Vacuum Tube Magic Comes To The 741

Some of you may remember a recent project that featured on these pages, a 555 timer reproduced using vacuum tubes. Its creator [Usagi Electric] was left at loose ends while waiting for a fresh PCB revision of the 555 to be delivered, so set about creating a new vacuum tube model of a popular chip, this time the ubiquitous 741 op-amp. (Video, embedded below.)

The circuit is fairly straightforward, using six small pentodes. The first two are  a long-tailed pair as might be expected, followed by two gain stages, then a final gain stage feeding a cathode follower with feedback. It’s neatly built on a PCB with IC-style “pins” made from more PCB material, then put in a huge replication of an IC socket on a wooden baseboard.

The result is an op-amp, but not necessarily a good one. He looks at the AC performance instead of the DC even though it’s a fully DC-coupled circuit, and finds that while it performs as expected in a classic op-amp circuit it still differs from the ideal at higher gain. The frequency response is poor too, something he rectifies by replacing the feedback capacitor with a smaller value. Sadly he doesn’t look at its common mode performance, though we’d expect that without close matching of the tubes it might leave something to be desired.

It’s obvious that this project would never be selected as an op-amp given the quality of even the cheapest silicon op-amp in comparison. But its value is in a novelty, a talking point, and maybe a chance to learn about op-amps. For that, we like it.

We covered the vacuum tube 555 when details of it emerged, but if op-amps are your bag we’ve looked at a simple one very closely indeed.

Continue reading “Vacuum Tube Magic Comes To The 741”

A Peek Under The Hood Of The 741 Op-Amp

First introduced as an IC back in 1968, but with roots that go back to 1941, the 741 has been tweaked and optimized over the years and is arguably the canonical op-amp. [Ken Shirriff] decided to take a look inside everybody’s favorite op-amp, and ended up with some good-looking photomicrographs and a lot of background on the chip.

canRather than risk the boiling acid method commonly used to decap epoxy-potted ICs, [Ken] wisely chose a TO-99 can format to attack with a hacksaw. With the die laid bare for his microscope, he was able to locate all the major components and show how each is implemented in silicon. Particularly fascinating is the difference between the construction of NPN and PNP transistors, and the concept of “current mirrors” as constant current sources. And he even whipped up a handy interactive chip viewer – click on something in the die image and find out which component it is on the 741 schematic. Very nice.

We’ve seen lots of chip decappings before, including this reveal of TTL and CMOS logic chips. It’s nice to see the guts of the venerable 741 on display, though, and [Ken]’s tour is both a great primer for the newbie and a solid review for the older hands. Don’t miss the little slice of history he included at the end of the post.