Sunday, January 29, 2012

Flex3000 revisited - new PC makes a huge difference

I have been running PowerSDR software for my Flex3000 on a Thinkpad T60 laptop computer for the last 12 months.  While the setup has been working quite well  the laptop is fairly slow and a bit under-powered for this purpose.

My next door neighbor was building a desktop PC and we were chatting the component choices he had made.  I decided to build a brand new desktop PC and leverage the research that he had already done.

I ended up ordering the following components for this project:
ASUS motherboard

  1. ASUS P8Z68-V PRO GEN3 motherboard 
  2. Intel Core i7-2600 Processor 3.4GHz 8 MB Cache Socket LGA1155
  3. Corsair Vengeance Blue 16 GB DDR3 SDRAM Dual Channel Memory Kit CMZ16GX3M4A1600C9B
  4. Cooler Master Silent Pro Gold (SPG) 800 Watts Modular Power Supply
  5. Cooler Master HAF ATX Mid Tower Case, RC-922M-KKN1-GP 
  6. Samsung 830 - Series MZ-7PC128D/AM 128 GB 2.5 Inch SATA III MLC Internal SSD Desktop Kit 
  7. Asus 24xDVD±RW Drive DVD-RAM/±R/±RW 24x8x16x(DVD) 48x32x48x(CD) Serial ATA Internal OEM DRW-24B1ST (Black)
  8. Cables To Go 13413 2-Port Firewire Panel Bracket Cable (Nickel)
These parts were all available online from Amazon with only couple of days delivery time.  It has been a while since I have played with desktop PC components and I was positively surprised how easy it was to assemble these modern systems.  It took me about 3 hours to do the un-boxing, skim through the manuals & other materials and assemble all the parts together. I configured the BIOS and installed a 64 bit version of Windows 7 and updated the drivers from ASUS website. I also installed the ham software I have been using on the laptop including the following:
  • PowerSDR 
  • Virtual Serial Ports Emulator
  • Virtual Audio Cable 
  • Ham Radio Deluxe 
  • Fldigi
  • Spectrum Lab
  • WSPR 

I had two existing video displays so I connected one with HDMI cable and the other with VGA cable. The motherboard has built-in 2 display graphics chip with decent performance. It has also IEEE 1394a Firewire ports but you need to have extra cable to connect ports to back panel (see #8 above).

After finishing the assembly and software installation  it was time to connect my Flex3000 to this new PC.

I was blown away on the performance of PowerSDR on this new PC. What a huge difference compared to my trusty old Thinkpad T60 ( 1.83 Ghz 2 core CPU, 2 GB RAM).

The CPU load is now between 2% to 12% even when I have  Noise Blankers (NB, NB2), Spur Reduction (SR), Noise Reduction (NR), Automatic Notch Filter (ANF),  Tracking Noise Filter(s)  (TNF)  and Panafall display on, while running HRD and other applications on the other display.  With Thinkpad CPU load was in 70% - 90% range so running multiple applications while working was slow and cumbersome.

I can also make the FlexRadio buffer size much smaller down to 512 or 256 without hickups, minimizing latency significantly.  The waterfall display moves absolutely fluidly and the overall  responsiveness of the application is very much improved. Also, I have not heard the occasional fluttering that was a sign that CPU was overloaded on Thinkpad.

Having SSD disk as the boot disk make the system silent and very fast to boot.  I did add another existing 1 TB hard disk for storage but I have installed most software on the SSD.  As SSD drives are also reliable (no moving parts) I hope to improve overall reliability of my station. There are other nice features this motherboard offers like the Intel SRT, but I have not yet tried those out.

This little project demonstrates the value proposition of Software Defined Radios.  You can significantly  improve the user experience of your SDR system  by investing into a new & faster PC.

73  de  Mauri  AG1LE

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