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What specs to future-proof a ham PC

Discussion in 'Computers, Hardware, and Operating Systems' started by K3RW, May 14, 2019.

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  1. K3RW

    K3RW Ham Member QRZ Page

    My hamshack PC desktop running digital is on its last legs and I'd like to build a purpose-built Ham PC. I envision running SDRs, perhaps more than one dongle for VHF+ contesting.

    What specs would you recommend so that it could still run the current popular modes and be able to handle a couple of dongles in the future?

    Also, what would you recommend for a roving laptop thing? I can build the PC but I'd have to buy a laptop.

    I have a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ for field day type stuff, but Linux is difficult for a non-programmer type to work with IMO.

  2. WF7A

    WF7A Subscriber QRZ Page

    How much do you want to spend?

    What else are you going to do with the computers beside ham radios stuff?
  3. K3RW

    K3RW Ham Member QRZ Page

    I'd have this be its own HamPC, aside from a laptop that is mostly just web browsing.

    I'd hope I could stay around $350-400.
  4. WF7A

    WF7A Subscriber QRZ Page

    That's not a lot of doubloons, and future-proofing computers really isn't possible because hardware and software improve over time. However, the two best ways of getting the most out of any computer is to install enough RAM and buy the fastest processor you can afford. To save money, you might want to buy a refurbished machine from a reputable source or directly from the manufacturer; at least those used computers will operate as new and will come with a warranty.
  5. KC9YGN

    KC9YGN Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    Your hardware needs are dictated by the software you need to use. Typical amateur radio applications don't need a lot of horsepower on the hardware side of things. Assuming the computer is going to be used only for amateur radio and not for something like gaming or video editing, you should easily be able to get away with something in the under $500 range. I just picked up a really nice refurbed HP system off Amazon for $475 for a local charity with an Intel Core i5, 16 gig of RAM, a 1 TB hard drive, keyboard, mouse and 24 inch monitor. They only use it for bookkeeping, scheduling, etc so that should take care of their needs for several years at least. Something like that would run any amateur radio software on the market at the moment or for the foreseeable future, so that's the kind of specs you're looking at for a minimum.

    If you want to build your own, there are so many options out there it's difficult to know where to start. Even a low end core i5 system will do the job for years to come for amateur radio use. But if you want to do games or edit photos, you'll probably be looking at a core i7. As WF7A said, get the fastest, most powerful CPU you can afford. And be prepared for the added expense of a liquid cooling system for it as you get up into the higher end CPUs.

    SSD - don't go bargain basement with an SSD. Remember that's going to be your boot drive, and where all of your operational software is going to be stored. Stick with a respected name brand purchased from a respected, reliable merchant. That goes not just for the SSD but also for the motherboard, RAM, etc. There is a lot of counterfeit electronics being sold at what look like bargain basement prices. As they say, if a deal looks too good to be true, it is.

    As for a laptop, just about any of them would do the job for you. Heck, I have an elderly Toshiba that must be at least 12 years old that runs FLDIGI just fine
    KB0MNM and K3UJ like this.
  6. WF7A

    WF7A Subscriber QRZ Page

  7. WA4SIX

    WA4SIX Ham Member QRZ Page

    I got a manufacturer refurbed Dell G3 laptop on Ebay. $640 (Minor blemish on cover)
    I7 7850 Hex core
    8 gig RAM (Added another 8 gig)
    1060TI video card (Using CUDA cores for SDRs takes a load off the processor)
    It has 1 USB2, 2 USB3 & a Thunderbolt port
    1Tb spinny disk with 16 gig Optane (Accelerator)
    Almost doubled the benchmark with a 500 gig Samsung evo NVME HD.

    With benchmarking software, it beats my:
    8 year old Dell T5500 Workstation
    DUAL 4 core processors 3.1 GHz Xeons
    72 gigs of RAM (YES 72)
    dual GTX 960 video cards.

    I got the G3 for running SDRs.
    When listening to 24 broadcast FM stations simultaneously, I am at 11% CPU & 9% of the video card. (LimeSDR-USB)
    With a hub, I have had 2 Limes & 3 Dongles all up & working. 31% CPU & 40% of video card.

    Honestly, if I didn't build the Dell T5500, I would buy another Dell G3 laptop.
    I showed the Dell G3 to the Tech director at work. He played with it for a day.
    4 days later, 16 of them showed up in the receiving department for in house use.
    There are another 241 on the way to replace systems around the world.

    We use an in house software to control automation. Flying performers with winches, pulleys & wires.
    For example, Katie Perry & Lady Gaga into the Superbowl, John Legend in Jesus Christ Superstar Live, etc...

    For SDR & ham use in the next 5-10 years:
    Fastest processor you can get
    Best NVIDIA video card (AMD does not have CUDA cores)
    USB3+ and/or Thunderbolt
    As much RAM as you can stuff in
    NVME HD (Insanely fast, as there are 4 lanes of PCIE 3.0 directly to the disk & it's litterallly the size of a stick of gum)

  8. KA8NCR

    KA8NCR Ham Member QRZ Page

    This right here on NVIDIA. If you want a reasonably future proof computer for ham radio use, this is where you do it.

    While it may seem a waste of money and counter intuitive to spend extra money on essentially another processor when the CPU already has 4, or 8, or whatever number of cores. But these NVIDIA chips are made for slogging through the math that provides the demod of SDR IQ data, and it makes a big difference even when processing small chunks of bandwidth.
  9. KX4OM

    KX4OM Ham Member QRZ Page

    Interesting. The ASUS tower with Intel Core2 Quad CPU Q9559 2.83 GHz and 8 GB RAM that I received as a hand-me-down from my son 3 years ago is now running Ubuntu 18.04 Mate as a LAN server/CAD/general purpose workstation. It has an NVIDIA GeForce 460 (NVIDIA GF104 rev a1) with 336 CUDA cores and 1024 MB RAM on the card; I just looked it up. Never paid much attention to the video card until I read the posts here. Maybe I should move it over to the radio desk.

    Ted, KX4OM
  10. KD0KZE

    KD0KZE Ham Member QRZ Page

    If I was on that budget, I'd look into a business/government class Dell Optiplex i5 to i7, 16 GB RAM. And probably just a regular 1 TB 7200 RPM HD, since the capacity is larger (and they're cheaper) than SSD. I'd also be willing to look at certified refurb PC's from Dell under warranty to save more money. I'd skip Ubuntu since they jumped the shark a times over the years -- and instead install Debian with a desktop of my choice.

    The last one I bought had a smallish SSD with Windoze installed on it. I yanked the SSD and the virus (ahem, OS) along with it -- and put in a good WD 7200 RPM 1 TB for about $50. They are quiet and should last you a decade of casual use. I just checked Amazon, and it looks like Optiplexes have dropped in price since I last looked.

    73, KD0KZE / Paul

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