Intel’s Mini-PC: A Cheap Server for an RTK Base

June 23, 2014  - By

I’ve written this many, many times in the past eight years that I’ve written for GPS World magazine, but I have to write it again — this is an exciting time for GNSS!

For me, high-precision GNSS is particularly exciting. I’ve been traveling like crazy, and involved in a number of really fun projects that incorporate high-precision GNSS. Of course, on these various projects I usually incorporate many types of technologies that support GNSS, such as computing, communications, power, and mechanical.

Along those lines, I find myself more and more frequently setting up custom RTK bases for companies because they’re getting cheaper and cheaper, regardless of the fact that  there are an increasing number of publicly available real-time kinematic (RTK) base stations. Setting one up doesn’t just involve plugging power into a RTK base receiver and hitting the on/off switch. As I mentioned above, setting up an RTK base involves several different types of technologies. Sometimes, I set up a desktop computer next to the RTK base to act as a server to manage the RTK GNSS base and communications (both network and RTK communications) equipment.

In your mind, when you think of a desktop computer, you probably envision something that occupies 2-3 square feet (~one square meter) of desktop space, along with a keyboard and monitor. So, a consideration when deploying an RTK base is finding desk space somewhere in the user’s office to accommodate the desktop PC and other equipment.

Recently, I took a different approach. I found (actually, my client found) an incredibly small computer to be our server. Just as high-precision GNSS receivers are getting smaller and smaller, so are computers. The Intel Mini-PC measures 4 inches x 4 inches (10.16 x 10.16 centimeters) and has no hard disk. It uses solid-state drive (SSD) memory for storage. SSD technology is still somewhat expensive ($1+ per gigabyte), but it is small compared to a classical disk drive, and doesn’t have any moving parts. Furthermore, the Mini-PC has ethernet ports: when we connect a network cable to it, we could access the Mini-PC via Remote Desktop. That meant we didn’t need a keyboard or monitor. The Mini-PC had all the power we needed, and we could load any sort of control software on it because it runs the standard Windows 7 (or 8) operating system. Last but not least, the Mini-PC costs only $149. However, you need to add memory, SSD, and so on, so the real cost is ~$400 depending on your configuration. While not cheaper than similarly performing “boxes” available, it’s certainly one of the smallest.

Intel Mini-PC Measuring 4" x 4"

Intel Mini-PC Measuring 4″ x 4″

In fact, it’s so small that we stuffed it inside a 14” x 12” electronics enclosure box along with the RTK GNSS base and other network equipment, and hung it out of sight on a closet wall. No desktop space required. Without stretching your mind much, you can see where desktop computing is headed; very small and inexpensive enough to be dedicated to specific tasks. Think about this and then consider the Internet of Things concept. It’s very exciting.

More RTK on Mobile Devices

Later this week I’ll be experimenting with RTK on mobile devices with the CRTN (California Real Time Network), a collection of 330 RTK bases located throughout California. I’ll be using a Panasonic ToughPad running ArcGIS Mobile (and maybe ArcPad) and an iPad using a cloud-based mapping service. The latter is particularly interesting because there are lots of cloud-based GIS data collection apps on the market and under development. Specifically, there’s a lot of subscription-based, cloud-based software. The challenge is that they are even less geodesy-intelligent than the “professional grade” GIS data collection software on the market. In other words, they read coordinates (NMEA format) from GNSS receivers and feed them directly into their app. No datum transformations are provided, neither horizontal nor vertical. That’s going to be a problem.

FCC Levies Record Fine Against Chinese Supplier of GPS and Mobile Phone Jammers

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that it plans to issue the largest fine in its history against C.T.S. Technology Co., Limited, a Chinese electronics manufacturer and online retailer, for allegedly marketing 285 models of signal jamming devices to U.S. consumers for more than two years. The FCC plans to levy a $34.9 million fine against CTS. The FCC reported that CTS sold 10 high-powered signal jammers to undercover FCC personnel.

The FCC is asking people to report the sale or use of an illegal jammer by contacting the FCC Enforcement Bureau through the FCC online complaint portal, or by calling 1-888-CALL-FCC (or 1-888-225-5322). To voluntarily relinquish a signal jammer, e-mail Additional information, including the FCC Consumer Alert on the jamming prohibitions and the FCC Enforcement Advisory to retailers regarding the marketing of illegal signal jammers, is available at

You can view the FCC enforcement action against C.T.S. here.

Satellite Launch Pads are Warming Up

Two GPS Block IIF satellites, one launched in February and one launched in May, were set healthy in the past three weeks, making a total of six IIF GPS satellites in orbit broadcasting on three civil frequencies; L1, L2C, L5.

On July 31, the seventh GPS IIF satellite is scheduled for launch, followed by an October 2014 scheduled launch of the eighth GPS IIF satellite.

On June 14, Russia launched a GLONASS-M satellite. It has not been set healthy yet. There are a total of 24 healthy GLONASS satellites in orbit. You can check the current status of GLONASS satellites here.

On August 22, Europe is scheduled to launch the first two Galileo FOC (Full Operational Capability) satellites to add to the four test satellites in orbit that will be integrated into the final operational constellation. A second pair of Galileo satellites is scheduled for launch in November 2014. These are projected dates and subject to slippage.

Dorese and Milena rest side by side in  clean room S1A.

Galileo Satellites in the Clean Room

Live Webinar from the Esri International User Conference on July 17

In a GPS World first, we’ll be producing a live Webinar from the Esri International User Conference next month on Thursday, July 17 @ 10 am Pacific Time in the exhibit hall at the San Diego Convention Center. Of course, the webinar will be focus on one of the hottest topics, high-precision GNSS on mobile devices; from iPads to Android tablets to smartphones.

Tune in or join us live from the exhibit hall floor! Register here.

Thanks, and see you next month.

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About the Author: Eric Gakstatter

Eric Gakstatter has been involved in the GPS/GNSS industry for more than 20 years. For 10 years, he held several product management positions in the GPS/GNSS industry, managing the development of several medium- and high-precision GNSS products along with associated data-collection and post-processing software. Since 2000, he's been a power user of GPS/GNSS technology as well as consulted with capital management companies; federal, state and local government agencies; and private companies on the application and/or development of GPS technology. Since 2006, he's been a contributor to GPS World magazine, serving as editor of the monthly Survey Scene newsletter until 2015, and as editor of Geospatial Solutions monthly newsletter for GPS World's sister site Geospatial Solutions, which focuses on GIS and geospatial technologies.