Ergonomic Layout

I have just enough space to rackmount everything. Considering I also have rear rack rails, some less important items can be mounted from the rear. This is all about the ergonomic layout. I may even build some breakout panels for the antenna and audio connectors. I’ll be using a combination of 2U and 3U rack shelves (special thanks to the folks at Gator Rackworks!)  I had to go 3U for some shelves in order to get a useable depth. Most of the radio gear will sit on shelves.

The current layout plan (from top to bottom):

  • ROTOR SHELF       4U
  • AT-AUTO HI           4U
  • AT-AUTO LO           4U
  • 2M RADIO / TNC   1U
  • FLEX VU5K            6U
  • 1K-FA                      4U
  • FLEX 6300             2U
  • FLEX 6700             2U
  • AC POWER             1U
  • PC#1 W7                4U  <<< DESKTOP
  • PC#2 W10              4U
  • PC#3 SERVER        4U
  • ASTRON RS-70      4U

I need the radios and amplifier close to the desktop, placing other ‘less touched’ items either down below or up above. I think the ergonomics are OK at this point.

Before I can start building I have to empty the shack so I can remove all the dust. I have a significant dust problem. And the problem was most apparent as I swapped out the cases on the two production PC’s. Choking on dust.

The plan is to empty the room, and mitigate the dust. I plan to use an air compressor to blow off the dust that’s embedded in the stucco-like ceiling, then, I’ll thoroughly vacuum before having the carpet steam cleaned. Going forward I will employ an oversized HEPA filter in the radio room which will run 24/7 to capture all particulates and hopefully eliminate or at least vastly improve my dust problem.

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Soon To Be Rack Mounted!

Now the real fun begins as all this must be torn down. All this gear is soon to be rack mounted to eliminate the clutter.

Soon to be rack mounted
One last look at the old setup. Tomorrow 12/30/17 I begin rack mounting all the equipment.

All this gear is soon to be rack mounted. I did some major dust removal today. Now the room is empty and we will haul the rack up the stairs tomorrow. I’ll start by installing the shelves and mounting hardware etc. The following day (New Years Day) I’ll start placing the equipment and start the wiring.

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I’ve Decided, It’s a FlexRadio 6700…

After careful consideration I’ve decided to purchase the FlexRadio 6700.

It came down to several things:

  • RX comparison between Flexradio 6600/6700 nearly identical
  • 6700 only 3.5″ in height
  • 8 panadapters vs. 4 on the 6600
  • Contest BPF not enough reason for a 6600
  • 6600 mic connector on rear

I’m convinced the receivers in both radios “are close enough for jazz”, in that the RX specs are virtually identical. The 3.5″ height means I can remove this shelf and fit the 6300,  6700, and an  LP-500.

FlexRadio 6700 will reside here...
I’ll remove this shelf to make room for the 6700 and the new LP-500 Station Monitor

Comparisons also show that the 6700 is better suited for satellite work, should I ever decide to move SAT operation off the Flex 5000. Investing in a 6600 also meant the LP-500 would not fit. I was able to engineer a clamp-on shelf for the LP-500, but I would much rather have it in the rack.

I noticed the Flex website has announced that the 6600’s are shipping. This may cause a drop in the price of the FlexRadio 6700. We’ll just have to see how it goes.

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FlexRadio USB Cable Management

FlexRadio USB Cable Management

I control two Palstar AT-AUTO antenna tuners via the FlexRadio USB Cable Management function in SmartSDR.

Pair of Palstar AT-AUTO's at K6HR
Pair of Palstar AT-AUTO’s at K6HR

The FTDI USB RS-232 cables supply frequency data to other serial devices in the shack directly from the transceiver. Very slick!

When I first installed the cables I took the default settings and connected the 9 pin end of the cable to the AT-AUTO serial port. It was Plug and Play! Just like that, I had the tuners following the radio! This meant I could click anywhere on any band, and my antenna would be tuned almost instantly, and, without the need to TX a tuning carrier! That’s right, once ‘trained’ the tuners arrive at their match position before I press the PTT button!

It was the ‘almost instantly’ bit that got me…

In other words, the antennas were tuning great, but they weren’t tuning efficiently. I’ll explain. (or perhaps you’ve guessed it already!)

I have two antennas:

ANT1 – Mosley TA33JR Yagi – For use on frequencies 14mhz and higher.

ANT2 – 130ft Dipole (Height Compromised) – For use below 14mhz.

Each antenna has a dedicated AT-AUTO.

I quickly realized that as I changed frequency and/or band, both tuners were tuning both antennas to the same frequency. No good, because this also meant that when I  changed from a low band to a high band, (where the tuning presets are at opposite ends of the AT-AUTO’s range), both tuners had to travel the entire length of the tuning cycle! Really bad!

I didn’t make sense to operate this way, so I decided it was time to RTFM.

I needed the ability to assign one cable to each tuner and send independent frequency data to each tuner. If I could do this, then each of the two tuners could operate within the proper (close together) tuning range, and neither tuner would ever have to move very far to find a match, and certainly never have to travel the entire length of the tuner range again. Thus resulting in the ‘instant’ tuning I was looking for.

USB CAT Cable ‘Source’ selection

Much to my delight FlexRadio USB Cable Management allows you to select the source of the cables frequency data from a number of very useful sources!

The sources are:

  • TX Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the slice receiver that holds the Transmit Indicator.
  •  Active Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the active slice receiver (the slice that has the yellow cursor)
  • TX Panadapter – The cable will report the center frequency of the panadapter that contains the transmit slice
  • Specific Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the specified slice (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H)
  • RX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified receive antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR, RXA, RXB). Note: If multiple slices are on the same RX Antenna then the frequency of the last tuned slice will be reported.
  • TX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified transmit antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR). Note: This frequency is only changed/reported when the TX Slice is connected to the specified antenna.
Tremendous Versatility!

The Flex 6300 Transceiver only has one Spectral Capture Unit.

From the SmartSDR Documentation:

Because the notion of a receiver is firmly established in both the amateur community and possibly the rest of the world, it seemed inappropriate to describe the functionality of a wide-band sampling system simply as a “receiver”. Instead, in the SmartSDR world there are one or more “Spectral Capture Units”, or SCUs, that are responsible for the collection of wide-band data from the RF spectrum.

The SCU components are: an antenna input, an optional set of receive pre-selectors, and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). Each SCU in the radio system can be connected to only one antenna at a time, but due to the sampling architecture it may support multiple receivers and spectrum displays.

The SCU enables listening to multiple bands at the same time on the same antenna. A hardware platform with multiple SCUs such as the FLEX-6600, FLEX-6600M and FLEX-6700 allows for monitoring multiple bands on different antennas or the ability to perform more complex noise mitigation techniques that are available in multi-antenna systems.

To operate the tuners independently and efficiently, and, having only one SCU to work with, I decided to source each tuners data utilizing the ‘Specific Slice’ source. I assigned the Mosley’s AT-AUTO to respond only to data from Slice ‘A’, and the AT-AUTO for the dipole to respond only to Slice ‘B’ data.

Going forward, for the 6300, I will simply use Slice A for all frequencies 14 mhz and higher, and Slice B for all frequencies below 14 mhz.

I’m really looking forward to the addition of the 6700 and the tremendous versatility I will have at my disposal.

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