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Winlink on a Windows computer and a TX-500

Winlink Express

First let us start with what I used until now for any Winlink session that I made (either at home or portable in the field/forest/mountain).

The old setup (on a linux box) #

I use a Lenovo X1 Carbon as my daily driver. It is quick enough and compact and I used it for a while now for hamradio stuff too. I never did FT8 or similar “messengers” on it though. In particular I did some winlink sessions using Pat in combination with rigctld, direwolf, the AX.25 tools, VARA (HF and FM) and ARDOPCF (never got one connection from home).

A more precise note on how I established different connection types is already written down in the article before.

I planned to use the Surface 2 Go tablet for Winlink and related tasks – but while I wrote down my notes in this article I finally realized that I want to user a more powerful device than the Surface 2 Go. I ordered a used HP Elitebook 830 for this and I finished the main setup already.

FYI: most screenshots are still from the Surface tablet.

screenshot of an active VARA HF session
This is my setup with Winlink Express and VARA HF in action.

I like to have the sound control open to adjust volume levels.

ARDOP setup #

Following some screenshots showing my settings for ARDOP:

screenshot of the ARDOP GUI
The classic Windows ARDOP program.

screenshot of the Winlink TNC settings
Settings within a ARDOP Winlink session

Set the desired drive level within these settings. I usually have to set it to 87-88.

screenshot of the Winlink Radio settings
Radio settings within a ARDOP Winlink session

I use a Lab599 Discovery TX-500 (with Lab599 as the CAT option).

I also use a Digirig and I can therefore use the COM port to trigger the PTT function.

screenshot of the ARDOP settings
And finally the ARDOP settings

An ARDOP session

VARA HF setup #

screenshot of the VARA HF settings
Settings within a Winlink VARA HF session

screenshot of the VARA HF soundcard settings
Choosing the right soundcard and the drive level to fit the optimum ALC of the radio

A VARA HF session

VARA FM setup #

screenshot of the VARA FM settings
Settings within a Winlink VARA FM settings

screenshot of the VARA FM soundcard settings
Settings of the VARA FM soundcard settings

The Digirig was not connected at the time when I made the screenshot here, so you see an invalid soundcard setting above. Make sure to select the proper USB sound devices.

screenshot of the VARA FM PTT control settings
Using the COM port of the Digirig for PTT control and using RTS+DTR

A VARA FM session

Packet radio setup #

screenshot of the packet radio settings
Settings within a Winlink packet radio session

screenshot of the soundmodem devices settings
Choose the right soundcard interfaces and make sure to enable the KISS port – you can disable the AGWPE port but we can use the same COM port for PTT control when using a Digirig

screenshot of the soundmodem modem settings
My modem settings within soundmodem

A packet radio session

Using the internal GPS sensor #

My Surface 2 Go was a non-LTE version and I think those versions are the only ones with built-in GPS sensors so I always had to use external GPS devices like the U-blox7 GPS stick.

But starting with the Elitebook 830 G6 I now have a device with integrated GPS sensors that I want to use with Winlink Express.

Heads up: Winlink Express let you use a COM port or a TCP/IP connection to obtain coordinates, so we will need some sort of middleware that can read the internal sensors and forward the location information to a virtual COM port.

GPSREverse and GPSDirect #

I have tried GPSReverse and GPSDirect first but had no luck with it.

I then started another try on a search engine but specifically looked for experienced off-grid operators like Julian, OH8STN – because I remembered some videos of him using a Surface tablet as well. And of course, he also used the internal GPS device of his LTE model.

Using GpsGate Splitter #

Goto the GpsGate Splitter website and download the Splitter aswell as the Windows Location API Plugin (scroll down a bit).

The program is a 14-day free trial and can be bought for EUR 30€ (USD 40$) and is well worth the investment.

On the welcome screen click Advanced setup… on the bottom. This opens the GpsGate settings dialog. Select Windows Location API as input.

screenshot of GpsGate input settings

Move to the tab Output and choose Virtual COM Port in the drop-down menu for the output. Click Add and choose which port to use (I use COM1).

screenshot of GpsGate output settings

Go back to the Input tab and click Open. You can now close the dialog form and it will remain active in the systray (bottom right of the screen, somewhere near the clock).

After a reboot the GpsGate service should start automatically and restore your virtual COM port that you can select in Winlink Express.

What you have to look for #

There are probably more things to keep an eye on, but those are the few ones that I usually take care of.

Time synchronisation #

Most digital modes rely on accurate time settings, so you may synchronise with a timeserver or use the GPS mouse.

RX signal #

In ARDOP try to get your receiving signal withing the green bar.

screenshot of ARDOP signal level meter
The top blue bar will then change to green aswell.

In VARA HF make sure the left indicator is near the needle as in this screenshot.

screenshot of VARA HF signal level meter

You can achieve this with different methods.

  • Change the microphone level within Windows.
    I try to leave this setting to 80% but I sometimes have to adjust it a bit. It is good at 80% for VARA FM, but for ARDOP I often have to increase it to 100%.
  • Change the REF level on your radio.
    On the TX-500 I usually maintain a REF level of -19.

TX signal #

You may need to look into your radios manual to get the optimum value of the signal. On the TX-500 I look at the DIG meter. Get the bar nearly full and you are good to go.

picture of the TX500 DIG meter
(The ALC meter on the TX-500 does not move a bit on my setup)

Some nice shortcut commands for the desktop #

I catch myself often doing quick looks into the device manager to verify the actual COM ports are still what they are used to be and I am also adjusting sound volumes (USB speaker & mic) very often.

I created two links on my desktop that open the device manager and the extended sound options just with a double-click for me.

Device Manager
Right click on the desktop, select New ›Link and enter devmgmt.msc. Hit Enter or click Next, name the new link appropriate and you’re done with this one.
Sound control
Right click on the desktop, select New ›Link and enter mmsys.cpl sounds. Hit Enter or click Next, name the new link appropriate and you’re also done with that one.

The sound control shortcut may have a non-ideal symbol, to change it right click onto the new shortcut, select Properties and click on the button Other symbol…. In the next dialog I choose another file (click the button Search… next to the textfield). I use the symbol from C:\Windows\System32\SndVol.exe – open that file and you can choose between three simple symbols for this new shortcut on your desktop. Close all dialogs by clicking on OK and that’s it!