In this guide I will explain how to set up the RTL-SDR to be used as a general purpose SDR Receiver on Windows 10.
- RTL-SDR Device
- Windows 10 computer
- .NET 5 Desktop Runtime https://dotnet.microsoft.com/download/dotnet/thank-you/runtime-desktop-5.0.2-windows-x86-installer
To begin with you must own a RTL-SDR device, they are manufactered by a large variety of providers but provide somewhat the same basic functionality across the brands whilst some add additional features. They also are based on the same internal chip, which means that the installation process should be the same no matter which brand you choose.
We first must install the drivers which will be used by the software to communicate with the RTL-SDR device. You must first plug in the SDR into the computer, once this is done you may hear the hardware added sound and notification on the taskbar, however we must still install the driver manually, this is because the driver that is currently installed is not suitable for SDR general frequency reception and instead is intended for using the RTL-SDR as a TV receiver. To install the said drivers that will make our SDR usable as a scanner/reciever we must first navigate to the zadig page Located at https://zadig.akeo.ie/
Zagid will allow us to install the driver that we need, you may install it from the page by clicking the latest version and running the executable file as administrator.
Once Zadig is running, proceed by clicking the “options” bar and then the “list all devices” button. After doing so, we must select the RTL device in the drop down menu, the device should be labelled as “Bulk in Interface”. Once the device is selected, you should observe that the current driver is known as “RTL2832UUSB ” and the replacement driver noted to the right of the green arow is WinUSB. Once you have confirmed said details proceed by clicking the “Replace driver” button. The driver may take several minutes to replace and you may encounter a windows warning message, disregard any message and continue with the installation.
Once it is done, you can confirm that the driver was installed by relaunching Zadig and observing that the current driver is WinUSB.
Installing the SDR# Software
After installing the drivers, we must now proceed to install the SDR software. Currently there exists a very wide variety of software in different formats (GUI, Command line) that uses the RTL-SDR that purposes may range from general scanning/recieving, ADBS (Aircraft transponder) decoding, Spectrum anaylsis and more.
In this example we are going to be installing SDR# a widely popular piece of software created by Airspy that can be used by a wide range of SDR’s including our RTL-SDR. SDR# Will allow us to recieve an enourmous amount of frequencies fully taking advantage of the range of the hardware as well as it’s modular design allowing us to install plugins to further expand the reach and use of the RTL-SDR itself.
SDR# Is also a very easy to learn SDR Software for beginners which makes it perfect for our guide.
To begin the installation of SDR# we must first navigate to the downloads page on Airspy here: https://airspy.com/download/
Once you are at said page, click the blue download button to the right of the Software Defined Radio Package to commence the download of the software. Once this is done, extract the ZIP file using WinRar or the Windows zip utility to a folder of your choice. Once this is complete you should be left with a folder containing many different files similar to the image shown.
Before we can launch the software itself, we must go ahead and run the RTL-SDR setup script. This will allow SDR# to utilise the driver to control the RTL-SDR device. To do this double click the install-rtsdr.bat file located in the folder. Once you do so, a commandline window should spawn and it will commence downloading the necessary files.
Once the files have been downloaded successfuly, you should observe a “Press any key to continue” in the command prompt, press enter on the keyboard and it should close. We are now ready to launch the SDR# software itself.
To launch the SDR# software, simply double click the SDRSharp.exe in the folder and after a few moments the window should open
Now the software is running, we must select our RTL-SDR device in the Source section. This will select our RTL-SDR as the device we wish to use with SDR#.
Once it is selected press the play button near the top left of the window and you should begin to hear static and see the waterfall display (centre) start to populate with noise
After this is complete, you have successfuly installed the SDR# for use with your RTL-SDR device. Congratulations and welcome to the interesting world of Software defined radio.
Conclusion and next steps
In this tutorial we have successfuly installed the driver that is used to make the RTL-SDR usable, and also installed the SDR# software itself which will communicate with the Driver to turn the RTL-SDR device in to the reciever. In the next iteration of guides we will be exploring how to operate the SDR# software to recieve a wide variety of signals.