Upgrading HackRF One to PortaPack H2

PortaPack H2 Capture
PortaPack H2 Capture

I just received a very exciting upgrade for my HackRF One. It is called the PortaPack H2. It essentially gives your HackRF a rechargeable battery, a display and many new capabilities that are a part of the Havoc firmware.

This setup will basically take my HackRF’s capabilities completely mobile opening it up to places and locations to explore that aren’t easy/possible without a setup like this.

Today I wanted to build the new PortaPack H2 and show all the steps I took. Let’s begin!

Hardware Used

HackRF One Software Defined Radio (SDR)
HackRF One Software Defined Radio (SDR)

The HackRF is a software defined radio (SDR) receiver and transmitter with a range of 1MHz all the way to 6GHz. With the use of software like CubicSDR, SDR# or GNU Radio you can decode and listen to / view almost any signal (including the International Space Station)!

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PortaPack H2 Upgrade Kit Contents
PortaPack H2 Upgrade Kit

The PortaPack H2 upgrade kit will take your HackRF completely mobile. With a rechargeable battery, a touchscreen and tons of new features from the Havoc firmware it’s a major upgrade to the HackRF!

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Upgrade Kit

The upgrade kit came with the following:

PortaPack H2 Upgrade Kit Contents
PortaPack H2 Upgrade Kit Contents

And here is the back of the board:

PortaPack H2 - Back of Board
PortaPack H2 – Back of Board

Well that looks relatively straight forward to put together. Now we just need to open the HackRF One.

Opening HackRF One

To do this you will actually remove the gold rings around the ANTENNA, CLKIN and CLKOUT ports. You can screw these off with just your fingers.

This should leave you with a nice pile of nuts and washers like this:

HackRF - Disassembled Nuts/Washers
HackRF – Disassembled Nuts/Washers

Now we can open the case using a simple pry tool. Something like a plastic pick works great:

Opening HackRF with plastic pick
Opening HackRF with plastic pick

Now wedge the pick in and move toward each corner and they should pop and release:

HackRF Opened
HackRF Opened

Bingo! You can now lift the board out of the HackRF One’s shell (it’s not screwed in). The black connectors on the board are where the pins from the PortaPack H2 will plug into.

Adding New Components

Now that we’ve got to the loose HackRF board you can literally see how to assemble this kit. The pins from the PortaPack board are going to plug right into the HackRF.

You need to be careful when lining up the pins. It’s easy to end up one row too far over and have a whole row of pins not actually plugged into a socket.

Once you’ve got them lined up you can gently press the boards together. Don’t push too far on one side without the other sides going in or things can get awkward. It’s best to push them in a little bit at a time and then go push on the opposite end of the board to make sure the 3 sections of pins plugging into the board go in relatively evenly.

Here is the result:

Combining the Boards
Combining the Boards

Finally I tucked the battery between the boards like this:

PortaPack H2 Battery Installed
PortaPack H2 Battery Installed

The boards seem to easily hold the battery in place. Now add the knob and buttons to the board.

We have now completed the physical build!

Flashing Havoc Firmware

Go to the official GitHub releases page for the Havoc firmware here.

Grab the latest available release (1.5.4 at time of writing). There are two files (mayhem_v1.5.4_FIRMWARE.zip and mayhem_v1.5.4_COPY_TO_SDCARD.zip).

Get both files although for this step we will be using the firmware file. Unzip the archive.

The next step will depend on your platform. There are scripts in there to help on platforms other than Linux. Since you are of course using Linux we will proceed with that assumption (but if you aren’t check the GitHub page which will have the documentation for your platform).

You should already have the HackRF utilities installed on your computer. We are going to use the hackrf_spiflash utility to upload the Havoc firmware to the device like this:

hackrf_spiflash -w portapack-h1_h2-mayhem.bin

A successful flash would look like this:

james@jamesgigabyte-linux:~/Downloads/mayhem_v1.5.4_FIRMWARE$ hackrf_spiflash -w portapack-h1_h2-mayhem.bin 
File size 954744 bytes.
Checking target device compatibility
Erasing SPI flash.
Writing 954744 bytes at 0x000000.

Preparing SD Card

The PortaPack H2 has enhanced features that can be enabled with the use of a SD card including a world map. First insert a micro SD card into your computer and format it to be blank with the format of FAT32.

Now extract the file we got in the previous section mayhem_v1.5.4_COPY_TO_SDCARD.zip

You are going to copy the contents of this archive directly into the root of the SD card. Once it is complete you can insert the SD card into the device.

Screen Troubleshooting Note

When I first got everything set up I had no display. It’s because you need to change the display driver your device is using.

This is very easy. The way you change it is by holding down one of the buttons (from the 5 button set) and power on the device. This may take up to 10 seconds to take effect.

For my display I had to hold the left button down and then power on the device. This immediately powered on my display.

If you aren’t getting any display this is almost certainly why and it’s not very likely your display is bad/damaged.

Conclusion

The upgrade is complete! Here is a look:

Upgrade Complete - PortaPack H2
Upgrade Complete – PortaPack H2

Here you can see the main menus. It’s very simple to navigate. You can easily do replay attacks from the menu here, perform captures, transmit signals and much more.

Here’s an active capture going:

PortaPack H2 Capture
PortaPack H2 Capture

It is very cool to see the handheld waterfall. I do need some better handheld antennas so I’ll definitely be getting some of those and covering them here on the site. I also have a metal body kit on the way (you can see it in the AliExpress link) but that will take a few weeks to get here.

Definitely stay tuned for more coverage of the PortaPack H2 features as I have just completed the build and will be diving into those in the near future!

Other Resources

My prerequisite guide HackRF Software Defined Radio Guide for Linux

To see using the HackRF for locking/unlocking a vehicle check out my Use HackRF SDR to Lock / Unlock Car article

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