Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm Back....

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, I know, I know.....

I fell off the face of the earth, but I'm back again. Since April, I have been in ultra busy mode with my day job that left little time for playing radio. The software gurus kicked it into gear this summer with a boat load of new enhancements for PowerSDR and my focus shifted to testing these new enhancements that are slowly finding there way into PowerSDR. There is a "mother of all releases" coming for later this fall where PowerSDR is going to get a face lift along with a lot of new core features such as Wide Band Image Rejection (WBIR), "real" diversity reception that allows you to null in band interference or enhance reception by changing the phase and gain of a second signal (requires a FLEX-5000+RX2) and polyphase down sampling. This new version will be based on a more recent IDE (VS2008) and will be know as PowerSDR 2.0. Since I have provide a lot of the web-based documentation for FlexRadio products, I have been REALLY busy in my spare time getting ready for all this new stuff coming down the pike.

From the FLEX-3000 perspective, I finally returned my beta unit for a production ready unit. It was sent to me at the end of August. If you have been following the FlexRadio reflector, you may have seen the announcement regarding a preamp enhancement for the FLEX-3000. Well mine shipped to me the day BEFORE the test results came back from the lab about the change, so I received one of the very last FLEX-3000s that had the original preamp configuration. The change greatly improves the IP2 of the radio and slightly improves the IMD DR3 of the radio too. I did not experience any adverse affect of the lower IP2 performance since I do not have any near by strong stations, but I did want to get the update. So I requested a RMA number and sent it back to Austin. It should be back next week.

When it returns, it will fit right into its operating position. I have finished the rewiring of the shack, which revolved around removing the Icoms from the primary operating positions and taking a well deserved back up role as "spare radios". I have the audio wiring worked out so that I can use the PR-40 with both the FLEX-5000 and the FLEX-3000 by simply switching a cable in the balanced line isolator. I am considering a headset that has a nice wide range element, but the jury is still out on that.

I hope to do better with updates as the new PowerSDR 2.0 starts to take shape. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It has been a while

Yes, it has been a while since I lasted updated the blog. It has been busy around here. I have been spending a lot of time putting together the documentation and updating Knowledge Base articles to support the new roll out of the FLEX-3000 which started shipping last week. I also tore down the shack to setup the two weeks ago to use the FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000 as demo equipment for the Raleigh Hamfest (RARS). Rather than just put it all back into place, I have decided to rearrange things to make them more ergonomic and to optimize things for a two SDR operating position. That means integrating a new small footprint computer for use with the FLEX-3000 (Buddy).

The rearranging is going to take a while because I have to figure out what stays and what goes. I believe that the Icom 756 Pro II is going to be the looser in this adventure, since I have the FLEX-3000 to replace it.

I hope to be back on the air in the next day or two. Rerouting cables is always a pain in the butt.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Buddy has a home

Hi all. Buddy made it to North Carolina just fine and he is working FLAWLESSLY.

I haven't been blogging too much recently since I was doing testing and I really can't chronicle all of the stuff that goes on during the beta test phase for numerous reasons. I hope you all understand that this type of testing is a closed process to ensure we get things fine tuned quickly as possible.

I had Buddy on the air last Sunday during the FlexNet on 20m. Dudley (WA5QPZ) and John (W5GI) were also using FLEX-3000s.

We have been testing a new algorithm for controlling the cooling fans based on temperature. The fans ramp up in rotational speed as the PA gets hotter during TX and ramps down quickly during RX until the threshold temperature is reached, at which point the fans are at their lowest rotational speed. This new feature is working great now.

Also there has been a lot of work on the integrated ATU and it is work great too. My antenna are not that out of resonance, so I can't sat what the max matching range is like, but it is fast and quite when it is matching impedance loads.

I am currently getting Buddy and "The Big Guy" (FLEX-5000 +RX2) ready for the Raleigh Hamfest. I will have both of them there at the FlexRadio Systems booth. I need to get a new Firewire card for the Shuttle XPC computer I'll be using. Buddy will be connected to an Intel Atom PC. A really cool low cost PC.

If you are near Raleigh (NC) this Saturday, stop by the hamfest

Until later....

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Good by Junior, Hello Buddy.

I have not been blogging much lately because I have been doing a lot of hardware testing of the FLEX-3000 along with writing a rig.xml file to use PowerSDR (the "software" part of a software defined radio). Last week was very busy and good week in the test department. As with any beta testing, you are going to find or shake out bugs or make improvements in the product and that is what I have been doing. It really is not that important what those specific issues were as long as they get identified and incorporated into the production units before they get shipped.

The modifications to the FLEX-3000 hardware have been done for the production units, but Junior, who was a pre-production (beta) unit, does not have those improvements. As a result of those changes, Junior was no longer able to transmit more than about 5 watts out, which curtailed my on air activities the middle of last week. Junior need some hardware changes to make him whole again.

So, as sad as it may be, Junior is going back home to Austin. I knew when I got him that, that our time together would be short, but I was not expecting it to be less than two weeks. I will pack him up tomorrow and ship him back but not before I receive "Buddy" (the replacement FLEX-3000) later this afternoon.

Buddy is on the truck and I will have him on the air later this afternoon, probably doing some digital modes with Fldigi to test out the rig control file I created last weekend.

I'll post a notice when I will be QRV

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Testing, testing, testing...

I didn't get on the air last night. The "day job" was to hectic and I had to cut the lawn before this weeks rain arrives later tonight.

I have been spending time testing some of the alpha/beta code for improving the TX and RX calibration tests for the FLEX-3000 and FLEX-5000. Mr. Bob is doing some masterful work for inclusion into the released version of PowerSDR that will officially support the FLEX-3000 that will come out the day the FLEX-3000s start shipping (in a few weeks). The algorithms are being tweaked to provide deeper nulls for image and carrier rejection for TX. For RX image rejection, the new RX-AIR (adaptive image rejection) code will eliminate the need to run image rejection calibrations for RX.

Hopefully today will be an easier work day and I will be able to play radio with Junior tonight a little bit.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

What a weekend.

This has been an action packed weekend. Lots of "playing" radio and the FLEX-3000 was a great toy to "play" with. I am VERY impressed with it. The receiver is HOT. It approaches the FLEX-5000 and K3 in performance and for $1600, there are no radios in that price class that even come remotely close to matching performance and features of the FLEX-3000. The receiver is very quiet. Better than the SDR-1000 and like the FLEX-5000 it is noise and DDS spur free. I found the frequency stability to be very good for the digital modes I was working. The TX audio is fantastic. I participated in the FlexNet today on 20m and I swear that Dudley, who has the other FLEX-3000 was on his FLEX-5000. It is that good.

The FLEX-3000 is a value that can't be beat. It has the receiver performance numbers of an Orion II which costs over $4900 fully loaded and comparable to the FLEX-3000! It beats a Icom 756 Pro III hands down and that radio costs $1100 more than the FLEX-3000. In addition, the great thing about the FLEX-3000 is that with the frequent software upgrades it just keeps getting better where all of these other "firmware defined radios" have significant limitations in there capabilities and the DSP is not upgradable, like it is with a software defined radio.

FlexRadio broke the price/performance paradigm again that all other radio manufactures adhere to so strongly. In their price structure, the more money you pay, the higher performance class of radio you get. To get one with IMD DR3 numbers in the +90 dB range, you empty your wallet to live in that rarefied air. It looks like FlexRadio puts performance first and only charges the premium price for a radio that has the greatest flexibility in I/O capability and modularity, something that not all hams want or need. What a concept!

You do not need a calculator to work the numbers. It is not even close. This radio is a winner by a long shot.

I need to get ready for the upcoming workweek. I will be operating the FLEX-3000 during the evenings and I will keep on reporting on Junior’s adventures. Good night.

Junior gets voice lessons thanks to Julius

I knew what I had to do to improve the TX audio and that was to dump the HC-4 mic element. Now do not get me wrong, the HC-4 does a very good job for what it was intended, but it just is not any good for the FLEX family of radios. If you want to pinch down your audio, the 10-band EQ will do it for you and you do not need a specialized mic element to accomplish it. I can make my PR-40 sound like a HC-4 with aggressive EQ cutting.

As I mentioned before, the headset has an Icom iC element that is a more "full range" mic element, but needs the 5 VDC for it to operate. I normally run my TX audio through a W2IHY EQ+ (and VERY good audio processor for ham radio from my friend, Julius Jones) to enhance the TX audio for my Icoms. The EQ+ provides the 5 VDC needed for the iC mic element and has several signal processing stages to work with too. So if I hook the FLEX-3000 to the EQ+ I can use the full range iC mic element in the ProSet Plus headset. It looks like I have a plan. Now it is time to execute.

So it was off to the junk box to find an old shielded 100BaseT Ethernet cable and a 5-pin DIN connector to make an EQ+ interface cable. The pin out for the cable just happens to be in the FlexRadio Systems’ Knowledge Center.

I found the necessary parts, including my reading glasses so I can see how to solder and I made an audio interface cable. If you are going to use an old 100BaseT Ethernet cable to make a cable that conencts to the FLEX-3000 mic connector, then this Knowledge Center article will be helpful in identifying the pins based on wire color.

Here is a picture of the FLEX-3000 connected to the W2IHY EQ+

As the youngsters say theses days OMG, did that make a MAJOR difference! The EQ+ is Junior's BFF now. I bypassed the 2-band EQ on the EQ+ in favor of the 10-band EQ in PowerSDR. I added just a smidgen of compression so I could use the downward expander to eliminate some of the ambient fan noise and last but not least, a dash of reverb for a slight mellowing. Ahhhhhh.

The iC mic element is much better suited for the FLEX family of radios since it has a 100 to 8000 Hz frequency response and no large “emphasis” at the 2 KHz point. The EQ+ can put out a lot of signal (gain) so I cut back the Mic input gain in the PowerSDR Mixer allowing the EQ+ to provide the AF gain at the earliest stage in the audio chain for the lowest THD (distortion).

Does it sound like a PR-40? No, of course not, but it also does not sound like $#*! like the HC-4 mic element did. Junior has found his full range voice and I could not be a prouder Papa.