Not using the BlackSDR B210 MINI

The premise

Recently I was asked to operate a B210 MINI Software Defined Radio (SDR). If you think that “oh yeah, that sounds like an Ettus B210, sure it will work” – no. This post will not tell you how to make it work, because I failed to make it work. I will however summarize my failure findings.

The Hardware

The green PCB comes with four white antennas. A Micro-USB 3.0 connector supplies power and a data link to the board. Three primary chips are on the board:

Front of the beautiful, useless PCB

The board is well fabricated, nice soldering, and even some bendy parts traces in HF (to avoid electrons to fly of the rails?). A UART is exposed, however a peek with the oscilloscope revealed no activity whatsoever.

Back of bespoke PCB; note the serial number, this must be a very rare specimen indeed

UHD Software Support

When connecting a B2xx SDR via USB, the USRP Userspace Driver (UHD) upload a firmware to the USB Transceiver. Subsequently, a bitstream file is uploaded to the FPGA.

The keen eye will already have spotted the crux: all the Ettus B2xx devices come with Spartan 6 FPGAs. Our device however comes with an Artix 7. Now the Artix 7 is both a newer generation and a different family compared to the Spartan 6. Consequently, bitstream files for the Spartan 6 are not compatible with the Artix 7.

UHD, unaware of the different FPGA, still tries to push the bitstream made for the Spartan 6, only to acknowledge that the FPGA initialization failed.

TL;DR It can not work.

Straws of Hope

After a complaint, the seller provided numerous files. Some of them where incomplete downloads themselves (as indicated by the .downloading file extension). These included (among others):

Unfortunately, there were neither instructions nor bitstream files for the Artix 7 among the files.

The End

After three afternoons of tinkering we decided to return the merch to the seller. Thank god for the consumer friendly payment services we enjoy nowadays!