Building a computer with discrete transistors

You’re going to want to do some stretching before undertaking a soldering project like this one. We’re betting that the physical toll of assembling this 4-bit discrete processor project is starting to drive [SV3ORA] just a bit crazy. This small piece of electronic real estate is playing host to 62 transistors so far, and he’s not done yet.

It’s one thing to build some logic gates in Minecraft (and then turn then into a huge 16-bit ALU). But it’s another thing to actually commit to a physical build. [SV3ORA] does a great job of showing the scope of the project by posting a tight shot of one inverter, then three in a row, then the entire 8-bit address and display system. These gates are built on the copper side of the board, with the power feed, LEDs for displays, and jumpers for control on the opposite side. We’re excited to see where he goes with this project!

But hey, if you don’t want to do that much soldering there’s a lot you can do on a few breadboards.

Using diodes and transistors as solar cells

When you get down to it, solar cells aren’t much different from the diodes and transistors in your parts drawers or inside your beloved electronics. They’re both made of silicon or some other semiconductor, and surprisingly can produce electricity in the presence of light. Here’s two semiconductors-as-solar panel projects that rolled into the tip line over the past few days.

[Steven Dufresne] cut open a 2N3055 power transistor to expose the semiconductor material to light. In full sunlight, he was able to produce 500 millivolts and 5.5 milliamps. In other words, he’d need around 5000 of these transistors wired up to turn on a compact fluorescent light bulb. A small calculator has a much lower power requirement, so after opening up five transistors he was able to make a solar-powered calculator with a handful of transistors.

[Sarang] was studying solar cells and realized a standard silicon diode is very similar; both are p-n junctions and the only real difference is the surface area. He connected a 1N4148 to a multimeter and to his surprise it worked. [Sarang] is able to get about 150 millivolts out of his diode with the help of a magnifying glass. While he doubts his diode is more efficient than a normal solar cell, he thinks it could be useful in low-cost, low power applications. We’re thinking this might be useful as a high-intensity light detector for a solar cooker or similar.

After the break, you can check out the videos [Steven] and [Sarang] put up demonstrating their solar cells.

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LED tutorial demystifies several control techniques

Controlling LEDs is really quite simple. As you know, they need to be current limited which is as easy as applying Ohm’s law to your given set of values. To make things even more even there’s a slew of constant current LED driver chips out there that can be had for a song. But do you have any idea how those constant current circuits work? If not, then [Giorgos Lazaridis’] guide on LED driving and controlling methods will bring you up to speed in no time.

He starts out with the most basic concept, how to light an LED using proper current limiting resistors. But from there he moves on to the juicy bits. He builds a transistor-based constant current driver, then adds voltage regulation for the circuit as seen in the schematic on the left. He moves on to the more robust and efficient method on the right which pairs a MOSFET with that transistor circuit. This is the technique found on each pin of many of those constant current drivers and functions well regardless of the voltage input level.

He’s been producing videos to go along with these articles. After the break you can watch the episode that accompanies the schematic on the left. Continue reading “LED tutorial demystifies several control techniques”

Preheat alarm added to a basic kitchen oven

[Justin] didn’t want to keep checking if the ‘oven heating’ indicator light had gone off before popping his unbaked edibles into the oven. Many models offer a buzzer to let you know when the chosen temp is reached, but for folks who own a basic oven model there’s just a light that tells when the heating element is getting juice. Not to worry, he plied his circuit design skills and built a buzzer to alert him when the oven’s ready.

It only took a few components to accomplish the task. [Justin] uses a pair of NPN transistors triggered by a photoresistor. One transistor is responsible for switching on the buzzer, the other transistor is driven by the photoresistor and controls the base of its companion transistor (see the schematic for a better understanding).

He designed and etched a small PCB to host all the parts. As you can see above, it mounts over the indicator light and is powered by a 9V battery. There’s an on/off switch to the right so the buzzer doesn’t keep triggering while cooking, and a potentiometer allows him to fine-tune the photoresistor sensitivity.

Multivibrator in theory and practice

We must admit that we’ve been guilty of using a microcontroller to make two LEDs blink alternately in the past. It’s not the worst transgression, but it stems from our discomfort with analog circuits. Luckily, [Ray] published an illustrated guide on building multivibrator circuits. This is a simple method of assembling a two-output oscillator. All it takes is a pair of NPN transistors, which are then switched by on and off based on a resistor-capacitor (RC) timer.

[Ray] does a good job of walking us through how the circuit works at each stage of one complete cycle. You’ll need to read carefully, but the supplementary schematics he uses to water down snap shots of the various electrical states really helped us understand.

Of course, blinking LEDs isn’t the sole purpose of a multivibrator. It is a method of producing a clean square wave which can be used as a clock signal for TTL logic chips. Oh, who are we kidding, see the blinky goodness for yourself in the video after the break.

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Simple transistor tester makes sorting easy

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Hacker [Dino Segovis] is back with yet another installment of his Hack a Week series, and it’s looking like he isn’t too worse for wear after hunkering down to face hurricane Irene.

This week, it seems that [Dino] is having some problems separating his PNP transistors from his NPNs. After Albert Einstein proves to be less than useful when it comes to sorting electronic components, [Dino] decided to build a simple transistor tester to help him tell his PNPs and NPNs apart without having to resort to looking up product data sheets.

The tester itself is relatively simple to build. As you can see in the video below, it consists of a power supply, an LED, a few resistors, a pair of known transistors, and not much else. When everything is hooked together, the NPN/PNP pair causes the LED to light up, but the circuit is broken whenever one of the transistors is removed. Inserting a new transistor into the empty spot on the breadboard immediately lets you know which sort of transistor you have inserted.

Sure you can tell transistors apart with a multimeter, but if you have a whole drawer full of loose components, this is a far more efficient option.

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[Dino] tells us about transistor-based on/off switches

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You know them, you love them, you take them for granted – they are single push button on/off switches. As [Dino] explains in the most recent episode of his Hack a Week series, they are typically implemented in the form of IC logic switches nowadays, but it wasn’t always that way. When they first came on to the scene in the 70’s, the single button soft switches were built using a set of transistors and a capacitor to get the job done, so [Dino] decided to research push on/push off transistor switches a bit and build his own.

After reading through a short tutorial, he was ready to go. As he explains in the video, the operation of the switch is fairly simple, though he did run into some odd issues when he prototyped the switch on a piece of breadboard. He’s looking for someone to explain why the unstable circuit suddenly performs better with the addition of a small capacitor between the battery’s positive lead and the circuit’s output, so if you have some insight, be sure to speak up in the comments.

In the meantime, check out [Dino’s] exploration of push on/push off switches below.

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