My F3K arrived Wed, and I finally had some time to install it today. I decided to intall it on the same computer that I have the F5K installed on. You can not at the present run both the F5K and the F3K simultaneously so I pulled the firewire of the F5K and plugged in the firewire of the 3K.
I had previously set up a new SVN version of PowerSDR in its own folder dedicated to the 3K. That is the nice thing about Flex radios, you can have several versions of the radio on the desktop all at once. I connected the antenna, a mic, a paddle, some headphones and a cable to run the amp, and hit the power button. The driver dialogue came up and 3 times asked me to intsall the driver (this is normal to get asked 3 times as different aspects of the driver load with each request). Once the driver configuration was completed I Powered up the version of PowerSDR I have devoted to the F3K.
It came up and I went through the initial configuration screens. There is a run once program that chooses the best fast Fourier transform for your particular set up called "Wisdom" (cute name), and that file is stored in the F3K folder to guide your computer n the fastest transforms and reverse transforms. Then PowerSDR starts and there is a couple of screens warning you this version is beta and dont goof around when running mobile. Mercifully both of these can be turned off once viewed one time. The config screen continues as some EPROM data is downloaded from the 3K and pretty soon you are ready to hit "finish" and the radio is ready to rock and roll. Total time from hook up of the antenna power etc to ready to transmit is less than 5 minutes. If you had to install the software it would be a little longer but certainly no big deal. Once this initial configuration business is done it takes 7 seconds to boot the radio on my system, which is pretty middle of the road by today's standards. (Core 2 duo O/C'd to 2.7ghz with 2 gig memory and 32 bit XP/SP3)
I attached all the software peripherals I like to run like skimmer and DXlab in the setup screens and that took and additional minute or so to go through all the set up screens of relevance. I have set up the radio a million times and I can buzz through each screen by memory. It is here where you set up the CAT I/O and VAC to run audio to skimmer etc as well as keyer inputs and things like that. I clicked on 40M CW and looked for some activity. This radio has the ATU built in, and I don't have that feature in my F5K so I did take a couple minutes to read how the ATU works in the supplied .pdf manual before I tried it.
I found an old boy in NC pounding out a CQ and gave him a blast and 599 was the first report on this little beauty. 100 Watts firing out my 66ft half wave 40M vertical. My contact needed to take a nap, (guess he was a little light on his beauty sleep, either that or my anesthetic personality put him to sleep) so I proceeded to fire up the amp and see how that works. I had my AL-80B in the line and in about 30 seconds had 1000 W on the wire no muss no fuss.
Overall this radio couldn't be easier to set up. To the newbie I'm sure there is a bit of a learning curve on how to operate the software, but as far as getting the hardware going, piece of cake.
So far the radio seems about the equivalent of the F5K in performance, but I have not done the weak signal stuff with it I normally do. It is a very quiet radio, and has a couple of features that my F5K does not have like the built in ATU and it has an attenuator in the front end as well as a preamp. These 2 devices in the line allow you to tune for best dynamic range for a given setup and band conditions. If I had stacked 4 over 4 40M beams on a 150ft tower I would probably need the attenuator. So far at least on 40M using my 1/2 wave vertical, just running the signal through the bandpass into the detector is best for me.
The CW experience was excellent. Virtually the same as My F5K. I tuned up the radio on SSB but haven't had a contact yet. With the radio I ordered a mic connector that turns the little RJ45 connector into an 8 pin Foster connector, as my mic uses that. PowerSDR allows you to make a recording of how you sound transmitting, so it is dead easy to set up your radio and make it sound EXACTLY how you want it to sound. In my case I like to run a little up-sloping EQ with a tiny, tiny bit of bass boost, and the CPDR at 2 or 3. I also like to set up the TX filter in the Setup screen to range from 150hz to 3100 hz cutoff. My my old bullfroggie voice sound beautiful. (You get sent to hell for lying :P). Once I had thing set exactly how I like them, I saved a copy of this transmit profile and called it Normal, so I can always return to Normal if I am screwing around with the controls.
My advice? If you have the slightest inclination in trying out SDR BY THIS THING! If you are an average ham who doesn't need all the bells and whistles of the F5K, like SO2R and multiple antenna inputs and out puts, BUY THIS THING! Personally I like screwing around with all the hoopla so the F5K is my kind of radio, but if I was living in a subdivision with a G5RV or some kind of multiband vertical and not much hope of putting up super duper outboard RX antennas and all that I would save the 1000 bux to spend on an AL-80B and live a very happy and enjoyable ham radio existence!
More as my impressions get fleshed out. We are a home schooling family and we use a writing seminar series on DVD to teach proper writing technique to my kids. I was watching the lesson for today and the guy said you should end the presentation with 1 2 or 3 bullets to nail home your point. 1 bullet was weak, 2 bullets was strong, and 3 bullets was super strong and 4 bullets was a Howitzer!
Bottom line: dead easy to get running, works good, works good, a ton of fun!!! BANG
If you're interested in writing something interesting for this blog regarding your SDR experience let me know. I would like to include things like how your SDR contest station is set up, or your VHF station that uses SDR as the system center, feats of weak signal work or how well the SDR works in various challenging situations. If you are a foreign ham and would like to comment on the growth of SDR in your particular part of the world. Bring it on!
I reserve the right to publish or not, but I'm pretty open to documenting a wide variety of honest experiences from users, for readers to explore. The understanding of SDR in our hobby is so nascent, that I want the reader to be able to see the value of SDR through the eyes of YOUR experience and enthusiasm.