Saturday, February 6, 2016

GNU Radio on Ubuntu Happiness

FINALLY. I finally got GNU Radio working and in a usable, stable state. I had it working on a Raspberry Pi and on my somewhat ancient Mac Pro but wasn't happy with the performance on either platform. I also ended up doing something ugly and irreparable (even with Time Machine) to the Mac. Poor old thing, it's ready for the aluminum recycling center. I may have to pay someone to lug it out of here.

I had Kali (which has a bunch of SDR tools baked in) installed on my laptop in a dual-boot configuration but got tired of rebooting to change O/S. The laptop is ready for a Win10 bare-metal reinstall and VirtualBox, but one thing at a time. The laptop also is limited to 3 USB ports.

So I broke down and got an Asus mini-PC. Very capable, with lots of USB ports for SDR peripherals that don't always play nice with USB hubs. Neat little box but I can't find documentation for the AMI BIOS. It's not rocket surgery but I like to have an explanation for all the options.

I put Ubuntu 14.04.3 LTS on it which works like a charm - as long as I don't update the kernel. The updated kernel hangs on boot. Whatever, it works as is. Yeah, I'm likin' Ubuntu. The install from a thumb drive is straightforward and everything - video, wireless keyboard/mouse, ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth and audio - worked out of the box. Other distros I tried needed drivers for ethernet and WiFi or couldn't detect the wireless keyboard and mouse which caused me much sadness and angst.

If you're installing GNU Radio on Ubuntu, here are two bits of advice that might save you some frustration and time.  First, do it the hard way. Don't use Ubuntu's GUI software installer. The GUI makes it easy and brother, I do love me some easy. But it didn't work out well for me. After several restart-from-scratch attempts what finally worked was installing GNU Radio as detailed here and Gqrx as explained here.

The Gqrx install takes a while. The last step took about 3 hours to run. There's no indication it's doing anything so don't panic. I had to open a terminal and ran htop to verify it was still grinding away.

Second note - don't install any unneeded bells and whistles. Maybe I don't need to tell you that but I love all the eye candy and widgets. Lots of fun but when I went directly from base install to SDR software install it worked. Whenever I stopped to play it screwed the SDR install up.

Now I can work my way through Michael Ossman's SDR tutorial videos again, this time with GRC working a little better.

And now that I have it backed up I can add some toys. Yay!

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