Rack Mounting Project

SSD Storage Options

When I assembled my current lot of PC hardware I decided to install all Solid State Drives. At the time SSD’s were still relatively new, and once I saw how much faster they were than the mechanical drives, I went all in. The time has come to consider more current SSD storage options, as my SATA II 3Gb/s SSD’s are now several years old, and have fallen behind the ‘speed curve’ of  current day SSD technology. I also noticed that the lowest score in my Windows 7 “Experience Index” is the disk data transfer rate @ a 7.0 score. That being said, I’ve started looking into SSD upgrades.

I purchased these Kingston SSDNOW V100 drives circa 2010. At the time I had met a hardware reviewer who would sell the samples he was given once he had finished his reviews. The prices were good enough that I bought a few from him, a couple of 128GB drives and a 64GB drive and converted my two machines to SSD. Whatever mechanical drives I had leftover would be used as backup data drives, where their slow speed wouldn’t matter as much. I run the two 128GB drives in RAID 0 and installed Windows 7 64bit.

SSD Storage Options
My current SSD’s are slow by today’s standards

SSD Storage Options – 2018

A lot has happened in the world of SSD technology since 2010!

I’m researching an SSD storage upgrade compatible with my existing hardware.

At first I was focused on SATA III 2.5″ format, but quickly learned the real speed in SSD technology now lies in NVMe PCIe M.2 drives. I don’t want to replace motherboards (running in rock solid configurations) to accommodate this upgrade, and, lucky for me, it now looks like I won’t have to.

NVMe PCIe M.2

A suitable technology choice has emerged, and much to my surprise, it will not involve much compromise. I’ll explain…

My existing motherboard (of which I have a brand new spare) does not have SATA III, so that immediately eliminated the 2.5″ drives for me. Nor does it have an M.2 connector. (my motherboard is also from 2010) But what it does have is an available PCIe 2.0 x4 slot.

Just as I was wondering how this new drive would fit in the PCIe slot, I found the adapter.

SSD Storage Options
SYBA M.2 PCI-e To PCI-e 3.0 x4 Card Model SI-PEX40110

So the compromise, to call it that, is the PCIe 2.0 x4 slot on my existing motherboard. The SYBA adapter is a PCIe 3.0 device that is compatible with PCIe 2.0 (the reason I’m lucky) I’m also happy to be letting go of the RAID 0 array. It has performed well for me all these 8+ years.

The adapter

Convert M.2 NGFF PCI-e based SSD to work in main board PCI-e x4/8/16 bus slot
PCI Express 3.0 x 4 Lane Host adapter
Movable M.2 NGFF stand-ff and multiple plated-holes supports type 22110, 2280, 2260, 2242, and 2230 SSD
Supports PCI-e 1.0, PCI-e 2.0, and PCI-e 3.0 motherboard
Low Profile Bracket included
Transparent to the OS and no driver required (Plug n Play)

I also have the option of removing a video card from a PCIe x8 slot and putting the drive there if there is any benefit. I’m guessing whatever difference may exist, it would likely be imperceptible to me in day to day use.

wd bLACK VS. SAMSUNG evo 860

The technology pundits have spoken.

Overall, the WD Black is probably the best PCIe SSD Western Digital could have built using their SanDisk planar TLC NAND. It’s clearly a much faster low-end PCIe offering than the Intel SSD 600p despite the latter’s potential advantage from using 3D TLC NAND. The pricing will determine which one is a more sensible purchase.

I’m assuming that the current third-party Amazon sellers charging above MSRP will soon be undercut by retailers selling their stock close to MSRP. The price Western Digital is asking is about 10% higher than what the Intel SSD 600p is currently going for. For users with light to moderate workloads the cheaper 600p will still be plenty fast, but if you have a particularly heavy workload or expect to operate the drive nearly full, the WD Black is probably a worthwhile step up. There are also quite a few options just above the WD Black in price that have a clear performance advantage. Among them the Plextor M8Pe seems to have better pricing and performance than the Patriot Hellfire, but there may be other Phison E7 drives besides the Hellfire that are cheap enough to undercut the M8Pe and be a nicee step up from the WD Black.

WD Black

All things being more or less equal, why pay more? I feel at this point I’ve read enough about both units, and certainly will not perceive the differences in use. So I will save a few dollars and purchase the  Western Digital WDS512G10XOC

Exploring all available SSD storage options was the right approach.

SSD Storage Options
WD Black PCIe SSD 512GB

More later after the drive is installed.

Back To The Front

UPS Back Up Power Supply

UPS Backup Power Supply

It’s hard to believe how many power outages occur in my neighborhood. If it weren’t for the UPS Back Up Power Supply I’d be offline constantly.

From /var/log/apcupsd.events:

  1. 2018-02-04 09:57:52 – Shutdown
  2. 2018-02-14 13:17:10
  3. 2018-02-14 13:20:37
  4. 2018-02-16 10:18:36
  5. 2018-02-16 14:57:37
  6. 2018-02-24 07:41:01
  7. 2018-02-24 07:40:56
  8. 2018-02-27 10:40:40
  9. 2018-03-02 17:41:14
  10. 2018-03-02 17:41:17
  11. 2018-03-02 10:27:48
  12. 2018-03-02 10:27:50
  13. 2018-03-03 07:40:16
  14. 2018-04-05 12:42:52
  15. 2018-04-05 19:07:48 – Shutdown
  16. 2018-04-20 17:11:04 – Shutdown
  17. 2018-05-02 17:40:41
  18. 2018-05-02 17:48:44
  19. 2018-05-11 05:04:17

Finding replacements

Every time the power goes out we’re told that they are “replacing some old equipment in the area”. Needless to say, that excuse is getting pretty old itself. Luckily, these events usually don’t last long, and the UPS successfully keeps everything alive. Of the 19 events since February 2018, three resulted in shutdowns when the UPS battery ran out. Of course, we’re never notified in advance of any of these ‘repairs’ so a UPS Backup Power Supply (or two) are required.

That being said, amateur radio station K6HR currently employs two Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS). The most recent outage revealed that my older UPS, an APC LS 700 is in need of replacement. A quick look at ‘apcaccess’ quickly confirmed it:

APC      : 001,036,0870
DATE     : 2018-05-13 21:23:30 -0700
HOSTNAME : gw.k6hr.ampr.org
VERSION  : 3.14.14 (31 May 2016) debian
UPSNAME  : apc700
CABLE    : USB Cable
DRIVER   : USB UPS Driver
UPSMODE  : Stand Alone
STARTTIME: 2018-05-12 11:10:33 -0700
MODEL    : Back-UPS LS 700
STATUS   : LOWBATT
LINEV    : 114.0 Volts
LOADPCT  : 0.0 Percent
BCHARGE  : 0.0 Percent
TIMELEFT : 0.0 Minutes
MBATTCHG : 5 Percent
MINTIMEL : 3 Minutes
MAXTIME  : 0 Seconds
SENSE    : Medium
LOTRANS  : 106.0 Volts
HITRANS  : 133.0 Volts
ALARMDEL : 30 Seconds
BATTV    : 11.7 Volts
LASTXFER : No transfers since turnon
NUMXFERS : 0
TONBATT  : 0 Seconds
CUMONBATT: 0 Seconds
XOFFBATT : N/A
SELFTEST : NO
STATFLAG : 0x05000040
SERIALNO : 3B0726X84715
BATTDATE : 2007-06-30
NOMINV   : 120 Volts
NOMBATTV : 12.0 Volts
NOMPOWER : 410 Watts
FIRMWARE : 19.b5 .D USB FW:b5
END APC  : 2018-05-13 21:23:56 -0700

I could replace the battery in the LS 700, but after 11 years in service, it’s time to upgrade to a more up to date piece of hardware. I will likely relegate the LS 700 to a lower priority application. (i.e. the home entertainment center) since it is still in working condition other than the depleted battery.

CyberPower LX1500GU

I purchased the CyberPower LX1500GU to replace an old APC BackUPS RS 1000 that was also retired due to old age. This CyberPower model met or exceeded the spec, and was within budget. The LX1500GU is rated for 900 Watts, and is currently supporting a 225 Watt load with an estimated runtime of 50 minutes. This UPS supports the main Windows PC and the Astron RS70A that powers all the  12 volt radio equipment.

CyberPower LX1500GU
CyberPower LX1500GU

APC BX1500M

Why not another CyberPower LX1500GU? Logical question. The simple answer is ‘apcupsd’ is currently running on my Ubuntu server, and I prefer to install another APC unit rather than have to research and reconfigure for something else. This new APC BX1500M will be plug and play with my current configuration once I change the ‘UPSNAME parameter.

APC BX1500M
APC BX1500M

This UPS device will support the Ubuntu Server, Router, switch, and one monitor.

There are some fine tutorials available for apcupsd, so I won’t go into it here. This is a quick and dirty version of my current apcupsd config:

apcupsd.conf v1.1

# for apcupsd release 3.14.14 (31 May 2016) – debian

UPSNAME apc700

UPSCABLE usb

UPSTYPE usb DEVICE /dev/usb/hiddev[0-15]
POLLTIME 60
LOCKFILE /var/lock
SCRIPTDIR /etc/apcupsd
PWRFAILDIR /etc/apcupsd
NOLOGINDIR /etc
#
# ======== Configuration parameters used during power failures ==========
#
ONBATTERYDELAY 6
BATTERYLEVEL 5
MINUTES 3
TIMEOUT 0
ANNOY 300
ANNOYDELAY 60
NOLOGON disable
KILLDELAY 0
#
# ==== Configuration statements for Network Information Server ====
#
NETSERVER on
NISIP 0.0.0.0
NISPORT 3551
EVENTSFILE /var/log/apcupsd.events
EVENTSFILEMAX 10
#
# ========== Configuration statements used if sharing =============
#                               a UPS with more than one machine
#
UPSCLASS standalone
UPSMODE disable
#
# ===== Configuration statements to control apcupsd system logging ========
#
STATTIME 0
STATFILE /var/log/apcupsd.status
LOGSTATS off
DATATIME 0

Back to the Front

FlexRadio USB Cable Management

FlexRadio USB Cable Management

I control two Palstar AT-AUTO antenna tuners via the FlexRadio USB Cable Management function in SmartSDR.

Pair of Palstar AT-AUTO's at K6HR
Pair of Palstar AT-AUTO’s at K6HR

The FTDI USB RS-232 cables supply frequency data to other serial devices in the shack directly from the transceiver. Very slick!

When I first installed the cables I took the default settings and connected the 9 pin end of the cable to the AT-AUTO serial port. It was Plug and Play! Just like that, I had the tuners following the radio! This meant I could click anywhere on any band, and my antenna would be tuned almost instantly, and, without the need to TX a tuning carrier! That’s right, once ‘trained’ the tuners arrive at their match position before I press the PTT button!

It was the ‘almost instantly’ bit that got me…

In other words, the antennas were tuning great, but they weren’t tuning efficiently. I’ll explain. (or perhaps you’ve guessed it already!)

I have two antennas:

ANT1 – Mosley TA33JR Yagi – For use on frequencies 14mhz and higher.

ANT2 – 130ft Dipole (Height Compromised) – For use below 14mhz.

Each antenna has a dedicated AT-AUTO.

I quickly realized that as I changed frequency and/or band, both tuners were tuning both antennas to the same frequency. No good, because this also meant that when I  changed from a low band to a high band, (where the tuning presets are at opposite ends of the AT-AUTO’s range), both tuners had to travel the entire length of the tuning cycle! Really bad!

I didn’t make sense to operate this way, so I decided it was time to RTFM.

I needed the ability to assign one cable to each tuner and send independent frequency data to each tuner. If I could do this, then each of the two tuners could operate within the proper (close together) tuning range, and neither tuner would ever have to move very far to find a match, and certainly never have to travel the entire length of the tuner range again. Thus resulting in the ‘instant’ tuning I was looking for.

USB CAT Cable ‘Source’ selection

Much to my delight FlexRadio USB Cable Management allows you to select the source of the cables frequency data from a number of very useful sources!

The sources are:

  • TX Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the slice receiver that holds the Transmit Indicator.
  •  Active Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the active slice receiver (the slice that has the yellow cursor)
  • TX Panadapter – The cable will report the center frequency of the panadapter that contains the transmit slice
  • Specific Slice – The cable will report the frequency of the specified slice (A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H)
  • RX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified receive antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR, RXA, RXB). Note: If multiple slices are on the same RX Antenna then the frequency of the last tuned slice will be reported.
  • TX Antenna – The cable will report the frequency of the specified transmit antenna (ANT1, ANT2, XVTR). Note: This frequency is only changed/reported when the TX Slice is connected to the specified antenna.
Tremendous Versatility!

The Flex 6300 Transceiver only has one Spectral Capture Unit.

From the SmartSDR Documentation:

Because the notion of a receiver is firmly established in both the amateur community and possibly the rest of the world, it seemed inappropriate to describe the functionality of a wide-band sampling system simply as a “receiver”. Instead, in the SmartSDR world there are one or more “Spectral Capture Units”, or SCUs, that are responsible for the collection of wide-band data from the RF spectrum.

The SCU components are: an antenna input, an optional set of receive pre-selectors, and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). Each SCU in the radio system can be connected to only one antenna at a time, but due to the sampling architecture it may support multiple receivers and spectrum displays.

The SCU enables listening to multiple bands at the same time on the same antenna. A hardware platform with multiple SCUs such as the FLEX-6600, FLEX-6600M and FLEX-6700 allows for monitoring multiple bands on different antennas or the ability to perform more complex noise mitigation techniques that are available in multi-antenna systems.

To operate the tuners independently and efficiently, and, having only one SCU to work with, I decided to source each tuners data utilizing the ‘Specific Slice’ source. I assigned the Mosley’s AT-AUTO to respond only to data from Slice ‘A’, and the AT-AUTO for the dipole to respond only to Slice ‘B’ data.

Going forward, for the 6300, I will simply use Slice A for all frequencies 14 mhz and higher, and Slice B for all frequencies below 14 mhz.

I’m really looking forward to the addition of the 6700 and the tremendous versatility I will have at my disposal.

Back to the Front

 

Geochron Digital 4K UHD

Geochron Digital 4K UHD

I am very happy with the latest addition to the shack! The world famous Geochron Digital 4K UHD clock. I plan to utilize the Geochron as a tool in learning how to work grey line propagation.

The digital version is a fraction of the price of the mechanical model, so I saw no reason to delay any further! $399 at my time of purchase.

I have it connected to my LG 32″ 4K monitor via HDMI and it looks amazing!

Geochron Digital 4K UHD
Geochron Digital 4K UHD

Geochron will show me everything I need to know to learn and work the grey line. I need contacts in zones 23 and 34 to complete WAZ on 20m and the Geochron is going to help get me there.

Geochron Digital 4K UHD @ K6HR
Geochron Digital 4K UHD @ K6HR

I intend to add a second, identical LG 4K monitor that will be dedicated to use with the Geochron. Of course I’m using the Amateur Radio map overlay, and have the Geochron connected to the internet via wifi for updates.

highly recommended

The Geochron is a compliment to any shack big or small. If you’re serious about chasing DX, the Geochron is a very useful tool.

From the Geochron website:

The Geochron Digital 4k UHD gives viewers beautiful displays of the Earth with the sunrise-sunset rendered in real-time through a small computer that plugs directly in to your TV via HDMI.  The size of your display is only limited by the size of your TV, as you take in the terrestrial movement of the Earth’s orbit in sync with the Sun.

The Geochron Digital 4k UHD displays a full-featured Geochron World Clock on any 4k TV, with every mapset and lighting option available in our famous mechanical clock but at a fraction of the cost. Now in the digital format, users customize markers on the map, and recieve (with internet) real time updates.

  • Lifetime updates for five mapsets.
    • Live location of the International Space Station, updated every 15 seconds.
    • High Speed demonstration mode. One year in 15 seconds!
    • Eight Locations Pins with custom text names you can place anywhere on the map.
    • Static Overlays, showing:
      • Earth at Night
      • Major shipping routes (as of 05/2018)
      • Major flight routes (as of 05/2018)
      • Carbon Monoxide Pollution (new! as of 06/2018)
    • Digital Accuracy, and on-the-fly time adjustments to local time zones.

Multiple Views on the World in Real Time

With our easy-to-use on-screen menu, this Geochron has every mapset available: Earth Human, Earth Oceanic,  Earth Topographical, a simple low resolution Geopolitical, and Ham Radio. Every map can be layered with humanity’s lights in the night, as seen from space.

Watch the sun rise over special locations, and mark them with customizable location pins. See the human expanse over the continents with lights reaching into the night.

Easy Setup

Although the algorithms behind the dynamic display are complex, the Geochron Digital 4k UHD is ready to go out of the box.  It’s easy to set up and use with the provided remote control, and – with an internet connection – includes time and date configuration, firmware updates, and map updates.

RF Hardware Upgrades

I’ve finalized plans for this years hardware upgrades. After some careful consideration I’ve assembled my final list of RF hardware upgrades. 2018 has been a very busy year, but I’m finally to the point where I can devote more time and energy to the hobby side of things. I’m in the process of writing up a list of what I need to get done. I work best when I have my work sketched out and I can work through everything in logical steps. I find it helps me keep track of the details and saves me from re-work related delays.

  • Flex 6700
  • Telepost LP-500
  • LG 32UD59-B  32″ UHD 4K monitor with Ergo 45-295-026 (Monitor Arm)
  • APC BX1500M UPS
  • HDD upgrade to 500GB SSD
  • High Capacity HEPA Filter
  • W6LVP RX Loop #2
  • Comet CHA-250B Vertical HF Antenna
  • Additional Grounding and Ferrite requirements

Flex 6700

I mentioned this earlier in the year. The 6700 was the first item  added to what would become the final list of new hardware. I’m getting a great deal from Flex on a “Certified Pre-Owned” 6700. Yeah, it costs a bit more than what we’ve seen some used units sell for recently, but having Flex service is well worth it.

Telepost LP-500

I’m on the waiting list and steadily moving up in the ranks! I’m hoping the fact that I’ll need 4 RF couplers doesn’t complicate the order. Hopefully they’ll have enough on hand as I arrive at the top of the list.

LG 32UD59-B

Now that I’ve had the LG UHD 4K monitor for a while, I’ve decided I really like it. I like it enough to add a second one. Complete with identical Ergo Articulating Arm Mount. I have a thing about keeping things somewhat symmetrical . So I usually always purchase monitors in pairs. This additional 32″ monitor will serve as the primary display for the GeoChron Digital 4K. It’s stunning! Wait until you see it! It’s gonna be killer!

APC BX1500M

This will complete the back-up power requirements for the shack. As previously mentioned the existing APC will be re-tasked.

EVO 860 500GB SSD Upgrade

I’m upgrading the shack PC to Windows 10, and I’ve decided to use a larger capacity SDD for the system drive, and re-purpose the existing SSD’s to be used on the web server hardware.

High Capacity HEPA Filter

One of my main goals is to finally eliminate the dust problem. During the rack build I was able to remove a tremendous amount of dust. Likewise, during the upgrade install, I will take further action. The plan is to use an air compressor to loosen, and then collect the dust with the HEPA. Rather than attempt to loosen all the remaining dust at once, I plan to do it in installments to avoid getting choked, or the filter getting clogged etc.

Comet CHA-250B Vertical / W6LVP Loop

On the recommendation of Ron, WB6IAG, I am installing a Comet HF vertical. This antenna will add some flexibility to the station RX. I am also adding a second W6LVP Loop antenna, and putting it, and the existing loop, on rotators! How’s that for an RX improvement!

Finishing Touches!

RF Hardware Upgrades

Of course the new gear all needs to be tied into the ground bar, and have ferrite’s applied to both ends of all the new cables. Perhaps the last finishing touch with be the replacement of the ugly cardboard above the air conditioner in the window! I’ll cut a custom fit a plexi-glass insert to close up the window properly once and for all!

Last Minute Addition! Kenwood TH-D74A

The Kenwood TH-D74A is a D-STAR transceiver. It is packed with amazing features. And….it comes complete with a learning curve! I recently became interested in D-STAR after doing some research on its capabilities.

RF Hardware Upgrades
Kenwood TH-D74A D-STAR Transceiver

D-STAR Kenwood TH-D74A

D-STAR Kenwood TH-D74A

I was in the market for an HT and decided to take a look at what the “Big 3” were offering. My attention was drawn to the D-STAR Network after stumbling into a D-STAR video featuring the ICOM ID-51A.  After a little more research it became apparent the best choice for me would be the D-STAR Kenwood TH-D74A.

D-STAR KENWOOD TH-D74A
Kenwood TH-D74A – Tri-Band APRS/GPS/D-STAR

First rule of D-STAR: You must register!

I registered through HRO where I purchased the radio, and within a business day my registration was working. The D-STAR network checks for a valid callsign registration before allowing access. So you can’t work any D-STAR without the validated registration. It took less than 5 minutes to enter the basic required info via the web. I entered my info on a weekend, and it was working after the following business day.

D-STAR Gateways

The ‘gateway’ function was what really got me going on D-STAR. The digital repeaters have an internet gateway function that allows for connection to remote D-STAR repeaters and ‘reflectors’ around the world. Count me in! This is a must have capability at K6HR.

Finding my local digital repeaters was simple, and I quickly determined which repeaters I could access. The GPS feature enables you to find the local repeaters with the press of a button from a built-in database. Pretty slick!

However…

I also quickly learned that the local D-STAR repeaters, although capable of gateway connections, do not necessarily permit them! At least, not to casual users. I can see that the best local repeater is always linked to a certain reflector. When I attempt to change the reflector, I get an error icon.

It didn’t take long to realize it is poor etiquette to show up on a repeater and change the reflector that many folks are monitoring! Bad idea. Now what?

And the answer is…DVAP

No Problem. I just need to be a D-STAR Gateway!

There’s a gizmo for that! What I need is a Digital Voice Access Point or DVAP. The DVAP is an internet gateway interface that can be accessed via UHF simplex. Through the DVAP, I will have my own D-STAR gateway functionality. I wouldn’t rule out a full blown D-STAR repeater sometime in the future, but for now the simplex UHF DVAP will get the job done.

Enter the ZUMSpot.

ZUMspot Kit Features:

  • High performance 32-bit ARM processor
  • ZUMspot Board Fully Assembled And Tested
  • Supports DMR, P-25, D-Star, System Fusion and NXDN
  • Onboard LEDs to show status (Tx, Rx, PTT, Mode)
  • Up to 10mW RF power
  • SMA antenna connector, UHF antenna included
  • Mounts cleanly on all current Raspberry Pi’s including the Pi Zero WH
  • Works on ODROID boards
  • The firmware is pre-loaded and is easily upgraded via software.
  • Connections for Nextion LCD display and I2C displays
  • 1 Year Warranty
  • Open source firmware (MMDVM) and board design
  • Open source 3D printable case available
  • 144 MHz, 220MHz and 900MHz versions to be released at a later date

I am very pleased with the D-STAR Kenwood TH-D74A, and with the overall D-STAR experience thus far, although I am still learning the radio and studying the manual. The APRS performance is also outstanding. I’ve only scratched the surface of this radio’s capability.

The programming of the ZUM hotspot looks pretty straightforward. The DVAP will be included in the 2018 radio hardware upgrade taking place next month.

QSO w/ Scotland via local D-STAR repeater
QSO w/ Scotland via local D-STAR repeater

Pictured above: A QSO in progress with a mobile station in Scotland. He has a multimode hotspot in his vehicle so he can work the world on his way to work!

D-STAR is an exciting new facet of amateur radio here in the K6HR shack!

Back to the front…