Qualcomm Buys NXP In Largest Ever Semiconductor Deal

Reuters has reported that Qualcomm will purchase NXP for $38 Billion in the largest semiconductor deal ever.

This deal was rumored last month in a deal worth about $30 Billion. Qualcomm’s name should be familiar to all Hackaday readers – they have an immense portfolio of mobile processors, automotive chips, and a ton of connectivity solutions for WiFi, Bluetooth, and every other bit of the EM spectrum. NXP should also be familiar for their hundreds of ARM devices, automotive devices, and Freescale’s entire portfolio.

The deal for $38 Billion is just a bit larger than the previous largest semiconductor deal, Avago’s purchase of Broadcom for $37 Billion.

This latest acquisition has followed acquisitions of ARM Holdings by Japan’s Softbank, On and Fairchild, Avago and Broadcom, NXP and Freescale, Microchip and Atmel, Intel and Altera, and a few dozen we’re forgetting right now. The good news is this immense industry consolidation won’t result in a single gigantic chip maker; there will probably be two or three gigantic chip companies in the future. If I may dredge up an observation from a Mergers and Acquisition post from this summer, this trend didn’t go well for Hughes, Fairchild, Convair, Douglas, McDonnell Douglas, North American, Grumman, Northrop, Northrop Grumman, Bell, Cessna, Schweizer or Sikorsky. It went very well for Lockheed, Boeing, and Textron.

Parts You Should know: A Universe Of Useful Injection Molded Standoffs

Your clever branding won't work on me! *types caption in on iPhone*
Your clever branding won’t work on me!
*types caption in on iPhone, sips Starbucks*

I remember the first time I built a computer. My sister and I had our last fight about who would get to use the family computer, it was time I had one of my own. I knew a little bit, and I knew I wasn’t going to be one of those plebs that overpaid for a Gateway in its cow box. So I outsourced. One of the computer literate parents in my Scout Troop very kindly agreed to put together a list of components for me. I spent my Christmas money, birthday money, and a small mountain of money I had saved up. I remember getting the parts in the mail. I was so excited that a week earlier I had even bought one of those super lame computer tool kits to put it together.

I still remember how enormously frustrating the stand-offs for the mother board were to install. I think computers were still figuring out that they didn’t need ALL of the features of a mainframe. Anyway there was a 3mm screw on each side of a cm tall brass standoff. It also wanted me to put these little isolating paper washers on the assembly for some reason. Even with my then presidentially sized hands it took a long time. My Mom later told me that it was around this time she was certain the whole endeavour was going to end in tears.

Six hours of careful work later I had the computer together and running when I realized I had forgotten to buy an OS for it. She was nearly right.

Regardless. My early experience with computer assembly left me with a love for standardized screws, a hate for excessive fasteners, and a deep loathing for improperly routed wires. I was a weird kid. Anyway, when it came time for me to start designing my own enclosures for circuit boards I had all the unique psychological damage and underpinnings I would need to waste a lot of time googling on the internet for an alternate, screwless, method of standing a board off from a surface.

Continue reading “Parts You Should know: A Universe Of Useful Injection Molded Standoffs”

A Short Introduction to Staking and Potting

Staking and potting are not often used in the hobby electronics world, not really entering to the common vernacular. However, everyone who’s ever busted out a glue-gun to convince that dang wire that keeps coming loose to stay has done it.

However, as [Sean Thomas] touches on, staking is not necessarily as easy as a dob of hot glue. There is a method to the madness. [Sean] gives some examples in pictures, but also directs people to the excellent NASA standard methods for staking. It’s surprising how many unintuitive caveats there are to the proper technique.

Potting, or covering everything in epoxy forever, is a great way to get a waterproof, unserviceable, and practically mechanically invincible circuit. The big challenge in potting is picking the right material. A soft silicone, for example, might transfer an unexpected force to an unexpected section of the circuit and cause a mechanical failure. A nice hard epoxy may be too insulating and cause a thermal failure. The standard RTV from the big box store has acetic acid that will eat your components.

These two techniques that come in handy when you need them and worth the bit of reading it takes to get familiar. Have you used either in your own workshop? Let us know the application and the material/techniques you have tried in the comments below.

One Home Made NES To Rule Them All

The Nintendo Entertainment System, or Famicom depending on where in the world you live, is a console that occupies a special place in the hearts of people of a certain age. If you lived in a country that Nintendo didn’t ship its consoles to in the late ’80s and early ’90s though, you might think that it would be an experience that would have passed you by. Eastern Europeans for instance didn’t officially meet Mario for years.

A Pegasus NES clone. Ktoso the Ryba [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A Pegasus NES clone. Ktoso the Ryba [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Fortunately for them there was an industry of Chinese and Taiwanese clone makers whose products were readily available in those markets. For the countries without official Nintendo products it is these consoles and their brand names that have achieved cult gaming status rather than the real thing.

In Poland, [phanick] wanted to recreate his youth by building his own clone console (Polish Language, English translation via Google Translate). His chosen target was the Pegasus, the Taiwanese NES clone that was the must-have console for early ’90s Poles.

But he wasn’t just satisfied with building a Pegasus clone. Along the way the project expanded to include support for 72-pin NES cartridges as well as the 60-pin Pegasus ones, and the ability to play both PAL and NTSC games. For this dual-system support he had to include both sets of processor and graphics chip variants, along with logic to switch between them. He goes into some detail on the tribulations of achieving this switch.

The result is a very impressive and well-executed piece of work. The PAL games have a letterbox effect with black bars at top and bottom of the screen, while the NTSC games have slightly washed-out colours. But if you were a gamer of the day you’ll see these as simply part of the genuine experience.

He’s posted a descriptive video which we’ve embedded below the break, but with non-English commentary. It is however still worth watching even without understanding the audio, for its view of the completed board and gameplay.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Smart Bed Lighting

[Scott] is building motion-activated lights for under the bed for his Hackaday Prize entry. Admittedly, there are fancier projects for the ‘Assistive Technology’ portion of the prize, but this project helps anyone who would otherwise stumble around in the dark. And as [Scott] jokes, that includes a number of underserved demographics including accident prone people, children afraid of the dark, drunks, and, “drunk accident prone children who are afraid of the dark”.

Although the idea of mounting LEDs under a bed is simple, the devil is in the details. [Scott] is using a PIR sensor to turn these hidden lights on and off when getting into or out of bed. An RTC ensures the LED strip will only be on during the desired hours. In [Scott]’s case, this means from 9PM to 7AM. When movement is detected at the foot of the bed, the lights remain on for about two minutes.

This is a fairly simple project compared to some of the entries we’ve seen in the Hackaday Prize, but it does have a purpose. It’s a great way to scare a child into believing there are monsters under a bed, and it every so slightly reduces the chances of a drunk stubbing their toe. [Scott] produced a video for this project, you can check that out below.

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Physics or Phiction?

Do you remember Gilligan’s Island? For many people of a certain age, “The Professor” was our first impression of what a scientist was like. Even in those simpler times, though, you probably couldn’t find anyone like the professor; a jack of all trades, he sort of knew everything about everything (except, apparently, how to make a boat).

Real scientists tend to hyper-specialize. Getting grant money, publication pages, and just advancing the state of the art means that you get more and more focused on more obscure things. It is getting to the point that two scientists in the same field may not be able to really understand each other. You see the same thing in engineering to some degree. Not many digital designers can talk about the frequency dependence of Early effect in bipolar transistors, but not many device gurus can talk intelligently about reservation techniques for superscalar CPUs.

There’s now a website that lets you guess if a physics paper title is real or if it made up jibberish. The site, snarXiv, gets the real titles from arXiv, the site that contains many preprint papers. For example, we were asked to guess if “Brane Worlds with Bolts” was a real paper or if it was “Anthropic Approaches to the Flavor Problem.” (For the record, it was the one about branes.) Give it a whirl!

Retrofitting Smoke Alarms With Bluetooth

Everybody should have a few smoke alarms in their house, and everyone should go check the battery in their smoke alarm right now. That said, there are a few downsides to the traditional smoke alarm. They only work where you can hear them, and this problem has been solved over and over again by security companies and Internet of Things things.

Instead of investing in smart smoke alarms, [Johan] decided to build his own IoT smoke alarm. It’s dead simple, costs less than whatever wonder gizmo you can buy at a home improvement store, and reuses your old smoke alarm. In short, it’s everything you need to build an Internet-connected smoke alarm.

Smoke alarms, or at least ionization-based alarms with a tiny amount of radioactive americium, are very simple devices. Inside the alarm, there’s a metal can – an ionization chamber – with two metal plates. When smoke enters this chamber, a few transistors sound the alarm. If you’ve ever taken one apart, you can probably rebuild the circuit from memory.

Because these alarms are so simple, it’s possible to hack in some extra electronics into a design that hasn’t changed in fifty years. For [Johan]’s project, he’s doing just that, tapping into one of the leads on the ionization chamber, measuring the current through the buzzer, and adding a microcontroller with Bluetooth connectivity.

For the microcontroller and wireless solution, [Johan] has settled on TI’s CC2650 LaunchPad. It’s low power, relatively cheap, allows for over the air updates, and has a 12-bit ADC. Once this tiny module is complete, it can be deadbugged into a smoke alarm with relative ease. Any old phone can be used as a bridge between the alarm network and the Internet.

The idea of connecting a smoke alarm to the Internet is nothing new. Security companies have been doing this for years, and there are dozens of these devices available at Lowes or Home Depot. The idea of retrofitting smarts into a smoke alarm is new to us, and makes a lot of sense: smoke detectors are reliable, cheap, and simple. Why not reuse what’s easy and build out from there?