Custom Computer for Multiple SDR Receivers

Discussion in 'Software Defined Radio (SDR)' started by KK4NSF, Mar 13, 2019.

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  1. KK4NSF

    KK4NSF Ham Member QRZ Page

    I just added a new computer to my shack, built entirely from the ground up on a Lain Li test bench chassis. It's got an Intel CORE I-9, 16-core processor with 64gb of memory, and 3TB of RAID HDD storage. I used an air-cooling system, with a large heat-sink and push-pull fans that move a lot of air. It's also got 2 video cards w 2 monitor ports each (5 possible monitors, if you include the onboard port) and two externally powered USB 3 hubs with 4 ports each.... so 12 total USB ports. Without a doubt, it's the most powerful single-processor computer I've ever built and will run circles around my old 32 core cluster.

    For the OS, I went totally against my normal Sci-Linux set-up. I used Windows 7. Why did I go that route? It's simple: the software I want to use is not available in Linux, and I like WIN 7 better than WIN 10. WIN 7 is a bit easier to customize / configure for special uses.... and I already had a new / unused WIN 7 Pro CD in my software box. :D

    So.... what am I going to do with my new machine? It's got one purpose in life: to run multiple SDR Receivers for my Ham Radio / SWL / EME / Radio Astronomy / SETI experiments. At the moment, it runs 4 SDRplay RSP2's.... with each one running 6 instances each. That's 24 channels of monitor / record (if a signal is received) running concurrently..... plus FFT and Waterfalls. (The plan is to add 4 more RSP2's as time and money permits.) It's sort of like a KK4NSF Mini-NSA!

    A note about noise: one of the things I feared while building the machine was how much noise the open-frame computer would put out. To minimize the possibility, I \added a LOT of ferrites and braid shielding to all of the cabling. I also made sure all of the case components were electrically bonded together and grounded. Obviously, it paid off since the computer is actually quieter than my old machine.

    About the cost: building such computer is not inexpensive. Fortunately for me, most of the components I used were left-overs and/or used gear from my business computers. All I had to buy were the MB, CPU, and Chassis. Even so, the computer cost me close to $1k. If you want cheap, this ain't it.

    So how does it work? It works GREAT! With it's 4 receivers w multiple instances, it hardly breaks a sweat! The only downside I can see is that I now have to build up my antenna farm.....:eek:

    KA9JLM likes this.
  2. VE7BPB

    VE7BPB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very nice! One thing that might be of interest if you are not aware is that the latest versions of SDRConsole use the GPU in Nvidia cards (specifically the CUDA function) to do a lot of the processing, taking a very significant load off the main processor.

    I'm getting to the point where I should upgrade my olde I7, I would appreciate more detail on your specific hardware so I can run my rsp2s and PlutoSDR more efficiently.

    regards, Roy
    KK4NSF likes this.
  3. WR2E

    WR2E Ham Member QRZ Page

    Noice! how many monitors?
    KK4NSF likes this.
  4. KK4NSF

    KK4NSF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Great minds must work alike: I'm looking at that as we speak.
    right now, I've got three..... my plan for the week-end is to re-claim some desk space, and add the other two.
    I'll type up a complete hardware list in the morning, and post it. I can see where it might be helpful.

    Thanks for the thumbs up!
    WR2E likes this.
  5. W4PG

    W4PG Super Moderator Lifetime Member 279 Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    Great. Win 7 does not support the processor you are using. You will find some programs will not run correctly until you upgrade to 10. I've been down this road just recently. Oh yes, there are work arounds where you can "trick" the computer into working, sort of. Nevertheless, I wish you luck.

  6. KK4NSF

    KK4NSF Ham Member QRZ Page

    you are right that win7 does not fully support all of the processor's capabilities.... it's a rather old OS. However it does handle the multiple cores, and the APIs I need to run multiple instances of my SDR software. The real beauty of it is that if it does bog down, it will be a simple upgrade to Win10.

    At the moment, it's running 4 separate SDRplay RSP2's with multiple instances each, and showing no signs of trouble. The only real problem I have is monitor space to display them all.
  7. WA4SIX

    WA4SIX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Nice !!!
    You will hardly need the CUDA cores with all of that processor.
    I have a dual CPU-8 core 72 gig of RAM 960 video card Dell 5500.
    Same CPUZ score as my refurbed Dell G3 8th gen 8750 6 core with 8 gigs RAM & GTX 1050.
    I got this laptop mainly for SDR. Limes & dongles.
    8 BFM stations running LimeSDR USB & SDRConsole at 30MHz bandwidth uses 6% of the CPU. Flippin' fast !!! I haven't even enabled the CUDA.

    Just go Win10 PRO. It's a truly superior product than WIN7.

    KK4NSF likes this.
  8. W4PG

    W4PG Super Moderator Lifetime Member 279 Volunteer Moderator Platinum Subscriber Life Member QRZ Page

    I was a LONG time holdout on Win 10. I had Win 7 Pro running on all my home computers and it ran fine. I upgraded to a new processor that Win 7 didn't support. I was able to work around the Windows update no problem, but ultimately HRD, which I use for rig control, stopped working. More specifically, the DX cluster would take forever to update to the point it was not usable. Dxing is my main interest so that was NOT good. I even reinstalled the operating system a couple of times, but no luck. I went back and forth with folks in support, no luck. Finally, I just upgraded to Win 10 Pro and VOILA! It worked like magic.

    I upgraded my motherboard in another computer in the shack and wanted to keep the OS in place with all my programs. The MB also had an upgraded processor that Win 7 didn't support. I was able to upgrade the MB and keep my RAID 1 with SSD for the OS and actually got Win 7 to boot up just fine . . . . once. I loaded some drivers for the new MB and then it quit booting. All attempts to fix it failed as I had no mouse or keyboard support in Win 7 as it didn't contain basis drivers I needed that would work with the new MB/Processor. I finally just loaded Win 10 Pro and it worked like a charm. Now, had I UPGRADED to Win 10 BEFORE I changed the MB, I'm sure all would have been well!! I just reloaded the programs, no problem. Everything had been backed up anyhow.

    Running Win 10 Pro on all my home stuff now. Works fine.

    KK4NSF likes this.
  9. KK4NSF

    KK4NSF Ham Member QRZ Page

    The Win 7 support for I9 processors and some motherboards is not 100% across the board. Fortunately, ASUS still supplies drivers for the X299 boards and the SDR software doesn't require the more advanced API's..... so I didn't suffer the same problems you did.

    That brings up some good advise to folks wanting to build their own Super-SDR Computer: Check the specs and driver availability of your Motherboard before deciding on an OS. If in doubt go with Win 10 to avoid problems
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2019
  10. KK4NSF

    KK4NSF Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK... as promised yesterday, I typed up the basic specs of the machine:

    Node 1 (yes, it resides on a LAN) Specs:

    Motherboard- ASUS X299

    CPU- Intel Core i9-7600X -used- pulled from damaged video processing computer- ( the availability of the CPU is what inspired the build.)

    Memory- 64gb Corsair DDR4

    Video cards- MSI GeForce- mixed vga / hdmi /dvi output (yes, they are low end and slow... but my use is not video intensive, when funds are available, these will be upgraded)

    Case- Lian Li test bench- bought cheap at local computer store (floor display)

    Power Supply- used Corsair RM850- pulled from same video processing computer

    CPU Cooler- large (really LARGE!) air-cooled heat sink of unknown make- came with the above CPU

    OS- Windows 7 Pro

    So.... where do I go from here? As time and money permits, I'll be adding a few things like better Video Cards (the GeForce cards are not so good). Win 10 might be in store, too. Next, I'll probably upgrade the cooling. While it's not running hot, it may under full load.... so it might build a liquid-cooled system. Finally- some cable management is in order. Right now it looks like something the Borg (or Dr Emmet Brown) would build. There are wires going every which way. I think I need to tidy it up a bit.

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