This is an old revision of the document!
Until recently the only quick and easy option for using RTLSDR was with WINSDR and HDSDR with the EXTIO plugin from spench.net. This has all changed now and all you need is the very nice, fast and open source SDR#. It natively supports RTLSDR hardware (along with FUNCUBE and the audio card) and is much kinder on the CPU than the others. It also has code to deal with the so called DC spike so that you don't see it.
You may converse directly with the author “prog” on IRC at Freenode on channel #sdrsharp.
To get SDR# working in Windows you need 3, no 4(!) things:
When you plug your RTL device in for the first time, Windows may request a driver or automatically install a driver from Microsoft - this is OK as it will be replaced in the next few steps. Don't install the software on the CD that comes with the device.
Note that if you insert the dongle into a different USB port you may have to use Zadig again. It seems that you can change which driver is loaded depending on the USB port used. So you could use one USB port for RTLSDR and another port for using the dongle to watch DVB-T with the supplied Windows application.
As of development version 515 the RTLSDR libraries are no longer included because of open source license conflicts. This isn't a big issue to fuss about and it's easy to resolve. You will just have to separately download the RTLSDR plugin components and manually add them to the SDR# directory. SDR# is a general SDR program and supports hardware other than just the RTLSDR dongles.
rtlsdr.dllto the directory SDR# is unzipped to.
sdr-nightly-rtlsdr.zip/config/directory copy the file
SDRSharp.exe.configfile and overwrite the original one.
SDRSharp.exeand you should see the following window.
You should now see an orange waterfall display in the bottom half and a dancing blue spectrum in the top half. By clicking and dragging on the blue spectrum you can conveniently change the frequency. In the example below I have dragged the spectrum and centred on an FM station. All going well you should hear the audio coming out of the PC speaker.
The Osmocom RTLSDR utilities include the program
rtl_tcp. This allows you to run the dongle on one PC (be it Windows or Linux) or an embedded ARM/MIPS board and pump the ADC data over a TCP connection to another computer running a compatible client such as SDR#. A guide to starting
rtl_tcp is here. In SDR# use the frontend called
RTLSDR / TCP and configure the host IP address that the
rtl_tcp server is running on. The localhost address 127.0.0.1 works too if the dongle is on the same machine as SDR# and for some reason you don't want to use
RTLSDR / USB.
For more information have a look at the short guide on the SDR# site for more information. Also join in the lively discussion on IRC at Freenode on the channels '#sdrsharp' and '##rtlsdr' (two #'s).