Posts with «kit review» label

Project Review – Silicon Chip Capacitance Substitution Box

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in some cases various (well … one of two) electronics retailers will pick up the project and offer it as a kit. However for an increasing number of new projects they don’t, which leaves the interested reader with one option – build the entire project from scratch.

But thankfully this is no longer the case – as the team from Silicon Chip now offer a range of project PCBs and matching front panels for sale directly from their website. Although buying these parts is not the cheapest option, it gives the busy person who likes making things a quick start – or the inexperienced more opportunities to complete a successful project.

So as a test of this new service, I bought the PCB and front panel for the Capacitance Substitution Box project described by Nicholas Vinen in the Juily 2012 issue of SC:

This is something I’ve meant to make for a while – but didn’t really have the inclination to make one from scratch, so it was neat to see a version published in the magazine. I believe the subjects in the magazine article are oftern prototypes, which explains the difference in colour for the front panel.

The parts arrived in a week after placing the order, and are of a high quality:

When complete, the capacitance substitution box PCB and panel will fit nicely into an Altronics H0151 enclosure, so you don’t need to do any drilling or filing. The next task was to organise the required parts. The rotary switches, terminal posts and the usual odds and ends can be found at Altronics, Jaycar or other suppliers. However the main components – the capacitors – offered two options.

The first option is to simply use capacitors from personal stock or the stores. However the tolerance of these parts can vary wildly, with up to twenty percent either way. This is ok for simple uses, however when values are combined – the tolerance of larger values can negate the lower values completely. So instead I’ve chosen the second option – which involves using brand-name low-tolerance capacitors.

Thus I turned to element14 who stock not only a huge range of not only regular but also the low-tolerance capacitors, and can also have them on my desk usually by the next working day. Finally, it’s nice to have all the parts arrive in little bags… neatly organised ready to go:

It’s easy to search for low-tolerance parts with element14, as the automatic filtering has tolerance as a parameter:

Furthermore you can also ensure you have the voltage rating of at least 50V DC as well. So after half an hour the capacitor order was completed and arrived when expected – using parts from Panasonic, Vishay, and Wima. The tolerances of our capacitors used varied between one and ten percent, which will help improve the accuracy of the substitution box.

Assembly

The PCB has the capacitor values labelled neatly on the silk-screen, so soldering in all the capacitors was a relatively simple but long operation. Having them arrive in separate packets made life a lot easier. During the soldering process it’s a good idea to have a  break or two, which helps you avoid fatigue and making any mistakes.

There may be a few capacitors that are a little too wide to fit with the others, so they can be mounted on the other side of the PCB:

However they all end up fitting well:

The next step was to configure the first rotary switch for six position use, then cut the plastic stopped from the side of each rotary switch. In the following image you have a before and after example:

Now the rotary switches can have their shafts trimmed and then be soldered onto the PCB:

However ensure you have the first rotary switch in the right way – that is the selections are selected across the top half, not the bottom. Remove the nuts from the rotary switches, and double-check all the capacitors are fitted, as once the next step is completed … going back will be difficult to say the least.

At this point the banana sockets can be fitted to the panel, and then soldered into place, and then you’re finished. Just place the panel/PCB combination inside the box and screw it down:

Using the Capacitance Substitution Box

Does it work? Yes – however you don’t get exact values, there will always be a tolerance due to the original tolerance of the capacitors used and the stray capacitance of the wires between the box and the circuit (or capacitance meter). Nevertheless our example was quite successful. You can see the box in action with our Altronics LC meter kit in this video.

Again, using the best tolerance capacitors you can afford will increase the accuracy of this project.

Conclusion

Over time this would be a useful piece of equipment to have – so if your experiments or projects require varying capacitor value, this project will serve the purpose nicely. Plus it helps with mental arithmetic and measures of capacitance! Please do not ask me for copies of the entire Silicon Chip article, refusal may offend. Instead – visit their website for a reprint or digital access.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Project Review – Silicon Chip Capacitance Substitution Box appeared first on tronixstuff.

Add long-distance connectivity to your Arduino with the CATkit System

Introduction

Have you ever wanted to connect your Arduino to sensors or other devices but over a long distance? And we don’t mean a few metres – instead, distances of up to 100 metres? Doing so is possible with the CATkit system from SMART greenhouse.

This system is a combination of small boards that are connected between your Arduino and external devices using CAT5 networking cable, giving a very simple method of connecting devices over distances you previously thought may not have been possible – or have used costly wireless modules in the past.

The maximum distances possible depend on the signal type, for example:

  • analogue signals up to 100 metres (with a 0.125 V drop)
  • 1-wire signals (ideal for DS18B20 temperature sensors) up to 75 metres
  • SPI bus up to 50 metres
  • I2C bus up to 35 metres
  • Serial data at 9600 bps varies between 50 and 100 metres

In principle you could also use this with other development boards that utilise the Arduino Uno shield form-factor and work with 5V – so not for the Arduino Due, etc. For more information check out the .pdf documentation at the bottom of this page.

How it works

For each system you need one CATkit Arduino shield:

… and one or more Kitten boards. These are both inline – in that they can “tap in” to a run:

or have one RJ45 socket for installation at the end of a cable run:

Note that the inline Kitten has male pins for the breakout, and the end unit has females. These units are available in kit form or assembled. You then use the network cables between the shield and each Kitten, for example:

Each Kitten can distribute six signals, and up to three can be connected to one CATkit shield. These three distribute analogue pins 0~5, digital pins 0~5 and 6~11 respectively. You can also introduce external power to the CATkit shield and the onboard regulator will offer 5V at up to 950 mA for the power bus which can be accessed from the inline or end Kitten boards. This saves having to provide separate 5V power to devices away from the Arduino, and very convenient for sensors or remote I2C-interface displays.  

Using the CATkit system

If you have the units in kit form, assembly is very simple. For example – the main CATkit shield:

The shield is in the latest Arduino R3 format, and all the required parts are included. The PCB is neatly solder-masked and silk-screened so soldering is easy. The power regulator is in D-PAK form, however with a little help it’s easy to solder it in:

Otherwise the shield assembly is straight forward, and in around ten minutes you have the finished product (somehow we lost the DC socket, however one is included):

The cut-out in the PCB gives a neat clearance for the USB socket.  The inline unit was also easily assembled, and again the kit includes all the necessary parts:

… and after a few minutes of soldering the board is ready:

A benefit of using the kit version is that you can directly solder any wires from sensors straight to the PCB for more permanent installations. 

Using the CATkit system

Any Arduino user with a basic understanding of I/O will be ready for the CATkit system. You can think of it as a seamless extension to the required I/O pins, taking into account the maximum distances possible as noted on the CATkit website or earlier in this review.

For a quick test we connected an I2C-interface LCD using an inline Kitten module via 5M of network cable, as shown in this video.

Conclusion

With a little planning and the CATkit system you can create neat plug-and-play sensor or actuator networks with reusable lengths of common networking cable. To do so is simple – and it works, so for more information and distributors please visit the product website.

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – CATkit system parts are a promotional consideration from SMART green house]

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Tronixstuff 12 Apr 23:33

Kit Review – Altronics/Silicon Chip ISD2590 Digital Message Recorder

Introduction

Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in February 1994 they published the “90 Second Digital Message Recorder” project. That was a long time ago, however you can still find the kit today at Altronics (and at the time of writing, on sale for AU$26), and thus the subject of our review.

The kit offers a simple method of recording and playing back 90 seconds of audio, captured with an electret microphone. When mounted in a suitable enclosure it will make a neat way of leaving messages or instructions for others at home.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical Altronics fashion:

… and includes everything required including IC sockets for the ISD2590 and the audio amplifier:

The PCB missed out on silk-screening – which is a pity:

however it is from an original design from twenty years ago. The solder mask is neat and helps prevent against lazy soldering mistakes:

Finally the detailed instructions including component layout and the handy Altronics reference guide are also included. After checking and ordering the resistors, they were installed first along with the links:

 If you have your own kit, there is a small error in the instructions. The resistor between the 2k2 and the 10uF electrolytic at the top of the board is 10k0 not 2k2. Moving on, these followed by the capacitors and other low-profile components:

The rest of the components went in without any fuss, and frankly it’s a very easy kit to assemble:

 The required power supply is 6V, and a power switch and 4 x AA cell holder is included however were omitted for the review.

How it works

Instead of some fancy microcontrollers, the kit uses an ISD2590P single chip voice recording and playback IC:

It’s a neat part that takes care of most of the required functions including microphone preamp, automatic gain control, and an EEPROM to store the analogue voltage levels that make up the voice sample. The ISD2590 samples audio at 5.3 kHz which isn’t CD quality, but enough for its intended purpose.

Apart from some passive components for power filtering, controls and a speaker amplifier there isn’t much else to say. Download the ISD2590 data sheet (pdf), which is incredibly detailed including some example circuits.

Operation

Once you apply power it’s a simple matter of setting the toggle switch on the PCB down for record, or up for playback. You can record in more than one session, and each session is recorded in order until the memory is full. Then the sounds can be played back without any fuss.

The kit is supplied with the generic 0.25W speaker which is perhaps a little weak for the amplifier circuit in the kit, however by turning down the volume a little the sound is adequate. In this video you can see (and hear) a quick recording and playback session.

Conclusion

This kit could be the base for convenient message system – and much more interesting than just scribbling notes for each other. Or you could built it into a toy and have it play various tunes or speech to amuse children. And for the price it’s great value to experiment with an ISD2590 – just use an IC socket. Or just have some fun  – we did.  Full-sized images are available on flickr

And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Kit Review – Altronics/Silicon Chip ISD2590 Digital Message Recorder appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 23 Jan 03:34

Old Kit Review – Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator

Introduction

Slowly we’re working through the stock of old kits, and in this article we have the “Fluorescent Lamp” simulator from Talking Electronics. To save repeating myself you can read more about Talking Electronics here and watch interviews of the founder Colin Mitchell here.

So why would you want to simulate a fluoro’ tube anyway? Model railways! When your model world moves from day to night, it’s neat to have street lights and so on “flicker” on just like the real thing. And thus you can create this effect as well. It can drive incandescent lamps up to 12V, and allowing it to be powered easily from most layouts.

The kit was originally described in the Talking Electronics book “Electronics for Model Railways” (volume 1) which was full of useful and interesting electronics to liven up any layout. The book may now out of print however at the time of writing this you can download or view most of the projects from the index column of the Talking Electronics website… or contact Talking Electronics if they have any copies of the book (or kit) to sell.

Assembly

Time was not kind to the kit, to be frank it was surprising to find one at all:

(Just a note for any over-enthusiastic readers, Talking Electronics is no longer at the address on the bag shown above). However it was complete and ready for assembly. The PCB has a silk-screen with the required component placement information, polarities and so on – a first for the time:

The instructions and “how it works” are not included with the kit as you were meant to have the book, however TE have made them available as a separate download (.pdf) The kit included everything required to get started, and there’s an LED which replicates the effect so you can test the board without having to watch the connected bulb (which may be a distance away). Finally an IC socket is included

The actual assembly process was very straight forward, which simply required starting with the low-profile components and working up to the large ones:

The only problem with the PCB was the holes – looks like only one drill size had been used (apart from the mounting holes) which made getting that rectifier diode in a little tricky. Otherwise it was smooth sailing.

Not having a model railway at the moment left me with the simple example of the onboard LED and a small incandescent globe to try with the circuit. You can see the kit working in this video.

John – Why do you publish these “Old Kit Reviews”?

They’re more of  a selfish article, like many electronics enthusiasts I have enjoyed kits for decades – and finding kits from days gone by is a treat. From various feedback some of you are enjoying them, so they will continue for fun and some nostalgia. If you’re not interested, just ignore the posts starting with “Old”!

Conclusion

For a kit from the mid-1980s, this would have solved the problem neatly for model railway enthusiasts. By using two or more of the kits with different capacitor values, many model lights could blink on with seemingly random patterns. However it’s 2014 so you could use a PIC10F200 or ATtiny45 and reduce the board space and increase the blinking potential.

Nevertheless, it was an interesting example of what’s possible with a digital logic IC. Full-sized images and a lot more information about the kit are available on flickr. And if you enjoyed this article, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – check out my book (now in a third printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Old Kit Review – Talking Electronics Fluorescent Simulator appeared first on tronixstuff.

Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Transistor Beta Tester

Introduction

After exploring a quiet , dusty electronics store in the depths of suburbia the other week, I came across this kit from Altronics (K2534) which is the subject of this review. The Transistor Beta tester is the second revision of a tester designed by John Clarke for the March 1991 issue of Silicon Chip magazine, and promises to offer a simple way of measuring the gain of almost any NPN or PNP bipolar transistor. But first some public answers to recent feedback…

John – Why do you publish these “Old Kit Reviews”?

They’re more of  a selfish article, like many electronics enthusiasts I’ve enjoyed kits for decades – and finding kits from days gone by is a treat. From various feedback some of you are enjoying them, so I’ll continue with them for fun and some nostalgia. If you’re not interested, just ignore the posts starting with “Old”!

Where’s the schematic?

After publishing a few kit reviews, people have been asking me for the schematics. For kits that are based on magazine articles from Silicon Chip and the like, the details are Copyright and I can’t legitimately give you a copy. You need to contact the magazine or kit supplier. The surviving electronics magazines often run “on the smell of an oily rag” so in order to support them I promote the idea of paying for copies which are obtainable from the magazine. Plus Australia is a small country, where people in this industry know each other through first or second connections – so I don’t want to annoy the wrong people. However Google is an awesome tool,  and if you want to make your own beta tester there are many example circuits to be found – so have fun.

Back to the review – what is “beta”?

Apart from a letter of the Greek alphabet and a totally-underrated form of VCR format, beta is a term used to define the amount of gain of a transistor. From the guide:

Assembly

Here’s our kit from 1991, rescued from the darkness of the store:

Which contained the nice box, plus all the required components except for an IC socket, and a few screws and mounting nuts that should have been included. The instructions looked to be a photocopy of a photocopy, harking back to the 1980s…

Looks like an off-brand 555 has been used (or substituted), however a bit of research indicated that it is most likely from LG Semiconductor:

The PCB was made to the usual standard at the time, just drilled:

The front panel was well done, and kindly pre-drilled by a previous customer. The kit came with a 3mm LED however this mystery person had drilled the hole out for a 5mm:

… but hadn’t cut the oblong for the slide switch wide enough. But the biggest problem was that the PCB was just a smidge too wide for the included enclosure:

Nevertheless it was time to get started, and the resistors were measured, lined up and fitted:

Then the rest of the components fitted as normal, however they need to stay below the horizontal level of the slide switch bezel:

… which was somewhat successful. Then to fit the potentiometer, battery snap …

and the test leads:

 And we’re finished:

How it works

Operation is quite simple, just wire up the test leads to the transistor’s base, collector and emitter – set the PNP/NPN switch and press test. Then you turn the knob until the LED just turns on – at which point the scale indicates the gain.

“Modern-day” replacements

Digital technology has taken over with this regard, and a device such as the one below can not only give the gain, but also the component details, identify legs, and much more:

I’ll be sticking with this one for the time being. Jaycar have discontinued the analyser shown above, but Altronics have the “Peak” unit which looks even more useful.

Conclusion

Well… that was fun. A lot of promise, however with a few details not taken care of the kit was just a bit off. Considering this was around twenty years old and possibly shop-soiled I can’t complain. For the record the good people at Altronics have a great line of kits. Full-sized images and a lot more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Transistor Beta Tester appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 15 Dec 04:15

Kit Review – Jaycar “Short Circuits” 3 Digit Counter

Introduction

Time for another kit review and in this instalment we have a look at the “3 digit counter” kit from Jaycar. This is part of a much larger series of kits that are described in a three volume set of educational books from Jaycar titled “Short Circuits”.

Aimed at the younger readers or anyone who has an interest in learning electronics, these books (volumes one, two and three) are well written and with some study and practice the reader will make a large variety of projects and learn quite a bit. They could be considered as a worthy 21st-century replacement to the old Dick Smith “Funway…” guides.

The purpose of this kit is to give you a device which can count upwards between zero and 999 – which can be used for various purposes and also of course to learn about digital electronics.

Assembly

The kit arrives in typical retail fashion:

Everything you need to make the counter is included except for the instructions – which are found in the “Short Circuits” volume two book – and IC sockets. Kits for beginners with should come with IC sockets.

The components are separated neatly in the bag above, and it was interesting to see the use of zero ohm resistors for the two links on the board:

The PCB is excellent. The silk screening and solder-mask is very well done.

Furthermore I was really, really impressed with the level of detail with the drilling. The designer has allowed for components with different pin spacing – for example the 100 nF capacitor and transistors as shown below:

The instructions in the book are very clear and are written in an approachable fashion:

There’s also a detailed explanation on how the circuit works, some interesting BCD to decimal notes, examples of use (slot cars!) and a neat diagram showing how to mount the kit in a box using various parts from Jaycar – so you’re not left on your own.

Construction went well, starting with the low-profile parts:

… then the semiconductors:

… then the higher-profile parts and we’re finished:

There wasn’t any difficulty at all, and the counter worked first time. Although I’m not a new user, the quality of PCB and instructions would have been a contributing factor to the success of the kit.

How it works

The input signal for the counter (in this case a button controlling current from the supply rail) is “squared-up” by an MC14093 schmitt-trigger IC, which then feeds a MC14553 BCD counter IC, which counts and then feeds the results to a 4511 BCD to 7-segment converter to drive the LED digits which are multiplexed by the MC14553. For the schematic and details please refer to the book. Operation is simple, and demonstrated in the following video:

However you can feed the counter an external signal, by simply applying it to the input section of the circuit. After a quick modification:

… it was ready to be connected to a function generator. In the following video we send pulses with a varying frequency up to 2 kHz:

Conclusion

This is a neat kit, works well and with the accompanying book makes a good explanation of a popular digital electronics subject. There aren’t many good “electronics for beginners” books on the market any more, howevert the “Short Circuits” range from Jaycar really fit the bill.

So if you’re looking to learn more about electronics or start someone else off, head in to Jaycar and have a look. Readers from outside Australia are also covered. Full-sized images are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – kit and book purchased without notifying the supplier]

The post Kit Review – Jaycar “Short Circuits” 3 Digit Counter appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 04 Dec 22:00

Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Mini Stereo Amplifier

Introduction

In this review of an older kit we examine the aptly-named “Mini Stereo Amplifier” from Dick Smith Electronics (catalogue number K5008), based on the article published in the October 1992 issue of Silicon Chip magazine.

The purpose of the kit is to offer a stereo 1W+1W RMS amplifier for use with portable audio devices that only used headphones, such as the typical portable tape players or newly available portable CD players. I feel old just writing that. At the time it would have been quite a useful kit, paired with some inexpensive speakers the end user would have a neat and portable sound solution. So let’s get started.

Assembly

Larger kits like this one that couldn’t be retailed on hanger cards shipped in corrugated cardboard boxes that were glued shut. They looked good but as soon as a sneaky customer tore one open “to have a look” it was ruined and hard to sell:

The amplifier kit was from the time when DSE still cared about kits, so you received the sixteen page “Guide to Kit Construction” plus the kit instructions, nasty red disclaimer sheet, feedback card, plus all the required components and the obligatory coil of solder that was usually rubbish:

However the completeness of the kit is outstanding, everything is included for completion including an enclosure and handy front panel sticker:

… all the sockets, plenty of jumper wire and even the rubber feet:

The PCB is from the old-school of design – without any silk-screening or solder mask:

However the instructions are quite clear so you can figure out the component placement easily. Which brings us to that point – all the components went in with ease:

… then it was a matter of wiring in the sockets, volume potentiometer and power switch:

Instead of using a 3.5mm phono socket for power input, I used a 9V battery snap instead. The amplifier can run on voltages down to 1.8V so it will do for the limited use I have in mind for the amplifier. However in the excitement of assembly I forgot the power switch:

However it wasn’t any effort to rectify that. You will also notice three links on the PCB, which I fitted instead of making coils (more on this later). So at that point the soldering work is finished:

Now to drill out the holes on the faceplate. Instead of tapering out the slots on the side of the housing, I just drilled all the holes on the front panel:

Turns out the adhesive on the front panel sticker had lost its mojo, so I might head off and get some white-on-black tape for the label maker. However in the meanwhile we have one finished mini stereo amplifier, which reminds me of an old grade seven electronics project:

How it works

The amplifier is based on the STMicro TDA2822M (data sheet .pdf) dual low-voltage amplifier IC. In fact the circuit is a slight modification of the stereo example in the data sheet. As mentioned earlier, the benefit of this IC is that it can operate on voltates down to 1.8V, however to reach the maximum power output of 1W per channel into 8Ω loads you need a 9V supply. The output will drop to around 300 mW at 6V.

Finally the Silicon Chip design calls for a triplet of coils, one each on the stereo input wires – used to prevent the RF signal being “shunted away” from the amplifier inputs. The idea behind that was some portable radios used the headphones as an antenna, however we’ll use it with the audio out from a mobile phone so it was easier to skip hand-winding the coils and just put links in the PCB.

Using the Amplifier

The purpose of this kit was to have some sound while working in the garage, so I’ve fitted a pair of cheap 1W 8Ω speakers each to a length of wire and a 3.5mm plug as shown in the image above. And for that purpose, it works very well. In hindsight it turns out the speakers were rated at 1W peak not RMS, however they still sound great.

Conclusion

Another kit review over. This is a genuinely useful kit and a real shame you can’t buy one today. And again – to those who have been asking me privately, no I don’t have a secret line to some underground warehouse of old kits – just keep an eye out on ebay as they pop up now and again. Full-sized images and much more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Mini Stereo Amplifier appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 21 Nov 23:33

Kit Review – Altronics 3 Digit Counter Module

Introduction

In this review we examine the three digit counter module kit from Altronics. The purpose of this kit is to allow you to … count things. You feed it a pulse, which it counts on the rising edge of the signal. You can have it count up or down, and each kit includes three digits.

You can add more digits, in groups of three with a maximum of thirty digits. Plus it’s based on simple digital electronics (no microcontrollers here) so there’s some learning afoot as well. Designed by Graham Cattley the kit was first described in the now-defunct (thanks Graham) January 1998 issue of Electronics Australia magazine.

Assembly

The kit arrives in the typical retail fashion:

And includes the magazine article reprint along with Altronics’ “electronics reference sheet” which covers many useful topics such as resistor colour codes, various formulae, PCB track widths, pinouts and more. There is also a small addendum which uses two extra (and included) diodes for input protection on the clock signal:

The counter is ideally designed to be mounted inside an enclosure of your own choosing, so everything required to build a working counter is included however that’s it:

No IC sockets, however I decided to live dangerously and not use them – the ICs are common and easily found. The PCBs have a good solder mask and silk screen:

With four PCBs (one each for a digit control and one for the displays) the best way to start was to get the common parts out of the way and fitted, such as the current-limiting resistors, links, ICs, capacitors and the display module. The supplied current-limiting resistors are for use with a 9V DC supply, however details for other values are provided in the instructions:

At this point you put one of the control boards aside, and then start fitting the other two to the display board. This involves holding the two at ninety degrees then soldering the PCB pads to the SIL pins on the back of the display board. Starting with the control board for the hundreds digit first:

… at this stage you can power the board for a quick test:

… then fit the other control board for the tens digit and repeat:

Now it’s time to work with the third control board. This one looks after the one’s column and also a few features of the board. Several functions such as display blanking, latch (freeze the display while still counting) and gate (start or stop counting) can be controlled and require resistors fitted to this board which are detailed in the instructions.

Finally, several lengths of wire (included) are soldered to this board so that they can run through the other two to carry signals such as 5V, GND, latch, reset, gate and so on:

These wires can then be pulled through and soldered to the matching pads once the last board has been soldered to the display board:

 You also need to run separate wires between the carry-out and clock-in pins between the digit control boards (the curved ones between the PCBs):

For real-life use you also need some robust connections for the power, clock, reset lines, etc., however for demonstration use I just used alligator clips. Once completed a quick power-up showed the LEDs all working:

How it works

Each digit is driven by a common IC pairing – the  4029 (data sheet) is a presettable up/down counter with a BCD (binary-coded decimal) output which feeds a 4511 (data sheet) that converts the BCD signal into outputs for a 7-segment LED display. You can count at any readable speed, and I threw a 2 kHz square-wave at the counter and it didn’t miss a beat. By default the units count upwards, however by setting one pin on the board LOW you can count downwards.

Operation

Using the counters is a simple matter of connecting power, the signal to count and deciding upon display blanking and the direction of counting. Here’s a quick video of counting up, and here it is counting back down.

Conclusion

This is a neat kit that can be used to count pulses from almost anything. Although some care needs to be taken when soldering, this isn’t anything that cannot be overcome without a little patience and diligence. So if you need to count something, get one ore more of these kits from Altronics. Full-sized images are available on flickr. And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press – also shortly available from Altronics.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Kit Review – Altronics 3 Digit Counter Module appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 18 Nov 06:55

Old Kit Review – Diesel Sound Simulator for Model Railroads

Introduction

In this review of an older kit (circa 1993~1997) we examine the Diesel Sound Simulator for Model Railroads kit from (the now defunct) Dick Smith Electronics, based on the article published in the December 1992 issue of Silicon Chip magazine.

The purpose of this kit is to give you a small circuit which can fit in a HO scale (or larger) locomotive, or hidden underneath the layout – that can emulate the rumbling of a diesel-electric locomotive to increase the realism of a train. However the kit is designed for use with a PWM train controller (also devised by Silicon Chip!) so not for the simple direct-DC drive layouts.

Assembly

The diesel sound kit was from the time when DSE still cared about kits, so you received the sixteen page “Guide to Kit Construction” plus the kit instructions, nasty red disclaimer sheet, feedback card, plus all the required components and the obligatory coil of solder that was usually rubbish:

Everything required to get going is included, except IC sockets. My theory is it’s cheaper to use your own sockets than source older CMOS/TTL later on if you want to reuse the ICs, so sockets are now mandatory here:

The PCB is from the old school of “figure-it-out-yourself”, no fancy silk-screening here:

Notice the five horizontal pads between the two ICs – these were for wire bridges in case you needed to break the PCB in two to fit inside your locomotive.

Actual assembly was straight-forward, all the components went in without any issues. Having two links under IC2 was a little annoying, however a short while later the PCB was finished and the speaker attached:

How it works

As mentioned earlier this diesel sound kit was designed for use with the Silicon Chip train PWM controller, so the design is a little different than expected. It can handle a voltage of around 20 V, and the sound is determined by the speed of the locomotive.

The speed is determined by the back EMF measured from the motor – and (from the manual) this is the voltage produced by the motor which opposes the current flow through it and this voltage is directly proportional to speed.

Not having a 20V DC PWM supply laying about I knocked up an Arduino to PWM a 20V DC supply via an N-MOSFET module and experimented with the duty cycle to see what sort of noises could be possible. The output was affected somewhat by the supply voltage, however seemed a little higher in pitch than expected.

You can listen to the results in the following video:

I reckon the sound from around the twenty second mark isn’t a bad idle noise, however in general not that great. The results will ultimately be a function of a lower duty-cycle than I could create at the time and the values of R1 and R2 used in the kit.

 Conclusion

Another kit review over. With some time spent experimenting you could generate the required diesel sounds, a Paxman-Valenta it isn’t… but it was a fun kit and I’m sure it was well-received at the time. To those who have been asking me privately, no I don’t have a secret line to some underground warehouse of old kits – just keep an eye out on ebay and they pop up now and again. Full-sized images and much more information about the kit are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

The post Old Kit Review – Diesel Sound Simulator for Model Railroads appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 10 Nov 08:12

Kit Review – Altronics Pocket Oscillator

Introduction

In this review we examine the Pocket Oscillator Kit from Altronics, based on an design from (the now defunct) February and March 1989 editions of Electronics Australia magazine. The purpose of this oscillator is to give you a high quality, portable square or sine wave generator that can be used to test audio equipment, speaker response, fool about with oscilloscopes (!), and so on. The prototype basic specifications are as follows:

  • Frequency range: 41~1082 Hz and 735 Hz~18.1 kHz
  • Output: 1.27V RMS sine, 1.45V peak square
  • Load: 1.0V RMS sine into 330 Ω
  • Distortion: 0.16% THD at 1 kHz

Assembly

The kit is packaged in typical form, without any surprises:

In the usual Altronics fashion, the instructions are accompanied with a neat “electronics reference sheet” which covers many useful topics such as resistor colour codes, various formulae, PCB track widths, pinouts and more. The kit instructions are based on the original magazine article and include a small addendum which isn’t any problem.

Unlike some kits, everything is included to create a finished product (except for the IC socket):

… including a nice enclosure which has the control instructions screen-printed on the lid…

However at this point I think the definition of a “pocket” is the same used by Sir Clive Sinclair when he had those pocket televisions. At this time I won’t use the enclosure as my drill press is in storage, however look forward to fitting the kit within at a later point. The PCB has a neat solder mask and silk screen:

Assembly was pretty straight forward, the original design has tried to minimise PCB real-estate, so all the resistors are mounted vertically. The signal diodes take this a step further – each pair needs to be soldered together:

… then the pair is also mounted vertically:

However it all works in the end. The rest of the circuit went together well, and we used our own IC socket for the opamp:

From this point you need to wire up the power, switches and potentiometers:

… and consider mounting the whole lot in the enclosure (or before assembly!):

However as mentioned earlier, I just went for the open octopus method for time being:

How it works

The oscillator is based around the Texas Instruments TL064 opamp, and due to copyright I can’t give you the schematic. For complete details on the oscillator, either purchase the kit or locate the February and March 1989 edition of Electronics Australia magazine. However the waveforms from the oscillator looked good (as far as they can on a DSO):

Conclusion

The oscillator works well, however the PCB layout could have been a little lot easier on the end-user. It’s time for a redesign, possibly put all the contacts for external switches around the perimeter – and allow space for the diodes to lay normally. Nevertheless – this is a neat kit, and still quite popular after all these years. For the price you get a few hours of kit fun and a useful piece of test equipment. So if you’re into audio or experimenting, check it out. Full-sized images are available on flickr.

And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press – also shortly available from Altronics.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

[Note – kit purchased without notifying the supplier]

The post Kit Review – Altronics Pocket Oscillator appeared first on tronixstuff.

Tronixstuff 07 Nov 04:08