Tuesday, 26 July 2016
A repeat review (last time 1/5) after waiting another 6 months for SSDR to evolve and after sending my 6300 for repair due a cpu fan failure. The main problem with the software (Smart SDR) is that it evolves very slowly. I'm not talking about new features, I'm talking about fixing bugs which have plagued users for years. The trouble seems to be that different hardware units behave differently with the same version of SSDR software/firmware mix. This means that sometimes the bug needs several fixes before being fixed for everyone. Different sets of users cry with every version of SSDR so much so I wonder about the quality of the development process. The time between a bug being reported and it being fixed is not dependant on the complexity of the bug, but rather on Flex's own internal development prioritisation. An example of this was the maestro being developed despite a long list of outstanding bugs in the original system. Of course the new Maestro SSDR version caused new bugs and these are being fixed now. New features are rare however, as the job (even after all these years) is still to get the original promised features working effectively. The main problem with the hardware is the racket of the fan which runs constantly. If you imagine putting this transceiver on a desk beside your operating position you'd better have a good pair of noise cancelling headphones ready. This is not just my unit (yes I do own one ;-)) but most other users I have spoken to on air agree. I feel the company are getting there and they definately care about the user base (being radio hams themselves), but they do not seem to have the development talent to get things right first time on time. I'm sure that given time (near future) new users will enjoy a fully working product (I'm still hoping to get an effective noise blanker). The receiver is sensitive, but the noise floor tends to bounce up and down covering weak stations during contests etc. The transmitter tends to output less than 100w and SSDR shows worrying large repeating off frequency spikes (admittedly of a low level) during cw transmission (this effect seems to grow with frequency, 6m being worst). The stability of the system is very much dependant on your desktop PC and home network and your knowledge of it's operation eg. CW transmission starts misbehaving, access your windows task manager and increase priorities for SSDR and decrease priorities of any other software running - of course!). If you are operating remotely, panafall freezing and audio "motor boating" are commonplace, due to latency/buffering, but be assured it is your faithfull wireless routers fault... However the architecture of the 6000 series would suggest these kind of problems are less likely than in some of the competitor products. I am gratefull to Flexradio for bringing us hams these cutting edge products and in the true spirit of ham radio buyers be ready and willing to learn new skills in computer operating systems and networking to get the most out of it. My score of 4/5 is based on an excellent transceiver performance for modest antennas setups (simple wire antennas) in non contesting conditions. It doesn't get a 5 due to the effectiveness of some of SSDR's facilities e.g. NB, NR etc all of which are bested by the big 3.
Sunday, 24 January 2016
Some findings from my first contest with the above setup: 1) No focus return to SSDR from N1MM+ despite have the having this set to N1MM,UDP port 12060 and 1000ms in radio setup dialogue box? I'm new to N1MM+ and SSDR (usually use K3 and WinTest, but the soft winkey doesn't work properly with it) so found it really frustrating having to use the mouse to constantly have to click in the N1MM callsign field every time I touched a control in SSDR. Learned the up/down arrow keys were RIT in N1MM which helped. This is mad as took a few Qs to know that up key was RIT down??? It occurred to me that successful contesting with a Flex really lies in knowing all N1MM+ key strokes to control the radio (need to look into this to see how much of the flex can be controlled from N1MM i.e. filter width etc). 2) The soft winkey seems to work 95% of the time. When it doesn't work it always seemed to have a glitch on the first letter of sending. Every 20 qs or so would mess up causing me to hit the esc key and send again. Setup shouldn't cause varying results? What I was hearing seemed representative of what was being sent as it almost always resulted in them sending their call again. This was hampered by the sidetone sounding distorted and gravelly during the switch from rx to tx (noisy contesting conditions) so it made it hard to determine if there was a sending mistake with the first letter. 3) Noticed on several occasions that I could see better than I could hear. I could see the blip on the screen but couldn't hear it (despite it being in the passband but slightly off center). After a while I noticed that small differences of RIT would then allow me to work them??? So without the bandscope I wouldn't have known something was there to alert me to fine tune RIT. I've never noticed this with the K3 and P3 combo, I could always hear what I could see in the bandscope....amazing/hole in hearing/problem with FFT taps not overlapping and factored properly???...I don't know! 4) One of the massive advantages of this radio is that controls in SSDR work during TX. This used to frustrate me with radios like the K3 who's implementation locked controls during tx. Its been a long and rocky road with the 6300 so far. The latest sw/fw has given me a working radio for the first time in my 4 months ownership (broadband tx splatter fault, hardware fan failure, sprung bpf filter board etc etc). There is no comparison with my K3 rx performance however, with blocking and noise level bouncing up and down evident on the flex with strong adjacent stations (contest conditions). I know its not a fair comparison, the 6300 was my toe in the water with SDR and I'd need to now move to the 6500/6700 so as not to compare apples with oranges? I think I need to do some reading on N1MM+ and determine its extent of control of the flex. This will be the deciding factor for me of whether or not I can use it successfully for serious contesting. Maybe also I need to purchase the flex control tuning whee,l but whether app focus works with that now worries me.
Saturday, 16 January 2016
Hurrah! After a 3.5 month wait for the sw/fw update v1.6.17, I now have a working radio! Not only that, the new sw has a winkey emulation function which works great with N1MM but is pants with Wintest (can't have it all). The cat port emulator is much improved except for the omission of having ptt and cat on the same port. I suppose this doesn't matter as all rs232 ports are virtual, so there are hundreds available (no cabling). I have eventually found an advantage to going down the SDR route, the back of my K3 is stuffed with cables and ferrites to such an extent that any alteration involves a full dismantle. The Flex however for the same functionality has only 5 cables attached which are well spaced out and easily accessible. I setup my 6300 for SO2R with N1MM+ and it thinks that 2 separate radios are attached (each slice has it's own cat and ptt port). The radio was nearly in the bin after the first 3.5 months of ownership including 2 separate hardware faults from new (missing screws/disconnected BPF board and a new cpu fan fitted) and crap sw/fw faults (cold startup problem leading to bad tx). It's been a rough road with Flexradio and I have to question the companies quality control, customer service and speed of debug/development of sw/fw when dealing with my problems. If you haven't got the patience of a saint, then I would not recommend the company (i.e. if you expect to buy a radio from them and for it to work out the box). The rx performance of the 6300 during a contest is predictable, the noise floor bounces around with various degrees of apparent blocking going on. In short the Elecraft K3 wipes the floor with it. Not really a fair comparison though as the 6300 isn't meant for contesting (6500 and 6700 will be better with their preselectors). So advantages: 1) Much less cabling 2) Brilliant for data modes 3) Simplicity of hardware (one set top box and a pc does it all) 4) SmartSDR is a visual treat 5) Great rx with typical small antenna setups (outside of contests) Disadvantages: 1) Poor selectivity for contests 2) Poor integration with 3rd party contesting software. 3) Poor company quality control 4) Poor customer service (Technical information flow from company to customer about hw/sw/fw faults are heavily sensored. Expect to ask technical questions and have them directly ignored. Instead the answer given will be that the fault is confirmed and that it will be fixed when it suits them. Your issue will then be promptly closed even although it has not been fixed). Very very frustrating! My experience was exactly the above and then a 3.5 month wait for the eventual solution.....poor! 5) Arrogant and stubborn attitude from the company (they are doing you a favour with their brilliant product). This isn't helped on the community by a band of american cheer leaders who won't stand any critism of the company.
Saturday, 2 January 2016
Still waiting for a firmware fix for the 6300, still having to do soft resets before operating every time I switch the radio on. Tried the radio out for contest and after 25mins running into a linear amp at 25watts received an on screen alarm about high temperature and it shut itself down. I contacted flexradio and they immediately recognised the fault as one on the fans for either the CPU or the FPGA becoming UNSTUCK! Turns out they just use a sticky pad to do this and they are having problems with them becoming UNSTUCK during transit. Mine was sent to Germany for service at their expense to a residential address of a German radio ham. He replaced the cpu fan and restuck it down. My questions about the quality/fragility of this hardware arrangement were ignored. This is the annoying thing about Flex they ignore questions that they don't want to answer. Anyway, the fix seems to have done the trick as not had an repeat of the shut down since. The German ham seems to have been in a rush and didn't have the correct tools as I could tell by the screw heads that he had been in the Flex.....not bad but noticeable. At this point I am so disappointed with flexradio as a company I didn't even bother to complain.