The very first step for a new user is to review the GNU Radio web portal for authoritative information: http://gnuradio.org/redmine/projects/gnuradio/wiki. The GNU Radio developers have published a rich source of detailed information to help the new user to get started using GNU Radio. From that portal page one can link to installation instructions, tutorials, latest news, and in-depth information about the software development process. Refer to it frequently, since the content changes with the ongoing software development.
Getting Started: GNU Radio Live SDR
To get started with GNU Radio, a particularly appealing option is to use the GNU Radio Live SDR Environment: https://wiki.gnuradio.org/index.php/GNU_Radio_Live_SDR_Environment. The Live Environment allows the user to implement GNU Radio without installing GNU Radio on the computer hard drive. The latest versions of the Ubuntu operating system and GNU Radio software are downloaded from the Internet to a storage medium (e.g. DVD or USB memory stick) as an executable file. Upon executing from the medium, the Live Environment opens in a complete Ubuntu operating system with GNU Radio application pre-installed. GNU Radio can be immediately executed to run from the computer memory at essentially full capability.
Installing and Maintaining GNU Radio
To install GNU Radio directly to a computer hard drive, installation from the official Source, the “build-gnuradio script” approach is far and away the most dependable and highly recommended: https://wiki.gnuradio.org/index.php/InstallingGRFromSource. Installing GNU Radio from Source with the build-gnuradio script automatically installs the most recent GNU Radio version, all add on’s, and the latest driver for compatible SDR hardware, the Universal Hardware Driver (UHD). The build-gnuradio script is a preferred method for initial installation and subsequent updates of GNU Radio and UHD as needed. Step by Step, “ham friendly” help with the installation process is also available at: w7fu.com
Support for GNU Radio is available on-line via the ‘discuss-gnuradio’ message reflector: http://lists.gnu.org/mailman/listinfo/discuss-gnuradio. Questions can be posted on the reflector and the GNU Radio developers respond via email. The reflector is very active and a rich source of information.
Operating System Recommendations
The most efficient and user-friendly approach to get full benefit of what GNU Radio has to offer is to implement GNU Radio in the Linux Ubuntu operating system. The GNU Radio developers develop and maintain GNU Radio in Ubuntu. Potential cross platform bugs and incompatibilities are avoided by adopting the same Ubuntu operating system that the developers use. GNU Radio is reported to operate on Windows and Mac OSX, but there are challenges with full implementation with these operating systems which make them best avoided by beginners.
Computer users unfamiliar with Linux operating systems shouldn’t be intimidated by using Linux Ubuntu operating system. Ubuntu has the look and feel and straight forward ease of use as MS Windows. The Ubuntu operating system is open source, downloadable via the Internet and can easily be installed in a separate hard drive partition if necessary. Installing Ubuntu via the Internet is straight forward and quick. The official Ubuntu website provides the latest downloadable Ubuntu versions and instructions for using Ubuntu: www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop.
GNU Radio is a dynamic application with version updates on an irregular but frequent basis. It is important to keep abreast of the changes via the web portal and learn to update the application re-using the build-gnuradio script as necessary. Follow the ‘Latest news’ for updates and other information:
For serious DSP authoring and most SDR projects, avoid installing the Linux ‘distribution’ versions of GNU Radio. The ‘distribution’ versions of GNU Radio are built into the Ubuntu operating version software repository at the time of that operating system release. These ‘distribution’ versions can be installed easily from within the Ubuntu version. Because GNU Radio is built into the Ubuntu version software library at the time of initial release, these GNU Radio versions are quickly out of date, have outdated UHD drivers, and are installed differently within the file system from the versions downloaded from the official Source. The UHD might not work with newer SDR hardware. Updating and adding DSP blocks to, distribution, versions is not possible. For all of these reasons it is best to avoid installing a ‘distribution’ version of GNU Radio instead install a full installation of the current GNU Radio version.
Computer Hardware Recommendations
A capable computer is necessary to use GNU Radio to its full real-time DSP potential. The developers recommend a dual-core CPU at the i3 level or above to users. Single core and early Core duo CPUs lack the speed and capacity for many ham DSPs. See GNU Radio Workstation for additional information on GNU Radio maintenance and computer capability.
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