Winlink Express 2m Packet – TNC-X

This document explains the process of connecting and configuring my station, K0YDS, for VHF packet digital communications using an inexpensive KISS-mode (only) TNC/modem and the Winlink Express software program from the Winlink organization. The basic process would work with more expensive TNCs, by choosing the appropriate cables and settings in the Winlink Express software. I don’t address the issue of a serial to USB converter cable, though if it has a genuine FTDI chip, the following will probably work (beware: there are “fake” FTDI chip converter cables–Google is your friend). Configuration for HF Winmor digital communication will be described in a future page. HF requires a TNC like the SignaLink USB, a stand-alone soundcard modem, a computer sound card hookup, or the much more expensive Pactor modems.

The station:

Yaesu FT897D, Coastal Chipworks TNC-X, and a Dell laptop (dual boot with Windows 10 and Xubuntu) booted into Windows. How to set up on Linux is a future project.

Software:

Cables:

Sites I found helpful:

Note: Read these instructions in conjunction with the documentation of the components: TNC-X, and Winlink Express. What follows is an illustration of what settings I used to make it work. Your mileage may vary, given what TNC you have (and the version of the Windows operating system). These are the basic settings to make it work. You may notice that this is a simpler process than using Outpost and AGWPE, because the new version of Winlink Express supports directly the KISS protocol and the TNC-X.

Configuration of Computer:

It is important to install the FTDI drivers (Zip file) so the computer will recognize the serial-USB chip used in the TNC-X. You need to see these two lines in Device Manager (the COM port may be a different number, of course). The computer driver labeled USB Serial Converter makes a “virtual” serial port visible to the software. Note that a Windows 10 update may remove or hide your COM ports. Here’s more information and a fix.

Device Manager Screen

The two keys to enabling the computer and TNC-X to talk.

Configuration of TNC-X:

The hardware setting of JP1 and JP2 of the TNC-X should set the serial link speed to either 1200baud or 9600baud. It is possible, however, to fill up the buffer of the TNC-X if a long message or attachment is sent at 9600, because the speed from the TNC to the radio will always be 1200. Note the manual’s suggestion on the setting of the audio level pot. I drilled a hole in the top of my TNC-X case to make the adjustment easier, if need be.

Configuration of Winlink Express

Before you install the software (see the Winlink.org site), consider first setting up an account and donating to the program to keep it alive. When you first start the program, you see this identification screen. You must provide a callsign and a password. The password must be ALL CAPS. Follow the other instructions about what other characters can be included in the password (“/” is disallowed, for example).

Opening Identification Screen

You can return to this screen from the “Settings” Menu, “Winlink Express Setup.”

This screen shot of the main screen shows the Settings menu.

Winlink Settings Menu

The main screen shows messages with the text of the one chosen displayed. You can see various choices of how to handle and display messages, as well as the setting for which kind of session to open. The type of session we will deal with here is the one showing: “Packet Winlink.”

Opening Screen showing messages

To begin a session, choose “Winlink Packet” in the dropdown menu following the “Open Session:” choice on the top menu of the screen, then click “Open Session.”

Once the “Open Session” selection is clicked, the “Packet Winlink Session” screen opens.

Winlink Packet Sesssion Screen

Choose “Settings” to set up the TNC:

Note that Winlink Express supports the TNC-X as well as a number of other TNCs. Choose the COM port seen in the Device Manager screen as shown above (COM3 in this example) and set the “Serial Port Baud” rate to 9600 (matching what the TNC-X is set to from above discussion).

Winlink Packet TNC Setup

Once this is set, and Open Session is clicked, choose “Channel Selection” and the “Packet Channel Selector” screen opens and a station can be chosen. Note that you can update this table via the Internet or via radio.

Packet Channel Selector Screen

Once the TNC has been set up and the channel selected, “Start” is clicked and the connection dialog is shown (this particular screen shot came from a connection made with Winlink Express running in the Linux side of my laptop, which is why it says “COM1”).

A sample packet session

Here’s the menu choice to send a message, from the main screen:

Message Menu

There are lots of message templates provided. Here’s the Template Manager menu to whet your appetite. After you have things working, explore these templates!

The Template Manager Menu

Good luck and have fun! If you have any suggestions or corrections or stories of your own experience, send them to me at k0yds@arrl.net.