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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Teardown: Expanded Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Review

In a short amount of time, the new Alinco DJ-MD5TGP has become an easy favorite by the author. 

After doing a fairly basic review that highlighted the programming software as one great feature compared to other DMR radios, I thought it would be good to continue onward with an internal review much like the two part teardown for the TYT UV-380 a few months ago.
Do your own review? If you would like to download Alinco CPS 1.1 for the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP, you can do that here since it is not yet available on the Alinco website. 

Alinco MD5 review DMR hand held
The Alinco DJ-MD5TGP is priced to sell and is feature
packed and few of early launch quirks like many other
competing DMR hand held amateur spectrum capable radio
s

Some Additional Review Thoughts - External Feelings

Before we dive in with some internal photos and details, here are some additional thoughts on why this radio is earning high marks in my opinion. 
The Good: Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Display -  At 1.7 inches every bit of information on the color display is well thought out and organized. The closest competitor to the Alinco is the Anytone D868UV and newer D878UV.  
Many features made famous by the various aftermarket firmware such as MD380tools and its variants for TYT or Retevis radios certainly provided inspiration for Alinco.
The only non-DMR radio that would even compete is the $500 Kenwood TH-D74, so for between $170-$190 for the Alinco - you get a lot of thoughtfulness in display layout design.
W1MLL
Alinco DJ-MD5TGP on default level of brightness
showing a typical level of DMR information

The Good: Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Side Buttons
- Besides the PTT button on the left side of the radio, there are two others.  
Both buttons can be reassigned for too many combinations including a separate function based on a long press or short press, so technically its like having four buttons just like many larger radios. It is also possible to lock out both side buttons which is potentially a nice feature.
The Good: Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Connectors - At first, a thought on the change to the SMA-J reverse polarity antenna connector was going to be annoying and force me to rethink all future antenna or connector purchases. 
.... ...- -.. -. .- ..- -... ....
Author Perspective: I think I now understand this is a beneficial connector and not a cheap option that has been found on all the inexpensive "Baofeng" type of radios plus few others that are more premium like the Ailunce HD1 and Anytone D868/D878.  The common SMA Female as it is known on radios like the Icom ID51, Yaesu FT2DR, Kenwood TH-D74 may be the last of that generation to make way for more SMA-J style connectors on hand held radios.
.... ...- -.. -. .- ..- -... .... 
This antenna connector seems like it will prevent potential stress fractures that happened with the MD-2017 connector and anyone who has ever "accidently" dropped a radio.  
While the antenna connector is the same as other non-Yaesu, Kenwood or Icom radios, I welcome the change back to what I think of as standard mic/ear connections. 
Important: The larger 3.5mm plug is for speaker and the 2.5mm is for microphone. 
The benefit with this is having easy ability for most standard headphones to plug in to listen to music via the FM broadcast function or to any other frequency the radio is capable of receiving.  This was standard until opposite became standard, so now we are going back to the old ways. Make sense?  Have a look at Radio Shack HTX-202, Icom W32, Alinco DJ-496 plus other radios of that vintage to better understand.
Alinco DJ-MD5TGP outer casing removed to show GPS
antenna placement, waterproof covering for volume
and channel knob and SMA-J antenna connector

A Baofeng, Kenwood or Retevis microphone will
not work with the Alinco and that may be a good thing
The most exciting option on this radio is the micro USB connector found on pretty much every smartphone aside from the latest USB-C based options like the Google Pixel 3 or Samsung Galaxy S9. This makes future replacement super convenient and inexpensive. 

Standard USB cable for the Alinco, just like the Kenwood TH-D74.
Will all radios soon have common programming cables?
The Good: Alinco DJ-MD5TGP Sound -  Audio for such a small radio is loud and not overdriven. As we will see in the tear down, the keypad is essentially in front of the speaker and microphone holes which saves on space to make this a compact and sturdy radio. 
The Good: Alinco DJ-MDTGP Super Features -  There are many cool functions found in this radio, but I am only going to mention two here that may relate to what we will also see in the teardown.  
One is the ability to monitor (listen) to both DMR time slots on the same frequency at the same time thanks to the "Digi Monitor"  function with "Double Slot" enabled. 
This can be off and single slot - which is like "promiscuous mode" or "Group Match Off" found on other radios. 
Pay Attention!! A function like this makes it possible to never, EVER miss any DMR communication on one frequency when "Color Code" is set to the "Any" function.    
This is great if traveling or wanting to casually monitor, but this feature may get annoying if there are two different discussions taking place at the same time on different time slots since the audio on both is at the same level. 
The second super feature is almost laughable, but allows you to customize the maximum receive volume level. Setting a low level gives greater range of control across the entire rotation of the volume knob. This feature helps solve some of this sort of issues with digital audio that is hard to have good automatic gain control (AGC) to solve.
Teardown Key Points

The following sequence of photos include comments as to the "internal" impact on what makes this radio unique. 

The only other radio that is considered the most popular DMR radio is the Anytone D868/D878 which is roughly the same size as the TYT 380 style radios or re-branded Retevis options.   There is already a decent teardown of the Anytone D868 here  and here which we will learn has some similarities to the new Alinco and possibly even more with the new Anytone D878, including the screen and layout.  


Do better features come in smaller packages? 

Behind the front cover PCB

Alinco has seemed to engineer this well and may not suffer this issue as found on older keypad designs.  All buttons are interspersed with the speaker grill opening. The speaker is behind the button overlay.   

Note the GPS antenna positioned at the top of the display which gives it excellent reception compared to the TYT MD-UV380 and MD-380G which uses the identical antenna, but poorly positioned.


Rear of behind front PCB

Two springs contact the speaker from the bottom main PCB and a multi pin connector completes further connection for the keypad and display. This is much better design than ribbon cables that have proved a fault point in main other radios or short soldered wires for the speakers which can be easily broken. 



Front of main PCB

The front side of the main PCB shows the springs and connector that mate to the front PCB.  The large RF shield covers the "front end" of the radio which helps create a receiver that suppresses any internally generated noise. 

A smaller RF shield towards the bottom of the front PCB protects other critically sensitive parts of the software defined radio (SDR) heritage of this radio but is not direct conversion based on the multiple TCXO and real time clock (RTC)


Main PCB of Alinco DJ-MD5TGP prior to removal
of RF shield covering the bulk of the RF front end 

Alinco DJ-MD5TGP main PCB with RF shield
section removed to show the L C filtering

Rear of main PCB

The underside of the main PCB of the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP shows some exciting things. First is the properly placed RFPA that contacts the large metal backing of the radio found under the main battery. 


The main CPU for the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP is the GD32F303 which is a cloned version of the ST Micro version called STM32F303. The differences are mostly negligible, but "on paper" specifications list some improvements with this version which also licenses ARM Cortex M3 architecture.

This microcontroller selection may contribute to how Alinco was able to offer the DJ-MD5TGP for the price of $169.99 to $189.99 USD in late 2018.

Also found on the underside of the main PCB are the AT1846S popular SDR chipset used in many DMR radios  Interestingly, the Texas Instruments  very low power stereo audio codec chipset with pretty decent DAC properties is also involved. 

These two chips alongside the main MCU (GD32F303) create some powerful capabilities in such a small package dual band radio.

AT1846S as found in the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP

Texas Instruments AIC3204 as found in the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP

Big Deal:  Dedicated DMR Baseband

We still have not found anything too interesting, but we have yet to talk about the SCT3258 which is a dedicated baseband chip for DMR with built in AMBE3000+ capability. 

This is where the magic likely happens for the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP and may enable interesting future upgrades based on cursory glance at the SiComm specification sheet. 


Finally, we arrive at the RDA 5802 FM receiver chip that offers some music reception capability in this unique radio.


What does all this mean anyway?

There is a lot of interesting engineering involved with the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP which is far different compared to radios like the TYT MD-UV380 and Ailunce HD1.

Many manufacturers today no longer include schematics to help in the repair and possible future modification or improvements that could be made at the hardware level.

Instead, the hardware tools are here and only an interest in further software modification can potentially unlock more functionality with modern radios.

Hopefully this teardown may inspire further curiosity in this Alinco radio to educate a buying decision or even the possible eagerness to intentionally void a warranty to poke and prod around the inner workings of this fascinating radio.

The final image to share is that of the ATGM336H GPS chipset.


Basic Bill of Materials 

Use this handwork to estimate the bill of materials for this radio based on these highlighted chips and determine if the Alinco DJ-MD5TGP is a good value or not.

I think you may find this latest radio by Alinco represents the best of a modern digital amateur radio as of November 2018 and it will be interesting to see what is the going to be the next big advancement in amateur radio hand held radio offerings.



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