027X1CZ62870072713Y

CPU Identification
CPU vendor ............. GenuineIntel
CPU model .............. Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-6700HQ CPU @ 2.60GHz

System Information
Platform ............... Windows
Operating system ....... Microsoft Windows 10 Home
Core version ........... PixInsight Core 01.08.04.1195 (x64)
Logical processors ..... 8
Total memory size ...... 15.898 GiB

Execution Times
Total time ............. 03:38.43
CPU time ............... 01:07.03
Swap time .............. 02:31.38
Swap transfer rate ..... 109.493 MiB/s

Performance Indices
Total performance ...... 2154
CPU performance ........ 5647
Swap performance .......  606

*******************************************************************************
I don't know how to interpret what this means. How do I tell if PI is actually running on the SSD?  ?More Memory?  any thing else?



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Mark Scrivener

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Oct 13, 2016, 5:51:49 PM10/13/16
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Hey Paul,

Look at the swap time - that tells me PI is not using your SSD for swap (or it is the worlds slowest SSD). I don't have PI in front of me at the moment, but go into the preferences and look at something like network and directory settings - this will show you where your swap file is pointed. Make sure it is your SSD (which I'm guessing it is not at the moment). You can also make multiple entries for the same location (but only do this for the SSD - it will cause issues with a HDD). Then hit the "global apply" circle. You should then see the "swap time" drop to 10sec or so - maybe less if you have a PCIe SSD. You should also see a swap transfer rate around 1,400 or so (not 100). That should dramatically improve your performance.

Mark


High Fidelity Analog Meets Modern Production

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Hitesh Dholakia

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Oct 13, 2016, 8:48:34 PM10/13/16
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Mark --- your email was very timely. I was thinking on getting a gaming laptop. I too had concluded that SSD+HDD combo was the way to go. I may have to up my memory to 32 (Right now have 16). 

One more thing (Although not PC related per se) is the display. Since after all, the processing steps we take are based on what we see on the screen, it is important to have well calibrated and high resolution display/monitor. Thoughts?

HItesh.

On Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 2:51 PM, Mark Scrivener <markwsc...@gmail.com> wrote:
Hey Paul,

Look at the swap time - that tells me PI is not using your SSD for swap (or it is the worlds slowest SSD). I don't have PI in front of me at the moment, but go into the preferences and look at something like network and directory settings - this will show you where your swap file is pointed. Make sure it is your SSD (which I'm guessing it is not at the moment). You can also make multiple entries for the same location (but only do this for the SSD - it will cause issues with a HDD). Then hit the "global apply" circle. You should then see the "swap time" drop to 10sec or so - maybe less if you have a PCIe SSD. You should also see a swap transfer rate around 1,400 or so (not 100). That should dramatically improve your performance.

Mark


High Fidelity Analog Meets Modern Production

Mark Scrivener

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Oct 14, 2016, 12:51:26 AM10/14/16
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Hi Hitesh,

Yes - excellent point. The monitor is everything - if you can't see it then how can you adjust/correct it? Choosing a monitor is complicated - there is far more than just resolution to consider. Color gamut as well as color accuracy is a huge factor. Then there are things like contrast ratio, viewing angle, brightness, etc. It gets to be a complicated subject quickly.

If you are looking at laptops, the absolute cream of the crop for photo editing (which would include astro processing) is (believe it or not) the Dell XPS 15 with the 4k display (also comes with a lower res display). Even though the DPI of a 4k display is finer than human vision at 15.5", the display apparently has the best color gamut and accuracy of any laptop out there - even trounces the Mac Book Pro with its "retina" display. Couple that with the fact Apple is woefully behind on updating their processors (and the Dell will cost you several hundred less) and you have a winner. I'm looking at the 4k screen with i7-6700, 32GB, 512GB SSD which runs about $2k. Still haven't pulled the trigger, but tempting......

Cheers,
Mark

Bruce Braunstein

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Oct 14, 2016, 12:16:23 PM10/14/16
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Apple is probably coming out with new versions of the MacBook Pro at the end of this month.  If you are interested in a Mac I'd wait and see the new features.  The older versions will also be available for less at that point.  I tried out the new XPS 15" and all of what Mark said is true.  I'm really a Mac user though and decided to go with a MacBook Pro after the refresh.

Best,

Bruce


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From my iPhone 6+

Glenn Newell

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Oct 14, 2016, 1:21:47 PM10/14/16
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Re: Mac vs. Windows, we are discussing at work how Mac's seem to have far fewer issues (software and hardware) than our windows PCs. Only one hardware failure for over 230 macs in 2 years, where's we have daily Dell and HP windows failures (but thousands of laptops). 

IBM and others are reporting similar. They have only 5 Mac support people for 15K macs. The ratio of windows is MUCH higher.

Also as to the cost, the mac hardware tends to stay relevant for longer, so if you compare the 3 year cost of PC to the 4 year cost of mac, it comes out ~even.

That said, I will stick to windows, at least for image capture, because of ASCOM, etc. etc. etc., but I do have opportunities to use Linux, Mac, etc. for processing. 

Bruce Braunstein

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Oct 14, 2016, 1:55:29 PM10/14/16
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That's been my experience also.  I had a 14month old HP laptop that had a bad motherboard and HP told me to throw it out.  I have a 7 year old MacBook Pro that runs as good as the day I bought it.  I use Windows for image capture for exactly the same reasons as Glenn.  I have an Intel Compute stick running Windows 10 mounted on my dovetail which is working great.  For post capture, I prefer a Mac.

Best,

Bruce
IMG_4243.JPG

Mark Striebeck

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Oct 14, 2016, 3:30:12 PM10/14/16
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Interesting Bruce that you are using an Intel Stick. I tried it in the past and found it woefully underpowered. What programs do you use on it?

    Mark

Bruce Braunstein

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Oct 14, 2016, 3:48:42 PM10/14/16
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It's the 2nd gen stick.  I'm using SGP, Plate Solve 2, & EQMOD 1.29.  Stellarium is usually running also.  It runs smoothly so far.  I'm also using a Hawking Technology wireless N adapter, Rigel Systems Focuser, and a 12 v powered USB 3 hub.  No problems with wifi now that I'm using the N adapter.

Cheers,

Bruce

Mark Scrivener

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Oct 14, 2016, 3:56:21 PM10/14/16
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If you search on Cloudy Nights there is at least one large thread about using the compute stick for control and acquisition. For the most part people seemed happy with it and ran a wide range of programs such as TSX, Maxim, SGP, etc. The biggest issue I recall was it comes with Win Home (not pro) so you had to do some tricks to get Windows Remote Desktop to work. This is on my to do list but I haven't picked one up yet.

On the whole Mac vs PC debate - I say use what you like. I have several Lenovo machines that have been abused and banged around for years and still work as good as the day they were new (one is 6 years old). It is also amazingly serviceable (not that I've ever needed to replace anything). Do some web searches and you will find people complaining about failed Mac hardware (and software) - not to say that Mac is bad - but none of these machines are perfect. If you buy a premium PC brand and choose wisely you should be able to get the same quality and reliability as Apple. And if you get unlucky and get a Mac from the wrong lot you could have issues - and if you are really unlucky you might even find a bad Apple customer service rep. All of this is highly unlikely and I'm not trying to trash Apple (who I think makes an excellent product) - but when you make hundreds of millions of devices a year and employ tend of thousands of people, something is bound to go wrong once in a while. No company is immune to issues.

Cheers,
Mark

Bruce Braunstein

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Oct 14, 2016, 5:46:36 PM10/14/16
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All true Mark...
I forgot to mention that I use TeamViewer for controlling the Compute Stick.  I sometimes transfer files from it to my MacBook While imaging and it keeps up without any issue.

Hitesh Dholakia

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Oct 14, 2016, 5:56:51 PM10/14/16
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And I use NuC to mount on my dovetail. Use vnc as remote client. Since it has 4 USB ports I eliminated the need for a separate  hub.

Mark Scrivener

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Oct 14, 2016, 6:24:27 PM10/14/16
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Hi Bruce,

I seem to recall from the CN thread some people were complaining TeamViewer at up more resources than Win Remote Desktop (can't recall if it was local memory or WiFi bandwidth they were complaining about). Have you experienced this or did you make any tweaks to the settings to avoid/eliminate this issue?

Thanks,
Mark

Bruce Braunstein

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Oct 14, 2016, 6:30:50 PM10/14/16
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Hi Mark,

Having the Home version on my Compute Stick, I've not tried Remote Desktop.  I have used VNC and it did use fewer resources than TeamViewer but with ReamViewer I can hear audio from the compute stick and also transfer files.  It doesn't bog down the compute stick so I'm happy with it.  Plate Solve2 solves in about 2 seconds so it's happy too...

Cheers,

Paul Mahany

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Oct 14, 2016, 8:34:35 PM10/14/16
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Thanks for your insight.

I'm looking at it, the benchmark, and it runs real fast until it gets to 27%. Then it gets real slow. I have a 128 Gig SSD with the preference in PI pointing to it. There is only 70 Gigs free when I run because programs like W10 and others are also installed on it. I tried adding more instances to the SSD and now get the message

Unable to create file: Win32 error (2): The system cannot find the file specified.
: C:/~PI~NBEAWA0BCB1ZGQYT~pixinsight_bench-part002.swp

Then benchmark runs at 0% forever.

Think I need more capacity on the SSD?

PJM


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Scrivener <markwsc...@gmail.com>
To: sjaa-astroimaging <sjaa-ast...@googlegroups.com>
Sent: Thu, Oct 13, 2016 2:51 pm
Subject: Re: [sjaa-astroimaging] Optimizing your computer for Pixinsight

Hey Paul,

Look at the swap time - that tells me PI is not using your SSD for swap (or it is the worlds slowest SSD). I don't have PI in front of me at the moment, but go into the preferences and look at something like network and directory settings - this will show you where your swap file is pointed. Make sure it is your SSD (which I'm guessing it is not at the moment). You can also make multiple entries for the same location (but only do this for the SSD - it will cause issues with a HDD). Then hit the "global apply" circle. You should then see the "swap time" drop to 10sec or so - maybe less if you have a PCIe SSD. You should also see a swap transfer rate around 1,400 or so (not 100). That should dramatically improve your performance.

Mark


High Fidelity Analog Meets Modern Production

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Mark Scrivener

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Oct 15, 2016, 2:15:53 AM10/15/16
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hmmm......a few observations:

1. Are you running a 32 bit OS? No idea how that might impact things, but if you can upgrade to a 64bit version that would be recommended.

2. I assume you mean there is 70MB free in your 128GB SSD. If you do indeed have 70GB free that should be sufficient swap space. If you only have 70MB then yes, you don't have nearly enough swap space.

Cheers,
Mark





On Fri, Oct 14, 2016 at 5:34 PM, 'Paul Mahany' via SJAA AstroImaging <sjaa-ast...@googlegroups.com> wrote:
Thanks for your insight.

I'm looking at it, the benchmark, and it runs real fast until it gets to 27%. Then it gets real slow. I have a 128 Gig SSD with the preference in PI pointing to it. There is only 70 Gigs free when I run because programs like W10 and others are also installed on it. I tried adding more instances to the SSD and now get the message

Unable to create file: Win32 error (2): The system cannot find the file specified.
: C:/~PI~NBEAWA0BCB1ZGQYT~pixinsight_bench-part002.swp

Then benchmark runs at 0% forever.

Think I need more capacity on the SSD?

PJM


-----Original Message-----
From: Mark Scrivener <markwsc...@gmail.com>
To: sjaa-astroimaging <sjaa-astroimaging@googlegroups.com>
Sent: Thu, Oct 13, 2016 2:51 pm
Subject: Re: [sjaa-astroimaging] Optimizing your computer for Pixinsight

Hey Paul,

Look at the swap time - that tells me PI is not using your SSD for swap (or it is the worlds slowest SSD). I don't have PI in front of me at the moment, but go into the preferences and look at something like network and directory settings - this will show you where your swap file is pointed. Make sure it is your SSD (which I'm guessing it is not at the moment). You can also make multiple entries for the same location (but only do this for the SSD - it will cause issues with a HDD). Then hit the "global apply" circle. You should then see the "swap time" drop to 10sec or so - maybe less if you have a PCIe SSD. You should also see a swap transfer rate around 1,400 or so (not 100). That should dramatically improve your performance.

Mark


High Fidelity Analog Meets Modern Production

Paul Mahany

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Oct 15, 2016, 10:59:48 AM10/15/16
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Thanks for your help Mark.

 It's a 64 bit system, W 10 Home, installed last July at Fry's on the new ASUS gaming laptop. There are 70 gigs free on C, the SSD drive. I checked the windows location for swap files and it is pointed at C.  D:, a HD is designated as storage if that means anything. 

PJM


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Mark Scrivener

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Oct 15, 2016, 4:18:44 PM10/15/16
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Thanks Paul. Your error started with "Win32 error" hence my question.

Based on your response I'd say something is wrong with your file paths - or you have a corrupt PI file. Check your file paths, install any PI updates, and on the benchmark screen check the "force download" just to make sure that file isn't corrupt. If none of that works I'd suggest the PI forums for help as I'm at a loss.

Best of luck!
Mark

Paul Mahany

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Oct 15, 2016, 8:39:09 PM10/15/16
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Thanks, I'll give it a try.


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