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Author Topic: Transceiver Service Period  (Read 4540 times)
N2EY
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Posts: 3895




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« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2011, 04:53:25 AM »

What really bothers me is the idea that a ham rig is a "consumer product".

73 de Jim, N2EY
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AA4PB
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Posts: 12898




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« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2011, 06:51:10 AM »

The QST response was, for the most part, incorrect. Even when a model is currently in production the mfg often will not sell you individual specialized parts. They stock parts for their production runs, not for individual repairs. By specialized parts I mean custom things like LCD displays or microcontrollers containing program code, etc.

I run into issues quite often when I get ready to do another small production run and find that two years later ICs, crystals, switches, or even capacitors have been discontinued by the mfg. Sometimes I can find a direct substitute (which often requires additional testing to verify performance) and sometimes it requires a circuit change and a new PCB layout to accomodate the replacements. Sometimes the product gets discontinued because it just isn't worth the cost outlay to incorporate the changes.

The bottom line is that today there is no way to tell if the new radio you purchased just 6 month ago will be repairable or not. It all depends on which components you need to repair it. If repairability is a major issue to you then you'd better stick with one of the Elecraft kits.

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K2OWK
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Posts: 1066




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« Reply #17 on: August 18, 2011, 02:02:13 PM »

I have one last comment to make. Most consumer electronics including Ham Radio equipment is super reliable. A solid state transceiver will last a long time with very few problems, if properly taken care of. The old equipment while easy to repair did not have the reliability of today's equipment. Remember the equipment you buy today is not only more reliable but very inexpensive in today's dollars. If a few years down the line my Yaesu FT-450AT fails and is not repairable. I will simply get a new more modern radio at most likely less cost. Just about all radios and electronic equipment come with a 1 or more year warranty, and if there are no problems within that year chances are there will be no problems. Why do you think most stores try to sell you an extended Warranty, because they make more money on that warranty then on the product they sell. That is how reliable modern electronics are. I just no longer worry about repairing out of warranty equipment. I agree there are some lemons produced once in a while, but this is the not the normal, and most equipment can be used for a long time with no problems or repair. I sold my Yaesu FRG-7000 receiver after many years of use and the only problem was a few burned out lamps that I was too lazy to replace. Just enjoy what you have and stop worrying about some future repair you may or may not have.

73s

K2OWK
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N2EY
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« Reply #18 on: August 18, 2011, 03:29:25 PM »

Most consumer electronics including Ham Radio equipment is super reliable. A solid state transceiver will last a long time with very few problems, if properly taken care of.

That's usually true. OTOH, a minor mistake can result in a very expensive doorstop.

The old equipment while easy to repair did not have the reliability of today's equipment.

That depends on how you define "reliability". Or "availability".

Which is better, from a practical standpoint:

1) A rig that breaks down every X hours, but can be fixed easily, so you're back on the air in a short time at minimal expense

or

2) A rig that breaks down every 5X hours, but is difficult or impossible to fix, so you're off the air and have a big expense to get back on

?

Remember the equipment you buy today is not only more reliable but very inexpensive in today's dollars.

The inflation-adjusted cost is a very good point. Old equipment looks inexpensive until you factor inflation; then it's a wonder that so many hams had anything more than a very basic setup!

For example, the Collins 75A-4 cost $700 back in the late 1950s.  Adjusted for inflation, that's over $5000 in today's dollars - for a RECEIVER! And the price didn't include the slow-motion knob, a speaker, nor the additional filters.

Even a modest station was serious $$. I remember when I was a new ham (1967) and the HW-100 came out. It was very popular, and considered a wonder-rig because the price was so low. For the rock-bottom price of less than $300 you could buy the HW-100, AC power supply, a basic mike and speaker. Once you built the thing (couple of dozen hours of assembly and testing), you'd have a 5 band 100 watt HF SSB/CW transceiver. Amazing value!

Except that $300 back then equates to about $1800 today. Look at what you can buy in a rig for $1800 today - ready built!

73 de Jim, N2EY



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G3RZP
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« Reply #19 on: August 19, 2011, 03:01:56 AM »

My HW101 was 1/14 of my at the time above average wage......Ham radio has never been cheaper. Even if you look at the prices of WW2 surplus in the years before 1950, things like a BC348 were not that small a chunk of most people's wagepacket.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #20 on: August 20, 2011, 09:55:49 AM »

Everything is relative.  If your weekly wage is close to the bottom then of course buying even an HW-101 is a purchase that requires a lot of agonizing thought.  The price spread of the Heath gear and the next commercial brands was so widespread back then, comparing yesterday's dollar to today's dollar requires stretching ones imagination!

I went through this exact situation prior to buying the Heath SB-102 transceiver.  Up until the 102 I was strictly CW and SSB on one band with another Heathkit. 

However, the point here is that the next available transceiver, at that time, was up around $800.00, which was completely out of reach!  As a matter of fact, if I hadn't inherited my present TS-830S from an SK I mentored, It's very possible I would still be using the 102. 

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M0HCN
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Posts: 473




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« Reply #21 on: August 20, 2011, 11:11:52 AM »

If the rig is reasonably modular (and is properly documented (And I am not paying $8K for a radio that is not!)) there should be little where even is something has gone unobtainium it cannot be replaced with a superior modern part of the cost of cooking a new daughter board, but it does critically depend on having a way to update the firmware to work with the new part.

AD9851 gone EOL? Cook a new LO board and stick a 9910 in there instead, job done (as long as you can tweak the firmware or add a shim to make the new part look register compatible with the old one)! Same with mixers and DSP (But you really need the code for that). Power transistors, even if you cannot find the originals can usually be replaced with minor changes to the matching networks and drive levels, worst case just cook a new PA board using something available.

Actually the biggest PITA are switches, concentric pots,  and custom displays, sometimes literally the only way is to find a junker to rip a replacement out of, there is a lot to be said for standard text LCD, VGA or QVGA displays with documented interfaces.

If the rig is modular, uses standard front panel parts and has all the internal interfaces documented for protocol and level there is almost nothing a ham cannot fix (Or improve as better becomes available), even BGAs can be reballed at the cost of some eyestrain.

Regards, Dan.
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G3RZP
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« Reply #22 on: August 20, 2011, 11:38:29 AM »

Not if the BGA is a custom ASIC - unless at least you have a truth table, and even that won't give you critical timings. Now if you could get the VHDL simulation.....and know how to use it - and I wouldn't, although my XYL would.
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M0HCN
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Posts: 473




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« Reply #23 on: August 20, 2011, 05:23:10 PM »

Custom asic in a HF Radio? Ouch!
FPGA I could see, but asic normally requires rather bigger production runs then a base station radio likely sells.
Still, that is what the Verilog or VHDL in that 'fully documented radio' is for (And yes I know what to do with them).
The other thing that would be useful in radio manuals would be the details needed for boundary scan testing as being able to plug a jtag lead in during testing (especially after you modified something) could have its uses.
 
This will become a bigger issue as the ADC gets closer to the aerial and more of the differentiating features end up as code of one form or another, but for the present most of the high end stuff does most of the business in an essentially conventional superhet sort of way and there is little in that architecture that you cannot hack with a good SMT soldering kit.

All that said, I do not (and do not plan to) own a commercial state of the art radio because they are too difficult to modify to do interesting things (but I suspect I am not the target market for the FTdx5000MP or whatever), it is a broad church so buy whatever fits your operating tastes, fixability requirements and budget.

Regards, Dan.

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K8AXW
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Posts: 3900




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« Reply #24 on: August 20, 2011, 09:04:46 PM »

I really, honestly don't mean to offend guys, but are you listening to yourselves?  You two sound like two computer geeks in a pissing contest!  The average ham can't program a PIC!  For that matter, I would wager MOST hams can't even spell PIC!
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G3RZP
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Posts: 4723




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« Reply #25 on: August 21, 2011, 02:36:37 AM »

AXW,

You have two professionals who know something about semiconductors and reliability and the way modern electronics is built. Might just be worth listening.
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K8AXW
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Posts: 3900




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« Reply #26 on: August 21, 2011, 07:09:32 AM »

RZP:  I ALWAYS listen!  While I'm my no means "professional" I have been a ham for 55 years and have spent most of that time building, not operating.

Recently, many of the ham radio build projects offered are using PICs of one style or another.  I have had to deal with using them, buying hardware and downloading software to program them and don't find them fun to work with.

So, the discussion is about options or 'what to do' if one spends kilobucks on a new transceiver and in a few years the unit is no longer supported. 

Now you and CHE are talking about replacing/rebuilding circuit boards.  If you're the unfortunate one who has a crapped out circuit board and are fortunate enough to do as you and CHE are talking about, great! 

I initiated the discussion to LISTEN to what others have to say about this hopefully keeping it on a practical plane.

I have no idea what you guys are now talking about..... and I venture that most reading this thread have no idea either.  Sorry.
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N2EY
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« Reply #27 on: August 21, 2011, 08:13:54 AM »

If the rig is modular, uses standard front panel parts and has all the internal interfaces documented for protocol and level there is almost nothing a ham cannot fix (Or improve as better becomes available), even BGAs can be reballed at the cost of some eyestrain.

If a person is willing to invest enough resources, almost any rig can be fixed.

The problem is when the resources required become greater than the original investment. Not just money, but time and expertise. And the number of unrelated fields one must learn (hardware, software) expands.

To make it more of a sporting course, ham rigs aren't usually modular, nor do they use generic or standard parts.

Years ago, PC folks building desktops came up with all sorts of standards which make it relatively easy to build, fix and upgrade PC hardware. I assembled the computer this was written on from the pieces of discarded old ones - the only hardware bought new was the hard drive, because one rarely finds discarded machines with large HDs that are still good. The only tool I needed was a screwdriver (and access to information).

The result is a computer that I can probably keep going indefinitely, because in the process I have developed a boneyard of derelict machines with good parts. Learned a bit, too.

Part of what made this possible is a redefinition of the term "component". I would not attempt to repair a drive nor a memory stick; they are "components".

Also, the local Microcenter store offers refurbished computers which are brand-name units that have come off lease. The refurbisher cleans them up and drops in a new hard drive and OS. Cost is often so low that you can hardly buy the OS for the price of the whole computer.

The real limiting factor is that the demands of software and the external world keep increasing, and eventually the hardware can't be upgraded any further to cope. Hopefully by then I'll have enough newer parts in the boneyard to replace this machine.

I still have working computers going back to Win98/200 MHz Pentium 1 and before. They're essentially useless except for special applications. It is really sad to see what was a multi-kilobuck dream machine 10-15 years ago on the discard because it won't run XP let alone Seven..

Standardization and modularity doesn't hurt the PC makers because, as the external factors require more computing power, there is always the replacement market.

Ham gear is entirely different. I don't know any that is modular. The expected life is far longer than a PC, and the market is far smaller.

Imagine if a rigmaker were to produce a ham rig that was truly modular and used only the most standard components and methods. And suppose it was completely documented, so you wouldn't be faced with reverse-engineering anything.

Such a rig could be kept working pretty much indefinitely, by module replacement. It could probably be upgraded very, very far too. One imagines the master carpenter's hammer, which lasted 50 years of everyday use ("seven new handles and two new heads...") .

Problem is, the rigmaker would soon be out of business because there would be no replacement market.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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M0HCN
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Posts: 473




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« Reply #28 on: August 21, 2011, 09:37:52 AM »

Not modular? At that price? Ouch!

Got to admit that the modular thing does not make for a cheap (or small) radio, mine is a ~10U rack of card cages and rack boxes, with a remote operator control panel so I don't have to be in the same room as the PA blower, and yes, it is a bit like your hammer, 3 versions of the LO (Probably soon to be four), 4 revisions to the first mixer, a couple of revised IF strips... And git tells me I am up to version 179 of the firmware (Which is not PIC based (horrible things), ARM is much nicer).

Plenty of modular parts for radios out there, minicircuits have made a business out of selling building blocks terminated on SMA connectors at 50 ohms, some of them are not at all bad.

It is of course up to the purchaser of any equipment (of any type) to decide how deeply they wish to understand its operation and thus how repairable the gear will be for them (not very in the case of me and some of my Agilent kit) , and both ways have costs.

If you make the decision to buy a very heavily custom DSP based rig (and there are circumstances where this makes sense), you need to be aware of the risk cost in so doing, same if you roll a fully modular where the opportunity cost in learning to do it is very much non zero, but the chances are better that you can repair pretty much anything that goes wrong with it.

Guess for my particular interests buying a $10,000 radio takes a back seat to a better network analyzer or whatever is shiny from the used test gear dealers (It would only get taken apart so I could see how it worked anyway).

Ham radio is a broad church and whatever you buy, you should consider all the benefits, risks and opportunities it presents.

73 Dan.
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K8AXW
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« Reply #29 on: August 21, 2011, 11:57:12 AM »

2EY:  I too have been working with computers for almost 20 years.  I found it necessary immediately to learn to fix my own computer.  Back then, the minimum charge for working on a computer was $45.00/hr.  Since then I build and rebuild computers out of whatever I can find, as you do.

However, in the ham transceiver market, nothing is modular.  A circuit board can be swapped out...not much of a problem there.... IF the board is available or the chip manufacturer is supplies that chip.  

I encountered this same problem several years ago when I was researching amplifiers.  It was immediately apparent to me that the fantastic Alpha amplifiers wasn't even to be considered!  Reason being that after their initial offerings of quality amplifiers using standard circuit configurations they rapidly started to intergrate advanced control systems.  Then I started reading about sending amplifiers back to Alpha for service and the expense of doing that but what really floored me was their service rates and their routine module and tube replacement process, in some cases the owner getting a service bill of $1500.00!  

I suppose the accepted philosophy is "if you can afford a Cadillac you can afford to have it serviced."  Which is so much male bovine effluent!  


I guess to me he bottom line is, when buying a new piece of gear, buy what you can afford to throw away.
« Last Edit: August 23, 2011, 09:18:27 AM by K8AXW » Logged
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