FlightAware Discussions

Upgraded My Pi, Now Reception is Better?

Good morning everyone!

I just recently started up my own piaware station a couple of weeks ago. My setup was a raspberry pi zero w, the blue flightaware stick and, 15 feet of RG-6 and a homemade antenna I placed on the peak of my house where an old satellite used to be. My reception was okay-ish, but rarely picked up anything over 150 miles away and picked up all kinds of signals up to 100 miles.

My wife gave me a raspberry pi 4 for fathers day, so I swapped out the pi zero w for the pi 4 and have seen a massive improvement in the number of signals I’ve received, the number of aircraft seen and my range has improved. I’m picking up way more traffic 150-200 miles away and even seeing a little 200-250 miles.

I am pretty new to all of this and a lot of the radio lingo goes over my head, but I’m curious why did swapping out computers improve my reception? My guess is it’s because the Pi 4 has more processing power and can handle more?

An RPI4 is way more powerful than a pi zero W
What else changed?
better/later code
better power supply (less noise)
better case(less nosie)
better USB port (more data, better/more reliable power)
dongle and coax location. sometimes just moving a device a little can make a change.
Are you now using ethernet(more reliable) or are you still using wifi(prone to interference, especially in high density locations)?

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The raspberry 4 is not the root cause for this increase, i would assume it’s the combination of the parts.
Did you change really only the device itself? Not something additional like a USB cable?
Isn’t the Zero W operated with an additional adapter cable for USB?

Such cables can also be the root cause for performance issues. I have one USB extension here. With this, i have a performance drop of 40% overall

Did you set up the device new or are you using the SD card by simply moving it from one RPi to the other? Then it could be a different gain setting.

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Rpi 4 comes with an USB-C connector for power, usually meaning a change of power supply. This alone can make a huge difference in noise.
Then you may hit another less seen problem: voltage drop. It seems that the blue stick requires more power than say RTL-SDR meaning at the input of the stick the voltage is quite low. I noticed that by measuring with an USB multimeter just before the stick.
The reception range depends on many factors, one of them being obstacles. E.g. in one direction i have reception from more than 250nm away with RTL-SDR and without amplifier and on another specific position I can’t reach more than 20nm because (most probably) obstacles, man made or not.
Last one: I noticed that the blue stick benefits from improved cooling. My stick is plugged into antenna direcly and was receiving direct sunlight. It did not overheat but was quite hot to touch, when moved I saw a slight improvment.

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Don’t think I changed any coding stuff, I popped the SD card out of the zero and put it in the 4.
The 4 came with a new power supply, but looks pretty similar to the old one.
The zero had a super cheap clear plastic case, the 4’s case is still plastic but has a cooling fan built into it.
I had to use a usb to micro usb adapter cable for the dongle to plug into the zero, now it’s plugged directly into the 4.
Cables still routed like they were. And it’s still using wifi.

With the zero I had to use a usb adapter cable, now the dongle is plugged directly into the pi 4.

Didn’t change any settings, just moved the sd card from the zero to the 4.

As i said… Beside the power supply mentioned by @dragosios this could have made the jump

I cannot confirm this. My device is outdoor all the time and the performance is always the same, independent if -10° outside or +30° (like today). Of course i keep it away from direct sunlight

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I forgot that the SD card, Wifi/Ethernet and USB ports on RPR3B+s/RPI 0s and below are shared.
The RPI4 has better separation and this may improve performance and remove a couple of bottlenecks.

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I think, for the regular sticks (blue FA, green RB24) it does not matter. I have my main receiver switched back from a Pi4 to the previous Pi3 and it works with the same performance. So if there is any difference, it would be very small.

However there are some specific setups where your statement makes absolutely sense.

If the USB bus is being overloaded, then it wouldn’t matter which dongle was used.

It could also be that the RPI zero didn’t work well with the usb hub.

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