I was looking for something to consolidate and manage the power to all of my different pieces of equipment when I came across the Pegasus brand of power distribution hubs. Pegasus Astro makes a number of different astronomy tools including three different power distribution hubs, the Pocket Powerbox Micro ($228), Pocket Powerbox Advanced ($329) and the Ultimate Powerbox Ver2 ($620). I quickly zeroed in on the Pegasus Power Box Advanced (PPBA) which also serves as a USB hub as well and made my purchase. After using it both at my home observatory and on numerous trips to the field I can provide a comprehensive review for anyone interested in one of these.
Basic Hardware Features of the PPBA
The electronics for the PPBA are contained in a sturdy but light Al enclosure measuring just under 4" x 3" x 1" weighing just under 11 ounces. My version (Gen 1) of the PPBA can support up to 10A of current at 12V for all outputs combined while the latest version (Gen 2) has increased the maximum to 12A. The PPBA has 4 dc power ports utilizing 5.5 x 2.1mm connectors which are typical for astro equipment. The 4 dc channels can be switched on/off in software but not, unfortunately, independently. For astro equipment which need voltages other than 12V, there is a 3A dc output with adjustable voltages of 3, 5, 8, 9 or 12V. No single dc output can supply more than 10A for Gen 1 and 12A for Gen 2. Output voltage is unregulated between 12.0 and 13.8V.
The PPBA include two pulse width modulation (PWM) channels to power a pair of DEW heaters using RCA jack. The output level can be set independently for each channel in software manually or controlled automatically with the external temperature and humidity sensor. Maximum current is 5A per channel. Again, please note that the total current capability of all outputs combined is no more than 10A (12A for Gen 2). I should also note that the length of the cable on the sensor is only 1ft but it seems possible to add an RJ12 extension cable to set up the sensor at the telescope if desired.
The Advanced and Ultimate versions of the Pocket Powerbox also act as USB hubs with 4 USB ports. Ports 2, 3 and 4 on Gen 1 support both USB3.0 and USB2.0 while Port 1 is USB3.0 only with the capability for 3A at 5.2V. On Gen 2 of the PPBA ports 1 and 2 are USB2.0 with the capability for 3A at 5.oV while ports 3 and 4 support both USB2.0 and 3.0. The 3A ports on both versions supply sufficient power for a Raspberry Pi or Intel Compute Stick.
The PPBA includes 4 dc power cables 1m in length to connect to your astro equipment, an LED indicator to verify proper operation, a cigarette plug to 5.5 x 2.1mm dc power cable and a 1.8m USB3.0 cable.
Input power for the PPBA can be supplied from a dc source capable of at least 6A at 11.0 to 14.5V. Pegasus warns that a voltage exceeding 15V at the input will severely damage the electronics. Make sure that your power source will support the 10A maximum (12A on the newer version) if your astronomy equipment uses that much current. The power input port uses a convenient 5.5 x 2.1mm connector. I have used 3 different LiFePO4 batteries, 3 different lithium solar generators and a 10A Pyramid power supply to power the PPBA. Make sure that whatever power source you use is capable of the full capacity current required and cable between the power source and the PPBA are short enough and heavy enough gauge to avoid a significant voltage drop.
Software Features of the PPBA
One very nice feature of the PPBA is that it can be used as a standalone power and USB hub without the need to be connected to a computer. Just plug power into the power input jack, connect the dc outputs to your astro devices along with up to two dew heaters and any USB devices and it will supply power to everything. You have the option to set which ports are powered at startup: 1) All On; 2) Only 4 x 12V On; 3) Only Adj Voltage port On; 4) All ports Off.
I prefer to use the included software to manage and control the PPBA from my laptop. A separate USB3.0 port is used to connect the PPBA to a pc. The software app is very simple to use and has multiple tabs at the top to switch pages including Control, Env, Power, Focus, Config and Info. The software is fully upgradeable as well. Above the page tabs is a Connect switch which connects the software to the hardware module. There is a button to make sure that the PPBA application is always on top of the other software open, one for a Ghost window, another to export data collected from the onboard meters and sensors, one for a 2nd version of the app and another to check for software updates.
The main Control page on the application provides the ability to turn on/off power to the 4 12V dc outputs (again, not independently), turn on/off power and set the voltage to the variable voltage output and turn on/off the dew heaters and set their power level manually or set them to auto control using the temperature/humidity sensor. A feature I really like about the PPBA is the internal power, current and voltage meters along with the external temperature and humidity sensor. The input voltage and the output current along with the temperature, humidity and dew point are shown on the control page. You can even export these data to be saved and reviewed later. Export is both to a CSV file and a png file for each metric.
The Env page page logs the temperature, humidity and dew point versus time while the Power page logs the input voltage and output current versus time. Real time plots are shown for each measurement. Unfortunately the graphs are very small and there is no apparent way to enlarge them.
A Focus page to connect and control your Pegasus or Ascom compatible focuser if you should want to. The Config page provides some setup options, a place to set the Auto-Dew control aggressiveness and the ability to set the startup power settings mentioned previously.
I have come to appreciate the data in the Info page which shows the average current used, total Ah and total Wh consumed as well as the total run time. I have used these to measure the total power consumption of my astro setup, as well as, the individual power consumption of each separate device. This information has allowed me to determine what size power supply I need and how long I can run everything when I go out into the field.
Summary and Overall Conclusions
Having used the PPBA for nearly two years both at home and out in the field the best summary I can give is that it just works. The build quality is excellent with the enclosure strong enough to stand up to normal wear and tear without any damage. Its compact size makes it easy to pack for trips to dark sites and easy to mount in any number of locations either on the OTA or the tripod as desired. I have not noticed any looseness in the connection ports and the cables fit tightly into their connections preventing an inadvertent loss of power to a device.
My one minor complaint is that the software application window is rather small and I have not found any way to enlarge it. It is just barely big enough for me to be able to read all of the numbers displayed on the various pages. But it would be nice to be able to stretch the app.
I think the $329 for both a power and USB hub is reasonable. If one only needs the power hub they can save $100 with the micro version and if one needs more total power up to 20A, another dew port which can also be used to power a focus motor or flat box and/or more USB ports the Ultimate is the way to go.
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