Review: The Riden RD6006W DC Power Supply Module

You may have seen the Ruideng range of programmable power supply modules from China: small and relatively inexpensive switch-mode buck converters, with microprocessor control and a front panel featuring a large colour OLED screen. Given 30 volts or so they can supply any lower voltage with the extra bonus of current limiting. They’ve been so successful over the several years they’ve been available that they’ve even spawned their own Chinese clones, and countless hacker projects, for instance on the DPS300X and DPS500X models.

Late last year a new module came from Ruideng, the Riden-branded RD6006 combines the basic idea of the previous modules with an extremely flexible front panel with full keypad and rotary encoder, creating something like the front panel to a decent bench power supply but without the accompanying power supply. I ordered one, waited for it to clear customs, took it to my bench, and reviewed it. Continue reading “Review: The Riden RD6006W DC Power Supply Module”

Review: Unnamed Chinese DDS Function Generator

Best forgotten: my awful 2018 function generator.
Best forgotten: my awful 2018 function generator.

A lifetime of amassing random pieces of test equipment has left me with a gap in my armoury, namely that I don’t possess a low frequency function generator. This could easily be addressed, but for two things. I have a love for exploring the cheaper end of exported electronics and my need for a function generator is less than my desire to spend significant cash. I’ve tried to balance these competing forces in the past by picking up an astoundingly cheap instrument; that time I ended up with a lemon, but will lightning strike twice in the same spot? I spent ¬£10 ($13) on a different cheap function generator and set off to find out. Continue reading “Review: Unnamed Chinese DDS Function Generator”

Review: SanErYiGo SH72 Soldering Iron

When the Miniware TS100 first emerged from China nearly three years ago, it redefined what we could expect from a soldering iron at an affordable price. The lightweight DC-powered temperature controlled iron brought usable power and advanced features in a diminutive package that was easy in the hand, a combination only previously found in much more expensive soldering stations. All this plus its hackability and accessible hardware made it an immediate hit within our community, and many of us have adopted it as our iron of choice.

A surprise has been that it has attracted no serious competitors of a similar type, with the only iron mentioned in the same breath as the TS100 being Miniware’s own USB-C powered TS80. Perhaps that is about to change though, as before Christmas I noticed a new Chinese iron with a very similar outline to the TS100. Has the favourite finally generated a knock-off product? I bought one to find out. Continue reading “Review: SanErYiGo SH72 Soldering Iron”

Review: Testdriving LibrePCB Shows That It’s Growing Up Fast

There are a host of PCB CAD tools at the disposal of the electronic designer from entry-level to multi-thousand-dollar workstation software. It’s a field in which most of the players are commercial, and for the open-source devotee there have traditionally been only two choices. Both KiCad and gEDA are venerable packages with legions of devoted fans, but it is fair to say that they both present a steep learning curve for newcomers. There is however another contender in the world of open-source PCB CAD, in the form of the up-and-coming LibrePCB.

This GPL-licensed package has only been in development for a few years. LibrePCB brought out its first official release a little over a year ago, and now stands at version 0.1.3 with builds for GNU/Linux, Windows, MacOS, and FreeBSD. It’s time to download it and run it through its paces, to see whether it’s ready to serve its purpose.

Continue reading “Review: Testdriving LibrePCB Shows That It’s Growing Up Fast”

Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, online creators are being sincerely flattered at an alarming rate these days. We Hackaday scribes see it all the time, as straight copy-pastes of our articles turn up on other websites under different bylines. It’s annoying, but given prevailing attitudes toward intellectual property rights, there’s very little point in getting upset about it anymore. But what if it’s hardware that’s being infringed upon?

Hacker and Tindie store proprietor [Brian Lough] recently ran into this problem with one of his products, but rather than get upset, he did a remarkably fair and thoughtful review of the knock-off. The board in question, a D1 Mini Matrix Shield, makes it a snap to use LED matrix panels in projects like his Tetris-themed YouTube sub counter. The knock-off came via Ali Express, with the most “flattering” aspect being the copy and the images on the Ali Express listing, some of which are pulled straight from [Brian]’s Tindie store. While the board’s layout is different, it’s pretty clear that it was strongly inspired by the original. And the changes they did make – like terminal choices and undersizing some traces – only serve to lower the quality of the knock-off. Surely this was a cost-cutting move, so they could undercut sales of the original, right? Apparently not – the knock off is more expensive. Yes, [Brian]’s board is a kit and the imitator is fully assembled, but it still begs the question of why?

Hats off to [Brian] for not only making a useful product, but for taking the time to engineer it properly and having the ambition to put it on the market. It’s a pity that someone felt the need to steal his work, but it seems to be a rite of passage these days.

Continue reading “Tindie Seller Reviews A Knock-Off Of His Own Product”

Review: Ear Wax Cleaning Cameras As Cheap Microscopes, We Take A Closer Look

Those of us who trawl the world of cheap imported goods will most often stay in our own comfortable zones as we search for new items to amaze and entertain us. We’ll have listings of electronic goods or tools, and so perhaps miss out on the scores of other wonders that can be ours for only a few dollars and a week or two’s wait for postage.

Who knew sticky ears were such big business!
Who knew sticky ears were such big business!

Just occasionally though something will burst out of another of those zones and unexpectedly catch our eye, and we are sent down an entirely new avenue in the global online supermarket.

Thus it was that when a few weeks ago I was looking for an inspection camera I had a listing appear from the world of personal grooming products. It seems that aural hygiene is a big market, and among the many other products devoted to it is an entire category of ear wax removal tools equipped with cameras. These can get you up close and personal with your ear canal, presumably so you can have a satisfying scoop at any accumulated bodily goop. I have a ton of electronics-related uses for a cheap USB close-up camera so I bought one of these so I could — if you’ll excuse the expression — get a closer look.

Continue reading “Review: Ear Wax Cleaning Cameras As Cheap Microscopes, We Take A Closer Look”

Review: The RC2014 Micro Single-Board Z80 Retrocomputer

At the end of August I made the trip to Hebden Bridge to give a talk at OSHCamp 2019, a weekend of interesting stuff in the Yorkshire Dales. Instead of a badge, this event gives each attendee an electronic kit provided by a sponsor, and this year’s one was particularly interesting. The RC2014 Micro is the latest iteration of the RC2014 Z80-based retrocomputer, and it’s a single-board computer that strips the RC2014 down to a bare minimum. Time to spend an evening in the hackerspace assembling it, to take a look!

It’s An SBC, But Not As You Know It!

The kit contents
The kit contents

The kit arrives in a very compact heat-sealed anti-static packet, and upon opening was revealed to contain the PCB, a piece of foam carrying the integrated circuits, a few passives, and a very simple getting started and assembly guide. The simplicity of the design becomes obvious from the chip count, there’s the Z80 itself, a 6850 UART, 27C512 ROM, 62256 RAM, 74HCT04 for clock generation, and a 74HCT32 for address decoding. The quick-start is adequate, but there is also a set of more comprehensive online instructions (PDF) available.

I added chip sockets and jumpers to my kit.
I added chip sockets and jumpers to my kit.

Assembly of a through-hole kit is hardly challenging, though this one is about as densely-packed as it’s possible to make a through-hole kit with DIP integrated circuits. As with most through-hole projects, the order you pick is everything: resistors first, then capacitors, reset button and crystal, followed by integrated circuits.

I’m always a bit shy about soldering ICs directly to a circuit board so I supplemented my kit with sockets and jumpers. The jumpers are used to select an FTDI power source and ROM addresses for Grant Searle’s ROM BASIC distribution or Steve Cousins’ SCM 1.0 machine code monitor, and the kit instructions recommended hard-wiring them with cut-off resistor wires. There was no row of pins for the expansion bus because this kit was supplied without the backplane that’s a feature of the larger RC2014 kits, but it did have a set of right-angle pins for an FTDI serial cable.

Your Arduino Doesn’t Have A Development Environment On Board!

Having assembled my RC2014 Mini and given it a visual inspection it was time to power it up and see whether it worked. Installing the jumper for FTDI power, I attached my serial cable and plugged it into a USB port.

A really nice touch is that the Micro has the colours for the serial cable wires on the reverse side of the PCB, taking away the worry of getting it the wrong way round. A quick screen /dev/ttyUSB0 115200 to get a serial terminal from a bash prompt, hit the reset button, and I was rewarded with a BASIC interpreter. My RC2014 Micro worked first time, and I could straight away give it BASIC commands such as PRINT "Hello World!" and be rewarded with the expected output.

The SCM ROM monitor.
The SCM ROM monitor.

So I’ve built a little Z80 single board computer, and with considerably less work than that required for the fully modular version of the RC2014. Its creator Spencer tells me that the Micro was originally designed as a bargain-basement RC2014 as a multibuy for workshops and similar activities, being very similar to his RC2014 mini board but without provision for a Pi Zero terminal and a few other components. It lacks the extra hardware required for a more comprehensive operating system such as CP/M, so I’m left with about as minimal an 8-bit computer as it’s possible to build using parts available in 2019. My question then is this: What can I do with it?

So. What Can I Do With An 8-bit SBC?

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX81, how could it possibly compare this small kit that was a giveaway at a conference? Although the Sinclair included a black-and-white TV display interface, tape backup interface, and keyboard, the core computing power was not too far different in its abilities from this RC2014 Micro — after all, it’s the same processor chip. It was the platform that introduced a much younger me to computing, and straight away I devoured Sinclair BASIC and then went on to write machine code on it. It became a general-purpose calculation and computing scratchpad for repetitive homework due to the ease of BASIC programming, and with my Maplin 8255 I/O port card I was able to use it in the way a modern tech-aware kid might use an Arduino.

The RC2014 Micro is well placed to fill all of those¬† functions as a BASIC and machine code learning platform on which to get down to the hardware in a way you simply can’t on most modern computers, and though the Arduino represents a far more sensible choice for hardware interfacing there is also an RC2014 backplane and I/O board available for the Micro’s expansion bus should you wish to have a go. Will I use it for these things? It’s certainly much more convenient than its full-sized sibling, so it’s quite likely I’ll be getting my hands dirty with a little bit of Z80 code. It’s astounding how much you can forget in 35 years!

The RC2014 Micro can be bought from Spencer’s Tindie store, with substantial bulk discounts for those workshop customers. If you want the full retrocomputer experience it’s a good choice as it provides about as simple a way into Z80 hardware and software as possible. The cost of simplicity comes in having no non-volatile storage and in lacking the hardware to run CP/M, but it has to be borne in mind that it’s the bottom of the RC2014 range. For comparison you can read our review of the original RC2014, over which we’d say the chief advantage of the Micro is its relative ease of construction.