Electronics project notes / SDR notes

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This is for beginners and very much by a beginner.

It's intended to get an intuitive overview for hobbyist needs. It may get you started, but to be able to do anything remotely clever, follow a proper course or read a good book.

Some basics and reference: Volts, amps, energy, power · Ground · batteries · resistors · changing voltage · transistors · fuses · diodes · varistors · capacitors · inductors · transformers · baluns · amplifier notes · frequency generation · skin effect

And some more applied stuff:

IO: Input and output pins · wired local IO · wired local-ish IO · · · · Shorter-range wireless (IR, ISM RF) · RFID and NFC · bluetooth · 802.15 (including zigbee) · 802.11 (WiFi) · cell phone

Sensors: General sensor notes, voltage and current sensing · Knobs and dials · Pressure sensing · Temperature sensing · humidity sensing · Light sensing · Movement sensing · Capacitive sensing · Touch screen notes

Actuators: General actuator notes, circuit protection · Motors and servos · Solenoids

Some stuff I've messed with: Avrusb500v2 · GPS · Hilo GPRS · JY-MCU · DMX · Thermal printer ·

Audio notes: microphones · device voltage and impedance, audio and otherwise · amps and speakers · basic audio hacks · studio and stage notes · digital audio · Misc: noise reduction · multichannel and surround ·

Less sorted: Common terms, useful basics, soldering · Arduino and AVR notes · ESP series notes · PLL · signal reflection · pulse modulation · electricity and humans · resource metering · Microcontroller and computer platforms · SDR · Project boxes · Unsorted stuff

See also Category:Electronics.


The discovery that many DVB-T dongles are actually Software Defined Radios (SDRs), covering both (digital) radio and (digital) TV so ranging something like ranging 64MHz through 1.7GHz (for the commonly-seen RTL2832U) allows them to be nice toys receiveing everything in that range for as little as EUR15 or so.

(That range also includes 315/433/868/915MHz signals, a whole bunch of amateur and commercial radio, and more. It stops short of 2.4GHz communication, though.)

How well a given dongle deals with a particular frequency still depends on the design around it. Radio/TV dongles tend not to care much about filtering in frequencies not used for that.

There are better-designed, better-behaved variants on this theme, such as the still affordable-enough FUNcube Dongle Pro+.

There's also a lot of higher-end hardware, such as USRP, but that's too expensive for all but the most serious hobbyists.

See also:

Getting started

  • plug it in
  • windows: fiddle with driver stuff
  • optional: do a RTL-SDR benchmark to make sure it does what you think it does
  • run a tuner program and have fun



This article/section is a stub — probably a pile of half-sorted notes, is not well-checked so may have incorrect bits. (Feel free to ignore, fix, or tell me)


  • gnuradio
  • rtl-sdr tools
  • SDR# apparently works under Mono



This article/section is a stub — probably a pile of half-sorted notes, is not well-checked so may have incorrect bits. (Feel free to ignore, fix, or tell me)


The below focuses on having a Realtek dongle, meaning RTL-SDR via USB.


Windows tries to be automatic about drivers, meaning it will probably install either generic drivers or the ones intended to do only video capture (as the product is intended for).

We want our own control of the tuner, and for it to just hand the raw samples to us. (the realtek chip is mostly just used as an ADC).

You probably want to use Zadig to replace the driver.

For the realtek, the process is proably:

  • Run Zadig
  • Click OptionsList All Devices'
  • The device you want is probably called "Bulk-In, Interface (Interface 0)". To be certain, look at the current driver name and/or check that the VID/PID are your device's (against its Properties in Device Management, or against a known list)
  • You usually want the "WinUSB" driver (not libusb or libusbk?), and that should be default
  • click "Replace Driver" / "Reinstall Driver". It may ask you to reboot.

https://github.com/pbatard/libwdi/wiki/Zadig http://wiki.spench.net/wiki/USRP_Zadig


  • SDR# - a GUI
    • The RTLSDR-via-USB support is not in the current stable version. There is a plugin for what is currently the nightly build, but it takes a bunch of steps to figure out manually.
      • The easiest way is to find something called "sdr-install.zip", which contains a script that fetches the nightly, the plugin, some more supporting files, and does everything for you.
      • If you already had a SDR# setup and added plugins to its config, then you probably do want to things manually. (TODO: mention details here)
    • "RTL-SDR / USB is either not connected or its driver is not working properly" seems to happen when you use a USB3 port. Use a USB2 port instead.
  • Winrad and its forks, HDSDR and WRplus
    • HDSDR picks up on .dll files in its directory. If you have none, it will only offer sound card input and output
  • Zadig - replaces USB drivers. Initially for USRP, also for RTL2832 and a few others

  • gnuradio (windows build)
  • BorIP
    • the idea is that it allows you to connect to a remote reveiver via the network, so you don't have to be right next to your reveiver / antenna (gives you remote control, you receive baseband data)(verify)
    • programs don't have to have to know how to talk to specific hardware, just to BorIP (...so it's also useful on the same host)
    • Made for USRP (v1) hardware, also supports others
    • for RTL2832U you'll need
      for the device hint, and sometimes further options
    • for the Funcube your'll need to hint
    • http://wiki.spench.net/wiki/BorIP

  • ExtIO are plugins for Winrad and its forks, HDSDR and WRplus
    • ExtIO_USRP connects to a local USRP, or a BorIP server - effectively using whatever that supports
  • UHD - USRP Hardware Driver, the new-style driver for USRP. The old one is often referred to as Legacy


Interesting frequencies