Mike VA3MW explains the power of having a PC installed with the HF radio at the antenna site for today’s ham radio operator.
An edited version of this webinar’s full transcript has been provided below for your convenience.
Mike Walker VA3MW — One of the questions I get a lot when operating remotely is how do I do X or Y remotely? Especially when it comes to I don’t want to put a PC at the remote end, at the radio end. We’ll call that the remote end. I’m going to explain why I think actually why putting a PC at the radio end is one of the smartest things you could do on a remote station that is something that’s truly remote, something that you’ll be using a lot. It’s probably more than a 10 minute drive away or a flight or half a world away, and all the reasons I think it’s really beneficial. This helps in so many ways.
So right now I will take you through a tour of my remote station, but you can see underneath this picture and I’ll just shrink myself and stick me up there. If you look at the icons floating around here, these are all the normal stuff we use all the time. We’ve got SmartSDR, CAT, GridTracker, whole bunch of cool stuff. This is my PC. You can see it’s running Microsoft Remote Desktop. There’s the IP address. I happen to use a VPN tunnel, just because it’s convenient. You don’t have to, so don’t worry about that right now. And if you know VPNs, you absolutely should, but this could be AnyDesk, it could be Chrome Remote Desktop, it could be TeamViewer and whatever. VNC now has an ability to do it quite nicely as well. Highly recommend it.
So when I set this up, this is like being here. And I use this part only for a couple of key things. I use it for digital mode operation and I use it for all my logging and everything else. When it comes to the audio, the mic transmission stuff, I use my Maestro. So here we have the desktop component and let’s just run through the reasons why.
Now, I actually did post this in a community posting not long ago, but I thought it was to Piero here, I believe his name was. But here’s the facts I wrote in that and I thought, I really need to do a video on this because I get asked this all the time. First off, I only have to administer and keep running one computer. That’s this one. And yes, it’s remote, but with remote desktop tools, that makes it really easy.
If I want to run a skimmer, I can run a skimmer on this computer because DAX IQ, which is what we use for skimmers, stays all on the local network. Very valuable. And the reason we don’t want to send that out on the internet, as I say in a minute, is all that data when you send it all the internet, is subject to delays, corruption, packet loss, which is normal for streaming data. And we don’t notice it in a movie.
Actually it happens a lot in movies. If you watch really closely on Netflix or whatever, you’ll see a couple of frames skipped. We can’t deal with that in the amateur radio world, especially running a digital mode. So that keeps it all in house, into the radio house. And we don’t lose UDP packets. Those are what we call fire forget missiles in the internet world. Those don’t get dropped and those will get the first thing they get dropped if your bandwidth becomes saturated. It’s the way the internet was designed to throttle and control your bandwidth. And that’s why using UDP packets where the information is not as critical. Another really incredible valuable tool is I can do network maintenance. It’s amazing the number of calls we get where my radio doesn’t appear on Smart Link anymore. And of course if you were sitting on a desk, you could just look and see if the radio comes up online, some very handy debugging tools.
Usually when that happens, it means the IP address of the radio got changed or something else got changed. Most of the time rebooting the radio and the router solved the issue immediately – hard to do remotely, but not impossible. That’s sort of an advanced networking thing. If you wanted to do an upgrade, if you can get to your remote computer, especially using a tool like AnyDesk, then you can just do a remote upgrade of the software. So that means you can log into Windows right here and I can run the SmartSDR update and away we go. And just case in point, if I find a version of SmartSDR 3.3.3, which is the most current one. You’ll see if I start it up right now on my remote computer, it’s right there. And look at that. It’s running full multiFLEX because I was listening at 10 fm., but I could go here. And let’s go to the 6500 and I can connect.
So let’s stop that. What else do we have here? This is a really cool one. I have so many friends of mine that have asked to borrow my station and the sheer thought of saying, “Oh my God, you have to install all this.” “How do you get N1M working?” Or whatever – you don’t have to. The only thing I have to take them through is how to install SmartSDR on their computer and get their audio working. And then maybe if they’re really into it and they’re going to do a contest, we’ll talk through how to use a remote foot switch or maybe even a CW key. A lot of that’s already discussed in the community. But it does make it a lot easier to control the computer with this remote or to control the radio with this computer and then run SmartSDR on the PC I am using today. Not the remote pc, but the actual PC we have that we’re using for our remote desktop. I hope that makes sense. We’re actually doing two things on two different computers. This is the power of using internet or IP communications.
Quite often when I travel and I want to connect to my remote or do some digital stuff while I’m remotely, I carry a Mac because it’s lighter, it’s smaller type of thing. I can run remote desktop from my Mac to my PC and it looks like I’m running my PC even though I’m sitting in a hotel room or whatever. So that’s a lot of the powerful tools. Now here’s one other thing. Get that out of the way. So the other really powerful tools, something called Virtual Windows and right here on the bottom left, you’ll see there’s a thing called Task View. We have three or two virtual desks set up. This is a really powerful tool on Windows and if you don’t have multiple monitors, it’s the next best thing. So let’s click on desktop two.
I happen to use Ham Radio Deluxe for my log book. And so here it is. It’s connected to SmartSDR. I can see the radio’s on 29 5 2. It’s been just fun listening to the stuff I hear on 10 Meter FM today. It’s middle of October, which is all great. And I can then flip back over to my desktop one. Now if you’re running in full screen, you can do it with Magic Fingers, which is control window and the left or right arrow key. But there’s a whole document. You can read that on Microsoft’s websites. But let’s go back to desktop one. Now that my log book’s running, if I want to go back and operate, because I don’t necessarily need to see this all time, or maybe I do. And I can see. This is the advantage of integrating, by the way, your log book with a DX clusters, I can see what I need and what band.
A lot of the log books do this, Benin’s and CW, they’re on 28 0 4. I probably need him on 10 Meters, that’s why it’s purple. So if we virtual window ourselves back over here, I happen to bring up my antenna genius. It’s on the stepper, my rotor genius, which allows me to turn my rotator. And I brought up Slice Master for my digital programs because maybe I want to do some digital operation. Now here’s what’s different. And you can run different SmartSDR or Flex Radio utilities on different computers. They don’t have to be on the same computer. While SmartSDR for DAX is running on this pc, it’s not on SmartLink. It will talk to the radio on the same network. And we can see that we’re streaming DAX material way over here. It may not show, but way over on my other desk over here, I’ve got my Maestro sitting on 10 meters.
And that’s why this station… The station is the part you and I use to turn volume up and down are going to say, “Hey, Maestro home, we’re connected.” and that’s the audio that we’re getting. And so we don’t need this anymore. Well, we do need it. I’m just going to make it small and I’ll just bring up JTDX and happens to be what I use. And you can see that we’re beautifully copying everything and if I want to work somebody, I can just sit here and work them. And I have this configured to enter things in my logbook. So that’s really a couple of the bigger advantages of running a PC local to the radio. And it’s not hard. And by the way, server operators or banks, whatever, have been doing this for decades. It’s not even a hard science anymore.
It’s incredibly, incredibly reliable. A couple of things you have to make sure, and it’s all over the internet. But that when you plug the power on, the thing always starts up. And if it reboots or a power failure, if you don’t have it in UPS, but you should, or eventually shuts down that when the power comes back, it starts back up. And I have been doing this since 2005. One year I tried it without a PC and it was painful. I got it all working, but I could only operate from this location. And when I was on the road, I couldn’t operate at all. I had remoted all the serial ports back to the house here and it was really cool and technically it was a nightmare. I went back to the PC right at the radio and that worked out really well.
Especially if you want to start running some other programs like PST Rotator or stuff that is really easy to run local to the radio. You can still do it yet, still use it remotely. So it’s sort of the best of both worlds. And that’s one of the reasons I highly recommend it. Give it a try it. You can stick a… Heck, I went and bought a new computer to replace this one. This one’s a little long in the tooth. But I’ll show you. It’s not a very powerful computer and it’s never let me down. Let’s go into system configuration, system information. And I’m running Windows 10 Pro. I always recommend Windows 10 Pro. And this is a HP Compaq 8200 Elite. It’s got a chunk of RAM in it, but this is not a hugely powerful computer.
Yet it has no problem keeping everything going. I have 12 gig of RAM in it. I just found a pile of RAM and it all worked. And I was going to replace it this year, but I don’t know now why I need to. And one of the indicators, by the way, as we watch me decoding stuff here is this DT value. I forgot what it stands for, but essentially… Oh, well look at that. Accumulated average decoding signals of the current band. And you can read this whole thing there. But if you see these DT values starting to creep up over 1.0, it actually means that your WSJT or JTTX is actually having a problem keeping up with the coding things and generally means you need a bit more computer horsepower.
So that’s my talk and why I recommend running a PC local to the radio. May not be something you want to do. I’ve found it’s worked incredibly well for me. I’ve shared this idea with a lot of people. They’ve all liked it to the most part and found it incredibly useful for them. Especially when things go wrong, it gave them a great pair of network eyes inside their remote setup.
My name is Mike VA 3MW for Flex Radio. And I hope that helped with some ideas if you’re thinking of setting up something remote or further enhancing a remote operation. 73.
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