Musing on the FlexRadio Experience

The Silicon Gray Beard is a really nice blog that has a lot of interesting posts.  Every now and again he does wade out a bit deeper than the knowledge he has mastered, and I was reading his post at: https://thesilicongraybeard.blogspot.com/2020/07/a-ham-radio-series-9-software-defined.html

I wanted to share here some of my FRS musings:


Whether ICOM or another, once the technology used to make a “radio-server” became affordable at the amateur equipment price price point, the neat evolution of hybrid technology was going to happen.

The knobs/no-knobs issue predates the Maestro, as with the prior “Thick-Pipe” SDR technology (where the PC is part of the processing, rather than just a platform for the end user GUI) Flex had launch the FlexControl. I bought one in 2011 for my Flex-5000A https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2011/06/09/flexcontrol-usb-controlled-tuning-knob/

Some on the Thick-Pipe vs Thin-Pipe differences: https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/the-future-of-sdr-fat-pipe-vs-thin-pipe/

One area that has fascinated me is how the FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) went from exotica to an SDR norm. The technology was there, but the economics were against widespread amateur usage. When FlexRadio announced they would be using FPGAs in a bigger way I wrote: https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/musing-on-the-new-flex-6000-series-smartsdr-radios/

If an SDR is just a radio server, how you controlled it was an ongoing discussion. The current FRS ecosystem allows for a end-client GUI on normal computer hardware (Windows, MacOS, and iOS on both iPhones & iPads), the Maestro for the face-plate experience, and the M-models for those who want everything in a traditional transceiver packaging. In addition to the FlexControl other hardware has been made work to give more options.

In my mind the real magic is the ability to remote, the ability to have essentially a “new radio” with a new Version of SmartSDR loaded into the radio, and in my case the amp/transceiver integration when viewed from the end-user GUI.

While I am trying this comment I’ve made a dozen or more QSOs running digital mode to my home station via remote. I’ve my choice of a radio in the next building – a 6600M – or a radio at home – a 6700 – when I remote, more to do with antenna choices than much different in capabilities. I regularly had remoted while traveling, using an iPad and a noise-cancelling boomset. https://k9zw.wordpress.com/2017/08/22/remoting-via-smartsdr-and-smartlink-v2-0-in-daily-use/

Since I bought my Flex-6700 I believe I have upgraded that radio over 50 times, which is more than the usual user experience being on the test team, but as a contrast few of my other radios have received more than a single feature upgrade while I’ve owned them. (I started with pre-release version 0.6ish to the latest 3.1.12 General Release – unfortunately I can’t tell you anything about test versions though).

While I typically run barefoot, I do have the FlexRadio/4o3a PGXL Amp, which base functions and metering are integrated in most versions of SmartSDR.

Is it all perfect, no. But that is not a problem as feature-by-feature my system will evolve as the software upgrades drive feature improvements.

Just as a counterpoint, I do keep a nice Collins setup for a traditional ham experience when I don’t want to run all the gee-wiz stuff.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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