Mods and performance of R820T2 based RTL SDR receiver

In previous post I told that I have few different RTL2832U based SDR dongles. I’m want to see what cheap Software Defined Radio technology can achieve. First one I tried was widely available version for 8-13 USD with RTL2832 + R820T chips. In this post I will look in to dongle with second generation tuner R820T2 which is available for 17-28 USD:


Inside it looks identical to first generation dongle except the different tuner chip. Most likely those chips are pin to pin compatible:

ne korpuse

Since I will not use dongle in original form factor I minimized it’s size. It is safe to unsolder IR remote control receiver and to cut off PCB as show in picture below:


It is also safe to drill some holes for mounting to the heat sink. With internal low noise amplifier (LNA) active RTL SDR dongle gets pretty hot. Even knowing that people are using dongle with no issue without any additional cooling I will feel better with dongle mounted to the heat sink:


I will add additional 100nF, 1nF and 100pF bypass capacitors in parallel to all existing power supply capacitors also will make external 3.3V and 1.2V power supplies because I read online that on-board 1.2V switch mode power supply adds some noise in HF band. Additionally filter raw 5V power supply going from USB connector to SDR dongle with common mode choke and MuRata NFM21… filtering solution. Last mod but certainly not least will be high precision TCXO 28.8MHz oscillator. eBay seller claims it’s +/- 0.3PPM acurate. That is aprox 8Hz error from 28.8MHz. I measured it with high accuracy system and found actual error fluctuating in the region of 1 to 3 Hz. Few shots from the process:


korpuse 1

final vidus

Final view:


Now measurements:

What insertion loss does antenna input have over full operational band? During first generation tuner measurements I found out that dongle antenna input does not have acceptable insertion loss (in other words SWR coefficient) over full declared operation band (25MHz to 1750MHz). I don’t expect it to be impressive as these dongles were meant to be used with 75 ohm impedance antennas for digital TV broadcasts so it will not perform as good on 50 ohm antennas common in radio amateur world. But certainly not up to SWR coefficient of 8. Here is SWR plot of antenna input when LNA is disabled (0dBm gain):

soft at 100MHz tuner gain 0dBm full band

Markers are set to SWR coefficient 2 meaning that inside these boundaries more then 89% of signal power will reach receiver and will not be reflected back to antenna:

soft at 100MHz tuner gain 0dBm

From this I see that SDR dongle best performs in the region from around 25MHz to 1076MHz. To make things more complicated I can add that reflection coefficient changes with different LNA gain, here is archive with more measurements – VNA SWR archive. Lowest source signal I can configure in my VNA analyzer is -30dBm so maybe with higher LNA gain insertion loss is changing due to RF front end overload? In future I will do noise floor measurement over full band and note minimal signal I can see in spectrum window. We will see how it will compare to insertion loss.   

How accurate R820T2 dongle can be with high precision TCXO oscillator?  In this measurement I fed 160.000.000 Hz carrier wave from very accurate RF generator which is clocked from rubidium frequency standard. With RTL SDR dongle + TCXO in the software I got the same  160.000.000 Hz. Well maybe we can argue that it is tiny bit off and I need to shift marker slightly to left by a few tens of a hertz but it is no way near to the error I got with original quartz resonator – 9905Hz, almost 10kHz:


The main selling point of second generation R820T2 tuners is better sensitivity. So it is even more interesting to see where is its the noise floor? And compare the result with first generation tuner. Since amplitude scale in RTL-SDR software packages is relative it is not straight forward to determine signal strength or noise floor. One of the way that came to my head first was to apply barely visible carrier wave from signal generator and call that close to noise floor. And that is what I did. In the picture below you see that in real time spectrum signal is not visible at all, only in waterfall spectrum it is possible to see traces of signal (click on picture to zoom in). This was signal strength of -95.4 dBm. In comparison with first generation tuner I was able to go only down to -88.2dBm signal level. So second generation R820T2 tuner has about 7dB lower noise floor when LNA is disabled (0dBm gain):

Noise floor -95.4dBm

As with the first generation tuner here I’m also interested is really amplitude graticule step 10dB? From the noise floor I started to increase RF signal generator output power until I reached graticule levels and noted the difference. This is what I came up with:

graticule -50 <> signal applied -85,2 dBm;
graticule -40 <> signal applied -74,8 dBm (applied signal step – 10,4 dBm);
graticule -30 <> signal applied -62,3 dBm (applied signal step – 12,5 dBm);
graticule -20 <> signal applied -53,5 dBm (applied signal step – 8,8 dBm);
graticule    0 <> signal applied -33,3 dBm (applied signal step – 20,2 dBm).

Since I only eyeballed the graticule with shown signal peak I call this close enough to real 10dB step though results are more scatered then with first generation dongle. This measurement was also made with LNA disabled (0dBm gain).

So now I have general idea about performance of first generation RTL SDR dongle with R820T tuner and second generation dongle with R820T2 tuner. In future I will do some measurements in other frequency bands.


Here are additional pictures, hope they will help to understand where you need to connect voltages and TXCO. It’s not necessary to make external voltage regulators and unsolder existing ones. I chose to use external 3,3V regulator to get better cooling by attaching voltage regulator directly to case, stock one on the PCB gets pretty hot since it is linear type. NOTE that external ones that I used are also liner to avoid RF noise that could be generated by switch mode type. It’s just that they are directly connected to the metal case. External 1.2V regulator was used because stock one was switch mode type and potentially can radiate RF noise which is noticeable in HF bands with up converter.

Current draw on 1.2V and 3.3V power rails with TXCO power from 3.3V rail:
with 0 dB LNA gain 1.2V rail draws 175mA and 3.3V 194mA;
with 50 dB LNA gain 1.2V rail draws 179mA and  3.3V 196mA.

Connection pointsTXCO is connected to R820T2 tuner pin 9. With TXCO you do not need capacitors marked in red. They were needed only for crystal resonator:

TXCO caps

TXCO caps removed


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24 Responses to Mods and performance of R820T2 based RTL SDR receiver

  1. Lewis says:

    Can you supply details of where the 2.2v and 1.2v regulators connect to the board? Ideally details of what you did, circuit maybe? Also Did you just connect the output of the tcxo direct to where the crystal was, or did you have to use a capacitor between the output and the board? I have an R820T2 and the tcxo the same as yours, I’d like to do all the mods at the one time.

  2. Tom Clancy says:

    please show how to connect the txco to the r820t2. the scene need a how-to add the 28.80MHz txco to the dongle.

  3. Laurits Flem says:

    I know I’ve started a FIGHT on another youtube.. BUT I just got a RTL-SDR ‘t2 usb RX stick,
    and it’s BLOWING the DOORS off the Nooelec ‘t2 stick I got in November, tracking
    planes using Dump1090. Basically, it’s 1134 planes vs. 508 planes… and all I
    did was replace the NEW rx and re-boot…

  4. Laidukas says:

    Hi everyone, I’m a little bit busy right now and do not have time to add additional info. Maybe I will upload photos without description and that will be enough?
    In general it is very easy to connect TXCO simply supply power to it according your TXCO manufacturers description and feed the 28,8MHz output to R820T2. Click on photos to make them larger, it should be possible to see where I connect TXCO output. GND to GND and signal to crystal resonator pad.

  5. Laidukas says:

    Laurits Flem, could you please give me a link or exact name to the sensitive one you have? Have you confirmed that they both are T2 by opening the case and checking model number on the chip?

  6. Greg says:

    Another tip is to remove the input protection diodes since they act as mixers with strong signals (I live close to a pager antenna).
    It’s pretty useless anyway unless you’re petting your cat at the same time 🙂

    And if you’re not planning on doing much HF – replacing the rf input cap with a 10/100pF cap may reduce some interference as well…

  7. Greg says:

    Do you have an estimation of the 1.2v current draw?

  8. Laidukas says:

    Hi Greg, here is power consumption with TXCO:
    with 0 dB LNA gain 1.2V draws 175mA, 3.3V 194mA;
    with 50 dB LNA gain 1.2V 179mA, 3.3V 196mA.

  9. neonmaus says:

    Can you tell us which case you used?

  10. Laidukas says:

    Unfortunately, it is scraped from industrial equipment, not from the store. I believe any metal case will do the job, just keep good solid ground connection to dongles SMA and USB connectors.

  11. Robert says:


    I would like to ask Me to buy one of these modified R820t2’s model?

    Thank you for your reply!


    (Mods and performance of R820T2 based RTL SDR receiver)

  12. JanK says:

    I’m interested to learn if your mod’s did contribute to reduce the many spurs recieved by the dongle.
    Besides the hydrogenlines, I’m using iT for hamradio reception as well.
    Thanks in advance,

  13. Marius says:

    Laba diena.
    Turiu vieną didelį kompleksinį klausimą dėl xilinix procesoriaus.
    Jei įmanoma, duokite savo mobilaus kontaktą.
    Bučiau labai dėkingas už pagalbą.

  14. Laidukas says:

    JanK, I haven’t looked in to spurs before the mod.

    Mariau, aš nedirbu su programuojama logika, nelabai ką galiu patarti.

  15. Manfred Hawranke says:

    It would be nice if I can have a complete drawing of your configuration from:
    “Mods and performance of R820T2 based RTL SDR receiver” with all parts.
    Thank you

  16. Kevin says:


    Do you know the max input power of the RTL2832u/R820T2 dongle?
    I’m afraid of overloading it with a LNA .

    Thnak you

  17. Laidukas says:

    According R820T datasheet max input power is +10 dBm

  18. Robert Laine says:

    Hi guys,
    Using RTL 820T2 for an AIS receiver, does anyone know in gnuradio blocks_osmsdr_source what is are the gain_mode and other values to be used in order have NO AGC ?
    I see that there are osmsdr_source parameters for set.gain_mode, gain, if_gain, bb_gain and I am a bit blind on what default values to use. The default I had for the old RTL 820 do not work well, it seems to saturate on 820T2.
    Thanks for help.

  19. Manuel says:

    hello good morning from Spain want to buy one modified like the photos? please contact my email,thanks

  20. Sebastian says:

    If you wanted to run 5 RTL-SDRs over a USB hub, would you build a PSU for each one or do you think these 5 could run off 3.3/1.2V rail?

  21. JUAN says:

    greetings’m using the fedeer FLIGHTAWARE orange dongle to listen aerea band using the omnidirectional antenna RADAR BOX COMSTATION 118-136 box but the signal does not improve.

    I would recommend that antenna to improve responsiveness

  22. Hi, I had some interesting ideas here including to remove the existing 28.8 MHz xtal and make a TCXO for it.

    This is actually very feasible as a simple device can be made using a temperature sensor IC (eg LM35DZ) scrapped from a dead HP printer, or other device.
    I think these are also used in UPS’s and other devices.

    Interesting idea *2, add active cooling to the two RF ICs via Peltier, this might help a bit.
    It helps here if the two electrolytics on the print side of PCB are relocated to the back or simply replaced with low ESR tantalums, in addition to the other mods mentioned.

    I’m also looking into adding a photodiode setup to mine so it can be directly fed from a Sky digibox or LNB adaptor, for high frequency SETI use.

  23. Mod *3, use a Supertex HV850 as a voltage multiplier and feed photodiode from this via 10M resistor directly into RF input via 1000pF HV coupling capacitor.

    Its a bit finicky to get right but as long as diode is fed correctly ie current limited below avalanche voltage the diode sensitivity is maybe 5-10* that at -10V bias.

    I’ve also been experimenting with actual avalanche diodes and these work well BUT are limited by other factors such as excessive noise.
    OK if you want to count photons but total overkill even for rangefinder applications although they do work remarkably well as ghetto altimeters 🙂

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