VirtualBox - MAC - SmartSDR

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  • Updated 7 months ago
I've spent quite a bit of time recently trying to find the best way to run SmartSDR under Windows 10 on my Mac computers. Here's what I've found:

The best solution, that provides the best performance, is Boot Camp. The downside is that you have to reboot to get back to OS-X.

My fastest computer, that's in my shack, is running Parallels 14. I've been using Parallels for years, constantly upgrading. Parallels is tightly integrated with OS-X and provides near hardware performance with only a light load on OS-X. It runs Windows 10 / SmartSDR very well. However, recent changes in licensing policy made me look for another solution. I don't want to buy/renew a license for every machine.

I've used VMWare Fusion in the past and didn't like the way it integrated with OS-X. I quicky tried a test copy, and found it used much more CPU power than Parallels - just about the same as VirtualBox.

VirtualBox has been maligned in the past, and I agree that it's performance has been less than stellar, but, the most recent versions do a pretty good job. But, some tuning needs to be done in order to have a usable platform. It works best on 4-core CPUs, but it does work on 2-cores. For best performance you need to assign all the cores to Windows 10, especially on 2-core CPUs, but that makes OS-X sluggish. I reached a compromise on my "semi-remote" iMac - assigned 3 CPUs to Windows 10. This made OS-X a little more responsive. On my Mac Mini and my MacBook Pro (both with 2 cores), both cores needed to be assigned to Windows 10. All my machines have 8 GB of RAM - assigned 4 GB to Windows 10. (Windows 10 plus SSDR plus WSJT-X use approx. 2 GB of RAM. Assigned 4 GB for headroom.) Hyper-V acceleration is used. No problem with wifi on the MacBook Pro.

The biggest hit on performance is SmartSDR itself. If you use it "out-of-the-box", it will use 50% or more of available Windows 10 CPU power (measured with Resource Monitor). If you slow down the refresh rate to 5 frames per second or less, SSDR will use only about 20% of the CPU power. For best resource conservation, slow down the refresh rate, slow down the waterfall, close the waterfall, resize the SSDR window to its smallest size, and minimize the slice flag.

If SSDR is using too much CPU power, WSJT-X will have a hard time decoding. If you watch the Resource Monitor during FT8 reception, you can see a spike in CPU usage every 15 seconds during the decode period. If the peak gets close to or reaches 100%, you will hear a quick "buzz" - NO DECODE. You can also get these "buzzes" if you open/close other programs or move windows around, if you are using too much CPU. I tuned my machine by watching the Resource Monitor and adjusting SSDR to keep the spikes below about 50%. This way, WSJT-X will run without problem.

I hope this has been some help to those of you who have been wondering about running SmartSDR on Windows 10 under VirtualBox on a Mac.

Bill  KE3BK
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Bill Wuttke KE3BK

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Posted 7 months ago

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I just use DogPark SDR and the Mac Native WSJT-X works Great !