Re: QRP Labs July 2020 newsletter

Hans Summers

Hi Jack, Shirley, all

Ross is correct. A complete redesign is one thing. But the aim here would be to keep the existing QCX circuit and firmware compatibility. Which rules out TFT. 

The small 1602 LCD Shirley found is very interesting. But I question whether going smaller is the solution. How many people would really want the displayed text to be smaller than it currently is? That makes it much harder to read, for many people. Particularly consider that portable (outdoor) operation is the consideration here. Display readability is of paramount importance. An ultra-tiny radio is probably taking it too far, it makes it too difficult and impractical to use. 

The benchmark here is the QCX, in BaMaTech enclosure. The volume of this radio enclosure is 350 cm3 (cubic centimeters). In contrast the volume of the QCX+ enclosure is 843 cm3. The aim for a small version of QCX should be to fit in a size smaller than the BaMaTech enclosure. If the volume could be shrunk by another factor of 2, that would be a good result. I think that this does not exclude the current standard 1602 LCD module. 

I researched this topic in depth a couple of weeks ago, both with the constraint of keeping the existing firmware compatibility (restricting us to the use of 1602 displays) and without this constraint, allowing other display types. A primary concern is outdoor readability, which means in strong lighting conditions. Other important parameters are: size, cost, durability, availability, current consumption. I thought a reasonable constraint was keeping the same character size as we have on the current LCD. It comes down to four classes of displays:

OLED: these are the *modern* thing, indeed they are beautiful and bright displays. However, there are a number of disadvantages. The outdoor readability is still not great, even though they are bright and high contrast. I have a Samsung S9 smartphone and it has a beautiful OLED screen. Outdoors it is not easy to read even at full brightness. Another problem is screenburn. Before the S9, I had Samsung's S7. After 2 years of use, there was visible (and annoying) screenburn. The screenburn matched the gmail application so obviously it's you guys' fault for writing too many emails. Screenburn occurs if the same area of the display displays the same thing for a long time; even without screenburn, the brightness of OLEDs decreases with time. RF noise is also reported with OLED displays, whether or not this would be an issue here is not known. The cost is also quite a lot higher for an OLED of sufficient size that you can create the frequency display (for example) with a character size comparable with the 1602 LCD character size. Another feature of OLEDs is that since each pixel is an LED, they do consume some non-trivial current. 

TFT: You have colour, larger size, and graphics capability all at reasonable cost. There would be no problem with finding an LCD of suitable size to match the 1602 LCD character size. But the brightness is the main problem here. I just don't think they'd be very readable in outdoor conditions, particularly in sunlight. Furthermore they require the operation of the backlight which means current consumption cannot be very low. 

ePaper/eInk - these are very interesting! I have a love for those since I jailbreaked an on old Kindle3 eBook reader that a friend gave me during my Tokyo years. It runs Linux inside and I installed a C compiler and used to write code during my subway ride to the office on its tiny membrane QWERTY keyboard. The battery life was months! Not well known, is that the Virtual Machine and BASIC interpreter of the U4B balloon tracker (in development, see current flight ) evolved from my work on the Tokyo Subway! But despite the very low current consumption and the undeniably best viewability even in direct sunlight - for a portable QRP rig there would be two disadvantages. One is the slow display update rate, the other is the relatively high cost. It is possible to do partial updates of the display but it would probably be too irritating during rapid tuning and things like S-meter would probably be ruled out.

And so we return to the lowly humble 1602 alphanumeric LCD module. At 80 x 36mm it isn't the smallest display but neither is it so large that it rules itself out of a mini rig. The readability is excellent. The current consumption of the backlight can be up to 30mA but lower currents are still perfectly workable. The digits are large and easy to read. The code to drive it is simple. The yellow/green type are readable in direct sunlight with the backlight turned off, then it consumes under 1mA of current. Easily available and they are cheap. 

So it seems to me that this 1602 LCD module, particularly the yellow/green type (and a switch to turn off the backlight for outdoor use), is probably not the sexiest but is the most suitable. Whether for a mini QCX when you want to maintain backward compatibility (same firmware as QCX/QCX+) and for a mini something if you didn't mind changing the code. 

These 1602 displays could be like IRF510 transistors at 5-50W, or the BS170s in the 5W QRP and under class of transmitters. Sometimes you look around and try to find a better device. But the combination of availability, low price, and characteristics that just perfectly hit that sweet spot for what you need, means you just keep coming back to them. 

73 Hans G0UPL 

On Sun, Jul 12, 2020 at 7:48 AM Ross Wilson <rzzzwilson@...> wrote:

I think the aim is to make the "micro QCX" circuit+firmware the same as the original, along the lines of the QCX+.  Using a display not identical in interface to the full-size 1602 display will require different firmware (if it will even fit in a 328p), leading to a whole new product, something I'm sure Hans is not keen to do.

Ross, AC3DN

On Sun, 12 Jul 2020, 08:41 jjpurdum via, <> wrote:
If you want a balance between size, cost, and information, why not consider a TFT color display? For under $4 you can have a 128x160 display that's quite small. See eBay #143638051950.

Jack, W8TEE

On Saturday, July 11, 2020, 8:19:50 PM EDT, Giuseppe Marullo <giuseppe@...> wrote:

>I did find one display that is significantly smaller and that can be
bought for a non-ridiculous price ($5) in quantity one:
I just


I have one on my other QRP kit (BITX20a), I used it in place of the 4
digits led display, it is really tiny.

Good luck with soldering though, I used wirewrap wire (connector is
0.05" spaced) to connect to the VFO board.

Grab a microscope and a 6W solderer.

Use the microscope afterwards to look at it, LOL.

Giuseppe Marullo

On 7/12/2020 1:23 AM, Shirley Dulcey KE1L wrote:
> I was curious about what it would take to make a smaller QCX so I did
> a bit of looking around at parts.
> Perhaps the most challenging thing is finding a suitable display.
> There is a remarkable uniformity in the size of 2x16 LCD character
> displays; other sizes exist, but they're scarce and usually cost a lot
> more than the usual sizes. Hans may be able to contract directly with
> an Asian source to get a suitable display. Small OLED displays are
> available, but using one of those would require changes to the
> firmware so it would no longer be compatible with the existing QCX.
> I did find one display that is significantly smaller and that can be
> bought for a non-ridiculous price ($5) in quantity one:
> I just wish it didn't have such huge bezels! It's also available from
> Digi-Key but it's a marketplace product; in other words, it's actually
> shipped by Orient Display. It's not a drop-in replacement because it
> uses a ribbon cable for connection rather than solder pads that can
> take headers, but the arrangement of the lines and the interface are
> identical.
> A downsized QCX might also want to use a smaller potentiometer, and a
> smaller encoder if one can be found. Miniaturizing things like the
> power and antenna jacks can't happen unless you switch to different
> connectors. Another option is moving the connectors off-board, which
> would make assembly more difficult but might allow the radio to fit in
> a much smaller footprint.
> Finally, there is the microcontroller. Going to an SMD version would
> save space, but at the cost of removing the ability to program the
> chip outside the circuit.
> On Sat, Jul 11, 2020 at 6:27 PM Robert Campbell <kg6hum@...
> <mailto:kg6hum@...>> wrote:
>    I would be very interested in a small SMD QCX kit if one was
>    produced.
>    --
>    Rob Campbell
>    KG6HUM
>    On Sat, Jul 11, 2020, 2:39 PM Hans Summers <hans.summers@...
>    <mailto:hans.summers@...>> wrote:
>        The last few months have seen very hard times all around the
>        world, the Covid19 pandemic which has affected almost ever
>        corner of our planet. QRP Labs has continued to operate
>        normally throughout the Covid19 pandemic. However, logistics
>        have certainly slowed down during the pandemic. It has taken
>        longer to get supplies of components. Customers who use post
>        office shipment will have noticed very much longer delivery
>        times in many cases. I hope that you and your family are in
>        good health and remain so.
>        1. New product: QCX+ CW transceiver replaces QCX, many
>        improvements
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c1>
>        2. QCX/QCX+ firmware updates T1.04 and T1.05
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c2>
>        3. QSX project update
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c3>
>        4. FedEx Express (TNT) shipping option
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c4>
>        5. QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c5>
>        6. U4B flight test program
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c6>
>        7. Social media, Feedback, unsubscribing
>        <#m_7021488901018812256_m_706214891604729108_m_5051076699534674901_c7>
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            1. New product: QCX+ CW Transceiver replaces QCX, many
>            improvements
>        <>In May 2020 QRP Labs introduced
>        the new version of the famous and amazingly popular QCX kit,
>        the new QCX+ <>. To date, 10.568
>        QCX/QCX+ <> kits have been sold,
>        of which over 600 are pre-orders for the new QCX+
>        <>. The QCX+
>        <> has the same circuit, and the
>        same firmware and operating features as the original QCX, but
>        a new physical layout and many exciting improvements. At $55
>        the QCX+ has only a small price increase compared to the
>        original $49 Q CX.
>        The most noticeable change is that the QCX+
>        <> consists of TWO PCBs with
>        pin-header interconnect between them. The LCD and controls are
>        mounted on a vertical front-panel PCB and the rest of the
>        circuit is on a horizontal rear PCB. The next thing you'll
>        notice is that the PCB area has been considerably increased,
>        the component density is much lower and this makes the
>        assembly easier. All of the resistors are lying down flat. The
>        main PCB is 13 x 10 cm (compared to 10 x 8 cm for the original
>        QCX). Additional pin header pads throughout the board
>        provide opportunities to experiment and modify your QCX+
>        <> to learn or to customize it to
>        your particular wishes.
>        The three BS170 power amplifier transistors and the MPS751
>        key-shaping transistor are now lying down flat on an exposed
>        area of copper on the PCB, with a but, washer and bolt to push
>        them firmly against the PCB; the copper groundplane of the PCB
>        functions as a heatsink, drawing heat away from the
>        transistors and dissipating it harmlessly. The original QCX
>        has no heatsinking on the transistors, and since the Class-E
>        PA has high efficiency, none is really needed for CW
>        operation; however for WSPR operations which is a continuous
>        2-minute transmission, some kind of heatsinking is perhaps
>        more desirable; QCX+ <> therefore
>        provides this as standard.
>        QCX+ <> features two additional
>        3.5mm stereo jack sockets, for the CAT control port and PTT
>        output (to control the 50W PA kit). The power connector is now
>        a 2.1mm barrel connector type. QCX+
>        <> also has a latching
>        push-button on/off switch on the front panel.
>        The QCX and QCX+ <> firmware are
>        the same chip, so full backward compatibility is being
>        maintained between the features of the two versions.
>        QCX+ <> comes with several new
>        optional accessories too! These are:
>          * Enclosure $25 <>: The
>            very smart black anodized extruded aluminium enclosure is
>            cut, drilled and laser-etch printed for the QCX+
>            <>. It has a 106 x 55mm front
>            panel and is 146.6mm deep. So far, around 90% of QCX+
>            <> customers have also
>            ordered the enclosure.
>          * TCXO option $8.25 <>:
>            this tiny board replaces the 27MHz crystal with a 25MHz
>            TCXO, providing very high frequency accuracy and stability
>          * Dev kit $9 <>: This is a
>            120 x 95mm PCB with a matrix of through-hole plated holes.
>            It has special pads which match all the interface pads of
>            the main QCX+ <> PCB and can
>            be connected using pin headers. The Dev kit is supplied
>            with several male and female pin headers for this purpose,
>            as well as 12mm spacers and screws to fix it in place
>            above the mainQCX+ <> PCB.
>        The QCX+ <> kit is compatible
>        with the 50W PA kit <>, and the
>        QLG1 GPS kit <>, just the same as the
>        original QCX.
>        More details about QCX+:
>        More photos of QCX+:
>        Order your QCX+:
>        Not everyone has been happy about the larger size of QCX+
>        <>, specifically people wanting
>        to operate portable such as SOTA operators, who desire the
>        smallest lightest possible equipment. Therefore I have
>        undertaken to consider carefully whether it is feasible to
>        produce another batch of the original QCX kits, or perhaps a
>        new smaller layout QCX using SMD components.
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            2. QCX firmware updates T1.04 and T1.05
>        Firmware version T1.04 was released on 15-Mar-2020
>        Firmware version T1.05 was released on 08-May-2020
>        These versions can be downloaded from the files section of the
>        QRP labs discussion group on <>, or
>        a programmed chip can be purchased from the QRP Labs shop
>        The full description of the firmware changes is at
>        In summary, the majority of the changes in these two versions
>        was aimed at improving the CAT control interface, making it
>        more reliable and fixing bugs which had arisen in its
>        implementation. The CAT control interface now works very well.
>        Aside from the CAT control improvements there were quite a few
>        bug fixes, primarily concerned with cosmetic problems on the
>        display; so many different things are going on inside the
>        QCX/QCX+ <> firmware that
>        sometimes parts of the display got corrupted when two
>        different processes tried to access the display at the same
>        time. Following a huge amount of work in this area, the
>        display is now accurately rendered all the time.
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            3. QSX Project update
>        The QSX project is an all-mode, all-band HF transceiver
>        providing CW, SSB, AM, FM and Digimodes for all bands from
>        160m to 10m inclusive, with 10W output power. It is an
>        embedded SDR transceiver providing extremely high performance
>        and packed full of features, yet at a very low price. The
>        project is described here
>        To my shame, embarrassment and regret, this product
>        development has taken me very much longer than originally
>        anticipated and the anticipated availability date has been and
>        long gone. I frequently receive emails asking about the status
>        of the project, and some people ask has it been dropped
>        entirely? Will it ever be available?
>        Well the answer is no, it certainly has not been dropped,
>        canceled, given up on, etc. The project is still very high
>        priority. But at the same time, this is a very complex and
>        ambitious project to be undertaken by a small business such as
>        QRP Labs. The Research and Development is a large undertaking,
>        requiring a considerable time investment. At the same time,
>        all the other demands of running a small but growing family
>        business have not gone away, and are far from negligible.
>        Many people who have not tried running a business, will find
>        this hard to understand. I myself did not understand either,
>        at the beginning. Basically, it is hard enough to design a
>        circuit that works and is reproducible by others, often
>        involving complex hardware and firmware bound together in
>        harmony. But then producing it hundreds or thousands of times
>        over, at a price that makes it attractive to hobbyists - and
>        all the challenges of component supply, manufacturing,
>        logistics, imports, administration that go with it... then all
>        the after-sales support, both technical and mundane (lost
>        packages, slow packages, missing components, etc)... let's
>        just say you have to be crazy to even contemplate taking on
>        such a thing! To say that it is time consuming is a chronic
>        understatement.
>        QSX is a large scale project requiring a long development
>        program. However at the same time, QRP Labs is a business
>        enterprise that has to feed the family as our primary source
>        of income. This makes it essential to continue to develop and
>        offer other more minor new products or firmware versions to
>        enhance existing products, in parallel with the QSX
>        development program, to sustain our income. On the other hand,
>        work on these other things in most cases also overlaps with
>        tasks in the QSX program so in many ways the work is not lost.
>        I do feel very thankful that at least I was never so
>        optimistic about development schedules that I took any
>        pre-orders for the QSX!
>        Then to conclude this topic: I am as determined as ever, to
>        finish the project and make it available to you all in large
>        quantities. The project is definitely not canceled and is
>        definitely not on hold, either. I have often said, I'm not
>        rich, I'm not smart, I'm not educated in electronics hardware
>        or software - but the one thing I really am is too dumb to
>        know when to quit. So never fear, it will be done. And it will
>        be worth the wait. I will be updating the QRP Lads discussion
>        group and the QSX page as soon as I can be more definite about
>        dates. Until then, I do not want to tempt fate with any
>        promises about dates that I can't be sure of keeping.
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            4. FedEx Express (TNT) shipping option
>        At the end of February QRP Labs contracted with FedEx Express
>        (TNT) to provide reasonably priced express shipping for QRP
>        Labs packages. To most destinations, FedEx Express (TNT)
>        shipment takes 3-4 days. (NOTE: FedEx and TNT are the same
>        company since 2016; locally in different countries, service is
>        normally provided by either FedEx or TNT). We were able to
>        offer shipping for 0-500g packages at $10.99. The Covid19
>        pandemic caused an increase in prices to $11.99 which is the
>        current price for 0-500g; then $19.27 for up to 1kg, etc.
>        The choice of shipping method is available during the checkout
>        procedure on the QRP Labs shop <>. We
>        are also now offering a cheaper un-registed, un-insured,
>        un-tracked, at-your-own-risk post office airmail service.
>        FedEx Express (TNT) shipping costs only a few $ more than
>        regular post office shipment and around 70% of QRP Labs
>        customers have been choosing this option for their order,
>        preferring the speedy shipment with frequent tracking updates
>        (Note, since in Turkey TNT is the service provider, you will
>        receive a TNT tracking code and use the TNT website
>        <> for tracking.
>        In early July, the price of normal post office airmail
>        shipping to United States literally tripled overnight. This is
>        the result of changes to the pricing the US are able to charge
>        foreign postal services for the "last mile" delivery of
>        international packages within United States. Now for all but
>        the lightest packages to United States, US customers will find
>        that FedEx Express (TNT) is now the cheapest option, as well
>        as by far the speediest.
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            5. QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo
>        QRP Labs Hans G0UPL was featured in episode 125 of the QSO
>        Today podcast <>. Since
>        then QRP Labs has been a proud sponsor of the QSO Today
>        podcast. Hence I was excited about the Virtual Ham Expo the
>        QSO Today organization is preparing
>        <> for the weekend
>        of 8th and 9th August 2020. This year, 2020, is the year of
>        the Covid19 pandemic and has been characterized by lockdowns
>        everywhere, border closures, flight grounding, and
>        cancellation of hamfests everywhere. From my point of view,
>        two highlights of my year were gone, that is to say, the
>        Dayton FDIM/Hamvention event in May and the Friedrichshafen
>        HamRadio hamfest in June.
>        Eric Guth 4Z1UG has recognized these gaping holes in our lives
>        and taken on the task to provide a virtual, online
>        alternative, the QSO Today Virtual Ham Expo
>        I have had a guided tour of the way the expo will run and I
>        found it fascinating and exciting. It won't exactly replace
>        wandering around the Dayton fleamarket or the Halls at
>        Friedrichshafen. But hopefully it will provide a new way to
>        enjoy our hobby, meet new people and meet the companies you
>        deal with or may potentially deal with, admire their products
>        and so on; all from the comfort of your armchair.
>        QRP Labs has booked a Large size booth at the virtual ham
>        expo. During the weekend we will aim to provide a live online
>        presence for as high proportion of the weekend as possible, as
>        well as non-live content when in-person attendance isn't
>        possible. I hope that you will dial in via Zoom video and come
>        and say hello, ask questions, discuss projects and products,
>        talk about your experiences with QRP Labs products, etc., just
>        as you would at the QRP Labs booth at Dayton or
>        Friedrichshafen. Nearer the time I will announce the QRP Labs
>        program on the QRP Labs <>
>        discussion group.
>        Currently the expo is offering FREE attendee early bird
>        tickets so go to
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            6. U4B flight test program
>        Many of you will be aware of the high altitude hobby balloon
>        tracker program that has been underway at QRP Labs for a long
>        time, with a long list of test flights in collaboration with
>        Dave VE3KCL. The tracker was initially called the U3B and was
>        a derivative of the Ultimate3S kit
>        <>, using the same ATmega328
>        processor but in a miniaturized, all SMD package.
>        The tracker has now been changed to use the STM32-series of
>        32-bit ARM processors, which offer significantly more
>        processor power, Flash memory and peripheral features than the
>        ATmega328, at little or no higher cost. The new tracker is
>        named U4B.
>        There is a YouTube video explaining the U4B here:
>        Starting in February 2020, a series of 10 test flights were
>        launched by Dave VE3KCL from Toronto, Canada. As usual there
>        were failures, mysteries, peculiarities and successes. Several
>        of the balloons completed one or multiple circumnavigations.
>        At the time of writing,the U4B-9 flight
>        <> is still operational and
>        has been unique among all the flights to date, in taking many
>        complex loops around the North Pole region. It flew so far
>        North that it fell off the top of the Google Maps 2D
>        projection map coverage, three times. Details of U4B-9 are on
>        this page
>        The series of test flights are considered successful and in
>        the coming months we will be moving to get this tracker into
>        production. Alongside everything else going on at QRP Labs :-/
>        This image shows the path of U4B-9
>        <>, launched on 16-May-2020.
>        Note that the "Duration" at the top of the image should have a
>        "1 month" in front of the "25d"! You can see details of all
>        the U4B, U3B and earlier experimental flights at
>        ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>            7. Social media, feedback, unsubscribing
>        *Social media:* QRP Labs has the following presence on social
>        media. If you use these social media then please join or
>        follow QRP Labs! Announcements such as new products, balloon
>        launches, etc., will be made first in these media!
>        1) QRP Labs <> discussion group
> for discussion and support on all
>        QRP Labs products
>        2) QRP Labs Facebook page
>        3) QRP Labs is @qrplabs on Twitter
>        4) QRP Labs on YouTube
>        *Feedback:* As always, please do write
>        <> with any comments, ideas,
>        criticism, feedback of any kind!
>        *Unsubscribing:* If you want to unsubscribe from this monthly
>        newsletter, then either log in to your QRP Labs shop account
>        <> and un-check your newsletter
>        preference, OR, email <> and
>        we'll take care of it.
>            *Vy 73 de QRP Labs*

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