[CQ-Contest] CW Timing Issues?

Paul Mackanos - K2DB k2db at k2db.org
Wed Apr 6 10:52:35 PDT 2011

I received this from a newbie who insists on using a Mac. Looking for feedback to give him, other than mine. OK CW guys, let’s hear your take on this.


Paul K2DB


As a noob to the whole technical aspects of computer/radio interfacing (and a die-hard Macintosh user), I have been exploring what seems to be an almost black art; CW keying from a computer.

Direct keying a radio is the best solution, but it seems that modern computer OSes (anything that provides preemptive multitasking) and "bit pounding" don't mix. It is only a matter of time that a person running a low$$ laptop with Windows and using either a USB to RS-232 or RS-232 direct device will wind up with CW output that isn't perfect. This wasn't an issue with DOS OSes, which had direct RS-232 control.

It surprises me that the more experienced contesters have not experienced these timing issues. Perhaps it is a matter of speed and that if one has a fast enough box, the timing issues are not apparent.

As a Mac user, this has been a source of frustration, as direct keying is just not implemented due to an inability to give precise enough control over an RS-232 device. The usual answer has been using J2A (yuck!) or get a modern radio with built in USB.

The Solution

I just ordered a K1EL Winkey keyer. This device is essentially a keyer on a chip. It doesn't rely on precise serial control to time CW elements. It is also supported by most/all modern platforms (including the "ham hostile" Macintosh.) 

I hope to have a positive experience to report, as I plan to implement this hardware for the WPX CW contest coming up.

As I said at the beginning, this is just the start of an idea and I haven't begun to experiment. Hopefully, this might be of some interest when I put this keyer into action and am able to discuss the results. I also need the aid and input of some more experienced hams to help flesh out my idea.



Andrew, N3LZG

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