Acoustic Delay Line Memory

delay

Back in the olden days  when computers were both analog and digital, making RAM was actually very hard. Without transistors, the only purely electronic means of building a memory system was vacuum tubes; It could have been done, but for any appreciable amount of RAM means an insane amount of tubes, power, and high failure rates.

One of the solutions for early RAM was something called a delay line. This device used ultrasonic transducers to send a pulse through a medium (usually mercury filled tubes heated to 40°C) and reads it out at the other end. The time between the pulse being sent and received is just enough to serve as a very large, small capacity RAM.

Heated tubes filled with hundreds of pounds of mercury isn’t something you’d want sitting around for a simple electronics project. You can, however, build one out of a Radio Shack Electronics Learning Lab, a speaker, and a microphone.

[Joe] designed his delay line using an op-amp to amplify the train of acoustic pulses traveling through the air. A compactor picks up these pulses and sends them into a flip-flop. A decade counter and oscillator provide the timing of the pulses and a way to put each bit in the delay line. When a button on the electronics lab is pressed, a ‘tick’ is sent into the speaker where it travels across [Joe]‘s basement, into the microphone, and back into the circuit.

The entire setup is able to store ten bits of information in the air, with the data conveniently visualized on an oscilloscope. It’s not a practical way to store data in any way, shape, or form, but it is an interesting peek into the world before digital everything.

Video below.

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Taking a dump from some old hardware

NYC Resistor shows you how to have some fun with electronics from the junk bin. Their post called The Joy of Dumping encourages you to look around for older memory chips and see what they’ve been hiding away for all these years.

The targets of their hunt are EPROM chips. Note the single ‘E’. These are Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory chips, and predate EEPROM which adds “Electrically” to the beginning of the acronym.  You used to use a UV light source to erase the older types of memory. In fact we’ve seen some EPROM erasers as projects from time to time. These shouldn’t be too hard to find as they were prevalent as cheap storage back in the 1980’s.

If the quartz window on the top of the chips has been shielded from ambient UV light, you should still be able to read them and it’s as easy as hooking up your Arduino. Is it useful? Not really, but it still can be neat to interface with what might otherwise never make its way back out of the junk box.

512k SRAM board for your next prototyping run

Find you’re running out of memory and paying for more expensive chips just to plug this feature gap? Many of the upper offering of chips have the option of adding SRAM thanks to an on-chip hardware feature, but if you don’t have that this 512k SRAM add-on board can be used with any chip that has 13 extra I/O pins available.

That use of pins may sound crippling if you usually use low pin count chips. But thanks to a write protected state option with the memory chips, nine of those thirteen pins can serve a dual use when not reading or writing from the memory. Speaking of, the address scheme is designed to access the memory in 32-bit blocks but individual bytes are accessible too if need be. [Wardy] has been testing his design using a Propeller chip running at 75 MHz so we know it’s built for speed, but he also mentions there’s no minimum clock speed for the board to function either. He used the Open Hardware guidelines when sharing his work, and if you want one for yourself you could always give the DorkBot PDX service he used for the prototypes to get your own boards too.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Scam-o-Matic determines if you bought fake SD cards

[Andrew] recently got scammed on an SD card purchase and put together a small tool that can help you determine if you’ve had the wool pulled over your eyes as well.

You see, he purchased a set of MicroSD cards, all of which had an advertised capacity of 4GiB. When he tried to use them, they all failed to write more than about 115MiB of data, so he knew something was up. He sat down with some tools that can be used to check the actual capacity of flash media, but he says they were unbelievably slow to scan the cards.

While he waited for one of the scans to complete, he decided to create a utility of his own that would do the same thing in a fraction of the time. His quick and dirty application, called “Scam-o-Matic”, writes random data to the card, double-checking the written region to ensure that data can be read back. If it finds errors your card is likely either a fake or damaged, but if not, it automatically prepares the media for use.

Obviously this sort of situation is relatively rare, but if you think that you have picked up some shady SD cards, be sure to check out [Andrew’s] Github repository.

Want 2 megabytes of SRAM for your Arduino?

How much memory do you really need? We suppose it’s not really our place to judge how you misuse use memory in your projects. But we do appreciate the clean and orderly technique that [Eric Rogers] uses to add multiple SPI SRAM chips to an Arduino.

The heavy lifting is done with a CPLD shield called the Amani 64. It intercepts the SPI calls from the Arduino to an SRAM chip, and translates the address information to find the appropriate data on a collection of 23K256 devices. These chips are inexpensive, and using several of them provides a savings over choosing a single SPI addressable chip with a larger memory size.

The best part is that the flexibility of the CPLD allowed [Eric] to devise an addressing system that takes advantage of unused bits in the Arduino’s SPI data transfer functions. When using a single 23K256 chip, there are four write functions that waste a total of six bits. He devised a method to inject addressing data into these unused bits, allowing him to address up to 64 different memory chips for a potential of 2 MB of storage. The CPLD pulls out this injected address and subsequently writes or reads the bank of SRAM chips.

Looking for other SRAM upgrade options? Here’s another one that uses multiplexing to decrease the address lines necessary to add memory.

Upgrading RAM in an Arduino Mega

[Andy] stuffed some more RAM onto an Arduino Mega and his three-part walk through on the design, construction, and software is a great read and one of the more ‘hard core’ Arduino builds we’ve seen.

The build is centered around a 512K × 8 SRAM module [PDF warning]. Because the RAM is divided up into about 512,000 chunks of 8 bits, the Arduino has to access the RAM through 16 ‘address lines’, then send the data through 8 ‘data lines’. [Andy] didn’t want to use up 24 pins on his Arduino, so he used a latch to multiplex the lowest 8 address lines and the data lines together. With the 512KB RAM expansion installed, the Mega is able to address a whopping 520 Kilobytes.

We’ve seen a few builds that have been limited by the amount of RAM available in the Arduino, like capturing video and some robot hacks, and adding some more RAM to those builds would be great. Multiplexing data and address lines using a latch can be expanded even further, but 520KB ought to be enough for anybody.

Breadboarding RAM

If you’ve ever wanted to dive in and take a look at how memory hardware is implemented here is a good example of how to implement some latching circuits with ether BJT or CMOS transistors. BJTs require biasing resistors which increases the complexity and power consumption when compared to CMOS. If power consumption isn’t an issue you could certainly make some really fast logic.

Most modern on chip RAM is made using SRAM because it only takes six transistors to implement(vs eight) and is pretty fast. When it comes to density DRAM can get one bit of storage by using a single transistor and capacitor(putting the capacitor underneath he transistor can save even more space). All that said, latches and flip flops are still a very useful (and common) tool when working with digital circuits.

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