Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Orlando Hamcation 2010 plus F3K post script

I attended the Hamcation this past weekend and had a great time. The attendance seemed a bit down, but I was speaking with some vendors who said business was pretty good so maybe that's a good sign for the economy. Everyone of course was there with their version of some kind of SDR

Yaesu was there with its latest 5000 radio, my impression HO HUM

Elecraft had their little answer to the pan adapter, what a joke. It was a little screen maybe 9" and made the radio look like a toy. The quality of the display was horrible.

I swung by the Flex booth and met Greg Jurrens and Steve Hicks and they had the Flex radios set up on 40" 1080p monitors, one on the F5K and one on the F3K and it totally cracked me up to see the difference in performance. The displays were beautiful (of course no prejudice here :)

They also had the F-1500 on display. Man what a cute little bugger. It was a little bigger than I anticipated but still quite small. I think this radio will definitely be a winner. I'm not a big QRP kind of guy but I still can't wait to get one and give her a try. This will make a very nice TINY little rig to hop on a plane and use for a contest. You can see the block diagram of the radio here

When I got home from the hamfest I was thinking about the contest aspect of the Flex line and decided to see how small a set up I could come up with. I took my F3K out of the shack and grabbed a Samlex 25 amp switching supply I had in the drawer and unplugged my Begalli Graciella paddle a mic and some headphones, and decided to set up a radio station.

I set up the F3K on a couple of hook up wire spools to get it off the ground.; For an antenna I used my 45ft end fed wire vertical I had hanging out of a tree in my front yard

You can see the ATU sitting at the base, here is a closer shot

In the Ammo can is a MFJ-929 auto antenna tuner. I run power to the tuner over the coax and I initiate a tune by applying 10 watts to the tuner from in the shack. The tuner will tune this wire from 160-6 meters and I have made contacts on all the bands (except 60M, NO CW). I turn down the power some on 160 because you can generate a LOT of reactive voltage at 100W, but I have run 100 W with this setup on 160 with no problem. This could easily be an antenna you could take out to the field or on a DX pedition

For a computer I used my kids Lenovo R61i laptop. I bought it from NewEgg a couple years ago for $450. It is a 1.7ghz dual core mobile computer with 1mb L2 cache and 1gB of memory with a 15" screen. Their computer was virginal as far as SDR software is concerned and I wanted to see how hard it would be to get this system running.

First was the .Net frameworks that had to be installed. I googled .Net 1.1 and and .Net 3.5 and installed both and the SP updates. Next I downloaded the latest driver, F3K firmware and Release version of PowerSDR from the Flex download page. I decided to time how long it would take to set up the radio, from driver, firmware, PSDR, to first contact. I started the setup at 18:15. I loaded the driver, which required a reboot. I next powered up the radio and the computer recognized the F3K and intalled the usual 3 parts of the driver. Once I was talking to the radio I updated the firmware, and then installed PSDR. Once installed I went to setup and setup my usual preferences. I often download the alpha code which sometimes requires a new database so I don't have a lot of customization in setup, but I do like to optimize CW so I set the audio buffer to 48khz and 512, and the DSP buffers to 4096 and 512. I measured the DPC latency at about 200 for this computer. After I closed setup I turned on the radio and switched to 40M and heard EA6UN on the Balearic Islands calling CQ. I worked him first call with a 599, 100W to my trusty wire vertical. He was in the log by 18:29 14 minutes from setup to completed contact. Not too shabby.

The radio prompted me to do a re-calibration after the new firmware install, so I did a CTL-SHFT-P and brought up the calibration screen. I put a dummy on the antenna, checked off the recal tests I wanted to do and, hit the start button and went and got a coke. In about 20 minutes I had everything recalibrated and all screens were green and the new data was saved in the EPROM.

With my newly calibrated radio I next set up SSB using the metering choices provided. I set up the mic gain to 0dB and set up the EQ and the EQ gain, checked the leveler and the ALC and set up the compander to +3. I looked at the waveform on the scope and found it to be acceptable and listened to the audio in the headphones. I switched up to the phone band on 40M and there was YU7ZEX over in Serbia. He had a little pileup going, and I gave him a call. He came right back and gave me a 59 and good report on the audio. I next switched to 80M and worked US7WW on CW, 559 both ways. By now it was closing on 19:00, so in 45 minutes I had 3 DX contacts in the log basically starting from nothing except having the .Netframework already loaded.

I next installed VAC (virtual audio cable) and VSP (virtual serial port) and configured these and linked them to PowerSDR. I next installed DDUTIL, CW skimmer and the entire DX lab suite. I setup winwarbler and made a PSK31 contact. Instructions for setting up winwarbler with PSDR are here in the Flex knowledge base Note that there are no added physical modules, weird little panadapter boxes or extra cables to get all this going. It's all done in software.

I found that as I added software my CPU usage started to climb. It was around 15-20%, went up into the 30% with Skimmer and went up into the 60's with DX lab with SpotCollector running and around this level is where you start getting dropouts. So my kids little $450 computer does have its limits. I did nothing to optimize this computer just loaded the software and hit start so I could probably get some improved performance by shutting unneeded stuff off, but since this is my kids school computer and they use it online for classes I decided to leave well enough alone. With the addition of DDUTIL this radio becomes frequency agile and you could use the LPT port to drive antenna switches and Steppir antennas and amplifiers to automatically band follow you as you change freq. The receive quality was marvelous, basically as good as my F5K in this environment. There has been a lot of improvement in CW switching as well. The weight of the entire station comes in under 20lbs excluding coax and the ammo can. If I was taking this station to field day or something I would simply wrap the tuner in plastic and save the weight, but I have found the ammo can to be basically indestructible and bone dry even in the wildest FL deluge so it has worked out to be a good choice

For fun I decided to see how the station would look with the radio in the cabinet next to the desk. I occasionally see people requesting info on a small radio they could use in the office for example, HERE YA GO high performance radio with virtually no footprint