Recently, the good folks at Per Vices sent us out a Noctar SDR radio card to take a look at. The Noctar card began shipping earlier this month. Normally we discuss cheap SDR radio gear at HRS, but we felt that the Noctar is a break through SDR product that would be worth investigating further. In some respects the Noctar does qualify as cheap SDR when compared to its competition in the wide coverage SDR radio category. The Noctar card has a receiver range of 100KHz through 4GHz, with the a bandwidth up 250MHz. The Noctar card alone is sold for $749 or as a kit for $849 which includes two circuit board type log periodic antennas that cover 650MHz to 6500MHz and SMA cables. The other very interesting fact about the Noctar is that it can also transmit from 100KHz to 4GHz up to a bandwidth of 250MHz. The nearest competition in this category of SDR radios can cost easily two to three times more than the Noctar. First of all, here are the basic specifications of the Noctar card.
- 100kHz – 4GHz range SDR
- Two, 12 bit, 125 MSPS ADCs
- Dual channel, 16 bit, 250 MSPS DAC
- Fully integrated, full duplex, RF frontend
- Direct conversion quadrature transceiver
- 20MHz, 0.28ppm, reference TCXO
- Altera Cyclone IV EP4CGX22C FPGA
- Digital down/up conversion on FPGA
- Open source drivers and firmware
- Includes GnuRadio Interface
The Noctar is a wideband direct conversion quadrature transceiver on a PCIe card. The PCIe form factor was chosen due to its high transfer rate of 8GBps. So it has to be mounted inside of a computer to be ato be used. Unlike most SDR radios, the Noctar is primarily sold to be used as “lab equipment” or “test equipment”. So you are not getting a plug and play SDR radio that you would get from say Winradio. Persus, etc. The Noctar is being aimed more toward SDR experimenters or for developing tools or other products based around SDR technology. However, at its heart the Noctar is still a SDR transceiver. At this writing the only drivers available for the Noctar are for GNU radio, but Per Vices is encouraging software developers to write drivers for Windows. Speaking of transmitting, we are guessing at this point that the Noctar only puts out a few milliwatts. Per Vices does make it very clear in the documentation that the end user is responsible to make sure that any transmissions made with Noctar needs to meet the regulatory standards for their country. Per Vices says that the Noctar card has a 30 day warranty against any manufacturing defects.
Ok that being said, the Noctar is still a very interesting SDR device. It can be used for everything from a SDR receiver, Spectrum Analyzer, Wifi repeater, etc, given there is software to perform these functions. This is where the software development community will come into play since the Noctars’ programming information is open source. Per Vices long range goals are to make a Noctar like device smaller and cheaper. So in some regards, products like the Noctar represent the future of SDR radio.
This the first in what we hope to be a series of articles about the Noctar. Due to some other pressing matters, we have not had time to look into the Noctar in any depth, but we hope to do so over the next few weeks and post our results here on Ham Radio Science. We will also be following any future developments for the Noctar. There is a lot to dig into on the Noctar. In the meantime we have put together a short unboxing video and first look at the Noctar Card.
We have also started a new forum for the Per Vices Noctar to keep you up to date. There is also a Yahoo Noctar Development group you can join if you would like to keep up with future developments with the Noctar.
Noctar Unboxing Video