Friday, 13 March 2015

Is my Yaesu FT-817 a "keeper"?

I bought my FT-817 from LAM electronics in Yorkshire three or four years ago. It competes with my Flex 1500 for my affections. They were both bought to drive 70MHz transverters, but now neither of them does that. Do I need both of them?

Here is the FT-817, sitting beside the ZLP electronics data interface and CAT control which drive it on 12m and 10m WSPR pretty well every day. It looks dusty but in fact that is just worn out paint and scratches on the covers.

So why do I like that 817 when its younger and more modern cousin the Flex sits nearby, turned off (the Flex tends to work during the Sporadic E season)? Well, although I use the Flex and the 817 for the same job, they could hardly be more different.

Lets us do some comparisons:-

Theoretically they both run 5W output. The Flex does, but the 817 soon loses puff as it warms up, falling to about 2.5 watts. Either I keep a fan on it, or I run it at 100mW anyway. Flex 1 vote == 817 0 votes

The 817 has a handy SWR meter which is very useful portable on holiday Flex 1 == 817 1

The 817 has an internal battery, but it does not work very well. No votes there.

The Flex is rather inaccurate in its frequency readout (60hz out on 10m, 100hz out on 6m). The 817's frequency readout is only to 10hz, as opposed to the Flex 1hz.  Though these errors are insignificant for most purposes, they matter for WSPR. What makes the 817 better (10hz on 10m) is the high-stability oscillator which I bought and fitted. So it is only stable if you spend more money. No votes there either.

The Flex has a wonderful set of adjustable filters which work brilliantly - the 817 only has a barn door SSB filter as standard. You can fit either a CW or a better SSB filter (which I did) but not both unless you use a bodge board which may or may not fit. Even then you can only have two filters, and at extra cost. Flex 2 == 817 1

The Flex has a glorious panadaptor readout whereas the 817 has a poor little screen with complex menus to work through (only because I used to have an FT-897 with a bigger screen can I understand the menus). Flex 3 == 817 1

The 817 works "stand-alone", whereas the Flex needs a computer Flex 3 == 817 2

The Flex creates sound and CAT ports in the computer, whereas the 817 needs costly and bulky data and CAT interfaces. Also, my 817 seems to pick up a lot of noise down the CAT lead which no amount of screening stops. Flex 4 == 817 2

I could go on but despite the fact that the 817 has 2m and 70cms, it really is a bit dowdy and old-fashioned compared to the Flex. So why is it still here?

I have glorious memories of taking the 817 to foreign parts. It is bashed and scratched from airport baggage searches. Sitting on the balcony of an apartment in Grrece I worked an Austrian station on 6metres using the internal batteries. I have taken it to Ireland, Belgium, France, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Madeira etc. I can use it abroad to listen to FM broadcast stations. I take it to our caravan on trips all round the UK.

It has one very handy feature for an HF QRP man like myself. It has an output attenuator in steps of 3dB, 6dB and 10dB. That lets me go down to 1mW and work 3000km on WSPR, which is equivalent to 3 million km per watt. Yes, the Flex can do that, but it is not so easy as clicking a switch. So I have the FT-817 set to 100mW for normal purposes, and I turn on an RM KL 203 PA for a switch to 1watt, or use the attenuator to cut the power to 50mW, 20mW or 10mW. Neat.

I have spent money on it - the high-stability oscillator, the SSB filter, the interfaces and the legs, amongst other things. It was not cheap to start with. To be really effective it needs lithium battery technology, DSP and a better readout, but then as an old design I guess it will just be replaced by Yaesu someday

So it sits here with no microphone connected, chuntering away at 100mW or less. It may be an old design and not have fancy DSP or software controls. But it does a job and it is an old friend.

I guess it will stay for a while yet.


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