Experience using alternative software for X-Carve such as Mach3

Just wondering if anybody on this forum has used alternative software for the x-carve such as Mach3? Is there any point to doing this? Is it worth it? Just considering my options because I am about to purchase a new X-carve 1000x1000 kit.

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The answer is yes there are several that are using Mach3 and LinuxCNC to control there machines. Most of those folks have also changed from the arduino/GRBL combination to computers with break out boards and external stepper drivers.

There are several GUI options available that make running a machine easier.

My machine will start out running mach3 and when I get a handle on installing and configuring LinuxCNC I will convert over to that. I have been running CNC milling machines that run both Mach3 and LinuxCNC and have made parts on them that are very complex.

Is it worth it? If you plan on doing a lot of work on your machine and want to have a minimum of problems with the machine. I would say yes it is worth it.

FYI LinuxCNC is free and will run on an older computer that has been converted to Linux. The other electronic involved can be had for very little money or you can go whole hog and spend lots of money on top of the line equipment. Your choise.

The other thing you really need to look at is the spindle. The stock spindle has been having a lot of problems and a lot of folks are changing to trim routers and VFD air cooled or water cooled spindles and having very good luck doing that.

Hope this helps


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I have been running all three of my mills (Shapeoko 2, X-Carve and custom 21x37 ball screw mill) on Planet CNC controllers with leadshine DSP drivers and wish I had made the switch far sooner. I used to run a TinyG and Chilipeppr. For my needs the Planet CNC system is a far better fit. One of the main things I like about it and what is great about MACH3 and LinuxCNC is they are local to your computer. So no internet access is needed to mill. Issues related to cloud based software were the main reason I switched. Also being able to do things like add a 4th axis or 3D digital probing and to allow for backlash in each axis were major selling points for my switch. Planet CNC is not a cheap system if you pair it with a good set of Leadshine DSP drivers, But for me it was worth every penny and has been rock solid for my aluminum milling, PCB etching and stone milling. There are many options out there for controllers outside of the stock system and I am sure many folks here who run each type would be glad to answer any questions you might have.

I have two extra breakout boards and stepper driver combos for sale, plus power supplies and a 600 watt spindle with power supply that I would be willing to sell. I swear by Mach 3 but it is $175. But I paid that 8 years ago, have used it on three completely different systems and my license code is still valid. And I haven’t really paid for a computer in 10 years. You can use a pentium D out of a dumpster. I DO usually buy a fresh license of 32 bit Windows 7 and do a fresh install on a fresh hard drive.

Be careful what you hear - just today I saw a post that said Mach 3 doesnt work with Windows 7… it does. They also said you need a 512 mb video card… you do not. If your dumpster computer doesn’t have a parallel port you can get one on Amazon for $12.

I love Arduinos. But I have been coding for Arduinos since the very first weeks of their existence and am aware of their limitations and I never even considered using one for a CNC controller. There are newer, more capable platforms that have a lot more promise, like Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone, Edison and other ARM based controllers… but there is a much smaller community to support them.

I believe there are a few inevitabilities related to x-carve CNC machining if you intend to do it for a while and really want to take advantage of the x-carve platform:

  1. You will perform the stiffening mods
  2. You will upgrade to either a VFD spindle or a router
  3. You will migrate to a more robust controller platform
  4. You will migrate to another CAD software other than Easel

It may take a year or two or more to get there… but you will eventually get there. So, I say, start there.

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There is a group of us here that runs LinuxCNC and we love it. It can take a little work to get the software configured but once its running, it never stops. Simplifying things a bit, you would likely need something like the following:

  • A Computer with parallel port (no USB to parallel ports devices) I
    use an old 2.8ghz Core 2 Duo w 4gb of ram and 1tb HD. No fancy video
    card needed.
  • A Breakout Board - simply put, this takes the signals
    from your parallel port, breaks out signals for step, direction,
    limit switched, etc.
  • A 24v - 48v DC power supply at around 15-20

There are other things (limit switches, touch probe, etc… but beyond that, it mostly getting things wired up and the software configured.

We have a weekly G+ Live Hangout, Saturdays at 6pm PST if your still curious. I post the link in the forums here. Just search for hangout.

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Hi John,

Do you have more info on converting xcarve for linuxcnc, such as which boards you have used or setup instructions? Also, in addition to the G+ on saturdays, is there a google groups which discusses this?



Hi Matt, There are various groups on g+ and facebook as well I would suspect, that are all about DIY CNC. Our group is mostly made up of x-carve/shapeoko owners who have modified their cnc routers and have, or are planning on moving to linuxcnc. I have lots of information I can give you and love sharing it.

There are lots of ways to go with this both in regards to cost, functionality, and reliability, but if I was doing it again I’d likely go with the Gecko G540 system. Its basicly the breakout board and stepper driver all on one package. The parallel port from the computer plugs into the G540, and everything else connects to this. The Gecko products are hugely popular in they DIY cnc community, and a good value I think. While they retail for about $300, you can get them on ebay for considerably less if your smart. One can get into linuxcnc for cheaper, I just didn’t know how much you want to spend…

Other than that, you would need a computer with a parallel port to run linuxcnc. Nothing fancy, an old Intel Core2Duo with 4gb of ram is what I use.

Once you have all the pieces together, then the fun of configuring linuxcnc can start. Its time consuming and can be frustrating if your not prepared for it. If your interested in joining our hangout, just shoot me your gmail address and I’ll add you to the group.

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Hey John,

I am really intrested if you could please explain a little more as to why you would choose the Gecko G540 and not the Leadshine MX3660 for example? thanks -Mark

I use LinuxCNC and have since I bought my X-Carve. The idea of using an Arduino did not even tempt me. I did cheap out and buy low cost break out board and drivers from China, but they work. I am working on their replacements for when they die.

Have no way to know if LinuxCNC is right for you, but I love it. I do all my CAD and CAM work on a windows laptop, though, and transfer my ready-to-cut G-Code on my NAS.


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