FlexRadio Systems Banquet 2013 – Highlights

I enjoyed the 2013 FlexRadio Systems banquet though the Dayton Grand needs taking to task for not measuring up.  Over 180 hams attended!

Announced was the end of Flex-5000 series – see other article I just posted.

We’re told a new PowerSDR version 2.7.x expected over summer.  PowerSDR development will continue.

Flex-6000 roll out will ship 6700’s ahead of 6500’s, with a voluntary Beta-Software program available.  The 6700 firmware/software is a few weeks ahead of the reduced set of the 6500.

Annual Subscriptions for Beta-Software will start with the release of a non-Beta software package, expected to be some weeks (not many months) aftr the Beta-Software gooes live.

Demonstrated remote access to a Flex-6700 with a Windows Tablet by handing it around for all 180 of us to have a chance to play with it!

InnovAntennas developing an optimised Log Periodic to work with the Flex-6000 Series and it’s enhanced reception capabilities.  They also will have some optimized antennas for exploiting the diversity reception capabilities of the 6700.

The Flex-6500 and Flex-6700/6700R are SDR “Radio Server Appliances” in the new lingo.

FlexRadio Systems is moving towards being a software house that happens to also provide “Radio Server Appliances.”

The gap between the PowerSDR Flex-3000 and the SmartSDR Flex-6500 will eventually be filled with a new SmartSDR radio below the Flex-6500/6700 in both ultimate capabilities and pricing.  This new radio won’t start development until the 6700/6500 are released and established.

SmartSDR is only one GUI/HMI offering and is not the meat of the high value software.   Other GUI/HMI programs are highly likely over time.

API developer licensing will be available and some 3rd party development is underway under NDAs.

Expect a hardware Remote Station I/O Manager Device to work with SmartSDR – a way to hook your headset, PTT and key to your remote tablet/pad device.  FlexRadio Systems did not put a timeline on this accessory.

Expect SmartSDR apps for more than Windows devices – iPod and Android were mentioned.

Initial Beta-Group Flex-6700/6500 software will expect a direct connect to the SmartSDR computer, later upgrades will allow remoting within a workspace and eventually full remoting should be possible.

There is substantial professional interest in the Flex-6700R for other than Amateur Radio useage.

The data time-stamping from the GPSDO option will open up a lot of opportunities to combine data streams.

These topics will be fleshed out and discussed over the new few months.

73

Steve
K9ZW

The Future of SDR – Fat-Pipe vs. Thin-Pipe

One thing that discussions, seminars, and banquets made very clear to me is the fundamental change in SDR design from Fat-Pipe design to Thin-Pipe design.

First what is meant by these terms?

Fat-Pipe is an SDR software and processing distribution with the on-board in-the-black-box hardware needing an external significant computer to make the radio work.  Usually this is a PC running Windows or Linux/OS-X where the PC is doing many parts of the signal conversion.  Analogue-Digital Conversions typically take place both in the radio box and in the PC.

Thin-Pipe is the SDR design where the in-the-black-box radio hardware does everything except the GUI (Graphical User  Interface) and HMI (Human-Machine Interface).  Thin-Pipe SDR radios often do not need a PC to operate “per say” but require the external device to change settings, display values and possibly handle audio I/O (some Thin-Pipe SDR designs can do their own direct audio I/O as well).

The darling of a experimenter building their own SDR from scratch or kit, Thick-Pipe SDR systems significantly are affected by the Host PC.  The data transfer between the SDR and PC is multi path, complex and data intensive.  Variations in the host PC capabilities, resource allocation/availability and every bit of software running are huge issues.  Going remote is more easily handled by adding a Thin-Pipe between a remote PC and the host PC as the Thin-Pipe model better dealing with latency and thru-put complications.

It is non-trivial to open and sustain the broad multi-channel low-latency connection between the SDR with a remote Thick-Pipe PC.

Personal experience with PowerSDR Thick-Pipe configuration has shown the operating capabilities, present operating state of other software and the bluntly  #%@$& issues of Windows driver, updates, conflicts, and foibles and endless set of issues.

So why has the move to Thin-Pipe first started now?

Processing Power and use of FPGA architecture.

When Thick-Pipe SDR designs rolled out the high end Host PC  had  4 to 8 GFLOPS (billion floating point operations per second) capability against a typical all-in-the-box radio having perhaps 0.1-0.2 GFLOPS.  The processing power in the SDR box was not significant.  None of the hardware was hot enough to even worry about calculating GMACS (billion multiply-accumulate operations per second) which is arguably more important for SDR performance.

The new “SDR Radio Server” designs roll in onboard processors in the 100 plus GFLOPS range (right there with the biggest and meanest new PC processors) but with huge GMACS numbers running 300 plus.

The FPGA to a lay person like myself can basically be thought of like having 400-500 processor cores running parallel.

Basically this means that any PC is a weakling compared to the processing inside the box of a Thin-Pipe “SDR Radio Server” and the Host PC is an I/O manager if used at all.

In the Thin-Pipe design the Host PC puts the “pretty face” on the “SDR Radio Server” with displays of the SDR Radio Server’s settings, state and output.  The Host PC also downloads to the SDR Radio Server the user’s audio (microphone/key/digital) , commands and simple functions like PTT (Push to Talk).

A Thick-Pipe SDR guru told me the data rate  between SDR and Host PC differential between his state of the art imported Thick-Pipe SDR and the state of the art Thin-Pipe SDR design was 165 times heavier for the Thick-Pipe design even though it was working with less than 1/10th the sampled bandwidth of the Thin-Pipe SDR design.

This basically roughs up to the Thin-Pipe being content with the connectivity of a 2/3rds of a Skype connection, which is manageable (and affordable).

Will Thick-Pipe go away?  Not likely.  The cost point of a reasonable Thick-Pipe SDR complete station – especially  if overall station performance envelope is not excessive – is attractive.  Also many hobbyists are more comfortable tweaking their PC and PC’s software than are able to directly work with massive processing with FPGAs, which will keep the Thick-Pipe a favorite for the experimenter.

It is predictable that the leading edge of SDR performance will be Thin-Pipe – the brute force in the SDR Radio Server is so huge that the Thick-Pipe design doesn’t have a chance.

Now let’s categorize some real world SDR software by pipe type.

PowerSDR is Thick-Pipe in most implementations, with some implementations hybrid or Thin-Pipe control display I/O only.  In most instances PowerSDR and interchangeable similar packages are Thick-Pipe.  Connectivity is typically direct hardware hardwired, Firewire/1394, or high speed USB.  Other mainly Thick-Pipe packages include Thick-Pipe include GSDR, CWExpert, SDRRadio and SDR#.

SmartSDR is an example of Thin-Pipe SDR implementation.  Other quasi-SDR Thin-Pipe projects include WebSDR (which seems more a CAT receive only audio server).

Hope this has been helpful!

73

Steve
K9ZW

The Ugly Soft Underbelly of SDR Software Defined Radio

Actually I shoudl have titled this post “The Ugly Soft Underbelly of SDR Software Defined Radio that Uses a Separate Windows Computer to for anything other than User Interface!”

As described my contesting weekend was a bust – with a good share being basic computer woes.

The PowerSDR version of SDR I am using in the shack is absolutely dependent on having PowerSDR running successfully.

And PowerSDR is just yet another Windows program.

My particular Dell has having huge issues with wanting to call the mothership, update everything and demanding a series of reboots and software repairs.

There was absolutely no reason for this misbehavior, having ran 100% the weekend before and the weekend before that.

So what happened?

Windows XP had a bunch of updates, triggering a series of catch-up updates for Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, Javascript, Java and right down to Notepad++ … then in the background other programs like Apple’s iTunes stuff all started calling home too.

It was like every program on my machine wanted to get in on the update fun!

Then DDUtil either was updated or first recognized an update, and got into a locked processes battle with AVG Anti-Virus which was doing its own update,

PowerSDR crashed or part crashed every couple minutes or it if didn’t DDUtil took the lead and crashed.

AVG required a c complete removal and reinstall as it was convinced its installer had been hijacked.

Now I have Linux based computers that I shut down once a year to dust out and check. At work we even had a OS-2 Warp system that ran for years untouched.

But not Windows which just can’t seem to leave a working configuration alone.

Now this will all change with the next generation of SDR radios which return the Windows PC to what it is reasonably good at – as a user interface – and these new SDR have all real processing internal in their box with Linux running on a high powered processor.

I am sure there is amuch I can do to limit – to mitigate – the downside of Windows, but I ask “why should I have to?”

73

Steve
K9ZW

K9ZW Computers in the Shack

Boy do I have a mess in the shack – several computers not very well coordinated due to a split vision and having been acquired over too much time.

My Flex-5000A with PowerSDR runs on a 4-5 year old Dell tower that really isn’t adequate. Some of my peeves with PowerSDR can be lain at the feet of a marginal computer. Dual core Windows-XP box with not really that much going for it, the highlight is having dual screens and the requisite Firewire port.

Elsewhere in the house I do all writing, and all my “home work” from work, on an early Aluminum MacBook. This is the smallest & slowest MacBook but is running the latest Mountain Lion.

For portable operations I retired a now defunct IBM Thinkpad and replaced it with a decent Windows XP-Pro larger Thinkpad. Nothing fancy but when a decent battery was added it is close to a portable version of the Dell Tower.

Retired, but lingering around are a MacMini (early series) that my youngest bloated the hard disk gaming and won’t run. Have been meaning to see if I can coax the machine back to life, at least enough to rescue pictures.

An older G5 iMac is around too – it was one that the power supply had the counterfeit capacitor issue, fixed under “quiet recall” and hasn’t really been used since.

Then my newest computer is running on my project’s desk – a Raspberry Pi. A neat little ARM based Linux computer, it has been running as a “burn-in” on the desk.

There are enough parts and licenses to put together a few wobbly generic PC’s with either Linux installs or using one of the Window’s Licenses if Microsoft will issue a key for replacement hardware.

Looking forward my wants and needs are:

  • Running PowerSDR for the Flex-5000A (Windows)
  • Running SmartSDR for the upcoming Flex-6000 (Windows)
  • Running EZNEC Antenna Modeling (Windows)
  • Running N4PY for the TenTec Pegasus and Jupiter (Windows)
  • Running MixW, JT65HF, DDUTIL, PowerMaster and similar station accessory programs (Windows)
  • Running the Bengali CW Software (Windows)
  • Running fldigi and related programs (Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux)
  • Running MacLoggerDX (Mac OSX)
  • Running CocoaModem (Mac OSX)
  • Running cocoaNEC (Mac OSX)
  • Running Sibelius Music Software (Windows or Max OSX)
  • Running Noteworthy Composer (Windows)
  • Running Scrivener (Complex Document Editing) Software (Windows or Mac OSX)
  • Full Word Processing Software – needs to exchange files with MS Word (Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux)
  • Full Spreadsheet Software – needs to exchange files with MS Excel (Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux)
  • Full Presentation Software – needs to exchange files with MS Powerpoint (Windows, Mac OSX, or Linux)
  • Service my iPod – (Windows or Mac OSX)
  • Downloading and Organizing my Photos (prefer Mac OSX)

Then after that I get into things I do occasionally, rather than regularly.

Really looks like two avenues of choice – an Apple iMac or MacPro with Bootcamp or Parallels to run Windows, or two separate machines with one Windows and one OSX basis (also perhaps running Bootcamp or Parallels as well.)

The new iMac really is a looker – and my Apple experience is much more positive than my Windows experience.

But then there are the Flex-5000A’s PowerSDR and Firewire needs.

Presently I am leaning to upgrading the shack’s Dell with a roll-you-own Windows-7 box AND replace the MacBook with an iMac running Parallels/Win-7.

The MacPro is pricy enough that it is not really justifiable for home use, but wow it would be sweet.

How would you set this up?

73

Steve
K9ZW

Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – Lessons Learned and Series Wrap Up

Returning from W9DXCC where I was able to attend FlexRadio’s Greg K5GJ’s presentation and chat with him at length as well, I would like to update my predictions:

  • Amateur Radio’s leading Edge will move hugely forward.  We’re at the cusp of a huge leap forward as FlexRadio brings to market what before only a few intrepid folks (like the TAPR folks) have been able to do.
  • This technology will be a huge hit with those willing to work the leading edge.  Expect to see a SmartSDR Client on a lot of busy people’s PCs for those lunch hour QSOs. 
  • Group/Remote Stations will allow more people to get on the air.  The easy options to shack/antenna restrictions will now include remote operation as a regular possibility.
  • I was wrong on much in way I predicted that Special rules or Special Classes will being needed when these radios appear in contests and QTH collection programs (IOTA/SOTA/DXCC).  The new technology won’t be much of an issue.  Reports are that when a transmitter location criteria is used it becomes easy to to incorporate the new technology into these programs.  I was seeing a problem that doesn’t really seem to be there (and has already largely been solved where is does appear.)
  • Someone will exploit these units, forcing some security demands on owners – but it will be pretty hard for hackers to exploit.  Basically if you are smart enough to get into them you’re already smart enough to make your own. Enough said.
  • While limited advances in small run offerings by other teams may come close, or perhaps equal/exceed the Flex-6000 Series in a few areas, it will be a long wait until there is a contender.  The catch-up game for contenders is huge and expensive. 
  • They will be a LOT of fun!  REALLY a lot of fun!  Imagination will only get you part way to what these radios will do.
  • Every ham who is computer/technology savvy will want one.
  • We will have some new jargon/language to deal with – examples below.

It is hard not to be pumped about this new series.

BTW I am not selling my Flex-5000A – it is too good of a radio to part with.

Some things learned from the W9DXCC Presentation.

New word for most hams – “Netcentric” reflects the connectivity by internet of this new gear.

Another new concept is “Radio Server” where your Signature-Series Flex-6000 could be thought of as a just another sort of server on your net.

“Super Browser” is the descriptive for the thin client software.

“Phase Noise Dynamic Range” will be the axis for measuring one Radio Server against another, as we see the developments focus on letting us hear well.

The amount of data going through one of these Radio Servers is stunning – where a clasic Multi-Conversion rig runs at roughly 96 ksps, and a Single-Conversion doubles that for 192 ksps, this new Direct-Sampling implimentation is zooming at 246,000 ksps (or 246 Msps).

Likewise the distortion of conversions which with Mutli-Conversion happens at 3 or 4 places, and with Single-Conversion halves, this new Direct-Sampling drops it to zero hardware points and single software point… well sort of as each technology typically has a few more points.

Signal to noise is the game – with Radio Servers offering a major step forward.

Also I am VERY humbled to realize that the Folks at FlexRadio have thought through much of what I have pondered upon, and years ago.  In conversation Greg K5JG was gracious enough to share some of the OB/OM (Organizational Behavior/Operational Management) philosophy they have implemented at FlexRadio Systems and pointed me at references where I could learn more about their successful management style.  The W9DXCC was also a flattering experience when I learned that people actually read & remember the content of these posts.  I am humbled and grateful.

Back to the this new world of Generation 3 SDR radios and the Flex-Radio 6×00 series – simply put “The possibilities are amazing!”

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – Deep (and Total) Impact – Predictions

Returning to the initial question “What will the Flex-6000 series actually bring?”

Here are my predictions:

  • Amateur Radio’s leading Edge will move hugely forward.
  • This technology will be a huge hit with those able to afford the leading edge.
  • Limited ability downscale versions of some parts of the technology will follow. 
  • Group/Remote Stations will allow more people to get on the air.
  • Special rules or Special Classes will be needed when these radios appear in contest and qth collection program (IOTA/SOTA/DXCC) use.
  • Someone will exploit these units, forcing some security demands on owners.
  • While limited advances in small run offerings by other teams may come close, or perhaps equal/exceed the Flex-6000 Series, it will be a long wait until there is a contender.
  • They will be a LOT of fun!
  • Every ham who is computer/technology savvy will want one.

Let’s see if I am close to right as these radios role out in a few months.

Netx update in this series will be after the W9DXCC where I hope to spend some time speaking with the Flex-Radio folk.

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW

Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series – The Down Side

What will the Flex-6000 Flex-6700R/6700 leap forward put at risk?

There is no doubt that as such a game changer, this new series of radios will have some less than positive impact on Amateur Radio.  Some thoughts on this are:

  • Internet Able and Control PC Independence will require security to control use of the Series 6000 hardware by unauthorized users.  Without this who really knows who is in control?
  • You radio may become an unwitting part of a SDR Botnet- Whether by capturing control of unused “slices” or entire machines, a very powerful RF machine could be created with control of not just one Flex-6000 series machine, but with the control of a great many.
  • Keying up several hundred coordinated Flex-6500/6700 transmitters could take down frequencies in terms of usability.  If you think the games that are played at 14.275 and 14.313 are rough and tumble, imagine one of these guys coming up on 500 transmitters across the globe at one time.
  • Signals from several Flex-600 units could be combined for to bring “contest cheating” to a new level. How will anyone know where a signal is being listened to or transmitted from?
  • The operator is moved even further from the technology of the hobby.  Outside of basic I/O and other connections, this new style of radio truly is a black box with little opportunity for the average ham to dig into the stuff inside the box.
  • The difficulties in updating competition rules will see the Flex-6000 Series potentially temporaily banned from events until the organizers figure out how to classified 8-slice diveristy and wide-area receive monitoring stations from the common ham’s shack.
  • A Part 97 update will be similarly forced by Flex-6000 Series as the advanced operating abilities exceed the vision used to create the rules.  Dozens of issues that never appear in Part 97 because they were technical impossibilies will overnight become reality.

As with any change of this magnitude there will be collateral damage, some quite unexpected.  There will be backlash and righfully some efforts to limit the downside impact.  In this case the change is as profound as many of the great leaps forward that the hobby worked its way through over the last 100 years. Big changes ahead!

73

Steve

K9ZW

……………….

First post of this series Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series

Planning in a few weeks to have another first hand look at the Flex-Radio Flex-6000 series radios at the W9DXCC Convention in Illinois.

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

Flex-Radio Flex-6000 Series

……one can imagine, dream and scheme can’t one?

Reading the Flex-Radio literature, Insider newsletters and reflectors there is one massive amount of promise to this new radio an architecture!

I’d like to touch on a few items that have caught my eye, and what I imagine they might offer for the future of amateur radio.

Be absolutely certain I am speculating, I have no extra insight or sources (nor would I betray information given to me in confidence) and I am doing analysis based on what it out there.  I’m going to have fun speculating what might be.

Putting some guesses and construction to the pieces of information over the next few weeks, we’ll see if I guess right on anything announced at the W9DXCC or later when radios ship.

I’ll try to get a thought out every few days in the lead-up to the W9DXCC Convention and then an assessment in the week or so directly after the event.

I’ll link them to this “Flex-6700 Fantasies – “Dreaming What Might Be!” Series” starter and again in the wrap up.

73

Steve
K9ZW