Happy Holidays!

To all my friends, colleagues and supporters – it has been another year and the mcHF project is still going strong. I would live to thank everyone for their support!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

73, Chris

M0NKA

Long time in the pipeline TX mod

There has been outstanding issue with the TX output of the mcHF that was discussed in the group and needed fixing. I did a lot of testing and i think i finally have the solution to address it.

Background

When designing the mcHF RF board all modules had been fine tuned to achieve maximum performance, while the software was more or less good startup reference. Although it was possible to adjust the PA gain and software gain on the TX path, levels were adjusted to achieve a good, clean signal and reasonable power output. But then after the full Open Sourcing of the firmware, features have been added, old ones re-written many times, while performance was pushed to the limit. In a way after three years, the RF board hardware lacked behind the improvements on the firmware.

One of the most obvious problems caused by that was ability to overdrive the TX mixer so easily via the software adjustment menu. The problem could be demonstrated by attaching a Spectrum Analyzer to the probe of a dummy load and TX-ing into it from the mcHF. I have set my radio to 14 Mhz, a good middle point of the bands supported, also well into the passband of the filters.

Here what good, clean signal (more or less) looks like:

mixer_ok

And corresponding settings in the adjustment menu:

m_25

And you can see here what the over driving of the TX mixer would look like:

mixer_over

This could be achieved easily from the adjustment menu:

m_65

Further investigation is achieved by insulating the stages by input/output jumpers (0 Ohm resistors) and we can determine that the TX mixer should not output more than 3 dBm at the TX_MIX signal(direct measurement in the BPF module, via removal of R2).

The Offender

Quick look at the block diagram pinpoints the problem to the Quad pre-amp. Via empirical means it could be determined that it provides some 10 dB of audio gain which allows to easily overload the mixer if the software gain in the firmware is maxed out.

So could it be removed ? The quick answer is yes, because the wide range of the software gain menu allows to achieve clean signal while keeping compatibility with older firmware. Also the hardware mod is quite simple – remove C114, C116,C118,C120,R98,R96,R94 and R92:

quad1

Then just put four wires across to complete the bypass.

quad2

This off course is a partial solution because the gain of the final PA stage is not uniform in the full range of 3-30 Mhz covered by the mcHF. Although some mods, like transformers (T6,T7) upgrade and fine tuning of the LPFs improve that, simple bypass of the quad pre-amp and loosing 10 dB of gain can result in much lower power output on higher bands (above 18 Mhz).

The magic of MMIC Amplifier chips

I have played and tested few of those while designing the mcHF. The common problem is those chips are usually designed for GHz application and have ginormous gain at HF. But lately i have found a nice little chip from Analog Devices (formerly Hittite Microwave) that seems to be simple and stable enough for our application. The HMC482ST89 is rated at 20 dB gain, while powered with 6-12 V, bias adjustable, and DC to 5Ghz.

ref

And the first thing was to build a small, prototype board and connect to the Spectrum Analyzer and the RF signal generator.

proto

So providing the input with 0 dBm reference signal:

rf_sig

Results in nice and clean 10 dB of gain at 14 Mhz:

scr0004

But note that limiting the gain at such a low frequency is not risk free. I have achieved this via careful biasing and 1V under voltage of the minimum pdf requirements for the chip. Otherwise the gain below 1Ghz is uniform 20 dB if following the operating parameters blindly. So the pre-amp connects to the 5V rail on the RF board and i am using 27 Ohm biasing resistor, which gives about 4.20 V supply to pin 3 of the MMIC chip.

Fitting it all together

So where is the best place to insert this new amplifier stage ? Common sense would indicate immediately after the mixer as the stage we have just removed is before the mixer. Also having the BPF filter after the pre-amp would remove unwanted 2nd and 3rd harmonic. But we have to consider clipping and de-biasing of the switches in the BPF with such high RF levels as 3-13 dBm. Another practical consideration was the modification of the PCB for future revisions. In my view the best place is just in front of the PA stage.

block

From idea to practice

The actual mod is realized on a small proto PCB that fits nicely next to the BPF module on the RF board, there are two GND shielding pads near by that provide good mounting point:

final_m

The power supply (5V) is taken from left side of C26(red wire), and input and output are patched to the R3 pads, while the jumper R3 is removed. Left side of R3 is BPF output(yellow wire), that goes to the pre-amp input and the right side is the final PA input(blue wire) and connects to the pre-amp output(T5 primary, should read 0 Ohm to GND).

sch

The actual schematics show the values used to build the small proto PCB.

Final Result

All preliminary testing show that the mod result in quite an improvement on the output TX signal, while providing enough output power in the full frequency range supported by the mcHF, without the need to overdrive the TX mixer.

Here a screen from the 5W output of the modded RF PCB v 0.5:

out

And the settings in the firmware used to achieve it:

po_f

And most important, how to protect your Spectrum Analyzer input from the high TX power:

atten

It is a series of attenuators, the high powered one is 20 W, i believe it provides attenuation of about 7 or 10 dB, while the home made one can handle less than a 1W, but is 30 dB.

I would welcome if anyone can test this mod, provide feedback, suggestions, etc. As usual, via comment here, to my email (djchrismarc at gmail) or the Yahoo group. Thanks for reading!

Some webshop changes

Hello,

I haven’t been on my blog recently, not that i am not working on new stuff, just not into social media lately.

But it is worth noting that i had to update my PayPal webshop, from today, 1 December 2016 i have to charge VAT. This reflects in lower declared price on my Order page (for kit and boards), but at the final step of Checkout at the PayPal website, the postage and VAT is added (if you are from an EU country). Flat rate of 10 GBP for postage is used, i will have to sort manually all UK  orders, as the postage is much cheaper (4 GBP), but PayPal postage option do not allow to enter postage zones. Again, if unsure, you can always e-mail me first.

73, Chris

Vacation Notice

Hello,

I will be away for some 10 days, so the Order page will not be functional. Although the buttons will be enabled, PayPal will list all items as out of stock.

The online ordering will be functioning till late afternoon today, and any last minute orders will be sent tomorrow.

Hopefully the Order page will be operation after 11th of August 2016. Sorry about any inconvenience caused. Please feel free to drop me a mail during this period, i will try my best to answer as fast as i can, i am not sure how often will i have access to the Net.

73, Chris

M0NKA

The making of penetrating antenna mast

Hello,

I have been away from my usual radio and electronics activities for a while. Unfortunately i had to venture into the building industry again. Although our new house was finished two years ago, there were two flat roofs that didn’t pass the building inspector watchful eye. One of those was above my office/shack.

After quick quote from few local ‘Mega professional’ roofers it became apparent that i have to do it myself (with the help of the Wifi off course). Simply requirements were too high – installing an access hatch and doing it without scaffold, and most important – penetrating antenna mast. So the incredible price, even before i mentioned my requirements was major put off, and those guys use ancient felt system, where it would seem GRP (fiber glass) was more appropriate for the antenna mast idea.

The actual roof is quite simple – leave the old felt as is too fresh to remove effectively, cover with 80mm insulation, then OSB sheets and lots of 120mm screws to hold all in place, cover all joints with tape to prevent the resin leaking down/covering expansion gaps.

IMG_0635

The biggest complication was the fact that those cemented ridge tiles were below the new flat roof level. It was hard or easy way, we went for the latter – dripping plates above the old ridge, and some glue to hold it all in place. After all this was done – time for the important stuff, hatch access.

IMG_0634

I was lucky in a way, to have the space in the office for small, improvise staircase and clear space on the roof to allow for the hatch.

IMG_0639

The other important design decision was finding correct place for the antenna mast, so it could be attached to the 100x100mm beams that hold my third floor, and be lucky enough that the  penetrating hole does not interfere with the hatch position and the cemented ridge. Again the antenna God was kind to me and i had the correct spot singled out.

IMG_0642

I know what you think – why didn’t you use proper 110 mm drill extension. Simple reason, the underlying felt made all my drill bits covered in nasty black stuff, didn’t want to spoil brand new looking tool with that !

IMG_0644

Anyway, it was simple job to have nice looking opening for the socket pipe

IMG_0645

At the last minute i have decided to leave the external pipe above the old OSB, for better support and having small hole on the OSB sounded good in case any moisture got through.

IMG_0646

I got perfect fit of the socket pipe and the actual mast.

IMG_0647

And all fits together nicely, next – the actual job of laying the resin.

IMG_0649

We have decided to do this in a two steps (days) operation. First we did all the ridge and dripping plates overlaps, together with the hatch and antenna socket. The second day we covered out the actual flat space.

IMG_0673

Without boring you with any details, here the result. If you are interested how is done, just Google ‘GRP roof’, there are some nice videos on YouTube as well. So after the resin and top coat, i had something like this for my antenna mast socket:

IMG_0678

Don’t mind the temporary 2m vertical, i really don’t have any use for it, but is good for wind testing on the new mast

IMG_0679

Expensive EPDM rubber seal for the joint between the socket and the mast is used. It is very important that provides for waterproofing and mast movement/vibration the same time.

IMG_0680

It is missing a hose clip, just don’t have the right size right now, but yes, there has to be one at the top as well. Here also some details of the mast support inside the house (under the roof).

IMG_0682

After the mast penetrates the lower OSB sheet, it goes via main support truce, in a tight hole.

IMG_0683

Then it lays down on a stud piece that prevents the mast sliding down. There is a variable diameter hole drilled into this piece, so the coax can still be routed out, thus no need to extra waterproofed holes.

IMG_0684

In conclusion – it is not impossible to have penetrating mast on a flat roof. But requires planning, attention to details and probably doing it yourself. It is worth mentioning that i have used quite thin mast, as i don’t require large HF Yagi antennas. I am sure much more rigid construction could be achieved if needed.

Chris

Back in stock and postage delays

Hello,

I have now most of the components back in stock and can send out full kits again. But due to my local Post Office closed for some 10 days for refurbishment, i will not be able to provide the speedy dispatch of the packages right now. Please allow 4-5 days from payment to postage as i need to use alternative place to post.

Sorry about that, the situation is just temporary.

Chris

Full Kits out of stock

Hello,

It has been some times since i have posted, also it would seems i have missed some of the toroid cores finishing, while waiting for more the full kits are out of stock, sorry.

I hope i can get some in 1-2 days time, will update quantity in PayPal accordingly when possible.

73

STM32F746 clock out

After being down with a nasty bug for few days nothing much has been done on the mcHF Pro front, except doing small CPU pin allocations daily.

To continue the minimalist tradition of the mcHF i decided to reserve the MCO1 and MCO2 pins for clocking out external HW. For those who don’t know, the internal CPU PLL can be routed to two GPIOs and get away without two extra oscillators. Final result is reduced cost and better frequency stability (lower drift), as it is easy to oven/stabilize one chip than three.

clock_out

The mcHF used only one of those, so only the Codec was clocked from the CPU PLL. On the new design i can clock the Codec again and something else. Still no idea, need to carefully check the frequency range that could be used – but maybe the quadrature upconverter or the FPGA.

For those who would like a peek at the preliminary schematics and the FPGA code, i did setup the GitHub, here.

Screen grabber back online

Hi,

It has been an year since my 4m WSPR screen grabber actually worked. Now after freeing my old SSL server machine and installing all needed proggies – WSJT-X, Dimension4, ShareX the sidebar imagine link actually works and is updated every 1 minute.

I was reluctant to use anything else, as this machine is fanless, the whole case is extruded aluminium and has SSD, so absolutely no noise.