Tag Archive | "555"

Various 1 Hz Oscillator Methods


During the fun and enjoyment of experimenting with electronics there will come a time when you need a nice 1 Hz oscillator to generate a square-wave signal to drive something in the circuit. On… off… on… off… for all sorts of things. Perhaps a metronome, to drive a TTL clock, blink some LEDs, or for more nefarious purposes. No matter what you need that magic 1 Hz for – there’s a variety of methods to generate it – some more expensive than others – and some more accurate than others.

A few of you may be thinking “pull out the Arduino” and yes, you could knock out a reasonable 1 Hz – however that’s fine for the bench, but wild overkill for embedding a project as a single purpose. So in this article we’ll run through three oscillator methods that can generate a 1 Hz signal (and other frequencies) using methods that vary in cost, accuracy and difficulty – and don’t rely on mains AC. That will be a topic for another day.

Using a 555 timer IC

You can solve this problem quite well for under a dollar with the 555, however the accuracy is going to heavily rely on having the correct values for the passive components. We’ll use the 555 in astable mode, and from a previous article here’s the circuit:

555 astable 1 Hz circuit

 And with a 5V power supply, here’s the result:


As you can see the cycle time isn’t the best, which can be attributed to the tolerance of the resistors and capacitor C1. A method to increase the accuracy would be to add small trimpots in series with the resistors (and reduce their value accordingly by the trimpot value) – then measure the output with a frequency counter (etc). whilst adjusting the trimpots. If you’re curious about not using C2, the result of doing so introduces some noise on the rising edge, for example:


So if you’ve no other option, or have the right values for the passives – the 555 can do the job. Or get yourself a 555 and experiment with it, there’s lots of fun to be had with it.

Using a GPS receiver module

A variety of GPS modules have a one pulse per second output (PPS) and this includes my well-worn EM406A module (as used in the Arduino tutorials):


With a little work you can turn that PPS output into a usable and incredibly accurate source of 1 Hz. As long as your GPS can receive a signal. In fact, this has been demonstrated in the April 2013 edition of Silicon Chip magazine, in their frequency counter timebase project. But I digress.

If you have an EM406A you most likely have the cable and if not, get one to save your sanity as the connector is quite non-standard. If you’re experimenting a breakout board will also be quite convenient, however you can make your own by just chopping off one end of the cable and soldering the required pins – for example:


You will need access to pins 6, 5, 2 and 1. Looking at the socket on the GPS module, they are numbered 6 to 1 from left to right. Pin 6 is the PPS output, 5 is GND, 2 is for 5V and 1 is GND. Both the GNDs need to be connected together.

Before moving forward you’re probably curious about the pulse, and want to see it. Good idea! However the PPS signal is incredibly quick and has an amplitude of about 2.85 V. If you put a DSO on the PPS and GND output, you can see the pulses as shown below:


 To find the length of the pulse, we had to really zoom in to a 2 uS timebase:


 Wow, that’s small. So a little external circuitry is required to convert that minuscule pulse into something more useful and friendly. We’ll increase the pulse length by using a “pulse stretcher”. To do this we make a monostable timer (“one shot”) with a 555. For around a half-second pulse we’ll use 47k0 for R1 and 10uF for C1. However this triggers on a low signal, so we first pass the PPS signal through a 74HC14 Schmitt inverter – a handy part which turns irregular signals into more sharply defined ones – and also inverts it which can then be used to trigger the monostable. Our circuit:


 and here’s the result – the PPS signal is shown with the matching “stretched” signal on the DSO:


So if you’re a stickley for accuracy, or just want something different for portable or battery-powered applications, using the GPS is a relatively simple solution.

Using a Maxim DS1307/DS3232 real-time clock IC

Those of you with a microcontroller bent may have a Maxim DS1307 or DS3232. Apart from being pretty easy to use as a real-time clock, both of them have a programmable square wave output. Connection via your MCU’s I2C bus is quite easy, for example with the DS1307:


Using a DS3232 is equally as simple. We use a pre-built module with a similar schematic. Once you have either of them connected, the code is quite simple. For the DS1307 (bus address 0x68), write 0x07 then 0x11 to the I2C bus – or for the DS3232 (bus address is also 0x68) write 0x0E then 0x00. Finally, let’s see the 1 Hz on the DSO:


Certainly not the cheapest method, however it gives you an excellent level of accuracy without the GPS.


By no means is this list exhaustive, however hopefully it was interesting and useful. If there’s any other methods you’d like to see demonstrated, leave a comment below and we’ll see what’s possible. 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 tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column? And join our friendly Google Group – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website. Sign up – it’s free, helpful to each other –  and we can all learn something.

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Various 555 Timer circuits

Hello readers

The purpose of this article is to follow on from our explanation of the 555 timer IC by demonstrating some simple yet interesting, noisy and plain annoying uses of the 555. They are by no means that complex, and intended to help move theory into practice.

Button de-bouncer

De-bouncer? How does one bounce a button in the first place? Many years ago I bounced a button on the arcade Sonic the Hedgehog – hit it so hard it popped out and bounced over the table… But seriously, when working with digital logic circuits, you may need to use  a momentary button to accept user input. For example, to pulse a trigger or so on. However with some buttons, they are not all that they seem to be. You press them once, but they can register multiple contacts – i.e. register two or more ‘presses’ for what seems like only one press. This could possibly cause trouble, so we can use a 555 timer monostable circuit to solver the problem. In our de-bounce example, when the button is pressed, the output is kept at high for around half a second. Here is the schematic:


What we have is a basic monostable timer circuit. For my example the output delay (t) is to be half a second. The formula for t is: t=1.1xR1xC1. The closest resistor I had at hand was 2k ohms, so to find the required value for C1, the formula is rearranged into: C1=t/(1.1xR1). Substituting the values for t and R1 gives a value of C1 as 227.274 uF. So for C1 we have used a 220 uF capacitor.

Now for a visual demonstration of the de-bouncer at work. In the following video clip, the oscilloscope is displaying the button level on the lower channel, and the output level on the upper channel. The button level when open is high, as the 555 requires a low pulse to activate. The output level is normally low. You can see when the button is pressed that the button level momentarily drops to low, and then the output level goes high for around half a second:

Make some noise

As we know the 555 can oscillate at frequencies from less than 1Hz to around 500 kHz. The human ear can theoretically hear sounds between (approximately) 20 and 20 kHz. So if we create an astable timing circuit with an output frequency that falls within the range of the human ear, and connect that output to a small speaker – a range of tones can be emitted.

The circuit required is a standard 555 astable, with the output signal heading through a small 8 ohm 0.25 watt speaker and a 4.7 uF electrolytic capacitor to ground. The capacitor stops any DC current flowing to ground, without this we will overload the current-handling ability of the 555. (I couldn’t help myself by trying it without the capacitor – pulled 550 mA from the 555 before it stopped working…). To choose the values of R1 and C1 to emit out required frequency, the following formula is used: f (frequency) = 1.4 / {(R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1}. To cover the range required, a 100k ohm trimpot was used for R1. Here is the resulting schematic:


The input voltage can fall within the specification of the 555, however for optimum results a supply of between 5 and 9 volts DC should be used. In the following demonstration, we used a 9V supply. The purpose of the video is to learn the relationship between the tones and their frequencies. You can see the frequency on my old counter and hopefully hear the result:

Our next example is to create a  siren effect, using two 555 circuits – one for a low frequency and one for a high frequency. To determine the value for R1 for the low and high frequency, I used the previous circuit and chose two tones that were quite different, and measured the resistance of the trimpot (R1) at those frequencies. My R1 value for the ‘low’ tone is 82k ohm and 36k ohm for the ‘high’ frequency.

The switching between low and high frequency will be handled by a 4047 multivibrator – the Q and Q outputs will control NPN transistors. The transistors are used as switches to allow current to flow from the supply to the 555 high or low tone circuit. We use this method as the 4047 is not able to source enough current to drive the 555 circuits. Here is the schematic:


Don’t forget to connect pin 14 of the 4047 to supply voltage. This circuit has been tested with a supply voltage between 5 and 12 volts. As the supply voltage increases, so does the amplitude of the square wave emanating from the 555 output pins, which in turn in creases the volume of the siren. At 5 volts, the entire circuit drew only 20 milliamps. Speaking of which, you can listen to a recording of the output here. If you wish to alter the time for each tone, adjust the value of what is the 47k ohm resistor on pins 2 and 3 of the 4047.

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

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Review – CD4047 Astable/Monostable Multivibrator

Hello readers!

Today we are going to examine an older but still highly useful integrated circuit – the 4047 Astable/Monostable multivibrator:


My reason for doing this is to demonstrate another way to create a square-wave output for digital circuits (astable mode) and also generate single pulses (monostable mode). Sometimes one can get carried away with using a microcontroller by default – and forget that there often can be simpler and much cheaper ways of doing things. And finally, the two can often work together to solve a problem.

What is a multivibrator? In electronics terms this means more than one vibrator. It creates an electrical signal that changes state on a regular basis (astable) or on demand (monostable). You may recall creating monostable and astable timers using the 555 timer described in an earlier article. One of the benefits of the 4047 is being able to do so as well, but with fewer external components. Here is the pinout diagram for a 4047 (from the Fairchild data sheet):

Note that there are three outputs, Q, Q and OSC out. Q is the normal output, Q is the inverse of Q – that is if Q is high, Q is low – at the same frequency. OSC output provides a signal that is very close to twice the frequency of Q. We will consider the other pins as we go along. In the following small video, we have LEDs connected to all three outputs – you can see how Q and Q alternate, and the increased frequency of OSC out:

That was an example of the astable mode.  The circuit used is shown below. The only drawback of using a 4047 is that you cannot alter the duty cycle of your astable output – it will always be 50% high and 50% low. The oscillator output is not guaranteed to have a 50% duty cycle, but comes close. The time period (and therefore the frequency) is determined by two components – R1 and the capacitor:

[Quick update – in the schematic below, also connect 4047 pin 14 to +5V]


The values for R2~R4 are 560 ohms, for the LEDs. R1 and the capacitor form an RC circuit, which controls the oscillation frequency. How can we calculate the frequency? The data sheet tells us that time (period of time the oscillator is ‘high’) is equal to 4.4 multiplied by the value of R1 and the capacitor. As the duty cycle is always 50%, we double this value, then divide the result into one. In other words:

And as the frequency from the OSC out pin is twice that of Q or Q, the formula for the OSC out frequency is:

However the most useful formula would allow you to work with the values of R and C to use for a desired frequency f:

When calculating your values, remember that you need to work with whole units, such as Farads and Ohms- not microfarads, mega-ohms, etc. This chart of SI prefixes may be useful for conversions.

The only thing to take note of is the tolerance of your resistor and capacitor. If you require a certain, exact frequency try to use some low-tolerance capacitors, or replace the resistor with a trimpot of a value just over your required resistor value. Then you can make adjustments and measure the result with a frequency counter. For example, when using a value of 0.1uF for C and 15 k ohm for R, the theoretical frequency is 151.51 Hz; however in practice this resulted with a frequency of 144.78 Hz.

Don’t forget that the duty cycle is not guaranteed to be 50% from the OSC out pin. This is shown in the following demonstration video. We measure the frequency from all three output pins, then measure the duty cycle from the same pins:

(The auto-ranging on that multimeter is somewhat annoying).

Now for some more more explanation about the 4047. You can activate the oscillations in two ways, via a high signal into pin 5 (pin 4 must then be low) or via a low signal into pin 4 (and pin 5 must be low). Setting pin 9 high will reset the oscillator, so Q is low and Q is high.

The monostable mode is also simple to create and activate. I have not made a video clip of monstable operation, as this would only comprise of staring at an LED. However, here is an example circuit with two buttons added, one to trigger the pulse (or start it), and another to reset the timer (cancel any pulse and start again):

[Quick update – in the schematic below, also connect 4047 pin 14 to +5V]


The following formula is used to calculate the duration of the pulse time:

Where time is in seconds, R is Ohms, and C is Farads. Once again, the OSC output pin also has a modified output – it’s time period will be 1.2RC.

To conclude, the 4047 offers a simple and cheap way to generate a 50% duty cycle  square wave or use as a monostable timer. The cost is low and the part is easy to source. As always, avoid the risk of counterfeit ICs and get yours from a reputable distributor. Living in Australia, mine came from element-14. Thanks to Fairchild Semiconductor for product information from their 4047 data sheet.

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

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The 555 Precision Timer IC

Learn about the useful and inexpensive 555 timer IC in this detailed tutorial!

Hello readers

Today we revisit one of the most popular integrated circuits ever conceived – the 555 timer IC. “Triple-five”, “five-five-five”, “triple-nickel” … call it what you will, it has been around for thirty-eight years. Considering the pace of change in the electronics industry, the 555 could be the constant in an ever-changing universe. But what is the 555? How does it work? How can we use it? And … why do we still use it? In this introductory article we will try to answer these questions. If you would like to see some examples, visit here.

What is the 555?

The 555 timer is the solution to a problem found by the inventor – Hans Camenzind.  He saw the need through his radio work for a part that could act as an oscillator or a timer [1]; and working as a contractor for Signetics developed the 555. (Signetics was purchased by Philips in 1975, and their semiconductor division was spun off as NXP in 2006). The 555 has to be one of the most used ICs ever invented. It is used for timing, from microseconds to hours; and creating oscillations (which is another form of timing for the pedants out there). It is very flexible with operation voltage, you can throw from 4.5 to 18V at it; you can sink or source 200mA of current through the output; and it is very cheap – down to around nine cents if you order several thousand units. Finally, the 555 can achieve all of this with a minimum of basic components – some resistors and capacitors.

Here are some examples in the common DIP casing:


Furthermore a quick scan of suppliers’ websites show that the 555 is also available in surface-mount packages such as SOIC, MSOP and TSSOP. You can also source a 556 timer IC, which contains two 555 ICs. (What’s 555 + 555? 556…) Furthermore, a 558 was available in the past, but seems rather tricky to source these days.


How does the 555 work?

The 555 contains two major items:

  • A comparator – a device which compares two voltages, and switches its output to indicate which is larger, and
  • A flip-flop – a circuit that has two stable states, and those states can be changed by applying a voltage to one of the flip-flop’s inputs.

Here is the 555 functional diagram from the TI 555 data sheet.pdf:


… and the matching pin-out diagram:

Don’t let the diagrams above put you off. It is easier to explain how the 555 operates within the context of some applications, so we will now explore the three major uses of the 555 timer IC in detail – these being astable,  monostable, and bistable operations, in theory and in practice.

Astable operation

Astable is an on-off-on… type of oscillation – and generates what is known as a square wave, for example:


There are three values to take note of:

  • time (s) – the time for a complete cycle. The number of cycles per second is known as the frequency, which is the reciprocal of time (s);
  • tm (s) – the duration of time for which the voltage (or logic state) is high;
  • ts (s) – the duration of time for which the voltage (or logic state) is low.

With the use of two resistors and one capacitor, you can determine the period durations. Consider the following schematic:


Calculating values for R1, R2 and C1 was quite simple. You can either determine the length of time you need (t) in seconds, or the frequency (Hz) – the number of pulses per second.

t (time) = 0.7 x (R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1

f (frequency) = 1.4 / {(R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1}

Where R1 and R2 are measured in ohms, and C1 is measured in farads. Remember that 1 microfarad = 1.0 × 10-6 farads, so be careful to convert your capacitor values to farads carefully. It is preferable to keep the value of C1 as low as possible for two reasons – one, as capacitor tolerances can be quite large, the larger the capacitor, the greater your margin of error; and two, capacitor values can be affected by temperature.

How the circuit works is relatively simple. At the time power is applied, the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) is less than 1/3Vcc. So the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to high. C1 will charge via R1 and R2. After a period of time (Tm from the diagram above) the voltage at pin 6 (threshold) goes above 2/3Vcc. At this point, the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to low. Furthermore, this enables the discharge function – so C1 will discharge via R2. After a period of time (Ts from the diagram above) the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) is less than 1/3Vcc. So the flip-flop is switched to set the 555 output to high… and the cycle repeats.

Now, for an example, I want to create a pulse of 1Hz (that is, one cycle per second). It would be good to use a small value capacitor, a 0.1uF. In farads this is 0.0000001 farads. Phew. So our equation is 1=1.4/{(R1 + [2 x R2]) x C1}. Which twists out leaving us R1=8.2Mohm, R2=2.9MOhm and C1 is 0.1uF. I don’t have a 2.9MOhm resistor, so will try a 2.7MOhm value, which will give a time value of around 0.9s. C2 in astable mode is optional, and used if there is a lot of electrical noise in the circuit. Personally, I use one every time, a 0.01uF ceramic capacitor does nicely. Here is our example in operation:

Notice how the LED is on for longer than it is off, that is due to the ‘on’ time being determined by R1+R2, however the ‘off’ time is determined by R2 only. The ‘on’ time can be expressed as a percentage of the total pulse time, and this is called the duty cycle. If you have a 50% duty cycle, the LED would be on and off for equal periods of time. To alter the duty cycle, place a small diode (e.g. a 1N4148) over pins 7 (anode) and 2 (cathode). Then you can calculate the duty cycle as:

Tm = 0.7 x R1 x C1 (the ‘on’ time)

Ts = 0.7 x R2 x C1 (the ‘off’ time)

Furthermore, the 555 can only control around 200mA of current from the output to earth, so if you need to oscillate something with more current, use a switching transistor or a relay between the output on pin 3 and earth. If you are to use a relay, put a 1N4001 diode between pin 3 (anode) and the relay coil (cathode); and a 1N418 in parallel with the relay coil, but with the anode on the earth side. This stops any reverse current from the relay coil when it switches contacts.

Monostable operation

Mono for one – one pulse that is. Monostable use is also known as a “one-shot” timer.  So the output pin (3) stays low until the 555 receives a trigger pulse (drop to low) on pin 2. The length of the resulting pulse is easy to calculate:

T = 1.1 x R1 x C1;

where T is time in seconds, R1 is resistance in ohms, and C1 is capacitance in farads. Once again, due to the tolerances of capacitors, the longest time you should aim for is around ten minutes. Even though your theoretical result for T might be 9 minutes, you could end up with 8 minutes 11 seconds. You might really need those extra 49 seconds to run away…  Though you could always have one 555 trigger another 555… but if you were to do that, you might as well use a circuit built around an ATmega328 with Arduino bootloader.

Now time for an example. Let’s have a pulse output length of (as close as possible to) five seconds. So, using the equation, 5 = 1.1 x R1 x C1… I have a 10 uF capacitor, so C1 will be 0.00001 farads. Therefore R1 will be 454,545 ohms (in theory)… the closest I have is a 470k, so will try that and see what happens. Note that it you don’t want a reset button (to cancel your pulse mid-way), just connect pin 4 to Vs. Here is the schematic for our example:


How the monostable works is quite simple. Nothing happens when power is applied, as R2 is holding the trigger voltage above 1/3Vcc. When button S1 is pushed, the trigger voltage falls below 1/3Vcc, which causes the flip-flop to set the 555’s output to high. Then C1 is charged via R1 until the threshold voltage 2/3Vcc is reached, at which point the flip-flip sets the output low and C1 discharges. Nothing further happens until S1 is pressed again. The presence of the second button S2 is to function as a reset switch. That is, while the output is high the reset button, if pressed, will set the output low and set C1 to discharge.

Below is a video of my example at work. First I let it run the whole way through, then the second and subsequent times I reset it shortly after the trigger. No audio in clip:

Once again, we now have a useful form of a one-shot timer with our 555.

Bistable operation

Bistable operation is where the 555′s output is either high, or low – but not oscillating. If you pulse the trigger, the output becomes and stays high, until you pulse reset. With a bistable 555 you can make a nice soft-touch electronic switch for a project… let’s do that now, it is so simple you don’t need one of my quality schematics. But here you are anyway:


In this example. pressing S1 sets the voltage at pin 2 (trigger) to below 1/3Vcc, thereby setting the output to high – therefore we call S1 our ‘on’ switch. As pin 6 (threshold) is permanently connected to GND, it cannot be used to set the output to low. The only way to set the output back to low is by pressing S2 – the reset button, which we can call the ‘off’ switch. Couldn’t be easier, could it? And that output pin could switch a transistor or a relay on or off, who knows? Your only limit is your imagination. And here’s one more video clip:

And there you have it – three ways in which we can use our 555 timer ICs. But in the year 2011, why do we still use a 555? Price, simplicity, an old habit, or the fact that there are so many existing designs out there ready to use. There will be many arguments for and against continued use of the 555 – but as long as people keep learning about electronics, the 555 may still have a long and varied future ahead of it.

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


[1] “The 555 Timer IC – An interview with Hans Camenzind” (Jack Ward – semiconductormuseum.com)

Various diagrams and images from the Texas Instruments NE555 data sheet.

Posted in 555, clocks, COM-09273, electronics, LCD, lesson, tronixstuff, tutorial, xbeeComments (16)

Part review – Linear Technology LTC6991 “Timerblox” low frequency oscillator

Hello Readers

Time for a new component review – the Linear Technology LTC6991 low frequency oscillator. This is part of Linear‘s Timerblox series of tiny timing devices. The full range is described on their web site. It is available in DFN or SOT-23 (below)  packaging. Our example for today:

The graph paper in the image is 5mm square, so the IC itself is tiny yet worthwhile challenge. Although reading the data sheet may convince you it is a difficult part to use, it is actually quite simple. This article will give you the “simple way”. Once again I have lashed out and will hand-solder an SMD onto a SOT-23 board:

Messy, but it works. Moving along…

My reason for examining the LTC6991 was as a lower-power substitute to using a 555 timer to create a square wave at various frequencies. Normally I wouldn’t give two hoots about the current draw, as everything on my bench is powered from a lab supply.

However when designing things for external use, they are usually powered by a battery of some sort or solar – so the less current drawn the better. The bog-standard TI NE555 has a current draw (with output high) of between two and five milliamps (at 5V). Which doesn’t sound like much – but our 6991 is around 100 to 170 microamps at 5V. These figures are for the respective timers without an output load. You can source up to 20mA from the output of the 6991, and when doing so will naturally increase the current load – but still it will be less than our triple-nickel.

The LTC6991 offers a period range of 1 millisecond to 9.5 hours; which translates to a frequency range of 29.1 microhertz to 977 Hz, with a maximum frequency error or <1.5%. Only one to three external resistors are required to setup your timing requirements. For a more detailed explanation, please see the data sheet.pdf. The duty cycle defaults to 50% however this can be altered by using the IC in voltage-controlled period mode.

Linear have made using the IC very easy by providing an Excel spreadsheet you can use to make your required calculations, available from this page. For example, to create a 1 Hz oscillator, we enter our figures in as such:

and the macro returns the following details:


Very convenient – a schematic, the required resistors, and example timing diagram. I recreated this example, however not having the exact values in stock caused a slight increase in frequency – with Rset at 750k,  Rdiv1 at 910k and Rdiv2 at 180k my frequency was 3.1 Hz. Therefore to match the accuracy of the LTC6991 you need to ensure a your external components are close to spec and a very low tolerance. It produces a good square-wave:


If you cannot use the exact resistor values recommended, use resistors in series or parallel to achieve the desired values. Don’t forget to measure them in real life if possible to ensure your accuracy does not suffer.

Pin one (RST) can be left floating for nomal oscillation, when high it resets the IC and forces output (pin six) low. As you can see, it is very simple to use especially with the provided spreadsheet. The required formulae are also provided in the data sheet if you wish to do your own calculations. Pulse width can be controlled with a fourth resistor Rpw, and is explained on page sixteen of the data sheet.

Although physically it may be difficult to use as it is SMD, the power requirements and the ability to generate such a wide range of oscillations with so few external parts makes the LTC6991 an attractive proposition.

The LTC6991 and the Timerblox series are new to market and should be available from the usual suppliers in the very near future such as RS and element-14.

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.

[Note – The LTC6991was a personally-ordered sample unit from Linear and reviewed without notification]

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Australian Electronics Nostalgia – “Funway Kits”

Hello readers

After viewing the trailer for Karl von Muller’s upcoming documentary State of Electronics – A discussion on the Electronics Industry in Australia, it brought back some fond memories of bashing about with a range of kits from many years ago. So today we will have a look at a few of them. But first some history (feel free to correct me here)…

In 1968 an enthusiastic man by the name of Dick Smith started a small car radio shop in Neutral Bay, Sydney. Although he had many ups and downs – through extremely hard work, marketing in ways Australia had never seen before (see the bus below), and revolutionising electronics and computer retailing in this country – he built up Dick Smith Electronics to a company so large he sold it for a huge sum and moved on to other successful ventures. You can download his biography from here.

Dick Smith Electronics’ stores were the place to go for components, a huge range of electronic kits, an interesting range of computers (in [earlier] kit and assembled form), amateur and CB radio – all the fun stuff. You would almost need a shotgun to clear the store out on a Thursday night or Saturday afternoon. There were also repair centres in each capital city and head office, that employed people to fix things for warranty service (and they would fix kits for a price as well). Before the internet one would stalk the mailbox waiting for the new catalogue to arrive. I even worked there for four years in the 1990s. Unfortunately due to market changes and carbon-based factors, the stores are now just glorified flat-screen TV and video game outlets.

However, partly to educate people (and probably to make more money), Dick Smith wrote a series of books titled “Fun Way into Electronics”, starting with the first in 1979. This entailed twenty very basic electronic circuits, such as flashing LEDs using a multivibrator, basic transistor amplifiers, and a “beer powered radio” (I wonder how many children tried that fuel cell?). The book had paper overlays which you would glue onto a piece of chipboard, and screw the components down to form a circuit. Later editions would use a plastic board with holes:


The Funway book was very popular (and still is with some schools, Scout groups and so on), so Dick published volume two from 1980. Finally some “real” projects – twenty kits that required soldering and could be of some real use in the world. Items such as a shortwave radio, intercom, timing devices, digital counters, and a mosquito repeller of dubiuos success. However they sold very well, and in 1984 the final volume of the Funway trilogy was published – another ten projects – “each with an integrated circuit!”

The books were illustrated in a very clear, simple way sometimes hand-drawn but very neat. I suspect some women in the books were meant to resemble associates of Dick Smith, and in general the book is a ‘snapshot’ of the times. For example, the transistor radio:


Please note that I will not email you a .pdf of any of the books mentioned, so kindly don’t ask – they’re still Copyright DSE Pty Ltd. Part of my reasoning for this article was the fact that the Funway era has now drawn to a close. Whilst recently wandering about in a Dick Smith store for some reminiscing, I noticed the remaining stock of Funway 2 kits on the clearance bench and the matching volume two books, which compelled me to rescue them.

At the register, the sales clerk asked me “Why would you want to make a radio?” … ugh

So let’s take a trip back to 1980 and see how they perform!

[Update 07/07/2013]

Wow! I found another kit – project seventeen, the LED level display. It was designed to show audio levels in a blinky form – the addition of a pair to your home or car hi-fi would put those analogue VU meters to shame whilst impressing your friends. When fitted inside the optional box and the label applied, you could be as cool as the guy below looking like he’s getting revved up for a night at the discotheque:


So time to give it a whirl. I remember this kit back in 1985 when a friend gave it to me from someone else, he cut off the LEDs for himself, and I ended up with the useless board. Thanks Tony. Well 28 years later here I am with the brand-new version:


Otherwise everything was as expected, all the parts and the poor PCB included:



Construction was relatively simple but tedious, 22 resistors, 10 diodes, 10 LEDs, 11 transistors etc… just careful and steady work to get it done. This would have kept a teenager busy for a good weekend inside. After an hour and an espresso the board was populated:


Not wanting to chop up any audio leads to test the kit, I’ve instead put some pins on the power supply and input pairs for a quick demonstration. For a signal I’ve attached a function generator and fed a sine wave at various low frequencies. Here it is in action:

In hindsight that’s a pretty fun kit, and with some careful work it would have looked good in a contemporary audio system. It probably could have been done a lot easier with an LM3914 however the cost may have been prohibitive at the time.

Next we have Project Sixteen –  the Electronic Siren. This is basically two 555 oscillators, one for the sound, and the other for the duration – which combined with a basic amplifier make a “hee-haw” sound. This kit would have been included as a good sales add-on for the Home and Car alarm kit also described in the book. Typical of the series, when you purchased a kit it would come with the bare minimum, just enough to make it work (excluding the battery):


Naturally a full range of extras would be mentioned in the book, available from the store when required. The PCB looks like it was made at home – examining this one I can now be more grateful than ever for silk-screening and solder-masking on current PCBs:


To make annoying people easier I will add in a SPDT toggle switch, and use some IC sockets for the 555s. Assembling the kit took no time at all, the instructions were clear and easy to follow:


Starting the soldering caused some flashbacks to my childhood, which were interesting. Assembling this at my age was much quicker than as a young lad – my soldering style has changed, and I also have a Fluke 233 to check the resistor and capacitor values. There was one nod to the future in the kit, the polyester capacitor was replaced by an MKT. The only reason to use the IC sockets was so I could reuse the 555s later on. Moving on, here is the finished article:


And did it work? Absolutely – have a listen:

It is really quite loud, that 0.25 watt speaker is being pushed quite hard. According to the book you can connect a horn-speaker directly to the output. Furthermore there are suggestions on how to alter the frequency and duration of the sounds. So overall, this was an easy to assemble kit that was still some fun even to this day.

The next kit to examine is Project Eleven – FM wireless microphone. This consists of an oscillator of around 100 MHz, which receives a signal via the tiny electret microphone. The book illustration shows a Donna Summer lookalike with a guitar, however one could imagine people building these kits and using them as ‘bugs’ and generally getting up to no good:


Again, the clear images and instruction layouts are constant throughout the book. There were two errata sheets included with the components, as the design has been altered a few times. However they were easy enough to follow, and the correct replacement parts had been included:


Once more the PCB was a product of the time. After having issues with the siren kit’s PCB, I gave this one a good squirt with some Servisol PCB cleaner – that made a difference when it was time to solder:


From a beginner’s perspective, this would have been a slightly more difficult kit to assemble, due to the all the vertical resistors and the close spacing between the components. However this was to enable budding ASIO operatives to make their ‘bug’ as small as possible. From memory this is the trickiest of them all, the rest of the Funway 2 kits had generous PCB spacing. I must admit to breaking a 470 pF ceramic capacitor, but that was my own silly fault. However at the end it all came together nicely:


And it worked.  I have a feeling that the variable capacitor was damaged a little from heat due to the soldering process, for some insane reason DSE supplied a plastic-encased version. Later on I will replace it and see how we go. But for the meanwhile, with a 20cm aerial wire, I could get about 5 metres out of it with a brick wall in between. Considering the target market for this, that’s pretty good.

The next kit is Project Seven – Pocket Transistor Radio. This is a basic amplitude-modulation radio receiver making use of the MK484 radio-receiver IC. This is a bog-standard simple AM receiver circuit that dates back to the early 1970s. However, it is simple and uses very few parts. Originally the kit was sold without an earpiece or socket, but the last few batches included everything but the battery and a switch:


Once again there were two errata sheets – one explaining the different pinouts of the MK484/ZN414 radio IC, and another showing the evolution of the radio circuit, a capacitor had been replaced with a resistor. There were a couple of tricks to assembling this kit, some pin spacings were unnecessarily close together, and the leads on the antenna coils were terribly difficult for me to discern. Thankfully the book offered some great advice – use a multimeter to determine the resistance of each coil. The coil with the lower resistance is the aerial coil, and the higher resistance is the main coil. And once again I have added a power switch. After some trepidation, the main board was finished:


Ah – where is the 9V battery? With regards to the circuit, versions as published in the book and the errata sheet are quite inefficient with regards to power usage. Let’s have a look:


As part of my electronics learning process, I like to follow the circuit through to see what is going on. The book has the power being supplied by a 9V battery, then using a 6.8V Zener diode. What was the point of that? Instead, I put a link on the PCB instead of the zener, and now the power is from a single AA cell. Much, much cheaper to run now, the receiver only draws nine milliamps of current:

And to think some people have to recharge their music players every day. The radio worked from the first time the battery was connected, and is working very well. The volume/gain is controlled by the 5k trimpot, I have this set to around half-way to a comfortable volume. The reception is highly relative to the positioning of the ferrite rod aerial, so I have locked it into place using some blutac. It receives local AM stations very well, and also some rural stations from interstate. For the price and the amount of parts, this is a very simple, easy to construct receiver with excellent power consumption – which is begging for a solar panel for daytime use. Maybe next week! So we have another success.

Update! I found another kit – the “Universal Timer”. This is basically an over-engineered 555 timer that controls a simple SPDT relay. The 555 is configured as a monostable timer, and the duration controlled by a 1 mega ohm trimpot. I have a feeling the design brief was for an egg timer, based on the illustrations:


Once again, the illustrations of the final product don’t bear much of a resemblance to the contents of the basic kit:


Again, the PCB was quite basic and needed a good clean:


Construction was quite simple, all of the parts fitted nicely where they were meant to. Not bad considering the PCB was designed around thirty years ago, and the parts are much more recent – especially the relay. To make some sort of demonstration I had to add a few extras – a power switch, the piezo buzzer, IC socket and a potentiometer instead of the trimpot:


Though once again it worked, and I actually have a use for it – a shower timer for an intelligent person who seems to forget the concept of time when in the bathroom. A quick trip to the store for a moisture-proof IP67-rated box and we’ll be set.

Unfortunately with the discontinuation of these Funway kits means another opportunity to teach people has gone. I hope you found this article interesting, and helped motivate you to expand your knowledge and those of others in the STEM (science, technology, electronics and maths) area. If you have any Funway projects to share, please get in touch. Some higher-resolution images available on flickr.

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

Posted in education, electronics, funway, history, kit review, learning electronicsComments (16)

Quick Project – 20th Century Electronic Dice

In this tutorial we make electronic dice without using a microcontroller!

Updated 18/03/2013

After publishing an article which described the design of an electronic die (dice), one of my twitter followers said that they made them in the past just with a 555 timer IC and a 4017 logic IC. A fair point, as one does sometimes get carried away with microcontrollers sometimes. Just to show that I haven’t lost touch, here is a basic rendition of the die project again but without any of that fancy microcontroller jibber-jabber. I will just present the schematic and demonstration, however if you want to make one on some protoboard, doing so should be quite simple.

First off, here is the schematic. I really should learn to use Eagle or somesuch, but a pen and paper is so much quicker:


Now what is happening here? I’m glad you asked. On the left we have a 555 timer in astable mode. For more information about 555 ICs, please visit our part review. When the user presses SW1, power is applied to the 555 and it merrily sends out pulses from pin 3. To increase the speed of the pulses, decrease the values for R1 and R2.

The pulses are received into IC2, a “4017 five-stage Johnson decade counter”. [data sheet] This is still a very old yet useful IC. It has ten output pins, Q0~Q9. Every time the 4017 receives a pulse, starting from power-on or a reset, starting from Q0 it sets an output pin to high (pins default to low). We have sourced LEDs D1~D6 from the first six output pins on our 4017. So when it receives the fast pulses from the 555, it quickly blinks the LEDs in order. When the user releases SW1, the pulses stop arriving from the 555, and the 4017 stops counting – and leaves the current pin HIGH so we can read the value. And here it is in real life:


The parts list:

  • R1, R2 – 82k ohm resistors
  • R3 – 1.8k ohm resistor
  • C1, C3 – 100 nF polyester capacitors
  • C2 – 10nF polyester capacitor
  • D1~D6 – typical LEDs of your choice
  • IC1 – 555 timer IC
  • IC2 – 4017 CMOS counter IC
  • SW1 – normally-open button
  • 5 V power supply (use an LM7805 regulator if 5 V not available)

There are a few things to take note of if building this circuit. The 4017 IC is quite prone to static, so please take care. Furthermore, all unused output pins need to be connected to ground. (Yes, I missed that in the schematic for pin 9). And finally, you can only source 10mA per output pin, which explains the higher than usual value for R3.

Quick note: In the past we have discussed capacitors and their use for smoothing noise from DC current. The circuit above is a perfect example – the 4017 is quite susceptible to noise and will not count properly without C3 between 5V and GND.

Finally, in the spirit of this article, less is more. We could use another 555 in a monostable configuration to limit the running time of the astable 555 pulse-generating timer, but a human can do that with their digits. Furthermore, a reset button could be added onto the 4017, so that’s up to you. Finally, here it is in action:

So there. However you can now see the advantages of using a microcontroller. Each extra function or ‘trick’ created by a line or two of code with our new die could require an exponential amount of hardware, power consumption, board space and possibly a total redesign. However doing it ‘the old way’ is interesting and helps prototyping practice and troubleshooting.

But while we have all of these parts out, we’ll have a little more fun… let’s do it with an actual number being display, instead of a flurry of blinking LEDs. We still need the 555 timer to create our pulses, so that remains the same:


and here is the rest of the circuit:


So in this example, the 555 is sending out pulses on request via SW1. However this time, the 4518 BCD counter [data sheet] receives those pulses, counts them (from zero to nine then repeat) and converts the current value to binary-coded decimal. Next, the BCD value is sent over to the 4511 BCD to 7-segment driver IC [data sheet]. This IC converts reads the BCD and sets outputs that are suitable for driving 7-segment LED modules. These outputs are sent via 330 ohm resistors to protect the LED segments. Then finally, the digit zero to nine can be displayed on the LED unit.

With some trickery we could limit this display to the numbers 1~6, if you want to do that go for it. So in this case our ‘die’ has in fact 10 values. I’m sure there are some games that could make use of it. Anyhow, here it is in real life:


You may be wondering what happened to R3~R9. In this case I am using a DIP resistor array. This is just eight resistors in one package, which makes life easier.

The parts list:

  • R1, R2 – 82k ohm resistors
  • R3~R9 – 330 ohm resistors
  • C1, 100 nF polyester capacitor
  • C2 – 10nF polyester capacitor
  • D1 – common-cathode 7-segment LED display
  • IC1 – 555 timer IC
  • IC2 – 4518 CMOS counter IC
  • IC3 – 4511 BCD to 7-segment IC
  • SW1 – normally-open button
  • 5V power supply (use an LM7805 regulator if 5V not available)

And here it is in action:

You can now see why the Arduino and other microcontrollers have taken off in popularity. They really do lighten the load with regards to planning and hardware construction. However it is enjoyable to do things the old way sometimes, ergo this article. If you are interested in articles like this one that use digital electronics, please let me know via the Google Group and there will be more projects similar to this one, but in greater detail. One day I may even pull the finger out and make a TTL clock…

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

Posted in 4017, 4511, 4518, 555, dice, learning electronics, tutorialComments (2)

Part review – 4541 CMOS programmable timer

Hello readers!

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

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


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

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


And here are the pinouts:

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

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

Posted in 4541, cmos, education, learning electronics, tutorialComments (6)

Part review – The 555 Precision Timer

This post has been revised and republished. Please click here to read the new 555 article. Thank you!

Posted in 555, lesson, part review, tutorialComments (2)

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