Can I use Mach3 with Your Machines/Controllers?
We get this question a lot. It is true that there is a ton of information on the internet about Mach3, but this is simply because Mach3 users tend to *need* more online help, rather than because it is the industry standard. Artsoft does not have a phone number you can call for help - they force you though the forums and community for help. This would never be acceptable to a commercial user who requires maximum uptime - especially not for a paid software product.
Our controllers will work on any parallel port control software, but the reason why we use LinuxCNC on our machines *instead* of Mach3 is because Mach3 is too buggy to be taken serious as an industrial controller. In fact Artsoft announced last year they would discontinue support for Mach3 because they could not get the parallel port driver to run on 64bit Windows. Whenever we get a call about some weird issue we have never heard of before, the first question we ask is which software, and nine times out of 10 the answer is Mach3 - no joke.
The problem is that Windows does not have the ability to do precise timing. The smallest increment of time to windows software is one second, and that is minus however many clock cycles it takes to get around to handing it to you after it finishes whatever else it was doing at the time you requested it. That is fine for spreadsheets, but will never work for controlling a stepper motor. It kinda clever what Artsoft figured out how to do, they hacked a driver between the bios and windows that uses a timer on the sound card circuitry to generate an interrupt and attempts to get that precise timing. But it was a hack at best - and problematic to say the least.
Then as Windows security got tighter and tighter, it became harder and harder to install that driver as it basically showed up as a root kit type of exploit to the Windows. Then when 64bit Windows came around, it was too difficult to overcome. And now Mach3 absolutely will not run the parallel port driver in 64bit Windows.
Mach3's solution to the 64bit problem is an external stepper controller that costs about as much as a whole PC, and all of the ones on the market at this point are buggy. We have not heard a single person ever say that they were using one and never had any issues.
One of the major appeals of Mach3 is the hope of running the machine with the same PC that runs the design software. Well, what it not apparent is that Artsoft has a recommmended XP_Optimization.txt laundry list of Windows optimizations to get their software to run even half-way reliably - that basically renders that PC useless for much else. So at the end of the day, you still have a dedicated machine control PC, and a seperate PC for your design software.
On the other hand, LinuxCNC is rock solid stable. It runs on an open source operating system with realtime extensions built right into the kernel that gives it the precise timing needed for proper machine control. It has a nice clean simple use interface. Its the software we use on all of our machines, and the only software that we can afford to officially support - because there are few support issues.
The good news is that you do not need to know Linux. We use a version built on the Ubuntu operating system which works very much like windows. It has copy/paste, drag n drop, maximize/minimize, and all of the other things you are already used to - it just looks a little different. Like for example the applications menu is at the top ionstead of the bottom, and other minor differences. But really, you do not need to touch the operating other than moving files off of your USB thumb drive.
Most of our customers are using Vectric software. I use it every day. Its by far the easiest to use CAM software on the planet. The Vectric software has post processors for LinuxCNC - in fact every CAM software program will have an appropriate post processor for LinuxCNC