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The FT-817 CAT and Digital Modes

Computer with FT817

We found the task of getting getting up and going with the 817 on digital modes of operation to be a little daunting as a beginner.  It wasn't that the 817 isn't friendly or is overly complex but rather it was rather time consuming to gather the information we needed.  That being the case here's what I've learned all in one place in hopes it will help those who want to go digital with their QRP rig.

Software
Selecting software was where we started.  We settled on Ham Radio Deluxe's digital module DM780.  We'd tried several other packages before this such as DigiPan but found that since we already use HRD for  rig control and our logbook that DM780's integration into those features was rather nice.

If you'd like to look at other packages http://www.hamuniverse.com/hfdigitalmodessoftware.html has a good summary of other packages out there.

Computer
While you should be able to use just about any modern computer, PC or Mac, there are a few additional things you should think about.  Where you want to operate, for how long, and what power sources will be available.  We use our FT-817 and KX3 almost exclusively off the grid, often times while hiking and camping.  We pride ourselves on being able to run these rigs exclusively via solar.  This being the case it made sense to us that our computer needed to be able to do this too.

We found three different options that can be run off of a 12VDC cigarette lighter socket, and thus portable solar panels.

Dell makes an adapter model ADP-90ND which can power many of their Latitude and other model laptops that require 90 watts or less to run.  This is the larger power connector, not the smaller ~1/8" ones on some of their newer laptops.  We found them available on Amazon and eBay.

Microsoft Surface and Surface Book.  Several thrid part manufactures make adapters that are suitable to charge and power these units.  We found them available on Amazon and eBay.

Apple, inparticular the Macbook Air series.  Apple makes an auto/air power cable which is available from their stores and online which can power their smaller, low power laptops.

When thinking about a computer for portable and remote operations go for small and low power consumption.  Your computer will need more power than any other part of your portable digital mode setup.  It's best to start your operation with a charged battery and a few spares if the battery is removable.  If not you'll need to augment your laptop's power with your solar panels or plan operating periods based on how long your laptop can run on its batteries.  Optimizing your laptop for minimal power consumption is also crittical.  Close any programs you don't need open, dim your display, limit your CPU's top speed, if your computer has a secondary GPU for graphics disable it, and make sure you are using a solid state disk rather than the older hard disk drives have have motors to keep the platters spinning which use alot of power.

Connections
The next challenge we encountered is how in the world does one connect the radio to their computer?  Doing this for our base rig was easy, the Icom IC-7600 has a USB port that connects directly to a computer which enables both computer control and has a USB "sound card" built in.

If you choose to follow our path there are two different connections you will need to make to your computer.  The first is the "CAT" connection as Yaesu calls it.  The second is the audio connections since most data modes take advantage of a "sound card" type device to send and receive signals thru your radio.

CAT & Ham Radio Deluxe
The user manual was somewhat helpful when it came to figuring what we needed to do. Too bad I didn't think to look there until I started writting this article...  The clue that I needed to get rig control working was in the manual on page 70, the cable one needs is referred to as a CT-62 however the one specified as an option available from Yaesu is 9-pin serial cable on the computer side.  Most modern computers no longer include a serial port in favor of USB.  Thankfully USB versions of the CT-62 are available on Amazon and eBay but before you run off to buy one you may already have one if you use RT Systems software to program the memories on your FT-817.  It turns out that the RT Systems USB-62C cable works just fine for CAT and is of very good quality. 

Please note that if you you plan to use an Elecraft KXPA100 amplifier with your 817 that the required Elecraft "Y" cable does not seem to be compatible with the RT Systems USB-62C.  In this situation we used the old CT-62 serial cable and a USB to Serial adapter.  If you want to copy our setup the USB to Serial cable has an identifier of "UC-692 USB CONVERTER" on it. Their is nothing on our cable that indicates a brand or supplier, an internet search found people selling it but no specific manufacturer.  It is compatible with Windows XP thru 10 at this time.

When you plug your "62" cable in for the first time it should load drivers automatically however you may need to download them and install them manually from the cables vendor. During the installation process note the com port number the cable has assined to it as you will need to tell you radio control software what port to use.  Also make sure that "number" is not in use by any other com port.  Sometimes the computer blindly assigns a number that is already in use which may cause problems in communications between your radio and the computer.  For Windows users you can find this information in Device Manager. While checking the com port number also note the bit rate.  Our cable defaulted to 9600 baud we opted to use 38400.  On your FT-817, goto menu item "14 CAT Rate" and make sure it is set to the same speed as your port.

The round end of the "62" cable connects to your radios "ACC" port.  Be mindful when connecting the cables to the back of your radio, the "DATA" port is also round but has a different pin layout.  If you try to put the wrong cable in the wrong port it could cause the pins in the cable to be bent or broken.

When you start Ham Radio Deluxe it prompts you setup or select the radio to conntect to depending if its the first time its been run or not.  Assuming its the first time select the "New" tab.  For company select "Yaesu", under radio select "FT-817".  Next to "COM Port" enter the com port number we noted earlier from your "62" cable.  Next to "Speed" enter the baud rate you selected earlier, we chose to use 38400 during the cable setup.  The section for "Flow Control/Interface power" we were able to leave both DTR and RTS unchecked for the USB-62C cable.  We needed to use both DTR and RTS for the CT-62 serial cable.  When this is done click the "Connect" button.  The software should test and connect to the radio at this point.

You should now be able to use HRD to change frequencies on your 817 as well as change modes, VFO's, etc...  If you start HRD's Logbook module you should find that Logbook will read your operating frequency and mode and automatically enter them when you go to log a contact.  Very handy.

Audio Connections
When it comes to the cable for RTTY/PSK31/etc the manual just gives you schematics which is ok if you like to make your own and have all of the tools needed to do so.  We elected to use a SignaLink USB by TigerTronics.  With SignaLink USB there are only two connections to make, the USB cable to your computer and the 6-pin DIN to the DAT port on the back of your radio.  SingnaLink also gives you TX/RX level controls and delay adjustment on the fron of the unit.  When ordering you need to select the right part numbers for your radio(s) so you get the right cables.  The main unit part number for the FT817 is SLUSB6PM.  Jumper module SLMOD6PM or you can just use jumper wires.  TigerTronics useful support info: http://www.tigertronics.com/ft817.htm

The SignaLink support site for the 817 talks about adjusting the 26 User-U, 27 Digital Shift, 25 GID MIC, and 39 PKT MIC menu settings.  So far the factory default setting from Yaesu have been working fine for us with any adjustment..  We also found that menu 40 PKT RATE was already set at 1200.  It's very possible these settings could vary between the original FT-817 & FT-817ND models so you may need to experiment if thedefault does not work.

Audio Setup in Software
We found that we needed to tell Windows that the SingaLink USB audio device is to be the default device when it's connected.  To do this go into Control Panel and select Sound.  On the Playback tab for Speakers select "USB Audio CODEC" then click the "Set Default" button.  When SignaLink is not connected Windows will automatically default back to the built in audio device.

In the Digital Master 780 module of HRD you will need to HRD what sound devices it should use for what.  If you are using a SignaLink USB then here are the settigns you'll need to change.  To start, click the "Soundcard" icon near the top left of the screen, the SOundcard frame opens up.  In the frames lower left corner click "Options".  For "Input (Receive) select "Microphone (USB Audio CODEC)" for "Output (Transmit)" select "Speakers (USB Audio CODEC)", you can now close this window.

In our experiece, for whatever reason, we found that we now needed to exit HRD and all of its modules and reboot the computer for the selection of the USB Audio CODEC to actually take place and begin working the first time.  This was the case for both our portable laptop and the desktop for our base station.

In Closing

That's about it in a nutshell.  Neither of us are experts when it comes to operating digital modes, at least not at the time of this writting.  The info we shared above is what got us on the air operating digital with our FT-817ND.  If we got something wrong or could be doing something better please feel free to share with us.  You can find our email via QRZ.com.