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The NexStar User's Guide - Excerpt from Chapter 10

What Types of Computers Work

Potentially, any computer with the ability to use a serial port - also known as an RS-232 port - is capable of controlling a NexStar telescope. This includes almost all desktop or laptop (notebook) computers running MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, the Macintosh OS, or the various flavors of Unix. This also includes most palmtop computers running the Palm OS or Windows CE.

When searching for a laptop or desktop computer, you will find it more convenient to use a model with a built-in serial port. Many newer laptop computers do not have serial ports. In that case, you must purchase a USB to serial adapter (about $40) to provide the required serial port. Other nice features include:

  • a large keyboard for use with gloved hands
  • extra long battery life or a 12v cigarette-lighter power adapter option
  • a fast processor, lots of memory, and lots of hard drive space - especially if you intend to try your hand at digital imaging

With palmtop computers, be sure to get a model that offers a serial sync cable (a USB sync cable will not do) or you will not be able to connect it to your telescope without an expensive compact flash serial adapter card. With most palmtop computers, the serial cable is optional; generally only a USB cable is included. Other nice features are:

  • a color display - much easier to read in the dark
  • a backlit display or a clip on light (don't forget to color the bulb red!)
  • long battery life or a 12v cigarette-lighter power adapter option
  • extra memory for larger object databases in your astronomy software

Although most astronomy software includes a "night-vision" mode that changes the screen to shades of red, on most computers this will still be too bright. Try using one or two sheets of dark red plastic instead. Check plastic suppliers, art stores, and camera shops for plastic sheets. It will need to be darker than you might think, try stacking sheets to get the right density. A simple cardboard frame secured to the computer with Velcro will keep it all in place.

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Michael Swanson
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