Caution for JackAl Board owners

Jack, W8TEE and Al, AC8GY produce the JackAl Board add on for the µBITx.  They are warning that two JackAl owners have reported that a voltage spike destroyed their RA8875 display.

Al has looked into this and found that there is a very narrow voltage window on the display. Buydisplay confirms that 4V on the 3.3V line can ruin the display. From what we can determine, voltage spikes were the culprit in both cases.

What the JackAl team is doing is creating a very small PCB that will clamp the supply voltage to the display. Parts for the board will cost less than $2.

They will send one of these PCB boards to JackAl owners at no charge with a request and a SASE.

Further details will be provided when the boards come in.  Jack and Al are also expanding the documentation and hope to have a new assembly manual shortly.  Announcements will be made on the BITX20 IO Groups list and this article will be updated accordingly.


Source code for JackAl

The source code for JackAl is now available for download at our web site, I apologize for the delay and that delay is totally on me. Al had his work done months ago. In my defense, it not easy to get 11,000+ lines of C/C++ code to play nice with each other. That said, we think the final result is worth the wait, with features we think everyone will appreciate.

Some details:

There are multiple files in the project. Only one file has a secondary file name of INO. This file contains the setup() and loop() functions and, therefore, all program control elements start in the INO file. All other files are CPP (i.e., C++) files. While this is different than some of you are used to, it brings two advantages to the party: 1) it allows for type checking across files, and 2) it allows for incremental compiles. This second feature can be a real time saver. Instead of compiling almost 400K of source code spread out over 19 files, incremental compiling causes the IDE to only compile those files that have been changed since the last compile.

Line number 4 in the JackAl.h header file contains this line:

  #define DEBUG

In setup(), you’ll see

#ifdef DEBUG



In a few places you will also find:

#ifdef DEBUG

   Serial.print(“x = “);



If you leave line 4 in the header file unchanged, the Serial object is compiled into the code which can be useful for debugging, like the Serial.print() lines above. If you comment out line 4, the Serial object is NOT compiled into your program, and all of the subsequent debug print statements are also not compiled into the program. This technique is called “scaffolding” and it allows you to “remove” debug statements without actually removing them from the code. Because you don’t have to retype your debug statements in the highly unlikely event your changes have a bug in them. This can be a real timesaver. You decide what to do with line 4.

Even if you’ve never programmed, you will eventually get tired of seeing Al’s and my names on the Splash screen. The Splash() function is in the INO file and feel free to change it to your own name and call. Note if you want to change something, you must have installed the Arduino IDE and the Teensyduino patch. Details are in manuals.

This code is Open Source, as is the hardware. This is an experimenters platform and we hope you will do just that. That said, we ask that you leave the file header comments unchanged and at the top of the file. Feel free to add whatever you wish after our comments.

There is a JackAl group now ( and all comments, questions, and support will be done via that Forum. Please check the site from time-to-time, as we know we want to improve a number of things in the software.

Jack, W8TEE



Jackal Board for the uBITx released

Jack, W8TEE and Al, AC8GY have announced that QRP Guys is ready to take orders for the JackAl support board for the µBITX. A link to a list of its feature set, a video of it in action, and some photos can be seen at

Note that the AGC implements both audio and IF AGC. The appendix to the manual shows a plot of its characteristics. DSP filters are available, including user-defined filters (CUST in figure below). A CW keyer and decoder are also included. The main screen looks like this:

The decoded CW can be seen along the bottom. (In all honesty, that is a guy sending almost perfect code at about 22wpm.  Jack is still playing with the decoder and expects some really smart user to make it much better. It’s got real possibilities as it is based on the FFT bin counts.)

QRP Guys is offering the JackAl board for $40 for the first 50 boards.

After those are gone, the price will be $50.

Shipping in the CONUS is $5 and DX is $15. This is what the JackAl board you’ll get looks like:

The board has all of the SMD’s mounted (including the Si5351 and the display buffer IC). The user does have to supply additional parts: A Teensy 3.6 and associated audio board (both from and either a 5″ or 7″ TFT touch screen display ( You should also consider case size when you select your display size. (Note: has actual sizes for each display and they are measured like a TV, so the case can be smaller than you think.)  If addition, there are some IC’s, connectors, audio isolation xfmrs, and header pins that most of you will want to add. The cost of these additional parts should be less than $15 depending on your junk box. The board with these in place looks like this:

The connectors are not required but, since you are also give about a dozen free I/O pins for experimenting, you may want to add them. (The yellow pins above are test points.)

The assembly manual can also be found on the website.

This is an intermediate to advanced semi-kit project. Our intention is to not only give the µBITX additional capability, but to serve as a platform for experimentation, which we hope you will share with the rest of us. You will have approximately 700K of flash and 200K of SRAM free for your inventive side to exploit.

Al and Jack already have some (software) extensions we want to implement. Note JackAl does NOT fix the harmonic or spur issues. However, our test µBITX’s right out of the box were well within spec for 80 and 40 meters and spot on for 20M (15M and 10M, not so much). If you have doubts about your µBITX, check it out. It could well be that your favorite band is within spec. If you don’t have a spectrum analyzer, check with members of your club or the physics department of your local high school,. junior college, or university. Most will be glad to help.

You need to provide your own Teensy.  The reason for ordering a Teensy without pins is that you will need to use header sockets with long pins on the Teensy so that the Audio shield can plug into the Teensy and the Teensy plug into the JackAl board. The Teensy pins do not have the header sockets and are difficult to change without damaging the Teensy.

Note that the power jumper on the bottom of the Teensy 3.6 also has to be cut.


Video on the JackAl system

Jack W8TEE and Al AC8GY have been working on a display replacement for the µBITX for quite some time. They now have a preview video that gives an overview of the JackAl system.

There are some software hiccups in the preview that should be fixed soon. We just sent Rev 4.0 of the JackAl board off to the PCB fabricator.  They hope that this will be the final version of the board. All SMD’s will be included on the board.

JackAl makes use of either 5″ or 7″ 800×480 displays (US$34-$44) using the Teensy 3.6 microcontroller (US$30) and its companion audio board (US$14) for the DSP.

The Teensy has 1Mb of flash memory and 256K of SRAM, or which they are using less than 20% and 15%, respectively.  Jack and Al have also brought out a dozen “empty” pins for experimentation, so along with the I/O pins, there plenty of resources left to play with.

Pay particular attention to the ALS Tuning it uses. It really makes it so much easier to zero in on a station. Details are all in the video.

JackAl is here!

Jack W8TEE and Al AC8GY have  released details of the JackAl board following FDIM (preceding Dayton Hamvention).

Friday night is a sort of Show-and-Tell at FDIM and they used that opportunity to show their JackAl board in action. The photo above shows a little more about what it is and does.

At the show, Al hooked up a noise generator to the µBITX to show how the filters work. (There are 4 preset filters for CW and 4 for SSB.) In addition, you can customise one CW and SSB filter to the bandwidth you desire. You might be able to see that the skirts are pretty steep for the filters on the scope in the background. The setting of the CW custom skirts are set differently, in that you pick a centre frequency (e.g., 700Hz in the shot below), press the encoder, and then you see this:

In this case, turning the encoder CCW increases the bandspread (i.e., the 440 red number above, although it looks orange in the photo) by simultaneously moving the skirts (480Hz and 920Hz) further apart. If you turn the encoder CW, you narrow the bandspread. Most CW users will probably center the bandpass on their favorite sidetone frequency, which centers the bandpass on that frequency.

The demo used a 5″ display, although a 7″ display is also available. The third knob on the front is for a second encoder that we use for everything from setting the CW keyer speed to adjusting the filter skirts. You can see some of the plots on the panel at the rear of the picture above for some of the board’s features (e.g., filter responses, compression, etc.) Those will be included in the documentation when the (downloadable) manual is finished.

The JackAl board has the following features:

  • 5″ or 7” touch screen 800×480 TFT color display
  • Dual VFO’s
  • RIT
  • S meter
  • RTC
  • CW keyer, 5 to 50wpm (we could go up to 100wpm, but…really?)
  • Up to 50 CW preset messages, selectable at runtime…perfect for contest messages
  • Touch screen function and control selection (e.g., band changes, RIT, mode, VFO, VFO increment, LSB/USB, etc.)
  • Automatic LSB/USB selection based on frequency (overrideable)
  • One touch frequency increment changes (1Hz to 1MHz in multiples of 10…the white underscore in the frequency window)
  • Dual encoders (frequency, features)
  • EEPROM storage of user preferences (one-click reset to “factory” defaults)
  • Uses Teensy 3.6 processor (1Mb flash @180MHz) and companion audio board
  • Support for 3 external CW push button switches (NO) for sending stored CW messages (e.g., contesting)
  • Hardware AGC using IF take-off
  • Audio AGC with adjustable threshold
  • Mic compressor with adjustable threshold
  • 8 band audio equalizer
  • Receive audio filter: 48dB/octave (8 pole equivalent DSP filters)
  • 4 CW presets (150, 300, 400, 600, [or none] Hz 3dB bandwidth) + 1 user-defined knee frequencies (at runtime!) filter
  • 4 SSB presets (1500, 1800, 2200, 3000, [or none] Hz 3dB bandwidth) + 1 user-defined knee frequencies (at runtime!) filter’
  • Variable Notch filter, encoder adjustable, use specified Q
  • 7 watt power amplifier

The board will be distributed with all (surface mounted) parts in place. The user must supply the Teensy 3.6 ($30), its supporting audio board ($15), and the 5″ ($34) or 7″ ($44) touch screen displaying (using the RA8875 controller chip,

We expect the JackAl board to sell for $50.

We may need to adjust this price as we have only received “ballpark” cost estimates for the board since we only have the Gerber files for the Beta board.

Currently, we are using less than 20% of the available flash memory (out of 1Mb) and less than 15% of the SRAM (256K), so there is plenty of memory resources available for adding “stuff”. The board also brings out a number of I/O pins to help your experimentation. With the exception of removing one SMD resistor on the µBITX board and soldering two wires to those pads, all interconnections are via existing connectors.

Our best guess is that after finishing the modified Gerber files, production, Beta testing, and writing support manuals, it will be probably two months before we begin distribution. We will announce its availability here as soon as we can. BTW, if anyone knows a high-quality PCB manufacturer who also does pick-and-place at reasonable prices, we are getting quotes and would like to know about them.


Jack W8TEE has let the cat out of the bag

In an earlier news item on, we speculated about projects under development by various teams.   We speculated that Jack W8TEE was up to something that involved a touch screen display and a processor upgrade.  Well the cat is now out of the bag.  The photo below was post by Jack on the BITX20 list.  This is the display panel of the JackAl board that the team will release shortly.

Al (AC8GY) and Jack picked the Teensy 3.6 because of its horsepower, good FFT library, and audio processing board. Al’s doing an info piece on JackAl which should answer most questions about it in an effort not to chew up the BITX20 group’s bandwidth.

There was no “target date” originally for announcement of the project. However, when Jack was asked to speak at FDIM, the project team thought it would be “kinda cool to show it off” at the Homebrew Show-and-tell on Friday night (8-10PM), so the target became real.

Al and Jack are starting to look like slugs who haven’t seen daylight in about six months.  JackAl should be a fun board for a lot of people because its heart is the Teensy 3.6 which has lots of resources associated with it. Currently, we are using less than 10% of both flash and SRAM.

Jack says, “I hope to see a bunch of you at FDIM …”