R820T2 Chip Discontinued: Low Cost R820T2 RTL-SDRs will Continue, Airspy Will Redesign
The R820T2 is the main tuner chip used in most RTL-SDR dongles. Several months ago Rafael Micro ceased regular production of their R820T2 chip, and the older R820T has also been discontinued for some time too.
However, Rafael are still producing new quality R820T2 chips for factories if they make very large bulk orders. Since it is one Chinese manufacturer producing all of RTL-SDR.com V3, NooElec, FlightAware and most generically branded dongles, the volume restriction is not a problem for them as long as the RTL-SDR is still in demand. So most dongles using R820T2 RTL-SDRs should be able to continue business as usual for the forseeable future. But we have also recently seen that a lot of generically branded RTL-SDR dongles presumably produced at other factories have started to ship with the less desirable FC0012/13 tuner chips instead.
The R820T chip is already 8 years old, and the R820T2 has been around for the last two years. The R820T2 was a slight improvement on the R820T, due to a higher quality manufacturing process used to produce it. The change in manufacturing process resulted in mostly higher yields, less chip-to-chip variance, better sensitivity, reduced L-band heat VCO lock issues, and wider filters.
Recently the Youssef from the Airspy team
announced the likely early retirement of their Airspy Mini and R2 line of products (see update below, Airspy Mini/R2 production will continue) These are SDRs that used the R820T2 tuner chip combined with a 12-bit ADC, allowing for significantly better performance compared to an RTL-SDR. It seems that they were able to acquire R820T2 chips from a distributor, but the stock proved to be very low yield. Possibly once discontinued a lot of low quality chips were dumped onto the distributors for final sale. They write:
I have some bad news. Rafael Micro officially discontinued the R820T2 since a few months. This is the tuner we use in the Airspy R2 and Airspy Mini.
We tried to secure an extra batch from Rafael (even at a higher price) but the quality of the silicon of the samples we received wasn't very good and most units didn't pass our automated QA tests. Sacrificing the performance is out of question. The alternatives proposed by Rafael are not pin compatible and require both a significant hardware redesign and new tuner control code - and this is a large investment with very little guarantees on the final result.
I can say this has been one of the longest running designs that resisted the new silicon tuner SDR's popping in and out while setting a standard for performance and price.
For now, our distributors are running out of R2/Mini's very quickly and, until a final solution is found or a new replacement is designed, there won't be any new batches out.
Youssef from Airspy also notes that he's beginning work on designing a new unit:
I was checking my notes for alternatives to the current Airspy R2/Mini design and wondered if consulting the community would give some constructive input. As the market is already crowded with low cost receivers and transceivers, but yet Icom manages to sell a 4 figures SDR, I was thinking of making something that is as open as possible for extensions and work good enough for the most demanding operators and pro's, all while being affordable.
The idea is to replace the R820T2 tuner with one of its latest high performance siblings, then replace the old LPC4370 with the brand new i.MX RT1020. This MCU can be interfaced with a good ADC and has enough processing power for oversampling and decimation through the Cortex M7 core, which will bring the final resolution higher.
The general goals:
- Better RX performance than the general purpose low cost silicon transceivers
- 12 bit RX at 10MHz bw and up to 16bit at narrow band
- Coverage from 30 MHz to 1.8 GHz or more
- Switched pre-selectors
- Open source
- Same form factor as the Airspy HF+ (same box actually)
- Leverage the RF manufacturing and testing capability developed at Itead Studio
UPDATE (May/2018): The Airspy team have managed to acquire a new batch of good R820T2 chips, so production of the R820T2 based Airspies can continue as per usual.
So in conclusion there is no need to panic buy R820T2 RTL-SDRs as production will continue as per normal for the forseeable future as the RTL-SDR demand is high enough for factories to make large bulk orders of new R820T2 chips. Even if the R820T2 is fully discontinued, there are alternative tuners with the same performance that we can switch to after a minor redesign.
Note that we're currently out of stock of RTL-SDR V3's on Amazon and low in stock on our store but this is not related to R820T2, but rather simply shipping delays. We should be fully back in stock within a few weeks.
The following was posted on the FlightAware forum:
“Regarding the lifecycle of R820T2, We had a formal statement from the Rafael Micro: “Rafael Micro has no plan or intention of discontinuing R820T2. It is fully in mass-production with no end in sight.”
You can actually get sockets for the chip, maybe some nice person can make a 2 way dongle with a socket instead? Best of both worlds as it would reduce the problems with overheating if it also integrated active cooling into the socket lid.
Wonder if there is a market for a card designed specifically for laptops, to replace the existing wifi card? It would be relatively simple to add a second antenna so it can still be used at low speed, and other antenna just for SDR.
Someone needs to combine the Fresco Logic FL2000 and the R820T2. Some of us are ready for two-way experiments.
Hi, just a thought but it might be worth people looking for broken RTL units because typically the problem is a bad USB port or other anomaly. My unit has an overheating issue possibly related to a dodgy batch of regulators?
The memory chips sometimes go wonky as well resulting in all manner of anomalies but I can fix this.
I have a project that needs a number of these so please let me know if you have a b0rked unit and want rid of it.
Incidentally some portable DVD/TV combis use a separate board which contains an SDR but can sometimes be repurposed.
as it essentially has a similar chipset with a custom memory.
please call me about this, cuz i need one that works. i’m poor and i can work on electronics well. 7123189907
Nooelec claims their dongle is made in the USA not China. Is it true? Where are they getting their R820T2 from?
Probably fabricated means assembled. They just put it in the metal enclosure 🙂
That can’t be legal to advertise made in the US then.
I would guess that if the largest percentage of the value of the items on the final BOM (Bill of Materials) originated from within the US, and the actually testing, assembly and soldering of the components to the PCB (Printed Circuit Board) was carried out in the US, then it would probably be legal to claim. From information on comments to this post the cost of a R820T2 when bought in bulk was under a dollar, which would probably be less than the cost of the PCB to manufacture.
High Performance Low Power
Advanced Digital TV Silicon Tuner Datasheet
Technik im Amateurfunk
● Elonics E4000 52 – 2200 MHz with a gap from 1100 MHz to 1250
● Rafael Micro R820T 24 – 1766 Mhz
● Fitipower FC0013 22 – 1100 MHz (FC0013B/C, FC0013G has a
separate L-band input, which is unconnected on most sticks)
● Fitipower FC0012 22 – 948.6 MHz
FCI FC2580 146 – 308 MHz and 438 – 924 MHz (gap in between)
What are the design tradeoffs of including the low frequency SWL/HAM bands in these? Say down to 3 MHz. I imagine there is some technical or coast reason.
More precisions about the situation. We sampled new reels of the R820T2 before launching bigger batches as usual and discovered that the quality is not the same as before. Rafael Micro confirmed that they moved the extended production to another fab for the discontinued parts. I suspect the change in quality results from the quality of the silicon. This might be OK for the ultra cheap dongles, but it does not pass the rigorous testing we have in the Airspy production.
The question is more about the quality of the last few runs of R820T2 than our ability to purchase high volumes. These thingies cost less than $1/piece in volumes.
Time to move on.
Why Raphael Micro would not merge two orders into one production batch when producing chips for the big Chinese manufacturer?
Thanks admin for the clarification. I also wondered about your situation because you make a leaving of it, and I would be very sorry for you to loose your income.
I bought 2 RTL-SDR.com dongles and other kits (antennas, FM filter) in the past, which were a fantastic introduction to the SDR world thank you 🙂
I’ve now switched to a SDRPlay2.
You also mention “alternative tuners”: even if it is possible, that would mean a re-write of the drivers at a minimum so it fine to stick with R820Tx as long as we could I guess.
Thanks for supporting the blog!
For alternatives there’s the Rafael R828D which is basically identical to the R820T2 except it has an extra front end switch, but costs about double last time I checked. The R828D is already supported in librtlsdr. But the PCB would still need to be redesigned because the pinout is a bit different.
Anyone has the R828 datasheet and map registers pdf file available?
Oh no… Time for a fresh take on things . . . Whoop whoop
It would be interesting to know if anyone is already working on LIBRTLSDR, adding new TUNER IC model.
I find it very difficult to get technical information from RAFAEL MICRO, almost impossible. All big IC manufacturers have technical documents available on their websites. RAFAEL MICRO don’t even answer any emails from customers. Horrible.
Customers? you are not their customer, you are an end user.
No. I’m a customer. But I buy R820T2 IC from China authorized distributors.
So, the problem remains and is real. RAFAEL MICRO doesn’t answer customer’s requests properly.