Archive | test equipment

Old Kit Review – Silicon Chip Transistor Beta Tester


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

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

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

Where’s the schematic?

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

Back to the review – what is “beta”?

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester what is beta


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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester packaging

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester contents

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester components

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester off brand 555

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB rear

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB front

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester front panel

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester PCB not fitting

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester resistors lined up

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 1

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 2

and the test leads:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester assembly 3

 And we’re finished:

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester finished

How it works

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

“Modern-day” replacements

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

Silicon Chip transistor beta tester modern tester gain

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


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

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


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

Posted in altronics, K2534, kit review, test equipment, tronixstuff1 Comment

Kit review – Altronics Logic Probe Mk II


Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a few projects, and in this kit review we’ll look at an older but still current example from August 2004 – the 3-state Logic Probe Kit (Mk II). This is an inexpensive piece of test equipment that’s useful when checking digital logic states and as a kit, great for beginners. Avid readers of my kit reviews may remember the SMD version we examined in June… well it wasn’t that much of a success due to the size of the parts. However this through-hole version has been quite successful, so keep reading to find out more


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


 In typical Altronics fashion, an updated assembly guide is provided along with a general reference to common electronics topics:


 All the required parts are included – except for a 14-pin IC socket and two CR2016 batteries.


 The PCB makes soldering easy with the silk-screen and solder mask:


 However the resistor numbering is a bit out of whack, a few R-numbers are skipped. So before soldering, measure and line up all the resistors in numbered order – doing so will reduce the chance of fitting them in the wrong spot.


When it comes time to solder the power switch on the end, it’s necessary to clip off two tabs – one at each end of the switch. However this isn’t a problem:


Soldering in the rest of the components wasn’t any effort at all, they’ve been spaced around the PCB nicely:


 Once they’re in, it’s time to insert the pins that hold the probe (shown on the left below):


 A full-sized probe is included with the kit, which you cut down with a hacksaw to allow it to fit on the end of the PCB. Then solder a short wire from the tip’s collar and run it through the body as such:


 At this point, it’s time to break out the butane torch:


… with which you melt down the heatshrink over the tip, then fit it to the PCB and solder the probe wire:


At this point it’s wise to fit the batteries and test that the probe works, as the next stage is to heatshrink the entire circuit to the left of the LEDs:



Using the probe is incredibly simple – however note that it’s designed for working with 5V logic. If you need to use higher voltages the probe can be assembled with slightly different circuit to take care of that eventuality. Moving forward simply clip the lead to GND on the circuit under test, then probe where you want to measure. The LEDs will indicate either HIGH, LOW or the PULSE LED will light when a fault is apparent, or other need for further research into the circuit. Here’s a quick demonstration probing a signal from an Arduino board:


This through-hole version of the logic probe kit was much easier to construct than the SMD version, and worked first time. A logic probe itself is a very useful tool to have and I highly recommend this kit for the beginner who enjoys projects and is growing their stable of test equipment on a budget. You can find the kit at my store – Tronixlabs Australia.

Full-sized images available on flickr.  And if you made it this far – check out my book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.

Finally, check out – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Pololu and much much more.


As always, have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in altronics, K2586, kit, kit review, logic probe, silicon chip, test equipment, tronixstuff2 Comments

Australian Electronics Nostalgia – Talking Electronics Kits


From 1981, Australian electrical engineer Colin Mitchell started publishing his home-grown electronics magazine “Talking Electronics”. His goal was to get people interested and learning about electronics, and more so with a focus on digital electronics. It was (and still is) a lofty goal – in which he succeeded. From a couple of rooms in his home the magazine flourished, and many projects described within were sold as kits. At one stage there were over 150 Talking Electronics kits on the market. You could find the books and kits in retail outlets such as Dick Smith Electronics, and for a short while there was a TE store in Moorabbin (Victoria). Colin and the team’s style of writing was easy to read and very understandable – but don’t take my word for it, you can download the magazines from his website (they’re near the bottom of the left column). Dave Jones recently interviewed Colin, and you can watch those for much more background information.

Over fifteen issues you could learn about blinking LEDs all the way to making your own expandable Z80 board computer, and some of the kits may still be available. Colin also published a series of tutorial books on electronics, and also single-magazine projects. And thus the subjects of our review … we came across the first of these single-issue projects from 1981 – the Mini Frequency Counter (then afterwards we have another kit):


How great is that? The PCB comes with the magazine. This is what set TE apart from the rest, and helped people learn by actually making it easy to build what was described in the magazine instead of just reading about it. For 1981 the PCB was quite good – they were silk-screened which was quite rare at the time:



And if you weren’t quite ready, the magazine also included details of a square-wave oscillator to make and a 52-page short course in digital electronics. However back to the kit…


The kit uses common parts and I hoard CMOS ICs so building wasn’t a problem. This (original) version of the kit used LEDs instead of 7-segment displays (which were expensive at the time) so there was plenty of  careful soldering to do:


And after a while the counter started to come together. I used IC sockets just in case:


The rest was straight-forward, and before long 9 V was supplied, and we found success:


To be honest progress floundered for about an hour at this point – the display wouldn’t budge off zero. After checking the multi-vibrator output, calibrating the RC circuits and finally tracing out the circuit with a continuity tester, it turned out one of the links just wasn’t soldered in far enough – and the IC socket for the 4047 was broken So a new link and directly fitting the 4047 fixed it. You live and learn.


So – we now have a frequency counter that’s good for 100 Hz to the megahertz range, with a minimum of parts. Younger, non-microcontroller people may wonder how that is possible – so here’s the schematic:


The counter works by using a multi-vibrator using a CD4047 to generate a square-wave at 50, 500 and 5 kHz, and the three trimpots are adjusted to calibrate the output. The incoming pulses to measure are fed to the 4026 decade counter/divider ICs. Three of these operate in tandem and each divide the incoming count by ten – and display or reset by the alternating signal from the 4047. However for larger frequencies (above 900 Hz) you need to change the frequency fed to the display circuit in order to display the higher (left-most) digits of the result. A jumper wire is used to select the required level (however if you mounted the kit in a case, a knob or switch could be used).

For example, if you’re measuring 3.456 MHz you start with the jumper on H and the display reads 345 – then you switch to M to read 456 – then you switch to the L jumper and read 560, giving you 3456000 Hz. If desired, you can extend the kit with another PCB to create a 5-digit display. The counter won’t be winning any precision contests – however it has two purposes, which are fulfilled very well. It gives the reader an inexpensive piece of test equipment that works reasonably well, and a fully-documented project so the reader can understand how it works (and more).

And for the curious –  here it is in action:

[Update 20/07/2013] Siren Kit

Found another kit last week, the Talking Electronics “DIY Kit #31 – 9V siren”. It’s an effective and loud siren with true rise and fall, unlike other kits of the era that alternated between two fixed tones. The packaging was quite strong and idea for mail-order at the time:


The label sells the product (and shows the age):


The kit included every part required to work, apart from a PP3 battery, and a single instruction sheet with a good explanation of how the circuit works, and some data about the LM358:


… and as usual the PCB was ahead of its’ time with full silk-screen and solder mask:



Assembly was quite straight-forward. The design is quite compact, so a lot of vertical resistor mounting was necessary due to the lack of space. However it was refreshing to not have any links to fit. After around twenty minutes of relaxed construction, it was ready to test:



It’s a 1/2 watt speaker, however much louder than originally anticipated:

Once again, another complete and well-produced kit.


That was a lot of fun, and I’m off to make the matching square-wave oscillator for the frequency counter. Kudos to Colin for all those years of publication and helping people learn. Lots of companies bang on about offering tutorials and information on the Internet for free, but Colin has been doing it for over ten years. Check out his Talking Electronics website for a huge variety of knowledge, an excellent electronics course you can get on CD – and go easy on him if you have any questions.

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

And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.


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

Posted in australia, counter, digital, electronics, frequency, history, kit review, learning electronics, magazine, talking, talking electronics, test equipment, tronixstuff, vintage8 Comments

Kit review – Altronics/SC PIC Logic Probe Kit


Every month Australian electronics magazine Silicon Chip publishes a few projects, and in this quick kit review we’ll look at an older but still current example from September 2007 – the 3-state PIC Logic Probe Kit. This is an inexpensive piece of test equipment that’s useful when checking digital logic states and as a kit, a challenging hand-soldering effort.


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


As mentioned earlier this kit is an interesting challenge due to the size of the PCB and the use of surface-mount components. The designer’s goal was to have the entire unit fit inside a biro housing (without the ink!). Thus the entire thing is using SMT parts.

Thankfully the LEDs are packaged individually into labelled bags, as alone they’re identical to the naked eye. Although the kit wasn’t expensive, it would have been nice for one extra component of each type – beginners tend to lose the tiny parts. The cost could perhaps be offset by not including the usual solder which is too thick for use with the kit.


Nevertheless with some care assembly can begin. After cleaning the PCB with some aerosol cleaner, it was tacked it to the desk mat to make life a little easier:


If you want one of those rulers – click here. Before building the kit it occurred to me that the normal soldering iron tip would be too large, so I ordered a tiny 0.2mm conical tip for the Hakko:


The tip on your average iron may be too large, so take this into account when trying to hand solder SMT components. The instructions include a guide on SMT hand-soldering for the uninitiated, well worth reading before starting.

Moving forward, soldering the parts was a slow and patient process. (With hindsight one could use the reflow soldering method to take care of the SMT and then carefully fit the links to the PCB). The instructions are quite good and include a short “how to solder SMT” guide, a PCB layout plan:


… along with an guide that helps identity the components:


When soldering, make sure you have the time and patience not to rush the job. And don’t sneeze – after doing so I lost the PIC microcontroller for a few moments trying to find where it landed. Once the LEDs have been soldered in and their current-limiting resistors, it’s a good time to quickly test them by applying 5V and GND. I used the diode test feature of the multimeter which generates enough current to light them up.

Due to the PCB being single-sided (!) you also need to solder in some links. It’s best to do these before the button (and before soldering any other parts near the link holes), and run the wires beneath the top surface, for example:


… and after doing so, you’ll need more blu-tack to hold it down!


One of the trickiest parts of this kit was soldering the sewing needle at the end of the PCB to act as the probe tip – as you can see in the photo below, solder doesn’t take to them that well – however after a fair amount it does the job:


At this point it’s recommended you solder the wires to the PCB (for power) and then insert the probe into the pen casing. For the life of me I didn’t have a spare pen around here so instead we’re going to cover it in clear heatshrink. Thus leaving the final task as soldering the alligator clips to the power wires:



What is a logic probe anyway? It shows what the logic level is at the probed point in a circuit. To do this you connect the black and red alligator clips to 0V and a supply voltage up to 18V respectively – then poke the probe tip at the point where you’re curious about the voltage levels. If it’s at a “high” state (on, or “1” or whatever you want to call it) the red LED comes on.

If it’s “low” the green LED comes on. The third (orange) LED has two modes. It can either pulse every 50 mS when the logic state changes – or in “latch mode” it will come on and stay on when the mode changes, ideal for detecting infrequent changes in the logic state of the test point.

The kit uses a Microchip PIC12F20x microcontroller, and also includes the hardware schematic to make a basic RS232 PIC programmer and wiring instructions for reprogramming it if you want to change the code or operation of the probe.


The PIC Logic Probe is a useful piece of equipment if you want a very cheap way to monitor logic levels. It wasn’t the easiest kit to solder, and if Altronics revised it so the PCB was double-sided and changed the parts layout, there would be more space to solder some parts and thus make the whole thing a lot easier.

Nevertheless for under $17 it’s worth it. You can purchase it from Altronics and their resellers, or read more about it in the September 2007 edition of Silicon Chip. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased without notifying the supplier. And if you made it this far – check out my new book “Arduino Workshop” from No Starch Press.


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

Posted in altronics, K2587, kit review, logic probe, SMT, soldering, test equipment, tronixstuff2 Comments

Kit Review – JYE Tech FG085 DDS Function Generator


There has been a lot of talk lately about inexpensive DDS (direct digital synthesis) function generators, and I always enjoy a kit – so it was time to check out the subject of this review. It’s the “FG085 miniDDS function generator” from JYE Tech. JYE is a small company in China that makes inexpensive test equipment kits, for example their capacitance meter (my first kit review!) and DSO. The capacitance meter was good, the DSO not so good – so let’s hope this is better than their last efforts.


The instructions (AssemblyGuide_085G) are much better than previous efforts, and if you have bought the kit – read them. The kit arrives in a large zip-lock bag, with the following bundle of parts:

The AC adaptor is 100~240V in, 15V DC out. Everything is included with the kit including a short BNC to alligator clips lead for output. The PCBs are very good, with a nice solder mask and silk screen:

and back:

At this point we realise that most of the work is already done. There’s two microcontrollers ATmega48 and ATmega168- one for display and user-interface control, and the other for function generation. It takes only a few minutes to solder in the through-hole parts, headers and sockets:

… then you flip over the PCB and add the LCD:

… followed by the buttons and rotary encoder. From previous research this is the part that causes people a lot of trouble – so read carefully. There’s a lot of buttons – and if they aren’t inserted into the PCB correctly your life will become very difficult. The buttons must be inserted a certain way – they’re “polarised” – for example:

As you can see above, one side has a double-vertical line and the other side has a single. When you fit the buttons to the PCB – the side with the double-vertical must face the left-hand side of the PCB – the side with the DC socket. For example:

Furthermore, don’t be in a rush and put all the buttons in then try to solder them all at once.  Do them one at a time, and hold them tight to the PCB with some blu-tac or similar. If they don’t sit flush with the PCB the front panel won’t fit properly and the buttons will stick when in use. So exercise some patience, and you’ll be rewarded with an easy to use function generator. Rush them in and you’ll be very unhappy. I warned you! After fitting each button, test fit the front panel to check the alignment, for example:

Then you end up with nicely-aligned buttons:

… which all operate smoothly when the panel is fitted:

After the buttons comes the rotary encoder. Be very careful when fitting it to the PCB – the data legs are really weak, and bend without much effort. If you push in the encoder, be mindful of the legs not going through the holes and bending upwards. Furthermore, when soldering in the encoder note that you’re really close to an electrolytic – you don’t want to stab it with a hot iron:

The CP2012 chip in the image above is for the USB interface. More on that later. Now the next stage is the power-test. Connect DC power and turn it on – you should be greeted by a short copyright message followed by the operation display:

If you didn’t – remove the power and check your soldering –  including the capacitor polarities and look for bridges, especially around the USB socket. Now it’s time to fit the output BNC socket. For some reason only known to the designers, they have this poking out the front of the panel for the kit – however previous revisions have used a simple side-entry socket. Thus you need to do some modifications to the supplied socket. First, chop the tag from the sprocket washer:

… then remove the paper from the front panel:

Now solder a link to the washer in a vertical position:

… then fit the BNC socket to the panel, with the washer aligned as such:

Finally, align the top panel with the PCB so the BNC socket pin and washer link drop into the PCB and solder them in:

If you want to use the servo mode, solder three short wires that can attach to a servo form the three “output” pads between the BNC and USB socket.

Finally, screw in the panels and you’re finished!

Using the function generator

Operation is quite simple, and your first reference should be the manual (manual.pdf). The display defaults to normal function generator mode at power-up – where you can adjust the frequency, offset, amplitude and type of output – sine, square, triangle, ramp up, ramp down, staircase up and down:

The ranges for all functions is 0~10 khz, except for sine which can hit 200 kHz. You can enter higher frequencies, such as up to 250 kHz for sine – but the results aren’t so good.

Instead of filling this review with lots of screen dumps from an oscilloscope to demonstrate the output – I’ve made the following video where you can see various functions being displayed on a DSO:

You can also create signals to test servos, with adjustable pulse-width, amplitude and cycle times. However you’ll need to solder three wires onto the PCB (next to the BNC socket area) to attach to the servo.

According to the user manual and various retailers’ websites – the FG085 can generate frequency sweeping signals. These are signals that sweep from a start to as finish frequency over a period of time. However the firmware on the supplied unit is old and needs updating to enable this function. You can download the firmware in .hex file format from here. Then go and dig up an AVR programmer and avrdudeAt the time of writing we had some issues with the signature not being recognised when updating the firmware, and solidly bricked the FG085. Our fault – so when that’s sorted out we’ll update the review – stay tuned.

There is also a USB port on the side – after installing CP2102 drivers in Windows we could connect at 115200 bps with terminal, however all the FG085 returned was the firmware version number. Perhaps later on the designers will update the firmware to allow for PC control. Somehow I wouldn’t bank on it.

Oh – if you’re wondering what DDS is – click here!


It’s an interesting piece of equipment. Putting the firmware upgrade issues to one side, the FG085 does what it sets out to do. During testing it worked well, and we didn’t come across any obvious inaccuracies during use.  The price varies between US$43 and $50 – so for that money it’s  a good kit. Just take care during construction and you’ll be fine.

The function generator is available in kit form or assembled, with or without panels from China. The kit version with panels is also available from Sparkfun (KIT-11394) and their resellers. Full-sized images available on flickr. This kit was purchased and reviewed without notifying the supplier.

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

Posted in dds, ds2102, FG085, function generator, jyetech, kit review, KIT-11394, learning electronics, rigol, test equipment7 Comments

Review: Agilent U1177A IR to Bluetooth Adaptor

In this review we examine the new Agilent U1177A infra-red to Bluetooth adaptor for the Agilent  U1272A DMM. You can also use the adaptor with the U1240-series DMMs with the optional adaptor. With some PC or Android device software you can monitor or log data from up to three DMMs. So let’s have a look and see what it’s all about.


The adaptor arrives in a small box:

… with the following contents:

It was a relief to see the AAA cells included as we didn’t have any in stock. The yellow document is the China RoHS sheet, and the instructions are short but well detailed. The unit itself is quite small:

To fit the battery or reset the device, the front cover slides open revealing the innards to some degree:

and the rear:

The unit clips soundly to the rear of the DMM, however it does stick out quite a lot:

If you need to leave the meter unattended, you’ll need a level and vibration free surface, as the adaptor can be knocked out relatively easily from the top. The adaptor also blocks the hole at the back which some users may use with a hook or loop for positioning the DMM.

Software and Operation

You can use the U1177 with two platforms – Android and Windows, and we tested both. I’m sure if you have Mac Parallels, etc., that there may be some success there but I haven’t tested them. There are two applications available for Android devices – the mobile logger and mobile meter. You can download them both from the Google Play app – just search for ‘agilent‘, and the results should be

The third app is a game that is somewhat entertaining. We tried the applications on two Android devices – a HTC Velocity running Android 4.0.3 (which failed miserably, the software kept freezing) and a Motorola Xoom MZ601 with Android 3.2. I would say now that the software is marked “Beta” so caveat emptor. The data logging software worked on the Xoom but not the “Agilent Mobile Meter”. Moving forward, the logging software is quite good – you can display a graph, table or statistical value of the incoming data from up to three separate DMMs.

Below is a rough video of using the Xoom with data logging. We first make the Bluetooth connection, then measure resistance of a 1k ohm logarithmic pot, change the view to data table, then stop the logging and email the data. The app can email a .csv file which can be opened with any spreadsheet, etc. Using the app you can label each DMM feed to avoid confusion with the data files in the future.

Using the U1177A with a Windows 7 x64 machine was a lot more successful. You can download the Windows-based software from here (97 MB). After pairing the adaptor with the bluetooth connection software, the Agilent software loads but does not connect. You need to alter the data speed to 19200bps and select the COM port from the drop-down list in the “communication settings” on the left-hand side of the window, as shown below:

You can also use terminal software and AT commands to change the parameters of the U1177A, which is described in the user manual. Moving forward, once connected you can measure and log to your heart’s content. You can display a virtual meter:


Or choose a graphing display mode:


Note the short drop in value to zero as the graph increased on the far-right of the measurement in the image above. This occurs when the meter is changing range, just as the LCD will blink off then on due to the same phenomenon. Finally, you can also display the data as a table, for example:


Finally, you can export the data to a .csv file which can be opened with the usual spreadsheet or text editing software:


Using Windows OS Remote Multimeter Use Data Logging Other connection – hyperterminal etc. 


For data logging to a PC that is in Bluetooth range, the U1177A fits the bill. Although you can get a serial to IR cable (and early U1272A owners should have received one when the firmware update was released), the Bluetooth module will certainly be useful when moving around a worksite, or taking remote measurements from extreme temperature or NVH environments. The Android apps need to move out of beta stage – however due to the variety of devices and OS versions in the market this may be a long journey. However considering the price (~Au$52) it is inexpensive enough to keep around just-in-case.

Note – the U1177A was purchased by myself and reviewed without notice. Residing in Australia, ours was purchased from

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

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

Tektronix CFC250 Teardown


Time for something different – and perhaps the start of several new articles containing teardowns. In our first instalment we examine the Tektronix CFC250 100 MHz frequency counter circa 1994: Not the most spectacular of designs, but it has worked well right until the present day. The update speed of the display wasn’t lightning fast, however for the time it would have been quite reasonable. Here is a short video I shot last year comparing it against a small frequency counter kit:

However after staring at this thing every day on my desk for a couple of years it has now become impossible to overcome the temptation to have a look inside. Therefore the reason for this article. You can click on the images to see the full-size version. So let’s go back to 1988 and check out the CFC250…

External tour

A quick look around the outside. The casing is reminiscent of the Escort brand of test equipment from the era, and (I suspect that) they OEM’d the CFC250 for Tektronix. (Interestingly enough Agilent bought the assets of Escort in 2008). Moving forward, the external images of the CFC250 starting with the front:

… and the rear. The AC transformer is tapped out to accept four different mains voltages, which you can select with the slide switches:

Opening up the unit involves removing screws from the base. The first ones were only for the feet, so they could stay put:

It was the screw on the right of the foot that was the key to entry. After removing them from each side and the other pair on the rear-bottom, the top casing pulls off easily…

Internal tour

… leaving us with the internals for all to see:

Although the LED display is a fair giveaway to the age of the CFC250,  a quick look around the PCB confirms it… and the display is ultimately controlled by an LSI Systems LS7031 “Six decade MOS up counter” (data sheet.pdf). It is matched to some DS75492N MOS-to-LED hex digit driver ICs (data sheet.pdf) and some other logic ICs. It is interesting to compare the number of parts required to drive the LEDs compared to a contemporary microcontroller and something like the TM1640 used in this module.

Now for the LED display board:

Nothing too out of the ordinary. A closer look at the rear panel shows some very neat AC mains wiring:

Now for some more close-ups. Here we can see the use of the MM5369 17-stage oscillator/divider (data sheet.pdf). I haven’t seen one of these for a while, the last time we used them was for a 60Hz timebase. However in this case it would be used to create an accurate timebase within which the CFC250 would count the number of incoming pulses:

 The removal of two more screws allows removal of the main PCB from the base of the cabinet, which reveals as such:

There is also an opaque plastic sheet cut to fit, helping insulate the PCB from the rest of the world:

 The PCB is single-sided and very easy to follow. I wonder if it was laid out by hand?

It reminds me of some old kits from the past decade.  Moving forward, there is a metal shield around the PCB area of signal input and low-pass filter:

A quick desolder of three points allows removal of the shield, and reveals the following:

At the top-left of the above image reveals a resistor in a somewhat elevated position, as shown below:

If anyone can explain this one, please leave a comment below.


What impressed me the most during this teardown was the simple way in that the unit was designed – all through-hole parts, mechanical connections either soldered or nuts and bolts, and all components labelled. I can imagine that during the lifespan of the CFC250 it would have been relatively simple to repair. Such is the price of progress. And yes, it worked after putting it all back together again.

In the meanwhile, full-sized original images are available on flickr. I hope you found this article of interest. Coming soon we will have some more older-technology items to examine and some new tutorials as well.

In the meanwhile, have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, 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 cfc250, teardown, tektronix, test equipment, vintage9 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.


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


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:


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.


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:


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.


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:


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:


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:



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:


or all in a summary screen:


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


Logic Analyser

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


as well as sixteen grabbers and some extension runs:


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:


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:




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.


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:


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:


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:


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


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


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.


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:



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.


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:


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:


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:


… then a change of frequency for a few cycles:


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.


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


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 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.


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 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 – High Accuracy LC Meter

Hello readers

Time for another kit review. Lately one of my goals has been to make life easier and in doing so having some decent test equipment. One challenge of meeting that goal is (naturally) keeping the cost of things down to a reasonable level. Unfortunately my eyesight is not the best so I cannot read small capacitor markings – which makes a capacitance meter necessary. Although I have that function within my multimeter, it is often required to read resistors in the same work session.

Thus the reason for this kit review – the High Precision LC Meter kit. The details were originally published in the May 2008 issue of Australia’s Silicon Chip magazine. The meter specifications are:

  • Capacitance – 0.1pF to over 800 nF with four-digit resolution;
  • Inductance – 10 nH to over 70 mH with four-digit resolution;
  • Accuracy of better than +/- 1% of the reading;
  • Automatic range selection, however only non-polarised capacitors can be measured.

The power drain is quite low,  between 8 (measurement) and 17 milliamps (calibration). Using a fresh 9V alkaline battery you should realise around fifty to sixty hours of continuous use. At this point some of you may be wondering if it is cheaper to purchase an LC meter or make your own. A quick search found the BK Precision 875B LCR meter with the same C range and a worse L range for over twice the price of the kit. Although we don’t have resistance measurement in our kit, if you are building this you already have a multimeter. So not bad value at all. And you can say you built it 🙂

Speaking of building, assembly time was just under two hours, and the kit itself is very well produced. The packaging was the typical retail bag:


The first thing that grabs your attention is the housing. It is a genuine, made in the US Hammond enclosure – and has all the required holes and LCD area punched out, so you don’t need to do any drilling at all:


The enclosure has nice non-slip rubberised edging (the grey area) and also allows for a 9V battery to be housed securely. The team at Altronics have done a great job in redesigning the kit for this enclosure, much more attractive than the magazine version. The PCB is solder-masked and silk-screened to fine standard:


There are two small boards to cut and file off from the main PCB. We will examine them later in the article. All required parts for completion were included, and it is good to see 1% resistors and an IC socket for the microcontroller:


At first I was a little disappointed to not have a backlit LCD module, however considering the meter is to be battery operated (however there is a DC socket for a plugpack) and you wouldn’t really be using this in the dark, a backlight wouldn’t be necessary. Construction was easy enough, the layout on the PCB is well labelled, and plenty of space between pins. Lately I have started using a lead-former, and can highly recommend the use of one:


Assembly was quite simple, just start with the lower profile components:



… then mount the LCD and the larger components:


… the switches and others – and we’re done:


The only problem at this point was the PCB holes for the selector switch, one hole was around 1mm from where it needed to be. Instead of drilling out the hole, it was easier to just bend up the legs of the switch and keep going:


At this stage one has to cut out two supports from the enclosure, which can be done easily. Then insert the PCB and solder to the sockets and power (9V battery snap). Initial testing was successful (after adjusting the LCD contrast…


If you look at the area of PCB between the battery and the left-hand screw there are eight pins – these are four pairs of inputs used to help calibrate and check operation of the meter. For example, by placing a jumper over a pair you can display the oscillator frequency at various stages:


Furthermore, those links can also be used to fine-tune the meter. For example one can increase or decrease the scaling factor and the settings are then stored in the EEPROM within the microcontroller. However my example seemed ok from the start, so it was time to seal up the enclosure and get testing. Starting with a ceramic capacitor, the lowest value in stock:


Spot-on. That was a good start, however trying to bend the leads to match the binding posts was somewhat inconvenient, so I cut up some leads and fitted crocodile clips on the end. The meter’s zero button allows you to reset the measurement back to zero after attaching the leads, so stray capacitance can be taken into account.

Next, time to check the measurement with something more accurate, a 1% tolerance silvered-mica 100 picofarad capacitor:


Again, the meter came through right on specification. My apologies to those looking for inductor tests – I don’t have any in stock to try out. If you are really curious I could be persuaded to order some in, however as the capacitance measurement has been successful I am confident the inductance measurement would also fall within the meter’s specifications.

As shown earlier, there were two smaller PCBs included:


The top PCB is a shorting bar used to help zero the inductance reading, and the lower PCB is used to help measure smaller capacitors and also SMD units. A nice finishing touch that adds value to the meter. The only optional extra to consider would be a set of short leads with clips or probes to make measurement physically easier.

When reading this kit review it may appear to be somewhat positive and not critical at all. However it really is a  good instrument, considering the accuracy, price, and enjoyment from doing it yourself. It was interesting, easy to build, and will be very useful now and in the future. So if you are in the market for an LC meter, and don’t mind some work – you should add this kit to your checklist for consideration. It is available from our store –



… which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeedstudio and much much more.

As always, have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in K2533, kit review, LC meter, test equipment, tronixlabs18 Comments

Kit review – Current Clamp Meter Adaptor

Hello readers

Time for another kit review. Over the last few days I have been enjoying assembling a useful piece of test-equipment – a Current Clamp Meter adaptor. This kit was originally described in the September 2003 issue of Silicon Chip magazine. The purpose of this adaptor is to allow the measurement of AC current up to around 600 amps and DC current up to 900 amps. A clamp meter is a safe method of measuring such high currents (which can end you life very quickly) as they do not require a direct connection to the wire in question. As you would realise even a more expensive type of multimeter can only safely measure around ten amps of current, so a clamp meter becomes necessary.

To purchase a clamp meter can be expensive, starting from around $150. Therein lies the reason for this kit – under $30 and a few hours of time, as well as a multimeter that can measure millivolts DC/AC.

How the adaptor works is quite simple. It uses a hall-effect sensor to measure magenetic flux which is generated by the current flowing through the wire being measured. The sensor returns a voltage which is proportional to the amount of magnetic flux. This voltage is processed via an op-amp into something that can be measured using the millivolts AC/DC range of a multimeter. As the copyright for the kit is held by Silicon Chip magazine, I cannot give too much away about the design.

You can purchase a complete kit from Tronixlabs, or build one yourself by following the article in the magazine.  The hall effect sensor UGN3503 is now out of production, but according to the data sheet (.pdf), the Allegro A1302 is a drop-in replacement.

Now, time to get started. To make life easier I forked out for the whole kit, which arrived as below:


Upon opening the bag up, one is presented with the following parts:



It is great to see everything required included with a kit. And the extra battery-clamp is a nice bonus. As usual an IC socket was not included, however these can be had for less than five cents each… so I have recently solved that problem by importing a few hundred myself. The hall effect sensor is very small; considering the graph paper below is 5mm square:


The PCB was very well done – to a degree. The solder-mask and silk-screening was up to standard:


… however a few holes needed some adjustment. Doing a component test-fit before soldering really paid off, as none of the holes for the PCB pins were large enough to accept the pins, and one of the sensor socket holes needed some modification:


A small hand-held drill is always a handy thing to have around. Once those errors were taken care of, actually soldering the components to the PCB was simple and took less than ten minutes. The potentiometer VR3 needed to be elevated by 3.5mm so it would fit through the enclosure panel in line with the power switch. As I couldn’t use PCB pins, a few link offcuts from the resistors worked just as well. When soldering the components, start with the low-profile items such as resistors, and finish with the switch and potentiometer:


Now it was time to make the clamp. First up was to cut the iron-powdered toroidal core in half. All I had to do this with was a small hacksaw, so I hacked away at it for about half an hour. This process will make a mess, filings will go everywhere. So you will need some pointless rubbish to catch the filings with:


Each half of the core is placed inside the clamp. Until I am completely happy with the clamp they will be held in with blutac. A lead also needs to be constructed, with the sensor at one end and the 3.5mm stereo plug at the other. Some heatshrink is provided to cover the ribbon cable, but I recommend placing some over the solder joints where the sensor meets the ribbon cable, as such:


Next, the sensor needs to be placed between the two halves of the core – however a piece of plastic slightly thicker needs to sit next to the sensor, to stop the clamp damaging the sensor by closing down on it. Then, using the continuity function of a multimeter, check that there aren’t any shorts in the lead. Feed the newly-constructed lead through the battery clamp in order to keep things relatively neat and tidy, and you should result with something like this:


As you can see I have had a few attempts at cutting the core. The next step was to drill the holes for the enclosure, and then solder the wires that run from the PCB, run them through the hole in the side of the enclosure, and fasten the banana plugs to plug into the multimeter.

Now it was time to start calibration. There are two stages to this, and both are explained well in the instructions. This involves adjusting the trimpots which control the output voltage in millivolts, which can be affected by charge in the human body. Therefore it is recommended to use a plastic screwdriver/trimming tool to make the adjustments:


They are generally available in a set or pack for a reasonable price. The second stage of calibration involves creating a dummy DC current load using a 12v power supply, 5 metres of enamelled copper wire and a 18 ohm 5 watt resistor:


By putting 100 turns of the copper wire around one side of the clamp, putting the resistor in series and looping it into 12 volts, the current drawn will be 0.667 amps. (Ohm’s law – voltage/resistance = current). Then it is a simple task to set the multimeter to millivolts DC and adjust potentiometer VR1 until it displays 66.7 mA:


So there you have it – 66.7 millivolts on the multimeter represents 660 milliamps of current. So 1 amp of current will be 100 millivolts on your multimeter. Excellent – it works! The whole mess was inserted into the enclosure, and I was left with something that looked not terribly unprofessional (time to invest in a label-maker):


It turns out that the thick OFC cable and the battery wouldn’t be able to coexist in the enclosure, so the battery is external.

The current clamp meter kit was an interesting and satisfying kit to assemble. Originally I assumed it would be simple, but it required plenty of drilling, cutting the darn toroid in half, tricky soldering for the clamp lead, and some patience with lining up the holes for the enclosure. Not a kit for the raw beginner, but ideal for teaching with a beginner to improve their assembly skills, or anyone with some experience. Plus it really does work, so money has been saved by not having to buy a clamp meter or adaptor.

You can order your own kit directly from our store at High resolution images are available on flickr.

Finally, check out – which along with being Australia’s #1 Adafruit distributor, also offers a growing range and great value for supported hobbyist electronics from Altronics, DFRobot, Freetronics, Jaycar, Seeedstudio and much much more.


As always, have fun and keep checking into Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

Posted in altronics, current clamp meter, K2582, kit review, learning electronics, test equipment, tronixlabs4 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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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:


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

Review – Fluke 233 Remote Display True RMS Multimeter

Hello readers

Several followers of my website have noticed the use of an interesting multimeter in a few of my articles, and were curious about it. So in this article we will discuss it in more detail. It is certainly novel in design, and has proven to be very convenient in use – the Fluke 233 remote-display true RMS multimeter. It arrives in a cardboard box that is easily recycled:


Upon tearing open the packaging we are presented with the following contents:


The contents of the box are as follows:

  • The meter itself;
  • a long (~1.2m) pair of Cat IV leads with very sharp points;
  • matching insulated alligator clip adaptors;
  • a K-type thermocouple;
  • a printed Getting Started manual, and the complete manual on CDROM;
  • a single, universal getting started sheet – explains how to remove battery isolation tabs.

However, a carry case was not included. Considering the cost of the meter here (Au$550 + tax), one would have expected a case. On the other hand, if you/your workplace can afford a 233, you can pay for your own case. So there’s two angles to the case perspective.

It is good to see that there isn’t too much of a printer manual, the less paper used the better. As others have said, if you have one of these meters the manual isn’t necessary apart from checking the specifications, and the same applied to myself. Thoughtfully the meter is supplied and fitted with 5 x AA Duracell alkaline cells, three in the meter body and two in the display unit. All one needs to do is pull out the plastic tabs from the battery compartments, and you’re ready to go.

Physically the unit does not disappoint. Made in the USA. First class. Another solid Fluke design, clean lines, and a great fit and finish. Futhermore it is of a good weight, so you could always bang in a nail with it, or the pointy-head boss. The exterior has the rubber-moulded housing which is not removable, however this would be recommended for the target market – as the 233 would be more of a field work than a test-bench instrument. However, if you do sit it on the bench with the tilting bail, you can still operate it with one hand as it has enough friction to stay put. It is also good to see that the box and packaging are cardboard which is easily recycled.

After flicking the meter on the first thing to do was remove the display, plug in the thermocouple, and toss the body into the freezer:


Even with the meter in the freezer, I could still move the display around 1.5 meters away and it still received the data signal. Notice how the display is on the freezer door – it is magnetic. Immediately the benefits of the remote display come to mind. You can always have the display right where you want it, and the meter where it needs to be… it’s win-win. After showing it to my auto-electrician friend, she didn’t want to give it back.

The ability to set up a meter in a less than perfectly safe environment and take the display away is almost priceless. Furthermore, the backlight is a nice even blueish colour, and times out after around forty seconds. Whilst in the kitchen, I tested out the external temperature of my tea:


Using the meter in general is very simple, you can hold it in one hand and select all of the functions with your thumb. Having the yellow shift key makes changing between associated readings very simple, for example after reading AC voltage:


Then pressing the shift key changes to frequency:


The meter has several useful indication functions – while working with high voltages the triangular market is illuminated; when changing to temperature you are prompted with “OPEN” for the thermocouple, and changing to current you are prompted with “LEAD” to change sockets. It is obvious after a short period of time this was designed by engineers for engineers, and not made to a ‘price’. Although this is not an electronics multimeter, it still has quite a few ranges that would suit at a pinch. Plus the one-touch data hold, minimum and maximum functions are included as with other top-end Flukes. Hopefully someone at Fluke is working on a remote display version of their 87V.

Now that I have had this meter for just over five months, it has already become a worthwhile addition to my bench. For the kind of work I do, it has already replaced another multimeter, my old frequency counter and thermometer. The ranges are quite useful, and the continuity beeper is in the display not the body. According to the manual the 233 is rated for a one meter drop onto any of the six surfaces. Out of respect to the meter I will not throw it into a river or from a moving car. The other factor that prevents me from going to such extremes is the clear plastic over the LCD – there is a small amount of ‘give’ or flexibility in that area. Otherwise the 233 is as solid as they come.

The specifications can be found in detail in the manual here, however a quick glance shows:

Range                                                             Accuracy

AC voltage: 0.1mV ~ 1000V                      1~2%+3

AC current: 1mA ~ 10A                               1.5%+3

DC voltage: 0.1mV ~ 1000V                     0.25%+2

DC current: 1mA ~ 10A                               1.0%+3 ** no microamperes

resistance: 0.1 ~ 40 meg-ohm                   0.9~1.5%+2

frequency:  0.01 Hz ~ 50 kHz                    0.1%+2

capacitance: 1nF to 9999 uF                     1.9%+2

temperature: -40 ~ 400 degrees Celsius     1%+10

And there is also a diode test and continuity beeper function. Interestingly enough, I discovered by accident that the frequency counter function was slightly underrated. Some more testing showed it was good for up to 99.48 kHz:


Not bad at all. However as with the many pros, there are  a few cons to using this meter. The auto-zero time of the display is a little slow, sometimes it can take two seconds. That doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re measuring many components the time adds up. And the LCD is not protected as well as expected, you can push into it with your finger. For a Fluke meter, one would expect it to be much more solid – if the display unit fell from a height and landed on something pointy with the display facing down, it would be ruined. So be careful if you have one.

Furthermore, the battery life is around eight to ten weeks of “daily use” (perhaps seven hours a week, usually with the backlight on). Some have said this is bad, however my opinion is that the convenience of the remote display makes up for the shorter battery life.

However at the end of the day – this is a great tool. Being able to measure something outside your field of vision, and having the results in front of you is incredibly useful. You could achieve the same functions by using a meter with a PC interface, but that can be overkill and time-consuming to set up. So if the specifications of the 233 meet your needs, this is a great tool that will serve you very well.

The Fluke 233 Remote Display True RMS Multimeter is available from your local element-14 or Fluke distributor.

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. Or join our Google Group.

[Disclaimer – the Fluke 233 is a review sample made available by Fluke via element-14]

Posted in 233, fluke, learning electronics, product review, test equipment6 Comments

Kit review – Sparkfun Function Generator

Hello readers

[10/09/2011 Update – It would seem that this kit has been discontinued – most likely due to the unavailability of the XR2206 function generator IC – which is a damn shame as it was a great kit. If you are ‘feeling lucky’ eBay seems to have a flood of them. Purchase at your own risk!]

Time for another kit review (anything to take the heat off from the kid-e-log!). Today we will examine the Sparkfun Function Generator kit. This is based from an original design by Nuxie and has now been given a nice thick red PCB and layout redesign. Although quite a bare-bones kit, it can provide us with the following functions:

  • sine waves
  • triangle waves
  • a 5V square wave with adjustable frequency

There are two frequency ranges to choose from, either 15~4544Hz or 4.1~659.87kHz. Your experience may vary, as these values will vary depending on the individual tolerance of your components.  The coarse and fine adjustment potentiometers do a reasonable job of adjustment, however if you were really specific perhaps a multi-turn pot could be used for the fine adjustment. With the use of a frequency counter one could calibrate this quite well.

The maximum amplitude of the sine and triangle waves is 12V peak to peak, and doing so requires a DC power supply of between 14~22 volts (it could be higher, up to 30 volts – however the included capacitors are only rated for 25V). However if you just need the 5V square-wave, or a lower amplitude, a lesser supply voltage such as 9 volts can be substituted. After running the generator from a 20V supply, the 7812 regulator started to become quite warm – a heatsink would be required for extended use. The main brains of the generator are held by the Exar XR2206 monolithic function generator IC – please see the detailed data sheet for more information.

Now what do you get? Not much, just the bare minimum once more. Everything you need and nothing you don’t …


Upon turfing out the parts we are presented with:


Not a bad bill of materials – nice to see a DC socket for use with a plug-pack. Considering the XR2206 is somewhat expensive and rare here in the relative antipodes, an IC socket would be nice – however I have learned to just shut up and keep my own range in stock now instead of complaining. Having 5% tolerance resistors took me as a surprise at first, but considering that the kit is not really laboratory-precision equipment the tolerance should be fine. One could always measure the output and make a panel up later on.

Once again, I am impressed with the PCB from Sparkfun. Thick, heavy, a good solder mask and descriptive silk-screen:


Which is necessary as there aren’t any instructions with the kit nor much on the Sparkfun website. The original Nuxie site does have a bit of a walk through if you like to read about things before making them. Finally, some resistors and capacitors included are so small, a decent multimeter will be necessary to read them (or at least a good magnifying glass!).

Construction was very simple, starting with the low-profile components such as resistors and capacitors:


followed by the switches, terminal blocks, IC sockets and the ICs:


and finally the potentiometers:


The easiest way to solder in the pots while keeping them in line was to turn the board upside down, resting on the pots. They balance nicely and allow a quick and easy soldering job. At this point the function generator is now ready to go – after the addition of some spacers to elevate it from the bench when in use:


Now for the obligatory demonstration video. Once again, the CRO is not in the best condition, but I hope you get the idea…

Although a very simple, barebones-style of kit (in a similar method to the JYETech Capacitance meter) this function generator will quickly knock out some functions in a hurry and at a decent price. A good kit for those who are learning to solder, perhaps a great next step from a TV-B-Gone or Simon kit. And for the more advanced among us, this kit is licensed under Creative Commons attribution+share-alike, and the full Eagle design files are available for download – so perhaps make your own? High resolution images are available on flickr.

[Note – The kit was purchased by myself personally and reviewed without notifying the manufacturer or retailer]

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

Posted in education, kit review, KIT-10015, learning electronics, oscilloscope, test equipment, XR22060 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:


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:


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:


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:


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();


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:


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:


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

Introduction to the Inductor

Hello everyone!

Today we are going to explore the use of the Inductor. This is a continuation from the series of articles on alternating current. An inductor is a component that can resist changes in AC current, and store energy in a magnetic field from a current that passes through it. A changing current (AC) causes a changing magnetic field which induces a voltage that opposes the current produced by the magnetic field. This is known as the inductance.  One could think of an inductor as an AC resistor. But first of all, what is an inductor comprised of?

In simple terms an inductor is a coil of wire, wrapped around a core. The core forms a support for the coil of wire – such as ceramic cores, or in some cases can affect the properties of the magnetic field depending on the chemical composition of the core. These may include cores formed from ferrite (usually zinc and manganese, or zinc and nickel) or powdered iron (which has a tiny air gap allowing the core to store a higher level of magnetic flux (the measure of magnetic field strength)allowing a higher level of DC current to flow through before becoming saturated.

So, the amount of inductance is influenced by several factors – the core material (as above), the size and shape of the core, as well as the number of turns of wire in the coil and its shape. The unit of inductance is the henry (H), however common values are usually in the millihenry (mH) or microhenry (uH) range.

Furthermore, there is an amount of DC resistance due to the properties of the coil wire, however this is usually negligible and kept to a minimum. For example, looking at a data sheet for a typical line of inductors – inductors.pdf – the DC resistance of a 10uH inductor is a maximum of 0.05 ohms. With inductors of higher values, the DC resistance will need to be taken account of. But more about that later.

This is the usual symbol for an inductor in a schematic:

However this may also be used:

And here is a variety of inductors in the flesh:


radial ferrite core, generally for PCB use, handles around 1.5 amperes

radial leaded, very low resistance, handles around 2.5 amperes

ferrite core, convenient for through-hole PCB

phenolic core

toroidal – handles large currents ~10 amperes depending on model

surface-mount, can still handle around 500 mA

All of the pictured inductors have an inductance of 10 uH. Now let’s examine how inductors work with alternating current. Consider the following circuit:



Just like capacitors in AC circuits, an inductor has a calculable reactance. The formula for the reactance (X, in ohms) of an inductor is:

where f is the frequency of the AC and L is the value of the inductor in Henries (remember that 1uH is 10 to the power of -6). The formula to calculate the impedance of the above circuit is:

where Z is in ohms. And finally, the formula for AC Vout is

The formula for DC Vout is the usual voltage dividing formula. In this case, as we consider the inductor to not have any resistance, DC Vout = DC Vin.

So, let’s work through an example. Our DC Vin is 12 volts, with a 2V peak to peak AC signal, at a frequency of 20 kHz. The resistor R has a value of 1 kilo ohm, and the inductor L is 10 millihenries (0.01 H). A quick check of the data sheet shows that the 10 mH inductor has a resistance that cannot be ignored – 37.4 ohms. So this must be taken into account when calculating the DC Vout. Therefore we can consider the inductor to be a 37.4 ohm resistor when calculating the DC Vout, which gives us a result of 11.56 volts DC. Substituting the other values gives us a reduced AC signal voltage of 1.24 volts peak to peak.

Another interesting fact is that there is a relationship between AC Vout and the frequency of the AC signal. In the video below, I have used a 10k ohm resistor and a 10 uH inductor in the circuit described above. The frequency counter is measuring the frequency of AC Vin, and the multimeter is measuring the AC Vout:

This is an interesting relationship and demonstrates how an inductor can resist alternating current, depending on the frequency.

Thus ends our introduction to the inductor. We will continue with the inductor in the near future. I hope you understood and can apply what we have discussed today. 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, you can either leave a comment below or email me – john at tronixstuff dot com.

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Posted in education, inductor, learning electronics, lesson, test equipment, tutorial0 Comments

bbboost chapter five – the power supply module

[3 July 2010 – this project has been retired, but the posts left for reference]

Greeting again to followers of the bbboost journey. It has been a month since the last instalment, however the 20V DC plug pack took a long time to arrive from the land of China. Nevertheless, the project is moving forward. For my new readers, the bbboost is a power supply that can be assembled by a beginner, and can offer a smooth variable DC output voltage of between ~1.8 and ~20 volts – perfect for experimenting, breadboard, and generally saving money by not buying batteries. You can just make a PCB version, or mount it in an enclosure like a professional desktop unit. No mains voltage wiring is required, so it will fine for the younger enthusiasts. Follow the project from here.

This time I have breadboarded the power supply module, using the circuit described in chapter two.  Let’s have a bit of a look:



These trimpots were ok, but it would be preferable to use the fully enclosed dustproof versions. Will order some and try ’em out.


One trimpot (the blue and white one) is 5k ohm, – to adjust between the full range, so this is the ‘coarse’ adjuster; the other trimpot is only 500 ohms and changes the voltage selected by the coarse pot by around +/- 1.2 volts. The purpose of having two controls is to make it very easy to select your required voltage down to one-hundredth of a volt. The following video clip is a rough example of this type of adjustment in action:

This power supply will also be designed for installation into a nice enclosure, so in that case one would use normal-sized potentiometers for the coarse and fine voltage adjustment.

Posted in bbboost, projects, test equipment0 Comments

breadboards and batteries… bbboost

[3 July 2010 – this project has been retired, but the posts left for reference. Not my finest work, but it may help someone]

During my life in the field of electronics study, research, and daydreaming many ideas (good, bad and dangerous) and projects have been constructed using the typical solderless breadboard that everyone has used at one stage or another. There is nothing wrong with this approach, except for the power supply situation. You could either buy an expensive desktop power supply ($40 upwards), use a fixed plugpack (if you have the right voltage) then build some power smoothing into your circuit, or even use a 7805 or similar regulator to get your +5 volts. Failing that, it’s back to batteries.


You might as well just throw money into the garbage if you keep using batteries and have AC power nearby. I have had enough of worrying about all of this and have decided to conceive a desktop power supply that meets the following criteria:

  • cheap to construct
  • safe to use (not exposed to mains voltage)
  • can accept any voltage DC plugpack and offer a variable, smooth DC output of up to 1 amp
  • can be mounted on a small PC board with spacers to save money, or enclosed in a housing for a professional look
  • have a digital output voltage meter – so that it looks cool and is convenient. No more guessing with analogue meters and dealing with parallax error
  • increases the constructor’s knowledge of electronics!

Let us call it the bbboost – the bread board booster!

So over the next month or two we will do just that. If you would like to put forward ideas, suggestions or criticisms, please do so. Otherwise, get ready to say goodbye to breadboard batteries…

Posted in bbboost, projects, test equipment2 Comments

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