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Review – Digilent chipKIT Uno32

In this review we consider a Digilent chipKIT Uno32 development board made available by element14.

Introduction

This is a development board that is based on the Arduino Uno, however uses a Microchip PIC32MX320F128 microcontroller instead of the Atmel ATmega328 we are used to:

Digilent’s decision to use the PIC32 introduces some interesting changes to the Uno format, and the largest change to take note of is the clock speed – 80 MHz instead of the Uno’s 16 MHz. That certainly took my attention, and we can see this demonstrated shortly.

When shipped the board arrives alone in a cardboard box, without a USB cable:

All documentation is found on the Digilent website. There is also a support forum to discuss libraries, IDE updates and so on. The board itself is quite familiar upon initial inspection:

You can see that Arduino shield will physically fit onto the board, and the extra I/O pins are accessed through the second rows of jumpers inside the board. With some crafty PCB creation skills you could make your own Uno32 shields, or consider one of the boards available from element14 or Digilent.

As for the other specifications of the Uno32:

  • Clock speed – 80 MHz
  • 128K flash program memory
  • 16K SRAM data memory
  • I/O pins – 42 (12 used as analogue inputs or digital I/O)
  • Five PWM pins
  • FTDI chip for USB interface
  • Two user LEDs
  • Same form factor as Arduino Uno boards, which allows physical shield compatibility
  • Five interrupt pins
  • On board real-time clock (external crystal required)

You will need a new IDE, and you can download Uno32-modified versions of the Arduino v22 and v23 IDE from here for Windows, MacOS and 32-bit Linux (no 64-bit…). The bootloader is preinstalled on the Uno32 and after installing the special IDE it works just as our normal Arduinos do in terms of editing and uploading sketches. The board also is compatible with the Microchip MPLAB IDE and PICkit3 in-circuit debugger if you want to use the Uno32 as a normal PIC32 development board. There is a row of holes between the USB socket and the DC socket that will need header pins soldered in for PICkit3 use.

Speed comparison

Naturally you want to see the speed test. The following sketch was run on an Arduino Uno and the Uno32 boards using IDE v1.0 for the Uno and the MPIDE v23 for the Uno32:

And here are the results of running the sketch four times on each board:

speedtest1

Well that’s pretty impressive – over sixty times faster than the Arduino Uno. Therein lies the major reason to use this board over the Uno. The eagle-eyed among you may have also noticed the difference in the compiled binary sketch size – 6432 bytes for the Uno32 vs. 2540 bytes for the Arduino Uno. That’s interesting.

Nevertheless there are many things to take note of when moving from Arduino to Uno32, or in other words – you can’t just swap out an Arduino Uno for an Uno32, recompile and run your sketch at the faster speed. The Microchip PIC32 is very much a different beast to the Atmel AVRs we’re used to, so it is important that you understand the differences in hardware and software to take advantage of the Uno32. So let’s run through those  now.

Power Differences

The Uno32 is a 3.3V board due to the PIC32. You can still power it via USB, or connect between 7~15 VDC to the power socket on the board. You can change a jumper and feed 5V directly into the board bypassing the 5V regulator. External power is regulated to 5V then to 3.3V. From a total of 1A current, the PIC32 uses 75mA, so you can draw up to 925mA from the 5V bus or 425mA from the 3.3V bus (or a mixture from both). It would pay to determine your current load before testing to avoid damaging the board, however  the  manual notes that the regulators will become hot at high current loads but do have thermal protection. Finally there is also a jumper that chooses between a 5V or 3.3V voltage feed to the shields. As always, consult the manual first.

I/O Differences

Although the PIC32 being a 3.3V part, the manual states that the digital I/O pins are 5V tolerant, so applying 5V to a digital input won’t damage the PIC32. Logic on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. According to the manual a digital ‘high’ when sourcing 12mA of current will only reach close to 3.3V. This may be too low in some situations so check your threshold voltages when choosing external parts. Furthermore, the analogue reference voltage (AREF) is restricted to 3.3V.

One stand-out difference is that you can only source 18mA from a digital pin, which is OK if you’re blinking some LEDs. However for logic output to keep the voltage range below 0.4V for ‘low’ and above 2.4V for ‘high’ the current must be restricted to -12~+7mA – another different limitaion. Finally, the maximum current you can source over all the I/O pins at once is 200mA.

There are two UARTs, number one where we expect it (D0/D1) and another on pins 39 and 40. I2C is on A4/A5 but needs to be activated with a jumper. Note that unlike an Arduino there aren’t any inbuilt pull-up resistors for the I2C bus, so add your own. There is also an SPI bus at the usual position (D10~13) and interestingly you can change the board between SPI master and slave via another set of jumpers. There are five pulse-width modulation outputs, however one is on D10 which is also part of the SPI bus. Finally there are five hardware interrupt pins.

Shield Compatibility  

Arduino shields will physically fit onto the Uno32 – but you need to be aware of the I/O differences listed above, the voltage and current specification and also the software side of things. Again – do your research before making the commitment to the hardware.

Software Compatibility

The Uno32 is compatible with a variety of Arduino sketches, but not all. This in a large part is due to the libraries which will need to be sourced from the community or rewritten yourself if not provided with the MPIDE software. There is a community on the support forum which is contributing their own, such as the real-time clock library – but again, research needs to be done before use. When trying to use an existing Arduino sketch and hardware, you will need to spend some time checking for compatibility. Again – it’s much easier to design a new project around the Uno32 than rejig an existing one.

Open Source? 

One of the things many people love about the Arduino ecosystem is that the entire system is open source hardware and software. Without causing a pro/con argument about software licensing you should note that not all of the software toolchain for the Uno32 is open, nor the USB or TCP/IP stack. There is some interesting discourse about this here.

Conclusion

A lot of work needs to be done to ensure compatibility with existing Arduino applications. The Uno32 is tempting due to the raw clock-speed increase, however the sketch/library and hardware differences may introduce a few road blocks. However, when designing a project from scratch and understand the licensing limitations, the Uno32 would be great as you know what you have to work with – a much faster board with much more I/O. And it is very inexpensive, less than ~$35. You can order your new Uno32 from element14.

Finally, if you’re looking for a very inexpensive PIC32 development board to use with Microchip MPLAB, the Uno32 is a great deal that can possibly interface with a wide variety of shields from the Arduino world.

Disclaimer – The Chipkit Uno32 board reviewed in this article was a promotional consideration made available by element14.

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 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 arduino, chipkit, digilent, microchip, PIC32MX320F128, review, uno326 Comments

Arduino meets Las Vegas with the Freetronics DMD

Updated 05/11/2014

Time once more to have some fun, and this time by examining the Freetronics DMD “Dot Matrix Display” available from Tronixlabs. We will look at the setup and operation of the display. In a nutshell the DMD comprises of a board measuring approximately 320mm across by 160mm which contains 16 rows of 32 high-intensity red LEDs. For example, in the off state:

Connection of the DMD to your Arduino-compatible board is quite simple. Included with each DMD is a 2×8 IDC cable of around 220mm in length, and a PCB to allow direct connection to the Arduino digital pins D6~13:

Finally the cable connects to the left-hand socket on the rear of the DMD:

You can also daisy-chain more than one display, so a matching output socket is also provided. Finally, an external power supply is recommended in order to drive the LEDs as maximum brightness – 5V at ~4 A per DMD. This is connected to a separate terminal on the rear of the board:

Do not connect these terminals to the 5V/GND of your Arduino board!

A power cable with lugs is also included so you can daisy chain the high-intensity power feeds as well. When using this method, ensure your power supply can deliver 5V at 4A  for each DMD used – so for two DMDs, you will need 8A, etc. For testing (and our demonstration) purposes you can simply connect the DMD to your Arduino via the IDC cable, however the LEDs will not light at their full potential.

Using the display with your Arduino sketches is quite simple. There is an enthusiastic group of people working on the library which you will need, and you can download it from and follow the progress at the DMD Github page and forks. Furthermore, there is always the Freetronics forum for help, advice and conversation. Finally you will also need the TimerOne library – available from here.

However for now let’s run through the use of the DMD and get things moving. Starting with scrolling text – download the demonstration sketch from here. All the code in the sketch outside of void loop() is necessary. Replace the text within the quotes with what you would like to scroll across the display, and enter the number of characters (including spaces) in the next parameter. Finally, if you have more than one display change the 1 to your number of displays in #define DISPLAYS_ACROSS 1.

Here is a quick video of our example sketch:

Now for some more static display functions – starting with clearing the display. You can use

to turn off all the pixels, or

to turn on all the pixels.

Note: turning on more pixels at once increases the current draw. Always keep this in mind and measure with an ammeter if unsure. 

Next some text. First you need to choose the font, at the time of writing there were two to choose from. Use

for a smaller font or

for a larger font. To position a single character on the DMD, use:

which will display the character ‘x’ at location x,y (in pixels – starting from zero). For example, using

results with:

Note if you have the pixels on ‘behind’ the character, the unused pixels in the character are not ‘transparent’. For example:

However if you change the last parameter to GRAPHICS_NOR, the unused pixels will become ‘transparent’. For example:

You can also use the parameter GRAPHICS_OR to overlay a character on the display. This is done with the blinking colon in the example sketch provided with the library.

Next, to draw a string (group of characters). This is simple, just select your font type and then use (for example):

Again, the 5 is a parameter for the length of the string to display. This results in the following:

Next up we look at the graphic commands. To control an individual pixel, use

And changing the 1 to a 0 turns off the pixel. To draw a circle with the centre at x,y and a radius r, use

To draw a line from x1, y2 to x2, y2, use:

To draw a rectangle from x1, y2 to x2, y, use:

And to draw a filled rectangle use:

Now let’s put those functions to work. You can download the demonstration sketch from here, and watch the following results:

Update – the DMD is also available in other colours, such as white:

So there you have it, an inexpensive and easy to use display board with all sorts of applications. Although the demonstrations contained within this article were rather simple, you now have the knowledge to apply your imagination to the DMD and display what you like. For more information, check out the entire DMD range at Tronixlabs. 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 fourth printing!) “Arduino Workshop”.

visit tronixlabs.com

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.

Posted in arduino, dmd, freetronics, LED matrix, lesson, microcontrollers, product review, review, tronixlabs, tutorial0 Comments

Review: Mayhew Labs “Go Between” Arduino Shield

Hello readers

In this article we examine one of those products that are really simple yet can solve some really annoying problems. It is the “Go Between” Arduino shield from Mayhew Labs. What does the GBS do? You use it to solve a common problem that some prolific Arduino users can often face – how do I use two shields that require the same pins?

Using a clever matrix of solder pads, you can change the wiring between the analogue and digital pins. For example, here is the bare shield:

gbsss

Now for an example problem. You have two shields that need access to digital pins 3, 4 and 5 as also analogue pins 4 and 5. We call one shield the “top shield” which will sit above the GBS, and the second shield the “bottom” shield which will sit between the Arduino and the GBS. To solve the problem we will redirect the top shield’s D3~5 to D6~8, and A4~5 to A0~1.

To redirect a pin (for example D3 to D6), we first locate the number along the “top digital pins” horizontal of the matrix (3). Then find the destination “bottom” pin row (6). Finally, bridge that pad on the matrix with solder. Our D3 to D6 conversion is shown with the green dot in the following:

gbsss2

Now for the rest, diverting D4 and D5 to D7 and D8 respectively, as well as analogue pins 4 and 5 to 0 and 1:

gbsss3

The next task is to connect the rest of the non-redirected pins. For example, D13 to D13. We do this by again bridging the matching pads:

gbsss4

Finally the sketch needs to be rewritten to understand that the top shield now uses D6~8 and A0~1. And we’re done!

Try not to use too much solder, as you could accidentally bridge more pads than necessary. And you can always use some solder wick to remove the solder and reuse the shield again (and again…). Now the genius of the shield becomes more apparent.

The only downside to this shield is the PCB design – the days of square corners should be over now:
gbscornersss1

It is a small problem, but one nonetheless. Hopefully this is rectified in the next build run. Otherwise the “Go Between” Shield is a solution to a problem you may have one day, so perhaps keep one tucked away for “just in case”.

While we’re on the subject of Arduino shield pinouts, don’t forget to check out Jon Oxer’s shieldlist.org when researching your next Arduino shield – it is the largest and most comprehensive catalogue of submitted Arduino shields in existence.

[Note – the “Go Between” Shield was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

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 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 arduino, go between, hardware hacking, mayhew labs, product review, review0 Comments

Initial Review: Akafugu Akafuino-X Microcontroller Board

Hello Readers

Time to get back to work for 2012 and in doing so we review another interesting product from a new company based in Japan – akafugu. From their website:

Akafugu Corporation is a small electronics company that operates out of Tokyo, Japan. We specialize in fun and easy to use electronic gadgets. Our goal is to provide products that not only make prototyping faster and easier, but are also perfect for incorporation in finalized products.

And with this in mind we examine the Akafuino-X microcontroller board:

akafuino-x-1

The observant among you will notice the similarity to our usual Arduino Uno and compatible boards. However there are some differences which bring changes and improvements over the original Arduino design. The biggest point of difference is the microcontroller, the Akafuino uses an Atmel XMega32A4. The benefit of this over the normal ATmega328 is:

  • Speed! 32 MHz – twice as fast as the ATmega328;
  • Two-channel DAC (digital to analogue) converter – output analogue signals between 0V and Vcc straight from the board. A library is included with the new IDE to control them. The DAC uses digital pins seven and eight;
  • Not one, two or even four, but five UARTs;
  • Two I2C buses;
  • Sixteen PWM pins – great for LED effects…

Thankfully the designers have detailed the extra I/O pins and other useful information on the rear of the board:

akafuino-x-2

Other changes include:

  • It’s a 3.3V board – so no 5V supply for you. However the inputs are tolerant to 5V;
  • On-board real time clock. You can also add an optional 32.768 kHz crystal to increase accuracy – see the space on the board near the reset pin;
  • A very refreshing red colour (note that ‘aka(i)’ ** is red in Japanese) and a happy puffer fish (‘fugu’) on the silk-screening 🙂
  • And libraries for other Akafugu products such as the TWI Display module are available.

Getting started is easy, however due to the difference in hardware the Arduino IDE needs modification. But don’t panic – instead of modifying your existing v1.0 Arduino IDE – download and install the Akafuino-X version from here and run your usual and the Akauino-X IDE on the same machine (it’s ok to do this). You should also review the usage instructions here and note that this is a derivative of the v1.0 IDE. Furthermore at the time of writing the software side of things is still in beta, and can be monitored via Github – however don’t let this put you off, as the Akafuino-X has a lot of potential.

If you find any bugs in use the issue tracker in Github to let the team know.

In the meanwhile we’ve conducted a quick speed test – by running the same sketch on an Arduino Uno and also the Akafuino-X. The test is a whole lot of multiplication, nothing too scientific. At the end the duration of the exercise is shown in milliseconds. Here’s the code:

And here are the results of running the sketch four times on each board:

speedtest

Our Akafuino-X beta only took 2704ms versus the Arduino Uno taking 4212ms. Very good so far.

Update! The team at akafugu have been experimenting with overclocking the Akafuino-X. And also check out the errata page

So there you have it, another contender in the Arduino-compatible board stakes. Considering the extra  I/O, PWM and bus connectivity the Akafuino-X is a very capable board. I look forward to the evolution of the IDE and will return with the Akafuino-X in an upcoming project. And we also have one to give away. So stay tuned! In the meanwhile the Akafuino-X and other goodies are available directly from akafugu.jp

Disclaimer – The parts reviewed in this article are a promotional consideration made available by akafugu.

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 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.

** Yes I know it’s an i-type adjective

Posted in akafugu, akafuino, arduino, product review, review, XMega32A46 Comments

Clock Kit Round-up – December 2011

Hello Readers

If there’s one thing that I really like it’s a good clock kit. Once constructed, they can be many things, including:

  • a point of differentiation from other items in the room;
  • a reminder of the past (nixie tubes!) or possible visions of the future;
  • the base of something to really annoy other people;
  • a constant reminder to get back to work;
  • a source of satisfaction from having made something yourself!

So just for fun I have attempted to find and list as many interesting and ‘out of the ordinary’ kits as possible, and ignored the simple or relatively mundane kits out there. If you are in the clock kit business and want a mention, let me know. So in no particular order, we have:

adafruit industries “ice tube” clock

Based around a vintage Soviet-era vacuum IV-18 type fluorescent display, the ice tube clock is a rare kit that includes a nice enclosure which keeps you safe from the high voltages as well as allowing the curious to observe your soldering skills. I reviewed this kit almost a year ago and the clock is still working perfectly. Here is a video of the ice tube clock in action:

After some travelling meeting various people it seems that quite a few of us have an ice tube clock. There is something quite mesmerising about the display, perhaps helping to recall memories of our youth in the 1970s and 80s.

nootropic design Defusable Clock Kit

As recently reviewed, this kit allows you to build a simulated ‘countdown’ timer for a hypothetical explosive device that also doubles as a clock with an alarm. For example:

Whatever you do, don’t make a ‘fake bomb’ and leave it out in public! Only bad things could happen 🙂

ogilumen nixie tube kits

Not a clock kit as such, however they have made doing it yourself very easy with their power supply and IN-12A nixie board kits. We made one ourselves in a previous review, as shown below:

Alan Parekh’s Multimeter Clock Kit

This is certainly one from left field – using the analogue multimeters to display hours, minutes and seconds. See Alan describe his kit in this video:

Certainly something different and would look great on the wall of any electronics-themed area or would easily annoy those who dislike the status-quo of clock design.

akafugu VFD Modular Clock

The team at akafugu have created a modular baseboard/shield kit which holds a shield containing four IV-17 alphanumeric nixie tubes to create your own clock or display system:

vfd-7

Unlike some of the other nixie tube kits the firmware has been made public and can be modified at will. In the future different display shields will be available to extend the use of the kit.

tubeclock.com kits

This site has two kits available, one using either four or six Soviet-era IN-12 type nixie tubes:

large_red

… and another kit using the Soviet-era IN-14 nixie tubes:

You have to hand it to the former Soviet Union – they knew how to over-produce nixie tubes. One rare example where we can benefit from a command economy!

evil mad science clocks

The certainly not evil people have two clock kits, the first being the Bulbdial Clock Kit:

This uses a unique ring of LEDs around the circumference of the clock face to create shadows to mark the time. It is also available in a range of housing and face styles. Their other kit of interest is the Alpha Clock Five:

The photo of this clock doesn’t do it justice – the alphanumeric displays are 2.3″ tall, making this one huge clock. It also makes use of a Chronodot real-time clock board, which contains a temperature-controlled oscillator  which helps give it an accuracy of +-/ 2 minutes per year. Furthermore you can modify this easily using an FTDI cable and the Arduino IDE with some extra software. Would be great for model railways (or even a real railway station) or those insanely conscious about the time.

Kabtronics Clock Kits

This organisation has several clock kits which span a range of technology from the later part of the twentieth century. These guys can only be true clock enthusiasts! Starting with the 1950s, they have their Nixie-Transistor Clock:

neononwall

Look – no integrated circuits, leaving the kit true to the era. If you need to hide from someone for a weekend, building this would be a good start. Next we move onto the 1960s and the Transistor Clock:

onwall_l

The 1960s brought with it LEDs so they are now used in this kit, however the logic is still all analogue electronics. However next we can move to the 1970s, and finally save some board space with the TTL Clock:

ttlclock_1721

This would still be fun to assemble but somewhat less punishing for those who don’t enjoy solder fumes that much. However you still have a nice kit and something to be proud of. Finally, the last in the line is the 1980s-themed Surface-Mount Technology Clock:

smtclock_l

So here we have a microcontroller, SMT components, and a typical reduction in board size. Their range is an excellent way of demonstrating the advances in technology over the years.

The GPS FLW Display Clock

Wow – this clock makes use of huge Burroughs B7971 15-segment nixie tube displays and a GPS receiver to make a huge, old-style/new-tech clock. Check out the demonstration video:

This thing is amazing. And it is actually cheaper to buy a fully-assembled version (huh). The same organisation also offers another GPS-controlled clock using IN-18 nixie tubes:

nixichron10

Again, it isn’t inexpensive – however the true nixie tube enthusiasts will love it. This clock would look great next to a post-modern vintage hifi tube amplifier. Moving forward to something completely different now, we have the:

adafruit industries monochron®

Almost the polar opposite of the nixie-tube clocks, the monochron uses an ATmega328 microcontroller and a 128 x 64 LCD module to create some interesting clock effects. For example:

Many people have created a variety of displays, including space invaders and the pong game simulation. The clock also includes the laser-cut acrylic housing which provides a useful and solid base for the clock.

Spikenzie Labs Solder : Time™ watch kit

Technically this is a watch kit, however I don’t think that many people would want to walk around wearing one – but it could be used in more permanent or fixed locations. Correct me if I’m wrong people. However in its defence it is a very well designed kit that is easy to solder and produces a nice clock:

It uses a separate real-time controller IC to stay accurate, and the design However this would be a great suggestion as a gift for a younger person to help them become interesting in electronics and other related topics. The asm firmware is also available for you to modify using Microchip MPLAB software if that takes your fancy.

Velleman Kits

The Velleman company has a range of somewhat uninspiring clock kits, starting with the Scrolling/Rolling LED Clock:

… the 2¼” 7-Segment Digital Clock:

This clock includes the housing and also accepts an optional temperature sensor, and therefore can display this as well. There is also the aptly-named – Digital LED Clock:

mk151

It tells the time and would be useful in a 1980s-era idea of the future movie set. The final velleman clock kit is the Jumbo Single-Digit Clock:

In all fairness this one looks quite interesting – the LED display is 57mm tall and the time is display one digit at a time. It is powered by a PIC16F630 however the firmware is proprietary to velleman.

Nocrotec Nixie Clocks

This company has a range of kits using nixie tubes and numitrons (low voltage incadescent displays in tubes). One particularly lovely kit is their IN-8 Blue Dream kit:

in-8-bd-h-side-blue

The blue glow at the base of the nixie tubes is due to an LED mounted at the bottom of the tube. Another aesthetically-pleasing kit is their Little Blue Something nixie clock. Check out their demonstration video:

nixiekits.eu

More IN-12 nixie clocks from Germany, the first being the Manuela_HR. You can buy the kit without an enclosure, or choose from the ‘office’ style:

… or this funky number:

You can specify it with RGB LEDs which colour-cycle to provide the effect shown above. For those not too keen you can also buy the kits pre-assembled. Their other kit is the Sven:

Sven_IN-8-2_720

It is available with IN-8 or IN-14 nixie tubes. The design quality of the enclosure is outstanding, a lot of effort has been made to produce a complete kit that “won’t look like a kit” when completed.

Minty Time

This is a small binary clock kit that fits in an Altoids tin:

This is a nice little kit as it is inexpensive, easy to make and very well documented. You could also mount this in a variety of flat surfaces, limited only by your imagination.

The Chronulator

Here we find a unique design that uses analogue panel meters in a similar method to the multimeter clock detailed previously. Here is an example of the completed kit:

IMG_1113

The kit contains the electronics and meters (or you can delete the meters for a discount if you already have some) however the housing is up to you. Furthermore, this kit has some of the best instructions (.pdf) I have ever seen. They are a credit to the organisation. Our final clock kit is the …

Denkimono

This is another clock kit in the style of ‘suspicious bomb timer’-looking – and it pulls this off quite well. Consider the following video demonstration:

As well as a normal clock it can function as an alarm, stopwatch, countdown timer and lap counter. The instructions (.pdf) are well written and easy to follow. Furthermore the Denkimono is also well priced for the kit and delivery.

Hopefully this catalogue of clock kits was of interest to you. If you have found some other kits to add to the list, or wish to disagree or generally comment about this article please do so via the comment section below. This article was not sponsored in any way.

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 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 clocks, kit review, nixie, review, TTL, VFD8 Comments

Initial Review – Arduino v1.0 IDE

Hello Readers

Recently the Arduino team have released version 1.0 of the IDE (integrated development environment) that we all know and love. This is a significant milestone as the IDE has previously been in alpha release since 2005. For the platform to have survived and thrived this long is a credit to the community and especially to the Arduino team themselves.

Arduino? Not sure where to start? There’s a couple of tutorials right hereOr buy my book!

[Update 13/07/2013… this review is probably moot as the Arduino IDE v1 and greater has become prevalent. However if you’re still using v23 for some reason, keep reading]

Moving forward, let’s have a look and see what has changed:

Installation is quite simple. As always, download the IDE from the Arduino website. Before installing the new version, copy and backup your sketchbook folder and the entire folder system of your current IDE installation. This shouldn’t take long as … I’m sure everyone does this on a regular basis. The move to v1.0 is a major one, and you will still need to use the older IDE – so don’t delete it from your computer.

Once installed, copy over the contents of your ../arduino-002x/libraries folder to the new ../arduino-1.0/libraries folder. When your operating systems pauses and asks what to do with duplicate folders, click “skip”. That is, don’t overwrite the new libraries with old ones.

Now run the new IDE, and you will be presented with the following (note we have already loaded the “blink” example):

ide

The cosmetic changes in the design of the tool bar are slight yet refreshing. The buttons in order are: verify (we used to call this “compile”), upload sketch, file new, file open, file save and the serial monitor button has been moved across to the far right.

At the very bottom-right of the IDE window the board type and port connection is displayed – which is great if you are working with more than one Arduino board at once – a nifty feature. Furthermore when verifying and uploading a sketch, a progress bar appears at the top right of the message window, for example:

The last cosmetic change that became apparent is the automatic creating of hyperlinks in the sketch when the IDE detects a correctly-formatted URL, for example:

Cosmetic changes are all well and good, however that is only the tip of the iceberg. For starters, the file extension for sketches compatible with v1.0 is now .ino.

The next thing is to review the update release notes, also listed below with my own notes – where a lot of surprises can be found. As listed below, several functions and libraries have changed in behaviour or existence. Therefore some work may be required to convert sketches from v23 IDE to v1.0. At the current time I can’t see any reason to do this, and if you have any projects relying on existing libraries – make a backup copy of your existing environment in case the original source of the library disappears. The Arduino team have mentioned the idea of a centralised repository for libraries, however this has not been finalised at the time of writing this article.

The new Serial.print() behaviour is interesting. Let’s compare the output of the following sketch:

Using IDE v23, the output from the serial monitor is:

However when we run the same sketch in IDE v1.0, the output is:

So if you need the actual ASCII characters represented by the BYTE variable, use Serial.write() not Serial.print().

Well this is interesting. The ability to parse incoming serial data will make using that nefarious GSM shield easier…

One less library to worry about…

This should help us use memory more efficiently…

Frankly I’m not a genius when it comes to the Internet area, however clearer naming is a plus 🙂

Looks like another mental note to make when working with I2C and v1.0

Well this is a win, now multiple forms of data can be logged into separate files. As mentioned at the start, this is an initial review and by all means not complete. Feel free to leave your comments or notes for others to review as well, and as always if you find any errors please let us know.

For now the new IDE is an interesting juncture in the Arduino evolution. For new sketches and development in general there wouldn’t be any reason not to use it, as you can happily run several versions of the IDE on a single computer. However – there is a lot of published material that will not work with the new IDE – and all this will need to be updated, or at least noted by the authors concerned telling people to use an older IDE. And for this I am not too happy – the Arduino world has had a virtual “axe” chopped through it, breaking a lot of things which will take some time to move forward from.

So in the meanwhile, backup your existing libraries, your older IDE software, and be prepared to run two IDE systems in parallel for the near future.

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 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 arduino, IDE, product review, review, tutorial6 Comments

Review – Freetronics Module Family

Hello

In this article we examine a new range of eleven electronic modules from Freetronics. When experimenting with electronics or working on a prototype of a design, the use of electronic components in module form can make construction easier, and also reduce the time between thoughts and actually making something 🙂 So let’s have a look at each module in more detail…

PoE Power Regulator – 28V

This is a tiny switchmode voltage regulator with two uses – the first being regulation of higher voltage up to 28V carried via an Ethernet cable to a Freetronics Ethernet shield or EtherTen to power the board itself. The PCB is designed to drop into the shield or EtherTen as such:

… and converts the incoming voltage down to 7V which can be regulated by the EtherTen’s inbuilt regulator. The second use of this board is a very handy power supply for breadboarding or other experimentation. By bridging the solder pads on the rear of the board, the output is set to 5V DC, as such:

Note the addition of the header pins, which make insertion into a breadboard very easy – so now you have a 5V 1A DC power supply. For more information visit the product page.

N-MOSFET Driver/Output Module

This module contains an On Semi NTD5867NL MOSFET which allows the switching of a high current and voltage line – 60V at up to 20A – with a simple Arduino or other MCU digital output pin. The package is small and also contains enlarged holes for direct connection of high-current capability wire:

The onboard circuitry includes a pull-down resistor to ensure the MOSFET is off by default. For more information see the product page.

Logic Level Converter Module

This is a very simple and inexpensive method to interface 3.3V sensors to 5V microcontrollers in either direction.The module contains four independent channels, as shown in the image below:

However you can interface any low or higher voltage, as long as you connect the low and high voltages to the correct sides (marked on the PCB’s silk screen). For more information please visit the product page.

RGBLED Module

Surprisingly this module contains a RGB LED module (red, green and blue LEDs) which is controlled by a WS2801 constant-current LED driver IC. This module is only uses two digital output pins, and can be daisy-chained to control many modules with the same two pins. The connections are shown clearly on the module:

The WS2801 controller IC is on the rear:

There are several ways to control the LEDs. One way is using the sketch from the product home page, which results with the following demonstration output:

Or there is a unique Arduino WS2801 library available for download from here. Using the strandtest example included with the library results with the following:

During operation the module used less than 24 mA of current and therefore can happily run from a standard Arduino-type board without any issues. For more information please visit the product page.

TEMP Temperature Sensor Module

This module allows the simple measurement of temperature using the popular DS18B20 temperature sensor. You can measure temperatures between -55° and 125°C with an accuracy of +/- 0.5°C. Furthermore as the sensor uses the 1-wire bus, you can daisy-chain more than one sensor for multiple readings in the one application. The board is simple to use, and also contains a power-on LED:

Using the demonstation Arduino sketch from the product page results in the following output via the serial monitor:

Using this module is preferable to the popular Analog Devices TMP36, as it has an analogue output which can be interfered with, and requires an analogue input pin for each sensor, whereas this module has a digital output and as mentioned previously can be daisy-chained. For more information please visit the product page.

Humidity and Temperature Sensor Module

For the weather-measuring folk here is a module with temperatures and humidity. Using the popular DHT22 sensor module the temperature range is -4°C to +125°C with an accuracy of +/- 0.5°C, and humidity with an accuracy of between two and five percent. Only one digital input pin is required, and the board is clearly labelled:

There is also a blue power-on LED towards the top-right of the sensor. Using the module is quite simple with Arduino – download and use the example sketch included in the sensor library you can download from here. For the demonstration connect the centre data pin to Arduino digital two. Here is an example of the demonstration output:

Although the update speed is not lightning-fast, this should not be an issue unless you’re measuring real-time external temperature of your jet or rocket. For more information please see the product page.

Shift Register/Expansion Module

This board uses a 74HC595 serial-in parallel-out shift register which enables you to control eight digital outputs with only three digital pins, for example:

You can daisy-chain these modules to increase the number of digital outputs in multiples of eight, all while only using the three digital output pins on your Arduino or other microcontroller. For more information about how to use shift registers with Arduino systems, read our detailed tutorial. Otherwise for more information about the module please visit the product page.

Hall Effect Magnetic and Proximity Sensor Module

This module contains a sensor which changes output from HIGH to LOW when a magnetic presence is detected, for example a magnet. The board also has an LED which indicates the presence of the magnet to aid in troubleshooting:

Using this module and a small magnet would be an easy way to create a speedometer for a bicycle, the module is mounted to the fork, and the magnet on the rim of the front wheel. For more ideas consider the speedometer project in this tutorial. Otherwise for more information about this module please visit the product page.

Microphone Sound Input Module

This module performs two functions – it can return the sound pressure level (SPL) or the amplified audio waveform from the electret microphone. The LED (labelled “DETECT”) on the board visually displays an approximation of the SPL – for example:

… however the value can be returned by using an analogue input pin on an Arduino (etc). to return a numerical value. To do this connect the SPL pin to the analogue input. The MIC pin is used to take the amplified output from the microphone, to be processed by an ADC or used in an audio project. For more information please visit the product page.

Light Sensor Module

This module uses the TEMT6000 light sensor which returns more consistent values than can be possible using a light-dependent resistor. It outputs a voltage from the OUT pin that is proportional to the light level. The module is very small:

Use is simple – just measure the value returned from the OUT pin using an analogue input pin on your Arduino (etc). For more information please visit the product page. And finally, the:

Sound and Buzzer Module

This module contains a piezoelectric element that can be used to generate sounds (in the form of musical buzzes…):

Driving the buzzer is simple, just use pulse-width modulation. Arduino users can find a good demonstration of this here. Furthermore, as piezoelectric elements can also generate a small electrical current when vibrated, they can be used as “shock” detectors by measuring the voltage across the terminals of the element. The procedure to do this is also explained clearly here.

Now for a final demonstration – we use the light sensor to demonstrate making some noise with the buzzer module:

One final note I would like to make is that the design and construction quality of each module is first rate. The PCBs are strong, and the silk-screening is useful and descriptive. If you find the need for some or all of the functions made available in this range, you could do worse by not considering a Freetronics unit. Finally, although this has only been a short introduction to the modules for now, we will make use of them in later projects.

The modules are available directly from Freetronics or through their network of resellers.

Disclaimer – Modules reviewed in this article are a promotional consideration made available by Freetronics

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 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 arduino, freetronics, learning electronics, microcontrollers, modules, review0 Comments

Review – Agilent Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope

Hello Readers

In this article we examine the Agilent Technologies Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope. Please note that the review unit has the latest version 2.0 firmware (existing owners can upgrade with the free download).

Initial Impressions

Unlike smaller instruments the packaging is plain and non-descript, however the MSO is protected very well for global shipping and arrived in perfect condition. Inclusions will vary depending on the particular model, however all come with a calibration certificate, user guide on CD and a power lead.

image1

Four passive 300MHz probes are included with the MSO-X3024A:

image1a

Due to the constant upgrading of the firmware the lack of a printed user manual is no surprise. You can download the manual as well as the service, programming and  educational lab guides from the documents section of the product web page – which make good reading to get a feel for the unit.

Now for a tour around the unit. Coming from a smaller DSO or an analogue model, the first thing that strikes you is the display. 8.5” diagonal with 800×480 resolution:

image2

Unlike cheaper brands the larger screen is not extrapolating data from a smaller image – each pixel is separately used. The front panel is clean and uncluttered. Each button and knob feels solid and responsive, and if pressed and held down, a small help window appears with information about the item pressed. Note that each analogue channel has independent controls for vertical position and V/div sensitivity (the minimum sensitivity is 1mV/division). This saves a lot of time and possible confusion when working on time-sensitive applications.

Around the back we find the cooling van ventilation on the left, the IEC AC power socket on the bottom-right, manufacturing data and so on. The fan is just audible, however the noise from a desktop computer drowns it out. On the far right near the top are separate USB connections for device and host mode, and the external trigger input and output sockets. Apart from the trigger out signal the socket can also be set to give a 5V pulse on a mask test failure or the optional WaveGen sync pulse.

image3

Below this is a space for a Kensington lock cable, and the optional modules – the VGA/LAN adaptor or the GPIB bus module. On the right is my old faithful GW 20 MHz analogue CRO. Finally, there is a compartment on the top of the unit that can hold two probes comfortably, and four at a pinch:

image4

As the unit is can be considered a small computer, it takes time to boot up – just over thirty seconds. (The operating system is Windows CE version 6.0). The user-interface is quite simple considering the capability of the unit. The six soft-keys below the display are used well, and also can call a separate list of options under each button.

When such a list is presented, you can also use the “Push to select” knob on the right hand side of the display to select an option and lock in by pressing the knob in. Below the soft keys from left to right are: BNC output for the optional function generator, digital inputs for logic analyser, USB socket for saving data to a USB drive, probe points for calibration and demonstration use, and four probe sockets. Connections exist that can interface with optional Agilent active probes.

Specifications

This instrument falls within the range of Agilent’s new Infiniivision 3000-series oscilloscopes. The range begins with the DSO-X3012A with 100MHz bandwidth and two channels, through to the DSO-X3054A with 500 MHz bandwidth and four channels. Furthermore the range is extended with the MSO-X models that include a sixteen channel logic analyser.

Some of you will know there is also the Infiniivision 2000-series, and wonder why one would acquire a 3000-series. There are three excellent reasons for doing so:

  1. Waveform update rate is 50000 per second on a 2000, one million per second on a 3000;
  2. Memory depth on a 2000 is 100 kilopoints; 3000s have 2Mpts standard or 4Mpts optional;
  3. Eight vs. sixteen digital channels when specified as an MSO-X model.

For a full breakdown of specifications please download the Agilent data sheet located here.

Getting Started and general use

The process from cutting open the packaging to measuring a signal is quite simple – just plug it in, connect probes and go – however some probe compensation is required, which is explained quite well in the manual. There are strong tilting bales under the front side which can be used to face the unit upwards. At this point the unit is ready to go – you can start measuring by using the Auto Scale function and let the MSO-X3024A determine the appropriate display settings.

However there is no fun in that – the vertical scale can be manually adjusted between 1 mV and 50V per division, the horizontal between 2 nanoseconds and 50 seconds per division. These values can be selected rapidly or (by pressing the knob in) in a fine method for more precise values. If working with more than one channel, each can be labelled using a pre-set description or select a label from a list. One can also alter the display between X-Y, horizontal and roll modes.

Each channel has separate controls for coupling – DC/AC but no GND, as the earth point is shown on the LCD. Impedance can be 1M or 50 ohm. One can also limit bandwidth to 20MHz to remove high-frequency interference.

Capturing data is very easy, you can save images as .png or .bmp files in grey scale or colour , data in .csv form and so on. You can also assign popular functions to a “Quick Action” button – one press and it is done. For example I use this as a “save bitmap” button to send the screen image to the USB drive. If the optional LAN/VGA module is installed screens can be captured by the host computer via the network. Finally there is a very basic file explorer available to find files on the USB drive as well.

Waveforms can also be stored and used later on as references for other measurements. When reviewed they appear as an orange trace – for example R1:

rrr

The horizontal zoom mode activated using keys to the right of the horizontal control is very useful. Agilent call this “Mega Zoom” and it certainly works. Consider the following screen shot – the 32.768kHz square-wave from a Maxim DS1307 real-time clock is being analysed:

megazoom

The time base is 10uS per division – and using the zoom we can get down to two nanoseconds per division and investigate the ringing on fall of the square-wave. This is great for investigating complex signals over short periods. Awesome.

Capturing infrequent events is made simple by the combination of the one million waveforms per second sampling rate, and the use of infinite display persistence. In the following example a clock with very infrequent glitch is being sampled. By setting persistence to infinite, as soon as the infrequent glitch occurs it can be displayed and held on the screen. For example:

infreq

Triggering

There is a plethora of triggering options available. Standard modes include: edge, edge then edge, pulse-width (customisable), pattern trigger (for logic analyser – you can create your own patter of high, low, or doesn’t matter with comparison operators for duration), hex bus trigger, OR trigger, customisable rise/fall time trigger, nth edge burst trigger which allows  you to nth edge of a burst after an idle time, runt trigger on positive or negative pulse, setup and hold trigger, on video signals (PAL, PAL-M, NTSC, SECAM), and USB packets. Phew. Furthermore, if you have any of the optional decoding and analysis licenses, they include triggering on the matching signal type (see later).

Math modes

Performing math waveforms on analogue channels is done via a seperate Math button, and the operations available are addition, subtraction, multiplication, differentiation, integration, square root and FFT.

Waveform statistics

When the time comes to further analyse your measurement data, there area variety of measurements that can be taken, and they can be displayed individually, such as in the following:

stats1

or all in a summary screen:

allstats

Or you can manually use the cursors to determine information about any part of a wave form, for example:

cursors

Logic Analyser

Everything required is included with the MSO-X3024A for the sixteen channel logic analyser, including a very long dual-head probe cable:

lacables

as well as sixteen grabbers and some extension runs:

lacables2

Setup and use was surprisingly simple, just connect the probe cable head to ground, insert grabbers onto the ends of each channel wire, and connect to the signal pins to analyse. You can have all sixteen channels and the four analogue channels active at once, however when doing so the screen is quite busy. You can adjust the height  for each digital channel. Here we are measuring two analogue and eight digital channels:

msoinaction

As always there are many forms of customisation. Automatic scaling is available the same as analogue measurement. You can set the threshold levels for high and low, and presets exist for TTL, CMOS, ECL and your own custom levels. The cable is very well-built (made in the USA) and the socket on the MSO is a standard, very solid IDC connector. Thanks to the use of the IDC connector you could also make your own probes or extension cable for the analyser. Digital channels can also be combined and displayed as a data bus, with the data values shown in hexadecimal or binary – for example:

hexbus

binbus

Options

Both the 2000- and 3000-series Infiniivision units have a variety of options and upgrades available either at the time of purchase or later on. Agilent have been clever and installed all the software-based options in the unit – when required they are “unlocked” by entering a licence key given after purchase. Trial 14-day licenses are generally available if you want to test an option before purchase. You can also upgrade the bandwidth after purchase – for example if you started with a 100MHz a licence key purchase will upgrade you to 200MHz , or 350 to 500MHz. However if you wish to upgrade a 200MHz to 350/500, this needs to be performed at at Agilent service facility. Surprisingly the logic analyser upgrade that converts a DSO-X to an MSO-X is user-installable. For more information on the upgrade options and procedures please visit here.

Memory Upgrade (DSOX3MEMUP)

A simple yet useful option – it doubles the total memory depth to 4 Mpts interleaved.

LAN/VGA Module (DSOXLAN)

This options really opens up the MSO to the world (and is a lot of fun..) – it is inserted into the port at the rear of the unit:

lanvga1

VGA output is very simple – no setup required. Just plug in your monitor or projector and you’re ready to go -for example, with a 22″ LCD monitor:

monitorview

The educational benefits of the LAN/VGA module are immediately apparent – instead of having twenty classmates huddle around one MSO while the instructor demonstrates the unit, the display can be show on the classroom projector or a large monitor. The MSO display is still fully active while VGA output is used.

LAN connection via Ethernet was also very simple. The MSO can automatically connect to the network if you have a router with DHCP server. Otherwise you can use the Utility>I/O>LAN Settings function to enter various TCP/IP settings and view the MSO’s MAC address.

Once connected you can have complete control of the MSO over your network. Apart from saving screen shots:

remotesaveimage

There is a “simple” remote control interface that contains all the controls in a standard menu-driven environment:

simpleremotepanel

Or you can have a realistic reproduction of the entire MSO on your screen:

fullremotepanel

The full remote panel is completely identical – it’s “just like being there”. The ability to monitor your MSO from other areas could be very useful. For example using the mask testing in a QC area and watching the results in an office; or an educator monitoring students’ use of the MSO.

Furthermore you can view various data about the MSO, such as calibration date and temperature drift since calibration, installed options, serial number, etc. remotely via the web interface.

GPIB Module (DSOXGPIB)

This allows you to connect your MSO to an IEEE-488 communications bus for connection to less contemporary equipment.

Segmented Memory Option (DSOX3SGM)

This options allows you to capture infrequent multiple events over time. For example, you want to locate some 15 mS pulses that occur a few times over the space of an hour. All you need to do is set the triggering to pulse-width, specify the minimum/maximum pulse width to trigger from, then hit Acquire>Segmented, the number of segments to use and you’re off. When the pulses have been captured, you can return and analyse each one as normal. The unit records the start time and elapsed time for each segment, and you can still use zoom, etc., to examine the pulse. For example:

segment

Embedded Serial Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3EMBD)

Debugging I2C and SPI buses are no longer a chore with this option. For example with I2C just probe you SDA and SCK lines, adjust the thresholds in the menu option and you’re set. Apart from displaying the bytes of data below the actual waveform, there is a “Lister” which allows you to scroll back and forth along the captured data along with correlating times. In the following example a Maxim DS1307 RTC IC has been polled:

i2c_lister

The Lister details all – in the example we sent a zero to address 0x68, which caused the DS1307 to return the seven bytes of time and date data. This is an extremely useful option and is very useful when working with a range of sensors and other parts that use the I2C bus. The SPI bus analysis operates in exactly the same manner. Adding this option also allows triggering on I2C data as well.

FlexRay Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3FLEX)

The optional FlexRay measurement applications offer integrated FlexRay serial bus triggering, hardware-based decoding and analysis. The FlexRay measurement tools help you more efficiently debug and characterize your FlexRay physical layer network by having the ability to trigger on and time-correlate FlexRay communication with your physical layer signals. So if you are working on the ECU of your Rolls-Royce or new BMW 7-series, you can use an MSO that matches the quality of the vehicle under examination. Here is an example of the FlexRay being monitored in the lister:

flexray

RS232/UART Serial Decode and Trigger (COMP/MSOX3000-232)

This option allows RS232, 422, 485 and UART decoding and triggering, as well as the use of the Lister to analyse the data. For example:

uartdecode

Advanced Math (DSOX3ADVMATH)

This option adds more math functions to enhance your waveform analysis, including: divide, base-10 logarithm, natural logarithm and exponential.

CAN/LIN Triggering and Serial Decode (DSOX3AUTO)

Again, allows decoding of automotive CAN and LIN bus signals, and the use of the Lister. For example:

can_decode

lin_decode

Military Standard 1553 and ARINC429 Standards Serial Triggering and Decoding (DSOX3AERO)

The option exists for decoding and triggering of the above bus types. According to Agilent the Mil-STD 1553 serial bus is primarily used to interconnect avionics equipment in military aircraft and spacecraft(!). This bus is based on tri-level signaling (high, low, & idle) and requires dual-threshold triggering, which the 3000X supports. This bus is also implemented as a redundant multi-lane bus (dual-bus analysis), which is also supported by the 3000X.

The ARINC 429 serial bus is used to interconnect avionics equipment in civilian aircraft (Boeing & Airbus). This bus is also based on tri-level signaling (high, low, & null) and requires dual-threshold triggering, which the 3000X supports. Since ARINC 429 is a point-to-point bus, multi-lane analysis is also required to capture both send and receive data. So if you need this capability – Agilent has you covered.

milbus

Video Triggering and Analysis Application (DSOX3VID)

The DSOX3VIDEO option provides triggering on an array of HDTV standards, including:

  • 480p/60, 567p/50, 720p/50, 720p/60
  • 1080i/50, 1080i/60
  • 1080p/24, 1080p/25, 1080p/30, 1080p/50, 1080p/60
  • Generic (custom bi-level and tri-level sync video standards)

The 3000X Series oscilloscope already comes standard with NTSC, PAL, PAL-M, and SECAM support. Example of video analysis:

dsox3vid

Audio Serial Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3AUDIO)

And not surprisingly this is an option to allow decoding of and triggering from I2S digital audio data. For example:

i2s_decode

Mask Limit Testing (DSOX3MASK)

This is another interesting and useful option, idea for quality testing, benchmarking and so on. First you create a mask by measuring the ideal waveform, and then feed in the signal to be compared with the ideal mask. Mask limit testing can operate at up to 280000 comparisons per second. You can view pass/fail statistics, minimum sigma and so on, for example – a perfect test:

mask1

… then a change of frequency for a few cycles:

mask2

Furthermore you can specify the number of tests, change source channel, specify action upon errors, etc. Finally you can create and save to USB your own mask file for use later on – which can also be modified on a PC using any text editor software. Or for other monitoring options the external trigger socket on the read of the MSO can be configured to give a 5V pulse on a mask test failure.

If you have the LAN/VGA module you could place the MSO on in a lab or factory situation and monitor the testing over the network using a PC – very handy for QC managers or those who need to move about the workplace and still monitor testing in real time.

20MHz Function Generator/Arbitrary Waveform Generator (DSOX3WAVEGEN)

The “WaveGen” function is a versatile option that offers a highly controllable 20 MHz function generator and arbitrary waveform generator. It offers eleven different types of waveform: sine, square, ramp, pulse, DC, noise, sine cardinal, exponential rise and fall, cardiac and gaussian pulse.

The frequency can be adjusted between 100mHz to 20 MHz in 100 mHz steps; period from 50ns to 10s; full offset, amplitude and symmetry control; as well as logic level preset outputs (such as TTL, CMOS 5V, 3.3V etc.) Finally the WaveGen can be operated independently to normal measurement tasks, which is useful for ideal vs. actual comparisons and so on. Output is from the BNC socket at the bottom-left of the front pane and sync is also availble from the rear BNC socket. The arbitrary waveform generator is very simple to use  – and copied waveforms can be edited or have noise added to them to replicate real-world waveforms.

Power Measurement (DSOX3PWR)

This is a power measurement and analysis option that is integrated into the unit and provides a quick and easy way of analysing the reliability and efficiency of switching power supplies. It also includes a user license for U1881A-003 PC-based power measurement and analysis software that provides even more powerful insight into power supply measurement. With this option you can:

  • Measure switching loss and conduction loss at the switching device (to help improve efficiency)
  • Analyse dI/dt and dV/dt slew rate (for reliable operation)
  • Automate oscilloscope set-up for ripple measurements (to eliminate tedious manual oscilloscope set up)
  • Perform pre- compliance testing to IEC 61000- 3- 2 standards (to reduce compliance testing time)
  • Analyse line power with total harmonic distortion, true power, apparent power, power factor, and crest factor tests (to quickly provide power quality information)
  • Measure output noise (ripple)
  • Analyse modulation using the on- time and off- time information of a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) signal (to help characterize the active power factor)
  • Measure how well a circuit rejects ripple coming from the input power supply at various frequencies with the Power Supply Rejection Ratio (PSRR) measurement.
For more indepth explanation of this option download and read the well written manual.

Etch-a-sketch

Well not a feature as such, but it exists if you know where to find it:

msoxes

Initial Conclusions

There is no doubt that the Infiniivision 3000-series are a great line of instruments. The waveform sample rate, memory size and bandwidth options are very competitive, and the ability to add various options is convenient and also helps lower the final cost for purchasing departments. (Start with the base model then hit them up for the options over time)

However there are a few things that could use improvement. Although the display is excellent – the right-hand column with “Agilent” at the top is always displayed. This is a waste of LCD space and there should be an option to turn it off, allowing waveforms to be displayed across the entire screen. If a $400 Rigol can do this, so should a $5000+ Agilent. The build unit of the unit is good, no problems are evident however it could be a little more “solid”; and the option of a clear shield for the LCD would be a great idea to protect against forceful and dirty fingers.

Furthermore the ground demonstration terminal suffers from metal fatigue very quickly, it already is somewhat chipped and may need replacing if you used it quite often. Finally, it would have been nice to see Agilent include the a carry bag – already people have asked to borrow the unit and to wander around with it in the box is somewhat awkward.

For those who rely on their test equipment will have the peace of mind that Chinese discount suppliers cannot give you – Agilent support exists and will not ignore you once a sale has been made. It doesn’t take long to find a tale of woe on an Internet forum from someone who imported their own “high-spec” DSO via eBay or direct east-Asian sellers only to find there are no firmware updates, competent English-speaking support or warranty of any kind. Furthermore, the ability to combine many functions in the one piece of equipment saves space, time and reduces your support channel back to one supplier. There is also an iPhone “app” that may be of interest – however as an Android user I haven’t tried it.

The saying “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten” certainly holds true – and at the end of the day combined with the mix of standard and optional features at various price points – the Agilent Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A rises to the top echelon of test equipment.

 The Agilent Technologies Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope used in this review is a promotional consideration received from Agilent and element-14 via their Road Test program.

Agilent Test and Measurement equipment is available from your local element-14Farnell or Newark distributor.

Australian readers please note:  Trio Smartcal are the exclusive Australian Agilent distributors for all states except WA and NT – telephone 1300 853 407.

Measurement Innovation for WA and NT – telephone 08 9437 2550

High-resolution images are available on flickr.

Once again thanks for reading, 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 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 agilent, DSO, MSOX3024A, oscilloscope, review, test equipment, tutorial

Review – Tenma 72-7222 Digital Clamp Multimeter

Hello readers

The purpose of this article is to examine the Tenma 72-7222 Digital Clamp Multimeter supplied for review by element-14/Farnell/Newark. The Tenma is a strongly featured yet inexpensive piece of test equipment – and considerably good value when you consider there is a current clamp for measuring high AC currents. So let’s have a look and see what we have.

Initial Impression

The Tenma arrives in a retail box, and generally nicely packaged. Naturally this has nothing to do with the performance of the meter at all, but at least they made an effort:

Opening up we find a nicely rounded group of items: the meter itself, some no-name AAA cells, test leads, a thermocouple for temperature measurement, a surprisingly articulate and well-written user manual, and the unit itself – all within a nice pouch. Wow – a pouch. Agilent? Fluke? All that money for a DMM and you don’t include a pouch?

Recent test equipment reviewers have made pulling apart the unit part of the review – so here goes… the back comes off easily:

No user-replaceable fuses… instead a PTC. A closer look at the PCB:

A very neat and organised PCB layout. There are plastic tabs that hold the PCB in along with a screw, however the case flexed too much for me to warrant removing the PCB completely. The spring for the clamp meter is locked in nicely and very strong, it won’t give up for a long time. Pulling the clamp base out reveals the rest of the PCB:

Installation of the battery is two stage procedure, first you need to remove a screw and then slide out the rear door:

… then insert the AAA cells into a frame, which is then inserted inside the unit:

The physical feel of the unit is relative to the purchase price, the plastic is simple and could be quite brittle if the unit was dropped from a height. The user manual claims the unit can be dropped from up to a height of one metre. Onto carpet? Yes. Concrete? Perhaps not. However like all test equipment one would hope the user would take care of it whenever possible. The clamp meter is very strong due to the large spring inside the handle, which can be opened up to around 28mm. The included leads are just on one meter long including the length of the probe:

The leads are rated to Category I 1000V (overkill – the meter can’t go that high) and 600 V Category II – “This category refers to local-level electrical distribution, such as that provided by a standard wall outlet or plug in loads (for example, 115 AC voltage for U.S. or 200 AC voltage for Europe). Examples of Measurement Category II are measurements performed on household appliances, portable tools, and similar modules” – definition from from National Instruments.  Unlike discount DMMs from unknown suppliers you can trust the rating to be true – otherwise element-14 wouldn’t be selling it.

Unit Specifications

  • Voltage Measuring Range DC:200mV, 2V, 20V, 200V, 600V
  • Voltage Measuring Range AC:2V, 20V, 200V, 600V
  • Current Measuring Range AC:2A, 20A, 200A, 400A
  • Resistance Measuring Range:200ohm, 2kohm, 20kohm, 200kohm, 2Mohm, 20Mohm
  • Temperature Measuring Range:-40°C to +1000°C
  • DMM Response Type:True RMS
  • DMM Functions:AC Current, AC/DC Voltage, Resistance, Temperature
  • Ranging:Auto
  • Display Count:1999
  • AC Current Range Accuracy:± (1.5% + 5d)
  • AC Voltage Range Accuracy:± (1.2% + 5d)
  • Accuracy:± (1.0% + 3d)
  • Current AC Max:400A
  • Current Range AC:2A, 20A, 200A, 400A
  • DC Voltage Range Accuracy1:± (0.8% + 1d)
  • Resistance Range Accuracy:± (1.0% + 2d)
  • Temperature Measuring Range:-40°C to +1000°C

The only measurement missed out on is DC current, however there is the Tenma 72-7224 which has DC current and frequency ranges. Finally, all the modes and buttons can be selected while holding the meter with one hand – for both left- and right-handed folk.

Measurement experience

Normally I would compare the measurements against my Agilent U1272A, however it’s out to lunch. Instead, a Fluke 233. First, AC voltage from the mains:

Next, a few DC voltage measurements:

Now for some resistance measurements. Higher values near the maximum of 20M Ohm can take around four seconds to measure:

Forward voltage of a 1N4004 diode:

dfv (1)

Now off to the kitchen for some more measurements – first with the thermocouple:

The boiling water test – 100 degrees Celsius (you can also select Fahrenheit if so inclined):

And now to test out the AC current clamp meter function with a 10A kettle at boiling point. First, using the 20A current range:

And then again on the 400A current range:

As always, it’s best to use the multimeter range that more closely corresponds with the current under test. The meter also has a continuity test with a beeper, however it was somewhat slow and would often take around one second to register – so nothing too impressive on that front. The meter can record the maximum value with the grey button, or hold a reading using the yellow button.

Conclusion

The Tenma 72-7222 works as advertised, and as expected. It is a solid little unit that if looked after should last a few years at a minimum. It certainly has a few limitations, such as the 1999 count display, lack of backlight, and the average continuity function. But don’t let that put you off. For the price – under Au$30 – it is a certified deal. If you need a clamp current meter for odd jobs or a casual-use multimeter and you are on a limited budget, the Tenma will certainly prove a worthwhile purchase. Full-size images are available on Flickr.

You can purchase a Tenma 72-7222 from element-14Farnell and Newark.

Thanks for reading! Have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitter, Google+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our 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 – The Tenma 72-7222 Digital Clamp Multimeter was a promotional consideration from element-14/Farnell/Newark]

Posted in 72-7222, clamp meter, element14, multimeter, review, tenma, test equipment4 Comments

Kit Review – the LoL Shield

[Update 13/07/2013 – Apprently the kit is in the process of being revised. Watch Sparkfun or Jimmie’s webpage for updates]

Hello readers

Another month, so time for another kit review. In this article we exame the LoL Shield by Jimmie P. Rodgers. So what’s all this about? Simple – the Lol Shield is a shield with nine rows of fourteen 3mm diameter LEDs, and at the time of writing was available in various colours. The shield has many uses, from being another form of hypnotising blinking LEDs, to displaying messages, artwork, data in visual form, or perhaps the basis for a simple computer game. More on that later – first, let’s see how it goes together.

As is becoming the norm lately, the kit arrives in a resealable anti-static bag:

The contents are few in type but huge in number, the PCB:

… at which point you start to think – “Oh, there goes the evening”. And the LEDs confirm it:

You will need 126 LEDs. There was a surplus of seven in my bag, a nice thought by the kit assemblers. There isn’t too much to worry about to start off with, just remember the anodes for the LEDs are on the left-hand side, and start soldering. The greatest of shields starts with a single LED:

However after a while you get into the swing of it:

At this point, one wonders if there is a better way to solder all these in. If you diagonally stagger the LEDs as such:

the legs stay well apart making soldering a little easier:

… however one still needs to take care to keep the LEDs flush with the PCB. I wouldn’t want to do this for a living… Still, many more to solder in:

And – we’re done!

Phew – that’s a lot of LEDs. An inspection of the other side of the PCB to check for shorts in the soldering is a prudent activity during the soldering process. The final step was to now solder in the shield header pins:

And – we’re done! This example took me just over one hour, includind a couple of stretch and breathe breaks. When soldering a large amount, always try to have good ventilation and hopefully a solder fume extractor as well. Furthermore, pause to check your work every now and then, you don’t want to install the lot and find one LED is in the wrong way. To control the 126 LEDs the LoL Shield uses a technique called Charlieplexing. Furthermore, the creator has documented his design process and how this works very well on his website located here.

From a software perspective – there is a library to download and install, it can be found in the downloads section of this site. Don’t forget to use the latest version if you’re using Arduino v1.0 or greater. This will also introduce some demonstration sketches in the File>examples section of the Arduino IDE. The first one to try is basic test, as it fires up every LED. Here is a short video of this example:

Now that we have seen some blinking action, how do we control the shield? As mentioned earlier, you will need the library installed. Now consider the following basic sketch – it shows how we can individually control each LED:

As you can see in the sketch above we need to include the “Charlieplexing” library, and create an instance of LedSign in void setup().  Then each LED can be easily controlled with the function LedSign::Set(x,y,z) – where x is 1~14, y is 1~9 and z is 1 for on, or 0 for off. Here is a short video of the example above in action:

If you want to display animations of some sort – there is a tool to help minimise the work required to create each frame. Consider the example sketch Basic_Test that is included with the LoL Shield library – take note of the large array described before void setup();. This array contains data to describe each frame of the animation in the demonstration sketch. One can create the variables required for each frame by using the spreadsheet found here. Open the spreadsheet (Using OpenOffice.org or Libre Office), then go to the “Test Animation” tab as such:

You can define the frame on the left hand side, and the numbers required for the Arduino sketch are provided on the right. Easy. So for a final example, here is my demonstration animation. You can download the sketch, and the spreadsheet file used to create the variables to insert into the sketch.

However, thanks to an interesting website – there is a much, much easier way to create the animations. Head over to the LoL Shield Theatre web site. There you can graphically create each slide of your animation, then download the Arduino sketch to make it work. You can even test your animations on the screen just for fun. For example, here is something I knocked out in a few minutes – and the matching sketch. And the animation in real life:

So there you have it – another fun and interesting Arduino shield that won’t break the bank. For further questions about the Digit Shield visit the website.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow me on twitter,  facebook or Google+, or join our Google Group for further discussion. No pre-teen girls were used in this kit review.

High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was ordered by myself and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer]

Posted in arduino, jimmie rodgers, kit review, lesson, lol shield, review, tutorial6 Comments

Product Announcement: The Zigduino

Hello readers

Recently the people at Logos Electromechanical have announced their new product – the Zigduino.

The Zigduino is an Arduino-compatible microcontroller platform that integrates an 802.15.4 radio on the board. The radio can be configured to support any 802.15.4-based protocol, including ZigBeeRoute Under MAC/6LoWPAN, and RF4CE. It uses a reverse polarity SMA connector (RP-SMA) for an external antenna. This allows the user to use nearly any existing 2.4 GHz antenna with it. The Zigduino runs on 3.3V, but all I/O pins are 5V compatible.

Pictured below is a production Zigduino kit with all components:

Thankfully all that SMD word is done for you. The only soldering required is the aerial socket, Arduino headers and the DC socket. All the components shown in the image above are included with purchase. The Zigduino specifications include (from the website):

Microcontroller Atmega128RFA1
Operating Voltage 3.3V
Input Voltage (recommended) 7-18V
Input Voltage (maximum) 6-30V (transients to -20V and +60V)
Digital I/O Pins 14 + 3 auxiliary
PWM Output Pins 6
Analog Input Pins 6 (0-1.8V)
I/O Protection ±30V transient
-2.5V to +5.8V continuous
DC Current per I/O Pin 20 mA
DC Current for 5V Pin 250 mA
DC Current for 3.3V Pin 200 mA
Flash Memory 128 KB of which 2 KB is used by the bootloader
SRAM 16 KB
EEPROM 4 KB
Clock Speed 16 MHz
RF transmit power +3.5 dBm
Receiver sensitivity -100 dB
Antenna gain 2 dBi
Current Draw 30 mA (transmitting, USB, no I/O connections)
15 mA (transmitting, no USB, no I/O connections)
6 mA (radio off, no USB, no I/O connections)
250 μA (sleep)

Compatibility

  • Compatible with any shield that supports 3.3V logic
  • Compatible with existing Arduino libraries that do not use hard-coded pin definitions
  • Compatible with Arduino IDE with updated compiler, avr-gcc-4.3.3 or later.

Software

Power

The Zigduino can be powered through the USB connection or with an external power supply. The power source with the highest voltage is selected automatically.

External power can be supplied via a wall wart or a battery. It can be connected with a 2.1mm center-positive plug inserted into the power jack. Alternately, external power can be connected through the GND and VIN pins of the POWER header.

The board will operate correctly on an input voltage between 6V and 30V. It will survive transients as large as -20V or +60V. However, higher supply voltages may cause excessive heat dissipation at higher current draws. The input voltage regulator has integral overtemperature protection, so you can’t permanently damage the board this way. However, the board may not work correctly under these circumstances.

The power pins are as follows:

  • VIN — The input voltage to the Arduino board when it is running from external power, i.e. not USB bus power.
  • 5V — The regulated 5V used to power 5V components on the board and external 5V shields. It comes either from the USB or from the VIN via the 5V regulator. Maximum current draw is 250 mA.
  • 3V3 — The regulated 3.3V supply that powers the microcontroller. It is derived from the 5V bus via a second regulator. Maximum current draw is 200 mA.
  • GND — Ground pins.

Memory

The ATmega128RFA1 has 128 KB of flash memory, of which 2 KB is occupied by the bootloader. It also has 16 KB of SRAM (the most of any Arduino-compatible board) and 4 KB of EEPROM, which can be accessed through the EEPROM library.

Input and Output

Each of the 14 digital pins of the Zigduino can be used as an input or output, using pinMode(), digitalWrite(), and digitalRead(). Each pin operates at 3.3V and can source or sink 10 mA. Each also has an internal pullup, which is disabled by default. Each pin is protected against ±30V spikes and can tolerate continuous 5V input.

The six analog input pins, labeled A0 – A5, are likewise protected against ±30V spikes and can tolerate continuous 5V input. Each provides 10 bits of resolution and measures 0 – 1.8V. It is possible to change to a lower top voltage through use of the AREF pin and the analogReference() function.

A key design goal of the Zigduino is maintaining compatibility with existing shields to the greatest extent possible. The ATmega128RFA1’s peripherals are arranged slightly differently than the corresponding peripherals on the ATmega328 used in the stock Arduino. Therefore, in order to provide the desired shield compatibility, there are three solder jumpers provided on the back of the board. They function as follows:

  • Digital pin 11 can be set as either SPI MOSI or a PWM output. Neither option is selected as shipped. SPI MOSI is also available on the SPI connector at all times along with SCK and MISO.
  • Analog pin 4 can be set as either A4 or I2C SDA. Neither option is selected as shipped. Both I2C pins are available on the I2C connector.
  • Analog pin 5 can be set as either A4 or I2C SCL. Neither option is selected as shipped. Both I2C pins are available on the I2C connector.

The following additional special functions are available:

  • Serial: 0 (RX) and 1 (TX) — Used to transmit and receive TTL serial data. These pins are connected to the corresponding pins on the FTDI USB interface chip.
  • PWM: 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, and 11 — Provides 8-bit PWM output with the analogWrite() function. Pin 11 must be selected for PWM operation with the solder jumper on the back of the board.
  • SPI: 11 (MOSI), 12 (MISO), 13 (SCK) — These pins support SPI communications using the SPI library. Pin 11 must be selected for SPI operation with the solder jumper on the back, or SPI must be accessed with the SPI connector.
  • LED: 13 — This is the built-in LED on digital pin 13. When the pin is high, the LED is on.
  • External Interrupts: 2, 3, 6, and 7 — These pins can be configured to trigger and interrupt on a low value, high value, or an edge. See the attachInterrupt() function for details. The two I2C pins can also be used as interrupts.
  • I2C: A4 (SDA) and A5 (SCL) — These pins support I2C communications using the Wire library. They must be selected for I2C operation with the jumpers on the back or I2C must be accessed through the I2C connector. They can also be configured as interrupts.

This is one very capable Arduino-compatible board and sure to find many uses. For updates and new ideas consider following the Logos Electromechanical blog page.  Furthermore associated Zigduino files can be found on Github.

So if you are looking to expand into the world of personal-area networks, Zigbee wireless and so on –  you could do very well by considering a Zigduino or two. For more information, questions, support, and to purchase visit the product website, Seeed Studio or lipoly.de

Posted in 802.15.4, arduino, Atmega128RFA1, review, wireless, xbee, zigduino

Review: Gravitech 7-Segment Arduino Shield

Hello Readers

In this article we examine the “7-Segment Arduino Shield” received for review from the team at Gravitech in the United States. This is an Arduino Uno/Duemilanove-type compatible shield that contains four very useful items:

  • Four 7-segment LED numerical displays – driven by the NXP SAA1064 LED display driver IC;
  • A large 10mm RGB LED;
  • A Microchip 24LC128 EEPROM, and
  • A TI TMP75 digital temperature sensor.
Apart from the LED all the other components are controlled via the I2C bus. So as well as being generally useful for experimenting, monitoring temperature and so on, this is an ideal board for Arduino and I2C bus practice. (If you have not done so already, consider reading our I2C tutorial, part one and two). Let’s look at the hardware, then move on to using the features.
As with other Gravitech products, the shield arrives in a reusable static shielding bag:
and here we have it:
The IC at the top-left of the shield is the TMP75 temperature sensor, bottom-left is the 24LC128 EEPROM, and the whopper below the first two digits is the NXP SAA1064. The shield layout is very neat and clean, and the white finish is a pleasant change compared to the usual black or green Arduino shields out there. The PWR LED is a blue colour. The only issues I found were that you cannot use this with a Mega due to the location of the I2C pins, and the component leads were not trimmed at the factory, which caused an issue when the shield was inserted into an Ethernet shield. This is easily solved by clipping the leads yourself:
Here is the shield in operation using the supplied demonstration sketch. The temperature is displayed in Celsius, with the LED changing colour depending on the temperature:

That is all very good, but how do we use the features of the board? Let’s look at each of the aforementioned features individually. First of all, the numeric display. The four seven-segment LED displays are controlled by the NXP SAA1064 LED display driver (data sheet (.pdf)). I have written a separate tutorial on how to use this IC, and it is completely compatible with this shield. So visit the tutorial here and put the numbers to work! Please note the I2C bus address for the SAA1064  is 0x38.

Next we have the RGB LED. Red, green and blue are connected to digital pins 3, 5 and 6 respectively. These are also pulse-width modulation pins, so you can have altering the brightness. Here is a simple demonstration sketch:

And for the curious, here it is in action:

Next, the Microchip 24LC128 EEPROM. It has 128kbit storage space, which translates to 16 kilobytes. The I2C bus address is 0x50. Once again there is a complete explanation of how to use this sort of EEPROM in another tutorial – check it out. But for quick reference the following demonstration sketch writes the numbers 0~255 to memory locations 0~255:

Although there is 16 kilobytes of memory the sketch only writes and reads to the first 255 locations. Each location can store a byte of value between zero and 255. Here is a screen shot of the serial monitor results (click to enlarge):

And now time to work with the Texas Instruments TMP75 temperature sensor (data sheet.pdf). It has a reasonable operating temperature range of between -40 and 125 degrees Celsius – however this would exceed the range in which your Arduino is capable of working, so no leaving the shield on the car dashboard during a hot summer’s day. The I2C bus address for the TMP75 is 0x49. We will deconstruct the Gravitech demonstration sketch to explain how the temperature works.

The TMP75 needs to be initialised before measurement can take place, by sending the following data:

The temperature data is received in two bytes of data, as it spans 12 bits. Thankfully the demonstration sketch has done the work for us. Have a look at the Cal_temp() function, which converts the two raw bytes of data from the TMP75. There is some bitwise arithmetic in there, however if you are not keen on going down to that level, it is easy enough to cut and paste the temperature and numeric display functions.  Here is a quick video of the demonstration sketch in action:

]

So there you have it – another useful and educational shield for use with your Arduino. If you have any questions or enquiries please direct them to Gravitech via their contact page. Gravitech products including the 7-segment shield are available directly from their website or these distributors.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow on twitterfacebook, or join our Google Group.

[Disclaimer – the shield reviewed in this article was a  promotional consideration made available by Gravitech]

High resolution photos are available on flickr.

Posted in 24LC128, arduino, gravitech, I2C, LED, microcontrollers, product review, review, SAA1064, TMP75, tutorial0 Comments

Review – Agilent U1272A True-RMS Digital Multimeter

This is our review of the Agilent Technologies U1272A water and dust resistant digital multimeter. It’s an extremely well specifed instrument, and according to the Agilent promotional material a better alternative to the venerable Fluke 87V. We also have examined the Bluetooth module.

Initial impression

The retail box as always is impressive and well decorated. Opening it up reveals a range of items:

contentsss

including the meter itself, a calibration certificate and calibration results sheet, probe set, thermocouple, quick start guide and four AAA cells. It was a little disappointing to not find alligator clip adaptors nor a carrying case. For those interested, a full range  of documentation is available here.

The meter measures 207 x 92 x 59 mm (hwd) and is quite solid, not too heavy and surrounded by a good orange non-slip rubber layer. This no doubt helps provide some shock resistance, as this unit has survived a 2.5 meter drop from my ceiling to the concrete. It is refreshing to see that the keypad is laid out in an organised way, much better than the random-looking layout on the U1250 series:

meterss

The meter

Installing or changing the the battery (four AAA cells) is easily accomplished, and thankfully the fuses are also in the same compartment. The included AAA cells are thecheaper “GP brand”, and should do for the first few months. The dust and moisture protection is evident as shown by the o-ring seal around the perimeter of the compartment:

batteryfusecompartmentss

As mentioned earlier, the U1272A is water and dust resistant to IP54 specifications – 54 meaning “protected against dust limited ingress”/”protection against water sprayed from all directions – limited ingress permitted.”.

For more information about IP ratings and what they all mean, check out this IP-rating chart.

It is possible to turn the function selector with one hand whether you have the meter standing up or laying on your desk. The included test leads are just over 1200mm in length and are rated at Cat III 1000V, 15A. Two pairs of probes are included, with 4mm and 19mm tips:

leadsprobesss

Again, it is unfortunate that alligator-clip adaptors nor probes are included – these are very useful especially to those who are colourblind and need to sort resistors or measure tiny through-hole capacitors. Furthermore, a K-tyle thermocouple and non-compensation transfer adaptor are also included:

thermocoupless

The thermocouple’s temperature range is -20~200 degrees Celsius, however with an optional thermocouple the maximum temperature can be increased to 1200 degrees C. As for the othermeasurement ranges, they are detailed in the data sheet which you can download here (.pdf).

Furthermore there is a diode test  function, and a continuity beeper. The backlight also flashes when using the continuity function which would be very convenient for those working in a noise environment. There has been some discussion around various forums as to the speed of the continuity function, so here is a small video demonstration of it in action:

In use

Although readers would not have any problem using the meter without reading the manual, doing so will illustrate the particular features of the U1272A as well as operation of the menu system that allow various settings to be changed. These can include: beep frequency (!), backlight duration, data communication parameters, default temperature units, scale conversion values, and activating the low-pass filter available when measuring DC voltage and current.

At the risk of shortening the battery life, I extended the backlight duration immediately to thirty seconds; and set temperature units to degrees Celsius. When taking measurements that only require the main numeric display, the ambient temperature is shown in the secondary numeric display. I must admit to discovering another feature by accident, if the leads are in the current and COM terminals and you select a non-current measurement function – the meter will beep like crazy, blink the backlight and show an error message. This is useful when you’re tired and probably should be doing something else.

Measuring AC voltage provides various data upon request. Apart from the RMS voltage value, you can also turn on a low-pass filter which blocks unwanted voltage above 1 kHz.

The frequency measurement function allows the display the frequency, duty cycle and pulse-width when measuring AC or DC current or voltage. Furthermore, you can display both voltage/current and also display the frequency, pulse-width and duty cycle at the same time, for example:

freqvoltss

In a previous article the U1272A was used to measure frequency and duty cycle, which you can observe in the following short clip:

Measuring DC voltage is straightforward, and there is also the option to measure both AC and DC components and display them combined or separately, for example:

acvoltdcoffsetss

You can also display voltage as a decibel value relative to 1 mW (dBm) or a reference value of 1V (dBv). And the dB reference impedance can also be set to fall between 1 and 9999 ohms. Another interesting voltage measurement function is “Zlow”. Using this function, the meter changes to a very low input impedance, and can remove “ghost” voltages from the measurement by dissipating the coupling voltage. This function can also be used to test if a battery is still usable, if the voltage of the battery under test decreases slowly, it doesn’t have the capacity to deliver the required voltage. However I wouldn’t put a battery under this test method for too long due to the meter acting close to a short circuit.

Measuring resistance is simply done with the U1272A, and for more precise measurements one can short the probes to measure their resistance then set a null point so your measurements will not be affected by probe resistance. There is also an Agilent feature called SmartOhm which can be used to remove unexpected DC voltages that can add errors to resistance measurements. You can also use SmartOhm to measure leakage current or reverse current for junction diodes. I look forward to spending more time examining SmartOhm.

Furthermore, one can also measure conductance (the reciprocal of resistance) which is measured in Siemens. According to the manual one can measure extremely high resistance values up to 100 gigaohms. Interesting.

Diode measurement works as expected, the standard setting displays the voltage drop across the diode. However by pressing Shift on the meter, you can use the “Auto-diode” function which forward and reverse bias simultaneously using both numeric displays. For example, measuring a 1N4004 diode produces the following display, the forward voltage and the Good/Not good result:

autodiodess

Measuring capacitance is also quite simple, and the manual recommends setting a null value while the probes are open to compensate for residual capacitance. Interestingly the LCD shows when it is charging and discharging the capacitor under test, using the following segments:

capsegss

Temperature measurement is possible with the included thermocouple and adaptor. Note that the included K-type thermocouple is only rated for up to 200 degrees Celsius, however with an optional unit the meter can measure up to 1372 degrees C. The display can show Fahrenheit as well as Celsius. The meter also shows ambient temperature using the secondary numeric display when it is not in use with other measurement display functions. Finally, measuring AC or DC current is completed as expected, and as noted earlier when switching to another non-current function, the meter will remind you to change the positive lead.

Compared to other meters, there are a few things that irritated me slightly with this unit. The auto-ranging can be somewhat slower than other meters, especially the frequency measurement – it can take around four seconds to measure a constant frequency… my old Tektronix CFC-250 is faster than that. And the exclusion of alligator-clip adaptors and case was disappointing considering the price of the meter. However on a positive note, the meter is supplied with minimal paper documentation, and a full range of manuals, service guides and so on are available for download from the Agilent website.

Update – 14th June 2011

Turns out that many people had similar (and other problems) to myself with their U1272A. They can be solved by updating the firmware via the USB cable. Agilent will send owners of early versions with the affected firmware a free USB cable in order to fix it up. Download this .pdf file with the instructions on how to receive the cable.

Update – 20th June 2011

The USB>DMM cable has arrived and the firmware updated to v2.0. The meter now works as expected – very well. Kudos for Agilent for taking ownership of the problem and sorting it out so rapidly.

Over the last three months I have been using the U1272A and would call it a success. The dual line LCD display really is useful, as well as the low current measurement and especially the Zlow function. There is a short video you can watch that explains a few of the unique features very well. Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of fragility which gives you one less thing to worry about when looking after your tools. Finally there is also the data-logging, however this does require an optional cable. If you are in the market for a full-function electronics multimeter, put this meter on your evaluation list.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow on twitter, facebook, or join our Google Group.

High resolution images are available from flickr.

[Disclaimer – the Agilent U1272A in this review is a sample made available by Agilent Technologies via element-14]

Posted in agilent, android, bluetooth, multimeter, review, test equipment, tutorial, U1177A, U1272A2 Comments

The DFRobot LCD4884 LCD Shield

Learn how to use the DFRobot LCD4884 Arduino LCD shield.

Updated 19/03/2013

This needs to be updated for use with Arduino IDE v1.0.1 and greater… however we no longer have a shield to test it. Stay tuned via twitter to find out when this is updated.

This article is my response to a request on how to use the LCD4884 LCD shield from DFRobot in China. It is a simple way of displaying text and the odd graphic, as well as another way to accept user input. Here is the shield in question:

image

From a hardware perspective the LCD has a resolution of 84 by 48 pixels, with a blue back light. It can easily display six rows of fourteen alphanumeric characters, or two rows of six very large characters. Furthermore, it can display bitmap images that are appropriately sized. At the top-left of the shield digital pins eight to thirteen have been expanded with matching Vcc and GND pins, and at the bottom right the same has been done with analogue pins one through to five. Therefore if using this shield, you will lose digital pins two through to seven and analogue zero.

Along the bottom-left of the shield are solder pads for some other I/O options, however I couldn’t find any documentation on how these are used. Below the LCD is a small four-way joystick that also has an integral button. This is connected to analog pin zero via a resistor network. This joystick can be used for user input and also to create some nifty menu systems. To the right is a power-on LED which is really too bright, I would recommend sanding it a little to reduce the intensity, or just melting it off with a soldering iron.

The shield requires an Arduino library which can be downloaded from the shield’s wiki page. There is also a good demonstration sketch on the wiki, however some of our readers may find this to be somewhat complex. Therefore where possible I will break down and explain the functions in order to simplify use of the shield, then use them in a demonstration sketch.

Controlling the backlight is very easy, just use:

digitalWrite(7, HIGH/LOW)

to turn it on and off. Don’t forget to put

pinMode(7, OUTPUT) in void setup();.

Reading the joystick position is accomplished via analogRead(0);. It returns the following values as such:

  • Up – 505
  • Down – 0
  • Left – 740
  • Right – 330
  • pressed in – 144
  • Idle (no action) – 1023

By using analogRead(0) and if… statements you can read the joystick in a simple way. Don’t forget to allow for some tolerance in the readings. Attempts to press the button while forcing a direction did not return any different values. In the example sketch later on, you can see how this is implemented. Always remember to insert:

in void setup() to create an instance of the LCD, and

at the start of your sketch to enable the library.

Now to display text on the LCD. Here is an example of the standard font text:

charactersss

Using the standard font, we can position text using the following function:

The parameter x is for the x-coordinate of the first character – measured in pixels, not characters. However y is the coordinate in character lines (!). The screen can display six lines of fourteen characters. To display the larger font, for example:

largechar

use the following:

Unfortunately the library only supports the digits 0~9, +, – and decimal point. You can modify the file font_big.h in the library folder and create your own characters. Once again the x parameter is the number of pixels across to place the first character, and y is 0 for the top line and 3 for the bottom line. Notice that the characters in this font are proportional, however the maximum number of digits to plan for in one line would be six.

To clear the display, use:

By now you will be able to display text, control the backlight and read the joystick. The following demonstration sketch puts it all together so far:

Next is to create and display bitmap images. Images can be up to 84 x 48 pixels in size. There are no shades of grey in the images, just pixels on or off. To display a bitmap is a convoluted process but can be mastered. We need to convert a bitmap image into hexadecimal numbers which are then stored in a text file for inclusion into the sketch. To do so, follow these steps:

Create your monochrome image using an editor such as Gimp. Make sure your file name ends with .bmp. Such as:

gimpexample

Next, download the BMP2ASM program from this website. [Sorry, could only find a Windows version]. Open your .bmp file as created above, and you will see a whole bunch of hexadecimal numbers at the bottom of the window:

convexam

Turn on the check boxes labelled “Stretch”, “Use Prefix” and “Use suffix”. Then click “Convert”. Have a look in your folder and you will find a text file with an extension .asm. Open this file in a text editor such as Notepad. Remove all the instances of “dt”, as well as the top line with the file path and name. Finally, put commas at the end of each line.

You should now be left with a file of hexadecimal numbers. Encase these numbers in the form of an array as such:

encase

What we have done is places the hexadecimal numbers inside the

declaration. To make life simpler, ensure the filename (ending with .h) is the same as the variable name, as in this example it is called hellobmp(.h). And make sure you have saved this file in the same folder as the sketch that will use it. Finally, we include the hellobmp.h file in our example sketch to display the image:

Notice in the function lcd.LCD_draw_bmp_pixel the filename hellobmp is the same as in the #include declaration is the same as the hellobmp.h file we created. They all need to match. Furthermore, the four numerical parameters are the bitmap’s top-left x-y and bottom-right x-y coordinates on the LCD. So after all that, here is the result:

hellodone

So there you have it. If you have any questions about this LCD shield contact DF Studio, or ask a question in our Google Group.

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.

Posted in arduino, DFR0092, dfrobot, education, LCD, LCD4884, lesson, review, tutorial19 Comments

The world’s smallest oscilloscope??

Hello readers

Today we examine a tiny and fascinating piece of test equipment from Gabotronics – their XMEGA Xprotolab. Sure, that sounds like a lot – and it is. Yet the functionality of the Xprotolab is inversely proportional to its physical size. Try to imagine having an oscilloscope, arbitrary waveform generator, logic analyser and a spectrum analyser – including a display – in a package no larger than 25.4 x 40.6 mm (1″ x 1.6″) in size. Well imagine no more as here it is:

1ss

As described above, this tiny marvel of engineering has the following functions:

  • Two analogue oscilloscope channels with a maximum sampling rate of 2 million samples per second;
  • Analogue bandwidth of 320 kHz at 8-bits resolution;
  • Buffer size of 256 samples;
  • Fast fourier-transform;
  • Analog and external digital triggering;
  • Maximum input voltage of +/- 10V;
  • Automatic average and peak-to-peak measurements;
  • Logic analyser with eight channel maximum simultaneous monitoring;
  • Firmware is user upgradable;
  • Can also be used as a development board for the XMEGA microcontroller (extra items required);
  • When powered from a USB cable, the board can supply +/-5V and +3.3V into a solderless breadboard.

The OLED screen is very clear and precise, which considering the size of 0.96″ – very easy to read. One can also set the display mode to invert which changes the display to black on white, bringing back memories of the original Apple Macintosh:

invertedss

Using the Xprotolab took a little getting used to, however after pressing menu buttons for a few minutes I had it worked out. The more sensible among you will no doubt read the instructions and menu map listed at the website. Having the dual voltmeter function is quite useful, it saved me having to mess about with a couple of multimeters when trying to debug some analogue circuits I’m currently working with.

The display can be as complex or as simple as you choose, for example when working with the oscilloscope you can disable one channel and shift the waveform so it occupies the centre of the screen. Or when working with the logic analyser, you can choose to only select the channels being monitored, instead of filling the screen with unused logic lines.

There are a couple of things to take care with. When inserting the Xprotolab into your breadboard, be careful not to put pressure on the OLED display when pushing down; when removing it from the breadboard, try and do so evenly with the help of an DIP IC puller.

Generally in my reviews there is a video clip of something happening. Unfortunately my camera just isn’t that good, so below is the demonstration clip from the manufacturer:

As you can see the Xprotolab would be quite useful for monitoring various signals whilst prototyping, as you can just drop it into a breadboard. Furthermore, if your required range is measurable the Xprotolab saves you having to look back-and-forth between a prototype and the display from a regular oscilloscope as well.

As the purchase price is relatively cheap compared against the time and effort of trying to make an OLED display board yourself, one could also plan to build an Xprotolab into a final design – considering a lot of measurement and display work is already done for you it could be a real time-saver. The Xprotolab can run from a 5V supply and only draws a maximum of 60 milliamps. Product support is quite extensive, including source code, schematics, videos, a user forum and more available from the product page.

In conclusion the Xprotolab is genuinely useful, inexpensive and ready to use out of the box. It would make a useful piece of test equipment for a beginner or seasoned professional, and also integrates well into custom projects when required.

Remember, if you have any questions about the Xprotolab,  please contact Gabotronics via their website.

[Note – the Xprotolab reviewed in this article was received from Gabotronics for review purposes]

Posted in gabotronics, oscilloscope, part review, review, xmega, xprotolab8 Comments

Initial review: mbed LPC1768 Development Board

In this article we review the mbed NXP LPC1768 development board and the mbed system in general.

Introduction

Today we will examine the mbed NXP LPC1768 development board. The goal of the mbed system is to “provide(s) a platform for microcontroller hardware, tools, libraries and resources designed to enable rapid prototyping with microcontrollers.” (http://mbed.org/handbook/About). Personally I also see this as a good option for a “next step” for those who have outgrown their Arduino – the mbed offers much more processing power, a similar development environment and similar hardware ease of use. A great way to move from 8-bit to 32-bit power…

The NXP LCP1768 MCU on our mbed board offers the following specifications:

  • a Cortex-M3 core running at 96MHz
  • 512kb flash memory and 64kb RAM
  • powered via USB or 4.5~9V DC applied straight to the board
  • Real time clock (requires external battery backup if necessary)
  • Loads of I/O options, including:
  • USB serial
  • I2C
  • Ethernet on board
  • SPI
  • serial I/O
  • Control-area network (CAN) bus
  • 3.3v digital logic, 40mA per digital pin with a total maximum of 400 mA
  • analog and digital I/O pins

For a full description and data sheet, please visit: http://mbed.org/handbook/mbed-NXP-LPC1768.

Although a small project started by two ARM employees, the mbed has proven to be a worthy product to allow people of generally all skill levels access to powerful microcontrollers without a lot of the inherent complications. It does this in two ways:

Firstly, the hardware is very simple and designed for ease of use. The LPC1768 is mounted on a small board to convert it to a DIP format, making breadboard easy. The designers have also thought to include four blue LEDs for digital output and a nice large reset button. Interface with the PC is via USB. The mbed appears as a USB flash drive to your computer’s operating system, and compiled programs are downloaded as a single .bin file into the mbed.

Secondly, the development environment. Unlike other MCU products on the market, mbed is a completely online development environment. That is, in a manner very similar to cloud computing services such as Google Docs or Zoho Office. However there are some pros and cons of this method. The pros include not having to install any software on the PC – as long as you have a web browser and a USB port you should be fine; any new libraries or IDE updates are handled on the server leaving you to not worry about staying up to date; and the online environment can monitor and update your MCU firmware if necessary. However the cons are that you cannot work with your code off-line, and there may be some possible privacy issues. We will examine the online environment later on.

Preparing and using the mbed is incredibly simple. The designers have certainly exceeded their goal of providing a rapid prototyping environment. The process from opening the box to running your first program is (as always) quite simple.

The initial packaging is clear and inviting, and includes a getting started document, USB cable, a laminated hardware pinout card (very useful) and a bumper sticker (!):

1

 

The mbed unit itself is compact yet not too small:

2

The underside contains the USB interface and flash drive controllers:

3

The initial setup requires registration with the mbed online environment. This is done by plugging in your mbed to the USB, and visiting the web page URL stored in the mbed’s flash drive:

4

This will take you to the login page where you can create a new user profile:

5

The serial number of the mbed is recognised and linked to your user account. This means you do need to own an mbed to explore the depths of the online services available, and also serves to keep the mbed online ecosystem free of spammers and whatnot. After registration, you will be presented with the “getting started” page, which contains links to the function references, tutorials, FAQs, user forums, user-contributed content and more. All is revealed by exploring the links from this page.

After signing up, you can create a profile page which is public. This also contains tabs that contain notes, published (programs you make public) and libraries (that you have made public) Initially I thought the profile page would be private, or limited to other mbed owners, but this is not the case. From this page you can create notebook files, view your past activity and display published programs and libraries.

For example, I created a test notebook page and someone left a comment on it twenty minutes later. So be careful if you have some secrets – instead, you could cut and paste work to and from the IDE. However if you accidentally publish something it can be deleted, but remember that the internet is written in ink, not pencil.

However don’t let privacy worries put you off – just be careful not to write anything or publish programs you want to keep secret. Furthermore, as said earlier –  having an online IDE has a few advantages – you don’t need to install anything on your PC apart from an up to date web browser. This means you can work on programs from other computers with ease. Bored at work? Using a locked-down hotel or  school computer? You can still work on your mbed programs!

The openness of the mbed environment does create a positive, helpful environment similar to that found in the open-source community – there are many libraries that have been submitted that allow connection to various pieces of hardware such as LCD screens, bluetooth, Wii controllers, motors, servos, sensors and so on – as well as libraries for pachube, twitter, HTTP client and server access, and much more. These are found in the environment’s “Cookbook” section. If something interesting is on the market, there may very well be an mbed library to work with it.

The IDE is quite clear and straightforward. The program editor maintains colour-context, line numbering, support auto-formatting, and you can import or export code using the standard copy and paste keyboard shortcuts.

6

You can have multiple folders open at once, where each folder contains one program, the standard mbed function library and others you may have imported. Furthermore, there is also a very clear function reference for the standard mbed library available within the IDE – very useful. Programs are written in C++, and the online IDE takes care of everything – leaving you with only the .bin file to upload to the mbed. If you are new to programming or a little rusty with C++, books with unfortunate titles such as “C++ for Dummies” may prove useful.

7

You can also import libraries published by other mbed users into your own projects. Details of these published libraries (and programs) are listed in the mbed online environment. The speed of development is demonstrated very well in this video from the mbed team:

The support options are very good, including a members-only forum, loads of information, the Cookbook, a wiki for publishing user-contributed libraries and resources, and other FAQs and so on. If you have a question I am sure it could be answered very quickly.  When it comes time to compile and run your program, after a successful compile your computer will download a single .bin file, which is then copied over to your mbed. Then by pressing the reset button on the mbed, the program is stored into the MCU and executed. You can store more than one .bin file on the mbed, however the latest file (by time stamp) is only executed.

Overall the mbed is a refreshingly-easy point of entry to microcontrollers. The ability to quickly prototype an idea into reality is really not difficult, and those with some C++ experience (or willing to learn) will make use of the mbed environment in no time at all. And if you decide to move your prototype into production, details and schematics are provided to help implement the nxp LPC1768 into your designs. Frankly, for fast prototyping at work, or just fun for anyone interested in electronics, the mbed offers a simple yet powerful way of getting things done.

The mbed board used in this review was a promotional consideration from RS. You can purchase an mbed directly from your local RS distributor.

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.

Posted in learning electronics, lesson, LPC1768, mbed, microcontrollers, product review, review, tronixstuff, tutorial10 Comments

Review – Ikalogic SCANALOGIC2 Logic Analyser/Signal Generator

Hello Readers

Today we will take a first look at the Ikalogic “Scanalogic2” PC-based logic analyser and signal generator. This is a tiny and useful piece of test equipment that should be useful for beginners and experienced engineers alike. It has been developed by two guys in Europe that are dedicated to the craft, and I wish them well. First of all, let’s pull it out of the box and see what we have:

contentssss

Upon opening the box, one finds a USB cable, the connector leads and the unit itself. It really is small, around 60 x 35 x 20mm. The USB cable is just under 900mm long. Finally a small instruction and welcome postcard which details a quick overview of the software and the unit’s specifications. Ikalogic are to be congratulated for the minimal level of packaging – finally a company that realises one can download the required items instead of printing books, burning DVDs and causing an increase in shipping weight.

The first thing you will need to do is download the latest software. It needs a Windows-based PC with .net framework. Installing took about two minutes, then the ubiquitous system restart. Finally the last preparation is to check for the latest firmware and update it. This is a simple procedure – download a .zip file, extract the .hexe file, then just file>update device firmware in the software. The desktop software checks for new versions before every startup, so you can be sure of having the latest version.

Here are the specifications of the unit from their web page:

specs

Certainly there is a lot there to take advantage of. Personally I consider the logic analyser functions to be of great interest, and will now demonstrate those to see how they can be useful in debugging and generally figuring out what my designs are up to.

One can capture data in two ways, either by using a live sampling mode, or capture mode where you set the device to sample data into its memory, and then reviewing the data using the software. If you are using the live mode, the quality of the sampling will be affected by your PC resources. For example, consider this first demonstration. A very simple Arduino is setting a pin high and low:

demo1ss

In live mode you can still use the horizontal scroll feature to move backwards and forwards through the captured data. One can also expand the data display to the full width of the window. When using the live mode, I found that there was still some variation in the logic levels that was not programmed for. My PC is fairly up to date, consisting of an AMD PhenonII dual-core 3.1 GHz CPU, 2GB RAM at 1066 MHz, running Windows 7 x64. Perhaps I could use some more RAM? A better video chipset? Who knows… Unfortunately I don’t have a more powerful PC to test. Therefore I will stick to the normal capture mode. Doing so is also quite easy – here is the basic setup tab:

It is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a fair idea of your sampling rate, you can drop it down to increase the available sampling time. Here I have selected the lowest sampling rate, as I will just capture the pulses as shown in the earlier demonstration. Once your sample has been collected, you can scroll through it at your leisure, and also save the sample to disk.

In being able to save the data for later retrieval, there are three things that can be done with the data:

  1. As anyone can download the software, you can share your samples by emailing or sharing the files with colleagues – they can playback the sample without owning a Scanalogic themselves, by just using the software;
  2. You can keep the sample for later analysis
  3. You can blast out the captured data using the function generator feature. Neat! Let’s do that now…

Earlier on I captured the following from an Arduino board:

demo3ss

And now I can just right-click on the data (channel one) and select run data generator for this channel then click start on the left. Which results in the following output:

Very good (except for my old CRO). Also notice the log area at the bottom of the application screen – it relays unit status, error messages and so on. Now let’s capture and look at some more interesting sample data. The following example is an example of captured data from an Arduino serial-out pin, which was programmed to send the letter “A” out at 2400 bps using serial.write();

uartdemoss

Once you have captured the sample, you can select the parameters of the data stream and decode the sample. As you can see in the image above, the decoder shows the data stream in hexadecimal and the ASCII equivalent.

Next on the test is I2C. This is a common two wire data bus from Philips/NXP, used in many systems. More about I2C with Arduino is here. A very popular example of an I2C IC is the Maxim DS1307 real-time clock. We can use our Scanalogic to eavesdrop on the SCA and SCL data lines to see what is being said between the microcontroller and the DS1307:

i2cone

So in the example above, the value 0x68 (binary 1101000) is sent down the bus. This is the unique identifier (slave address) for a DS1307 IC. So the Arduino is saying “Hey – DS1307 – wake up”. This is then followed by a 0x00 or directional bit. The DS1307 then replies by sending the time data back to the bus. The first piece of data in the reply is 0x68, which identifies to the I2C bus (recall that 0x68 is the DS1307 identifier) that the data is from the DS1307. Following this is the time and data data in hexadecimal, which is converted to binary-coded decimal in the microcontroller software.

When working with I2C, it really pays to have the data sheet for your IC with you. Then you can decipher the data, direction and timing with the sample data on one side and the timing diagrams on the other. For example, page twelve of the DS1307 data sheet. In doing so, it reminds me how much I dislike I2C 🙂

Moving along. Next we will have a look at some data from the SPI (serial peripheral interface) lines. Again, this is quite simple, you just connect the four hooks into the clock, MOSI, MISO and CS lines, and capture away. The software allows you to select which hook is connected to which line, so you can connect up quickly. At this point I will note that the IC hooks are somewhat inexpensive, and the designers could have spent a few more Euro on including some decent ones. Anyhow, here is the screen dump:

spidemo

At this point one can realise all sorts of monitoring possibilities. I wish I had one of these years ago when learning digital electronics – you could just monitor the highs and lows over four channels and debug things very quickly. Will keep this in mind when I get around to making a TTL clock.

Anyhow – the Scanalogic2 has a lot going for it in terms of data capturing ability, the price is right, you can update the software and firmware very easily, and the desktop software is freely available in order to share samples with others. There are a few cons though – the IC hooks could be better (I couldn’t connect four in a row onto an IC for the life of me); the unit could use some documentation in terms of a “Getting Started” guide or webpage – so due to this the learning curve is quite high. There is their version here, but I feel it could be expanded upon. Many beginners and amateurs will be attracted to this unit due to the price. However there is a support forum and so on, but answers can vary in quality and time. However, don’t let the cons put you off – this thing is cheap, the software is very good – and it works. Two thumbs up!

To purchase a Scanalogic2, visit the Ikalogic home page. If you need to analyse some data, and don’t want to spend a bucket of money – this is for you.

Posted in ikalogic, product review, review, Scanalogic, test equipment4 Comments

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