PCBs in the Wild!

I have been working on a couple of prototyping boards for general “hey I need a PCB for this oh I have one here” type of projects. Since I’m working more with Surface Mount Technology (SMT) these days and have more of those part in my “stock”, I designed some prototyping boards with this in mind:



I have sent a few of these to some people that I chat with on the #eevblog IRC channel, and one of them was kind enough to send me an “action shot” of a little LED-based project he used my PCB for!


And another one from c4757p:



Power Designs Inc 6050C Display Mod

Here’s a modification that I have been meaning to do for a while. It involved replacing the PCB in one of my power supplies with a modified version designed by me that upgraded the size of the 7-segment LED display.


I ordered the board from OSHPark. My experience with them has been positive; the turn around time was about 2 weeks and the gold finish is very nice. I’m fine with the colour of the solder mask, however note that the mask is a matte finish rather than the typical “pearl” or “glossy” finish that I am accustomed to seeing on PCBs. Not a big deal, but something to think about. Also, the traces are a bit difficult to see through the solder mask.

IMG_5737 IMG_5739 IMG_5741

I of course did not fully check my notes when throwing together the schematic for this project which resulted in the boards I received having the ‘a’ and ‘g’ segments reversed. A few cut traces and a jumper wires later and all was working as expected.

IMG_5745 IMG_5744  IMG_5742IMG_5743

I originally tried to think of a better way of re-attaching the new display board to the existing display measurement/logic board, but in the end the simplest solution won out and  I just re-soldered the new display board back. The header pitch is 3.81mm and was a total pain to find (yay eBay!).


The end result is a bright, clear and LARGER display. Here I have contrasted it with the model right after the 6050C, the 6050D which has a larger digital display (and also does not display the measurement mode as the 6050C does, E or I).IMG_5748If I decide to pick up any more of these supplies, I think I’d make the same display modification to them as well. I have been looking at the 6050A models (which can usually be had for cheaper): these might also be good for a “digital makeover” involving removing the analog meter and designing a new digital display PCB.


Tektronix DMM 916 Back-light Mod

In keeping with the theme of back-light mods, I have another one here for you all. Recently I was able to get my hands on a well-loved (read: had the piss kicked out of it) Tektronix DMM 916. The specs are nice:

  • 4.75 digits
  • 40,000 count
  • Basic DC accuracy of 0.06%+1 count

The only problem which I didn’t know until I got the meter in my hands was that the back light was horrible:


Wait, where is that back-light?IMG_5671

Still can’t see it? Turn off the lights!IMG_5670

I’m not sure if this is “factory standard” or just a sign of the age of the unit, but either way it needed some change. The first thing I did was to open up the meter and check out the display:


There is a small slot on one side of the display assembly where the lamp bulb pokes into the light pipe. At first I thought I might use a standard through-hole LED, but realized that I wouldn’t be able to mount it without either cutting the trace (for the limiting resistor) or cutting the display. I didn’t want to mod the board, in case I or someone else wanted to restore it back to a incandescent bulb. So I choose to use a SMD chip LED and resistor, and build it “tee-pee” style on the top of the display PCB, so that the LED and resistor would stick up vertically into the display light-pipe recess:


The LED is blue, Digikey part number 475-2816-1-ND with a 270ohm current limit resistor. The bulb sank about 20mA while the LED uses ~18mA, so a bit more efficient. I’m still not sure about the blue, but I figured it matches the theme of the case, so why not:


And as is evident, it is much brighter even with the lab lights on. Curiously, it is not much more legible in the dark in terms of the digits on the screen as I would have thought.

HP8642B Signal Generator Mod

A quick mod post here. I saw this post by Kerry Wong, and having the same hardware myself (and finding the backlight ridiculously dim) I thought this mod was a great idea and wanted to try it myself. First, here is a shot of the original backlight:


I pulled the front panel apart, and decided to use white SMD LEDs for my replacement mod:


After soldering up everything and reassembling (and of course cursing a lot due to the number of defective white LEDs that I didn’t realize that I had), the result is beautiful!



And here is the same Easter egg that Kerry found (hold down the MSSG key while powering on the unit):



Function Generator Shenanigans

So my problem turned out to be not the saving of the status of the HDG2002, but actually doing the following:

  • Go to Utility, select System Status
  • Toggle the “Startup” option to “Last” (to set the function generator to restore to the last setup before power-off I assumed!)
  • Exit back to the main channels screen
  • Power Cycle the generator using the power button on the front panel.

When the HDG2002 reboots, POOF! No more main screen after the Hantek logo briefly flashes on screen. So what happened? It turns out that the problem is actually that the BACKLIGHT is set to level 0 by doing the above procedure. I found this out by logging into the serial console and finding the /dso/app directory. In here, there are a couple of “test” binaries:


I tried them both but the test_bkl was the interesting one. When I ran it with the following options:

./test_bkl on 105

Poof the display popped back on! Of course on reboot it turned back off again. So after temporarily re-enabling the backlight, I went back into Utility -> System Status -> Startup and set it to Default, power cycled and boom, back in business no worries.

Well I guess there are still a few bugs in the firmware.  Please note that you can run into this bug REGARDLESS OF WHETHER YOU CRACK THIS FUNCTION GENERATOR OPEN OR NOT, and it has nothing to do with modifying the HDG2002. Except that if you don’t crack it open after you do this, you seemingly have no way to recover.

Hope this helps someone else!

Another Nixie!

I found the first Nixie-Tube clock that I built from a kit so awesome, however the only problem was that it got requisitioned for the living room! So of course I had to order another one for my office.

Again, Pete from PVElectronics did a great job on getting the clock kit to me, and assembly went smoothly. Towards the final stages of the build, there is a step that tests all the tubes, the micro-controller and the high voltage generator with a test pattern that counts up from 0 to 9 and then cycles over. It was at this step that I ran into a weird issue where all of the tubes would display all digits when they should have been displaying 4 or 8. I finally isolated the problem to a single tube (although why it would affect all tubes was unclear at this point):

After Pete and I scratched our heads for a few days, we finally came to the conclusion that it must be some sort of internal short in the actual tube (weird!). He promptly mailed me a new tube + circuit mounting board and I was back in business and finished the clock:

And the color cycling:

And here are a few build pictures I took along the way:

IMG_0265 IMG_0268 IMG_0278 IMG_0279 IMG_0281 IMG_0282





And some shots of the questionable tube:


IMG_0290 IMG_0291 IMG_0292 IMG_0293 IMG_0294 IMG_0296 IMG_0297

And the test/debugging setup that I put together.  Here (and I’ve said this before) I’m using two of the test points on the board. I have soldered in two single-pin sockets so I can easily attach a breadboard/other test components to the live board:

IMG_0306 IMG_0307 IMG_0308 IMG_0309 IMG_0310

And the case being assembled:

IMG_0276 IMG_0277

USB to Serial Adapter Project

Not satisfied with the “typical” USB to serial cables that one can readily buy, I decided to design my own.  The basic reason was just another excuse to practice designing a circuit and laying out a printed circuit board (PCB), but to also create a very small unit that can be easily transported. I additionally wanted to have some sort of visual feedback of data transfer over the adapter, so two LED’s (receive and transmit) will address that.

The circuit design came from the application notes on the FTDI chip that I am using, the FT230X:


I did a few tests with a bread-boarded version of this circuit. You will notice that there are 2 bread boards; the bottom one has the USB to serial circuit, the top one has an Atmega8 micro-controller with a some program that echoes back characters it receives on its serial interface (used for testing):



A close-up of the USB to serial circuit:


And the two circuits/bread-boards separated:IMG_5307

The other requirement was size: that whole circuit will need to fit within this little box:


I have actually laid out the board, and so will be finalizing it in the coming days. I will write up another post with the board layout, 3D shots and a bill of materials. In terms of price, this will not be saving me any money over buying a pre-built adapter.