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Kit review – Altronics/Silicon Chip DC to DC Converter


Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a variety of projects, and in March 2004  they published the “DC-DC converter” project. Altronics picked it up and now offers a kit, the subject of our review. The main purpose of this converter kit is to allow replacement of expensive PP3 9V batteries with 2 AA cells, to enable a cheaper and longer lifespan over use. With a slight modification it can also act as a trickle-charger for 2 rechargeable AA cells (that can then supply power to the converter) via a plugpack. And there’s some educational value if you’re so inclined, as you can learn about voltage converters as well.


As usual for Altronics the kit is in a typical retail package:


…which includes the detailed instructions (based on the original Silicon Chip article), a handy reference guide and of course the parts:


The PCB has a good silk screen and solder mask:



and all the required parts are included:


It was nice to see plenty of extra black and red wire for modifications or final installations, the battery snap, 2 x AA cell holder and a DC socket for use with the optional plug pack mentioned earlier. That hand-wound inductor was interesting, and I couldn’t help but measure it on the LC meter:


It was supposed to be a 47 uH inductor, so let’s hope that doesn’t cause too much trouble. Assembly was quite straight-forward – just start with the smallest components first and build up. If you’re not going to have the trickle-charge function, heed the notes in the manual and don’t install D2 or R4. The only fiddly bit was the “short as possible” (red) link across the board:


And after a few more minutes it was finished. The external connections will vary depending on your application – however for the review I’ve got the 9V snap on the input, which makes it easy to connect the 2 AA cell holder to power the converter. Nice to see the holes around the perimeter of the board, which make mounting it more permanently quite easy.


After a bench clean-up it was time to connect 2 AA rechargeable cells and see what we can get out of the converter. The cells measured 2.77V together before connection, and without a load on the converter the resulting output was 8.825 V:


We can live with that. Furthermore the quiescent current (a situation with the power connected and not having a load on the output) was 2.5 mA. Thus it would be a good idea to have a power switch in a real-world environment. Speaking of the real world (!) how much current can you get out of the converter? Generally PP3 battery applications are low current, as the battery itself isn’t good for that much – even an expensive “Energizer Ultimate Lithium” offers only 800 mAh (for $16). So using higher-capacity rechargeable AA cells and this kit will save money.  A table is included with the instructions that shows the possible uses:


According to the table my 2.77V supply should be good for ~80 mA. With some resistors in parallel we made a dummy load of 69 mA and measured 0.37A current draw from the AA cells. Thus the key to this kit – you find a cheaper or more plentiful power supply at a lower voltage to save you the expense of providing the higher voltage.

For example, if you had a pair of Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable AA cells (total 2.4 V at 2 Ah) they would give you around 5.4 hours of life (ignoring the fall-off of voltage towards the end of their charge life – however the eneloops are pretty good in that regard). Whereas a disposable PP3 mentioned earlier would offer around 2.1 hours (at $16) or a rechargeable unit (which offers 8.4 V at 175 mAh) would only last around 25 minutes. Note that you can change two resistors in the circuit to alter the output voltage, and the values have been listed in the instructions for outputs up to 15 V.

Finally, let’s consider the output waveforms from the circuit. With the aforementioned load, here’s the output on the DSO:


… and for interest’s sake, the switching output from the TL499:




Apart from the described voltage-boosting functions this kit gives the interested builder experience with boost circuits and also the knowledge to create their own versions based on the original design, at a much lower cost than using other boost ICs . If you wanted a permanent certain voltage output, it would be better to breadboard the kit and experiment with the required resistors – then assemble the kit with the new values. And there is money and effort to be saved when subsituting with PP3 batteries. Finally, learning is a good thing!

So – a lot of fun and education for under $20. Purchase it from Altronics and their resellers, or read more about it in the September 2007 edition of Silicon Chip.

Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier.

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 altronics, boost, converter, dc dc, K6330, kit review, learning electronics, silicon chip, tronixstuff0 Comments

Tutorial – Arduino and the TI ADS1110 16-bit ADC

Learn how to use the TI ADS1110 16-bit ADC with Arduino in chapter fifty-three of my Arduino Tutorials. The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

Updated 02/07/2013


Moving on from the last chapter where we explained an 8-bit ADC, in this instalment we have the Texas Instruments ADS1110 – an incredibly tiny but useful 16-bit analogue-to-digital converter IC.  It can operate between 2.7 and 5.5 V so it’s also fine for Arduino Due and other lower-voltage development boards. This is a quick guide to get you going with the ADS1110 ready for further applications. Before continuing any further, please download the data sheet (pdf) as it will be useful and referred to during this tutorial. The ADS1110 gives you the option of a more accurate ADC than offered by the Arduino’s 10-bit ADCs – and it’s relatively easy to use. The only block for some is the package type – it’s only available in SOT23-6:

So unless you’re making a customised PCB, some sort of breakout will be required. One useful example is the Schmartboard we reviewed earlier:


The ADS1110 uses the I2C bus for communication, so if this is new to you – please review the I2C tutorials before continuing. And as there’s only six pins you can’t set the bus address – instead, you can select from six variants of the ADS1110 – each with their own address (see page two of the data sheet). As you can see the in the photo above, ours is marked “EDO” which matches to the bus address 1001000 or 0x48h. And with the example circuits we’ve used 10kΩ pull-up resistors on the I2C bus. You can use the ADS1110 as either a single-ended or differential ADC –  But first we need to examine the configuration register which is used to control various attributes, and the data register.

Configuration register

Turn to page eleven of the data sheet. The configuration register is one byte in size, and as the ADS1110 resets on a power-cycle – you need to reset the register if your needs are different to the defaults. The data sheet spells it out quite neatly… bits 0 and 1 determine the gain setting for the PGA (programmable gain amplifier). If you’re just measuring voltages or experimenting, leave these as zero for a gain of 1V/V. Next, the data rate for the ADS1110 is controlled with bits 2 and 3. If you have continuous sampling turned on, this determines the number of samples per second taken by the ADC.

After some experimenting with an Arduino Uno we found the values returned from the ADC were a bit off when using the fastest rate, so leave it as 15 SPS unless required otherwise. Bit 4 sets either continuous sampling (0) or one-off sampling (1). Ignore bits 5 and 6, however they’re always set as 0. Finally bit 7 – if you’re in one-off sampling mode, setting it to 1 requests a sample – and reading it will tell you if the returned data is new (0) or old (1). You can check that the value measured is a new value – if the first bit of the configuration byte that comes after the data is 0, it’s new. If it returns 1 the ADC conversion hasn’t finished.

Data register

As the ADS1110 is a 16-bit ADC, it returns the data over two bytes – and then follows with the value of the configuration register. So if you request three bytes the whole lot comes back. The data is in “two’s complement” form, which is a method of using signed numbers with binary. Converting those two bytes is done by some simple maths. When sampling at 15 SPS, the value returned by the ADS1110 (not the voltage)  falls between -32768 and 32767. The higher byte of the value is multiplied by 256, then added to the lower byte – which is then multiplied by 2.048 and finally divided by 32768. Don’t panic, as we do this in the example sketch below.

Single-ended ADC mode

In this mode you can read a voltage that falls between zero and 2.048 V (which also happens to be the inbuilt reference voltage for the ADS1110). The example circuit is simple (from the data sheet):

singledemoDon’t forget the 10kΩ pull-up resistors on the I2C bus. The following sketch uses the ADS1110 in the default mode, and simply returns the voltage measured:

Once uploaded, connect the signal to measure and open the serial monitor – you’ll be presented with something similar to:


If you need to alter the gain of the internal programmable gain amplifier of the ADC – you’ll need to write a new byte into the configuration register using:

before requesting the ADC data. This would be 0x8D, 0x8E or 0x8F for gain values of 2, 4 and 8 respectively – and use 0x8C to reset the ADS1110 back to default.

Differential ADC mode

In this mode you can read the difference between two voltages that each fall between zero and 5 V. The example circuit is simple (from the data sheet):


We must note here (and in the data sheet) that the ADS1110 can’t accept negative voltages on either of the inputs. You can use the previous sketch for the same results – and the resulting voltage will be the value of Vin- subtracted from Vin+. For example, if you had 2 V on Vin+ and 1 V on Vin- the resulting voltage would be 1 V (with the gain set to 1).


Once again I hope you found this of interest, and possibly useful. And if you enjoy my tutorials, or want to introduce someone else to the interesting world of Arduino – 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 ADC, ads1110, arduino, converter, I2C, lesson, TI, tutorial10 Comments

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