Mac Control of DSP Controller

People often complain that the LightObject Commercial DSP Controllers are "Windows Only". While that is a true statement, it should not stop you from buying and using one of the best laser controllers on the market.

As one of the first Apple Certified Mac Developers (writing apps for my original Mac 128, serial # 174) back in the 1980's, I understand the powerful brand loyalty of the Apple customer. And I can certainly understand their not wanting to purchase a Windows PC just to fill a single purpose - even if it is an important purpose, like running a home-built or converted laser. But modern Macs are Intel based, meaning they can run most Windows applications using one of the various Windows emulation environments.

A few days ago, a BuildLog.net viewer posted a question about this, so last night I took a break from the other projects I am working on to do a formal test and discuss the results. And  I am happy to report that the host/CAD software for the LightObject DSP runs just fine.

The Setup:
  • MacBook Pro Laptop (vintage ~2002)
  • VMWare Fusion (Windows emulation environment)
  • Windows XP Pro - Service Pack 2
  • PHCad v 4.45 (forerunner of the current LaserCAD v5.x DSP software) 
  • DSP Controller (2010 model)

After installing the PHCad USB Drivers and the PHCad software, I tired to run the PHCad application. It immediately produced the following error. (Image quality poor from simply snapping photos of the screen instead of screen grabs.)

This was not unexpected, as I believe it did that on the PC that I normally have attached to the laser. Clicking OK just terminates the application. I remember getting that on the PC when I first set it up as well. To resolve it back then, I simply powered up and connected the controller to the PC via USB and never saw the screen again. It only needs to see the laser the first time you launch it - once that is done, you are good to go in the future.

So, I tried the same thing here - controller powered on, USB connected, launch the application and guess what? Same error warning. The difference this time, however, is that, after clicking the OK button, the application continued to fire up.

Wanting to test whether the software was actually seeing the controller, I tired to read the Manufacturer Parameters - FAIL. Just like using it on the PC, you have to set the correct comm port. The easiest way is to click the Find Com button. Before I did, the comm port was set to port 3. After clicking it, it was still set to port 3, BUT, the software was now able to connect to and read parameters from the controller.

Next, I drew a square (in PHCad) and tried downloading that to the controller - SUCCESS. I ran the job and it worked great. Here is a shot of the job running.

Just to be complete, I tried to install CorelDraw X4 as well. Running the installer from the AutoRun on the installation CD caused the Windows environment to reboot. I recall trying this back a couple of years ago and had the same results but never pursued it any further. This time I bypassed the AutoRun installation environment and went straight to the application installer buried in a folder on the CD. That worked perfectly.

I then went through the normal process of installing the macro that ties CorelDraw X4 and PHCad together. That also was uneventful and works perfectly.

Here you can see a screen when I am running both CorelDraw and PHCad in Unity Mode - which means your Windows applications look and act just like a Mac application - each having their own window.

Testing the link between the two applications works just like it does on any other PC, so it is easy to design in CorelDraw and then auto import the job into PHCad for power/speed assignments and downloading to the laser controller.

Note: On the current controller (2012 model), network communications has been added, meaning that you no longer need the USB connection between the computer and the controller.

One nice feature of VMWare Fusion is that you can even add individual Windows applications to the bar of applications at the bottom of the Mac screen and launch them from there. If  the Windows environment is not already running, it will launch in the background and your Windows application will launch normally. It totally blurs the line between Mac and Windows.


There are a couple of other options besides Fusion. One is a Windows emulation environment named Parallels. I have not personally used it and don't know its features, but I suspect that both PHCad and CorelDraw will work in that environment as well.

The other option is to run the Mac in BootCamp - Apple's own Windows emulation environment. The only drawback to that is that BootCamp forces you to reboot (out of Mac environment ) into Windows. Personally I find that a poor way to do it, but I believe it is free as part of the Mac OS setup.

If you are using Adobe Illustrator instead of CorelDraw to do your original design work, you should be able to just import those files directly from your Mac via a shared folder into the PHCad application in your Windows emulation environment.

Of course, you could bypass all this and simply buy a cheap used PC ($100 or so) and use that as a dedicated part of your laser setup. You will spend at least that much on Fusion or Parallels and will free up you Mac for other things.

Regardless of how you go about it, if you are a Mac owner/user, you can still have access to a great laser controller.

No comments:

Post a Comment