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Author Topic: yet another newbie hardware bunch of questions :-)  (Read 5632 times)
KJ6OYJ
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« on: September 24, 2012, 07:07:22 PM »

Howdy Esteemed Elmers,

Background:   Have always been interested in radio, as a kid in the 60s, I built a crystal set (with my dad’s help), had RS/Realistic CB walkie-talkies, built a Heathkit SW rcvr, more recently used FRS and TriSquare 900MHz HTs....  Got Tech Class lic. in 2011... Since then have done a lot of HF receive-only of digital modes using globaltuners.com and websdr.org and fldigi software (in Linux)...  Got a Baofeng UV-5r and did some actual transmitting on 2m/70cm (first contact, yay!), repeater work, with rubber duck ant....   Put up rooftop 10m horizontal folded dipole (twin-lead, with ordinary 300-75 ohm coax adapter, via RG-6/U cable to portable HF rcvr).  I  scanned 10m over a few days/nights -- only copied one signal.  My apartment is in S. Francisco, the rooftop antenna is about 8 ft above the roof, 50 ft above ground, at about 230 ft MSL, line of sight to about 270 deg. of the horizon.

I am still really interested in working digital modes, so it looks like the next step is 20m and General Class lic.  So, I extended the roof dipole to 20m and sloped up one end about 15 deg., it’s oriented WNW-ESE -- as soon as I hooked it up to rcvr, I immediately copied PSK-31 signals from all over USA and Canada!

I have no shack, no rig, no earth ground, no workbench, no place to build a kit or fix/mod an old transceiver.   I cannot make the antenna any longer or taller.   So ideally I would like an assembled working mono-band 20m SSB radio with a frequency display -- I would connect AF input/output and xmit keying to the PC.   But I don’t see anything like that for sale -- I see monoband HF xcvrs, but they are CW or phone, not SSB, and most are kits (a few ready-to-use on eBay and eHam classified, but not much and some of the ads are old). 
 
So if there’s no monoband 20m SSB I can use, then it looks like I need to get a full multi-band xcvr.

As a beginner, I can’t justify spending a huge amount of money, so lower cost is a requirement.  Seems like the main candidate xcvrs are Yaesu FT-817nd and Icom 718.

Finally  Smiley  here are the questions --

1.  FT-817nd is $690 (plus shipping/tx), battery included.  It says I can configure it to do 5W even on battery.  Do you think 5W will be enough for the first year or two of operating?  I like the idea of QRP, but how far will that transmit in SSB digital mode (I know it depends on all the variables). 

2.  Icom 718 is about $40 more and variable power to 100W, but I would need a PS for it, like Astron RS-20A, so now the 718 is $840 (plus shipping/tx).   Higher cost,  but I could use somewhat higher power if needed (or even more power if I later move to a place where I can have a bigger antenna, not near neighbors, etc.).  I have read that high power levels (>20W ?) for digital modes is not appropriate.  What power level would you suggest for digital modes and a rooftop dipole and no earth ground, etc.? 

3.  I’m interested in solar operation.  Can I run either the FT-817nd or Icom with a lawn/tractor battery, like the EverStart U1P-7, which I could trickle-charge using solar on the roof?

4.  Why don’t any HF base radios come with their own built-in PS, like audio gear does?

5.  Whatever HF xcvr I get, I would upgrade the antenna and cable -- I think the Par end-fed EF-20 would be good, with RG-8X cable.   Larry of Par company says I don’t need an antenna tuner.  For SWR, can I use the built-in SWR meters to adjust the antenna length?  (That is, not spend $300 on an analyzer?) 

5.  For SSB/digital, what else would I need to buy besides the transceiver in order to get on the air? I’m pretty sure I can manage the AF hookups to the PC and transmit keying via RS-232, or use a RigBlaster Nomic ($60).


Thank you for reading my questions -- please respond with any info/answers/advice/remarks/opinions  :-)

73’s
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Doug McC.
San Francisco
KJ6OYJ
K5LXP
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« Reply #1 on: September 24, 2012, 09:40:32 PM »

1.  Do you think 5W will be enough for the first year or two of operating?

No.

Quote
how far will that transmit in SSB digital mode (I know it depends on all the variables). 

Right.  5W *can* carry you around the world on an open band, when conditions are good and efficient antennas are on both ends.  Problem is, the combination of all those criteria all at once don't happen all the time.  Running QRP *can* be fun and rewarding but I wouldn't make it my only choice.  You can always turn a 100W radio down to 5W, but a 5W radio is what it is all the time.

Quote
2.  I have read that high power levels (>20W ?) for digital modes is not appropriate. 

Practically speaking, even 100W radio won't put out much more than that and still be linear.  For my radios, the ALC starts kicking in at about 30-35W.  "Clean" is the more important criteria.

Quote
  What power level would you suggest for digital modes and a rooftop dipole and no earth ground, etc.? 

The rooftop dipole is probably in your favor.  The ground is irrelevant.  You could have good success at 5W on up to the practical limit of a 100W rig in it's linear range around 30W.  How much power you will want to run will depend on the above factors of propagation, conditions and what you're trying to accomplish.  With only 5W, you have no options.

Quote
3.  I’m interested in solar operation.  Can I run either the FT-817nd or Icom with a lawn/tractor battery, like the EverStart U1P-7, which I could trickle-charge using solar on the roof?

Short answer- yes.  That's not an appropriate battery to use for cyclic use though.  You need a deep cycle like a marine, AGM or gel cell battery.

Quote
4.  Why don’t any HF base radios come with their own built-in PS, like audio gear does?

Two I can think of - added cost, and additional heat load.

Quote
5.  Whatever HF xcvr I get, I would upgrade the antenna and cable -- I think the Par end-fed EF-20 would be good, with RG-8X cable. 

Given the common mode issues with end fed antennas, I would stick with your dipole.  A half wave is a half wave, so the antenna themselves are already identical.

Quote
For SWR, can I use the built-in SWR meters to adjust the antenna length?

For basic testing of a simple antenna, the built-in meters are usually fine.

Quote
5.  For SSB/digital, what else would I need to buy besides the transceiver in order to get on the air? I’m pretty sure I can manage the AF hookups to the PC and transmit keying via RS-232, or use a RigBlaster Nomic ($60).

A simple interface like that will work just fine.  A new rig should come with a microphone.


Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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VA7CPC
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« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2012, 02:23:37 AM »

Two comments on Mark's reply:

1.  The IC-718 will put out _way more power_ than the FT-817 - 20 times more.  With that and a dipole on the roof, you'll have lots of fun.  The FT-817 puts you into QRP territory, which can be very frustrating, especially for beginners.   [I have an FT-817 and a Yaesu FT-450].

2.  The PAR end-fed antenna will probably give worse performance than your 20m dipole.  Keep what you have.

And (though i hate to add another rig to the mix):

. . . Could you afford an IC-706 (used) or FT-857 (new or used), with their power supplies?

They're each 100 watts, very compact, and include VHF/UHF capabilities.  I don't know how their price compares to the IC-718.

              Charles

PS -- For a QRP rig, the FT-817 is very good value, especially used.  A few years ago, the single-band SSB QRP kits were costing in the $200 range, and a used FT-817 used to be around $400 -- all bands, all modes.
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AC4RD
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« Reply #3 on: September 25, 2012, 04:25:19 AM »

I just bought a non-ND 817 for $400 used, and it's a world of fun!   But I agree with Mark and Charles--a 100-watt radio will be a much better starting point, really.   I'd like to suggest that you join the local ham club, get to know other hams near you--one of them can be a BIG help in getting on HF.   If you don't mind buying a used radio (MUCH easier with an experienced ham's help), you can get a decent digital 100w HF rig for $300, with some careful shopping and watching and talking.  That will make it much easier to get on the air.

I used to use PSK31 on an old FT-840 (often available used at good prices) running 10-20 watts, and with a decent antenna I worked literally all around the world with that radio.  Even if you have to compromise a bit on an antenna due to your location, you can do the same--work the world on fairly low power.

Good luck--you're in for a world of fun!  73!   --ken ac4rd
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AC4RD
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« Reply #4 on: September 25, 2012, 04:29:09 AM »

Oh, one other thought:  don't BUY an antenna, build one.  Wire antennas cost next to nothing to build, and they're easy and fun to experiment with!   A simple antenna tuner ($50 used) will help a lot, but you don't need one to get started.   Ten dollars worth of wire and string will get you started nicely!  :-)  That's another thing an older ham can help you with.  (We LOVE sharing our homebrewed antenna designs!)   (I worked England, Northern Ireland, and Ecuador last night with 5 watts on battery power from a lawn chair in my back yard, on a homebrewed vertical mounted to a stepladder.)  :-)
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N2MG
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« Reply #5 on: September 25, 2012, 04:37:14 AM »

The responses so far are pretty good!

RE: QRP
I would definitely NOT recommend one to "cut his teeth" with QRP operation.  There is so much about radio to learn BEFORE you turn down the power.  20m is bad enough...20m 5W SSB would be torture!

There is one advantage however...RFI/TVI.

RE: Antenna
I'd say stick with the (reasonably high) dipole (droopy, Vee, whatever) - it's a great antenna to start off with.  Easy to build, tune, install and keep up.

>> Why don’t any HF base radios come with their own built-in PS, like audio gear does?
Well, most radios do come with a built-in supply.  However, you are looking at the lower-end or more portable ones.  I think the answer, in that case, is obvious.

I would NOT recommend the single-band units unless you are trying to squeeze every last cent out of expenses. I suppose if all you have is a single-band antenna it might make sense.  However, if you are ever able to put up another antenna, you'll wish you had a radio to use it.

Mike N2MG
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K4EZD
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« Reply #6 on: September 25, 2012, 06:34:27 AM »

I have been using the icom 718 (which now goes for $709 with free shipping at Gigaparts) with a jetstream JTPS28 power supply (about $85) with good success.  I never go over 25w on digital and 5 gets me nice DX when propagation is good.  I worked Japan, Figi, and Australia with 25w from the east coast on digital with the icom and an antenna mounted at about 20 feet.  There are a number of very good free software programs to get you on the air with digital too.  Good luck and have fun!
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KJ6OYJ
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« Reply #7 on: September 27, 2012, 09:45:04 AM »

Wow, thanks for the all the great answers and comments!

So based on your comments, I think I will go for the Icom 718, so I can have variable power option.  And I'll keep my $10 twin-lead dipole. 

Followup question -- as I said, my current half-wave folded twin-lead dipole uses a generic 300-75 ohm adapter to RG-6/U.  But a new  transceiver would have a PL-259 connection and 50 ohms.  Should I buy a 50-ft cable of RG-8X that already has PL-259 on each end?  In that case, should I get a 4:1 balun (from twin-lead to SO239)?   Choices --

1.  Keep the current setup -- generic 300-75 ohm adapter and RG-6/U coax with F connectors.  Buy a F-to-PL-259 adapter for the xcvr end of the coax. Suffer a 25-ohm mismatch.  OR

2.  Buy 50-ft RG-8X/PL-259 cable and figure out the best 4:1 balun to buy/make.  In that case, I would prob. cut the PL-259 from the antenna end of the coax and connect to the balun? 

#1 will cost me $3, #2 will be at least $30 in parts, plus assembly.  I've looked on the web for 4:1 balun ideas and there are many of them and I don't know what's the best for this situation.  Any advice on that appreciated!

thanks again to everyone   Smiley

Doug McC
San Francisco
KJ6OYJ
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Doug McC.
San Francisco
KJ6OYJ
KJ6OYJ
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« Reply #8 on: September 27, 2012, 10:51:27 AM »

Oops, I think I meant a 6:1 balun.
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Doug McC.
San Francisco
KJ6OYJ
AA4PB
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« Reply #9 on: September 27, 2012, 11:13:39 AM »

Over the years a couple of companies have provided radios with built-in power supplies. The reasons NOT to use a built in supply are:
1) It increases the weight, size, and heat disipation of the radio.
2) If its a switch supply (to minimize weight and heat) then a lot of attention has to be paid to shielding to keep RFI out of the receiver.
3) If the power supply fails, you now own a "boat anchor".
4) 12VDC is pretty much a standard because it can be connected to an automotive system for mobile work and their are a variety of 12V batteries and other power souces available.
5) Overall, its less expensive to use a stock external 12VDC power supply than to pay the added cost to have one built into the radio.
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N4CR
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« Reply #10 on: September 27, 2012, 03:45:42 PM »

Doug,

First things first. The antenna you have now, a 300 ohm folded loop fed by a generic 300:75 balun is likely unsuitable for transmitting. The reason is that generic 300:75 transformers are small signal receiving transformers only. If you try to transmit through it, you will likely melt it in a few seconds. Hopefully, all new transmitters will self protect at that point but it's not going to be a happy day for the transmitter.

So you'll first have to plan on taking that antenna down and putting one up that is suitable for transmitting.

How much space do you have, end to end, to put up an antenna?
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73 de N4CR, Phil

We are Coulomb of Borg. Resistance is futile. Voltage, on the other hand, has potential.
W5DQ
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« Reply #11 on: September 27, 2012, 05:06:39 PM »

Quote
..... but they are CW or phone, not SSB,........

Usually when referred to as phone, it is SSB that is being discussed unless AM is specifically mentioned.

Quote
As a beginner, I can’t justify spending a huge amount of money, so lower cost is a requirement.  Seems like the main candidate xcvrs are Yaesu FT-817nd and Icom 718.

While many QRP fans will strongly disagree, I would not recommend that you start with a QRP rig like a FT-817nD. I had one and while they are fun, they are not for the uninitated (in my humble OPINION .... to all the QRPers who are now starting to type flaming responses "PLEASE note I said 'in MY OPINION'..."). If budget is your main constraint, I would recommend you get a 'softly handled' used rig. "Softly handled" of course is a relative term. Some may say that a rig that has been beaten half to death and looks like a chainsaw was taken to the covers is 'softly used' but not in my book. Of course the better the condition of the used gear, the more the cost. You'll have to be the judge where the tradeoff of cost vs looks vs functionality is acceptable. I know you can get a good used multiband 80-10 (possible 160-10) used rig for less than a new FT817 and have up to 100W full output or QRP (usually down to 5-10W) by turning output power down when you want to experiment. You not stuck at using on 5W all the time which can be a challenge for a newbie - no offense meant by saying that.

Checlk with your local club to see if they have a loaner program for their members. You could get a rig to start with while you learn and save some sheckles for your own rig.

Quote
Why don’t any HF base radios come with their own built-in PS, like audio gear does?

Some do. It is usually the high end gear that does, not the entry level stuff as that is many time used as replacement or upgrade to existing gear and a power supply is already in place. Most smaller HF gear run off 12V and DC sources are found in lots of places .... P/S, marine batteries, solar arrays, mobile setups, etc. Why pay for something not needed and makes the rig heavier than needed. I surely would not want to carry my TS-940S portable as it weighs a ton with the built-in AC power supply. It does not use 12V DC, only AC.

Quote
I think the Par end-fed EF-20 would be good, with RG-8X cable.

Never used the EF-20 but have used the 6M and 2M PAR OMNI Angle loops and they worked well. One thing I would recommend is watching the source of your coax. RG-8X is ok for some shorter runs but I would steer clear of any run of RG-8X over 50'. You will be much farther along to get better coax (best you can afford). I've seen some RG-8X stuff that barely had any shield in it at all. Coax is one area that scrimping to save a few bucks actually will cost you more in the long run. 

Good Luck in your station building efforts,

Gene W5DQ

 

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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
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« Reply #12 on: September 28, 2012, 04:15:28 AM »

Doug, yet one MORE bit of random advice, but first about the antenna:  A simple wire dipole and a chunk of coaxial cable will get you on the air quickly and easily.  It's a great starting place.  Use 33' of wire on each leg, and you're on 40 meters in minutes, for just a few bucks!  Smiley

The bit of random advice is this:  You mentioned you're interested in PSK.  Let me suggest you look up the "070 Club"--basically a worldwide PSK club.   I haven't been active on PSK in a few years but the club is a GREAT bunch of guys, and they have frequent contests--you can pick up a bushel of contacts very quickly during a contest, and it's a lot of fun.  And the 070 contests tend to be very relaxed and low-pressure, unlike some contesting, so it's a good way to get your feet wet.

GL 73!   --ken
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KJ6OYJ
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« Reply #13 on: September 28, 2012, 09:39:21 AM »


First things first. The antenna you have now, a 300 ohm folded loop fed by a generic 300:75 balun is likely unsuitable for transmitting. The reason is that generic 300:75 transformers are small signal receiving transformers only. If you try to transmit through it, you will likely melt it in a few seconds. Hopefully, all new transmitters will self protect at that point but it's not going to be a happy day for the transmitter.

So you'll first have to plan on taking that antenna down and putting one up that is suitable for transmitting.

How much space do you have, end to end, to put up an antenna?

Rooftop has 2 masts from old TV antennas (one still has the antenna, but I  may be able to remove it), about 50 ft apart.  One mast is about 6 ft high, the other about 15 ft. (above the roof level). 

Based on other comments, my current 20m monoband twin-lead folded dipole will work fine for transmit, but as you say the balun may not take much power.    When you say it will melt, do you mean at 100W?  What about at the suggested power for digital mode of 20-30W?  I see there is a 1500W balun for sale for $29 (Jetstream 4:1). 

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Doug McC.
San Francisco
KJ6OYJ
W5DQ
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« Reply #14 on: September 28, 2012, 09:57:09 AM »

Based on other comments, my current 20m monoband twin-lead folded dipole will work fine for transmit, but as you say the balun may not take much power.    When you say it will melt, do you mean at 100W?

Maybe, but it might not physically melt but may burn out internally.

Quote
What about at the suggested power for digital mode of 20-30W?  I see there is a 1500W balun for sale for $29 (Jetstream 4:1). 

It may handle 20-30W ok, then it may not. Best thing is to use the proper equipment and give up trying to get something for nothing. If you're only going to use QRP power levels then you can do alot of low power device substitutions but should you forget and light it up with 100W, you may be back to the drawing board. It would be best to figure on setting up for at least 100W and then you won't have to worry about it. If you add an amplifier later then you'll need to address power levels for it then.

For baluns, make sure you are getting what you need such as 'Do you need a current balun or a voltage balun for your antenna design?'. Understanding baluns can be a black art Smiley

Also a 1500W balun for $29 may not handle 1500W for very long. Remember you get what you pay for. A $29 balun is probably worth $29 but this is not to say a balun should cost hundreds of dollars. I've seen the inside of some cheap baluns and that is what they are .... CHEAP!!!

CAVEAT EMPTOR!!

Gene W5DQ

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Gene W5DQ
Ridgecrest, CA - DM15dp
www.radioroom.org
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