Monday, 25 November 2019

PC PROBLEMS & UPGRADE

SWINGS & ROUNDABOUTS


It's never good when your PC starts to play up, but at least it motivates you to upgrade aging equipment! This weekend, the hard-drive in my PC started playing silly-buggers and so I started to look at updating the whole system. I built the PC in 2009 would you believe!? Of course I've modified it along the way and even spent a few bob on it in March this year, but now it's time for a radical overhaul.

When choosing new system components, I was focused solely on making a CombatSim PC. I wanted something that would run DCS World 2.5 at ULTRA HIGH settings, with absolutely everything maxed out. Now that's a BIG ASK for any PC but if that's my goal, then whatever I can manage to build, it'll be the very best that I can currently afford.


The tower case (with fans) can stay and so too can the 850W PSU, but the rest has to go. I decided straight away to go for a Gaming motherboard because that's where all the bottlenecks tend to be. The mobo of choice is the ASUS ROG STRIX Z390-F GAMING and in the socket is a lovely INTEL i7 9700 CoffeeLake running at 5,000MHz.



The RAM is Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000MHz in four 8Gb modules, giving me 32Gb to play with. That should certainly help with the sims! The motherboard will take 64Mb and there's rumours that a future BIOS update may increase that to 128Mb!

The video card from the outgoing PC is only 8 months old and is a cracking bit of kit, so that's staying. It's the MSI ARMOR GEFORCE GTX 1070 'OC' Ti and in these new surroundings, it should make DCS World run like the wind with (hopefully) no stuttering even at the highest realism settings.

One of the biggest changes will be the Storage System. Although my old PC had an SSD drive, it also had a disc-spinner as the main drive. Well this time I'm forgoing that option and I'm going for two marvellous NVMe drives which are mounted directly to the motherboard! One is a Corsair 960Gb for the main OS and general software, and the other is a Corsair 480Gb dedicated purely to FlightSims and CombatSims. The Samsung 860 EVO 500Gb SATA SSD from the old PC will be used as a backup drive.

This machine should be LIGHTENING FAST!!!!








The only downside to all this is that I have to build it which is bound to be a pain in the ass, lol. The bit which gripes me the most is all the Windows updating that goes on during a new installation, then re-installing all the other software and then downloading digital copies of your licenced sims from one torrent or another. Thankfully, I've got Thursday and Friday off work, so it should all be done by the end of the weekend. Oh yeh, and then there's that software you bought, but cannot find the serial-keys GRRR!

UPDATE :
I stripped the old components out from the tower case last night and cleaned up the interior. I then installed the ram, the CPU cooler and the two M.2 drives, before putting the whole thing inside the tower case. I'd forgotten just how fiddly it was to connect all the cables to the motherboard - that power supply is like an angry octopus with all its legs fighting one another, lol.

Next up was the graphics card and reconnecting the 5 case-fans. Finally, I had to attach the 5 heat-sensors to the CPU, the M.2 cards, the Graphics card, the memory and one for the ambient case temperature.
Once everything was finished, I connected a monitor, mouse and keyboard and booted up from Windows DVD. The installation was surprisingly swift and the only unusual thing I had to do was attached a network cable to the broadband router in the lounge in order to provide an internet signal (my wireless wi-fi wouldn't operate at this point). Luckily, I have a very long CAT-6 cable.

So the first part went well and all that remains now is the installation of all my programs and sims. But first of all I'll carry out some driver updates and run some benchmarks to get a measure of the performance of the new beast.

UPDATE 2 :
Last night I started the downloading of the DCS WORLD files which took forever via a torrent and so it was extremely late in the night by the time it was finished. As I waited, I got around to installing a few other things including some benchmarking software. The results looked very impressive.

PassMark Rating
8710
A GREAT BENCHMARK SCORE!
(Shows CPU speed at base 3.6GHz but overclocked
speed is actually 5000 as shown in CPU-Z below
)



When DCS had finished downloading and unpacking, I ran the sim and set everything to MAX settings and went for a spin in an P-51 Mustang. It was amazing!!!  There was no lag or stuttering or tearing no matter what I did. Awesome!

Knowing that the sim was functioning superbly, I started the next laborious task of installing the aircraft and terrains that I have licences for. Again, it's a loooooong download, so I set it going and went to bed, but by now I was over-tired, lol, so I got back up and started reading through the Early-Release F-16C Manual. I don't find modern manuals very easy to read - they're just not entertaining enough, so I picked up the F-16 manual from Microprose's FALCON 4 sim which is a beautiful and thoroughly enjoyable printed book. It's obviously no good for the key-commands in DCS, but it's a fantastic resource for the F-16 generally.

This morning I got up and checked that the download had gone well - it had. The only one which wasn't running correctly was the A-10C Warthog but all I had to do was find the Serial Number and hey-presto, it was fine.

So I'm off to work now and can't wait to get back home to have a play. There's still all the setup of the Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS and the CH Products MDF's, but at least I know it's all worthwhile when I jump into that cockpit!


Thursday, 21 November 2019

CABLE ID TAGS

Identify That Cable!

As you shack grows, so too does the amount of cables, interface-leads, connectors, wall-plug PSU's etc, etc. It's difficult to know what belongs to what!! I started off with bits of masking-tape to identify things but it looked terrible and didn't stay attached. So next was a DYMO labeller but that wasn't suitable for every application, so I then found these Cable-ID Tags on Amazon and I've not looked back since. Functional and cheap!


Monday, 18 November 2019

YOUR FIRST RADIO

Which Radio Should A New Ham Buy?

I've never been asked this question personally but I've seen it asked over and over on forums and Facebook Groups, so I thought I'd write about my own views on it - after getting it so wrong myself!

When I got my Foundation Licence, I convinced myself that I needed a big HF rig and a great handheld. I actually ended up buying a Kenwood handheld and a Yaesu base-station.  Then I added an RSP1A for a panadapter display.

I tried allsorts over the coming months and wasted a lot of money swapping and changing.

It wasn't until i bought a Yaesu FT-818 that I realised what a fool I'd been buying all the other radios. I should have bought one of these amazing rigs right from the get-go!  Originally I had searched for a used FT-817 but soon realised that there's thousands of them for sale out there, but A) they're quite expensive and B) they're quite old!

So in the end I bought an FT-818ND. It's a beautiful little thing and it feels amazingly rugged and reliable. There's nothing flimsy about it and it very quickly feels like your old mate! When it's tucked away in your rucksack waiting for the next outing, you kind of miss it - even though you might have a fancy-schamncy base station in the shack - this lil gal keep on calling your name.

So, for a newly licenced ham, I would strongly recommend it an FT-818 as your first and only radio. Yes, I know they're not exactly cheap, but believe me, you could waste an awful lot of money on inappropriate equipment that amounts to 2 or 3 times the cost of an 818.

With the FT-818ND, you can operate on HF 1.8 MHz - 54 MHz, VHF 2M, UHF 70cm. You have 6W output power and can easily connect a linear amplifier to increase power when you become licensed to do so.  Although you may think 6W is a bit limiting, believe me, many QRP operators (yes, you are a QRP operator whether you like it or not) reach amazing distances on 6W and less! 

The 817/818 not only allows you to work all the bands, but it also let's you work them in any mode you like too - CW, AM, LSB, USB, FM, PACKET. You can get up on your local hill or maybe get to the beach and make some amazing contacts in your log-book on minimum power. There's no better feeling than breaking through a pile-up with a couple of watts (or even milliwatts).



Just a note here for the newcomers - when calling CQ or breaking into a DX QSO, it's always worth mentioning the fact that you are using low power - QRO operators always seem keen to help out low-power users. My CQ-Call goes like this....

CQ CQ CQ, this is QRP station M7MCQ, I repeat QRP station, Mike Seven Mike Charlie Quebec calling CQ and standing by.

Not only are you identifying yourself as a humble little QRP'er but you're also extending your call that little bit longer to perhaps be spotted on a waterfall. Don't be afraid to extend that call even further. The longer your call (within reason), the more chance you have of someone hearing you or seeing you on the panadpter and applying their filters to pull you out of the noise.


1000km on 2.5W using a tiny portable whip!
in the back garden!


The FT-817/818 has an antenna socket at the front (BNC) and one at the rear (SO-239) so you have plenty of options. I usually use the rear socket with a Linked-Dipole resonant on 20 and 40 metres. Occasionally, I'll use a simple telescopic antenna on the front socket on 15M, 17M and 20M. The Elecraft AX-1 is the perfect antenna for this, although there are other mono-banders available too.





The radio itself is very straightforward to use and although it's menu-driven, it only takes a week or so to become totally comfortable with it. If you're a bit of a luddite and against menu systems, then don't bother with an 817/818. In my opinion though, you'd have to be pretty dumb not to get along with the radio's way of operating. After all, the most important things like tuning, switching bands, switching modes, etc, are all on the front panel.

Although the 818 comes with an internal Lion battery, I would recommend that you invest in a nice little LifePO battery around 4800mAh if you want to spend the whole day TXing in the hills. It's a very worthwhile investment!

Another great investment would be an LDG Z-817 or Z-100 PLUS ATU. With one of these you can use a random long wire or an End Fed Half Wave which covers multiple bands. The Z-817 is designed specifically for the little Yaesu, whereas the Z-100 PLUS can be used with virtually any radio and it can handles 100W, despite it diminutive size.

There's nothing much that the little 817/818 can't do and as an owner, you are in the company of many others who've gone down this path. Owning an 817/818 at one time or another has almost become part of the hobby, lol. You'll have great fun with it at a variety of locations and events, including your shack. A small amp will permit the use of your full 10W and a bigger amp will give you room for growth when you decide to upgrade your licence.


  




So there you have it. A true shack in a box - in a neat, compact body. Tough as old boots, reliable and functional on almost all the amateur bands. Get a "handbag" case for it and you can take it anywhere with you. 

Enjoy!







GOOD & BAD (there's no ugly)
+ Compact
+ Tough
+ Light(ish)
+ Does everything (QRP)
+ Decent receiver
- There's better receivers
- Power-hungry on internal batteries
- Menu system needs time to learn
- Low power on internal batteries

Features of new 818 :
  •      Improved frequency stability ±0.5 ppm: Built-in TCXO-9
  •      Larger battery capacity: 9.6V/1900 mAh (SBR-32)
  •      5MHz band Operation available
  •      208 Memory Channels / 10 Memory Groups
  •      Operates on 160-10m, HF, 6m, 2m and 70 cm Bands
  •      Ultra-Compact and Portable
  •      Two Antenna Connectors
  •      IF Shift, IF Noise Blanker, IPO, ATT
  •      CW "Semi-Break-in", CW Reverse, CW Pitch Control
  •      Built-in Electronic Keyer
  •      Multi-Colour Easy to see LCD
  •      Internal Battery Operation Capability
  •      ARS Automatic Repeater Shift
  •      APO Automatic Power Off
  •      Front Panel Key Lock Mode

Specifications:

  • Frequency Ranges: RX 100 kHz - 30 MHz
  • (Amateur Bands only) 50 MHz - 54 MHz
  • 76 MHz - 108 MHz
  • 87.5 MHz - 108 MHz
  • 430 MHz - 440 MHz
  • TX 1.8 MHz - 54 MHz
  • C2 Version (5.2500 MHz - 5.4065 MHz) WRC-15 + UK
  • B2 Version (5.3515 MHz - 5.3665 MHz) WRC-15
  • 144 MHz - 146 MHz
  • 430 MHz - 440 MHz
  • Circuit Type: Double-Conversion Superheterodyne (SSB/CW/AM/FM)
  • Single-Conversion Superheterodyne (WFM)
  • Modulation Type: A1A(CW), A3E(AM), J3E(LSB, USB), F3E(FM), F1D(PACKET), F2D(PACKET)
  • RF Power Output: 6 W (SSB/CW/FM), 2 W (AM Carrier) @13.8 V
  • Memory Channels: 208
  • Case Size (W x H x D): 135 x 38 x 165 mm
  • w/o knob and connector
  • Weight: 900 g (w/o Battery, Antenna and Microphone)

Supplied Accessories:

  •     Hand Microphone(MH-31A8J)
  •     Battery (SBR-32 9.6V 1900mAh Ni-MH )
  •     Battery Case (FBA-28) (Requires 8 "AA: batteries)
  •     Whip Antenna for 50/144/430 MHz (YHA-63E
  •     DC Cable (E-DC-6)
  •     Shoulder Strap, Ferrite Core, Rubber Foot
  •     Operating Manual
  •      Battery Charger (PA-48U/C)


Read more: https://www.nevadaradio.co.uk/amateur-radio/transceivers/mobile-transceivers/yaesu-ft818---new---coming-soon#ixzz5w6nUoA1W




STEVE NORMAN from the Facebook Group - Amateur Radio UK - suggested an FT-857 or FT-897 as a first radio, saying it's all-band, all-mode, 5-100W and therefore future-proof. That's a good point. I've had the FT-897D and it was a cracking radio but you can't buy them new any more and need to keep an eye on the age of second hand units, for fear of buying an ancient rig. They're not very portable either - well you're certainly not gonna chuck it into your rucksack, lol. The 857 is kind of inbetween the 817 and the 897 in size. Again, 100W but more suited to a car.

NIGEL BROOKS from the Facebook Group - Amateur Radio UK - suggested an FT-840 which obviously suits his interest in HF, but it doesn't operate on VHF or UHF. And it's pretty much limited to home use, being a base station.

NEALE DAVISON from the Facebook Group - Amateur Radio UK - suggested the first radio should be the one you build yourself, which is a bit daft for a newbie who isn't strictly speaking licenced to build radios.



Thursday, 14 November 2019

QSO RECORDING

QSO RECORDED BY M0XMX

Last weekend I had some great SSB contacts and unknown to me, one of them was being recorded by Mike Lewis (M0XMX). He posted a link to the YouTube recording, allowing me to hear myself on-air for the first time ever. I need to lose that Bolton accent, LOL.



Ray was transmitting remotely from New York, but his shack is in Maine. He was using a HUGE triple-stack antenna which was no doubt why I was able to get through to him so well. He gave me a generous 59 and said I sounded like I was local to him! Testimony to his equipment more than to mine, hahaha.

Anyway, thanks for the recording Mike! 


ELAD FDM DUO PROBLEMS

IT's NOT STRAIGHTFORWARD

When I got the ELAD FDM DUO I was a bit disappointed at the high floor noise level compared to my FT-DX3000 and ended up taking it outdoors to test it in a known quiet-area. It was fine out there, but operating from the car was a BIG no-no if the engine was running. It seemed that this radio picked up any interference that was on offer! None of my other radios have picked up noise from the car.

A couple of days later, the ELAD DUO-ART amplifier and atu arrived, so I connected them up expecting a problem-free connection. Wow, I couldn't have been further from that expectation if I'd tried!

There were ALLSORTS of issues and it took quite a few messages in the ELAD forums and groups to find out that the problem was that the firmware in the FDM DUO needed updating.

ELAD INTERNALS
To update, you need to get to the internals of the rig. You update the RX using a Micro USB port on one side of the PCB and then update the TX from the other side of the PCB. It's a shame they didn't place these sockets on the rear panel. After that there's a USB update. Until you've completed all of them, the radio will not work with the DUO-ART.

Anyway, once it was all updated, the radio connected seamlessly to the amp and everything worked as you'd expect. But there was now two issues! The noise was still there and upon transmission, the house lights and TV were affected. Jeez!

A 'fully licenced' friend came over to see if he could help, but we just couldn't figure out what was wrong. Using an ICOM IC-7400 on the very same antenna, we picked up virtually no noise and when we transmitted (even up to 100W) there was no flickering of the TV or house-lights! How can that be???

So here we have two radios, side by side, connected to a G5RV through a coaxial switch. The ICOM sounds "normal" and the ELAD sounds like a screaming banshee with the noise. I've switched over the coax leads on the switch to make sure that one side of the switch isn't causing the noise, but it's just as bad.

On a quiet part of the band I can hear stations perfectly normal but wherever I find LOUD noise on the ELAD, there's no such pickup on the ICOM. And NO the Icom isn't 'deaf'.

It's as if the ELAD is UBER SENSITIVE to the point where it's just plain ridiculous. And why a transmission impacts the TV & Lights on the ELAD but not on the ICOM - I do not know!

Tests are ongoing to get to the bottom of it :-(


UPDATE :

Thanks to the kind help of Neil Coley, I learned that the noise problem was caused by my PLASMA TV! I thought I'd tried the radio with nothing switched on in the house, but clearly not. Wow! How noisy are those things?? Mind you, the plasma never caused issues with any of my other radios strangely enough.  The TV was actually 10yrs old and had a superb HD picture, but it just had to go - replaced with a 4K jobbie.

Now all is well...




Wednesday, 13 November 2019

ANTENNA SWITCH PROBLEMS

MyDEL CO-301N 3-Way Heavy Duty Antenna Switch

In January 2019 I purchased two of these switches and they've had very light use but one of them failed at the weekend. I noticed when detaching an antenna lead that the SO-239 was loose in the body of the switch. I had no choice but to open it up and have a look inside.

With the back panel removed, it was clear to see what had gone wrong. I had assumed that the SO-239's were screwed into the aluminium body of the switch, but they're not - they are a tight push fit and there's evidence of a bonding material (glue).

The centre-pin of the SO-239 is soldered directly to a terminal and a brass wiper arm sweeps across and makes contact with the terminal when you turn the switch.

The attaching and detaching of cables over the last 11 months has obviously stressed the SO-239 to a point where it has come loose and the twisting effect of screwing on (or unscrewing) of a PL-259 has broken the rather weak looking solder joint.

I can see from the design and the quality of the solder joint that the center connection might be the next one to go wrong. I shall have to resolder the broken one and try to add some additional bonding material to all 3 connectors to avoid them turning in the future.

These switches are about £40 each, so I don't think it's unfair to expect a little more from them. And looking at the way that the selector-blade makes contact with the SO-239's I'm surprised that you can put 1,500W through them. Wow!!





Friday, 8 November 2019

FT-817 to ELAD AMP Lead

Anyone know where I can purchase a lead to connect the ELAD DUO-ART amplifier to the Yaesu FT-817??  ELAD show the 817 as being compatible with the Amp, but don't have any details of a lead as an optional extra.

The lead splits off from the 817's ACC socket to an RS-232 and a 3.5mm PTT socket on the DUO-ART as shown in the ELAD owners manual below....


>>>>> ELAD WEBSITE <<<<<