Intel NUC issues

Hmm! After a lot of reading it appears the Intel NUC platform has got a few issues.

Apparently due to a known issue with the video drivers, if there’s no screen attached at boot up, it won’t. Not what you want when you want to run it in a headless environment. It appears that there’s internal tooing and frooing between the people who write drivers at Intel and the NUC side of the company over this but nothing’s dropped out of it that helps the end users.

The advice is to delete the intel video driver completely from the system within Windows then allow Windows to install the Microsoft version and that overcomes that issue. Only problem is the supported video resolutions aren’t as clear. Also at maximum resolution with the Intel drivers installed the video has lag issues. Apparently winding that down to something you can read without having to go the SpecSavers overcomes this.

Have a look at the reviews on Amazon.co.uk

Issue number two is that again the machine won’t boot with USB3 devices attached. I skimmed over something where someone said about disabling the boot from USB in the BIOS once you’d got the machine set up to prevent it looking at what’s plugged in. This shouldn’t be a problem for Ham radio devices as I doubt people are building USB 3 stuff yet.

Still it’s a bit of a problem that a high end and not overly cheap device isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

The alternatives may well have similar issues as Gigabyte’s Brix is also Intel based and when you look inside the box it’s identical to the NUC.

Fujitsu do a business based mini PC which is no where near as small but may well be an alternative. It’s cheaper but it’s not as highly spec’d so at what point do you kick yourself and wish you’d have bought an i5 or i7?

As the machine is going to be the core of any system, where the objective is small, concealed and able to be remotely accessed this could be a real pain.

I’ve got a few Acer Aspire Revo 360’s which I’m using as media boxes and they seem pretty good at what they do but they’re not running Windows 7 with all the issues that brings. Also the foot print is much larger.

Bearing in mind I haven’t got the cash to consider buying anything at the moment, hopefully there may be a few driver updates by that time which will overcome all of this.

Also, who builds a machine with mini HDMI video out and doesn’t supply an £8 cable or adaptor with it so it can be used out of the box? Come on Intel!

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Ultimate3 QRSS Beacon PSU

Had a few minutes to prototype the 5v and 3.3v PSU today.

image image image

It’s a bit of a rats nest with all the jumper wires but it’s exactly as per the TinyCAD schematic.

Voltages are exactly as hoped. I can’t work out how to get a sensible reading from my DS203 scope as the manual might as well be written in Chinese, (Oh yeah, it is!) so I’m taking a gamble that the output is sufficiently smooth. The smoothing caps should hopefully do the trick.

Next stop strip board version!

Today’s learning point, don’t assume the pin-outs on TO-220 voltage regulators are the same!

They’re attached below for reference

LD11173

image

https://www.sparkfun.com/datasheets/Components/LD1117V33.pdf

 

LM7805

image

https://www.sparkfun.com/datasheets/Components/LM7805.pdf

 

Ultimate3 QRSS beacon

The whole reason for building the WSPR receiver, was so that I could check that one of these worked if I built it

Ultimate3

http://www.hanssummers.com/ultimate3.html

They are a relatively simple device to build and come supplied with all the necessary components to get the kit up and running. It’s sitting on the work bench waiting for the case and a few additional bits to arrive, but in the mean time I’ve been working on a PSU for it.

It needs a well regulated and smoothed PSU to be effective and hassle free. The plan is to power it from a 9-12V wall-wart but it will need to be stepped down to 5V. Also, the build instructions are quite clear that any more than 6V and you’ll damage it severely. Releasing the mystical blue smoke is never a good move!

I also want to install a GPS module to lock the frequency, timing and location information but that needs a separate 3.3V supply.

After much digging around and reading, I’ve designed a board that should provide both voltages in a smooth and regulated output.

5v-3.3v PSU v1.1 tCad

It’s my first attempt with TinyCAD but you get the idea. I’ll prototype it on breadboard and then get a scope over it to see how smooth the outputs are before soldering it up. Everything’s arrived to build it, it’s just finding the time.

The overall objective is to have the beacon in a single, self contained portable unit so that it can be tucked away and left unattended or taken on the road if needed.

I’ve got hold of the 20, 30 & 40m LPF modules for the board so hopefully it will be multiband.

Built SoftRock RXTX Ensemble Transceiver ordered!

It’s time to progress things! Managed to get round to making enquiries about these as the website shows them as sold out.

Thankfully, they’re still available on a commissioned basis and Tony at FiveDashInc. is building me a 40/30/20m variant.

The advice was that this thing can be really tricky to build, even from the experienced guys and after the snafoo with the WSPR receiver, the idea of chasing down faults on a complicated and compact build with SMD devices isn’t worth the hassle! Let the experts do their thing. Should be built by Thursday this week and shipped from Indiana

A better sound card makes a world of difference!

Between slapping myself on the back and unpacking my new Sound Blaster I replaced the single core wire antenna which had done itself proud, with a 1/4 wavelength antenna made from decent quality antenna wire and strung it out the window. If anyone asks we’ve just got two washing lines in the garden, but how you get to the one running out the first floor window is a bit of a mystery.

With the USB sound card in one hand and Google in the other I found that, despite being an “End of Service Life” product Creative Labs are still producing drivers for for it under Windows 7 and 8.1! A testament to a quality product? Who knows, but it certainly made installing it a whole lot easier.

First things first, the receiver needs a small jumper shifted across to the correct audio output before you start. With that moved to line-in it was time to hook it up to the sound card.

I ran Spectrum Lab and the output was a totally different creature to before

Screenshot 2014-09-15 17.09.30

Out of curiosity I plugged a set of cans into the headphone output from the sound card and clearly, above the background noise could be heard the warble of WSPR tones.

Firing up WSPR gave this

Screenshot 2014-09-20 18.12.22

As you can see the Line-In level is now something sensible and the WSPR spots are strong and frequent.

After running WSPR for 12 hours overnight I was greeted with this.

Screenshot 2014-09-21 09.11.52

Really pleased with that!

And here’s the setup at present

IMG_0321

 

I’m going through clip on ferrites like they’re going out of fashion but they make a considerable difference to the amount of noise the receiver is experiencing. The next trick will be to house the board in a metal enclosure when it turns up in the post.

When I was trying to trouble shoot the build problems with this board, there weren’t that many posts or websites out there in relation to it. Perhaps it’s a case of it’s so simple people are just getting it working without hassle and I’m the unlucky one, but if you do have one and have issues getting it going hopefully this will point you in the right direction.

I built this receiver so I had a suitable test rig to get a QRSS beacon going. The post man delivered that the other day and hopefully I’ll have that up and running over the next few weeks.

 

First Spots

Bearing in mind this is running on my laptop which has an embedded Conexant Smart Audio sound card which is as noisy as the London Underground and the antenna is a 5m length of single core wire hanging out the window I got this after letting WSPR run overnight

Screenshot 2014-09-19 18.49.09

Which when you look at WSPRnet.org becomes this

Screenshot 2014-09-20 19.46.03

I was absolutely gob smacked! The far north of the Peoples Independent of Scotland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and down into the Mediterranean.

I couldn’t wait to see what would happen when I got this thing working properly

 

The Hidden Radio

Every Bond villain has a lair and a master plan for global domination.

Every radio enthusiast has a man cave or shack… you see where this going? I also have a cat, but unfortunately she’s a black short hair Heinz 57 variety rather than Blofeld’s white one!

It’s all well and good building kits and homebrew but without an overall objective they just become a pile of boxes or boards that were great fun to build and tinker with, but now sit in the corner or under the bed gathering dust.

In an ideal world, where I’ve won the lottery, I live in a rambling pile in the middle of the country side where my shack is a large log cabin at the bottom of the garden and I can throw up antennas to my hearts content and play.

Unfortunately, the reality is that I live in a modern modest house on an estate in a city where erecting antenna’s are a problem as there just isn’t the space and the population density is such that you can guarantee that there will be EMC issues with a neighbour despite your best efforts! Also, I just haven’t got the space to give over an entire room to playing so there needs to be a cunning plan.

With all that in mind I’m looking to be modest with my kit and what I want to achieve. The whole realm of QRP and digimode is what I want to play with at the moment. I can achieve that with SDR and some modest antennas that can be salted away in the loft. So let’s go one step further and put everything in that last remaining space in the house.

Loft PC

As my house is a prime customer of the National Grid I want to utilise a low power PC and using wake on LAN to mange the machine seems an even better approach.

Future proofing the setup by buying something with a serious amount of grunt, processor, storage and memory wise is also high on the list. I’ve several servers dotted around the house but nothing that I could re-deploy immediately or would be powerful enough to make it worth while.

Current considerations are –

npi04_extra3

Novatech Pockit NPI04

http://www.novatech.co.uk/pc/range/novatechpockitnpi04.html

 

613680-613290-800

Same thing but without the branding or hard disk and half the price

http://www.ebuyer.com/613290-intel-boxd54250wykh3-intel-core-i5-4250u-nuc-barebone-boxd54250wykh3

It’s almost a shame to hide it in the loft as it’s pretty cool but that said if it needed to live on the desk for any length of time it wouldn’t get in the way.

There’s a reasonable number of USB connections as well. Networking wise it’s 1Gb LAN which would help as I want to be able to remote into it via VNC at home or over a VPN from outside and bandwidth consumption may well slow things down.

SDR Receiver / Transceiver

I’m sold on the idea of a Softrock

http://fivedash.com/

rx-ensemble-ii_LRG softrock-qrp-sdr-transceiver-rxtx-ensemble-kit-large

but am undecided over the RX or RXTX version

Sound Card

My trusty Sound Blaster Live 24 USB would get me going but in reality it’s going to need something like this –

index_completed_top

The USB2SDR from Christos Nickolaou, SV1EIA

Equally, I’ve got other receivers that I could plug into this which all require higher quality sound cards so running multiple devices would potentially expand the ability of the loft rig.

It’ll soon be Christmas and I’ve got an empty list so far, so you never know!