I’ve been pretty slow about adding my content. I was on vacation when I first passed my technical license and started my pages here. I really thought I would have more time to add my processes as I went through them. But, as always seems to happen, time got away from me. Between actually having a vacation, researching/buying radio equipment and most importantly, spending time with my daughter, my blogs have been pretty scant so far. I am going to try to catch up over the coming days and weeks so I can try to have better information for those that are interested in following how I went from no license to setting up my whole station. I plan to keep going after I catch up with where I’m at right now…so stay tuned. Now with all that said…here’s to getting back to the radio equipment selection.

I actually had a somewhat short selection list after the first recommendation from a friend of my Scott (KD5NJR). With my interest (and also side job) of programming and IT work, he really thought I should look at the Flex-1500 from Flex Radio Systems. I did look, though it was fairly short at Kenwood and Yaesu radios as well for my HF station. As I mentioned in my previous post, my 2m and 70cm needs were satisfied quite well by my Kenwood TM-V71A. I’ve enjoyed that quite well so far. With that recommendation, off to Flex Radio’s website I went. I thought originally I was going to get the 1500 as it seemed very reasonable for what I was wanting to do…or at least thinking I wanted to do. After looking there for a while, though, I took a look at the 3000 model and started thinking it might serve me better over the coming years. So back to my friend Scott went several emails.

The more I looked at the feature difference between the two and where I thought I wanted to be for me, I really felt like the 3000 was where I wanted to be. And, comparing that radio with the comparable HF models from Kenwood and Yaesu I felt like I was getting a little more bang for the buck from that radio. Once feature I really like about the thought of SDR radios was the fact when upgrades were done, I didn’t have to get a new radio and spend more money to get the features. All I had to do was update my software and the firmware in the radio and there was my new radio! That goes a long way when you’re talking about $1500+ for a new radio vs. a couple minutes to download and update.

My only drawback to the 3000 (the 5000 model is the same here) is that it requires firewire. Unfortunately these days, firewire is not so prevalent as it was in the past. It’s kind of a dying duck these days. USB3.0 has better throughput speeds than firewire, so hopefully the newer radios Flex produces will convert that format. For computers without firewire built in, it means buying a special card for the computer. There aren’t a lot of desktops that even have multiple expansion slots anymore, either. It’s an even farther shot at a laptop that has an express card so you can actually put a firewire card on it. That’s a big shame, too, as the flex radios would be awesome off a laptop for a nice portable QRP rig. More on the computers in a bit.

I did finally pull the trigger and buy the Flex 3000. Dollar for dollar, I really felt it was the best choice for what I was wanting to do (I was very intrigued by the newer digital modes, i.e. PSK31). One thing I should mention, if you are interested in these radios and are a little unsure of models or needs, call the folks at Flex. They are extremely friendly and helpful. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve called them on the phone, both before I bought and afterwards. They are unbelievable in customer service. They will take all the time it takes to answer every single question you have and give you the best information to help you make a decision. It’s very nice to see that level of customer service these days! Plus, I like the fact that their built not only in the USA, but in my home state of Texas. I will always try to support my local economy first, if at all possible. Another thing to offer, if you decide you’re going to buy, inquire if they have any demos for sale. They don’t always, but if they do, they’ll knock a few bucks off the price and they still back it with the same warranty. Definitely worth looking at.

Now that I have this very nice radio on order and expected delivery in a day or so it dawns on my I now need a good computer system to run it. Again, another phone call to Flex and discussions with the sales folks. Their pages on their website are a little dated and lacking specific necessities of what is required of a system to run PowerSDR and your new Flex radios. They even admit they really need to update that with a solid page. That being said, basically I was told any 2nd generation i3 or i5 Intel based system would work great with PSDR and the Flex. I was also going to have to buy a firewire expansion card so I was trying to keep everything in one place if I could.

The system recommended to me by one rep at Flex was from Gateway. I used to kind of stay away from them, but starting researching that after getting off the phone. I have to say, the Gateway product has come a long way from where it was before. They have great reviews and the systems are pretty well loaded. Another rep said he really likes the AMD processors too and has very little problems with them. So, I would say either way is probably fine. The one thing that was cautioned to me was running it on a laptop. Supposedly, most of their problems seem to stem from running PSDR with firewire on a laptop. It seemed to be at this point I was finding out how hard it was to find a laptop that had an expresscard slot to add firewire anyway, so I just figured I’d go the desktop route. My one thing with that, however, is we do a decent amount of “camping” in our travel trailer and I really wanted a better portable solution.

I finally picked out a Gateway system (I did check almost every computer I could find between all the computer sellers) from Best Buy. They were on sale and it was a pretty powerful system. I bought a Gateway DX4870-UB21P from Best Buy. Plenty of power with an i5 processor, 8Gb RAM, 1TB hard drive, and several expansion slots. I had decided by this point I would get a dual-monitor setup as well. This system will actually run dual-monitor off the built in video, but I opted to spend the extra $40 at Fry’s and pickup a little better video card. For the monitors, I was pretty lucky and hit Staples during a sale at their stores. They had very nice 22″ (21.5″ viewable) Acer monitors on sale for $99. I’ll update models on the video card and monitors when I have a chance to look again. I don’t have them handy. The firewire card recommended was the Siig cards, as Flex has had very good luck with those. I picked one up at Fry’s while I was getting the video card.

Now down to a couple last items to have a full setup…and antenna and analyzer. There was much debate on my part on antennas and analyzers. For the analyzer, I was pretty quick to figure out that I needed one to cover all the bands I could work (once I got my General license that is.). For that, I went with the MFJ-209. It’s not the fanciest, but it does work and is a pretty substantial amount lower than the newer digital versions of the same setup. No, you don’t get a specific digital readout of resonant frequency and several other things. But, it does get the job done and gets you tuned in pretty close.

Now it’s just down to an antenna. Basically to start I wanted something I could take on trips as well as use at home when I’m home. Being that I do travel a decent amount, I wanted versatility. This was a pretty long debate between a vertical and the Buddipole. I even thought at one point, I’d get the less expensive vertical and build a buddipole from the plans online. I finally decided that for my first antenna, I’d probably better not building, but getting one already built and tested.

I spent the extra money and got the Buddipole Deluxe. I got the guying kit as well so I didn’t have to worry so much about my antenna falling over due to wind (or stupidity). I figured a few bucks for that was better than buying the antenna again. In order to use it as a vertical, I also bought a set of 2 wire assemblies. Sometimes it’s just better to spend a little more now for better workings later on.

This is a pretty extensive list of equipment. And, of course, setting it up is a whole other story. So, I will save that for another post. Until then, I hope you see a lot of what you’re wanting on the waves.