Troubleshooting Firewire Connectivity Issues

The IEEE 1394 (Firewire) interface used on the FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000 radios can be challenging to troubleshoot when connectivity issues occur.  The main reason for this is there are no bus level diagnostics tools to verify proper data communication.

The most common symptom of Firewire connectivity issues occurs when starting up PowerSDR.  If the software prompts you to update the firmware when you are not installing a new version of PowerSDR, this is an indication that there is no or partial communication occurring between the radio and the PC. PowerSDR is not reading the radio EEPROM and believes that it requires a firmware update, which is not the case.  If you only are presented to operate PowerSDR in DEMO mode, this is an indication that there is no communication between the PC and the radio.

There is a multitude of problems that could be causing the Firewire communication issues and we'll address the major causes of these.  Unfortunately, there are not any really good Firewire diagnostic tools or software that can be used to diagnose and troubleshoot Firewire problems.  Fixing them is a trial and error process.

Before starting, makes sure your PC is booted up, the Firewire cable is connected between the PC and the radio and the radio is powered on.

Verifying the FlexRadio Firewire device driver is loaded and is Compatible with the Install Firewire Card.

Please see the following HelpDesk article, Verifying Firewire Card Compatibility with the FLEX Firewire Driver, to verify that the FlexRadio Firewire device driver for the FLEX-3000 and FLEX-5000 is loaded and the Firewire card is compatible.  Please note that the compatibility database is out of date.  If the card is listed as compatible, all that means is that at the hardware level the firewire card should work, but it is not a guarantee as there are other factors involved that are due to the PC architecture and the low-level 1394 hardware system driver provided by Windows.  A card that is shown as incompatible will not work.

Physical Layer - the Firewire Cable

Not all Firewire cables are constructed the same.  Firewire cables can go bad, especially if they are not well made and are moved frequently.  If you have a spare Firewire cable, try swapping it out and see if that improves the situation.

Note that it is easy to improperly insert the Firewire cable into the Firewire card or interface on the radio.  Doing this will damage the Firewire interface on the card or radio where it is inoperable.

A Bad or Malfunctioning Firewire Card

Firewire cards do not usually go bad, but inserting a Firewire cable into them incorrectly will damage them.  Also, Windows updates may result in a card that was working perfectly well, stop working properly.  Swapping the Firewire card is another troubleshooting step that can be taken.  Before doing that, see the notes below about different Firewire chipsets and their compatibility level with certain Windows operating systems.  For information on Firewire cards that have been known to work with previous operating systems, see the HelpDesk article Selecting High-Performance Firewire Cards for the FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000

A Bad or Malfunctioning Firewire Interface on the FLEX-3000 or FLEX-5000

You can damage the Firewire interface on the radio by inserting the Firewire cable onto the connector upside down.  If you do this, it will blow the Firewire chip in the radio requiring the radio to be returned to a Flexradio Service Center for repair.  If you suspect that you have inadvertently done this, open a HelpDesk support ticket to get an RMA number assigned in order to send your radio in for repair.

Checking the Internal Firewire Status Indicator

The FLEX-5000 and FLEX-3000 have a small Firewire connection status LED inside the radio. To tell if the PC is providing a link level signal to the radio, you have to see if the internal green status LED is illuminated on the internal Firewire interface. This indicator does not provide any high-level diagnostic information - it just verifies that the Radio is getting the necessary voltages from the Firewire interface.

The Firewire status LED is located inside of the radio on the Firewire controller circuitry.  While you can not see the LED directly, you can see the reflection of the light shining from inside the radio when you look directly beside the Firewire port(s) on the back of the radio. Since this is an internal LED,  it is best if you are at eye level with the Firewire port(s) and the room is dark.  If the Firewire cable is making low-level connectivity you should see the reflection of the green Firewire status LED through the rear bulkhead. The light should go out when you remove the Firewire cable and should re-illuminate when the Firewire cable is reconnected. 

If you do not see the status light, try a different Firewire cable or Firewire card in the computer.  If you try changes these options, the Firewire interface in the radio may be malfunctioning and will require service to repair the radio.

Hardware Incompatibilities

It is an unfortunate consequence that newer PC architectures may not be compatible with all Firewire card chipsets, especially older Firewire chipsets.  The following incompatibilities have been reported:

  1. i7 Skylake processors with Windows 7 aren't compatible with the older TI chipset. Firewire cards with the newer TI XIO2213B chipset have been reported to work better.

Windows Updates Can be Responsible for Incompatibilities - the 1394 Bus Driver

Microsoft is depreciating the support for IEEE 1394 (Firewire), particularly for Windows 10.  Recent operating systems updates may install 1394 Bus drivers (the low-level 1394 driver) for your Firewire card that does not perform properly.  If you know that a Windows update has caused Firewire connectivity issues, you can use a restore point to revert back to the previous state which should restore connectivity.

There have been several Microsoft updates that rendered the older TI Firewire card unusable on an i5 or i7 processor-based PCs when running Win10.  If you run the compatibility test on your Firewire card and the chipset of the installed Firewire card is reported as an IO2200 or IO2300 from TI (Texas Instruments), then you should replace your TI Firewire card in the computer with a newer TI chipset or one with a VIA chipset. The Firewire cards with the VIA chipsets seem to work better with Win10 operating systems than the TI cards.

For Windows 7 PCs, using the Legacy 1394 Bus Driver rather than the chipset specific 1394 driver has shown to provide better compatibility.  Please refer to the HelpDesk article Setting the Win7 1394 Bus Driver to the Legacy Version for using the Legacy 1394 driver.

For installing the Legacy 1394 Bus driver in Windows 8 or Windows 10 is a little more challenging. Since Microsoft did not include those drivers with the operating system.  If you are running Windows 8 and want to install the Legacy 1394 Bus Driver, refer to the Microsoft Support Article, FireWire port-based device does not work correctly in Windows 8.1 or Windows 8.  These instructions have been reported to also work on Windows 10 PCs.  Please note that if Win8 or Win10 does an update, it may remove the Legacy driver and install a chipset specific driver in its place.

Reinstalling the FLEX Firewire Device Driver

In some cases, reinstalling the FlexRadio Firewire device driver can resolve a connectivity issue, especially after installing a new Firewire card.  This is a simple process.  First, uninstall the FLEX Firewire driver by following the procedure in the HelpDesk article, How to Uninstall FLEX Firewire Device Driver.

Then install the latest FLEX Firewire device Driver that is included with the PowerSDR v2.2.7 Integrated Installer by using the HelpDesk article How to Install the FLEX Firewire Device Driver


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