Learn from the Ice Tube Clock


Looks like they’re at it again over at Adafruit. This time they’ve produced a clock that looks more like it should be attached to a munition rather than cruising bedside. But, geek-cred aside, there’s a lot to be learned from their design. Like we’ve grown to expect, they’ve put together some good documentation on their choice of components.

Start off by taking a peek at their 5v power regulator. There is an extra diode on the output side that prevents reverse current from the 3v backup battery. The AVR ATmega168 that controls the clock is used to detect loss of power and quickly shift to the battery backup. They’ve also used the  microcontroller as a boost converter for the high voltage VFD, a nice trick we’ve seen before.

[Thanks pt]


  1. vic says:

    Commercial products from an online vendor don’t qualify as hacks in my book. This kind of half-disguised ads for ladyada, sparkfun & al seem to appear more and more often lately.

  2. coniferous says:

    I disagree VIC. Projects like this are a beginner hackers best friend.

    Because this is all open source and well documented it’s basically a hack in the making.

  3. pt says:

    @vic – disclosure, i started hack-a-day and i work with ladyada, if you read the post here and the site you’ll see that it’s 100% open source hardware, you do not need to buy a kit. you can even make your own and sell them!

    unlike posts about new nokia laptops or android phones you can just make this on your own, you may need to find a source for the tube, etch a board, get some parts (and many people will).

    i think this qualifies as a great “hack” on hack-a-day, in fact, read the icetube site and see all the hacks you can do with this clock kit.

    kits are 100% what hack-a-day is about and why i started hack-a-day back in the day’

    besides, it’s not an arduino :)

  4. alaysias says:

    yeah, arduinos aren’t “hacks” ;-)

  5. andrew says:

    “this one in particular is the atmega168v or 168p. the v or p designation means it can run at 1.8v voltages, otherwise the chip requires 4v or more to run and that is more than the battery backup voltage”

    the ‘v’ designation means low voltage whereas the ‘p’ designation merely means it is a dip through-hole ic.

  6. ladyada says:

    andrew, if its -p then yes that indicates DIP. But in this case it actually indicates “picopower” a revision of the AVR fab technology

    for example, searching mouser


    it is clear that many of the chips are not DIP

    its very sneaky! :)

  7. nope says:

    trixy designation!

  8. vic says:

    OK maybe I was a bit harsh. What I mean is that for me an hack is modifying something to make it do something unintended. This is a clock designed to be a clock.

    Regarding the advertising part, maybe it’s just a consequence of the fact that many people at sparkfun, hackaday, make, ladyada, etc … know each other, but I still think “hacks” like a $15 LM317 PSU do not deserve an article. Just my opinion :)

  9. charliefreck says:

    i’d like to roll something similar. looking for the iv-18 tubes, i’m only finding green ones. anyone find blue ones? or are they all just sorta blue/green, and look different with different cameras?

  10. Dave says:

    Even if you don’t think this is a hack… it still qualifies as geek porn. I mean, just look at the picture. You don’t have to buy one to see the beauty.

  11. Nonya-Biz says:

    thought that was a giant pixie tube at first

  12. Drone says:

    I like the russian tube display. Were did they find that?

  13. pt says:

    @drone, ebay or google, there are actually thousands out there.

    @vic – yah, you were harsh, but whatever – if you want hack-a-day to post other things, make cool stuff of send in cool links, you may think this is a clock, but it’s many other things – trust me, i live with this clock.

    a $15 LM317 PSU is interesting if it’s open source hardware (it’s is from what i recall)… it’s not an “article” – it’s a post, consider it something for people that are not the “expert” you are yet. we all started somewhere.

  14. Thumb says:

    A nifty project, to be sure, but the Schottky backup battery trick is as old as time. The Maxim drivers are a great find though!

  15. Agent420 says:

    i love clocks ;-)

    nice job.

  16. optimusprime30322 says:

    interesting but not very original. looks like almost an exact copy of this http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/6-DIGIT-VFD-CLOCK-2-ALARM-IDEAL-GIFT-NIXIE-TUBE-ERA-UK_W0QQitemZ260403291994QQcmdZViewItemQQptZUK_Consumer_VintageAudio_RL?hash=item3ca13ee75a&_trksid=p4634.c0.m14.l1262#ht_4506wt_941

    of course this one is open source and that makes it pretty sweet but next time how about something that is somewhat original?

  17. alaysias says:

    @optimusprime30322: well at least it’s not $90 compared to adafruit’s $65. plus this one doesn’t have the battery backup and like pt said, it’s easily hackable via documents.

  18. optimusprime30322 says:

    @alaysias the ebay clock is assembled and tested, so yeah it’s going to cost more. kits are cheaper because you’re just tossing a bunch of parts in a bag.

  19. Flood_of_SYNs says:

    I plan to order one as soon as they come back in stock, I am gonna create a breakout box (Buttons, Buzzer, …) to put next to my bed and have the clock ontop of my entertainment center.

    Maybe even use it as a display for other things (weather, twitter updates, …).

    The only limit is your own creativity!

  20. sokol says:

    Ice Tube Clock design is very very similar to kosbo.com VFD clock, which I have for almost two years now…
    Please, try to design something new…

  21. Cornz says:

    Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

  22. ultrafire3 says:

    I made mine!

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