Hack RF one ... To Portapack or not?

Hello y’all,

Ive been keeping an eye on the Hack RF for a few years, and finally have a project needing it :partying_face:

But I now have an existential question … Tether it to a computer or splurge for the Portapack?
Either will likely work for my project, so that’s not helpful.

Anyone got one?
Can you use the Portapack connected to a computer for gnuradio and alike or you need to change the firmware?
If so, how easy is it to go between the 2 firmware?

I’m totally new to SDR work, I know there will be a learning curve so I’d like to get the tool that’s gonna carry the furthest.

Thanks for the help,

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I’ve only seen that there are a bunch of different hardware versions and firmwares… each one with potential functionality and stability issues? i guess there are some better options?

If cost is no objective I’d grab the portapack. The portapack is just a peripheral device that plugs into a vanilla HackRF, and it can be used in HackRF mode which effectively shuts down all portapack peripherals and operates as a naked HackRF over USB.

If cost is an objective, I wouldn’t miss the portapack at all. It’s novel and interesting, but I have not yet done anything outside of really simple tinkering on a portapack (like watching planes fly by over ads-b or listening to local ham bands, just things to pass 10 minutes here or there).

Since the hackrf has relatively low tx power, any useful communication is gonna need a PA of some kind, which for me is more trouble than its worth vis a vis portability.

A couple of years ago I’d have said portapack was worth it for the portable spectrum analyzer, however TinySA is a far more capable spectrum analyzer and is only like a hundred bucks.

Actually, having said all that, my recommendation would be to skip the portapack and buy a plain HackRF and use the money you would have spent on portapack to buy a TinySA. If there’s anything leftover, get the operacake add on for the HackRF, because that brings some compelling functionality to the HackRF (insanely fast full spectrum sweeps and automatic antenna switching, as well as krakensdr-like direction finding in time mode - though the latter is quite hacky)

edit: as amal pointed out there are some alternatives… ill add what i can based on the devices i have:

  • BladeRF: Superior to HackRF in every meaningful way when looking at built-in functionality. Two RX and two TX channels means that it can do all the LTE/cellular things that used to require a USRP. I believe most LTE/GSM stacks support BladeRF out of the box. SoapySDR has a native plugin as well, so gnuradio support is excellent. ~850 for the A9, and I think ~550 for the (A4?) which has less bandwidth and a slightly reduced feature set (If doing cellular get the A9). In my opinion having 4 total rx/tx channels each with a dedicated SMA port is at least as useful as the opera cake (which expands HackRF receive to 8 total SMA ports though only one can be used at a time)

  • LimeSDR: Roughly equivalent to BladeRF. It’s a bit more popular than BladeRF, so is even more widely supported (most SDR suites support it natively - without a plugin)

  • KrakenSDR: Hands down the best available direction-finding SDR on the market, and easily the best direction-finding anything at it’s price point. It requires a RaspPI or an android phone when using portably to provide the mapping. Super intuitive to use and incredibly accurate. I got this for search and rescue, rationalizing that it would increase the probability of locating someone who was using a repeater, but in practice such circumstances are extremely rare (a person in peril, actively transmitting on a handheld but also lost their phone/GPS so cant provide coordinates). But it was just so cool that I kept it and still use it to see where signals are coming from.

  • Airspy: Fairly cheap and quite a polished experience in SDRSharp on Windows, but nowhere close to HackRF functionally. A good option for beginners where ease of use is very important, but loses value quickly once a person developers a solid foundation in SDR

  • RTL-SDR: Specifically NooElecs varietns of rtl-sdr are probably the best of the cheap, RX only SDRs. Compatible with virtually everything known to humankind. NooElecs adds really stable bias-t and filtering, and their Smartee sticks can tune HF without needing an upconverter

  • USRP: A clone can be had for about a hundred bucks from ebay. Great for 4g and slower cellular. Extremely well supported in terms of compatibility, especially on linux - though that support is being slowly deprecated (i think YateBTS already dropped native support though it can still be added easily if building from source)

  • CaribouLite/Radioberry/DRAWS/etc PI hats: These are really fun to play with and are a GREAT way to get a remote network sink set up. I have a few of these sitting in the garage on various PI devices that just pipe 2-10mhz of spectrum to any machine on my lan

There are lots of others, this list is anything but exhaustive


i have a R9 hackrf with portapack running Mayhem 1.9.1, no issues whatsoever

you don’t need a computer for the portapack, only when it’s in “hackrf mode”

So you can switch between “Portapack” and “hackRF/tethered” mode on the fly?
That’s great news.

Ive looked at the tinySA, the Ultra seam really good, but it does not seam like it will does decoding, i will probably get one down the road when i need a full blown spectrum analyzer.
How is the hackRF as a spectrum analyser?

Blade and lime seams like great option, but a bit out of my skill and price range at the moment …

Im not doing cellular and no plan on it (yet :sweat_smile:) its mostly for rf remote and com decoding (and reverse engineering) and transmitting. current project is 100M to 1K target.
I think ill go for portapack as a starter as some basic stand alone function would be nice. and i can tether it to a pc and pipe the results in mathlab if needed.

Sounds like I may grow out of it at some point, but it’s flexible enough to still be useful on the long run.

Honestly im still learning how to use it so im not sure about decoding.

I mostly use it for replay attacks and eavesdropping lol

As for the modes: yea it’s super easy “hackrf” mode it just a click and to boot back into portapack you just press “reset”

last pic is for flashing firmware, you can do it directly from the settings

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That’s awesome, thank for all the info