A crisis that gets worse … uBITx woes!

A full blown mid-life crisis can sometimes only get worse!

Further investigations of the issues surrounding µBITx odd harmonics on CW on the lower bands are showing that the problem is from board layout issues in the relay switching and LPF section of the board.

Allison KB1GMX has cut up her board and done testing on the LPF/relay section.  This shows the following:

  • On 3.5 MHz in TX mode, the 3.5 MHz filter is selected the blow by limits us to barely 25DB of filtering of harmonics at 30 MHz
  • On 7.0 MHz in  TX mode,  the 7 MHz filter is  selected, blow by limits us to maybe 25db  of filtering.’
  • On 21.0 MHz  in  TX mode with the 21 MHz filter selected the blow by limits us to about 30db at 30MHz of filtering.

While the “blow by” may vary by individual unit and it is posisble to argue over the magnitude,  over all the filters are simply unacceptable.

Allison says “At this point I’d rip out the filters and the relays and even the TR relay (KT1-3 and K3) and route everything to an external low pass board. At that point I think we have a chance with the external board performance being unknown but for certain it cannot be worse.”

Stay calm

For many of us, all of this is simply more bad news.  However, we should stay calm at this point and start using our commercial rigs or other kits for a while.  With such a large community of constructors,  there will be solutions found to some of these problems.   You may well need to do some mods though for your µBITx to be fully legal in your country.

Summary

There are two issues known to date:

  • Spurious emissions (spurs) generated in the double balanced mixer at 45 MHz that exceed US emission standards on SSB above 18 MHz.  This issue is exacerbated by higher audio drive levels (e.g. if you have added a mic preamp or voice compressor).  This issue is an unnoticed design issue.

It is likely that this issue can only be resolved by adding additional filtering to replace the existing 30MHz LPF following the mixer, or by redesign of the µBITx with a higher IF frequency (maybe 70MHz or higher).

  • Harmonic output on 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th harmonic, etc. that exceeds US emission standards on CW on some bands.   This issue is caused by “blow by” in the LPFs and the associated relay switching.  This is a design issue with the layout of the board and the relay switching design (using only one relay to switch both ends and the sequential routing of relays on lower bands).

It is likely that this issues can only be fixed by disconnecting the existing LPFs and reconstructing the filtering and relay switching system on a new daughter board.

Reference #1
Reference #2

A microphone pre-amp with no additional power requirement

Karsten DB7JB provides this simple circuit to boost mic gain (perhaps if you are quietly spoken) that does not require any modification of the μBitx board. It is powered off the existing microphone line (which already provides bias for the electret microphone).   It could be built right into your microphone housing, given it has only seven parts and the electrolytic capacitors are very low voltage components.

With the supplied electret microphone in the kit you will get additional gain for fully modulating your SSB signal. However, you will need to be careful not to overdrive the mixer, which as Allison has indicated in her post, is easily over-driven, which can result in spurious emissions from unintended mixer products.  

 

 

A mid-life crisis

uBITx.net followers will remember the concerns that Allison KB1GMX raised about the spurs generated by the µBITx above 18 MHz on SSB (but not on CW), at least on her ‘Sample of One’.

“No one is going to want to hear this” says Warren WA8TOD, “But the design of the PA output filter is probably fatally flawed and it is likely due to board layout issues.”

Warren was puzzled how the high order harmonics from 80 meter operation, for example, could possibly survive a 7th order filter which should have well over 50 dB of attenuation at the 5th harmonic. So he set out to test the results with a 9th order filter, figuring more is better. The harmonics remained. But in troubleshooting that installation the source of the issue was revealed.

In the attached screenshot the purple trace is the 80 meter CW output with the harmonics clearly far in excess of the green -43 dBc legal threshold (NB The line on the screen is actually at -53dB).

The blue trace is the output with L20 removed which disables the 80 meter filter and blocks RF output from the finals from reaching the output connector. (Don’t worry….. the tests were carried out with the drive reduced so the output was only one half watt. And I have a bag of spare IRF510s on hand……). The harmonics remain! How can that be?

The circuit diagram shows the path 80 meter RF follows through all three switching relays in order to reach the filter. It is a very novel and inventive concept to use three relays to switch both ends of 4 filters. Most manufacturers would require 8 separate relays to do this job. And for a very good reason.

In order for a filter to provide the required 50+ dB of attenuation, the filter itself must have 60 dB or more of input-to-output isolation. If it does not then the unwanted products simply bypass the filter and go directly to the output. That appears to be exactly what is happening in the filter complex of this unit.

There is no easy fix for this. No amount of on board filtering and tweaking is going to improve harmonic suppression until the path around the filters is blocked. I suspect that path is via the relays themselves but board layout often is critical as well in such cases. Warren’s guess is that the only solution would be either extensive external filtering or a carefully laid out daughter card to replace the existing filters and relays.

Reference

(Yet another) Raduino replacement board

Jim W0EB has produced (yet another) drop-in Raduino clone, available in kit form, for anyone needing a replacement for a damaged Raduino that they are otherwise unable to repair or if they are just wanting to have a spare on hand.

It’s being offered as a bare board, a complete kit of parts INCLUDING the NANO which will be pre-programmed with Ashhar Farhan’s latest factory software from Github (Currently v4.3) or, for a slightly higher price, the kit version is being offered with the Si5351 already soldered in place and continuity checked to insure the connections are good and there are no shorts between the pins.

The new card has some extra bypassing capacitors.  The 4.7K CW pull up resistor can be directly mounted on the board (or if you are replacing an existing Raduino installation and have already wired it to your key jack you can leave it off the board).

The 7805 regulator has been mounted flat on the rear of the board with a heat sink and input dropping resistor so that it runs much cooler.

The clone is just over a centimeter wider than the original, but the display mounting holes have been kept to the exact same pattern.  A standard 16 X 2 parallel display will mount properly.  The display is not supplied with the kit to keep the cost lower as most users already have one or more on hand anyway.

The pre-programmed NANO  will be supplied with the pins loose and not installed so the user can mount it either on the front (not recommended) or on the back of the card to keep it out of the way of the display in the manner of the current factory supplied Raduino cards.

Any software that currently runs on an original Raduino will run on this card including the KD8CEC versions.  (That includes CEC’s Nextion enabled versions as well).

The construction manual, pictures of the board and ordering/availability information can be found on Jim’s website.

Reference

New build uBITx with Nextion screen

Jim Reagan W0CHL has made a compact build using a Nextion display.

He used a Context Engineering (Fry’s Electronics) case. It’s a tight fit and not for the beginner. I had to “mill out” (dremel) areas for the stand offs (they are nicely recessed on the front panel).   He also chopped off (with a bandsaw) off back 1 3/4″ of the case. It’s using the 3.2″ Nextion display and has a quiet  24 volt fan to keep the finals cool.  The final size of the case is just 3 x 6 x 6 1/2″.

Reference

 

Using uBITx Memory Manager with the HF Signals v4.3 Firmware

Remi F1MQJ has modified the manufacturer’s v4.3 original firmware (published on may 23 2018) to include communication with KD8CEC memory manager.  

This could be very useful for those wanting to stick with the HF Signals latest firmware, while making it easier to view or update initialisation settings, such as calibration of frequency or setting the BFO injection point, in the original firmware.

Modifications are the same as those described by Ian KD8CEC  here but are adapted to the HF Signals V4.3 original firmware.

The file removes all text after .ino in your firmware directory replacing the original ubitx_cat.ino file.   

You can access this file at the following URL:
https://groups.io/g/BITX20/files/ubitx_cat.ino_modified_KD8CEC_F1MQJ.txt

Distilled wisdom with respect to HF linear amplifier kits

Many constructors will have thought about adding on to their µBITx one of the cheap linear amplifier kits that can be found on eBay.com or Aliexpress.com.

A thread covering these options was started by Arvo KD9HLC.  This article attempts to succinctly cover this ground for those exploring amplifier kits in future.

Arvo asked about the kit illustrated above that costs US$36.   There is another cheaper version available and Lee N9LO says:

“I’ve read some reviews on these and it seem the big difference between the $36 100w and the $18 70w is the 100w is on 16v and the 70w is 13.8v. The heat sink for either is $8. They both need a low pass filter for the band you use it on”

Richie notes:

“The 45 watt and 70 watt amps use the IRF530, and I own both. They do work, but not for long at the advertised power. It’s very easy to push too hard on the drive and blow the FETs. The 45 watt version only takes 10 milliwatts of drive to get full power, so it can be connected directly to the BitX 40 T/R relay with a 3 to 6 dB pad (bypassing the PA). You can get about 25 watts out on 13.8 volts. The 70 watt amp needs about 1 to 3 watts of drive to work, but can produce 40 to 50 watts from 80 to 20 meters. The output falls off sharply after that. Either way, but some extra IRF530s… you will need them!”

Howard Fidel says:

“I built the 70 watt model. I changed the 2 IRF530s to 4 IRF520s. The IRF530s oscillated and failed quickly. They also run very hot. The IRF520s run much cooler (2x as many junctions) and are stable putting out 50 watts on 20 meters. The output on 15 and 10 is less, but the uBitx puts out less on those frequencies. I am working on getting it working on all bands, but for now I just use it on 20.”

David, N8DAH, says:

“Just my 2 cents. After getting two versions of the “cheapbay” amp I can say the best thing I did.  I bought a proper kit (like a WA2EBY) and built it.  The Hardrock 50 was also a great amp but the cost is pretty high. I have not used a HFpacker but know a few QRP guys that swear by them as well.

If you really want 100W look at the HLA-150. I have had much better luck with building a known kit then trying to save a few bones on the cheaper kits with next to no info on them”

Jerry KE7ER says:

“Any amateur amp should be followed by a low pass filter suitable for knocking out the second harmonic and beyond.  That means separate filters for 160m, 80m, 40m, 20m, 10m. You may piggyback some of the other non-harmonic bands into that set of filters, but that makes the filters much more difficult to design and build.  A rig with only a 30mhz LP filter is likely aimed mostly at CB’rs.

“QRP is good for experimenting.  But with a 50W+ eBay amp, you really should be testing for compliance with FCC regs.  It likely fails, and all the nasties will scale up with the output power.”

Two articles to check out

4Z1NT suggests checking out this article on how to make the 70w unit work well.

Andrew Kasurak suggests checking out this article if you want to upgrade a cheap Chinese eBay amp to a working 55w unit.

Reference

Further details on Nextion Display and second arduino

Ian KD8CEC, in his third article on using a second arduino with the µBITx, demonstrates the signal scope feature made possible with having a dedicated ardunio nano connected to the main Raduino control processor via i2c lines.

The signal scope shows a section of the band surrounding the currently tuned frequency IN REAL TIME.    The nano and the serial connections to the Nextion doesn’t have the agility to provide a full blown waterfall display, but a real time display of signals around where you are currently tuned is still pretty impressive.

The other feature that is present in the Nextion display version of this arduino add-on, is a CW decode function.

Bring on the release of v1.097 of CEC firmware!

VU3SUA case documentation

The µBITx case from Sunil Lakhani VU3SUA  is popular with constructors based on its value for money.  However, many find it difficult to find wiring guides for this case.    It is documented at various places by VU3SUA.  Sunil Sankaranarayanan VU2MTM has downloaded all of the photos and these are collected together.

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Download Sunil Lakhani VU3SUA - Photo 9 126.43 KB 1008 downloads

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Reference

Crystal filter experimentation

Rahul VU3WJM has been scratch building a µBitx and experimenting with the 12 MHz QER filter.  He notes the following:

1) With the set of xtals that I have with 100pF caps and 200Z I/O filter the bandwidth is around 1.85Khz for HC49S crystals and 3.3Khz for HC49U crystals.

2) With a filter based on HC49U crystals, a lower bandwidth is achieved using 150pF caps but impedance drops down to 150-160 ohms. Lowering the
bandwidth also degrades the shape factor to around 1:2. This can be well understood considering that HC49U crystals have a lower motional inductance Lm.

3) As suggested by Allison KB1GMX, 82pF is working just fine in the filter and achieves a bandwidth of around 2.2Khz. Capacitor value is bit touchy between 82 to 100pf.

4) The Q of capacitors used has a major impact on the filter response. Parallelling up two values to arrive at a desired overall capacitance value results in a better response.

To see sweeps of a few different filter configurations select the reference on the list.   Rahul would love to hear from others of their experiences on the 12MHz crystal filter.

Reference