Evolve III Maestro E-Book

You’ve most likely heard hams talking about the Evolve III laptop over the past few months. I had been hearing about these little laptops being snapped up at prices as low as $60. Several ARES-RACES colleagues have been happy with them, and there’s even one running 24 x 7 as a VARA FM digipeater in our Emergency Operations Center. So, I had to buy one and judge for myself.

So, what is attracting hams to this laptop? Of course the low price is attractive to frugal hams. It’s also small (11.6-inch display) and light, making it useful for portable operation. Speaking of portable operations, you can charge the Evolve III from a 12-volt DC source. Out in the field, you can charge this laptop from the same type of 12-volt battery used to power your rig. 

Evolve III Maestro E-Book
Evolve III Maestro E-Book

Despite its low cost and small size, it’s a capable little machine. It runs the Windows 10 Pro Education operating system, and has two USB ports and a micro SD memory card slot. A 1.1 GHz Celeron processor runs the laptop, and it has 4 GB of RAM and 64 GB of data storage. 

Micro Center stores have been selling them for $59.99 with a limit of five per customer. When I checked my local store, they were out of stock, so I bought one on Amazon for about $89. (Still a bargain, I think.) These laptops are obviously clearance items, since the Evolve website shows newer models running Window 11.

My plan for this little laptop is to use it for logging during QRP-portable operations, especially Field Day and Winter Field Day. I also want to use it for digital communications during ARES-RACES exercises and deployments. 

Getting started with the Evolve III was the same as any other Windows 10 device I’ve owned. The initial Windows setup didn’t take long, and I was ready to install some software. I started by installing the software I use for logging, e.g., N3FJP ACLog, SKCC logger, HamRS, N3FJP Field Day Logger, etc. Everything ran without issues. 

Next I installed the software I need for ARES-RACES. First up was Winlink Express, along with VaraFM and SoundModem. Then, I installed the Narrowband Emergency Messaging System (NBEMS) software, i.e., fldigi, flmsg, and flamp. Over the past two weeks, I’ve been making solid connections to a local Winlink node on 2M using VARA FM. The NBEMS software has also been working great during our local ARES-RACES digital nets.

After using the Evolve III daily for the past few weeks, I really like it. The keyboard has a good feel to it, and the display looks good. I used it outdoors in the shade and the display was still readable. You might need to crank up the brightness, though. 

Is it the fastest laptop? No way. Is it fast enough? Absolutely. I’ve heard of hams running FT8 on these things with no issues. You would think the 64GB of storage would be a limitation. However, after installing the ham radio applications I use, I still had about 24GB left. Just in case, I took advantage of the Micro SD card slot and added an extra 128 GB of storage.

I’m really impressed with the battery life. Depending on what I’m doing, I get more than eight hours of operation on a charge. 

Lately, it seems like my house is where computers go to die. I’ve had a laptop and a desktop go belly-up in recent months. Given what I paid for the Evolve III, if it dies, I won’t feel a tremendous loss. 

73, Craig WB3GCK

Another JS8Call Newbie

Yep, that’s me. At an ARES-RACES meeting the other night, a few fellow members were discussing JS8Call. I decided to download the software and give it a whirl.

After installing the software and looking it over, I watched a few YouTube videos to learn how to use it. Once I thought I had the basics down, I fired up my KX3 to take JS8Call for a spin.

I didn’t see any activity on the waterfall, but after a while, I was able to decode a transmission on 20M. That was a good sign. I called CQ few times with no response. Checking PSKReporter, however, I saw spots from as far away as southern California. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna.

My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!
My initial CQs with JS8Call made it out to southern California on 20M. Not bad for 5 watts and a rainspout antenna!

I dropped down to 40M and saw immediately saw a few decodes pop up. I called CQ a few times and received a call from N4YTM in North Carolina. Gordon, as it turns out, was only slightly more experienced with JS8Call; I was his third contact. Despite our collective inexperience, we had a nice, albeit slow, chat with this new mode.

I found that carrying on a basic QSO with JS8Call was pretty intuitive. I still have a lot to learn about some of the more advanced messaging features, though. JS8 is an interesting mode and less robotic than FT8. It’s slow for a keyboard-to-keyboard chat mode but I was decoding signals I could hardly see on the waterfall.

Although CW will always be my primary mode, I’m sure there will be more JS8Call activity in my future.

72, Craig WB3GCK

A Digital Weekend

I’m not much of a contester or DX chaser, so I decided to I decided to avoid the CQWW CW contest this weekend. It’s been awhile since I’ve done any digital mode stuff, so I thought I’d focus on that for a change.

We had some pretty good weather (for Pennsylvania in late November, that is) on Saturday, so I headed out to a local park to operate for a while. I set up my AlexLoop and KX3 in a little picnic pavilion. I also brought along my old Acer Aspire One netbook, which I converted to Ubuntu Linux a few years back. It only took a few minutes to get set up and get the loop tuned.

I started out on PSK-31. Although the band seemed a little flakey, I worked stations in Florida and Arkansas. I moved up the band a bit to see if there was any Olivia activity. I saw one station with a QSO in progress. I tuned up from him and called CQ for a while. No dice. I went back to the PSK-31 area and worked another Florida station. Towards the end of our QSO, my netbook gave me a “low battery” alert, so I quickly wrapped up and shut down for the day. (Note to self: It’s time to replace the battery in the netbook.)

Operating digital modes from a local park.
Operating digital modes from a local park.

Back at home, I checked into the paNBEMS Net on 80 meters on Sunday morning. This is a state-wide digital net that makes use of the NBEMS suite of software (i.e., fldigi, flmsg and flamp). Here in Chester County, Pennsylvania, our local ARES-RACES group makes heavy use of NBEMS for emergency communications, so this net is always good practice. Even though I was running just 5 watts to my rainspout antenna, I was easily heard by the Net Control Station in northeastern Pennsylvania. Despite my S7-S8 noise levels on 80 meters, I was able to copy all the message traffic passed. The paNBEMS Net convenes every Sunday morning at 0800 Eastern time on 3585KHz (1500Hz on the waterfall). Message traffic is sent using MFSK-32 but various modes are used for check-ins. Today the net used Thor-22. So, make sure your RxID is on.

Message traffic sent on the paNBEMS Net. K3EUI relayed the message original transmitted by AJ3DI.
Message traffic sent on the paNBEMS Net. K3EUI relayed the message original transmitted by AJ3DI.

Following the paNBEMS Net, I fired up WSJT-X and tried the FT8 mode for the first time. I made my first-ever FT8 contact with VA3VF on 40 meters plus several others. Like the “JT” modes, I find the technology fascinating, however, I still tend to prefer more keyboard-to-keyboard interaction. That being said, I’ll still probably use it from time to time.

Finally, I did a little SWL’ing Sunday afternoon. I tuned into the
Shortwave Radiogram digital broadcast via WRMI in Miami, Florida. I had seen announcements for these broadcasts on some of the ham radio mailing lists I subscribed to but never tuned in until today. They broadcast news articles and images at various times during the weekend. The broadcast I monitored at 2030 UTC was on 11.580MHz using the MFSK-32 mode. Over about 30 minutes, I had near-perfect copy on the text and good quality on the 4 images transmitted.

One of the images captured during the Shortwave Radiogram broadcast on WRMI in Florida. The broadcast was on 11580 KHZ, not 7070KHz, as indicated in fldigi.
One of the images captured during the Shortwave Radiogram broadcast on WRMI in Florida. The broadcast was on 11580 KHZ, not 7070KHz, as indicated in fldigi.

It was a nice change of pace to spend some time on the digital modes this weekend but I still like CW the best.

72, Craig WB3GCK

First State for the Second Time

ARRL National Parks on the Air logoOne of the things I wanted to do this year was a digital mode National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) activation.  With less than a week left for NPOTA, I figured I better get busy.  I had some free time today, so I headed down to Delaware to activate First State National Park (HP12) using PSK-31.  I activated this park once before back in July.

My set-up was very similar to what I used at HP12 back the last time I was there.  I set up my 31-foot Jackite pole on my bike rack and used it to support a 29.5-foot vertical wire.  I fed it through a 9:1 unun with 18 feet of RG-8x coax from my KX3.  The only thing different this time was the addition of my little Linux netbook computer and a Signalink USB interface that I picked up recently.

I started off on 20 meters and quickly worked about 4 stations.  Things slowed down a bit after that.  Looking at the waterfall, I could see the band fading in and out.  After picking up a few more, I moved down to 40 meters.  Although 40M seemed to be in good shape, there wasn’t much activity there.  I worked one very loud station from West Virginia and headed back to 20 meters to finish up.

By the time my laptop battery died (it’s probably time for a new battery), I managed to log 11 stations, just squeaking by the minimum number needed to qualify the activation.  Despite the fading on 20 meters, I managed to cover a good bit of the country including a California station and a park-to-park PSK-31 contact.  I’m sure I could have done better using CW but using PSK-31 was fun and a nice change of pace for me.  Unfortunately, I left the park without taking pictures.

I’m planning to do one more activation before the end of the year. I’m going back to finish the year where I started off on New Year’s Day.   On New Year’s Eve, I’ll be at Valley Forge National Historical Park (HP46) from 1700-1900 UTC.  This time, it will be CW only.

72, Craig WB3GCK