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Flex 5000A

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio Equipment Reviews' started by k2cm, Sep 22, 2008.

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  1. KE5DTO

    KE5DTO Ham Member QRZ Page

    If this is truly an accurate representation of how long it takes, then something is wrong. I can literally turn my FLEX-5000 on my desk on and 5 seconds later launch PowerSDR without a problem. The key is that PowerSDR shouldn't be started until windows recognizes that the FLEX-5000 is connected (can be heard if you have speakers on your PC ... otherwise, check for the "safely remove hardware" icon in the taskbar).

    This is not true in general. I have 2 devices connected to my PC (one built in and one PreSonus FireBox) along with the FLEX-5000 and it performs just fine. I can listen to MP3s while the radio is running on either of the other sound devices without a problem.

    This is truly a pain in the rear. However, you don't have to reboot the system to get the FLEX-5000 driver to recover. Simply pulling the FireWire cable and plugging it back in will reset the driver.

    Maybe I'm wrong, but I believe the radio is only specced above 1.8MHz.

    This is plenty of machine. I have a similar Pentium D 3.2GHz machine that will run 192kHz just fine. In fact, I have run 192kHz on a single core 3.0GHz machine without an issue.

    It sounds to me like you just haven't gotten some of the key answers to these questions. Have you posted similar questions on the Flex reflector? I suspect you'd get helpful answers to these in a short amount of time.

    You definitely shouldn't have to reboot to run the radio. If you are, then something is wrong.
     
  2. WY6K

    WY6K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Exactly. And that is my bitch at Flex/PowerSDR. It should not hang up if it is started before the system sees the Flex 5000. It should wait or retry or, as a minimum, work when PowerSDR is restarted. It does not. That is stupid.

    I don't know why it is so slow. I watch Device Manager recognize the Flex and then start PowerSDR, about 9 times out of 10, it still hangs up. So I wait a "blind" about of time before starting PowerSDR. At two minutes it will "sometimes" start.

    Thanks for the remarks. However, the responses I've gotten in the past are a lot like yours, which I would summarize as "it works for me, there must be something wrong". Which is not very helpful. It's the "something wrong" that is the issue. What I need to know is what is wrong and what does one do about it?

    For instance, when both the Edirol (or the internal sound card) and the Flex are enabled in Device Manager, neither works. How does one deal with this? And rebooting is required by Windows anytime one disables one audio device and enables another. No getting around that. You get around it because the devices work when both are enable, so only the initial rebooting was needed, so it is not a nuisance.

    However, two devices won't co-exist on my machine (actually, I've tried it with two machines and they both acted the same). I'm using a Compaq with XP. Are you using XP?

    This is a good input. However, given where the cables are in my system, it may still be easier to reboot. THEY NEED TO TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY AND FIX IT!

    The receiver is spec'ed down to 10Khz. However, I just checked their web site and I see now that they have added a note saying that the customer must supply a preselector or filter for operation below 1.8Mhz. So they recognize that problem, but have not chosen to fix it.

    It seems symptomatic to me of the attitude of the company that the Specs are in the Knowledge Center and are changed from time to time.

    Yah, mon. Something is wrong and it shouldn't be. That's the point.

    I also do not think that great products are presented in such a way that one has to rely on users to help other users solve problems. The company needs to quit chasing new features and focus on USABILITY and better support if they hope to make the transition from "early adopters playing around" to "mainstream beloved product".

    I think the company is making a fundamental mistake in treating the hardware and software as separate items. The PC industry works this way and has been successful because it enables a wide variety of applications to be provided by a wide variety of vendors. However, there are not going to be a wide variety of applications running on the Flex 5000! It only has one purpose, it is NOT a general purpose platform. A specific purpose device will not be successful if we must deal with the same frustrations we face with the PC in its "really really general purpose" role. We put up with those frustratons with the PC so we can run a wide variety of apps very cheaply. The paradigm does not extend to single purpose devices such as the Flex. We want tightly integrated SW and a rational user experience.

    SDRs using embedded processors will win unless companies like Flex "get it" and take responsibility for tightly and intelligently integrating the SW and the HW and deliver a high quality experience to the customer. If Flex fails, it will not be because their RF tech or HW tech was not good enough. It will be because their business model is wrong.

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2008
  3. KC4RAN

    KC4RAN Ham Member QRZ Page

    I would try removing everything on startup and see how that affects it. Remove as many running programs as you can. Defrag the drive so that it's not going all over the place to get the device loaded when you turn it on - and get a decent defragger, not the built-in one.

    I think someone could make a bunch of money by making a fake radio front panel with all the knobs and switches that everyone is used to with a traditional radio, but that connects to the computer via USB. All of the knobs could be optoelectronics, and you could change the function by software.
     
  4. WY6K

    WY6K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I've done all that. I followed the PC optimization process Flex refers you to. I use the defragger called DiskManager, or something like that. It is the one you pay for, upon which the Windows defrager is based (it is a lightweight version of the one I bought).

    It seems like there are still a lot of processes loaded, but most of them don't seem to run while the Flex is running.

    It seems inefficient. The algorithms run by Spectravue and the SDR-IQ are much faster and the whole thing just seems "lighter". It never gives me any trouble. Probably less going on, but the proof is in the pudding - this radio is a joy to use. It is not as good a radio (has lots of images) as the Flex, in terms of capabilities and specs, but it is a joy to use. I like it and find myself starting it up all the time. No hassles, no frustration, has a great spectrum scope. Of course, it is just a receiver.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2008
  5. WY6K

    WY6K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't think this would be a good idea. The richness of the UI is one of the strengths of the SDRs using the PC. Once you get onto the mouse and keyboard controls, the control you have and the speed with which you can control the radio are actually outstanding. I bought that outboard knob, but no longer use it. The mouse is much better (quit being cheap so and so's and get a high quality optical mouse with a wheel. You KNOW who you are out there!)

    The UI is not really a big problem. It can certainly be improved, more intuitive etc, and surely will be improved. But it really is not a big problem, IMO. The problem is a lack of robustness plus computing inefficiency, which add up to a disappointing and frustrating overall user experience. It's clunky. Needs to be more like an iPod - smooth and tightly integrated, with no hitches. I trust my iPod. I KNOW it will work and not do anything unexpected, stupid, or frustrating.

    IMHO, this is the fundamental challenge the PC based SDRs face. The embedded processor SDRs will not have this problem, but neither will they have user interfaces that are as rich or flexible. However, they work very well (I'm basing this observation on some classified military SDRs that I have used).

    It seems to me that the big win here is to obtain embedded processor tightness and robustness on a PC based system. That will be a killer product.
     
  6. KC4RAN

    KC4RAN Ham Member QRZ Page

    Probably limited by the OS and all the stuff that has to be loaded on it. I'm considering building a system and not connecting it to the internet just so that I can leave virus protection off, strip down the services, etc...

    Waiting patiently on the Linux version.


    And by the way, even though I agree with your assessment on the mouse being easiest and most efficient, I still think we could grab more segments of the market by having the option of a traditional control panel, standalone.
     
  7. WY6K

    WY6K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    So I used the Flex 5000A in the CQ WW phone contest. Here are my observations.

    Pluses:
    1) The filters ard just superb. The ability to see the interference and quickly drag and size the passband to avoid the QRM is just outstanding. There is nothing in my experience that compares to this capability. Not on any embedded processor rigs and, so far, not on any other SDRs.

    2) The tuning with the mouse works fine for contesting, both for running and S&P. It actually works extremely well. But you have to leave your prejudices behind and embrace it and get on to it. A learned skill, but it only took me a few hours.

    3) For running, the spectrum scope is great because you can see a "hole" before moving to it. So starting a run, or jumping to a new spot, is very easy and super fast. Once you are running, the only characteristic of the Flex that comes into play is the ability to quickly adapt the filters to pull calls out of the muck. And the fact that there are NO IMDR problems, close in or otherwise.

    4) I also find the "Tune" button really quick and useful. In the setup, you specify output power in "Tune" mode. I set it at 10W and push "Tune" to make my Palstar autotuner tune up. Works great, better than any of my other rigs.

    5) The compression seems to work really well, which is consistent with the reputation of the Flex for fine audio. The Vox gain setting and the noise gate make it possible to make the Vox work better than any of my other rigs. It actually seems hard to set it so you screw up the audio with a lot of distortion. Judging by the visually integrated power output LED display on the Alpha 87A, the Flex compression does a better job of increasing average power than any other rig I have ever used yet there is no disortion. Unless I'm missing something, they have done a world class job on this.

    6) In S&P: now this is the test. I found the "visual plus mouse" tuning to be very fast. It is still a little foreign to me, I'm used to the sound of tuning with a knob from the bottom of the band upward. I get a mental image of the band and remember who is where when doing that. I can tell by the sound - before I actually get the signal tuned in - that there is someone new in the area. It did not take long to develop a comparable sense using the spectrum scope. It is just visual rather than aural. It is actually better, because sometimes I get to the point where I recognize the shape of a station's signal before I notice its frequency, and I know I've already worked them. And I can see them well before I tune up to them - while I'm working someone else. I found the most important feature in S&P to be the filters and the ability to tweak the tuning based on what I see on the spectrum scope. I was able to pull out a lot of signals that I wasn't sure I would be able to get. The receiver seems to be completely without IMDR problems, unlike my 756PRO.

    One of the outstanding capabilities of PowerSDR is the ability to see a strong signal on the scope and go to it with one click. It is the fastest way ever to S&P the strong run stations. Then you can sweep back thru more slowly working the second tier (in terms of signal strength) run stations, while skipping the strong ones you have already worked because you can see them and skip over them.

    7) The radio interfaced with DX4Win without issues. There is delay of a couple of hundred milliseconds between clicking on a DX spot and the rig moving to that frequency. Maybe even 500 ms. Not a killer, just noticed it.

    8) The rig puts out more than 100w, which makes it easier to drive the power amp. The Alpha 87A was driven to max power with the power output of the Flex set to 40%. This is a bit of a problem until you get onto it. I could always just leave the 756PRO power at high and not worry about it. But you can overdrive the amp with the Flex - so you must actually turn your brain on now and again. Damn.

    Negatives:
    1) The rig crashes frequently. It crashes every time DX4Win posts a DX spot if the alert sound is enabled. So I turned the alert sound off in DX4WIN and then it didn't crash as often. But it still crashed, including in the middle of transmissions. I reduced this by manually ending all the processes that I thought were unnecessary, such as McAfee and HP etc. I also set the PowerSDR processing priority to "HIGH" and the processing mode to "Safe 3". This combination almost ended the crashes, even when DX4WIN posts DX spots (as long as you turn off the sound effects). It crashes without the measured load on the cpu ever getting over 60%. I assume this means it crashes if it misses one cycle. This is dumb, and must be fixed to degrade gracefully.

    2) There is a noticable "tail" when the Vox switches from tx to rx. This is annoying, but I think I got used to it and was not aware of it later on.

    3) There is no way (that I know of) to quickly "sample", ie "hear" the split frequency. This is a giant problem for DXing too. Almost a killer for DXing.

    4) There is no ability to pre-record a voice message and then transmit it by hitting one button. The playback does not trigger the VOX! That is dumb. If I'm missing some button or other that makes this work, then please tell me and I will take it all back! But this is majorly dumb. We need the ability to record multiple voice messages and send them using the F keys in the logging program. I have not investigated the "keying" capability of the log program interface, but it appears to relate only to CW. We need multiple messages for phone! I get tired of saying my call over and over and my voice wears out.

    Summary,

    Somewhat to my surprise, there is little standing in the way of the Flex 5000A being a first class, serious contest rig. The things that must get better are:

    1) It MUST be more robust, it cannot crash just because it misses a couple of cpu cycles. IT CANNOT CRASH! It must degrade gracefully when starved.

    2) We MUST be able to very quickly sample the split frequency (very quickly, momentary contact button). If it can do this now, I wish someone would clue me in.

    3) We must have voice memories that transmit so we don't have to talk all the time.

    If we can keep it running, I believe max qso rates can be achieved with this rig. It is better in run mode. And once you get used to the UI, it is better for S&P.

    It just has to stop crashing.

    I have no patience for the argument that "PCs have problems and you are going to always have problems if you run on the PC". I think this is a cop out. There are mission critical apps that run on Windows all day long and there are realtime audio algorithms that run on the PC without problems.

    I still think Flex (the company) needs to make usability and robustness "job 1". Do not let the general purpose nature of the PC sink your company. Take control. It can be done. If one is only running a logging program, a TCP/IP stack, and PowerSDR, there is no reason for it to crash. If we can't live with McAfee, then say so upfront and make us remove it. But just putting out a piece of hardware and an open source app and leaving the rest to the user is a prescription for a mediocre product at best, and failure at worst.

    Better than I expected, but still not ready for prime time.

    Forgive me, it's just my humble opinion.

    Mike
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2008
  8. WY6K

    WY6K XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    One more big negative about the Flex 5000A/PowerSDR with respect to contesting:

    The UI display is so large that many hams will trouble fitting a logging program and the PowerSDR UI on the same screen. I have a 23' screen in 1600x1200 mode and it just barely fit.
     
  9. G4ILO

    G4ILO Ham Member QRZ Page

    If there are mission critical apps running stably under Windows then you'll probably find that's all that PC does. There is just too much crapware on the average home computer.

    If you want to be serious about PC based SDR then I think you have to dedicate a PC to that job. Even launching a web browser on a PC just running a humble data mode program while it's transmitting can cause a hiccup in the audio output. Windows just isn't good at doing two things at once (not that Linux is any better, in my experience.)

    It really would have been better if Flex had used a dedicated realtime OS. But then people wouldn't be able to use their favorite logging programs, datamode programs etc., and they'd have to buy a second PC just for SDR, which would shrink their market.
     
  10. WB2WIK

    WB2WIK Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    ::Wow, you have a bigger hamshack than me.;)
     
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