Sunday, July 4, 2010

I am very interested in packet radio ...

Q Rich, KC2FCL, asks, “I am a new amateur and I am very interested in packet radio. I know I need a transceiver, a TNC and a computer to get started. I am a little uncertain about what type of computer is required, though. Any suggestions?”

A Just about any computer can be used for packet. The primary requirements are terminal software and the ability to hook up a serial connection between the computer and the TNC. There are still some hams using Ataris and Commodores for packet radio, believe it or not. Speed is not required for packet use since the limitation is placed on the system by the TNC.

You can probably pick up an ancient Atari, Commodore or RadioShack Color Computer at a fleamarket for next to nothing. Finding terminal software, however, would be a different matter. My suggestion, instead, would be to look into a used 286 or 386 PC. I saw a 386 at a recent hamfest selling for only $75—complete with a monochrome monitor and a small hard drive. You can even find used 486 laptops for $100-$200. These would make outstanding packet radio computers. They can run Windows at a rudimentary level and use the Windows terminal software to “talk” to the TNC.

From QST November 1999