HackRF. A verdict yet?

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Flatliner

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I'm very interested to hear of owners experiences with BladeRF, especially in comparison with the dongles and HackRF. Any news?
 

KC1UA

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Thus far I have found the performance of the BladeRF to be superior to the HackRF, but as we've discussed elsewhere this may well be due to the 12 bit v. 8 bit architecture.

I've also had the BladeRF a lot longer than the HackRF, having received it in January and then the XB-200 HF/VHF transverter coming thereafter.

For me, both are plagued by overload, imaging, and aliasing. Some of this can be overcome with filtering, attenuation, etc. Some of it is my fault, particularly understanding the right balance in software to minimize imaging and aliasing problems.

The BladeRF seems to do quite well with seeing and tuning weak NFM signals in the VHF/UHF/SHF ranges. It has its problem areas; I can't see much at all in the 250-260 MHz area which is unfortunate as I would love to use it to see milsat transponders. I have some considerable interference issues here that I believe may be internal as they continue to appear with no antenna attached. I am plagued by images and aliases of strong signals in the 450 MHz area.

Owning both the BladeRF and the aforementioned transverter, one has to roll their own if they want it in a case. Nuand is behind the curve in providing a case in which both will fit. Therefore my setup sits in a safe stationary position and is not easily transportable, which I think it should be. Again perhaps my shortcoming for not having the proper tools to mount it in a customized case correctly.

The HackRF is a work in progress for me. I love its size, the fact that it's mounted in a case out of the box, and the fact that it's USB 2.0, which may hamstring it a bit bandwidth wise but makes it so easy to use on a number of different PC's. It's easy to install but if you are not a Linux tinkerer doing any command line updating such as firmware becomes more difficult. It seems to suffer greatly from the aliasing/imaging problems I described for the BladeRF, likely due to the same issues. It's ability to see and decode weak signals is not as good as the BladeRF's for obvious reasons. Signals overall seem to be weaker with it although perhaps this is an issue with achieving the proper balance of software settings.

I have tried the BladeRF on HF and was not impressed. It is totally overloaded unless the gain settings are pretty much turned off. I have not tried the HackRF in the HF bands yet. I do have the converter from NooElec that I purchased with it.

The dongles are pretty nifty devices for their low price and I have had a great deal of fun with them.

It also should be noted that at one point I had an AOR AR5000A+3 with an RFSpace SDR-14 as a panadapter. That was the best setup I had for spectrum monitoring and I have regrets that I sold it. It was a leap of faith to the current SDR technology, which is not at a par with it. The BladeRF can approach what the 5000/SDR-14 combination offered when it is properly balanced, but as of yet I've found no equal.
 

SCPD

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Hi Scott,

Your remarks kind of matches my expectations on a range of wideband SDRs currently being produced from the "hackers" community; good devices to sniff local networks and make wideband signals visible but much less usable for the RF minded weak signal & dx hunter.

With each new generation of traditional receivers (like AOR and such) the bar was set a bit higher in RF performance.
You can observe a clear development over several decades.

Now a guerilla seems to be going on by whizz kids saying "hey, we can do that for less, glueing chip A to chip B, painting out irregularities by firmware", but they are no RF engineers :)

Software can't repair a mediocre frontend.
SDR is no holy grail without proper knowledge of analog RF engineering.

73
Paul
PD0PSB

Btw speaking about real RF engineers: RFSpace has some interesting "wideband" developments in progress..
 
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Flatliner

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Thanks guys.

I keep looking at the BladeRF as an "upgrade" to the HackRF, but I'm yet to see anything that I would gain over what I already have within my collection.

How transparent is the transverter when in operation? Do you have to specify anything when using in its range, "use TXVR" option for example?

Has anyone used it to TX with?
 

KC1UA

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Sorry for the response delay.

In SDR# you configure the XB200 board to be enabled and you're all set for that and subsequent sessions. In SDR-Console 2.3 beta it works seamlessly, but in 2.2 the XB200 is ignored.

One plus with SDR# is that the configuration also points to where the FPGA is loaded, saving you from potentially having to do it manually before you start the software. SDR-Console does not do this. There is a way to autoload the FPGA from the bladeRF command line and avoid all of this but I haven't tried it.

Paul is spot on with his above assessment. I must say that after almost a year with the bladeRF I am frustrated with trying to use it as a replacement for a quality desktop receiver. The spectral analysis is nice, but the lack of front end and the resulting aliases, imaging, etc. is something that despite suggestions I've never been able to overcome.

I am wondering if the latest 3 offerings, those being Airspy, SDRPlay, and RFSpace's CloudSDR will be different. I expect the RFSpace offering to be superb. There is pretty much no info on the SDRPlay, and the Airspy is RTL2832 based. But all are meant to be used more as wideband receivers and less as "hacker" type devices as the bladeRF and HackRF are.
 

N2CR

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One plus with SDR# is that the configuration also points to where the FPGA is loaded, saving you from potentially having to do it manually before you start the software. SDR-Console does not do this. There is a way to autoload the FPGA from the bladeRF command line and avoid all of this but I haven't tried it.
The bladeRF FPGA can be autoloaded when the host software first opens the device. All that's needed is to put the firmware in a specific directory:

https://github.com/Nuand/bladeRF/wiki/FPGA-Autoloading#host-software-based

This eliminates the need to load it via the command line using bladeRF-cli. I'm currently using SDR-Console and have deleted the script previously used to load the FPGA.

For bladeRF to be a more competitive as a replacement for dedicated receivers the firmware/FPGA need to be updated to address some of the issues Scott mentioned. There has been some discussion about this on the IRC channel, but the people with the knowledge and experience needed for this task seem to be more interested in other things. Hopefully as Nuand ships more boards and transverters this situaition will improve.
 

KC1UA

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Thanks for the tip on the firmware load, I of course completely missed that!

I agree on the bladeRF folks, and I have a feeling this will be the case with the hackRF folks as well. That is not a knock; both camps clearly contain exceptionally brilliant people, but clearly they do not place either device's use as a wideband receiver in the forefront of their plans. I know RFSpace does, and we'll see how the other two do.

I've done it many times, and I'll do it again if need be; put them all up for sale and move on. As I and many have stated in other threads here at RR, this is the price those of us that want to live on the cutting edge pay. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but there's always something new coming down the pike. :)
 
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