FAQ about Windows Operating Systems
- Which versions of Windows will a SmoothStepper run on?
- Running Mach3 at a higher priority level.
- Making Windows more friendly with Classic Shell
- Disabling Unused Network Protocols
- Optimizing your PC
- 32 bit or 64 bit Windows
- What about Windows 10
- Windows 7 and 8
- Andy's PC and my Suggestions
Which versions of Windows will a SmoothStepper run on?
An ESS (Ethernet SmoothStepper) or USS (USB SmoothStepper) will run on Windows XP through Windows 10, 32 bit or 64 bit versions.
Running Mach3 at a higher priority level
You can make Mach3 (or any program) run at a higher priority level by making a shortcut and changing its Target as follows:
- C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe /c start "Mach3" /AboveNormal "C:\Mach3\Mach3.exe"
If you run Mach3 from that shortcut, and look at it in Task Manager (then right click), you can see that it is now running at Above Normal priority.
We recommend that you only use Normal, AboveNormal, or High priority. You should never use Realtime, since your system will likely become unstable.
Here is our Mach3 shortcut for download. Just download it and then place it on your desktop or start bar, and it is ready to run.
Making Windows more friendly with Classic Shell
Classic Shell is a free program that lets the Start button work the way it did in previous versions of Windows, and allows you to use your Windows 8 or 10 computer almost the same as your Windows 7 or XP computer. We use it on all of our PCs.
If you have recently purchased a computer that has Windows 10 or 8, I think you will be excited after you install Classic Shell and are once again able to operate your computer the way you have been using it with Windows 7, Vista, XP, etc.
After installing Classic Shell, you will find a Start button with the image of a sea shell on it. Here is what it looks like:
You will notice "Programs" and "Apps". Each of these menus expands when you click on them.
"Programs" are the regular programs you have installed on your computer.
Disabling Unused Network Protocols
The ESS only needs UDP protocols contained in the TCP/IPv4 protocol. All other protocols may be disabled on the Ethernet Adapter interface, and it may increase the performance of your PC.
Open the Network Connections folder, and then right click on your adapter dedicated your SmoothStepper. Click on Properties.
In the Network Properties window, leave Internet Protocol Version 4(TCP/IPv4) checked. Then uncheck all of the protocols and services in the window.
Optimizing your PC
If you are having issues where you are loosing communications with your SmoothStepper, your PC may be causing the issue. These steps have resolved slow/overburdened PC issues for many SmoothStepper users, and have helped to prevent the creation of scrap:
- Make sure your GCode that you are running, is on your PC's hard drive. It should not be ran from a network location, USB flash drive, external hard drive, or CD/DVD. These other data sources can have significant lag times or go to sleep, which can cause a job to fail!
- Make sure your computer is disconnected from the internet (it prevents programs from updating).
- Don't surf the net while running Mach.
- Don't play music,videos or games while running Mach.
- Close your CAD and CAM software while running Mach.
- Close all other software while running Mach.
- Don't switch screens in Mach3 while running a job (this can sometimes cause enough lag to drop the connection).
- Make sure that you have restarted your PC recently (if it has been a few days, it is probably time to restart).
- Make sure your computer is not trying to do a Windows Update (Set it to notify you when an update is available for download).
- Make sure your PC is not trying to automatically defrag your hard drives.
- Make sure your PC is not trying to automatically scan for viruses.
- Make sure your network adapter is not allowed to go to sleep.
- Make sure your hard drives are not allowed to go to sleep.
- Make sure your PC is not allowed to go to sleep.
- Make sure your monitors are not allowed to go to sleep.
- In Mach3, Menu -> Config -> General Config -> Lower Right Hand Corner (and then to the left one column) is Screen Control. Make sure that Hi-Res Screens are NOT checked.
Now here are some actions you should take:
- Run your PC's Disk cleanup utility. It can sometimes remove GBs of useless information from your hard drive.
- CCleaner is a free for personal use utility which will clean out temporary files and folders and also clean up your registry (help with startup time (a bit). This was much more necessary with XP.
- Defrag your mechanical hard drive(s) if you have not done that recently. This is not needed with a solid state drive (SSD).
- If your hard drive is almost full, adding in another hard drive for data, or upgrading it to a SSD drive may help. Regular mechanical hard drives work just fine (as long as they are not full). However, the SSD makes boot times and load times so much faster, that we only run SSDs on my computers now.
- Go into power options and make sure the processor is set to stay at 100%. A few PCs even have an additional 'Intel SpeedStep' setting in BIOS.
- Uninstall the Apple and Adobe update utilities, if they exist. They can peg out your processor long enough to disrupt the ESS.
- For Windows XP: If you have 2GB of RAM or less, it would help significantly to get that up to 2 or 3 GB GB of RAM. (With XP 32 bit, you can't use more than about 3.5 GB of RAM no matter how much you have installed.) For Windows 7 and newer: If you have 4GB of RAM or less, it would probably help significantly to get that up to 6 or 8 GB of RAM.
32 bit or 64 bit Windows
You may use either 32 bit or 64 bit Windows with a SmoothStepper.
The main disadvantage of 64 bit Windows is that Mach cannot control a parallel port in that version - but Mach can work with a SmoothStepper perfectly in 32 bit AND 64 bit Windows.
The main disadvantage of 32 bit Windows is that you can only have a maximum of 4 GB of RAM (minus some stolen by video resources and other areas of the OS). Back with Windows XP, you could run Mach3 with 2 GB to 4 GB of RAM quite acceptably. However, with Windows 7 or newer, we recommend 6 GB and prefer 8GB of RAM or more to give a nice user experience. Windows 64 bit will support the following maximum amounts of RAM (which is typically much more RAM than your mother board will allow):
Both the Ethernet and USB SmoothSteppers work with Windows 10. For those who are buying a new computer with hardware and drivers known to work with Windows 10, you should be good to go.
Most people have Windows 10 work just fine for them. From support experience , I would say you want to have 8 GB of RAM with Mach in Windows 10. You can get by with 4 GB, but you need to make sure that all your other programs are closed. For those that have problems, these are the common problem sources and solutions.
- Disable the WiFi Adapter while running Mach. Do you have a second Ethernet adapter or a WiFi Adapter on this PC? If so, you should disable them or shut them off before you run a program.
- Turn off your Antivirus when running Mach. Are you running any Anti-Virus programs or a Firewall other than Windows Firewall? If so, you should shut them off.
- Close all other programs on your PC when running Mach, especially CAD and CAM software. Are your Running any CAD or CAM programs at the same time as Mach3 or Mach4? If so, you should shut them down before you run Mach, since they can consume a lot of RAM.
- Make sure you disable unused network protocols.
- “Windows Shell Experience Host” can suck up a lot of CPU and RAM. To reduce its effect on your system, you can choose a solid background color, disable transparency on the Start Menu, and disabling accent colors. Here is how you can do that.
- Windows Cortana can suck a fair amount of processor power and RAM. Microsoft is very determined that you should always be running it. Here are two ways to disable Cortana:
- To disable Cortana via Registry or Group policy, click here.
- Another description of how to do it by Registry only, click here.
There have been reports of people upgrading from Windows 8 to Windows 10. The ESS had been working correctly, and after the upgrade it would randomly stop during motion sequences. In that case, it turned out that W10 had decided to make the Ethernet network a shared connection. After removing the shared access from the network, the ESS returned to working correctly with Mach4.
Windows 7 and 8
The ESS and USS SmoothSteppers will run on the following Versions of Windows, in both 32 and 64 bit flavors:
- Windows 10
- Windows 8
- Windows 7
- Windows Vista (we do feel sorry for anyone using that version of Windows)
- Windows XP
However, Windows 8 is available in two versions. One version is named Windows RT (not to be confused with Windows Runtime, which is something else). Windows RT is a version of Windows 8 that uses a 32-bit ARM architecture, most commonly found on inexpensive tablet computers. You will not be able to install or run x86-based applications on Windows RT. They must be compiled specifically for the 32-bit ARM architecture, which means Mach3 and Mach4 will not run on.
Here is a comparison of Windows 8 editions.
Here is a comparison of Windows 7 editions.
Even though Windows 7 can still be purchased, you may have a hard time finding a computer with Windows 7 at your neighborhood electronics store. Windows 10 or 8 are the only options, and additionally you can probably only get the 64-bit version which will not run the Parallel Port driver of Mach. Fortunately, the SmoothStepper runs fine in 32-bit or 64-bit of any Windows operating system from XP through Windows 10.
We still hear of many people happily running a SmoothStepper and Mach on XP laptops. Windows 7 is also a very common setup that many people are sticking with. Windows 10 is what almost everyone is using for new computers.
Andy's PC and my Suggestions
My current rig is the image right below here, and it has never given me any problems running Mach3 or Mach4, even with lots of other programs open and running at the same time (which you should not do, since you could wind up making scrap).
My thoughts are for a decent system:
* 64 bit Windows 7 or 10
* 8 GB RAM minimum
* i5 or i7 3 GHz dual core
* 7200 RPM Mechanical hard drive, or preferably a SSD (Solid State Drive)
As funds allow, I would upgrade components in this order:
1) Make sure you are running at least 8GB of RAM.
2) Get a solid state hard drive instead of a mechanical. This will shorten application loading times more than anything else. Also the spin up time on a mechanical hard drive can make your computer stall for 5 seconds, which might make Mach lose communications with the ESS.
3) 16 GB of RAM would be awesome (you want at least 8 GB minimum). With 16 GB your programs will almost never run out of RAM (unless you are running tons of stuff in the background).
4) Jump up to a quad core i7, 3+ GHz. This will give you 8 threads of processing power that can handle a lot of different applications at once.