Solid State Relay Simulation, Explained

[SaltyPuglord] needed a solid state relay for a project. We’d have just bought one, but he decided to design his own in LTSpice. Along the way he made the video below, which is pretty informative and a good example of a non-trivial design in LTSpice.

MOSFETs have made designs like this a lot easier, to the extent that it should be as easy as putting a pair of beefy fets in-line with the AC source and load. However, that has a few ramifications that [Salty] covers in the video.

The biggest concern comes in isolating the DC supply from ground. He used a transformer which is tricky to simulate in LTSpice. Beyond that the design of the power supply is quite simple, and as he mentions in the video, you don’t really need this complex of a regulator just to feed the gates of the MOSFETs.

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The TMS1000: The First Commercially Available Microcontroller

We use a microcontroller without a second thought, in applications where once we might have resorted to a brace of 74 logic chips. But how many of us have spared a thought for how the microcontroller evolved? It’s time to go back a few decades to look at the first commercially available microcontroller, the Texas Instruments TMS1000.

Imagine A World Without Microcontrollers

The Texas Instruments Speak And Spell from 1978 was a typical use for the TMS1000.
The Texas Instruments Speak & Spell from 1978 was a typical use for the TMS1000. FozzTexx (CC-SA 4.0)

It’s fair to say that without microcontrollers, many of the projects we feature on Hackaday would never be made. Those of us who remember the days before widely available and easy-to-program microcontrollers will tell you that computer control of a small hardware project was certainly possible, but instead of dropping in a single chip it would have involved constructing an entire computer system. I remember Z80 systems on stripboard, with the Z80 itself alongside an EPROM, RAM chips, 74-series decoder logic, and peripheral chips such as the 6402 UART or the 8255 I/O port. Flashing an LED or keeping an eye on a microswitch or two became a major undertaking in both construction and cost, so we’d only go to those lengths if the application really demanded it. This changed for me in the early 1990s when the first affordable microcontrollers with on-board EEPROM came to market, but by then these chips had already been with us for a couple of decades.

It seems strange to modern ears, but for an engineer around 1970 a desktop calculator was a more exciting prospect than a desktop computer. Yet many of the first microcomputers were designed with calculators in mind, as was for example the Intel 4004. Calculator manufacturers each drove advances in processor silicon, and at Texas Instruments this led to the first all-in-one single-chip microcontrollers being developed in 1971 as pre-programmed CPUs designed to provide a calculator on a chip. It would take a few more years until 1974 before they produced the TMS1000, a single-chip microcontroller intended for general purpose use, and the first such part to go on sale. Continue reading “The TMS1000: The First Commercially Available Microcontroller”

Transparent LCD Makes Everything Look Futuristic

According to [Kelsey], transparent displays are guaranteed to make “everything feel like the future.” Unfortunately they’re hard to find, and the ones typically available are OLED and can’t make solid black colors. But as luck would have it, it’s possible to repurpose a common LCD to be sort of transparent.

A LCD uses nematic crystals that can polarize light, with the amount of polarization changing based on the electric field applied to the crystal. Light enters the front of the panel through a polarizing film, passes through the display, and then bounces off a reflective back coating. The display itself usually polarizes light in a way that matches the front polarizer. That means if you do nothing you get reflected light. However, if a part of the LCD gets an electric field, it will repolarize in such a way as to block the reflected light making the display look black in that area.

[Kelsey’s] trick is to peel off the reflector and replace it with polarizing film taken from another display. The new polarizer needs to be bigger than the display for one reason: you need to match the polarizing angle of the front film with the new back film. That means if the new film is exactly the right size, it won’t be able to rotate without leaving gaps. By starting with a larger piece, you’ll be able to rotate for maximum transparency before you stick it on.

We’ve seen some homemade transparent numeric displays. The transparent wood, though, has usually left something to be desired.

Why Some Chips Have Inconvenient Pinouts

If you’ve ever handled a chip with a really strange or highly inconvenient pinout and suspected that the reason had something to do with the inner workings, you may be interested to see [electronupdate]’s analysis of why the 4017 Decade Counter IC has such a weirdly nonintuitive pinout. It peeks into an IC design dating from the 1970s to see an example of the kind of design issues that can affect physical layout.

Inside the 4017. Want to make sense of how lines and shapes on a silicon wafer make an IC work? With the right teachers, it’s simple.

In the case of the 4017, once decapped and the inner workings exposed, things became more clear. Inside the chip are a bunch of flip-flops and NAND gates, laid out in a single layer. Some of the outputs (outputs 5 and 1 for example, physically on pins 1 and 2 respectively) share the same flip-flop.

The original design placed the elements in a way that made the most logical sense for routing and layout, which resulted in nice and tidy inner workings but an apparently illogical pinout. A lot of this is probably feeling familiar to anyone who has designed and routed a single-layer PCB, where being limited to one layer makes it important to get the most connections as directly near one another as possible.

Chip design has of course come a long way since the 70s, but there is forever some level of trade-off to be made between outward tidiness and inner design harmony. The next time you’re looking at a part with an apparently illogical pinout, there’s a fair chance it makes far more sense on the inside.

If any of you are interested in decapping ICs yourselves to see what’s inside, we saw that it’s possible with commonly available chemicals, not just nasty ones.

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A Little Rewiring Teaches A Creality Ender 3 New Tricks

The Creality Ender 3 is part of the new wave of budget 3D printers, available for less than $250 from many online retailers. For the money, it’s hard to complain about the machine, and it’s more than suitable for anyone looking to get make their first steps into the world of FDM printing. But there’s certainly room for improvement, and as [Simon] shows in a recent blog post, a little effort can go a long way towards pushing this entry-level printer to the next level.

The first step was to replace the printer’s stepper drivers with something a bit more modern. Normally the Ender 3 uses common A4988 drivers, but [Simon] wanted to replace them with newer Trinamic drivers that offer quieter operation. Luckily, Trinamic makes a drop-in replacement for the A4988 that makes installation relatively easy. You’ll need to change out a few caps and remove some resistors from the board to make everyone play nice, but that shouldn’t pose a challenge to anyone who knows their way around a soldering iron.

Beyond quieter running steppers, the Trinamic TMC2208 drivers also offer direct UART control mode. Of course the Ender’s board was never designed for this, so the MCU doesn’t have enough free pins to establish serial communications with the three drivers (for the X, Y, and Z axes). But [Simon] realized if he sacrificed the SD card slot on the board, the six pins that would free on the controller could be cut and rewired to the driver’s UART pins.

Combined with the Klipper firmware, these relatively minor modifications allows him to experiment with printing at speeds far greater than what was possible before. Considering the kind of headaches that a ~$200 printer would have given you only a few years ago, it’s impressive what these new machines are capable of; even if it takes a few tweaks.

HackIt: Why Aren’t We Hacking On The LED Printer?

Strings of LEDs are a staple of the type of project we see here at Hackaday, with addressable devices such as the WS2812 in particular having changed beyond recognition what is possible on a reasonable budget. They’ve appeared in all kinds of projects, but are perhaps most memorable when used in imaging projects such as screen-like arrays or persistence-of-vision systems. There’s another addressable LED product that we haven’t seen here, which is quite a surprise considering that it can be found with relative ease in junk piles and has been on the market for decades. We’re talking about the LED printer, and the addressable LED product in question is a very high density array of LEDs the width of a page, designed to place an image of the page to be printed on the toner transfer drum.

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A Barn Find 6502 Is Restored

The phrase “Barn find” is normally associated with the world of older cars, where enthusiasts live in the hope that they may one day stumble upon a dusty supercar lurking unloved for decades on a remote farm. It’s not so often found in the context of electronics, but that’s the phrase that [John Culver] uses for a mid-1970s Atari arcade board that had been through a very hard time indeed and was in part coated with cow dung. It’s interesting because it sports a very early example of a MOS 6502 in a ceramic package, whose date code tells us was manufactured in week 22 of 1976.

Finding a microprocessor, even a slightly rare one, is not that great an event in itself. What makes this one interesting is the state it was in when he got it, and the steps he used to retrieve it from the board without it sustaining damage, and then to clean it up and remove accumulated rust on its pins. We are fast approaching a point at which older microprocessors become artifacts rather than mere components, and it’s likely that more than one of us with an interest in such things may one day have to acquire those skills.

We’re rewarded at the end with a picture of the classic chip passing tests with flying colours, and the interesting quirk that this is a chip with the famous rotate right bug that affected early 6502s. If you are interested in the 6502 then you should definitely read our colleague [Bil Herd]’s tribute to its recently-departed designer, [Chuck Peddle].