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Thread: Laptop

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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jun 2021


    Hello all,
    I am preparing to purchase a CNC machine, one that I can use my Dewalt 611 trim router, and possibly also use a dremel. I am CNC illiterates.
    However, first I plan on buying a dedicated laptop to use specifically for CNC. I want to Peru chase a Apple MacBook Pro with as mush memory and storage that I can afford.

    My question is “do I really need a 16” screen, or will 13.3” screen suffice for CNC software?

    I plan on using some of my retirement fund, but don’t want to rape it, because I’m not sure how long I’m going to live, and I might need some of that money.

    Thanks for any and all guidance or direction!!


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2013

    Re: Laptop

    you don't mention what sort of software you are running.

    If it is a Windows platform then I would guess Mach, UCCNC or similar and if its a Linux platform then LinuxCNC.

    I am most familiar with Mach, Mach4 to be precise. Most other systems are very similar but may have particular requirements that I'm not aware of.

    I run my machine with a dual core Atom based single board computer with on board graphics and 4G RAM. All-in-all the little PC does not have the power
    to 'pull the skin off a rice pudding' and yet it runs Mach4 seamlessly. The only time I notice and miss the power of a bigger CPU and more RAM is when
    I load a big Gcode file, say 5Mb or bigger, then the toolpath is slow to load and draw, sometimes a minute or more. Once it loads and draws however
    it runs fine thereafter.

    The bottom line here is that Mach4 IS NOT a power hungry application, you don't need a powerful or even new PC to run it. If I were you I would save your money
    for the best CNC hardware you can afford and steal one of the grandkids cast off computers to run it. You may find that there are specific things that you
    want as a result of that experience, then its appropriate to buy new, but something specifically tailored for your needs.

    Most CNC software screen sets are fairly detailed and with a lot of buttons and controls crammed onto the screen. They are easier to view with a larger monitor,
    but not dramatically so. Mach4 allows you very great flexibility to tailor the screen to your needs, so you could very easily 'de-clutter' the screen and
    then it would display on a small screen very nicely.

    The only other time where you'd want a big display is if you want to use touch-screen controls. With small screen the control buttons are just too small to put
    your finger on reliably WITHOUT triggering the button next door. Frankly when I'm in the workshop my hands are dirty enough NOT to put them anywhere
    near the display....you should see how quickly the gunk builds up on my keyboard!

    My advice is spend plenty of time researching your chosen software, the motion control board it requires and the CNC hardware you want to control.
    Wise choices there will pay BIG dividends, conversely a mistake with any of those will compromise your CNCing no matter how much you spend.


  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2003

    Re: Laptop

    This looks like a first for me,I have never before seen an instance of somebody wanting to buy an Apple product to run a CNC machine.I have a feeling there may not be that much on offer by way of control software.It might help to know more about what CAD system is in use and what CAM program will generate the Gcode.I know there are usually warnings about the normal laptop not being suited to machine control and that a desktop machine is a safer choice,but not being an Apple user,I wouldn't know if their laptops have some kind of different mode of operating.You could certainly buy a retired desktop Windows machine and monitor for very little and run a machine with it-I did just that.I often wonder if threads such as this are started to seek some kind of recommendation to get a new machine because that's what the OP wants to do and it gets a bit easier if an internet "expert" says you would do much better with a top line machine and our hero can show his wife the advice......

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Jun 2021

    Re: Laptop

    Thank you for the responses. I mentioned Apple because I’ve heard such great things about them. However, I am not planning to buy an Apple if it will not make a difference. I really am lost with all of the recommendations because I have no idea what software actually does. As I said, I’m CNC illiterate.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2018

    Re: Laptop

    Quote Originally Posted by jg2259 View Post
    Thank you for the responses. I mentioned Apple because I’ve heard such great things about them. However, I am not planning to buy an Apple if it will not make a difference. I really am lost with all of the recommendations because I have no idea what software actually does. As I said, I’m CNC illiterate.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
    Are you planning on using it just for the machine? Or are you planning on using it for the CAD/CAM programming as well?.
    If you have on Apple sized budget and planning to CAD/CAM too, then get a workstation type laptop.
    Something with a good Nvidia Quadro graphics chip, 16gb ram or higher.etc. Windows is more compatible with most programs.

    A general store boght machine will be dissapointing even if it's rated for high end gaming. They don't fair that well with design work.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2013

    Re: Laptop

    if your serious about CNC look to the machine....the computer to run it is small potatoes by comparison.

    There is NO credible CNC software for Mac computers, so forget them.

    That leaves Windows and Linux platforms, and there is very good CNC software for either. Linux is favored by highly computer literate whereas
    Windows appeals to the lowest common denominator. A second hand Windows 7 desktop suitable to run a CNC machine could cost less than $50
    .....and that is a compelling argument to go that way.

    As others have posted having a computer to do CAD/CAM is more germane, they often require more computing power than running a Gcode machine.
    Having said that Fusion 360, being free to hobbyists is cutting a swath amongst hobbyists users....and its cloud based, so you don't need a powerful
    computer to run it either!

    I have reservations about Fusion 360, less about the subscription model, but rather the vagaries of cloud computing. Having said that, I have just renewed
    my subscription ($685 NZD including local tax). I use it daily for work purposes and bang-for-your-buck its probably the best CAD/CAM package out there.

    Here are some 'broad brush' estimates for a computer/software/motion controller/breakout boards:

    1) Windows 7 desktop PC $50
    Mach4 $200
    Ethernet SmoothStepper motion controller $180
    MB3 breakout board $180

    TOTAL $610

    2) Windows 7 desktop PC $50
    UCCNC software $60
    UC300 motion controller $160
    UB1 breakout board $180

    TOTAL $450

    3) Windows 7 desktop PC converted to Linux with RTE $50
    LinuxCNC software Free
    Mesa motion controller (approx depending on model) $300

    TOTAL $350

    There are other solutions as well, Acorn CNC has a good reputation for instance, and is nearly a turn-key solution from one manufacturer and price competitiuve with
    those I've already mentioned.

    Note that all of these solutions the PC itself is a modest part of the overall cost, with the motion controller/breakout boards and/or the software cost dominating.
    Note also that these are just my estimates....you could for instance spend less on breakout boards but I have priced good quality units that have seen widespread adoption.

    As I posted earlier I favor Mach4, and given that its more expensive than most you might ask why? Firstly, its not actually that expensive, I paid $200USD for it six/seven
    years ago and have been using it ever since. I'm building a new mill and one servo, just one of three, cost $478USDS plus $80USD shipping! When weighed against
    the investment I have made in my machine, my existing mini-mill and most recently my new build mill, the cost of Mach4 pails into insignificance.
    NFS, the manufacturer of Mach4, does not make motion controllers, so there are six credible manufacturers of motion controllers, whereas UCCNC REQUIRES a motion
    controller manufactured by the same company. I favor open competition.
    Mach4 is very flexible and has a great scripting language and editing facility, even better than UCCNC, and UCCNC is good at that also. In terms of flexibility though
    LinuxCNC has to take the cake.......but you need to be an expert programmer to get there.....and that puts a lot of people off.

    Irrespective of the differences between the solutions I've posted I think you'd be more than happy with any of them, when properly set-up and tuned ANY of these
    solutions will control a machine to make excellent parts.

    The real-deal is the machine that you want to control. If you read many posts on this forum you will find thousands who have bought cheap Chinese CNC machines
    and many have been bitterly disappointed. It comes down to quality, rigidity and reliability.....you just cannot get those at bargain basement prices.
    How many times have you read "my machine chatters...'or 'my machine make circles that aren't round...' or.....and so on. How about 'my
    'Who-Flung-Dung' Chinese VFD just blew up...' When did you ever read about a Hitachi or a Yaskawa VFD blowing up....never.....they don't blow up!

    If you want to get into CNC, a great hobby by the way, and conserve your retirement budget then concentrate on the machine and what you want it to do. That will absorb
    far more dollars than any PC.


  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2003

    Re: Laptop

    I sort of agree with the conclusion that you don't have to buy the latest and greatest computer to run a CNC machine.I disagree with the idea that you have to be an expert programmer to run LinuxCNC.partly because I can fumble my way through making a router work with it and know nothing about programming.Oddly enough I was talking with a CNC tech last week and we discovered that each of us had hobby machines and agreed that the LinuxCNC forum did little to dispel the notion that it is a complex and highly technical piece of software.

    If I might use an analogy,if a non-driver said he was about to buy a top of the range Mercedes while he got to grips with the business of driving,would you question his sanity?Don't you think it would make more sense to get hold of a used Ford and not get too upset if it collects a few scrapes while you become comfortable with the technology and learn which features are really useful and which missing things you would like to have as you gain competence?

    As far as the machine is concerned it receives a series of instructions in the form of pulses and doesn't know or care what flavour the program was that determined them.If it is set up correctly it will do what the instructions say,which can involve damage if you overlooked something.

    The software that creates the code can be anything from the basic and free stuff that will cut an outline from a dxf and generate the necessary Gcode.This in itself seems like magic to the fellows that had to sit by the machine with a print and a calculator to determine the tool centre path data and type it in and some old shellbacks still believe they are better than the computer...... You can spend a bit more and buy more features or you can jump through some of Autodesk's hoops to access Fusion at whatever price they determine.

    I would advise a total newbie to get hold of some free or demo software for some level of design and to play extensively with it until creating shapes isn't a battle.Then to save a few for experiments with creating toolpaths.You should be able to simulate the toolpath or you can download the free Camotics software to see what will happen.If anybody says they have never programmed an outline with the tool the wrong side of the job-don't believe them!

    Then you might think about a machine and the classic newbie belief is that they can buy a cheap machine from ebay and start making motorcycle/car/guitar parts just like those guys on TV.Which is about when they find out that the TV guys have product placement deals with suppliers of industrial machines which can do in minutes what a tiny hobby machine will never achieve.Then they come here looking for advice on the next step on the ladder.

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