Cracking open a 24-port switch so you don’t have to


[Kenneth Finnegan's] post about this 24-Port HP ProCurve 2824 Ethernet Switch teardown was a delight to read. He’s taking an introduction to networking class at California Polytechnic State University. One of their labs included virtual machines shooting thousands of new MAC addresses at the thing all at once. Despite it’s ability to switch data at a blazing fast rate, it’s ability to deal with that many new hardware identifiers was less than impressive. He wanted to find out why and it just so happened he had one of these in his parts bin at home (which he refers to as if it’s a high-powered RPG character).

The mainboard is divided into three major blocks: the power supply, the switching hardware, and the processor that makes this a manged switch. Although he covers all of these pieces (and the switching stuff is very interesting to learn about) it is the processor section that was causing the aforementioned slowdown. It’s a 266MHz PowerPC chip with a measly 64 MB of RAM. Of course this doesn’t need to be any more powerful since all traffic from previously ‘learned’ MAC addresses gets handled by the switching block and never touches the processor portion.

Don’t miss the end of his post where he discusses how the filtering caps, and semi-isolated ground planes help to tame the beast created from all of this high-speed switching.

555-timer charges lead acid batteries


[Kenneth Finnegan] took the focus of a great design and redirected it to solve his own problem. What results is this lead acid battery charger based on the 555 timer. It’s not a top-of-the-line, all the bells and whistles type of charger. But it gets the job done with a readily available IC and no need to code for a microcontroller.

The original idea came from a solar battery charger entered in the 555 timer contest. The main difference in application between that and [Kenneth's] application is the source. A solar array or wind turbine is limited on how much juice it can produce. But mains power can push a shocking (har-har) amount of current if you’re not paying attention. Herein lies the alterations to the circuit design. To control this he’s using a Laptop power supply as an intermediary and only implementing the constant current portion of the tradition 3-stage lead acid charging profile (those stages are explained in his write up).

He did a talk on the charger at his local radio club. You can see the 90-minute video after the break.

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Intro to Phase-Locked Loops

[Kenneth Finnegan] put up a lengthy primer on PLLs (Phase-Locked Loops). We really enjoyed his presentation (even the part where he panders to Rigol for a free scope… sign us up for one of those too). The concepts behind a PLL are not hard to understand, and [Kenneth] managed to come up with a handful of different demonstrations that really help to drive each point home.

A PLL is made up of three parts: a phase detector, a low pass filter, and a voltage controlled oscillator. It can do really neat things, like multiply clock speed (you see them in beefier chips like the ARM architecture all the time). The experiments seen in the video use a CD4046 chip which has two different types of phase detectors. The two signals displayed on the oscilloscope above compare the incoming clock signal with the output from the VCO. Depending on the type of phase detector used, and the quality of the low-pass filter, these might be tightly synchronized or wildly unstable. Find out why by watching the video embedded after the break.

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MSP430 based single LED clock

[Kenneth Finnegan's] latest clock makes use of the TI Launchpad for programming and debugging MSP430 microprocessors. We took a look at the Launchpad when it was released and we’re glad to see some hacks resulting from availability of that tool. The clock reads out the time using a bi-color LED. Press the button and a series of flashes will tell you the time. A three-position toggle switch is used along with the push button for setting the time. The protocol he developed is outlined in his demo video after the break.

We like [Kenneth's] use of a plastic electrical box as a project box. They’re cheap and you can find them everywhere in many different sizes. He mentions the difficulty in drilling through the faceplate. We’ve had our share of shattered plastic trying to drill holes in the darn things. If you’ve got some tips on faceplate-modification we’d love to hear them.

This clock is sure the polar opposite from the TTL clock that [Kenneth] showed us back in March, trading jumper wires for lines of code. We’re going to give this one a try, hopefully fixing the button debounce along the way.

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