Flex-6700 – Review after Four Months In 13 - October - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: DDUtil, Flex-6000, Flex-6700, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, SmartSDR, SmartSDR CAT, SmartSDR Preview Edition
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My FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 is radio #11, and arrived as part of their public Beta Program – the SmartSDR Preview Program – third week of June 2013. Software at the time was SmartSDR Preview Edition 0.12.x which was fairly basic.
As I write it is October 2013 and the radio is now on full production release SmartSDR 1.0.0, the Preview program having wrapped up after four-five updates, each which transformed my Flex-6700.
Most importantly SmartSDR 1.0 is the first step on a road map of quarterly updates, each which will bring major additional features to my Flex-6700. By download I’ve got a “New Radio” arriving every three months!!
Flex has implemented an excellent collaboration tool during the Preview Edition program that is staying in use. http://community.flexradio.com/flexradio Combined with their main website’s HelpDesk, ZenDeck (warranty system), KnowledgeBase and Downloads the support is excellent. Their main website is at: http://www.flex-radio.com
The Preview Edition experience:
It was an absolute privilege to participate and when the technical discussions were outside of my knowledge zone, to be an insider spectator during the forging of the earliest widespread release of SmartSDR into a form that could stand as production. At times I was a bit embarrassed when fellow participants forgot that the Preview Edition software was a work-in-progress. Those who had the big picture view were amazing in the amount of testing, troubleshooting and “what if” challenging they gave a radio-in-progress. I personally learned a lot about our hobby by being part of the process.
Each 2 weeks, provided candidate software passed small group quality checks, an update of “SmartSDR Preview Edition” rolled out. In a few cases the candidate software did not pass FlexRadio Systems small group quality checks and therefore was not released to the Preview Edition group. Some very silly grumbling from some of the Preview Group who moaned they didn’t get an update – as if FlexRadio Systems would ever knowingly distribute software that failed quality checks? In all honesty there were members of the Preview Group who should have not asked to have their radio shipped until the features they felt critical were completed.
A few of the Preview Group struggled with “The Radio is in The Software” capability of the next SmartSDR Preview Edition to transform their radio to the next level. It is worth remembering to check either the SmartSDR software level being reviewed or the date any SmartSDR commentary you read on the internet given the massive improvement achieved in the SmartSDR Preview process and planned with the roadmap taking SmartSDR v 1.0 forward.
Added along the way added has been SmartSDR CAT. SmartSDR CAT can replace other virtual serial port driver software packages, or serve as the Flex-6000 SmartSDR aware additional virtual serial port driver software package. This add-on is slick, making the virtual serial port driver issue very simple. While it comes bundled with SmartSDR it does require a manual Windows Program Uninstall and then Installation when SmartSDR CAT is upgraded. This separate Manual Uninstall/Install is a Microsoft Windows requirement and may be with us on Windows platform clients for some time.
Adding into the integration is v3 of DDUTIL by Steve K5FR – http://k5fr.com/DDUtilV3wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page
DDUTIL hooks SmartSDR CAT and SmartSDR into an environment your other radio software and hardware will recognize. In my shack DDUTIL integrates an Expert Amp, Palstar Autotuner, a Green Heron rotor control, and several software packages to my Flex-6700.
The Flex-6700 running SmartSDR version 1.0:
Okay, here is where the rubber hits the road – with the first public release of the SmartSDR software my Flex-6700 is already equal to or better than any other amateur transceiver on the market. At least any that I have had the pleasure of spend time operating. There is a remarkably easy-to-listen-to nature of the received audio and it is a true DX hound.
The receiver is a very good match to the Tennadyne T-8 Log Periodic antenna, making the most of the no-tune nature of the Log.
I’ve been able to leave the Expert Amp on half or lower power with the same effectiveness.
All in all it is a ready to rock-n-roll SSB DX rig. Similar reports speak of sound CW performance. Laggard at this time is the Digital Mode capabilities which are sound provided an external interface and computer sound card audio routing like a black-box transceiver is used, as the full digital implementation is further down the road map. Reports are solid on those using a Flex-6000 for digital in the old school setup.
The ability to pop open panadapters on additional bands and drop receivers to monitor other band segments/bands, is awesome. The features presently released work quite well, with only a few glitches being reported at this stage.
Now what is cool is about every 90 days a new updated version of SmartSDR will be out.
Here is a pdf snapshot of the present (Mid-Oct 2013) roadmap, showing that several features have already been pulled ahead:
The Flex-6700 Future Beyond the Road Map:
Obviously the road map is just a scratch at the surface of unleashing the Flex-6000. SmartSDR is just one of several possible GUIs and non-GUI interfaces. FlexRadio Systems has hinted about add-in modules to Contest, work on other client platforms, link/combine several Flex-6000s, do wide-area diversity and things as users we’ve not likely even thought of.
One has to remember that FlexRadio Systems is building on years of experience with professional grade products, and is distilling down the best of that experience to an amateur radio products.
You can see my pre-launch series of articles for some of the possibilities I had thought up.
What the Flex-6000 Series is NOT:
The Flex-6000 Series is very different than a conventional transceiver. In its present form the Flex-6000 is not:
- A micro-DXpedition/Mobile ready radio as the radio’s present interfaces are all PC based.
- A prepper’s primary back-up radio.
- Ready for the visual impaired (though alternate UI’s are possible).
- A single-box shack – you need the PC to access the radio.
- A likely radio for an “Internet Free” QTH unless arrangements were made to get physical media with various upgrades.
- Simple Plug-n-Play – while SmartSDR is easy to install, if an operator would have trouble installing Microsoft Office they will need help with a Flex-6000.
Like any new technology the Flex-6000 and SmartSDR have attracted naysayers – the vast majority who have an agenda rather than first hand observations to share. Again it is important to date reviews/comments against the SmartSDR Preview Edition version or production roadmap version, as the comments may be of historical interest only given the rapid evolution of the radio.
The Flex-6000 Mindset:
The Flex-6000 is seriously challenging to conceptualize as the hardware/software combination is layered, complex, exceptionally simple at the User Interface while immensely powerful under the hood, elegant, evolving, and vacates concepts like VFO-A/VFO-B architecture.
This is not a comfortable mindset for some users, as their personal concepts of what an amateur radio should be is something different than this brave new world of the Flex-6000. A few SmartSDR Preview Edition participants sold their radios to other hams, or simply put them on the shelf waiting until a general release with the feature they hold dear is available.
The latest generation of technology always stretches the operator. The “Game Changer” of the Flex-6000 series is here, to stay. That doesn’t mean that IC-7800′s, or FT-1000MPs, or TR7s, or Gold Dust Twins – or any other layer of prior technology – is somehow anything less. I have no intention of suddenly selling my favorite older radios because of the Flex-6000 revolution. But I do understand that the new cutting edge has been pushed way ahead – the boundaries of the hobby have suddenly expanded. And I am thrilled to be a participant with radio #11 of the new wave of Flex-6000 technology.
What could be any more fun?!
First Impressions of SmartSDR v1.0 General Release 30 - September - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, SmartSDR, SmartSDR Preview Edition
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FlexRadio Systems did that StarTrek Transporter thing again, and sent me a brand new radio by software download.
This time it is the first full public release – SmartSDR Version 1.0
I have been testing my Flex-6700 using an aged and clunky old Dell Windows-XP Box – the bottom end of what a use might think of using. I have a newer SuperMicro Windows-7 Machine ready to use, and will update the station in the next few weeks.
The old hardware/software did give me some minor glitches in this particular upgrade process. Somehow it caused the radio to duplicate as both ready to go and still needing update in the radio-selector:
I could highlight either one, but the obvious need for a full power down and hard reboot of computer and radio fixed everything.
Once all sorted the temptation to “go play” was huge and I quickly worked a handful of DX Stations. I missed on the Nigerian chap as I never could hear his call sign in the QRM. Chile, Cuba, Ireland, West Indies, and a handful more.
Really a step up from the SmartSDR Preview Edition and knowing there are many features laid out on the SmartSDR Technology Roadmap means I will be getting another “new radio” by download roughly quarterly for some time to come!
Very impressed with the step-up from the first software I used through the roughly half-dozen versions to this much more polished General Release V1.0
Well done FlexRadio Systems!!
Flex-6000 Series General Release Tomorrow 28 - September - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, SmartSDR, SmartSDR Preview Edition
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An open-secret if there has ever been one is tomorrow’s (September 30th 2013) general release of production FlexRadio Systems Flex-6000 series radios and software.
Under the SmartSDR Preview Edition program I’ve seen the radio grow and improve leaps and bounds. The latest SmartSDR Preview Edition software is a couple improvement cycles behind tomorrow’s launch of SmartSDR v 1.0
FlexRadio Systems has a forward roadmap of planned feature release dates out to SmartSDR v1.4
So just like I have received a “new radio” by download every couple of weeks under the SmartSDR Preview Edition program, production software users can expect significant upgrades to their radio roughly quarterly.
To be clear almost every ham will be waiting for features they personally really want – that is the nature of beast. I will repeat my advice that if a certain specific set of features are absolute musts for you personally, hold off adding a Flex-6000 until those features are included in the production software.
If you are like me and quite willing to enjoy the development process, dive right in. I had a blast as my Flex-5000 grew in capabilities in leaps and bounds, and have been enjoying the same with the Flex-6000.
Kudos to FlexRadio Systems for their full production launch and for the fun I’ve personally had with my new radio.
K9ZW FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 Update 27 - July - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: Flex-6700, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled
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All is going well with my new Flex-6700 except one serious thing – lack of operating time on my part.
Family & Work commitments have cut into my operating time during the last few weeks.
When on I have continued to be able to dig out DX from deep into the noise floor. I am reading all sorts of exceptional numbers on both the public and private project reflectors – numbers which mean very much less to me than the in-use experience of pulling out more DX.
The SmartSDR Preview Edition process is ongoing, though the frequency of trail package updates has briefly slowed. The Beta team is very busy we hear, so the next update is likely to be pretty soon.As for my shack updates, time constraints have slowed down the process of getting the switch gear in place to do full A-B-C testing. Truth be known I’ve been putting off moving a large heavy cabinet to make room for the new rack in the shack. It is going to be a half-day effort, which I may well put off until September.
What is SmartSDR Preview Edition 12 - July - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, SmartSDR Preview, SmartSDR Preview Edition
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What is this FlexRadio Systems “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program? That seems to be the first question any ham I talk to asks about the new FlexRadio Systems Flex-6700 radio.
Especially as not everyone has followed the new FlexRadio Systems Flex-6000 Signature Series program from the start, there seems to be a fair bit of confusion.
Then when you add Limited Edition Signature Series to the equation – well even those of us who have followed things get a bit rushed.
Subject to revision (and correction) here is the deal as best I know:
- All of the new Flex-6000 series radios will be “Signature Series” radios.
- If you ordered in 2012 up to the pre-order cut-off date, your radio is also “Limited Edition” and will carry that on its face.
- Alpha/Beta Testing process, along with constructability input from FlexRadio System’s manufacturing partner were completed with a production ready version of the Hardware slightly ahead of software.
- FlexRadio Systems offers an opportunity to join a wider Software testing group to the “Limited Edition” pre-order holders. To participate a pre-order holder had to sign up. This group is called “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program.
That “SmartSDR Preview Edition” software is a subset of the eventual production software, with many features not yet “turned on” for the test group. Software revisions are very Frequent (every week or so).
Participating in the “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program with a new Flex-6700/GPSDO radio, it has the feel of being at a “tech rehearsal” for a play. The plot is all there, you can see exactly where things will eventually fit, but the focus is on adjusting the music levels, lights, props and all the parts that make the play happen.
- Circling back the “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program members are volunteers from the “Limited Edition” Pre-Order place holders.
- The “Limited Edition” group committed to purchase and placed deposits on their radios ahead of radios shipping by as much as 15 months or more. This group receives the specially marked radio, a second year of software support, a discount, and a few other perks for committing so far ahead.
- “Limited Edition” pre-order holders who did not volunteer for the “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program will receive their radios next, when SmartSDR version 1.0 is ready. Their hardware is the same as the Preview Edition, only the software is different.
- “SmartSDR Preview Edition” program members will receive SmartSDR version 1.0 at the same time.
- The software support clock starts when SmartSDR version 1.0 ships.
- The next waves of buyers will receive “Signature Edition” radios, differing by faceplate markings with the latest SmartSDR version.
All sounds more complicated than it is. And to tell the truth, once SmartSDR version 1.0 ships it won’t matter either.
Hope I’ve helped answer the question!
Flex-6700 testing at George W9EVT’s Hamshack – July 2013 9 - July - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, US Islands.
Tags: Flex-6700, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, SmartSDR Preview Edition, W9EVT, WI-001L
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Just a few pictures from my testing session at George W9EVt’s mega-shack on Washington Island, Wisconsin over the July 4th Holiday 2013.
I’ll have a write-up on my impression and comparison results this weekend coming.