Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Easy and cheap antenna weatherproofing picture guide

Works for less than $1 total, total time 15 minutes, survives any weather including red alert hurricane level.



Problem


Equipment is outdoors, therefore exposed to elements. Electricity and water do not mix.

Buy quality tape from builders providers or commercial places, if parking lot got vans or trucks with name and numbers on the side, patrons' pants sport more than six pockets and you get a VAT receipt, you're at the right place.

Three keys to success besides quality tape:

1. Start way below connector with two full circles around coax,
2. Work you way up with tape overlapping at least 1/3 over previous turn,
3. Pull tape gently during each turn to ensure a tight fit.

Do not try to save tape, cheaper to do it once right.

Example: FlightAware antenna


Would require N-male connector, which costs money, delivery takes time, etc.

Required: any coax with firm center conductor, tape.

Here's the antenna, we'll be working here. Center of coax goes into hole in the middle, braid comes around outer part. Principle is the same with F-type connectors, or SMA connectors, but they're much smaller, consequently harder to work with, barndoor vs gynecologist.



Prepared coax good to go below. Cut off 50 mm / 2 inches of outer insulation saving braid, then leave 10mm of center conductor sticking out, fold that in half. Barrier is a piece of electrical tape, prevents center and braid touching:



Combine with antenna, insert center of coax into hole, leave wires sticking out:



Carefully fold braid and anything which is not the center on grooves:


Start taping, way over actual connection, minimum two full pulled turns:



Finish up by going way below the lowest part, the more the better. I normally take coax coming out from bottom to antenna above to take strain / weight / pull off from connector:


In daily use


FlightAware antenna used for comparisons for over a year uses trick above; Jetvision antenna featured in recent comparison same story - I can afford connectors, but I simply can't allow equipment failures.
Does the job? Yes, if done correctly. Included excessive amount of images above as it's easy and reliable, as long as tape starts well above connector and ends well below bottom part of connection.

Review: Nooelec Nano 3


First RTL-SDR dongle made for on-the-go mobile use: tiny metal case, R820T2 chipset with TCXO, 2 year warranty, bundle with four OTG cables, heatsink and antenna to fit everything in your pocket.
Got two review samples from Nooelec for testing for free, honest opinion below as always.
Subscribe to Twitter feed @rtlsdr4everyone to get notified of updates.

In the box


Brushed black aluminum case like a SMArt, size comparison, giant metal object in background is a Zippo lighter:



Supplied heatsink with two-sided self-adhesive pads, sticks onto Nano 3 case straight away.



MCX connector antenna is really small, 88mm collapsed and 227 mm fully extended from antenna connector to top.


MCX to SMA female 90-degree barrel connector is also supplied, more on that later.


OTG adapters


OTG means On The Go, certain micro-USB equipped touch devices (practically everything this side of an iPhone running a recent version of Android) can use external hardware, such as USB hard drives, or RTL-SDR dongles.
Will your device function? No clue, google OTG compatibility and device specs, generally, if it's less than two years old it should be OK, I use a Samsung 2016 J5 smartphone in this post and for daily chores.
Adapters in the bag function not only with dongles for radio, but with any other USB device and any RTL-SDR dongle, such as thumb drive in the image on the right.

1. Straight adapter


Tiny metal bit, comes inbetween phone and dongle:



2. Angled


Dongle 90 degrees off, adapter offers the possibility of external power in.



Looks very 21st century.

3. Pigtail with one USB port


Length 16 cm / 6 inches, plug in dongle and good to go, but without external power option:



4. Pigtail with two USB ports


One for receiver, length 20 cm / 8", other for external power 30 cm / 12":



OTG cables conclusion: Nothing new under the sun, similar or identical OTG cables are available from eBay for ages, prices vary between 2-10 dollars each. Not a fan of, correct that, strongly advise against using any straight OTG cable with any device which you hold dear or not insured, as strain on connector might be excessive during daily use. Data connector is also where phone / tablet is charged, and if that's damaged you'll cry.
Of the four adapters in the pack, the last one is clearly the winner due to length of cables and external power in capabilities. RTL-SDR dongles, or any connected device will drain batteries faster than Candy Crush, Youtube and online messaging at the same time, so you need external power.

Take it apart


Four screws, smallest in comparison with other dongle screws, nearly spectacles level.
Case is completely new design, two side panels hugging central hollow containing PCB with two thermal pads:



Blue pads are not just between case and PCB, melted onto chips, thinner one is like removing dried-in chewing gum from a Persian rug, thicker one comes off more or less in one piece, do not ever remove them, look at PCB below:


MCX connector standard


Supplied antenna when angled vertical puts considerable strain on the connector, SMA adapter is the same, antenna will not stay upright with either.
Issue: after a few day's use, center pin simply broke into dongle - might be down to my clumsiness, never happened before, thought I've never use angled adapters for this very reason.
Wonderful. For $28 dongle should be supplied with SMA connector as a minimum just like SMArt family, v.3, ProSticks, or practically all higher-class receiver. Seen that Noolec constantly improves products (e.g. Ham-It-Up), next version will probably feature SMA, and whilst at it, throw in the SMArt's three antennas as well, competing products ship with lots of antennas and cables for the same money.

Heat


Official product page highlights the fact that dongle will get hot, for people who sue McDonald's that coffee was hot warning sign on dongle reaffirms what's to be expected.



Plain, unsinked dongle with a smartphone quickly gets so hot that non-PC expletives left my rosy lips in a quick and rapid fashion, then I added supplied heatsink to be able to 1) find the damn thing in the dark, larger blob in the bag or on the dashboard, and 2) be able to unplug dongle without resorting to oven gloves or various parts of worn apparel.
Constructive moaning: painting heatsinks black will limit heat transfer capability and soak up sunlight (but agree that looks the part), pure aluminum is better and easier to see in reflected or limited light conditions.
Or, maybe, the option to order better heatsinks would be appreciated.

Software and hardware compatibility


Not an issue. Nano 3 is an R820T2 chipset based dongle, like many others, so will function as such.


TCXO


Those four words mean temperature-controlled oscillator, entered frequency will be received frequency.



Spot on, 100%, cold or warm, no ppm adjustment required.

Waterfall cleanliness


Important as noise showing up (white speckles in blue) can hide a signal.

Versus Nooelec SMArt, find where I've swapped dongles:



Go full-screen on a 24" or larger monitor, then it's visible - they're close, edge belongs to SMArt, thought Nano 3 used adapter, so not a clear-cut case.
Versus rtl-sdr.com v.3:


Khmm.
Versus Nooelec Mini 2+ in aftermarket Nooelec case (bottom part of image), a notoriously noisy and capable dongle:



Versus Nooelec Nano 2+ on top, which is as close to apples to apples as possible :


Metal case and (cannot confirm) improvements clearly show.

Receive performance


Supplied antenna receives signals, such as strong local stations or transmissions originating in the vicinity will show up on screen - for example, useful to test whether a walkie-talkie actually transmits when it's within your sight. I haven't really tested it extensively as antenna broke into dongle after a few days.
On a pro discone, Nano 3 was essentially the same as any other R820T2 based dongle, no drawbacks due to small size.
Airband:



Upper VHF, AIS lines on the left, local taxi on the right:



Comparative performance versus other dongles was more or less the same, be it shortwave (needs upconverter as no direct sampling hole, standard on $8 generic, guide here to go below 30 MHz with a piece of wire) or any other frequency in the sub-GHz range.
ADS-B at 1090 MHz: side-by-side versus other dongles was bottom performer in the 19-dongle ADS-B test. On its own with a Cantenna at a good location had numerous aircraft locations and details on smartphone:



Moaning in pointless


Nano 3 is built and marketed for a clear and substantial customer base - new generation of users with a smartphone only, more than 500,000 downloads for SDRTouch alone, nerd universe on Reddit for RTL-SDR close to 60 thousand and steadily increasing, need I say more?



Days of big and expensive is over, for those who want to hear the world, or randomly explore signals just because they can with an RTL-SDR dongle, Nano 3 fits the bill.
Those who understand concepts such as SNR and wavelength and noise floor and 8-bit might choose something else or chastise connector standard and antenna (my two main gripes), but the majority of under-25s, or any interested teenager will just connect bits and pieces together, download relevant apps, and be merry.
Who cares about performance shortcomings or lack of features when there's no other dongle on the market which shows airplanes, ships, or the radio spectrum out of the envelope on a phone or tablet using two braincells and an index finger in 10 minutes?

Value for money


4 OTG adapters are 2 dollars each off eBay with lots of possible waiting, premium dongle with two-year warranty is never less than $22, one heatsink costs $2, therefore $27 spent is well spent. Think of antenna as a bonus.

Alternatives


$28 dollars for the full bundle. What does that money get you?



Same deduction from account buys a SMArt bundle, which is not that much larger, looks and feels a million dollars, comes with SMA connector and three proper antennas, not just a back-scratcher.
Apex predator of the RTL-SDR world called v.3 bundle with the best antenna package and more features, costs less ($28 vs $26), but remarkably larger, less warranty and altogether plays in a different (its own) league.

Conclusion


Nano 3 is a fantastic little dongle with many forward-thinking features.
However...
Day-to-day handling experience is marred as it's way too hot to touch without supplied heatsink, and whilst the receiver itself is excellent breathtaking considering its size, it's let down by supplied antenna, which is great to physically poke people (not just on Facebook), and I don't want to mention again the broken-in antenna due to outdated connector standard once more as bundle comes with 2-year warranty, and Nooelec is renowned for customer service.
Would I buy or recommend it? No. Not now. Nano 3 should come with SMA connector, SMArt's large magnetic mount and three antennas, and at that happy moment, this little gem will conquer the hearts and wallets of anyone this side of three large X.

ADS-B Shootout: FlightAware vs rtl-sdr.com Antenna Kit vs Jetvision

Three antennas on windowsill, one week.



Participating:

FlightAware ADS-B antenna, yours for around $45, left black in image above.
rtl-sdr.com Antenna Kit, middle puny one, part of antenna package for $10,
Jetvision ADS-B antenna, fat big white one on the right, $90 dollars or so at manufacturer website. Friend's loan.
FlightAware antenna is my arbitrator for aeons, know what it will do, rtl-sdr.com antenna kit included first just for fun, then jaw on the floor. Had no info, expectation nor indoctrination regarding Jetvision, apart from reading sparse reports here and there that it works good, but couldn't test as $90 is $90.

Update Oct 20: Apparently rtl-sdr.com Kit was suboptimally positioned, so I'm rerunning this test at the moment.
Update No 2 Oct 23: Another rtl-sdr.com antenna kit on the way to test bunny ears vs "proper" orientation. Judginf from the fact and memories that similar dipoles are configured in a similar fashion just as I inadvertently did - mental image of identical antennas on old TV sets, which never heard of radio theory, lest my parents who adjusted them to get reception. We'll only know when second kit arrives for a side-by side comparison.

Comparative results




Jetvision antenna 9.87% more totals than FlightAware antenna; I estimate a margin of error of maximum 4% due to antenna positioning and slightly different line of sight.
Performance of rtl-sdr.com's antenna kit was the real surprise; comparison of maximum ranges on a given day vs Jetvision antenna:





Conclusion: none this time. Each antenna plays in a different league; which is reflected in purchase price: $90 vs $45 vs $10 for a box full of antennas and two mounts.





Thursday, 31 August 2017

Fine tuning noise floor testing methodology

A dongle's noise floor represents a value in decibels for a particular frequency and gain setting.
Measuring the noise floor of any RTL-SDR dongle is beneficial for the following:
- establishing whether any modding or attempted improvement resulted in the expected outcome,
- comparing dongles as long as the same testing equipment and commands used.
Comparisons are NOT recommended by the software developer, kmkeen on rtl_power's webpage, yet it's commonly done by reviewers, including me, as 1) numbers are easy to comprehend, and 2) resulting graphs look cool in a post.
Not being content with the accepted methods, and looking for a reliable way to test 30+ dongles, went ahead with following experiments, using the same rtl-sdr.com blog v.3 as test subject - full size dongle with thermal pads and metal case, all other dongles are smaller / lighter. Nooelec's Mini 2 / 2+ Al donges are the two exceptions, but they're far from widespread and do not ship with thermal pads, takes ages to warm up.
Equipment was two digital thermometers taped to metal case to monitor temperature changes, and the same pigtail / resistor throughout the test.
Values in Celsius.

Hot vs Cold


Assumption: a colder dongle has a lower noise floor. Fully warmed up dongle after one hour at full gain at 38 degrees, cold dongle at 24 degrees when finishing scan, 5 minute pass:




Result: depends on frequency. I listen to airband and shortwave with an upconverter, chew numbers below:



Higher up, situation is slightly reversed with a hot dongle having a slight advantage.

Reaching thermal equilibrium


All dongles need to warm up to operating temperature to be able to compare apples to apples, question is, for how long?
To find out, full gain whilst videotaping thermometers, then compiled values against time:



25 minutes is a safe bet, 30 minutes is more than enough - smaller dongles e.g. SMArt and Nano 3 reach operating temperature much faster, Nano 3 is on the ball in no time.

Time required for a scan


Keenerd recommends "It is important to let the scan run for at least 15 minutes. Any less and repeatability suffers". Fair enough, went by this advice for years, but a full noise profile (at 0-5-10-15-20-25-30-35-40-45-50 db gain) takes 11 measurements, that's at least three hours with a warm-up run. Absolutely fine for an individual dongle test, would take ages with multiple dongles.
Assumption: results do not significantly change as long as dongle is warmed up properly.
To test, 30 min at full gain, then 1-2-5-10-15-20-30 minute passes, data below (click or tap for full screen):


Full data set on demand, apart from a few frequencies, I did not see any major difference which would justify spending hours for a noise test.


Reliability and repeatability


Noise floor testing is fun, as long as testing environment and equipment follows the golden rule of comparisons: only one variable, which is the dongle used. This is impossible with multiple connector standards, then environmental and circumstantial factors will change results:
- Dongle position: even a small push on a crowded table with multiple RFI sources around skews by 0.2 - 0.5 dB. Ran multiple tests, LCD screens and especially power supplies for smartphones / tablets wreck results, the closer, the worse.
- Connectors, starting from USB port. If you replace one variable, it must be noted.
- Ambient temperature. Premium gear (SMArt, v.3, XTRs, etc) are very sensitive. Just because you can have a receiver for less than $30 in a week on the floor, do not underestimate what contents can do.

What I'll go with


Warm-up run at 50 gain for 15 minutes, v.3 was within 2 degrees of operational temperature by this stage.
Secondary at 45 gain for 5 minutes.
Tertiary at 40 gain for 5 minutes. 25 minutes elapsed, more than enough, apart from ADS-B nobody uses dongles at 40 dB on the slider anyways.
Measurements at 35, 30, 25, 20, 15, 10, 5, 0 dB gain for three minutes each.
Total time: 49 minutes for one dongle.

I know nothing


Agree? Disagree? You know a better way? Know more than I do? Help me, and many others, contribute, comment, share your wisdom.
I want to hear from you. Let me, and countless readers know how to do better.
No man is an island.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Group ADS-B test: 19 dongles

19 RTL-SDR dongle variations tested with identical Raspberry Pi 3 based ADS-B stations, sharing the same antenna and filtered preamp.

Disclosure


Post features my purchases and manufacturers' review samples, couldn't have done this comparison without support many thanks!
Links open in new tab, maker, main distributor, or Amazon affiliate links given to check at-door cost, do your research to save money.
Images go full screen when clicked or tapped, more info on testing environment here, my approach in Manifesto.
Subscribe on Twitter @rtlsdr4everyone with the blue button top left of screen to get notified of updates and new posts.

Tested and works


Approximate prices for bundles as of August 2017, from left to right:



1. Nooelec Nano: unavailable from Nooelec or Amazon, occasionally shows up on eBay. 
2. Nooelec Nano 2+ : $23, manufacturerAmazon USA.
3. Nooelec Nano 3: $33, manufacturer.
4. Nooelec Nano-P: $24, Amazon USA.
5. Nooelec Mini: $19, manufacturerAmazon USA.
6. Nooelec Mini+ Al : $30, manufacturer.
7. Nooelec Mini 2: $19, manufacturerAmazon USA.
8. Generic R820T2: $10 or less from eBay, don't pay more.
9. Nooelec Mini 2+ : $23, manufacturerAmazon USA.
10. Nooelec Mini 2+ Al: $23, manufacturer, Amazon USA.
11. Nooelec SMArt: $27, manufacturerAmazon USA.
12. rtl-sdr.com blog v3: $25, manufacturer, Amazon USA.
13. FlightAware Pro Stick: $17 for receiver only at Amazon USA.
14. FlightAware Pro Stick Plus: $19 for receiver only at Amazon USA or $25 worldwide from rtl-sdr.com store.

All dongles are used with the exception of Nano 3 and unmodded, exactly as you'd find them in the envelope.

Tested and doesn't work


Incapable of receiving 1090 MHz aircraft signals, no matter what:




E4000 chipsets: Nooelec XTR+, Outernet (discontinued), SMArt XTR and SMArTee XTR. E4000s have a gap at 1090 MHz, this fact is clearly stated for new SMArt XTRs.
EzTV 645: refuses to cooperate due to FC0013 chipset, no surprise there.

Testing rig


Two Raspberry Pi 3s from ModMyPi (Starter Kit reviewshop), antenna splitter into Uputronics 1090 Mhz Filtered Preamp (reviewEurope shopUSA distributor) to get as much data as possible in the shortest time, 6 feet / 2m 50 Ohm RG-58 coax from a Nooelec SMArt bundle connected to a FlightAware antenna (Amazon USAcontributor comparison vs other pro antennas).
Data collection period at least 20 hours, performance judged by total position reports according to FlightAware, ranges and maps from planefinder. Guide how to use both here.
Reliability was 100% with all components, unplug power, switch dongles, plug in power.
Personal comments dot the text in italics, as I love each and every dongle in the arsenal for one or two (3,4,5...) particular reason.

Results are relative

Update 1:
Two dongles tested on the same day to find out which one performs better. Consequently, Totals are only valid between two dongles, as they change due to traffic density day to day - see SMArt vs v.3 below as an example.

Calibrating


Establishing a baseline was necessary to check whether testing rig performs as it should.
Two rtl-sdr.com v.3 for four consecutive days to see day-to-day changes, 0.78%, 0.90%, 0.8%, then 0.57% difference in Totals.

Four Nooelec SMArts, one pair with 0.16 percent difference before commencing testing, retested other two SMArts midway, 0.65% between them.
Two R820T2 generics had 1.36% difference in Totals, 136 vs 140 nm maximum range.
Don't get too excited below 2%.

Perspective


At cruising altitude and speed, 5 miles more range means an extra 30-40 seconds capability, if that, to track a commercial flight at 33,000 feet doing 550 knots. Furthermore, maximum range primarily depends on antenna location, consequently I evaluate pairs based on Total received reports, but include maximums and maps if warranted. A higher Total always means better range, but only up to the point of geographical limitations.


Nano vs Nano-P


Same R820T chipset, -P denotes PAL connector standard:



Unsuitability of PAL for ADS-B pops up now and then on online forums, fortunately, this Nano-P can't read: 23.69% more Totals.

Mini vs Nano-P


Same R820T chipset, different size:



3.05 % more with Nano-P.

Nano 2+ vs SMArt


Question asked for small-space applications:



17.95% more Totals.

Nano 3 vs SMArt


Latest and smallest Nano against its big brother, with and without heatsink:



Two tests, without heatsink SMArt collected 49.70 % more data, attaching supplied heatsink lowered ratio to 43.69% and case temperature by approx. 4 degrees Celsius.



Doubt anyone will improve FA ranking with a Nano 3, designed for an entirely different purpose.

Thoughts on Nano dongles

Nano-P is only a Nano in the name, twice the size of a thoroughbred. True Nanos are small, comparatively and absolutely:



PCB surface area contributes to heat dissipation, which becomes problematic beyond a point; in envelope heatsink is advantageous and highly recommended for Nano 3, the smallest RTL-SDR dongle ever.
Know that all Nanos as designed for, and marketed as the ideal solution for space-restricted applications, all perform extremely well for their intended purpose - I had a nailgun vs hammer analogy in mind, but you get the point anyway.
For maximum receive performance, full size dongles are a must, so onto big boys now.

R820T2 Generic vs Nooelec Mini 2


Bog-standard $8 R820T2 off eBay against a seemingly identical Mini 2.



1.27% percent higher Totals with generic.

Mini Al+ vs Mini 2 Al+


Both with TCXO, both in metal case without thermal pads, chipset is the main difference:



0.44% after 23 hours is very close, safe to say both are of equal performance.

Nooelec Mini vs Mini 2


Chipset question revisited, some say the R820T2 in the Mini 2 is better for ADS-B.



2.90% more with R820T chipset.

Mini 2+ vs SMArt





7.79% more with SMArt. Despite being smaller, thermal pads for heat transfer do a good job.

SMArt vs rtl-sdr.com v.3


Top two premium general use dongles on the market.



Two v.3s and four SMArts tested, and I mean extensively:
Day one: 12.91% more with v.3, was a scorching day, 25 degrees on the Emerald Isle results in people dropping on the street from heat exhaustion.
Day two: v.3 still 8.06% more Totals on a cooler day.
Day three: third SMArt against same v.3 used yesterday, ambient temperature 10 degrees less than two days ago, v.3 3.36% better.
Day four: 3.2 % more with v.3 again:



Day-to-day differences: fourth SMArt and v.3 for three days:
Friday: 37846 / 35836, 5.60%.
Saturday: 37121 / 34414, 7.86%.
Sunday: 40262 / 37302, 7.93%.
Rtl-sdr.com blog v.3 consistently more - why? From what I can see, larger surface area for sure - I've noted that there's a direct correlation in connection with comparative performance and ambient temperature, e.g. SMArt performs better on cooler days.


rtl-sdr.com v.3 vs FlightAware Pro Stick Plus


Frankly, I didn't expect this to work, cascading preamps and two 1090 MHz filters in the signal path, buy why not?




Pro Stick Plus 16.06% more positions reported at 2145, on an already amped and filtered rig.
Reran this comparison to be on the safe side, 11.90% more over 23 hours with blue stick, map with max ranges:



Perfect day, experience being a snail humidity combined with massive fog, 213.93 nm range is best I ever got, haven't broken the 180 barrier before.
Had to triple-check, 68,908 vs 64,704, 6.49 % more with blue Pro Stick, slight advantage, but it's visible:



Why? Solve the following equation: n1+x2+42+x4 over traffic density equals what? Result = Pro Stick Plus dependably outperformed the best unamped dongle.

V.3 vs Pro Stick




16.91% more with orange Pro Stick. Did not pursue this any further, as earlier comparison showed the Plus is better on its own.

Conclusion and buying advice


Best value: $8 generics from China. Build a Coketenna, be merry for less than $10 - a $150-dollar rig won't get you 15x more fun. Or 15x more data.
Best ADS-B receiver only: blue FlightAware Pro Stick Plus. On its own, or in this test, continues to amaze.
Best ADS-B receiver only with general use in mind: orange FlightAware Pro Stick. Onboard LNA for $17 is priceless for weak data signals - if ADS-B, weather satellites, pagers etc are your game along with casual listening, get an orange FA Pro Stick.
Best plug-n-joy bundle: Nooelec SMArt. Longest supplied coax cable on the market, shortest of three supplied antennas good for ADS-B, quality in every detail - less than 1% between four dongles, need to say more? Thirty dollars for a SMArt bundle is an uncontested long-term investment in radio.
Advanced $20 receiver-only: rtl-sdr.com v.3. Hands down the best performing dongle without onboard amplification, and the discerning ADS-B enthusiasts' choice due to bias-T: adding an antenna-mounted Uputronics LNA is easy.
Zombie dongles: Nooelec aftermarket case offers unparalelled physical protection, stock on Mini+ Al and Mini 2+ Al,  fits all generics, dongle doubles as a short-range weapon against rabid dogs with two-year warranty. I always carry a Mini2+ Al when I go somewhere rough without no sit-down toilet in sight.
Small and performs: Nooelec SMArt receiver only. Nanos' size and inconvenient MCX or PAL connection standard are unwarranted when a SMArt is better in every aspect for terrestrial users.
Mobile / portable use: Nano 3. Any other dongle will run circles around it when and if numbers matter, but no other dongle attached to a mobile station or smartphone is so easy to use.

Which one would I spend my own money on?


Put my money where's my mouth is, ordered a Pro Stick Plus before publishing, well in advance preempting "Out of Stock" misery. $25 dollars / $20 euros from rtl-sdr.com (lowest price I could find for Europe delivery) is money well spent.

End of a beginning


No stone was left unturned to find the best performing RTL-SDR dongle for 1090 MHz ADS-B use; however, results reflect my location, testing equipment, air traffic density, plus many factors.
FlightAware Pro Sticks, either one, were significantly better than the best unamped dongle, rtl-sdr.com's v.3 - onboard LNA matters a lot when the objective is eking out the last ounces of performance.
Look at the whole picture: neither FlightAware dongles come with any antenna nor cable, so any bundle will be better out of the box, as they will be usable right away.
Choice is yours: Premium dongle bundles come with bells and whistles for less than $30, generic for $8 rewards with best aircraft for money ratio after a three-week wait, any Nano is an engineering marvel, a Nano-P will pass a hard-eyed customs inspection in Burma, Plus models from Nooelec assure 2-years' restful nights, and so on.
Pros and contras exist for all dongles.


Point is: buy what you feel will be good for you. Undecided between this or that, go for both, or get any RTL-SDR dongle you can afford: performance ultimately matters little, as any dongle will put a smile on your face, and that's the most important thing, much, much more than percentage differences.