Notes on the Article in QRP Quarterly Entitled

"A Dedicated Computer for the QRP Ham Station"

Fall 2007 Edition, Page 39

by Rick Black, K4RAB

As I mentioned in the QRP Quarterly article, I am posting some notes here which include additional information that is not included in the magazine article because of time constraints.

In addition to the Micro-ITX form factor motherboards discussed in the article, there are two even smaller motherboard form factors which have been developed and are now available, the Nano-ITX and the Pico-ITX. For comparison, the sizes of the three small form factors are:

Form FactorMetricEnglishComment
Micro-ITX17 cm x 17 cm6.7 in x 6.7 inSlightly smaller than Elecraft K2
Nano-ITX12 cm x 12 cm4.7 in x 4.7 inSlightly smaller than Elecraft K1
Pico-ITX10 cm x 7.2 cm3.9 in x 2.8 inAbout size of SWL SW+ xcvr bd

Fully functional motherboards are now available in each of these sizes, which include VGA video, sound, IDE connections, serial ports, USB ports and even SATA ports. Other motherboard manufacturers have entered the Micro-ITX marketplace in addition to VIA Technologies, most notably Intel and AMD. The Intel boards support the new Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs. Hardware suppliers in addition to are listed below which have an even greater choice of boards and cases for these small systems.

Most of these boards are capable of running Microsoft Windows and Linux. Windows 2000 Professional is a good choice for hams as most ham radio related Windows software of recent vintage will run under it. XP will also work, but Vista is still so new that many software vendors have not yet adapted their software to run on it. The best Linux distributions for ham radio use are Debian and its derivatives, such as Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu. Slackware Linux also has good ham radio support. AI9NL has built a remaster of Knoppix Linux which is known as “Harv's Hamshack Hack.” It boots from a CD-ROM and is capable of running without a hard drive. It is based on Debian Linux and features most of the ham radio related software that is found in the Debian distribution. An advantage of this is that it can be run on what is normally a Windows machine without disturbing the Windows installation on the hard drive.

I will be adding more notes and Web links to this page as I get additional information.

Web Links Listed in the Article – The Elecraft Web site, where the K5JAZ article is posted in the Tech Notes section. – A direct link to the K5JAZ article.
– Hardware vendor where I obtained the M-300 case with the VIA Jetway Hybrid motherboard described in the article. They have many other cases and motherboards besides the ones I selected for my system. – Manufacturer of very quiet fan I bought in a local computer store to replace the noisy original fan in the M-300 case. – A Debian based Linux distribution that also contains the ham radio software that is distributed with Debian. This particular distro utilizes the Gnome desktop environment. – A close relative of Ubuntu, also Debian based, but features the KDE desktop environment. – Another of Ubuntu's siblings. This one uses the Xfce desktop environment. Great for older machines with more limited graphic capabilities. – One of the oldest Linux distributions. Has good ham radio support. Not for Linux newbies, though. If you have experience installing SCO Unix or Xenix (before Unixware), Slackware will be a cake walk for you to install. – Another Debian based distribution that is small enough to fit onto a 50 Mb “business card” sized CD-ROM. This site includes a store which sells Mini-ITX and Nano-ITX hardware and cases and shows them in use. Ham software is located in the myDSL repository.

Additional Web Sites of Interest – A hardware vendor that specializes in Mini-ITX and smaller hardware. They have a huge selection of motherboards, cases, and other hardware for small systems. – Another Mini-ITX hardware vendor. – Mini-ITX, Nano-ITX, and Pico-ITX related news. Links to many vendors and other sites of interest. – Linux drivers and articles on VIA ITX systems. – Linux distribution for EPIA M boards. – Harv's Hamshack Hack, a remaster of Knoppix Linux based on Debian which features ham radio software. Boots from CD-ROM without installing on hard drive. - A great example of what can be done with Mini-ITX boards and Linux. (Editorial viewpoints expressed concerning 'global warming/climate change' do not represent the opinion of this Web page or K4RAB.) No ham radio software that I have discovered so far.