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Inspiron Mini 10 as a 3D Printer Controller

It turns out that the dual-core Intel Atom Inside an old Dell Mini 10 isn’t up to the demands of rendering modern web design; disk I/O speed has nothing to do with the CPU’s (lack of) ability to chew through multiple layers of cruft adorning what used to be straightforward static HTML.

So, equipped with Linux Mint / XFCE, it’s now found a new purpose in life:

SnowWhite back in action

SnowWhite back in action

In truth, an Atom isn’t quite up to the demands of modern 3D printing, either, at least in terms of processing a huge G-Code file into a layer-by-layer path preview. Fortunately, Pronterface doesn’t generate the preview until you ask for it: arranging the UI to put the preview on a separate tab eliminates that problem.

The Mini 10 can dribble G-Code into the printer just fine and looks much cuter than the hulking laptop in the background.

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  1. #1 by TravelingServiceMan on 2016-07-11 - 07:44

    I ended up running my printer from a raspberry pi with Repetier installed. Works quite well, though a used dell mini 10 may actually be cheaper than Pi now. At some point I’d like to go back and add a numeric display to the pi to show heartbeat and current IP and add an actual button to the soft shutdown hack, instead of the two dangling jumper wires, but it’s not a big enough problem so far.

    • #2 by Ed on 2016-07-11 - 09:08

      I’d say a used netbook (or nettop or whatever) is a great deal: you get a full display, a real keyboard, a power supply, a hard drive, and a tidy case for about the same price as an RPi “starter kit”.

      • #3 by Frans on 2016-07-11 - 10:02

        My poor 2010 Atom netbook can’t really handle the present-day internet anymore. But it’s fine for basically everything else. Okay, not so much for compiling software or calculating things in R or whatever, but fine for LibreOffice Writer, pandoc/LaTeX, etc. People tend to say that device X is fine for a little light browsing, but the simple fact is that “light” browsing is probably the toughest thing I subject my computer to on a near-daily basis, even though I let my computer do a wide variety of things (e.g. compiling, running VMs, etc.) that most people don’t. I’m honestly barely even sure what people even mean when they say things like that. I guess they must mean the computer won’t be used for 3D rendering the next Pixar movie or something… =P

        • #4 by Ed on 2016-07-11 - 11:10

          Aye! Clients must execute an absurd amount of website code that has nothing to do with the actual content, to the extent that even multi-core mobile devices deliver poor performance. Native apps wouldn’t be so attractive if the “web experience” weren’t so terrible.

          Ad blocking helps tremendously, by reducing both data transfer and script interpretation.

          Heck of a situation…

          • #5 by Red County Pete on 2016-07-11 - 22:35

            With the satellite connection, I find using AdBlockPlus and NoScript is my best survival strategy. I keep Flash turned off (only needed it for NOAA radar loops, but the western NOAA has a whiz-bang tool on html5). I use a standard whitelist for AB+ and a more-or-less standard NoScript list, though the latter gets tweaked as necessary. I’ll do a temp-allow for some content.

            Waiting for the round-tuit and a slot in the budget is a “new” laptop from Dell’s refurb line. A Y2K vintage Vaio ain’t going near the internet, and the Kindle Fire can barely do it, but not happily. Tablets and I don’t get along. Dry fingers.

            • #6 by solaandjin on 2016-07-12 - 01:23

              “Dry fingers.”

              I tell my wife when she complains that something is wrong with her phone and it’s not accepting her inputs, “sorry, honey, capacitive sensing only works on living flesh.”

  2. #7 by Trudi on 2016-07-11 - 08:28

    Does the hair spray help… or just gum up the works?

    • #8 by Ed on 2016-07-11 - 09:06

      Helps tremendously to stick plastic to the platform; doesn’t do squat for my hair.

      Even though I use a pump bottle to control the overspray, that end of the basement sometimes smells like a Beauty Salon.

  3. #9 by solaandjin on 2016-07-11 - 12:21

    Hm. I have a Dell Mini 10 as well, lurking around somewhere. Maybe I should put it back in harness somehow.

    Do you actually use it for anything other than the gcode sending portion? If not, have you looked into OctoPrint? It’s just like the machine control portion of Pronterface, as a web app. Makes it very easy to transfer gcode files and fire them up, although I imagine you’re pretty comfortable with your current workflow and walking over to the other laptop.

    Have you tried glue stick? No muss, no fuss….

    • #10 by Ed on 2016-07-11 - 14:20

      Octoprint solves many problems I don’t have: not carrying a magic phone-as-front-panel, I’d need a nearby PC anyhow and now there’s a PC dedicated to the purpose. It fetches the G-Code files from the server across the basement and, using Linux, USB printing doesn’t have any problems.

      The other laptop handles screenshots from the oscilloscope & spectrum analyzer, plus general browsing, datasheet lookup, music, and so forth. All the 3D modeling & slicing happens upstairs in the Comfy Chair, with big monitors, trackballs, and other fancy stuff.

      Works for me and I get my stairclimbing ticket punched as a bonus… [grin]

      Tried glue stick: didn’t work. I have no idea why the same thing works perfectly for one person and not at all for another.

  4. #11 by TravelingServiceMan on 2016-07-11 - 14:13

    Yep, like I said, a used atom is probably cheaper than Pi now and your points are valid. My preference for the web based interface on Repetier is due to the fact that I can then see progress of my print from any computer, smartphone, or tablet in the house (or even beyond if I’m feeling adventurous). And, I’d probably try to do ‘something’ on the shiny netbook sitting next to the printer that would invariably cause the print to stutter.

  5. #12 by Vedran on 2016-07-11 - 19:32

    I really dislike both pronterface and using a pc to print files. Marlin, a full graphics display and an old sd card give me both best flexibility and reliability. True, I don’t have an extra atom machine lying around, but it seems an overkill anyway. Only downside is no network support, but I have to be around for the first layer anyway, so plugging an sd card into controller is no big deal.
    And glue stick works like crazy on both glass and aluminium beds. I apply it with wet cloth in thin uniform layer, and only really use the stick once on a
    new bed. After that, I simply re-wet the cloth and smear the bed again. Super easy and no sticky spray all over the printer. A friend recently brought his printer for a tune-up with flakes of dried hairspray falling of fan blades, and every surface sticky – yuck :(
    A yellow uhu glue stick will hold pla @70c for first layer and 50c for the rest of the print. Abs works at 130/90, petg also holds fine around 70. Nylon held for a while @130 but failed after bed cooled to 90c for the other layers. It was also very wet and hissing so I didn’t bother trying again – I have to dry it out first

    • #13 by Ed on 2016-07-11 - 20:18

      it seems an overkill anyway

      Remember, nothing exceeds like excess!

      Given that the Mini 10 sat unused before this, it’s definitely found a new life. I’ll grant that Pronterface has an un-lovely UI, but all I do is fire it up, click twice to start the heaters, click a few times to load the G-Code file, then click once more to start the print.

      I rarely need jogging or other manual adjustments and this works, so I’m loathe to complexicate the situation. Heck, I can even live with the touchpad for that much clicking!

      glue stick works like crazy

      Yup, so I’ve heard… [grin]