Realistic alternative to F6k + maestro

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Guys, not sure how much exposure this has had in the US yet. I recently spent a whole day playing with this new single-box SDR I have to say I am very impressed.

This is the Expert Electronics Sun MB1 SDR
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wNK7qptKNA

For those that like SDR plus knobs-and-dials too (ie. the maestro user), then It costs around £1,700 less (!) than the F6700. And for that you'd get the Maestro part as standard built-in, not an optional expensive extra.

Okay the radio may not do 6 slices, but how many of us can really drive our brain in time with 6 slices anyway?
 
Speaking personally, I wont be changing to the MB1 as I only drive my radio via a PC+network. And that is precisely why I purchased the Flex. I don't care for the knobby front-end of any SDR but for those that like it that way you do have options!

73 de Steve G1XOW
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G8ZPX

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Posted 3 years ago

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K6OZY, Elmer

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It was at Dayton.  But I'm confused at why you would post this here.  This is a Flex community for Flex owners about Flex products.  Directing people to competitors seems disrespectful and something that should be done on a non-Flex owned website such as Yahoo, etc.
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Burt Fisher

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The 7300 conversation "seized" another conversation?
The radio in the video is SDR, so it belongs in this forum
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km9r.mike

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Thanks but no thanks. The sun rig does not interest me.
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Barry N1EU

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Why are you comparing the MB1 with the 6700 and not the 6500?  
The MB1 is single ADC, correct?  The MB1 has a narrow market window until Icom releases its higher performance knobbed SDR.  For many reasons it's a risky purchase.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Why are people so paranoid about talk of things other than Flex, mb1, Android, 7300? If we talk 'off topic' about things that interest us perhaps it will have some gravitational pull on FlexRadioSystems strategic planning. If the only people allowed to talk are the idle millionaires, that will be the only feedback FlexRadioSystems will have.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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While I agree there seems to be a protectionist mood here, it does seem strange to go onto a companies web site and say there is an alternative to their product out there. Something I wouldn't do. Perhaps if worded differently may have been better.

Steven said:
( ops that would buy say an F6500 then FRS really need to take a long hard look at the detail that has gone in to the MB1, especially around the user interface which is blissful to use. At the very least they should use this as a hard benchmark because Sun is sure not standing still in the game. )

And:
(I don’t want to have to buy yet another expensive SDR in a years’ time (already on my 5th) so I would really like to see FRS doing it better than the new upstarts by pleasing its customers.)

These comments by Steven do not seem to be just a ,,hey look what other radio is out there,,check it out.
Saying the MB1 is the benchmark for Flex to follow? Umm  OK!
Like to see Flex doing it better than upstarts? I think they are...lol

In my  opinion...
(Edited)
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Jd Dupuy

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Plenty of exposure in the USA. Watched it for 2 years as it went from prototype to production. I have one. Cheap Ham is US dealer for the Sun MB-1. They can't produce enough of them for dealers and they are slow to get orders out. Warranty work if needed is a big question right now for US buyers. It's a neat rig no doubt. I have a lot of rigs by all the major players, Flex, Elecraft, ELAD, ANAN, ICOM, Yaesu, Kenwood and yes I have my favorites. I have the radios that turned out to be turds in my book also. Flex remians #1 with Elecraft right behind. Cost is not a major player, but performance and options are. Our hobby will continue to evolve as it has for many who have been in this hobby longer than me. Stick around long enough and are radios will be a hologram someday!
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Varistor

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JD, I have been monitoring the development of the MB1 with great interest, anxiously waiting to meet a person who owns one. My schedule changed and I could not attend Dayton either. So I'd love to chat with you privately. Would you mind contacting me at n2wq at ARRL net?
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Jd Dupuy

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Email Sent. And it bounced. send me one at n0irs at kc.rr.com.
(Edited)
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Greg

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Some major differences between MB1 and 6700......the MB1 is more comparable to the 6500 than the 6700 as it only has one ADC.  Another big difference to me is their need to use third party COM software to create needed COM ports as well as virtual audio cable software.  the flex integration there is much nicer.  All that said...I actually like the UI used by expert electronics much better.  Its all pros and cons......


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Robert Allbright

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I have a Sunsdr2 Pro and really like the GUI more than my 6300
in fact I use the Sun most of the time
haven't yet had a play with the the MB1?
73 Rob G3RCE
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Steve (N9SKM)

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Realistic in what context? Flex 6k and a maestro is pretty real to me. And the rx and TX properties are good as well. I can't imagine we will see that rig sitting on top of the sherwood list.
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Varistor

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One consideration to keep in mind is that the science of RX antennas is not standing still and develops rapidly. Virtually all top contest stations have adopted active small vertical antennas, mainly 8 element circle and 4 element square. Such antennas take relatively little space and are far quicker and easier to use compared to what is beng discussed here. Not to mention that adding such RX setup is cheaper than a 6700.

Go to http://www.contestuniversity.com/main... and watch the 2014 videos on high performance RX arrays by K3LR and W3LPL. The 2015 and 2016 sessions are not published but are pretty similar to the 2014.

The Hi-Z site and LZ1AQ's site at http://www.lz1aq.signacor.com/ have tons of details on the effectiveness of small vertical elements RX arrays.

Just because we can do diversity via software doesn't mean it's the only or best way to do it.
(Edited)
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Lee, Elmer

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Rudy sometimes you crack me up.  Beam forming is not diversity.
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Varistor

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You forget the end goal- improving SNR. The human ear doesn't care how you improve SNR. So diversity is one of the means to get the desired SNR, but is not the only method. This topic is about viable alternatives, isn't it.
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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Eight slices is nice, but for me more important is the two SCUs of the 6700.

That is a serious advantage if one has the antennas to put it to its uses.

73

Steve
K9ZW
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Steve (N9SKM)

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agreed. the fact that the radio CAN run 8 slices isn't the gain of the 6700 its the dual SCU's and diversity receive, xverter use etc that come with it for those that need it.

that being said I have had 3 slices up on the 6500 at once. Recently we had 2 big Dxpeditions running at the same time. and that allowed me to monitor those 2 to be able to know when they opened at the same time as casually operating on the same band. just because there is multiple slices open doesn't mean you are listening or operating on them all at the same time. It can be used as a handy tool.
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Mark Griffin

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Frankly, I think it's good that people write about what else is out there! How does Flexradio cut the mustard with other SDR's? If and when other manufacturers come out with an SDR I would like to see some good conversation about it. If Elecraft comes out with their SDR I would love to read all the comments on that. And hopefully they would be constructive in nature.

I myself would have liked to see the Maestro handle all modes. Not just CW and SSB, but all the digital modes. But that's my personal preference.

Bravo to Steve, G1XOW for making the post!!!
Mark Griffin, KB3Z
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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Interesting of course, but not exactly an inclusive alternatives list, eh?

That said I wanted to upgrade my Island QTH's main radio from the Flex-6300 to better take advantage of the technology and antennas being implemented in this clean-sheet station build.

I looked at a lot of options.  Within reason I was wiling in this evaluation and planning to put Performance at the top of the decision making list, with quality, reliability and track-record also taking place with dollars invested in making a choice.

Won't ramble on over the roughly dozen rigs that made the initial cut, nor am I going to enter into any debate as my decision is what was best for me.

There were some pretty strong contenders and some reasons that each radio of the final three made it to my short list.  BTW not all were the same technology, as I really wanted to focus back on that achieved performance (and if possible future expandability).

If I had a whole pocket full of loot I'd love to have bought one each of the top three to six rigs to do a "shoot out" style evaluation.  But a buy decision had to be made.

Just received the email that the Flex-6700 w/GPSDO for the Island shack has shipped from Austin.

Decision made, now the focus is on whether a remote radio server in the tower/antenna service enclosure makes more sense than the traditional station configuration of bringing the feedlines and control cables all back to the user occupied station shack.  Still working through that decision.

BTW while the MB1 was in the dozen short listed, mostly because performance SDRs trip my trigger, it didn't make the final three largely for reasons folks earlier in this thread have already outlined.

But there was a bigger reason for the FRS choice - The FlexRadio Systems Vision. 

Like all interesting products that help expand a market segment, there will be alternative offerings developed along the way.  That is the way of the marketplace.

In the case of the Flex-6000/SmartSDR/Maestro/4o3a-devices combination there is a vision that adds a synergy I didn't see as well developed (or even expressed) in the greater number of the short listed rigs. 

It also reinforced the raw performance calculation that still favors the Flex-6700.

Of course YMMV but mine didn't. 

73

Steve K9ZW

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Chris Tate - N6WM, Elmer

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For my experience, Its not necessarily completely all about the rig itself.  Its the Eco-System.  the flex community is a multi-layered eco system designed not only to put out cutting edge radio technology, but also comes with it its entire support network.  You have your Managment, Design staff, your hardware engineers and software development engineers.  then you have in house testers, then the Alpha testers providing defect reports back to the software/hardware engineers for remediation.  And finally and excellent support staff with tools that include this community to support the end user experience and gather feedback from them.

I would be shocked if there was another SDR manufacturer could handle all these aspects as well as FRS, If they do they could be a possible alternative.  So far I have not observed any company that comes close from an entire ecosystem standpoint other than Elecraft and they dont make latest gen SDR.

Bottom line is that there is a lot more to the decision on adoption an architecture than a raw 6500 or 6700 with Maestro vs a SUN. 

Flex 6000 series with Maestro is ready to be in my contest shack.  SUN is not at this time.

Just my 2 cents...  :-)

Chris
N6WM
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Simon Lewis

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ditto - I was interested in the MB1 a while ago but never got the fuzzies from them about company cability long term - Steve is right that the world is changing in EU - but I have not yet seen a product with support behind it that makes me want to spend - Maybe in a few years the MB2 will ... but for now the 2 x 6500's and my Maestro are keeping me very happy - I am just about to move into a new house this weekend - the new shack will be engineered to support IP based devices - a new world is upon on - the new amp will be very interesting and I will be investing in one over the next couple years no doubt to replace the SPE 1K - no more tubes - IP based devices and LAN controlled gear - kinda of exctiing :) 
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Lee, Elmer

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It's actually very exciting.  IMHO the radio is well beyond adequate in terms of performance.  The loudest thing I ever hear is 25dB below where my 6300 crunches, the filters are 50hz, the tuning is 1hz etc.  When I got my 6300 I reset my DXCC total back to  zero and wondered how many countries/bands I could work in 6 months.  My operating became goal directed but not obsessively so.  I started on June 6th 2012.  On Jan 6th of the next year using a vertical I had completed 7 band DXCC and had 85 countries on the 8th band, not all confirmed but unique bandfills in the log.  So clearly the "Sherwood numbers performance" isn't an issue.  

The power of the radio is in how its performance is multiplied by the way it can  become an extension of the operator, and it is in that set of features the radio excels.  It's not that it can drive a 40in monitor that makes the radio excel, it's the fact that each pixel is 1.5 hz wide and so you can see under the noise on what ever monitor you are using.  It's in the way the waterfall works, that gives extra information about the history of what just transpired, because the waterfall is a way to look several minutes back into time, and it's a way to discern coherence from noise.  I was one of 431 NA hams to work EP6T on 30M last year strictly because of the information the panadapter provided.  You better believe there were more than 431 NA hams trying to bag this #2 needed entity on 30M.  It was the panadapter that told me where to transmit.  So you can complain how the GUI isn't complete bla bla bla, but the power it does provide, I think often goes unrecognized and is critical to making contacts.  It is that kind of nuance the "Sherwood numbers" do not address.

The real fun is in the erector set nature of the system available through the API's.  I can and do make my radio station directly an extension of my vision and budget.  It gives me a way to further draw together a whole which due to its integration is much greater than its parts.  Another nuance never addressed by the "Sherwood numbers" but probably the reason I have so much fun with this radio.  

"The story of innovation has not changed. It has always been a small team of people who have a new idea, typically not understood by people around them and their executives."   Eric Schmidt Chairman Google

This statement describes what is in operation here.  Gerald/Flex has created a ham radio innovation engine.   That to some extent extends to a symbiosis with its user base because it is the user base that literally keeps the relationship alive.  It has always been thus since the SDR-1000 days.   As soon as Flex looses this and tries to become something less, (ie starts worrying about the competition) the second derivative on the growth curve goes negative.  So I wouldn't change a damn thing.

73  W9OY
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Flex has been doing this for a long time,,longer than anyone. It is clear that Flex is the benchmark for everyone to stride for in SDR. The hardest thing about being #1 is staying there.

As a Canadian we look at our Hockey, something we started. All countries in the world watched and looked at how we develop players. In time many countries developed programs much the same and have had good returns on their efforts. Now it is harder for Us to stay at the top. And some years we are not.
For Flex to stay at the top, it will be a continual effort as many companies learn from them.
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Steve - N5AC, VP Engineering / CTO

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This is absolutely true, Bill.  I tell folks here at Flex that we are in a race.  It's a sad, but true fact that the follower has it easier than the leader.  In the history of business, the followers are often hungrier because they are not on top and they get to copy the successful aspects of the leaders and bypass the mistakes of the leaders, claiming they are smarter and didn't make the same mistakes.  Customers often do not care who blazed the trail, they just want the best perceived value.  Frankly, we see part of our challenge is to beat the followers at their own game -- assimilate their popular benefits and bypass their mistakes pointed out in industry.

I do strongly agree with Chris, N6WM, that it's the whole picture and not the device that is important.  Customers generally figure this out when they buy a poorly supported competing device, but sometimes do not realize it in advance.
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G8ZPX

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Steve, so glad you recognise the need for total awareness of these competitive devices and market moved to steel customers eye-candy features. I would hope you have already dissected an MB1 on the bench.

Apple made the naive mistake of restricting customer choice and freedom to use their equipment in the way owners wanted. This impacted customer satisfaction big time. Whilst Apple rested on their profit mountain with complacency whilst the likes of Samsung were busy doing it better, cheaper, lighter, more open O/S etc. etc.. Now Apple sales volume is plummeting. The world gets wise very quickly these days, and those wgo get suckered have long memories.
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Varistor

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From Reuters, just two days ago:

After peaking in 2013, a sharp drop in mobile profits exposed Samsung as slow to adjust to the changing market: its budget devices were overpriced and unappealing and the 2014 version of its Galaxy S flopped.

Full article at http://mobile.reuters.com/article/idU...
(Edited)
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Ken

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I worked as a vice president/general manager in what was considered to be the #1 Fortune 500 electronics high technology company, and our standing motto was, "work hard to obsolete your own product, before your competitor does"

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David Decoons wo2x, Elmer

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This is a realistic alternative for local operation in your shack. But my main purpose for the Maestro is to run remote away from the shack, where there are no antennas. My Maestro has already been run remote from a hotel 700 miles away and daily from my office.

I'd have to agree with others  the included Flex SmartSDR CAT and DAX make integrating to shack accessories and 3rd party software a breeze. The MB1 can do it using too but using a VSP program and VAC.

I'll have to check out the specs on the MB1. Can you get I&Q audio out? How about the panadapter on a PC monitor in real time?

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Greg

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Yes on the IQ..in fact, it has dedicated support for two instances of CW skimmer built in to the GUI.  From what I have read on the MB-1 there is an HDMI output and you can clone the radio display or extend it to the external monitor just like in Windoze ...since it is Windoze. :)
(Edited)
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Greg

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I expect when they come out with a version that is similar to the 6700 with the dual ADCs it will likely be in the same ball park price-wise...if not more expensive.

From what I can see now though..when I'm ready to jump back on the air it will likely be with a 6500/maestro combo (if they fix the meter colors by then).  I really like that setup and hopefully the lil buggies will be exterminated.

Another plus on the Flex side is it is here in the USA.  While not normally adverse to foreign brands, political climates are so unstable in EU (and here at home) who knows what kind of support will be available with the MB1.  Putin seems to want to push the military envelope to a point where conflict seems inevitable at some point...same with China.


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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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The guys who designed the MB1 are from Russia.  They are very friendly to me when I see them every year at Hamradio in Friedrichshafen, Germany.  So the company is based in Russia and the product is built and drop shipped from Taiwan.  This is what they told me last year.  They have some nice ideas in the product.

They are using something like a mini ITX motherboard, which is exactly what we did in the FLEX-5000C back in 2007.  We even built a commercial version for Sunair that had a LCD touch screen panel.  The motherboards gave us lots of problems so we discontinued the product after a couple of years.  Motherboard designs have a 12-18 month life cycle so we were constantly having to re-qualify and re-certify the unit.  
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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How do folks feel about embedded PC? Running only an i5 isn't awful right now, but the experience of the 5000c puts a concern in my mind for use of a non-industrial consumer grade embedded PC in a radio.

Often that gear works just fine until an update tips things over. The personal experience of an off-network PC which unbeknownst to me had gone from satellite signal data updates to full softwares updates fed over satellite suddenly crashed due to unresolvable resource limitations is one I've not quite gotten over.

It wasn't all that long ago 5000c owners were trying to find replacement hardware that could keep up with Windows updates.

Hmmmm....

Yep the 6700 was the right choice..,

73

Steve K9ZW
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Varistor

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How is the CPU constraint any different than the FPGA constraint? Ditto about the Maestro. All the heavy lifting is done by the radio itself, with the PC or Maestro being just a client.
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Al / NN4ZZ

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At some point there may be a need for a more powerful FPGA. And the next generation of radio server will provide it. The current FPGA seems like it has a reasonable lifespan but FRS would be in a better position to comment.

IMHO - On the PC side there is more demand for ever more powerful devices and software driven by the huge consumer market. Better, faster, cheaper and the os keeps expanding to use it as well as the applications.

IMHO, The 6xxx architecture leverages both by keeping them separate.

Regards, Al / NN4ZZ
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Steve (N9SKM)

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FRS has total control over updates done to the rig, Which would be different than housekeeping updates done to an OS as time goes on. The other nice thing about the FPGA is it can be programmed to directly do exactly what they need to vs just running a program on a processor. While eventually this hardware like any other will be dated I believe that FRS has much more control (Total) over what goes on there and being able to optimize it for their hardware.

I am in total agreement of purpose built hardware over an embedded PC. My company had to replace 5 year old HMI's on machines that were embedded windows touch screen machines. The Allen Bradley stuff that went in will run until someone does something stupid to break it.
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Steve K9ZW, Elmer

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Additionally I am unable to determine if the custom hardware to embedded PC relationship is Thick-Pipe (like the 5000/PowerSDR model) or Thin-Pipe (like the 6000/SmartSDR Model)?

Would be more concerned in a ThickPipe instance.

As the connectivity seems to be to the embedded PC from an external additional device, it seems to be more a ThickPipe structure. 

In terms of the architecture lifespan and limitations of a given chipset in the PC world vs FPGA product lifespan there is enough difference in how they are used to make the comparison difficult.  If the embedded PC is orphaned in the ever increasing system resource needs of future Operating System updates that the radio manufacture is a passive recipient they may be stuck using an old operating system past its support life to keep the machine running.  

Spares much more quickly become an issue in the PC world if you need exact replacements.

If the present FPGA is eclipsed - actually more accurately if the pricing of the present FPGA is eclipsed by more capable FPGAs of a scale that cost more presently, it hardly matters unless spares become unavailable and/or if FRS wants to exceed the FPGA's design limits.

I do recall a FRS presentation at the start of the 6000 project that mentioned that the hardware was being selected from components expected to be industrially available for a reasonably long time.

Imbedded industrial hardware takes a good while to become obsolete but it does happen.  Where I work we have a fab machine that the German firm created an upgrade path to replace the control head and certain sensors when the original components became obsolete and the marketplace expectations had risen to a higher HUI standard.  

Thank might happen for our radios, but we're also likely to be running these current platforms 5 years from now with the changes needed to run Windows 14 being handled in our evolving PC, leaving the radio operating much the same behind its API's hooks.  

And in those 5 years if we follow the last calendar year (use Dayton to Dayton) we will have upgraded the functionality of our 6000's perhaps better than twenty times!

YMMV and I'd love to have both.

73

Steve
K9ZW
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Doug -- K0DXV

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Microsoft has no plans to create additional versions of Windows. Windows 10 is the end of the line.  Microsoft doesn't foresee the desktop computer living much beyond its current rip old age.  Windows 10 was designed in a very modular fashion so that all it's bits can be upgraded.
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Dan -- KC4GO

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G1XOWSteve WRAGGE Nottinghamshire?
(Edited)
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Steve W6SDM

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Well, I watched the video and the background music sure was sexy.  I was about to reach for my check book when I started to wonder what the background score to a Flex commercial may sound like.  Willie Nelson?

:)
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Simon Lewis

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I love how people trash talk on these videos ... shows an S1 beacon a few hundred km away and says we can be assured of VHF performance ... riiiiiiiggggghhht!    I'll reserve judgement when I see it running some pileups on dxpeds and perhaps some EME :)   
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G8ZPX

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Simon, I agree its a bit of a wide claim, and possibly not to be taken too seriously.

However, do you actually know who the person saying it is?  Justin is a very highly regarded VHF/UHF DXer. He's the owner of Force12 antennas in the USA and Innovatenna in Europe.  If justin says its good RF-wise then I know he means it.

Also, the guy owning the MB1 was just replacing an Icom 7800 - which itself is a very high benchmark from an RF performance viewpoint.
(Edited)
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Greg - N8GD

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 A 7800 is rather old technology and not that high on the Sherwood Engineering performance list (30th by my count).  The 7851, well, that's another story, but still older superhet/roofing filter technology (but 4th on the list), but still doesn't beat direct capture SDR tech,
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Simon Lewis

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Steve - ahhh well we will have to beg to differ on that! - He's a clever business man for sure - but I've seen enough of his antennas not working to make my own mind up about his sales pitch and I've a few years  under my belt after 36 years building VHF-SHF both terrestrial and EME since I was first licenced in 1980 and having built lots of antennas and stations from scratch!    The demo shows ZILCH about capability of the radio on VHF other than it can receive a beacon over a few hundred km. Bow if he had demonstrated it rxing something over 700km or off the moon ....

Ditto on the 7800 ... old school and hardly a high performance radio these days 
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Lee, Elmer

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I think the Sun radio from what I read is a poor design.  It's kind of a throwback to the F5K design.  The issue with that design was using a general purpose computer which is always scanning interrupts etc.  The Flex is a dedicated RADIO design so it spends its clicks crunching radio data instead of worrying about UBS ports.  I'm sure it works OK but the Flex design makes more engineering sense to me.  I don't really want my radio checking my email.  As far as skimmers go I have run 4 skimmers on 4 pans which populates several writelog bandmaps with my 6500 when contesting.  Made me bleed out my ears.

73  W9OY
(Edited)

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