Tag Archives: Flex-5000

All Good Things Come To An End, Someday – Radio Transceiver Models Discontinued

Eventually all good products run their course and for various reasons go out of production.

This spring saw the outstanding FlexRadio Systems Flex-5000A radio discontinued as the combination of being overshadowed by FlexRadio System’s Flex-6000 series and market place economics due once standard parts having become legacy items available only at premium custom run prices collided.

According to news shared by fellow blogger Jeff KE9V TenTec found itself in a parts availability/cost pickle leading to the end of production of the Orion II.

Jeff KE9V reported:

Got a note from TenTec today that included this — “On a rather sad note, about the time you read this message, we will have sold out of the last 566 Orion II transceiver. Unfortunately, due to the availability of some very critical parts plus skyrocketing prices for difficult components, the staff at TEN-TEC decided to discontinue this product. This does not mean we will not trade or sell used and demo Orion’s and Orion II models. We will continue service and support this product as we have done in the past with all TEN-TEC products. Is a new Orion III on the horizon? There are plans for several new TEN-TEC products lined up for the future but at this time no concise decision has been made for another Orion transceiver.”

If you recollect the Orion II was the result of the original DragonBall processor being discontinued, as well as an opportunity to upgrade the product during the redesign.  The DragonBall Super VZ 66 MHz processor of the Orion II seems to have disappeared as well.

Less substantiated is the the rumblings about Icom’s IC-7800, which some Icom representatives have mentioned to present IC-7800 owners that production is unlikely to continued when present inventory is depleted.  There is no word what might replace this nearly 10 year old product.  I wouldn’t stake my reputation on exactly when the IC-7800 new sales cease, as even the list price is matter of confusion with retailers quoting list pricing of $10,000 to $13,500 and “street prices” of $9,800-10,500

Even weirder rumblings surround the button heavy Kenwood TS-990S, mostly that the radio is Kenwood’s “Swan Song” last offering before it leave the Amateur Radio Market.  Despite the performance reports suggesting the TS-990S is basically a TS-570D in wolf’s clothing, it is just odd that a product would come to market with a “last hurrah” storyline.  It is pretty clear that the TS-990S is a brand-satisifaction product and not a performance leadership product.

Interesting higher end of the market.

Maybe there are some neat new products ready in the wings?

Interesting….

73

Steve
K9ZW

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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

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Flex-5000 Gives Way to the New Flex-6000 Series

The speculation I’ve read in various amateur radio forums and on reflectors about FlexRadio Systems discontinuing the Flex-5000A has been concerning.

No concern over FlexRadio System’s commercial decision to discontinue the Flex-5000A, rather it has been concern for the highly damning actions of some of the community of radio amateurs who post to forums either complete  wild-guesses or outright deliberate false statements.  Some of the forum folks even have taken upon themselves to fabricate alternative speculative reasons with no basis outside of their fantasy world. Shame folks, shame.

The real story on the End-of-Life for the Flex-5000A is very simple.

FlexRadio Systems has discontinued the Flex-5000A earlier than expected  (note the timing) due to the H-Case Enclosure becoming uneconomic/unavailable at the current production volume of Flex-5000A radios currently being sold.

These lower levels also made it costly and mored difficult to source some other select components needed for the Flex-5000A at production acceptable costs.

Together these were problems that would  drive the Flex-5000A sell price up unreasonably or require a product redesign with all those costs, neither which are viable options for a product that was already long in the tooth.

These were the items forcing the accelerated timing for the end of the Flex-5000A production, but perhaps by what might be less than a few months earlier than expected.

Why?

Because the Flex-5000A occupied a product position in the overall line too close to the new Signature Flex-6000 Series though the phase-out timing originally had been suggested to be many months after the new line was shipping in bulk – provided the Flex-5000A was still selling.  Anyone who had listened carefully at the 2012 Dayton FlexRadio Systems Banquet would be clear that the PowerSDR hardware range would loose the 5000 series at some time once the SmartSDR 6000 series was established.

The Flex-5000A sales had already fallen off in favor of Flex-6000 series orders.

The old radio was been seen by the market as old technology at a price point too close to the new technology to maintain significant new sales volume.

What are the Marketing  Price Points for Popular Multi-Price Point HF Brands?

In May 2013 roughly present price points are:

Flex-1500                       $650
Flex-3000                    $1700
Flex-5000 base         $2800 now discontinued
Flex-5000 loaded    $3800 now discontinued
Flex-6500                     $4300
Flex-6700                     $7599

  • Brand-T has four  USA Built HF rigs at $1000, $1800, $2800 and $4400
  • Brand-K has price points for HF rigs at  $1000, $1100, $1540, $1600, $2000 and $8000
  • Brand-Y price points are $1000, $1500, $1900, $2700, $6000, $10100, and $11350
  • Brand-I features price points at  $700, $900, $1000, $1100, $1500, $1900. $2600, $5000, $6000, $10,500 and $11,800

Comparing that to other brands FlexRadio Systems could be argued to lack a super premium like the IC-7800 and FTdx9000 rigs, and there would appear to have an open market price point slot between the Flex-3000 and Flex-6500 with the Flex-5000A having been discontinued.

Now to be fair for each Flex you need some sort of computer. ( Interestingly the capabilities of the PC  needed  drops in specification from the highest grade PC needed for  Flex rigs 1500-5000 which use PowerSDR which is “Thick Client” needing a significant machine – like an entry level game machine, where 6500/6700 use SmartSDR which is a “Thin Client” GUI/HMI only.)

With most stations having a computer in them already the bump-up in ownership costs may not be as dramatic for FlexRadio Systems now as it was when the Flex-5000A was first introduced.

Again listening to FlexRadio Systems statements as they transition to a Software Company that any new radios would be Thin-Pipe SmartSDR products.  They said this last year and again this year, that the new architecture is the framework for new products.

Now what about the values of used Flex-5000A’s?

Mine isn’t going anywhere, not for sale.  Arguably the most capable fully mature amateur radio SDR transceiver it has a long term place in my radio room.  Having been there for nearly six years I would expect it to be part of my station for another 4-6 years at least.

There is a new PowerSDR version 2.7.x  due out this summer and the Thick-Pipe structure is robust enough to weather a few more Windows upgrades at least.

Other hams need to sell their Flex-5000A radio to part fund their new Flex-6000 radio.

Overall the market for used Flex-5000A radios is healthy and pricing seems fairly stable.

Pricing should reflect that mixture of economically forced sales by upgrading hams and retention of value by multi-Flex equipped stations.

73

Steve
K9ZW

 

—————  Official FlexRadio Systems “FLEX-5000A End of Manufacturing Announcement”

I should be 100% clear that the preceding article was my own take and the following is FlexRadio System’s official announcement to handle all the speculation on the internet.  73  Steve K9ZW

Dear FlexRadio Systems customers:

**

The FLEX-5000A began production in 2007 as our flagship Software Defined
Radio product.  It has been highly successful and its chart-topping
performance is enjoyed daily by thousands of customers around the world.
Recently, we’ve been faced with procurement challenges related to
subsystems and components used in the FLEX-5000 product that would force a
product redesign.  These challenges plus the dramatic customer shift from
the FLEX-5000 to the FLEX-6500 for new purchases make it economically
unfeasible to continue manufacturing the FLEX-5000.  Here are the important
points:

We will continue to support and service the FLEX-5000A in our US,
Canadian, and EU Service depots for many years to come just as we?ve done
with all FlexRadio products.

We will continue to enhance and support PowerSDR? as we have done for
the past 10 years.  Four new releases of PowerSDR have been delivered in
the last 12 months and more enhancements are in development now.

We will continue to sell the RX2 second receiver and the ATU autotuner
upgrades for the FLEX-5000 as long as there is a meaningful demand for the
products.

We sincerely appreciate our loyal FlexRadio customers and it was great to
see so many of you this weekend at Dayton Hamvention 2013.  We thank you
for your support and understanding as we make this necessary product
transition.

**

73,

Greg – K5GJ

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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

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Flex-Radio Flex-6000 and the PowerSDR Flex Radios

So much buzz about the new Flex-6000 series and people wondering what it means to the PowerSDR Flex-5000,3000, & 1500 range?

First the new series is four to six months out Maybbe more You can’t get a 6500 or 6700 now.

Then the new series is poitioned and priced at a premium to the prsent offering.

Flex has said all models are part of their forward product mix The have created a product range of SDR radios.

I can’t see selling a 5000 for a future slot for a 6500/6700.

That is unless a person isn’t actually using the Flex – it is no secret that many operators have “Trophy Radios” to show they can afford the latest and richess rig, even if they never use it. I once bought a mint TenTec Pegasus from a ham who never powered it from new despite it being the centerpiece in his shack photos.

Putting in a refundable deposit on a 6500 or 6700 may make sense, but selling a 5000 or 3000 now sure dosen’t.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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Lions and Tigers and Bears – Oh My! – Serial Ports in the Complex Ham Software Setup

I’ve been amazed, and deeply frustrated, at the complexity of a full software defined radio software suite setup. I expect mine is tad bit more complex than some, but nothing extraordinary.

Behind the scenes two vital software utilities have to be fully fired up – VAC (Virtual Audio Cables) which manages audio connections “in the black box,” and a Serial Port Manager (I use VSP Manager which is further managed by DDUtil) which manages “Pairings” of virtual serial port assignments.

It is at the DDUTIL level that complexity is the greatest.

VAC – Virtual Audio Cables

Ok, inside your computer you don’t have the ability to “patch” audio to the various programs like you would if each “piece” of the Audio Chain were a separate physical component.  Unlike putting together a stereo rack where you can cable the tuner to the amp, the CD player to the Amp, the CDRom Burner to perhaps all, and those legacy Turntable & Tape Decks to the amp – or in cases where the tuner  acts as the “hub” they get hard cabled there… in the SDR software suite software has to patch the audio to where it needs to flow or return.

Eugene Muzychenko has created the needed software, his product being what 99% of radio amateurs working with this problem use.

The Wiki Page on VAC: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Audio_Cable

Eugene Muzychenko’s VAC page: http://software.muzychenko.net/eng/vac.htm

VAC is audiophile grade software, with oodles of configuration selections that arguably are best left alone or setup in known working configuration for our purposes.

Please note that the free demo version of VAC is unsuitable for anything other than setting up basic configurations.  Do not use it on the air as the Demo Message will raise havoc.  VAC is a 22 Euro or USD $30 investment that being rather unique should be planned as part of your setup costs to do complex SDR.  Actually you can buy VAC from the developer for $25.20 to $50.50 depending on the level of support you want.  He also has a number of resellers.

One reseller has a nice page explaining what this VAC thing is all about:  http://www.fox-magic.com/vac.php

In my case I have only one pair of VAC Cables setup, though technically I would benefit from a second set connected to the RX2 (technically third receiver) in the Flex-5000A.

VSP Manager

K5FR is the person behind the next two parts of the puzzle.  VSP Manager creates pairs of virtual serial ports.

VSP Manager is available on request from K5FR for non-commercial use.  Details are at:  http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/index.php?title=VSP_Manager

There are alternatives to VSP Manager, and various technical reasons bantered about why this or that Virtual Serial Port is better.

Working well and being highly compatible with the real gatekeeper – DDUtil – is reason enough for me to stick with VSP Manager.

DDUtil

Now we get to the “switchboard, Router & patch panel” hub of the whole setup.

DDUtil by K5FR is found at:  http://k5fr.com/DDUtil.htm and http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

In Steve K5FR’s own words:

…..DDUtil, which is short for Data Decoder UtilityDDUtil was designed to enhance the operating experience for Flex Radio users by providing advanced connectivity to peripheral equipment and Radio Control Programs (RCPs) not before available.

DDUtil provides the automation required to decode and present transmit frequency data to select frequency sensitive devices such as linear amplifiers, antenna controllers (SteppIR), antenna tuners, antenna band switchers, etc. DDUtil may be used in a stand-alone mode or with up to four (5) Radio Control Programs(RCPs) running simultaneously.

DDUtil automatically senses when a RCP is trying to communicate with PowerSDR and modifies it’s mode of operation accordingly.

AnXMLfile is used to provide the reference data needed for the BCDoutput data. A sample file is included with the distribution files to serve as a guide. This file may be created from scratch or modified from the sample provided and then saved with an appropriate user name. All file modification may be accomplished within the program or may be done in any XML file editor of the users choice. But, unless the user is familiar with XML file editing it is recommended that XML file modification be confined to DDUtil until proficiency is obtained. Please note that this file requires a specific format see the BCD Data File Format topic in Setup / Other Topics for details.

The initial release is designed for the Flex family of radios including the SDR-1000, Flex-5000, Flex-3000 and Flex-1500 series…..

The DDUtil Block Chart perhaps explains it best:  DDUtil Flow Chart  (also at http://k5fr.com/ddutilwiki/images/DDUtilFlow.pdf )

Setting up DDUtil is a bit of a fiddle unless you make time to read the Wiki and the excellent articles at the Flex-Radio Knowledge-Base.  I would roughly estimate that the time I didn’t invest reading first cost me 4 to 5 times as much time fiddling & fixing later.

The Enemies of SDR Software – Latency and Conflicts

First of the two big enemies of “Radio in Computer” seem to be Latency – the delays introduced by hardware & software in audio streams, program functions, program-to-program data transfer, or between the SDR hardware (the “physical radio”) and the Computer (the “Software Radio”).

Tweaking in software design and optimizing components can make a huge reduction in induced Latency.

I’ve fought issues with software not in the SDR suite of programs dragging my system down – an early version of TeamViewer and various software update nag-ware programs have been the worse.  Adobe products and some Anti-Virus packages can be a problem as well.  Flex-Radio includes in its PowerSDR and Flex-Radio software a program simply called “Flex-Radio” which can be used to closely monitor system Latency.  The software will help you configure the software to optimize given your computer’s measured latency.

The second bugabo is the Conflicts can occur and are such a devil to sort out.  Things like various software fighting to access the same Serial Port, creating more than one Serial Port assigned the same number, fights between port assignments with expansion software, programs that are “just crabby” and don’t play well with others….  The list is fairly long and sticking with known compatible combinations can help you get up and running easily.

If you are like me and want to fiddle with other software while running the station – a browser, an editor to make notes, a call book lookup program, some space weather, weather, and time programs…. well it can be a fiddle sorting things out.  Several browsers seem to “bloat” while running the SDR suite and specially Safari for Windows seems to hog system resources upsetting the rest of the system.

I’m looking into replacing the several year old Dell Windows-XP dual core machine I am using with a new Windows-7 Multi-Core machine with its greater capabilities.  One of my Dayton 2012 goals was to talk with Neal K3NC  the PowerSDR Computer guru at the Flex-Radio booth, though Neal has had to take a pass for Dayton this year for health reasons.

How do you get enough physical ports to plug in all your stuff?

I faced this right away.  Most new machine have at best one or two serial ports.  Hardly enough to run a serial cable to each of the station components.  Presently I have serial cables to:

  • An SPE Expert 1KW Amp
  • A Palstar AT-Auto Antenna Tuner
  • A Begali CW Machine
  • A Green Heron RT-20 Rotor Control
  • An Array Solutions PowerMaster Watt & SWR Meter

And I want to reserve future ports for:

  • A computer controllable remote antenna switch
  • Power Control Hardware for the Flex-5000A Unit

So how does one hook up seven serial cables to a machine that came set up for two?

I bought a Serial Port Expansion Module that had formerly been used as part of a commercial Point-of-Sale setup.  This added eight assignable ports easily and with high reliability.

Word of warning, one has to again read the directions in assigning port numbers to the expansion unit so they neither conflict with existing port assignments or overlap your VSP Manager assignments.  Some of your software may require specific restrictions on post assignments you need to work around as well.

More esoteric deep in your machine USB and Serial ports can interact as well. Consider this an advanced subject!

What do you get for all this?

What do you get for braving all the “Lions and Tigers and Bears” of doing a full SDR software suite?  As it is easy to chronicle the woes of getting (and keeping) the software running, one forgets that their is some real joy to be gained in doing all this.

What you end up with is:

A DX Chasing “Machine” that has integrated rotor, amp, tuner and wattmeter displays & controls.  In my case the SPE Expert 1KW Amp, Palstar AT-Auto Antenna Tuner, Array Solutions PowerMaster SWR Meter and Green Heron RT-20 rotor controller are all integrated.

Quick switch between a QRO SSB setup to a digital mode station running JT65-HF or fldigi(Win) seamlessly.

Integrated logging (though I do have to manually add into my master log adi logs from auxiliary programs).

Receive performance rivaling top shelf dedicated monitoring receivers costing more than my entire station investment.

An “If you can Hear it, You CAN work it” capability – for a simple station I catch a lot on the air even when other area hams say the “bands are dead.”

What’s Next?

Other than the likely computer system update, the biggest forward change I see is to replace the Array Solutions RatPAK remote antenna switch with a configuration that can be controlled by the software.  I can either reconfigure feed lines to cover 160m-10m without an external antenna switch, or find a remote switch that can interface.  Looks like a Dayton 2012 “to do list” item to figure out what remote switch would work.

Through using the DDUtil suite I have learned that under certain circumstances my Flex-5000A’s power supply is underperforming, and that is on the upgrade list.

Remoting everything is up there.  Likely to wait until the Computer Update is done, this involves a small hardware hack of the Flex-5000A itself to allow remote power switch control.

Making use of a multi-antenna “diversity” listening configuration – as mentioned if I can hear the DX station I can usually work them, so further improving the stations “ears” only makes sense.  Power SDR has built-in features that I haven’t even begun to exploit when it comes to using the RX2 receiver and multiple antenna configurations.

All in all a lot of fun, easy to set up if you bite off small chunks at a time and read the instructions, and well worth the effort in results.

73

Steve
K9ZW

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