Passive Components Get Better

When you want to talk about cool new components, you are probably thinking about chips or, these days, even modules. Passive components like resistors, capacitors, and inductors are a solved problem, right? [Darshill Patel] begs to differ. There is still innovation happening in the passive market, and he highlights some of the recent advances.

There are thick-film resistors that don’t need lead, for example. There are also supercapacitor modules with very low ESR. For inductors, at least one manufacturer is moving away from traditional wire loops and using flat wire windings instead. These have a larger cross-section, which reduces unwanted resistance. In addition, it offers more cooling area for heat dissipation.

Of course, passive components have never been as simple as people think. Picking a capacitor’s value is only half the battle. You also need to consider the material to optimize how it works in your design. Wirewound resistors are also inductors unless you get special non-inductive ones that use special wiring techniques to cancel much of the parasitic inductance.

It shows that you can never stop learning about even the simplest components. We are still waiting to figure out what we want to do with a memristor. While tiny surface mount components are good for some assembly reasons, they also have helped reduce unwanted component effects.

$13 Scope And Logic Analyzer Hits 18 Msps

We aren’t sure what’s coolest about [Richard Testardi’s] Flea-Scope. It costs about $13 plus the cost of making the PCB. It operates at 18 million samples per second. It also doesn’t need any software — you connect to it with your browser! It works as an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, and a waveform generator. Not bad. The board is basically a little life support around a PIC32MK and the software required to run it.

Of course, for $13, you need to temper your expectations. One analog input reads from -6 to 6V (hint: use a 10X probe). The goal was for the instrument to be accurate within 2%.  There are also nine digital inputs sampled simultaneously with the analog sampling. The signal generator portion can output a 4 MHz square wave or a 40 kHz arbitrary waveform.

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Tech In Plain Sight: Microwave Ovens

Our homes are full of technological marvels, and, as a Hackaday reader, we are betting you know the basic ideas behind a microwave oven even if you haven’t torn one apart for transformers and magnetrons. So we aren’t going to explain how the magnetron rotates water molecules to produce uniform dielectric heating. However, when we see our microwave, we think about two things: 1) this thing is one of the most dangerous things in our house and 2) what makes that little turntable flip a different direction every time you run the thing?

First, a Little History

Westinghouse Powercaster which could, among other things, toast bread in six seconds

People think that Raytheon engineer Percy Spenser, the chief of their power tube division, noticed that while working with a magnetron he found his candy bar had melted. This is, apparently, true, but Spenser wasn’t the first to notice. He was, however, the first to investigate it and legend holds that he popped popcorn and blew up an egg on a colleague’s face (this sounds like an urban legend about “egg on your face” to us). The Raytheon patent goes back to 1945.

However, cooking with radio energy was not a new idea. In 1933, Westinghouse demonstrated cooking foods with a 10 kW 60 MHz transmitter (jump to page 394). According to reports, the device could toast bread in six seconds.  The same equipment could beam power and — reportedly — exposing yourself to the field caused “artificial fever” and an experience like having a cocktail, including a hangover on overindulgence. In fact, doctors would develop radiothermy to heat parts of the body locally, but we don’t suggest spending an hour in the device.

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16 Kbit DRAM Gives Up Its Secrets

[Ken Shirriff] is looking inside chips again. This time, the subject is the MK4116 — a 16 Kbit DRAM chip. Even without a calculator, you know that’s a whopping 2 Kbytes, and while that doesn’t sound impressive, in the late 1970s, it was a modern miracle.

The chip showed up in computers ranging from the TRS-80 to the Xerox Alto and was even a mainstay of arcade video games. While [Ken] thought it would be a pretty predictable teardown, he found several surprises.

Static RAM chips use flip flops and retain their state as long as power is on. That’s convenient, but each flip flop takes multiple transistors, so there is a limit to how many bits you can put on a particular size chip. Dynamic RAM increases that limit because it is nothing more than a capacitor and a single transistor. This increases memory density, but the problem is that the capacitor doesn’t hold charge indefinitely. The computer or an associated circuit had to refresh the memory periodically to maintain the contents.

One of the key innovations for this chip was the use of multiplexed address lines so it could use a smaller package. Inside, two banks of capacitors store the bits, and, usually, a computer would use eight chips to store a byte. Of course, each memory bit is made to be as compact as possible. This chip is also made to be very low power when idle. The secret is that it doesn’t use load transistors but instead uses an active pull-up tied to the system clock. Another interesting feature is the sense amplifier, which has to measure the tiny noisy voltage from the capacitors.

You’ll see all this and more in [Ken’s] write-up. Chips from that era were relatively easy to take apart compared to today’s devices. Want to know how it’s done? [Ken] can tell you. He is well-known for doing a lot of cool stuff, with ICs and even old mainframe and space hardware.

Processes, Threads, And… Fibers?

You’ve probably heard of multithreaded programs where a single process can have multiple threads of execution. But here is yet another layer of creating multitasking programs known as a fiber. [A Graphics Guy] lays it out in a lengthy but well-done post. There are examples for both x64 and arm64, although the post mainly focuses on x64 for Windows. However, the ideas will apply anywhere.

In the old days, there was a CPU and when your program ran on it, it was in control. But that’s wasteful, so software quickly moved to where many programs could share the CPU simultaneously. Then, as that got overloaded, computers got more CPUs. Most operating systems have the idea of a process, which is a program that thinks it is in complete control, but it is really sharing the CPU with other processes. The problem arises when you want to have multiple “little” programs that cooperate. Processes are not really supposed to know about one another and, if they do, there’s usually some heavy-weight communication mechanism allowing them to talk.

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Carbon Fiber With 3D Printing

[Thomas Sanladerer] wanted to make 3D prints using carbon fiber and was surprised that it was fairly inexpensive and worked well, although he mentions that the process is a bit intense. You can learn what he found out in the video below.

He used an advanced PLA that can endure more temperature than normal PLA. That’s important because the process uses heat and the carbon fiber resin will produce heat as it cures. The first step was to print a mold and, other than the material, that was pretty straightforward.

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The Reverse Oscilloscope

Usually, an oscilloscope lets you visualize what a signal looks like. [Mitxela]’s reverse oscilloscope lets you set what you want an audio waveform to look like, and it will produce it. You can see the box in the video below.

According to [Mitxela] part of the difficulty in building something like this is making the controls manageable for mere mortals. We really like the slider approach, which seems pretty obvious, but some other controls are a bit more subtle. For example, the interpolation control can create a squarish wave or a smooth waveform, or anything in between.

This is sort of an artistic take on an arbitrary waveform generator but with a discrete-panel user interface. The device contains a Teensy, a Raspberry PI Pico, a 16-bit ADC, and an external DAC. The Pico is little more than an I/O controller, reading the user interface and transmitting it on a serial port.

The outside construction looks excellent (we assume the tape is temporary). The inside is a bit messier, but still nicely done. There are many photos of the construction and details of problems along the way with 12-bit ADCs and power supply experiments.

Of course, if you don’t need the user interface, you can go crazy with waveform generation. We did our own similar project, but you could draw your waveforms on the PC instead of sliders.

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