A Superheterodyne Receiver With A 74xx Twist

In a world with software-defined radios and single-chip receivers, a superheterodyne shortwave radio might not exactly score high on the pizzazz scale. After all, people have been mixing, filtering, and demodulating RF signals for more than a century now, and the circuits that do the job best are pretty well characterized. But building the same receiver using none of the traditional superhet trappings? Now that’s something new.

In what [Micha] half-jokingly calls a “74xx-Defined Radio”, easily obtained discrete logic chips, along with some op-amps and a handful of simple components, take the place of the tuned LC circuits and ganged variable capacitors that grace a typical superhet receiver. [Micha] started by building an RF mixer out of a 74HC4051 analog multiplexer, which with the help of a 2N3904 phase splitter forms a switching mixer. The local oscillator relies on the voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) in a 74HC4046 PLL, a chip that we’ve seen before in [Elliot Williams]’ excellent “Logic Noise” series. The IF filter is a simple op-amp bandpass filter; the demodulator features an op-amp too, set up as an active half-wave rectifier. No coils to wind, no capacitors to tune, no diodes with mysterious properties — and judging by the video below, it works pretty well.

It may not be the most conventional way to tune in the shortwave bands, but we always love the results of projects that are artificially constrained like this one. Hats off to [Micha] for the interesting trip down the design road less travelled.

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A CPU-Less Computer With A Single NOR-Gate ALU

We see a lot of discrete-logic computer builds these days, and we love them all. But after a while, they kind of all blend in with each other. So what’s the discrete logic aficionado to do if they want to stand out from the pack? Perhaps this CPU-less computer with a single NOR-gate instead of an arithmetic-logic unit is enough of a hacker flex? We certainly think so.

We must admit that when we first saw [Dennis Kuschel]’s “MyNor” we thought all the logic would be emulated by discrete NOR gates, which of course can be wired up in various combinations to produce every other logic gate. And while that would be really cool, [Dennis] chose another path. Sitting in the middle of the very nicely designed PCB is a small outcropping, a pair of discrete transistors and a single resistor. These form the NOR gate that is used, along with MyNor’s microcode, to perform all the operations normally done by the ALU.

While making the MyNor very slow, this has the advantage of not needing 74-series chips that are no longer manufactured, like the 74LS181 ALU. It may be slow, but as seen in the video below, with the help of a couple of add-on cards of similar architecture, it still manages to play Minesweeper and Tetris and acts as a decent calculator.

We really like the look of this build, and we congratulate [Dennis] on pulling it off. He has open-sourced everything, so feel free to build your own. Or, check out some of the other CPU-less computers we’ve featured: there’s the Gigatron, the Dis-Integrated 6502, or the jumper-wire jungle of this 8-bit CPU-less machine.

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Hackaday Links: December 17, 2017

Where do you go if you want crazy old electronic crap? If you’re thinking a ham swap meet is the best place, think again. [Fran] got the opportunity to clean out the storage closet for the physics department at the University of Pennsylvania. Oh, man is there some cool stuff here. This room was filled to the brim with old databooks and development boards, and a sample kit for the unobtanium Nimo tube.

The Gigatron is a Hackaday Prize entry to build a multi-Megahertz computer with a color display out of TTL logic. Now, all this work is finally paying off. [Marcel] has turned the Gigatron into a kit. Save for the memories, this computer is pretty much entirely 74-series logic implemented on a gigantic board. Someone is writing a chess program for it. It’s huge, awesome, and the kits should cost under $200.

What’s cooler than BattleBots, and also isn’t Junkyard Wars? BattleBots, but in drone form. Drone Clash was originally announced in March, but now they’re moving it up to February to coincide with the TUS Expo. What could be better than flaming piles of lithium?

The Atari Lynx went down in history as the first portable console with a color LCD. There was a problem with the Lynx; the display was absolutely terrible. [RetroManCave] found someone selling an LCD upgrade kit for the Lynx, and the results are extremely impressive. The colors aren’t washed out, and since the backlight isn’t a fluorescent light bulb (yes, really), this Lynx should get a bit more run time for each set of batteries.

Like dead tree carcasses? You need to butcher some dead tree carcasses. The best way to do this is on a proper workbench, and [Paul Sellers] is working on a video series on how to make a workbench. He’s up to episode 3, where the legs are mortised. This is all done with hand tools, and the videos are far more interesting than you would think.

If you need some very small, very blinky wearables, here’s an option. This build is literally three parts — an LED matrix, an ATtiny2313, and a coin cell battery. Seems like this could be an entry for the Coin Cell Challenge we have going on right now.

The Design And Fabrication Of A Digital Clock

boarddesign

This clock is the first thing that [Kevin] ever made, way back before the Arduinofication of making, and long before the open hardware community exploded, and before the advent of cheap, custom PCBs. It’s an elegant design, with six seven-segment displays, a time base derived from line frequency, controlled entirely by 74-series logic chips. There was only one problem with it: it kinda sucked. Every so often, noise would become a factor and the time would be displayed as 97:30. The project was thrown in the back of the closet, a few revisions were completed, and 13 years later, [Kevin] wanted to fix his first clock.

The redesign used the same 1Hz timebase to control the circuitry, but now the timebase is controlled by a DS3231 RTC with an ATtiny85. The bridge rectifier was thrown out in favor of a much simpler 7805 regulator, and a new board was designed and sent off to OSHPark. Oh, how times have changed.

With the new circuitry, [Kevin] decided to construct a new case. The beautiful Hammond-esque enclosure was replaced with the latest and greatest of DIY case material – laser cut acrylic. Before, [Kevin] would put a jumper on the 1Hz timebase derived from the line frequency to set the clock – a task that makes plugging a clock in exactly at midnight a much simpler solution. Now, the clock has buttons to set the hours and minutes. Much improved, but still an amazing look at how far DIY electronics have come in a little over a decade.

 

O Christmas Tree Of Digital Logic

tree

[Chris] over at PyroElectro is getting into the swing of the holidays with a LED Christmas tree build. Unlike the other electrical Christmas trees we’ve seen this holiday season, [Chris] designed his tree entirely with digital logic – no microcontrollers included.

The tree [Chris] constructed on a piece of perf board is a beautiful spiral arrangement of 64 green LEDs.While we’re sure getting all the LEDs soldered to the right height, [Chris] makes it look so easy to create 3D structures with circuits.

The LEDs are driven with a set of eight shift registers, themselves clocked by either a predictable 555 timer chip or a pseudo-random pattern generated with a circuit built from a few hex inverters. By setting the tree to the sequential mode, a pair of lights travel slowly down the spiral of the Christmas tree. If set to random mode, an random number of LEDs light up and walk down the array of LEDs.

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Homebrew FPGAs

Homebrew CPUs made out of logic chips are nothing new, but a homebrew FPGA is another matter entirely. [Joshua] sent in a project he whipped up where he made a single logic cell FPGA.

Despite how complicated and intimidating they are in practice, FPGAs are really very simple. They’re made of thousands of logic blocks capable of transmuting into AND, OR, NAND, and XOR logic gates. These logic blocks are all tied together, and with a somewhat complex hardware design language are capable of becoming a CPU, a micocontroller, or even a video card. Basically, programming a microcontroller tells a chip what to do, while programming an FPGA tells the chip what to be.

To build his single logic block FPGA, [Joshua] used a four-bit multiplexer to hard wire a truth table out of a 74HC174 D-type flip-flop. A bit of Arduino code changes the state of the pins connected to the multiplexer allows for any combination of TRUE and FALSE to be calculated for AND, NAND or XOR logic functions.

Yes, it’s only a single logic block for an FPGA, and if this build were expanded to even a few hundred cells it would be gargantuan. Still, there’s no better way to learn the ins and outs of abstract hardware, so we’ll gladly tip our hat to [Joshua] and his homebrew FPGA.

Building A 4-bit TTL Computer

When [GG] was 12 years old, he was introduced to BugBooks, the wonderful ‘introduction to digital design’ books from the early 1970s. It has always been a dream of [GG] to build the TTL computer featured in the BugBooks, and now that he has the necessary time and money available to him, the Apollo181 has become a reality.

[GG]’s computer is built around a 74181 ALU, an exceptionally old-school chip that provides the core of a computer in a neat 24-pin chip. With a 256-byte RAM and a few additional logic chips, [GG]’s computer is an exceptional piece of engineering able to perform 625,000 instructions per second when clocked at 2.5 MHz.

This isn’t [GG]’s first homebrew computer build; last year we saw his incredible Z80 minicomputer. Now we can’t wait to see what’s on tap for next year. After the break, you can check out [GG] loading in operands and operators into his computer and letting the Apollo181 churn away on its program.

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