Ettus Research USRP's - User Opinions

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KC1UA

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Over the last few years I have seriously been bitten by the SDR bug. I currently use numerous RTL2832 dongles for VHF and above searching, as UniTrunker receivers, etc. I also use an RF-Space SDR-IQ for shortwave listening. The more I use them the more I wonder if I ever want to return to a conventional type scanner or receiver.

With that in mind, I am looking at the Ettus Research USRP Instant SDR Kit:

https://www.ettus.com/product/details/UB100D-BDL

Does anyone here have experience with this or any USRP devices that can comment on performance. The above kit is priced at $675.00. Obviously the price goes up from there. While I expect more robust performance out of this as compared to that of an RTL dongle, my main question is just how much more performance will there be given the wide front end of these devices?

Also, I am at best a fledgling Linux user. To be honest I look at GNU Radio and it makes my head spin. Not being a programmer it makes me wonder if having this device and not having the software knowledge is going to make this come up short for me. I know I can get it working with SDR#.

There are other alternatives that exist or will soon exist. BladeRF is one but coverage starts at 300 MHz which is not acceptable to me. HackRF is coming as well but I'm thinking its specs don't live up to those of the USRP's. Airspy looks interesting but may just be a super-souped-up RTL dongle.

Any input on anyone's experience with using USRP devices, especially the above referenced one, would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks and Happy New Year!
 

KA1RBI

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Does anyone here have experience with this or any USRP devices that can comment on performance.
I have a USRP1 with several daughterboards (WBX and LFTX/LFRX) which gives coverage from DC up to frequencies higher than I've ever played with. Also have a HackRF board.

As to your general question about the USRP line, I can recommend it highly, but the ultimate answer of course would be based on what you want to do and how well that matches the various offerings available, of which more and more are coming online all the time. In particular, if you intend to only do RX and not TX, you would be paying for a USRP TX capability that would not be used...

I've personally met Matt Ettus and several other team members, and that's one reason why I give them a high recommendation. I'd buy from them again.

73

Max
 

KC1UA

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Hi Max,

Thanks for the input. I would be using the USRP for receive primarily, but I am a licensed amateur so I suppose having the TX functions could eventually be of interest. My primary use of it would be to be able to view a wide chunk of spectrum in the VHF/UHF ranges for signals and to be able to tune to a viewed signal immediately, as I can currently do with the RTL dongles which are of course limited to 2 MHz. I am primarily looking for such a setup that is more robust and will allow wider spectral viewing.

I'd be interested to know how the HackRF compares performance wise with your USRP as it appears I'd be using the same WBX daughterboard.

Again, thanks.
 

KA1RBI

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I'd be interested to know how the HackRF compares performance wise with your USRP as it appears I'd be using the same WBX daughterboard.
Have not used the HackRF as much as the USRP. The HackRF that I have was from an early beta test program, and some of these had soldering defects. One difference vs. the USRP is that the latter will run FDX, whereas the HackRF cannot TX and RX at the same time. Also the USRP supports MIMO directly, something that might be do-able with the HackRF DIY, if you use multiple boards and synchronize the clocks.

At the moment the vast bulk of my use of HackRF is using the TX side to generate test P25 trunking signals in the 900 MHz band. It's been pretty stable. One thing to note on the HackRF is it didn't work very well until I upgraded to the latest firmware...

Max
 

KC1UA

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Thanks. Are you operating primarily in a Linux environment? I need to learn GNU Radio's basics, and I suppose I should take the time to do so as I understand there is support for the RTL dongles. This is how little I know about it, unfortunately, and I anticipate at least in the early stages of having a USRP I'd be using Windows apps like SDR# and/or HDSDR.

My other main concern is that obviously when looking at a wide chunk of spectrum I may suffer from spurs, images, etc. I expect that USRP would be rather superior to the dongles in this regard, but just how much more superior. Sometimes just looking at 2 MHz or so is fine, but there are times when viewing a wider area will be something I want to do.

I appreciate your time; thanks again.
 

KA1RBI

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Thanks. Are you operating primarily in a Linux environment? I need to learn GNU Radio's basics, and I suppose I should take the time to do so as I understand there is support for the RTL dongles. This is how little I know about it, unfortunately, and I anticipate at least in the early stages of having a USRP I'd be using Windows apps like SDR# and/or HDSDR.

My other main concern is that obviously when looking at a wide chunk of spectrum I may suffer from spurs, images, etc. I expect that USRP would be rather superior to the dongles in this regard, but just how much more superior. Sometimes just looking at 2 MHz or so is fine, but there are times when viewing a wider area will be something I want to do.

I appreciate your time; thanks again.
yeah, I use Linux and GNURadio exclusively. One other thing about the HackRF is with its 20MHz sampling rate I can view the entire FM broadcast band in an FFT. The USRP1 can't sample that fast.

As for birdies, spurs, and all the rest, your results will vary especially if you're in an RF-dense environment. There are not many situations in RF where more filtering is a bad thing, and SDR receivers are no exception. I've got a RS PRO-2096 scanner that is almost totally deaf on VHF due to intermod, a lot of which goes away by adding an inline FM trap. The same sorts of issues affect all receivers, and SDR isn't unique in this respect...

Max
 

KC1UA

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Thanks. More research is warranted. I'm also looking at the USRP B200, which might not be a bad idea for $50 more. Of course the issue of finding a case comes into play then, but USB3 and up to 56 MHz of bandwidth seems pretty nifty.

What's the max you can look at for bandwidth with the USRP1 and WBX daughterboard? Am I correct in that about 16 MHz might be it?
 

KA1RBI

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What's the max you can look at for bandwidth with the USRP1 and WBX daughterboard? Am I correct in that about 16 MHz might be it?
Yep.

UHD Warning:
The hardware does not support the requested RX sample rate:
Target sample rate: 20.000000 MSps
Actual sample rate: 16.000000 MSps
 

KC1UA

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16 MHz is still quite respectable when you're used to looking at 2, though.

I saw an interesting comment with regards to the B200 (which is actually not $50 more, same price as Instant Kit just no case). The comment indicated "poor support for Windows". I thought the UHD pretty much made any USRP compatible with any software that supports it. In other words, if the Instant Kit will work with SDR#, HDSDR, etc., shouldn't the B200 as well?

I want and intend to learn GNU Radio but I still want to ensure Windows support as well.
 

NYG

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I had a USRP1 and currently use a USRP N210 with several daughter boards including the WBX. I find them to be remarkable devices. It's interesting capturing very large chunks of spectrum at a time.

The small dongles are fun but the USRP is a serious piece of gear compared to them.

I'm primarily into SDR these days having sold off my other receivers some years ago. I had an Icom R8500 and a AOR R5000+3 and an Icom R75.

For HF I primarily use an HPSDR Hermes board and use the USRP for everything above.

The only thing I need is more time to tinker these days.

The B200/B210 devices look great but you may want to contact Ettus regarding them and the USB3 chipset in the computer you're using if you decide to go that direction. Apparently some chipsets have compatibility issues.
 

KC1UA

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I had a USRP1 and currently use a USRP N210 with several daughter boards including the WBX. I find them to be remarkable devices. It's interesting capturing very large chunks of spectrum at a time.

The small dongles are fun but the USRP is a serious piece of gear compared to them.
That I'm glad to hear....I HOPE it is given the price! :)

I'm primarily into SDR these days having sold off my other receivers some years ago. I had an Icom R8500 and a AOR R5000+3 and an Icom R75.
That's the direction I'm headed in as well. I sadly parted with the AOR AR5000A+3 that sat here for years with moving into the future in mind.

The B200/B210 devices look great but you may want to contact Ettus regarding them and the USB3 chipset in the computer you're using if you decide to go that direction. Apparently some chipsets have compatibility issues.
I will do that, thanks, I would not have known otherwise. I'm a little concerned about the lack of case, but I know there are options and I'll consider it. I obviously want to get the most bang for the buck, but I have to balance that with common sense as well. I know some physical mods have to be made to the third party cases; I probably don't have the right tools for the job so finding someone that does and will either help me or loan them is inevitable.

Thanks much for the input!
 

mancow

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I'm waiting for my hackrf to arrive. What is UHD you guys have mentioned? One thing I'm still confused about is what I will use to drive it? Will I have to get into Linux? I know nothing about Linux and that seems like it will be a big pain.
 

KC1UA

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Here's a description of UHD:

UHD - USRP Hardware Driver

As far as I can tell it should allow USRP's to work with HDSDR and SDR# in Windows, and maybe SDR-Radio? Still learning.

I think I've seen .jpg's or video of the HackRF being used with SDR# also.
 

KA1RBI

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UHD is the driver layer for the USRP hardware line. It's required nowadays to run any USRP (in Linux, can't comment on windoze).

In Linux there is an additional set of drivers and software (gr-osmosdr) which supports the USRP's (via UHD) but also supports an array of other hardware such as the RTL SDR and other USB receivers.

SDR applications can be written to interface to UHD and/or to gr-osmosdr. The former might be most appropriate for intensive apps that need direct access to all the native features of UHD (e.g., MIMO).

OTOH applications can be written to the gr-osmosdr API to take advantage of a wide range of "black box" SDR hardware in a generic way...

Max
 

KC1UA

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My problem is that my knowledge of Linux is at best fledgling. I've installed Ubuntu 13.10 on my secondary computer and I'm dual booting with Windows 7. I managed to get GNURadio installed on it in the hopes of learning about it by using the RTL dongle that's attached. Of course getting the RTL dongle to work in Linux is my current challenge. I'm on the OsmoSDR site trying to figure that out. It appears that all of this is a steep learning curve and I'm willing to work towards it certainly, but I also require some Windows connectivity.

I would very happily forever run a USRP in SDR#, but I know it can do much more so that creates a conundrum for me. Given that I will use the USRP pretty much exclusively for simple visual searches of various amounts of radio spectrum, is it going to be worth it for me to struggle through the learning curve of Linux and GNUradio. One part of me wants to do so, but gradually and without pressure. That's why the other part of me needs this to work well in Windows. From what I read I think it will.
 

KC1UA

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Had a lengthy chat today by phone with a very kind and patient salesman from Ettus Research. As of today the B100 is out of stock. I was told that it is an "end of life" product.

I'm going to sit on this idea for a while and see how things develop. There are enough interesting devices coming down the pike to keep me busy doing research for a while. KA1RBI and NYG, thank you kindly for your input and patience with a "quality SDR newbie". :D Back to the RTL's for now. :)
 

IC301

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... but USB3 and up to 56 MHz of bandwidth seems pretty nifty.

What's the max you can look at for bandwidth with the USRP1 and WBX daughterboard? Am I correct in that about 16 MHz might be it?
Gig Ethernet is the way to go, supports remote access and the box will only have it IF it NEEDS it (unless it is poorly designed, (rare), or partially overspeced).

To answer your question: Ettus Research - Support: Knowledge Base , there are 'three parts' to the 'Black Box' (much like your Computer) where "Bandwidth" comes into play, if you skimp in one area you get a (you know this word) bottleneck (same as in your Computer); so choose each individual Component to match your intended use.

The USRP1's WBX has a 40 Mhz bandwidth, the ADC can digitize at 64 MS/s, and the USB 2.0 Interface does 8 MS/s (Half Duplex). That means a sweep of that bandwidth with so slow an ADC will make for a slow sweep time, hope you do not retrieve much Data (and you WILL) since you need to shove your 'answer' through USB 2.0 .

The USRP1 would be overkill if DSD is all it will ever be used for and likely unsatisfying IF you later get serious about the Hobby.

IE: I would buy one of the USB 3.0 Devices instead of a USB 2.0 Device, just because the USB 3.0 Interface is EIGHT times faster (and thus somewhat useful). Even a 100M Ethernet Device will be somewhat futureproof (for you, I presume, (too much?)), since you may not want a 1GE Box, and the massive expense of pro equipment.


Note: The actual streaming performance will depend on the processing capability of the host computer, the complexity of the application/DSP, and other factors.

Waiting always brings better stuff for less: http://avnetexpress.avnet.com/content/adx/documents/en_us/Avnet ZedBoard Brochure English Version.pdf . The Mfg (Ettus) even suggests that the USRP1 is outdated and recommend a newer model. For the price of their other Model you can get this: http://www.zedboard.org/product/zynq-sdr-ii-eval (or any number of other newer Devices from various places). OTOH Ettus is much cheaper than NI (who makes their stuff and seems to have similar Devices for a much higher price).
 
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IC301

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Also see:

Application Note - Selecting a USRP Device - Ettus Research
http://www.ettus.com/content/files/kb/application_note_selecting_a_usrp.pdf

The ZedBoard Series uses a newer and more powerful FPGA, and costs less
http://www.zedboard.org/buy

There are many NEW Boards with fancy Radios and FPGAs, so ZedBoard is not the only choice. Google for the newest Chips from the biggest Mfgs. and see who is making a Board that uses them.


To decide what you want (can afford) just Spec. it like a Computer:

1. IF you want an FPGA-Based System choose the FPGA you can afford (and might want to program, someday). Without one you NEED a fast i7.
2. Decide on a board with or without FMC Connectors (FMC allows upgrading Radio, or swapping perfectly good Radio to a newer, better FPGA)
3. A second General Purpose Processor (x86 or ARM) enables standalone operation, otherwise you MUST hook it up to your Computer, or turn it off.
4. If you are choosing an expensive FPGA and Radio (along with a uP) you might as well choose quality parts with really great Specs. in the Radio.
5. If it has an FPGA you probably want Ethernet and are unlikely to get by with USB 3.0 .
6. IF you have a SPECIFIC use you can focus on spending your money in one area (FPGA or Radio).
7 You don't NEED an FPGA or a Radio or to spend that much. Just use a Disc. Tap on your Scanner and buy a second Laptop to run 24/7, for a 'cheap' solution.

There IS a reason why some of the Gear is expensive, and people pay for it -- you may not share those reasons. Super Gear can be had for less than U$8K, really super cheap Gear (SDR USB Stick) can be had for less than $15 and it WILL provide over U$100 worth of enjoyment (as you already know).
 

KC1UA

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Thanks for taking the time to provide such detailed information. I greatly appreciate it. This will be a work in progress for me and I'll study and learn. I've had some "standard" good quality receivers at my fingertips over the years such as the AOR AR5000 and Icom IC-R8500, IC-R7000, etc., but once bitten by the SDR bug and seeing spectrum instead of tuning through it by hand, it's hard to fathom going back.

One of my favorite aspects of this hobby is searching for new signals. The advantage here is an obvious one. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes down the pike in 2014. Seems the sky will be the limit, and the only limit will be the wallet. Although, with devices like HackRF coming, maybe for what I will require SDR use for it won't be an overwhelming expense.
 

pttalfonsin

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Synchronizing two USRPs B210

Hi,
I want to use two USRPs B210 to receive samples using the two channels in both B210. I need to synchronize the two B210 but I don know how. Could you give me some links, documentation or something to help me to do this?
Thank you so much,
P.
 
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