Improving A Cheap Frequency Counter With GPS

Frequency counters are useful tools for anyone that finds themselves regularly working with time-variant signals. There are a huge range available, from cheap eBay specials to expensive lab-grade hardware. [itakeyourphoto] had a counter on the lower end of the cost spectrum, and decided to make some improvements with the help of GPS (Youtube link, embedded below).

The fundamental weakness of a cheap frequency counter is usually the internal reference against which all other signals are measured. The more accurate this is, the more accurate the counter will be. [itakeyourphoto] determined that a great way to generate a reasonably good reference frequency was by using a uBlox GPS module. Once locked on to satellites, it can use a numerically controlled oscillator to output any frequency up to 15MHz with good accuracy.

The cheap frequency counter in question used a 13 MHz internal reference, so the uBlox module was programmed to match this. [itakeyourphoto] reports that it compares favorably to his higher-end GPS-disciplined oscillators, displaying very little drift or other aberrations.

We see plenty of clocks using GPS for its accurate time, but we’ve seen projects that attempt to go even further than that, too. Video after the break.

[Thanks to jafinch78 for the tip!]

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Hacking A Cheap EBay Frequency Counter

eBay is a wondrous land, full of Star Wars memorabilia in poor condition, old game consoles at insane markups, and a surprising amount of DIY electronics. [TheHWCave] found himself tinkering with a common frequency counter kit, and decided to make a few choice improvements along the way (Youtube link, embedded below).

The frequency counter in question is a common clone version of [Wolfgang “Wolf” Büscher]’s minimalist PIC design. Using little more than a PIC16F628 and some seven-segment displays, it’s a competent frequency counter for general use. Clone versions often add a crystal oscillator tester and are available on eBay for a fairly low price.

[TheHWCave] found that the modifications were less than useful, and developed a way to turn the tester components into a more useful signal preamp instead. Not content to stop there, custom firmware was developed to both improve the resolution and also add a tachometer feature. This allows the device to display its output in revolutions per minute as opposed to simply displaying in hertz. By combining this with an optical pickup or other RPM signal, it makes a handy display for rotational speed. If you’re unfamiliar with the theory, read up on our phototachometer primer. If you’re looking to modify your own kit, modified firmware is available on Github.

We’ve seen other eBay kit specials modified before. Being cheap and using commodity microcontrollers makes them a ripe platform for hacking, whether you just want to make a few tweaks or completely repurpose the device.

[Thanks to Acesoft for the tip!]

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Very Simple PC Frequency Counter Works Up To 100MHz

We all use 74 logic in our projects as general purpose logic interfacing glue. These chips have become as ubiquitous as a general-purpose op-amp, or even as passive components. In most cases we’re not demanding much of them, and power requirements aside an original 74 chip from the dawn of the series could probably do the same job that we’re putting a more modern variant to work on.

It is easy therefore to forget that 74 logic is a field that has seen continuous improvement and innovation reflecting the developments elsewhere in electronics, and the most modern 74 versions hide some impressively high specifications.

A good example comes via a project from [Scott, AJ4VD], a very simple frequency counter that uses a single 74 series chip at its business end, and counts to over 100MHz. The chip in question is a 74LV8154 dual 16-bit counter which he is using as a prescaler to deliver a rate more acceptable to an ATMega328 microcontroller that does the counting. As he points out, the accuracy of a frequency counter is only as good as its gate timing, and he ensures as accurate a seconds-worth of pulses as he can with a 1PPS signal derived from an inexpensive GPS receiver. The 328 makes its counting available to a host computer via a serial port, and can be easily read through a terminal. He’s built it dead-bug style on a piece of unetched PCB, on which the simplicity of the circuit is evident.

There was a time when a project like this one would have required multiple integrated circuits including a probably quite expensive purpose-built prescaler. Cheap glue logic has now advanced to a stage at which it can be done instead at commodity prices, and we like that.

We’ve featured a few 74-series counters before, including this old-school one and this one also using a 74LV8154.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Minimal ATtiny Voltage And Frequency Counter

Sometimes when you build something it is because you have set out with a clear idea or specification in mind, but it’s not always that way. Take [kodera2t]’s project, he set out to master the ATtiny series of microcontrollers and started with simple LED flashers, but arrived eventually at something rather useful. An ATtiny10 DVM and DFM all-in-one with an i2c LCD display and a minimum of other components.

The DFM uses the ATtiny’s internal 16 bit timer, which has the convenient property of being able to be driven by an external clock. The frequency to be measured drives the timer, and the time it returns is compared to the system clock. It’s not the finest of frequency counters, depending as it does on the ATtiny’s clock rather than a calibrated crystal reference, but it does the job.

The results are shown in the video below, and all the code has been posted in his GitHub repository. We can see that there is the basis of a handy little instrument in this circuit, though with the price of cheap multimeters being so low even a circuit this minimal would struggle to compete on cost.

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Nanocounter: Frequency Counter With An Android UI

Have you ever started a project, run into an issue, started a new project to solve the issue, and completely forgot about the original project? [Andy] went down a rabbit hole of needing a tool to calibrate an MCU oscillator, but not having an accurate way to measure frequency. Most people would just buy a frequency counter and be done with it, but [Andy] decided to build his own.

The Nanocounter is an accurate, open source frequency counter that uses an Android phone as its display. It’s based on a high accuracy temperature compensated crystal oscillator (TCXO) fed into a phase locked loop (PLL) to create a high frequency, accurate reference clock.

This reference clock, along with the signal to be measured, are sent into a Xilinx FPGA which uses a method called equal precision measurement to determine the frequency. A STM32F072 microcontroller uses a SPI interface to get this data out of the FPGA, and controls the whole system. Finally, a cheap HC-06 Bluetooth module facilitates communication with an Android device.

The project achieves the goal of frequency counting, though [Andy] doesn’t remember what project sparked the idea to build it. (Classic yak shaving!) But the result is a great read of a detailed writeup, and you can watch a video of the Nanocounter in action after the break. That’s a win in our book.

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Making A HP Frequency Counter More Accurate

[Gerry] built his own high stability timebase add-on for his HP 53131 frequency counter. This project started out after [Gerry] built a rubidium 10 MHz standard for his lab. Upon connecting the standard to the frequency counter for calibration, he found that the HP 53131 had an awful internal oscillator. The official high stability timebase add-on from HP cost about $1000, and he was determined to do better.

Using a second hand OCXO as the oscillator, he designed his own add-on module. OCXO modules pack a crystal oscillator in a thermal chamber. Since temperature fluctuation causes drift in crystal oscillators, an OCXO controls the temperature to keep the frequency constant. They can be bought second hand on eBay for under $30.

The PCB design for the module can accommodate a variety of OCXO modules. It uses a high speed comparator and a high stability 5 volt reference to provide the clock signal to the counter. A DAC is used to calibrate the oscillator. By keeping the same DAC as the original counter, the add-on board can be calibrated using the front panel of the device.

The project is a drop in replacement for HP’s $1000 module for a fraction of the cost. [Gerry]’s write up has all the details you’ll need to build your own.

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Arduino As An Inexpensive Ham Radio Frequency Counter

[Todd Harrison] really has our number. Like him, we don’t want to spend money when we don’t have to, and hacking our own solutions is a lot more fun anyway. This time around he’s helping out a friend who is a ham radio enthusiast. The friend’s radio didn’t come with a frequency display, and buying the add-on would cost more than the radio did. So [Todd] has set out to build an Arduino frequency counter for a Kenwood TS-520S HF ham radio.

This post (and the video found after the break) doesn’t cover the entire project. It’s rather involved just to make sure that [Todd’s] initial idea is viable so he spends about 35 minutes explaining the problem, then measuring the radio outputs and testing to see that the Arduino can read them accurately. Because the radio has a very large range of operation, [Todd] will need to add external component to facilitate this. That extra circuit design will be the topic of the next project segment.

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