CC-Series, Design, Homebrewing, QRP, Test and Measurement

Dual Gate MOSFET Investigations – Intermodulation

You may have seen in my previous post that I have been working on the latest (and hopefully final) major revision of the CC1. Many of the previous decisions on the radio architecture have been thrown out, perhaps most importantly the decision to use a dual-gate MOSFET as the mixer. In the quest for a replacement, I considered using the old standby, a diode ring mixer, but I wanted to be open to other possibilities as well. As shown in that last post, the KISS mixer from Chris Trask seems to have excellent intermod performance with relative simplicity. So the current plan is to try to build an IF chain using the KISS mixer and see if it will work well in the CC1.

Having quantified the performance of the KISS mixer, the current quest is to find an IF amplifier that will provide decent performance at a reasonable current “price”. With an IIP3 of approximately +30 dBm (I believe it should be able to get the mixer there with some improvements in components), the limiting factor for IP3 performance in the IF chain will be the IF amplifiers. Consider that my current goals for the CC1 receiver are:

  • Dynamic range of around 100 dB
  • Decent sensitivity (less than -130 dB MDS in 400 Hz bandwidth)
  • Reasonable current consumption for portable use (< 60 mA)

In order to achieve this, I’ve determined (using the excellent Cascade08 program from W7ZOI’s LADPAC software suite) that the IF amp that I choose will need the following characteristics:

  • OIP3 of at least +20 dBm (although higher is better since the amp is the limiting factor)
  • modest gain

The current candidate for the IF topology is similar to the design seen in Figure 6.89 in Experimental Methods in RF Design, with no gain until after the first IF filter. To that end, I’ve been looking a various amplifier designs to see if I could find something that would fit (or at least come close to) the requirements above. Bipolar amps are nice, but use a lot of current. MMICs were another possibility; the ones I have found do have about +20 dBm OIP3, but with around 20 mA of current draw and approximately 20 dB of gain, which means the IIP3 is not that great. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to take a look at the dual-gate MOSFET again, as I know that at least they can use modest current and many have excellent noise figure.

Without getting into the weeds of every detail of the experiment that I tried, I’ll just recap the important parts. Initially I used a BF998 with an L-network on gate 1 to transform the 2.2 kΩ input impedance of the amplifier to 50 Ω. A pot was provided to provide variable voltage bias to gate 2. Different permutations of source resistor and gate 2 bias were tried, and the best IIP3 I could get from that amplifier was about -3 dBm (with perhaps 14 dB of gain). OK, but not great. So I decided to give the BF991 a try and see what I could get out of it. Again, I tried many variations of source resistor and gate 2 bias, and was able to find a configuration that is somewhat promising.

BF991IF

You can see in the schematic above that I settled on a source resistor of 100 Ω and “dipped” the gate 2 pot for best IP3, which came out at 5.6 V of bias. I also found in previous trials that leaving the source bypass capacitor out improved the IP3 a few dB and decreased the gain a few dB, which was a worthy improvement. Input and output was matched for 50 Ω. The current consumption was only 4 mA, which is pretty great for an IF amp in a portable radio.

bf991ip2

Here is the capture of the OIP3 measurement from my DSA815-TG. Only 10 dB of gain, but that is OK as we wanted modest gain. The IIP3 measured +8 dBm, and when you add in the 10 dB of gain, the OIP3 is +18 dBm, which is pretty close to my original spec, and all for only 4 mA.

This all looks very reasonable. But there’s one problem. The good IP3 is highly dependent on VDD and VG2, especially the gate 2 voltage. As this is going to be a production radio, there needs to be a reliable way to set VG2 during calibration, every time. Also it appears that I probably need some way to keep VDD stable over a variety of voltage inputs, such as a LDO voltage regulator (maybe 9 or 10 V would work). But I need as much headway as possible in VDD in order to get the most out of my dual-gate MOSFET amp. In my experience, they don’t like being voltage-starved. There also appears to be a bit of dependency on the tuning of the input L-network, although that is not as pronounced as the other effects.

As it stands now, this is a promising candidate for the IF amp, but I’ll have to find a way to reduce these dependencies quite a bit in order for it to be viable for a commercial product. That’s my next line of inquiry, and I’ll be sure to have a follow-up post if I am able to get around the remaining limitations

CC-Series, Etherkit, Homebrewing, Operating, QRP, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #5

Latest CC1 Progress

image

As you can see from the above photo, I have finished a significant portion of the digital side of the newest CC1 prototype and now I’m on to the receiver section. This weekend I finished my first pass of the audio chain and characterized the gain and frequency response of the chain. Next up is the design of the IF and front end of the receiver. This time I plan to do a much better job of characterizing the performance of entire radio, designing for specific critical receiver specifications, and iterating the design as necessary instead of holding on to dodgy performance from circuits.

Mixer Investigations and the Search for Better Dynamic Range

Since I decided to ditch the dual-gate MOSFET mixer front end, I’ve been considering what to replace it with. At first, I was thinking about using the ADE-1 for the mixer and product detector, but I’ve been intrigued with reading about H-Mode mixers over the last few weeks, which led me to the similar, but simpler KISS mixer by Chris Trask. That seemed like a good candidate for the CC1, with relative simplicity and better-than-average performance. Since good IP3 performance is the main characteristic of this mixer, I wanted to try measuring IIP3 at my own bench to see how it looked in a home made circuit with less than optimal parts and layout.

To get warmed up, I first attempted to measure the IIP3 of a few parts that I had on hand where I already knew IIP3 values to expect: the SBL-1 and the ADE-1. Using a DG1022 as the signal generators, my HFRLB as a hybrid combiner, and the DSA815TG, I was able to measure an IIP3 of +13 dBm for the SBL-1 and +17 dBm for the ADE-1, which is pretty much right on what other people have published.

image

Here is my test setup for measuring the KISS mixer performance. I deviated from the circuit described in the KISS mixer white paper in a few ways. First, I used a TI TS5A3157 analog switch, as I didn’t have any Fairchild FST3157 on hand. I also used a hand-wound trifilar transformer on a BN2402-43 core instead of a nice transfomer from a company like Mini-Circuits. I drove the KISS mixer with +3 dBm from a Si5351. My measurement of IIP3 for this variant of the KISS mixer came out to +27 dBm, which seems reasonable given the poorer components I was using. Conversion loss was 7 dB. I’m going to try to measure it again with an actual FST3157 and a Mini-Circuits transformer in the near future, so it will be interesting to how much that will improve the IMD performance.

But honestly, I probably won’t need better than +27 dBm performance if this mixer is used in the CC1. Since the CC1 is meant to be a trail-friendly radio with modest current consumption, I don’t think I want to include the high current amplifier needed after the KISS mixer to get maximum performance out of it. Which is kind of a shame, but I figure that I should be able to keep RX current to around 50 to 60 mA and still have a receiver with better IMD performance than your typical level 7 diode ring mixer receiver. Stay tuned for more details on the CC1 front end as they are worked out in the NT7S shack.

10 Meter Contest!

Yes, it’s almost time for my favorite contest of the year: the ARRL 10 Meter Contest. Ever since I moved into the current QTH, it has been a bit of a tradition for me to operate the contest as SSB QRP only. By virtue of entering that least-liked category, it has been no problem to collect some modest wallpaper from this contest. That’s fun, but my real goal is to beat my previous score. Last year, I think I did fairly well with 7490 using a stock IC-718 and my ZS6BKW doublet. So this year, I’m going to have to step up my equipment game in order to have a good chance of besting last years score. I’m thinking some kind of gain antenna is going to be a must. If I can get a Moxon or small Yagi up around 20 feet and use an Armstrong rotor, that should help give me a little more oomph than last time. We’ll see if I can get something built in the less than 3 weeks before the contest.

Etherkit, Random Musings

Etherkit Rev B

You may have already seen it, but please allow me to direct your attention to my latest post on the Etherkit blog. For the tl;dr version: sorry to have been quiet on the business front so long, also sorry to have failed to do a good job keeping up on business communications, the OpenBeacon and CRX1 products are being sunsetted (I’ve reduced the price of my limited remaining stock of OpenBeacon to $29), new products and new initiatives are coming in the near future.

I wanted to mention a few more things that I neglected to say in that post. First, I also plan on releasing another revision of the Si5351A Breakout Board for sale as a kit. There are a few bugs to fix on the current version on OSHPark, but it shouldn’t take me too long to get a new revision up there and ready for testing soon. I’ve also reduced the price of EtherProg to only $9, which should make it in line with other similar tools.

To be bluntly honest, it has been a difficult year here on the Etherkit front because of multiple failures, some of which I must keep private for now. However, I have been buoyed by encouragement and help from friends and family, and I plan to redouble my efforts to make Etherkit the company that I envisioned when I founded it.

There will still be quite a bit more to announce in the near future, but now is not quite the time to reveal everything being worked on behind the scenes here. I will have more Etherkit news soon, so as usual, watch this blog for updates.

Thank you!

CC-Series, Etherkit, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #4

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these. I understand that things have been fairly quiet over here in the last few months, so I wanted to let you all know that I’m not dead yet. I’ve actually been working on Etherkit a fair amount in the background, and that has been eating up most of my free work time. I know that things have looked stagnant, but please understand that I have been putting in time to revamp the business and bring some exciting new things to Etherkit. I have a few different, parallel projects going on right now. Soon I will commit to one of them and move forward on that, depending on how things pan out. I suspect I’ll have more to say on the matter in less than a month on where Etherkit will be going in the future.

In related news, I’ve had a few people ask about what’s going on with the CC1. I apologize for the CC1 being a huge bit of vaporware. To be frank, it has been the most frustrating project I’ve ever worked on, but I believe in it strongly enough to attempt to finish it. At this point, as much as I have had fun with the BF998, I believe that in order to make the CC1 the radio that I want it to be, I will have to abandon using the BF998 as mixers and switch to a balanced mixer design, most likely the ADE-1. I’m also looking into adding a small OLED display to the radio, which will also necessitate a large redesign to the mechanical layout of the radio (I’ll probably end up doing the typical TFR design, such as the KX1, KX3, etc.). I’m also impressed enough with the Si5351A that I’m going to try using that as the new VFO and BFO. A brand new CC1 prototype is just getting started on the bench now, so it should be interesting to see how it works out. I’ll post some progress photos and videos to my Twitter feed and the blog, as appropriate.

Thanks for hanging in there with me. It has been a real challenge to try to run a business while also being a full-time caregiver to my two boys. I would say that I haven’t been very successful in doing both, so naturally, the business took the backseat. But now that my boys are getting older (Noah is 4 and Eli is 2.5, can you believe it?), I’m able to spend a bit more time during the day handing business. Things will be moving forward.

Etherkit

CRX1 Open Beta

CRX1 Beta
CRX1 Beta

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, you may not have heard that I have been working on a little “warm-up” kit in preparation for the CC1 release. Called the CRX1, this kit is a little VXO-tuned superhet receiver based on my 2010 FDIM Challenge entry, the Clackamas. The CC1 is also a descendant of that project, so you could say that the CC1 and CRX1 are siblings.

The CRX1 is an all-SMT project. The passives are size 0805 and the transistors are SOT-23, so it should be able to be built by most kit builders with the aid of a bit of lighted magnification. All of the components are on a single side of the PCB and things are not very cramped, so it should be a pretty easy build for an experienced kit builder, and within the capability of even a newer kit builder with a few kits under his belt. Here are the key specifications for the receiver:

Specifications

Frequency Range: Approximately 7.030 to 7.034 MHz (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
IF Bandwidth: Approximately 400 Hz
Current Consumption: 25 mA (at +13.7 VDC power supply)
Power supply: +9 VDC to +14 VDC
MDS: -123 dBm
3rd Order IMD DR: 84 dB
IF Rejection: 74 dB
Image Rejection: 67 dB
PCB dimensions: 70 mm x 100 mm
Antenna Connector: BNC
DC Power Connector: 2.1 mm barrel jack
Phone Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Key Jack: 3.5 mm stereo
Muting, sidetone (user enabled), T/R switch, external VFO port included

I’m now to the point where I have a small number of beta test kits available, but instead of picking beta testers, I would like to try something different. So this time I’m going to try an “open beta”. The product is simple enough that I don’t think it will need much in the way of help in going from a beta to production. Therefore, I’m going to open sales up to everyone. The documentation is currently in a basic form, although I’m going to expand it quite a bit before it goes into production. Because of the basic documentation, I would like to ask that only confident builders purchase a kit at this point. It will be more suitable for novice builders in the near future when full production commences. You can check out the documentation here if you want to get a feel for what state it is currently in.

The beta kits will sell for $29 plus shipping, although that price will rise a bit at production. You can see the product page and purchase one on the Etherkit store, but hurry, since there are only eight beta kits available!

Etherkit, Homebrewing, Random Musings, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #2

CC1 Beta Kit For Sale

I ended up having one leftover kit from the CC1 beta test and I thought that an experience builder might like to build it. There are a few minor mods to perform to the PCB, so it’s best suited for someone who feels comfortable with that. The (hopefully) final PCB spin is coming soon and will be slightly different, but this version works well, as AA7EE can attest to. I can offer the kit for a discount over the final CC1 retail price, and it’s currently available for 20 or 40 meters (although the final retail product will be available for more bands). Contact me at milldrum at gmail dot com if you are interested.

SOTA 12 Meter Challenge

I’m not subscribed to the SOTA reflector, but I saw a post on the VK3ZPF blog that there was an announcement on the reflector that there will be a SOTA 12 Meter Challenge. I think this is a great idea and I want to support it if I can. I haven’t made too many 12 meter QSOs, but when I have it seems like the DX has been pretty easy picking. When it’s open, the band seems quiet and the signals sound great. The plus for SOTA activation is that a resonant antenna is small and easy to pack.

My original plans for the CC1 were to only support up to 15 meters, but I think I may add 12 meters in order to support this initiative. The DDS in the CC1 is clocked at 50 MHz, so technically I should be able to output a 24.9 MHz signal, although I don’t know in practice how well this works at a frequency so close 0.5 Fc. If I can get it to work, I will release it as an available band on the CC1.

New PCBs Are Here!

CRX1 Beta
CRX1 Beta

Here is the latest beta PCB from the Etherkit, the CRX1 receiver! It is all-SMT construction, but I spread out the components a bit more than the CC1 and all of the parts are on one side of the PCB only. It’s VXO-tuned for the 40 meter band (a few kilohertz around 7.030 MHz) and is based on the Clackamas transceiver which I entered into the 2010 FDIM Challenge (which means it’s also a cousin of the CC1). This receiver has only discrete components (size 0805 resistors/caps, SOT-23 transistors), so it should be fairly easy to build. In other words, a good warm-up for the CC1. It also has a port for an external VFO, so it will be a platform for experimentation as well.

I’ll build this PCB up today and verify that it works, then get a few beta testers to confirm that all is well. Hopefully I can get this product onto market fairly quickly, with a low price. Stay tuned for more details as work progresses.

More Stuff For Sale!

I’ve added some new gear to my For Sale page that would be a great addition to the bench of any homebrewer. Please stop by and take a look!

Clackamas Transceiver, Design, Etherkit, Homebrewing, Random Musings, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #1

This is the first in a series of blog posts covering a wide variety of topics. In the past, I have used Twitter for my microblogging needs. For a variety of reasons, I’m on a Twitter hiatus right now, so I’ll be using this series to convey some of the disconnected (and possibly connected) random thoughts that I feel I need to get out there. I don’t think I’ll be abandoning Twitter completely, but I will be reworking the ways in which I use it once I come back.

I’m also in the process of disconnecting completely from Google, so I wanted to give fair warning to those who correspond with me via my Gmail account that I will be abandoning that service very soon. I’ve already deleted my Google+ profile, and will be deactivating the rest shortly. I’ll probably describe my rationale for this later, but keep in mind that I’ve been a Google customer data mine for nearly a decade, so this is not something that I undertake lightly. I’ll try to get alternate contact information to those of you who regularly correspond with me.

It is an age of new beginnings.

Clackamas 2 Prototype

With the introduction out of the way, let’s get down to the good stuff. Above, you can see the latest project on the Etherkit bench. It’s a re-work of the receiver from the Clackamas transceiver (the rig that I submitted to the 2010 FDIM 72-part challenge). I’ve decided to make this receiver into a cheap & cheerful little kit to get people warmed up for building the CC1. It’s currently for 40 meters only, is a superhet, and is VXO tuned (covers 7.030 MHz plus a bit more). It is 100% discrete component (you can see a TDA7052 IC above, but I’ve abandoned it for a different AF amp) and will be SMT construction. The receiver itself is pretty simple, but you can see there’s a fair bit of other circuitry on there. That stuff is mute and sidetone circuits. It’s easy enough to design a standalone receiver, but most of them will probably just gather dust after being built unless they can interface to a transmitter easily. With this extra circuitry, you can just split off your transmitter’s key line and connect it to this receiver to have built-in muting and sidetone. My goal is to make this project cheap and fun to build. I’ll be fast-tracking this one so I can get back to the CC1 soon.

Oddly enough, another project from the FDIM Class of 2010 is also coming out soon. As spotted on The QRPer, the Cyclone 40 transceiver is based on the rig that Dave Cripe, NM0S submitted as his 2010 FDIM 72-part challenge entry. I recall that the rig had a very unique design and that the specs were impressive. Dave’s a great designer, so be sure to buy one to get a rig unlike anything else you’ve seen before and to support 4SQRP.

Choking off the Internet firehose that I had previously directed at me has allowed me to devote a bit more time to enjoyable activities that I’ve neglected, one of those being reading. I’m currently enjoying a book I’ve had on my shelf for a while now called Seeing in the Dark by Timothy Ferris. It’s billed about being about amateur astronomers, but it does get into the professional side quite a bit as well. It’s a good read and very entertaining, and I can’t help but see a lot of parallels between amateur radio and amateur astronomy.

That’s a great segue to the final item, which is a bit of fun from our favorite Canuck astronaut, Cmdr Hadfield. He’s leaving ISS in a few days and just released a surprisingly touching (although obviously light-hearted) rendition of Space Oddity by David Bowie (one of my guilty favorites). Cmdr Hadfield may not be on the level of Neil Armstrong or Yuri Gagarin, but he’s definitely making a play for Coolest Astronaut Ever.

CC-Series, Design, Etherkit, Homebrewing, QRP, Random Musings

Stuff ‘n Things

As a mild winter turns into an unusually nice spring here in Beaverton (last week we had multiple days with clear skies and highs in the upper 70s °F), a young ham’s thoughts turn to portable activations, Field Day, SOTA, and the like. I’ve been looking forward to this summer for the opportunity to take the CC1 out in the field, but I may not get to be quite as adventurous as I hoped. Last winter, I slipped in a wet patch on the concrete in the garage and hurt my knee. As a typical guy, I didn’t go to the doctor to have it checked out, I decided to “walk it off”. It did heal, but not completely. So I finally gave in and saw my doctor about it a few weeks ago. She strongly suspects a torn meniscus, and ordered an MRI to confirm it. Unsurprisingly, my insurance company denied coverage on the MRI, instead expecting me to do a bunch of physical therapy based on at best a guess on what the problem is. Coming from a technical background such as mine, this boggles my mind. When you have a problem and you have the tools to make a measurement, you make the measurement to see what’s wrong, not just take a course of action based on a guess! I understand that money is the driving factor behind this decision, but it still seems like a waste of resources for both myself and the insurance company. Not to mention that I don’t have the faith in the efficacy of physical therapy that consensus medicine does.

So now I have to decide whether to shell out beaucoup bucks on physical therapy that probably won’t do anything other than siphon money from our family to their coffers. I’ve looked at many recommended loan options in the meantime and if that fails to miraculously heal the non-specific “knee pain” referred to by the insurance company, then I guess I get the privilege of paying for the MRI that I should have had in the first place.

I’m completely fed up with politics, so I have no desire for a political battle in my comments. I’m quite aware of the history of employer-provided health insurance in the US, and the effect of government distortions in the medical marketplace. There’s plenty of blame to be handed out all around, so let’s just leave it at that.

Anyway, I may not get to do any SOTA summits this year (except for perhaps a super-easy one such as Cooper Mountain right on the outskirts of Beaverton), but hopefully I can at least get out with the CC1 for portable ops to the park or while camping.

Speaking of the CC1, it’s at a bit of a lull in its development right now. I’m waiting for all of the beta builders to complete their construction so I can be sure that I have all of the major hardware bugs worked out (which looks tentatively promising right now). I still have quite a bit of firmware coding to work on, then I’ll be ready for the next (and hopefully last) PCB spin. With any luck, that should come in about 8-10 weeks.

In the meantime, I want to work on some side projects, and perhaps some opportunities to raise more capital to fund CC1 development. In that regard, I’ve been looking at a neat part recently. It’s a MEMS VCXO from SiTime called the SiT3808. What’s cool about this part is that it has linear voltage tuning, so that you don’t have the uneven tuning response like you would from a varactor-tuned VCXO. The phase noise on the spec sheet also looks very good. I ordered some samples for 7.030 MHz and 28.060 MHz and breadboarded them to test the frequency stability. It was nothing short of amazing. The 7.030 MHz part had a long term drift of 5 Hz in 1.5 hours. The 28.060 MHz part drifted only about 20 Hz in 2 hours. That’s pretty spectacular for CW use.

Since the 28 MHz part was so stable, I created a QRP transmitter for it by adding on a keying circuit and a couple of BD139 amplifiers. It outputs a very clean and stable 2 watt signal and has a tuning range of about 20 kHz. I also was fairly easily able to create a TX offset circuit, so that the transmitter can be paired with a direct conversion receiver (which I plan to do soon). Since tuning is linear, the offset is the same anywhere in the tuning range, unlike a typical varactor-tuned crystal oscillator.

I’ve been thinking about a way to introduce these parts to the ham community, since I don’t believe that I’ve seen them mentioned by any homebrewers or used in any kits. Last week on the qrp-tech listserv, K7QO proposed a group build of the venerable NE602/LM386 direct conversion receiver (this one from chapter 1 in Experimental Methods in RF Design). Since this design is so well known, it seems like a “remix” of this design using the SiT3808 as the local oscillator might be a fun way to spread the word about the product. I breadboarded a version with the 7.030 MHz SiT3808 sample, which you can see below (the SiT3808 is in the upper-right corner, and it obscured by the tuning pot wiring).

NE602/LM386 Prototype Receiver with SiT3808
NE602/LM386 Prototype Receiver with SiT3808

It works exactly as expected. Wide open band signals directly dumped down to baseband, and a nice, stable LO. This particular SiT3808 part number only tunes about 4 kHz, but I will be able to get parts with a greater tuning range. I’m consulting with SiTime right now about bulk pricing, and hopefully I’ll be able to do a kit run of at least 100 of these bad boys in the near future. Let me know in the comments if this is something that may interest you.

So that’s my big rant for the day. Stay tuned for further updates on all of these projects in the near future.

CC-Series, DX, Etherkit, QRP

The Thrill of QRP DX

Last night after the rest of the family was in bed, I was hacking on the CC1 firmware to add the BFO calibration routine so that I could get an accurate readout of my receive frequency. After successfully completing that task at the late hour of 0130, I decided to cruise 40 meters to see what was going on. Normally the best time for 40 meter DX at my QTH seems to be from about 0200 or so until sunrise, so I thought I might catch something.

Scanning below 7.030 MHz, I came across a very loud station. I figured it was somebody in CONUS, but decided to listen for an ID just in case. It actually turned out to be PJ2/K8ND in Curaçao. Not exactly rare DX, but it’s still quite a ways from my QTH and it’s a new one for me. So I figured I would take a crack at it with the CC1. Long story short, I set the CC1 in XIT mode and after an hour of trying, my 3 watt signal finally managed to crack the JA-wall. I was pretty excited! Not exactly a heroic snag in the annals of DXing, but it was a good one for me. My single HF antenna is a ZS6BKW only up about 30 feet, so busting a 40 meter pileup to a station 6000 km away made my night. My first DX contact on the CC1! Even better, I woke up to find that the FB op uploaded his log to LoTW immediately, and I’ve got +1 to my DXCC count.

QRP is fun!