Akos’ ADS-B Performance Comparison of 19 Different RTL-SDR Dongles

Over on his blog radioforeveryone.com author Akos has run a large comparative test of 19 different types and brands of RTL-SDR dongles on ADS-B reception. He takes multiple dongles from NooElecs Nano/Mini and SMArt range and our RTL-SDR Blog V3 unit and the FlightAware ADS-B optimized units. He also notes that E4000 based dongles such as the NooElec XTR are unable to receive ADS-B frequencies and excludes them from the test.

For his tests he used a Raspberry Pi 3 and compares two dongles at a time. The results are about as would be predicted. The tiny Nano dongles are usually the worst performers due to their trade off in size vs heat dissipation and internally generated noise. The standard sized dongles all perform about the same, but the dongles with heatsinking perform the best. Of course the FlightAware dongles still get the best ADS-B reception due to their significantly lower noise figure thanks to the built in ADS-B LNA.

One interesting finding is that Akos shows that heat does play a noticeable role in performance of these dongles at 1090 MHz. Akos noticed that the better heatsinking on the RTL-SDR Blog V3 or cooler days improved reception.

Some of the tested RTL-SDR dongles
Some of the tested RTL-SDR dongles

6 comments

  1. Jackson P

    The Nooelec dongles are just rebadged Aliexpress offerings so it’s not surprising to see them performing closely to the generic one. There is literally no difference between a generic and a so called NESDR Mini. Only the price. The exception is if you get one with the TCXO.

  2. admin

    Regarding the R820T vs T2 test i’ve found that the R820T2 has much less overall variability, whereas the R820T swings around in quality quite a bit more. So it’s not really possible to say which one is better on a unit by unit basis, only overall on the batch level.

    There also seems to be some ‘fake news’ being spread saying that the T2 is just a marketing ploy and that nothing is different in T2 vs T. In truth the T2 is the same chip as the T but the difference is that it is produced with a slightly better manufacturing process, resulting in more stable performance and less variability. A side effect of the better process is also a larger bandwidth which is why the Airspy can use it.

  3. Tech Guy

    There is a significant variability within the dongles of the same brand when using the R820T/2 out of spec.
    This test only tells a partial truth about the samples used and should not be used for making a purchase decision.
    I’d focus on more structural differences like the Z matching, cooling, filtering and extra features like direct sampling and bias-tee.

    • admin

      Yes to be a fully valid test he’s need to compare at least 10 dongles of the same type, because of the variability. But at least the test shows some overall results such as that the nano dongles have poorer performance, cooling helps a little and that the low NF LNA like on the FA dongle is the best improvement.

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