Archive | cmos

Kit Review – Altronics 3 Digit Counter Module


In this review we examine the three digit counter module kit from Tronixlabs. 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.


The kit arrives in the typical retail fashion:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

And includes the magazine article reprint along with an “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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit instructions

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit parts

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit PCBs

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit PCBs rear

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

 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):

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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:

Altronics K2505 Counter Module Kit

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.


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.


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 or more of these kits from Tronixlabs Australia. Full-sized images are available on flickr. And while you’re here – are you interested in Arduino? Check out my book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press – also available from Tronixlabs.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into 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.

Posted in altronics, cmos, counter, K2505, kit, kit review, LED, tronixlabs, tronixstuff1 Comment

Part review – 4541 CMOS programmable timer

Hello readers!

Today we are going to examine the 4541 CMOS programmable timer IC. The main function of this chip is to act as a monostable timer. You are probably thinking one of two things – “what is a monostable timer?” or “why didn’t he use a 555 timer instead?”. A monostable timer is a timer that once activated sets an output high for a specified period of time, then stops waiting to be told to start again.  If you are not up to speed on the 555, have a look at my extensive review.

Although the 555 is cheap, easy to use and makes a popular timer, I have found that trying to get an exact time interval out of it somewhat difficult due to capacitor tolerance, so after some poking around found this IC and thought “Hmm – what have we here?”. So as always, let’s say hello:


As you can see this is a 14-pin package by Texas Instruments. It is also available in various surface-mount options. It is also currently available from FairchildNXP, ON Semi, and ST Micro. Note that this is a CMOS semiconductor, and that you should practice good anti-static precautions when handling it. Futhermore, when designing it into your circuit, don’t leave any pins floating – that is not connected to +5V or ground; unless specified by the data sheet. Here is the data sheet from ON Semiconductor.

This IC is interesting in that it contains a timer that can count to one of four values: 2^8, 2^10, 2^13, and 2^16. That is: 256, 1024, 8192 and 65536. With wiring you select which value to count to, and also the action to take whilst counting and once finished. This is quite easy, by connecting various pins to either GND or +5V. The following table from the data sheet details this:


And here are the pinouts:

The speed of the counting (the frequency) is determined by a simple RC circuit. For more information on RC circuits, please visit this post. You can calculate the frequency using the following formula:

There are two external resistors used in the circuit – Rtc and Rs. Rs needs to be as close as possible to twice the value of Rtc. Try and use 1% tolerance metal-film resistors for accuracy, and a small value capacitor. Also remember to take note of the restrictions printed next to the formula above.

Before examining a demonstration circuit, I would like to show you how to calculate your timing duration. As you can see from the formula above, calculating the frequency is easy enough. Once you have a value for f, (the number of counts per second) divide this into the count value less one power you have wired the chip. That is, if you have wired the chip up for 2^16, divide your frequency into 2^15.

For example, my demonstration circuit has Rtc as 10k ohm, Ctc as 10 nF, and Rs as 20k ohm; and the chip is wired for 2^16 count. Remember to convert your values back to base units. So resistance in ohms, and capacitance in farads. Remember that 1 microfarad is 1×10-6 farads. So my frequency is:


So my timing duration will be 2^15 divided by 4347.826 Hz (result from above) which is  7.536 seconds give or take a fraction of a second. To make these calculations easier, there is a spreadsheet you can download here. For example:


Here is my demonstration monstable circuit. Once the power has been turned on the counter starts, and once finished the LED is lit. Or if the circuit already has power, the reset button SW1 is pressed to start counting. You can see that pins 12 and 13 are high to enable counting to 2^16; pin 6 is low unless the button is pressed; and pin 9 is low which keeps the LED off while counting.


And my demonstration laid out (I really do make everything I write about):


 Easily done. Although this IC has been around for a long time, and many other products have superseded it, the 4541 can still be quite useful. For example, an Arduino system might need to trigger a motor, light, or something to runfor a period of time whilst doing something else. Unfortunately (thankfully?) Arduino cannot multi-task sketches, so this is where the 4541 can be useful. You only need to use a digitalWrite() to send a pulse to pin 6 of your timer circuit, and then the sketch can carry on, while the timer does its job and turns something on or off for a specified period of time.

Well I hope you found this part review interesting, and helped you think of something new to make. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

In the meanwhile have fun and keep checking into 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.

Posted in 4541, cmos, education, learning electronics, tutorial6 Comments

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