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.
Really neat to get “That Phone Call” from FlexRadio Systems! 17 - June - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: Flex-6000, Flex-6700, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, SmartSDR, SmartSDR Preview, W1JCW
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Really neat to get “That Phone Call” from Matt at FlexRadio Systems. Of course it made my credit card twitch a bit.
Limited Edition Signature Series Radio #11, a Flex-6700 w/GPSDO, will be shipping very soon indeed – most likely arriving late this week or early next week.
Beating it here by a few days will be the new Supermicro Rack Mount i7 machine that John W1JCW has built up for my FlexRadio Flex-5000 and Flex-6000. Of course eventually the Flex-6000 will be operated more often remotely from elsewhere in the house, but that will be down the road.
As Radio #11 is being released as a SmartSDR Preview Edition it is VERY clear that not all the features expected in the general release of SmartSDR v1.0 will be there and there may well be bugs/glitches with the Preview Edition.
It will be a privilege to get the early hands-on and provide feedback to FlexRadio Systems as they ready their wider general release.
If my new radio arrives in time, guess what I’ll be doing in my shack this weekend?
FlexRadio System – Flex-6000 SmartSDR Initial Features 7 - June - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled.
Tags: Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW, K9ZW Just Rambled, SmartSDR, SmartSDR Preview
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As I look around the net, including the various FlexRadio focused reflectors & forums I’ve observed a lot of speculation on what will be included in SmartSDR Preview Edition and the initial full release SmartSDR versions.
Some of those posting seem unhappy that the one feature that they hold dear might not be included in the SmartSDR Preview or in the initial SmartSDR versions.
Other post speculation that feature-x either will be included, will not be included, or never will included – all speculative nonsense except where FlexRadio Systems has officially commented.
If you sign up for the FlexRadio Systems official reflectors you will first hand read what FlexRadio Systems’ team posts.
In all honestly some of the posts I’ve read are not in keeping the spirit of amateur radio.
It is worth pointing out that the early adopters are receiving a significant discount for putting up a deposit and for their willingness to receive the product will less than its final feature set. They were also given an extra year of update support.
It isn’t fair to enter into the deal as it was and now complaining. The option to wait for a ham’s new Flex-6×00 until SmartSDR includes someone’s particular critical feature(s) should be considered by those who feel they need certain features.
But the complaining should stop, as it is unfair in respect to the known deal, and it is likely delaying the release to other hams who would enjoy the “new radio with every update” aspect of an improving feature set.
June should be an interesting month with the likely increase in the number of new radios shipped.
Let’s wait and see what features are there, which ones phase in before the first full release and what gets added further along.
EtherGeist: FlexRadio 6700 – Initial QSO’s 4 - June - 2013Posted by k9zw in Amateur Radio, Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K9ZW.
Tags: Flex-6000, FlexRadio Systems, K6TU, K9ZW, SmartSDR
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Stu K6TU has written a lengthy post about his first Flex-6700 QSOs:
FlexRadio 6700 – Initial QSO’s
This last week I’ve been test flying the FlexRadio 6700 in a number of QSOs both on HF as well as 6m so I thought I’d give an update on the most recent experiences.
As a reminder I’m still using pre-release software together with the other alpha testers. Functionality is quickly approaching the release 1.0 level and so on-air testing is now seriously underway.
My installation is totally remote – all my radio equipment and antennas are located away from the house and controlled via Ethernet. Audio is handled by a balanced audio link over a spare CAT6 Ethernet drop patched through from the radios to my office in the house. The CAT6 cable has 4 pairs – two are used for stereo audio from the radio, one for microphone audio to the radio and the last for the PTT line. For many years I used a homebrew set of balanced audio drivers but early this year, switched over to commercial components made by Radio Design Labs. Much better fidelity and more audio drive (with gain controls brought to the front panel) make this link a considerable step up on my homebrew effort.
….. more at his blog….