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Author Topic: Flex 6400M vs. Icom 7610 ?  (Read 46529 times)
N6YFM
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Posts: 517




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« on: May 24, 2017, 10:39:51 PM »

Yes, I know well that it is pointless to argue the "details" of two radios that are not even released yet.
But since I am likely to upgrade to one of the two radio models, I would like to discuss, and get your
input, on the part of the equation we do actually know something about.  Since both vendors have some
experience now with SDR technology, and since both radios will have RMDR exceeding 110db, I have no
doubt that both would do just fine for almost any ham out there.   The choice for me will get down to a few
questions about the vendors and details.   Of the below, what is true and what else to be concerned about?:

1.  Icom radios like the 7300 and 7610 work just fine without a computer, and will likely do so for decades.
Some people say that the Flex units depend upon Windows 7 or 10 software for use, so if those go away,
and Flex goes away, you would have trouble.  Is this really true?  Doesn't Flex have a published control API
so other people could write control software in the future?  The 6400M with built in control panel has embedded
software, so could work without a computer at all, right?

2.  While I don't argue that Icom 7610 has a more "Traditional" look to the knobs, switches, fit and finish,
does it matter all that much?  The controls and buttons on the Flex do look to be high quality, and as someone
who owns an Icom 7300, I know just how much functionality can be sitting on the touch screen.  So is that
really a big deal, or is it just different?  Does this simply get down to "taste" and who likes a certain look better?

3.  While I agree that current pictures of the Flex 6400M unit back panel look like an unpainted, unfinished
prototype for a G.E. Toaster Oven, I am not sure I would judge a radio this way.  After choking on the ugliness
of the back panel for 10 minutes while hooking up the radio, you never see the back of it again until you go to
disconnect it.   I expect, just like with early photos of the Flex Genius Amplifier, that this back panel will change before
shipment.  But even if it did not, is this really a big deal?  I care more about how the radio works, how the front VFO
feels and how responsive the touch screen is.

4.  Trade Off:  I suspect the Icom will have all it's features on ship date, and we will get only small incremental
bug fixes and tiny feature updates maybe once or twice a year for one or two years?    I suspect that Flex will be
fully usable on day one, but missing certain things we want, but will do firmware updates approx 4 times a year and
also add features, and then keep on adding them for quite some more time in the future?     Is this about right?

5.  Both rigs have equivalent video output.  HDMI and DVI are electrically compatible, and there are no active
components in a DVI to HDMI adapter cable, just the connectors and wire.  Am I missing anything here?

6.  For the digital mode user;  I find that my Icom 7300 has a receive audio pass-band that is relatively flat for
up to 3600hz.  I find that there is NOTHING I can do to make transmit flat even to 3000hz.  I hear that Flex users
have even more options here on how wide/flat RX and TX are?

7.  Please don't talk to me about AM :-)   Take a look at your panadapter on 20m or 40m and show me where there
is room on these crowded bands for wide, obsolete modes?  Oh, um, there is probably a lot of room for them on 10 and
11 meters, sorry.   Even more room on 6m.  That said, my Icom 7300 did just fine on the recent A.M. Rally, I actually heard
and made almost a dozen contacts, using A.M.   That's it.  One dozen, out of ~750,000 USA hams.    Since SSB fits in less
than half the bandwidth, is still understandable, and has a 9dB advantage, it's almost like virtually having "Kilowatts for Free".
Please don't worry me about A.M.  :-)  A.M. is not energy efficient, it is not bandwidth use efficient, and it will NEVER
be Energy Star rated :-)    But if you really need a ballast load for that 150 KW Santa Fe Diesel Generator in your back yard,
go ahead and key up your A.M. Amplifier for a rag chew.

Back on topic and putting A.M. humor aside;
What are your decision criteria for which of these two radios to select and buy?

Cheers,

Neal
« Last Edit: May 24, 2017, 10:46:16 PM by N6YFM » Logged
GM1FLQ
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Posts: 794




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« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2017, 12:41:33 AM »

Of the below, what is true and what else to be concerned about?:

1.  Icom radios like the 7300 and 7610 work just fine without a computer, and will likely do so for decades.
Some people say that the Flex units depend upon Windows 7 or 10 software for use, so if those go away,
and Flex goes away, you would have trouble.  Is this really true?  Doesn't Flex have a published control API
so other people could write control software in the future?  The 6400M with built in control panel has embedded
software, so could work without a computer at all, right?


Cheers,

Neal

Whilst I agree that a computer/Windows 7/10 reliant radio would be a concern for me also (unless at cheap throw away price), I would not be too confident about those big fancy screens on the Icoms lasting for "decades".........and these screens even being unobtanium long before that.
As for plug-in the back external screens - will any be compatible after decades, what will the format be then - EHMDI, PQMDI, XYMDI, ABMDO, EFFIN-F/UP? (1954 Collins 75A-3 still working fine here).

So you takes your pick.

Also I foresee a similarity in the way it's heading with cars - used to be cars were junked because eventually the rust got to them, now you see perfectly good fresh looking cars in breaker yards simply because some fancy electronic component has made them not viable to repair.

Some downsides to all the bling. (OMP of course)
« Last Edit: May 25, 2017, 12:44:47 AM by GM1FLQ » Logged
GM1FLQ
Member

Posts: 794




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« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2017, 12:59:38 AM »


3.  While I agree that current pictures of the Flex 6400M unit back panel look like an unpainted, unfinished
prototype for a G.E. Toaster Oven, I am not sure I would judge a radio this way.  After choking on the ugliness
of the back panel for 10 minutes while hooking up the radio, you never see the back of it again until you go to
disconnect it.   I expect, just like with early photos of the Flex Genius Amplifier, that this back panel will change before
shipment.  But even if it did not, is this really a big deal?  I care more about how the radio works, how the front VFO
feels and how responsive the touch screen is.


Cheers,

Neal

What's the fuss about the Flex rear panel when.......

7610 rear panel looks no better than Flex and no better than mass consumer grade VCR rear panel from honky tonk land.

Cheap thin gauge "monkey metal" - many of the connectors not mechanically supported by rear panel but simply mounted on PCB and poking through a hole in the back - wouldn't call that superior.

Again, take your pick.

OMP.
« Last Edit: May 25, 2017, 01:12:46 AM by GM1FLQ » Logged
KD8TUT
Member

Posts: 522




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« Reply #3 on: May 25, 2017, 03:43:37 AM »


1.  Icom radios like the 7300 and 7610 work just fine without a computer, and will likely do so for decades.
Some people say that the Flex units depend upon Windows 7 or 10 software for use, so if those go away,
and Flex goes away, you would have trouble.  Is this really true?  Doesn't Flex have a published control API
so other people could write control software in the future?  The 6400M with built in control panel has embedded
software, so could work without a computer at all, right?

Cheers,

Neal

TLDR: I'd go Icom.

An API is not the same as access to the source code. As I understand the Flex API it is dependent on Microsoft .NET and the "FlexLIB".

FlexLIB creates an abstraction layer between Flex hardware and any software a third party might write. Which means you cannot control the radio without Windows and a functional FlexLIB DLL.

Bottom line: if Flex signs the death certificate on SmartSDR/FlexLIB, goes of of business, or for some reason stops supporting the technology the radio is more likely to become a doorstop.

This is a problem inherent to closed source software on computer hardware. It also illustrates the superiority of open source in ham radio. As a primary example I'd cite the Flex 5000/3000 series of radios: they are being supported by hams, generating new features, and still remaining relevant because the software is open source.

That being said- if you gave me the choice of an Icom Vs a current Flex- well I'd go Icom.

By purchasing an Icom I'd be assuring myself of the following:

1. It will probably work for decades.

2. If Icom went out of business it would be more likely the radio would retain value.

3. No threat of obsolete software making the radio a doorstop.

4. No "pay to play" software updates.

And I say that as a person who would not consider an Icom given the wide number of choices in the SDR world.
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N2DTS
Member

Posts: 744




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« Reply #4 on: May 25, 2017, 05:19:07 AM »

The same could be said in comparison between ssb and CW.

Both radios will work fine as long as you are likely to want to use them.
I even hear the original Flex 1000's on the air.
And a lot of Icom's are in the landfill due to display problems...

Why not just get the radio you like best?
 

Quote:

7.  Please don't talk to me about AM :-)   Take a look at your panadapter on 20m or 40m and show me where there
is room on these crowded bands for wide, obsolete modes?  Oh, um, there is probably a lot of room for them on 10 and
11 meters, sorry.   Even more room on 6m.  That said, my Icom 7300 did just fine on the recent A.M. Rally, I actually heard
and made almost a dozen contacts, using A.M.   That's it.  One dozen, out of ~750,000 USA hams.    Since SSB fits in less
than half the bandwidth, is still understandable, and has a 9dB advantage, it's almost like virtually having "Kilowatts for Free".
Please don't worry me about A.M.  :-)  A.M. is not energy efficient, it is not bandwidth use efficient, and it will NEVER
be Energy Star rated :-)    But if you really need a ballast load for that 150 KW Santa Fe Diesel Generator in your back yard,
go ahead and key up your A.M. Amplifier for a rag chew.
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N0YXB
Member

Posts: 1140




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« Reply #5 on: May 25, 2017, 06:58:14 AM »


Both radios will work fine as long as you are likely to want to use them.
I even hear the original Flex 1000's on the air.
And a lot of Icom's are in the landfill due to display problems...

Why not just get the radio you like best?

+1
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W1BG
Member

Posts: 69




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« Reply #6 on: May 25, 2017, 07:53:48 AM »

Don't talk to you about AM?  Why not?  While I do not operate that mode I most certainly do listen to a lot of AM broadcast stations, both locally and around the world, propagation notwithstanding.  As such, one of the principle features I look for in an AM receiver (for SWL'ing) is the ability to do synchronous AM detection, which the 6400M can do and the Icom cannot do.

Certainly there's a litany of other feature comparisons to be made, but I don't see very much coming from Icom that isn't matched (or in some cases bettered) by Flex. By contrast, looking from the opposite view, Flex has several features that Icom either purposely omitted or maybe just forgot about.  One specific feature that would be of interest to me is the ability to immediately "playback" an off-the-air recording to help someone struggling with TX audio issues.  Flex can do this, Icom can't... and Flex has had this ability across it's line for several years.  The Flex also offers a 10-band parametric Tx EQ vs Icom's 2-band Bass & Treble adjustments.  Yeah, there's also that pesky ESSB wideband TX capability in the Flex which I'd just as soon they'd left out, but it's yet something else the Icom can't do.

Some in the Icom crowd  are understandably a little peeved because Flex kept their bombshell "competitor" hidden away. Then like the famous words from Gomer Pyle, "Surprise-Surprise-Surprise" they sprung it at Dayton, fully intent on stealing some of the 7610's thunder, which they in fact did.  "Sha-Zam!"

Flex has also announced firm pricing, something Icom still hasn't been willing to do even though they announced the 7610 at last August's Tokyo Ham Show.  Why all the mystery and intrigue about pricing?  Is Icom trying to measure interest & the depth of our pockets before setting a price?  If so, they probably lost a number of potential sales last weekend. They certainly lost me.

As a current 7300 owner I admit I was "looking" at the 7610 but didn't feel I'd make sufficient use of the added features to justify tripling my transceiver investment.  Similarly, I've also been looking at Flex for a while, but vehemently did not want to marry my ham rig with my PC.  The new 6400M seems to have solved both issues for me, as there are finally now enough feature differences to attract me.  And let's face it, that 8" screen is freakin' gorgeous!

73 - Bill
W1BG
« Last Edit: May 25, 2017, 08:05:22 AM by W1BG » Logged

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K8EZB
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Posts: 8




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« Reply #7 on: May 25, 2017, 11:08:43 AM »

Why choose now? Buy both, use for awhile, sell the one you like least. These radios will be in demand for several years; should be no problem selling after, say, a year at near purchase price, especially if demand exceeds supply.
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W9OY
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Posts: 1820


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« Reply #8 on: May 25, 2017, 11:42:04 AM »

I'm going to take a stab at this.  When I see people making purchase decisions based on the nature of the rear panel, it tells me there may be a lack of understanding of what's in the box.

I'm not an expert on Icom's architecture, I am an expert on Flex's architecture.  I have studied the Icom architecture from the available web information, and though both Flex and Icom are SDR's how they do SDR are fairly dissimilar.  My initiation with the Flex 6000 series was when they called me up to test the 6300 before its Dayton release.  I had a long affiliation with Fex from the 3 board SDR-1000 days and had some input into the design of the 5000. I had one of the 5 6300 prototypes.  I also had on of the first 6 of the 5000 series.  I sent the 5000 back and bought a production model 5000, and just bought the 6300 they sent me outright, the  point being these are my radios and I'm not paid by Flex in anyway.  I have a 6500 and a 6700 both purchased used off swap.QTH.  I'm going to try and present this with as little bias as I can because I don't really have a dog in your purchase hunt.  My starting point is this is America and you can choose what you like.  

The architecture of the Flex is primarily FPGA based.  An FPGA is basically a bunch of gates that can be programmed in the field to be a custom IC.  It requires a special kind of programming language and skills to program.  It is a kind of computer, but it is not like your Dell or HP or iPAD.  Every time the FPGA boots it has to be programmed from scratch.  It has no memory of its configuration.  This is something to remember.  The Flex takes a relatively long time to boot.  This is because there is a TON of things to configure, as the radio is primarily FPGA based.  I understand the Icom boots quickly.  This would indicate not much happening in the FPGA.  This would mean the complexity of the Icom must reside somewhere else in the signal chain as compared to the Flex.  My understanding of the Icom architecture is it's primarily DSP based in it's complexity, using the custom Icom DSP chip.  This is not to knock this approach but to point out a big point of contrast between architectures.  I don't know how plastic the ICOM DSP is to reprogramming but as has been indicated  it's likely the performance enhancements to the radio will be around the edges as opposed to major rewrites of the feature set.  I've been in the Alpha program at Flex under NDA and have been involved in multiple major rewrites of that architecture over the past 3 years as new things are added.  So adding that to the understand of how SDR's  work is important.  One approach (Icom's) is likely more fixed while Flex's is more plastic.  I think neither architecture is open to manipulation by anybody but an insider.  Icom is not going to let you re-code their DSP even if you had that skill set, likewise Flex is not going to let you re-code their radio even if you had the first clue about the programming tools used.  

Both radios allow for some access to control by external clients.  From what I can see Icom uses a CAT based kind of control programming and likely a good deal of control complexity can be exposed using that system.  Flex on the other hand uses a sever/client model with their API.  This means your control is not limited to computers.  Neither is control limited to windows.  The API is platform independent.  I can connect to my Flex radios from a windows box, a apple box, or from an arduino as a front end to control the radio.  There has been some development on an android client as well but I think that programmer lost interest.  None the less he did build a rudimentary  client which could run the radio with pandapters from a Nexus 7 tablet over wifi.  I have an Italian friend who designed a complete front end including panadapters for his 6300 using an Arduino DUE.  I have 2 clients that allow me complete control of my radios (I have multiple that I can access) from my iPAD over wifi.  (an iPHONE will also work but I don't know how well)  My iPAD has a LTE modem so I can even access my radio from my car while headed down highway using the cell network.  Another radio client of course is Flex's Maestro.  I don't own a Maestro but I do know a lot of development went into that client to get the feature set just right as far as buttons count vs ergonomics.   The other "clients" that can access the radio are not even control surfaces.  The new PowerGenius amp is a client that is fully integrated into the radio via a Ethernet connection.  As well other clients include rotor, steppir and antenna switching as well as transverter and preamp switching.  Note these relationships are interactive both radio and client talk and are smart.  Flex has also implemented a USB based peripheral controller based on FTDI technology ($25 cable) that plugs into the USB port on the radio ad allows control of peripherals like amps and switches.

 
Another class of clients are programs.  I have always 4 programs open (DXLab Suite, SDR-Bridge/CWSkimmer, a custom Memory program called FRStack, a very powerful Macro and station management program called DDUTIL all connected by IP address.  When I use my radio remotely I can access these features in the remote location as well.  Also N1MM+ and WriteLog as well as digital clients all connect in a server/client fashion.  You may say "I don't need any of that" except when you want to go to the tower base, you can bring your iPAD and have full access to antenna switching and being able to turn a carrier off and on on any band, and you might decide: "very useful".  I'm sure the Icom has some of this feature set available as well.

I look at the Flex and the Icom as having different kinds of receivers.  One the standard, that outputs processed audio, and another that outputs video.  They give 2 very different but superimposed information.  I'm note sure of the video bandwidth of the Icom, I think it's a mhz.  The 6300 and 6400 has 7 mhz and the others are 14 mhz.  The video band width can be set using macros.  Whe I hook up my magnetic loop, I can watch a 14mhz swath of band and see the power peak on the pan adapter using the iPAD as  tune the cap, and then switch on the TX and fine tune the match.  The waterfall in the Flex has a pixel bandwidth of 1.5hz this means you can see signals which are under the noise compared to what you hear.  I have made DX contacts using this feature.  I position myself exactly on the DX's RX freq and then watch as he pokes out of the noise on his transmit freq.  Not sure of the Icom's video specs.  

The Flex uses an embedded system which is read only so it is not particularly sensitive to things like Microsoft.Net nor is it sensitive to hacking since it is read only.  It is not in anyway sensitive to win 7 or win 10 for its operation.  The Flex lib continues to upgrade as the system upgrades as you would expect as features are added.  As far as throwing it in the dump I still own a SDR-1000 and a F5K and they still work.  The F5K continues to be updated and features added by KE9NS nearly a decade after its introduction.  

I'm pretty happy with the upgrade program.  I have a 6300 and a 6500 which I intend to turn into a 6600M.  I will keep the 6700 since it has added functionality over the 6600M.  I will likely run the 6600 from a computer as opposed to the front panel since that suits my operation best, but the panel will always be available if I choose. Not sure what the Icom has to compete.  

So both radios have a lot to offer.  I think the Icom is more like a SDR masquerading as a legacy radio and its architecture is probably more limiting in flexibility but certainly powerful.  For me the Flex works FB.  I run the latest Alpha code and seldom have any problems.  I beat the hell out of the code as an Alpha tester to try and wring all of the bugs out before general release and for the most part the software even in alpha format is well behaved.  Occasionally a bug slips through but the there is a new release soon to follow with a solution.  Flex has always been very good about any issue even to TeamSpeaking into my computer to study an issue, and come to an understanding.  The iterative nature helps Flex's quality control for the rest of it's customers.  I'm running V2 so it's not far on the horizon.  The WAN works great

73  W9OY
« Last Edit: May 25, 2017, 11:46:10 AM by W9OY » Logged
W9OY
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« Reply #9 on: May 25, 2017, 12:19:55 PM »

Here is an example of Mack W4AX's integrated Flex station

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/12-FOsTHAYIbRRRuI5AD4QnC7k8IbS37TG5IR4yHrFnE/edit?ts=59244e8d#slide=id.p3
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NO9E
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Posts: 720




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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2017, 12:49:10 PM »

Perhaps the following are true:

1. It is hard to tell which radio will make you smile more,
2. For those who know now,  number one probably applies as well.
3. Nearly always, a change makes someone unhappy first, and happy later.
4. Many changes make one eventually happy, whatever the direction.
Ignacy, NO9E
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K9IUQ
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Posts: 2800




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« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2017, 01:27:41 PM »

I'm going to try and present this with as little bias as I can because I don't really have a dog in your purchase hunt.  
73  W9OY

LMAO, the day you are un-biased is the day I will buy another Flexradio.......    Wink Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy

Stan K9IUQ
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N2DTS
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Posts: 744




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« Reply #12 on: May 25, 2017, 03:29:33 PM »

I think Stan is biased. And other things....

I have had 5 Flex radios, I liked them all except the 1500.
I have had a bunch of Icoms, and while they were not great performers they were easy to operate, reliable and attractive.
None of my radios ever had a fault or failure.

If I had the money I would have a 6700 for the diversity. Is anyone else besides Anan doing diversity?
If I had LOTS of money I would have the 7610 as well.


I'm going to try and present this with as little bias as I can because I don't really have a dog in your purchase hunt.  
73  W9OY

LMAO, the day you are un-biased is the day I will buy another Flexradio.......    Wink Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy Cheesy

Stan K9IUQ
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K9IUQ
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« Reply #13 on: May 25, 2017, 04:10:17 PM »

I think Stan is biased.

Anyone who has been on SDR eham forum any amount of time knows that K9IUQ and W9OY are biased. However, unlike W9OY, K9IUQ does not try to lie about his biases......

Stan K9IUQ
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VE3WGO
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« Reply #14 on: May 25, 2017, 07:14:54 PM »

....... Flex has several features that Icom either purposely omitted or maybe just forgot about.  One specific feature that would be of interest to me is the ability to immediately "playback" an off-the-air recording to help someone struggling with TX audio issues.  Flex can do this, Icom can't...


How about the SD Memory Card slot on the IC-7610 front panel below the Sub AF/RF knobs on the lower left corner?  It should be good for playback into the Tx path if it's stored on a PC?  Looks the same as the new IC-R8600 receiver, and the brochure for that receiver says:

"SD Card Slot for Receiver Recorder
The recorder function can record received audio onto an SD card in
WAVE format. The recorded voice audio can be played back on the
receiver or a PC. When a 32 GB SD card is used, up to 270 hours of
recording is possible. In addition, the screen capture function saves a
snap shot of the screen in PNG or BMP format on the SD card."

Maybe it can't be used to playback in the Tx path, I'm just mentioning it.

Ed VE3WGO
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