Mach4 vs LinuxCNC

Dilemma time!   Not exactly an earth shattering issue but my CNC control PC has died and I need to work out what to do next…

I’ve had a CNC milling machine for about 10 years now controlled by a windows PC running Mach3.   I started off with a little Chinese mill with underpowered steppers before getting a much older but bigger and nicer British made Elliot mill.

I put proper sized stepper motors on the Elliot so it could actually move at a sensible speed.   The little steppers on my first mill were good for maybe 10 inches per minute travel or 5 inches per min when cutting.   So jobs took AGES!   The Elliot can do 50 inches per minute!

The downside…. I use the parallel port on the PC to control the stepper motor drives which means there is a pretty low limit on the step rate.   The trade off is to get accuracy I need a high number of steps per revolution but to get high speed I need more travel per step.   And basically it reached the limit of the parallel port.

I also replaced the old ACME leadscrews with ballscrews last year so the accuracy went up by a significant factor.   I want to have my cake AND eat it.

So.. I need to get a motion controller which offloads a lot of the work from the PC to a dedicated module.   But do I get a Smoothstepper and stick with Mach3 (and maybe buy a license for Mach4?) or do I get a Mesa card and move to LinuxCNC?

The LinuxCNC solution is cheaper but requires a PCI card slot.   The Smoothstepper is connected via ethernet so I could use a laptop to control it which makes it easy to take it into the house.

And that comes to the other BIG problem… the old PC died due to being left in the cold and not exactly dry workshop.   A laptop would be convenient but rules out LinuxCNC.

I might have to build a special enclosure for the PC and use silica gel to keep it dry.

I have to say Keith Fenner has made a lovely box for his workshop computer!