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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7400 Frequency Counter

This frequency counter is [Miguel Pedroso’s] entry in the 7400 Logic contest. After looking at the design we think this is a perfect project for those who have not worked with logic ICs before. The concept is simple and [Miguel] does a great job of explaining his implementation.

At its heart the device simply counts the oscillations of an input signal for one second, then latches the total to the 7-segment displays before zeroing the counter block and starting over. Six 4029 decade counters give the device a range of 1MHz. A set of 4511 BCD to 7-segment decoders translate the count to the display. A 4521 frequency divider chip uses an on-board 4.194304 MHz crystal oscillator to time both the display latching and the counter clearing. [Miguel] mentions that tuning the load capacitors is a bit tricky. Since breadboards have their own capacitance issues it may be necessary to change the load capacitor values when moved to protoboard or the crystal won’t start oscillating. You can see those caps are not the same value, but the tests in the video after the break show that this is pretty much spot-on.

If you’d rather give this a try in HDL here’s an FPGA-based frequency counter from which you can draw some inspiration.

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Building A 100 MHz Frequency Counter

The great thing about building with gates is the crazy speeds you can achieve by using hardware directly (as opposed to working with simple microcontrollers). This 100 MHz frequency counter is a great example. [Michael] just finished building it using a Papilio board.

Of course we’re not talking about discreet chips here. The Papilio is an FPGA development board which means he is building with hardware gates, but that is still done by writing code. Above, the rig is measuring a 25 MHz being generated by a second FPGA board. Using the Papilio’s on board 32 MHz clock the device is capable of counting a frequency up to 100 MHz. You can see it measuring a 96.875  MHz signal in the video after the break. One interesting thing about that clip is that near the end he touches the crystal’s case with his finger and the Hertz really jump for a moment.

If the 8-digit display looks familiar that’s because [Michael] recently published a library to use it with an FPGA.

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PIC Based Frequency Counter

Here’s a PIC based frequency counter that outputs the count via an RS232 serial connection. [Oakkar7] tipped us off about it after seeing the AVR based counter we featured yesterday. This project is a bit older and a bit dirtier.

Inside the metal DB9 housing you’ll find just seven parts. The most important is a PIC 16F628 which handles both the counting and the serial communications. We’re not quite sure how it’s managing to talk to that USB-to-Serial converter without some type of level conversion. Since this microcontroller is not a dedicated counter chip a little bit of trimming must be done to bring the accuracy into spec. There’s also some physical trimming involved. In order to get everything to fit into the small enclosure the circuit was free-formed without a PCB or protoboard and the case of the DIP chip had to be ground down just a bit. As for the readout, a simple script can grab the data and display it in a terminal.

[via Piclist]

Frequency Counter For $10 Worth Of Parts

[Scott] built this frequency counter using less than $10 in parts. It’s set up to meter frequencies in megahertz which is fitting since he’s planning to use it with his radio hardware experimentation. But we would find it useful too because our cheap multimeter only reads up to around 4 MHz.

He’s using an ATmega16 that he had on hand but it has features way beyond the specs for the device. He speculates that an ATtiny2313 would easily work in its place. The microcontroller is mostly used to drive the multiplexed 7-segment display after reading the frequency values from the 74LV8154 counter chip that he is using. He doesn’t have a full schematic for the device, but there is a hand drawn diagram for using the frequency counter; the rest should be easy to piece together. Looking at that circuit we don’t think it would be too hard to make this a manual-ranging frequency counter to give you more use out of the dedicated device. Check out [Scott’s] demonstration video which is embedded below the fold.

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