Tell Time Like It’s 1960 With This All-Transistor Digital Clock

When you’ve got time on your hands, doing something the hard way can be therapeutic. Not that the present situation and the abundance of free time that many are experiencing has anything to do with [Leo Fernekes] all-transistor digital clock build, which he started a year ago with his students. But if you’ve got time to burn, this might be a good way to do it.

[Leo] says one of his design goals with this clock was to do it with the technology commercially available in 1960, which means relying completely on discrete components. And he and his students managed to do just that, with the exception of the seven-segment displays, which were built from the LED filaments from some modern light bulbs. Everything else, though, is as old school as it gets, and really underscores all the complexity that gets abstracted away from timekeeping with modern chips. The video below covers each module in detail, from the Schmitt trigger that cleans up the 50-Hz line frequency to the ring counters and diode matrices used to drive the display. We found the analog stair step dividers used to bring the line frequency down to a more usable pulse train particularly interesting. That clever bit of engineering saved 10 transistors over what would be required for traditional flip-flop dividers.

There’s a lot to learn from this design, and the execution is great too – we’re suckers for Manhattan-style builds, of course. Hats off to [Leo] and his lucky students on a great build.

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Logic And EEPROMs Bring VGA To Life, Sans Microcontroller

For whatever reason, the Video Graphics Array standard seems to attract a lot of hardware hacks. Most of them tend to center around tricking a microcontroller into generating the signals needed to send images to a VGA monitor. We love those hacks, but this one takes a different tack – a microcontroller-free VGA display that uses only simple logic chips and EEPROMs.

When we first spied this project, [PH4Nz] had not yet shared his schematics and code, but has since posted everything on GitHub. His original description was enough to whet our appetite, though. He starts with a 27.175-MHz clock and divides that by 4 with a 74HCT163, which has the effect of expanding the 160×240 pixels image stored in one of the EEPROMs to 640×480. Two 8-bit counters keep track of horizontal and vertical positions, while the other EEPROM takes care of generating the Hsync and Vsync signals. It’s all quite hackish, but it works. [PH4Nz] tells us that the whole thing is in support of a larger project: an 8-bit computer made from logic chips. We’re looking forward to seeing that one too.

This isn’t the first microcontroller-less VGA project we’ve seen, of course. Here’s a similar one also based on EEPROMs, and one with TTL logic chips. And we still love VGA on a microcontroller such as the ESP32; after all, there’s more than one way to hack.

Thanks to [John U] for the tip.

Tricking A Vintage Clock Chip Into Working On 50-Hz Power

Thanks to microcontrollers, RTC modules, and a plethora of cheap and interesting display options, digital clock projects have become pretty easy. Choose to base a clock build around a chip sporting a date code from the late 70s, though, and your build is bound to be more than run-of-the-mill.

This is the boat that [Fran Blanche] finds herself in with one of her ongoing projects. The chip in question is a Mostek MK50250 digital alarm clock chip, and her first hurdle was find a way to run the clock on 50 Hertz with North American 60-Hertz power. The reason for this is a lesson in the compromises engineers sometimes have to make during the design process, and how that sometimes leads to false assumptions. It seems that the Mostek designers assumed that a 24-hour display would only ever be needed in locales where the line frequency is 50 Hz. [Fran], however, wants military time at 60 Hz, so she came up with a circuit to fool the chip. It uses a 4017 decade counter to divide the 60-Hz signal by 10, and uses the 6-Hz output to turn on a transistor that pulls the 60-Hz output low for one pulse. The result is one dropped pulse out of every six, which gives the Mostek the 50-Hz signal it needs. Sure, the pulse chain is asymmetric, but the chip won’t care, and [Fran] gets the clock she wants. Pretty clever.

[Fran] has been teasing this clock build for a while, and we’re keen to see what it looks like. We hope she’ll be using these outsized not-quite-a-light-pipe LED displays or something similar.

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Pure TTL Based Clock

We’ll just say, [Kenneth] really likes clocks. His most recent is a pure 7400 series TTL based one, ie no microcontroller as seen in the past, here, here, and here. The signal starts out as a typical 32,768 crystal divided down to the necessary 1Hz, which is then divided again appropriately to provide hours and minutes.

As far as TTL clocks go, this is nothing too original; until it comes to his creative button interface. By using a not as sexy as it sounds multivibrator, he can produce a clean square wave instead of the figity signals produced from buttons to advance and set the time. Like always, he also provides us with a thorough breakdown of his clock, after the jump. Continue reading “Pure TTL Based Clock”