First look at the TI MSP-SA430-SUB1GHZ spectrum analyser

TI are running a “Back to school” promotion, and as part for this they are selling a simple sub-1GHz spectrum analyser for $25 (with free shipping to the UK).

It uses a CC430 chip, which is an MSP430 microcontroller plus an RF front-end. Seems like a deal, and could be used for something like RFCat.

It turned up in a couple of days, marked as a “Sample” so no duty or VAT to pay.

It’s in a nice plastic case, which I immediately ripped off.

Construction is good quality – the SMA connector is bolted on, big ground planes.


It connects to a PC using USB, with cable supplied. There is also a SMA antenna provided:

Unit out of case

You can download the spectrum analyser software from the TI site, although it does come with a CD as well. This is our baby monitor transmitting white noise:

Spectrum analyser

I’ve only had a quick play about with it… it works, sort of. It’s buggy though and certainly not as good as the software that comes with the RF Explorer.

Key points:

  • Covers 300-348MHz, 389-464MHz and 779-928MHz – quite gappy but covers ISM.
  • Relatively quick to update on the screen.
  • Can configure frequency, span, RBW and FSW. Minimum span is 0.2MHz, minimum RBW is 58kHz, minimum FSW is 1kHz. It seems that a lot of values here cause no display – span of 0.5MHz stops the display working.
  • Does realtime, max, average display.
  • Numeric entry validation is really irritating – it limits you whilst entering the value rather than after.
  • A lot of the UI doesn’t seem to like Windows 8 with scaling set to <>100%.
  • Crashes relatively frequently.
  • Mentions firmware and calibration data in the app, so it might be relatively well calibrated.
  • Source code for the app is available.

I’d be annoyed if I spent $250, but it’s great for £25. There is a lack of documentation on the hardware – there are a lot of passives between the SMA and CC430. It would be nice if this could be used for transmit as well as receive but I expect the passives will get in the way.

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