Compare: Software options


A common question for constructors of a new software-driven radio is “Can I get such-and-such a feature”?    While some of us have hacked arduino sketches, many are a bit reluctant to have a go, because they fear permanently damaging their prized kit.   In reality, this is unlikely, and it is readily possible to reinstall a proven sketch when things seem irretrievable with our own hacks.

This article looks at the available software distributed for the uBITx.   Installing these sketches is straight forward.   A guide on how to install a sketch will be produced shortly for readers.

Stock uBITx software

The stock uBITx firmware developed by VU2ESE was very well regarded at release.

The BITx40 and the original uBITx design used a rotary potentiometer for tuning. However, the shipped uBITx turned out to feature a mechanical rotary encoder.  Right off the assembly line, the uBITx was menu-driven.  The stock uBITx allowed the operator to switch modes (LSB and USB), bands (or rather to step quickly through MHz), select keying speed for the auto-keyer, and to calibrate their frequency and BFO offset.

Sure, it contained a few minor bugs, just like any fresh software to hit the market . Probably the most annoying bug was that it miskeyed after a period of time – or for some, right from the start!  However, it generally functioned well and got people on air.  We may be waiting a while, however, to see a bug fix release from the manufacturer. The factory is overloaded at present with back orders for the uBITx, and even BITx40 shipping times have been affected.

Just as with the BITx40 (where would be without Allard’s excellent enhancements?) other software developers have issued code releases that offer improvements on the manufacturer’s firmware.

Most operators want bug fixes. Others want more advanced features or a better user experience.  The active BITx community has quickly responded with several software developers offering firmware that upgrades our stock uBITx.

Alternative software

There are currently three software altentaives available – all are open source and can be downloaded for free:

  1. KD8CEC v1.01   Download
  2. W0EB/W2CTX ubitx_V2_00R Download
  3. VU2SPF/VE1BW v2.72u  Download

Feature Summary

A summary of features and pros and cons of these firmware options can be found in the following table:

Software Comparison

SupplierRelFeature listHardware ModsProsCons
KD8CEC 1.01*Bug fix
-CW errors
-CW offset
*More info displayed
*Menu improved
*Added CW-U and -L modes
*Memory keyer
*IF Shift
*Split mode
*Dial lock
*Tx inhibit
*Memory save/recall (20)
*CAT function (uBITx/FT817)
*Ubitx Manager (Win/Linux)
*None required*Hex download avail.
*Works on all uBITx
*Fixes bugs
*Adds significant features
*Stable with large testing community
*No hardware improvements (yet)
*Documentation needs bit more work
W0EB/W2CTXubitx_V2_00R*Bug fix
*Menu improved
*Split mode
*CW keying improved
*Minor re-wiring of the key jack required *Good documentation
*Excellent keying
*Number of features seen on KD8CEC sketch not yet featured
*No CAT function (yet!)
VU2SPF/VE1BWv2.72u*LCD Touch Display
*Touch menu enabled
*Memories (100)
*Touch band selection
2.7" display
Mega 2560 proc
si5351 board (e.g. Adafruit)
*Touch display
*Easy to navigate menu
*Lots of ports on Mega
*Lots of program space for future hacks
*Several active testers
*More expensive touch display (Nextion) but won't strain processor

KD8CEC v1.01 reviewed

Ian Lee KD8CEC was quick to bring out beta releases of his sketch to replace the stock uBITx sketch.  The first of Ian’s posts dates back to just a couple of weeks after uBITx kits started arriving  in our letter boxes from HF Signals.

The first non-beta release of the KD8CEC sketch offers a mix of bug fixes, feature enhancements, and usability improvements.   It is easy to use, as it follows the same user interface design as the stock, but there are some enhancements that may take a while for a user to discover, because succinct and readable documentation has still to be prepared.

When first turning on after installing your sketch you will immediately see that the time line of the display contains additional information.   On the left you will see the frequency displayed of the second VFO, the encoder step value  (10, 20, 50, 100 or 200 Hz) and the key status (Iambic A, Iambic B, or Straight).

If you push the encoder button, you will see the familiar menu, with the following items:   Band Select, Select VFO, Select Mode, RIT: Off/On, IF Shift Off/On, CW speed change, Split On/Off, VFO to Channel, Channel to VFO, CW Autokey Mode, Setup and Quit.   A whole lot more features are selectable!

We won’t  go into all the details since most features are self explanatory, but it is worth mentioning that “channels” are, of course memory channels, and the “Autokey mode” selects pre-programmed CW messages for automated sending.

Autokey messages need to be set up in the uBITx Manager software for Windows or Linux that Ian has developed.   uBITx Manager allows you to configure various settings that are stored in EEPROM on the uBITx.   This includes band settings, your Callsign, and of course the CW autokey messages.

If you hold down the encoder button a bit longer you will get the Tuning Step menu. If you hold down the button for more than 2.5 seconds, you will get the Tuning Lock function (and a padlock appears on the bottom display).

In the Settings menu, new features also appear.  You can set the calibration and the BFO just like on the stock sketch, but the default settings are probably going to be good enough for most folks (unlike with the stock sketch settings).  You can also independently set CW BFO settings from the SSB ones.  Chaning the CW tone now works correctly (a problem with the stock sketch), and KD8CEC also allows you to set the CW TX/RX delay, a CW start delay, set the key type and turn TX off altogether.

Most people have found that the keyer works normally with Ian’s sketch, without hardware modification.   There is a built in feature, however, to read the value (0 to 1023) that the Arduino sees from your key press on “dit”, “dah” and a “straight” key.  This can be used to adjust the code settings in EEPROM (in uBITx Manager) if you are getting keying mis-reads.  This is a very handy feature as it also reads the input values on other analogue ports.

W0EB/W2CTX v2_00R reviewed