Upgrade Puts A Lot Of Zeroes On Kit-Built Frequency Counter

If there’s anything more viscerally pleasing than seeing an eight-digit instrument showing a measurement with all zeroes after the decimal point, we’re not sure what it could. Maybe rolling the odometer over to another 100,000 milestone?

Regardless, getting to such a desirable degree of accuracy isn’t always easy, especially when the instrument in question is a handheld frequency counter that was built from a kit 23 years ago. That’s the target of [Petteri Aimonen]’s accuracy upgrade, specifically by the addition of a custom frequency reference module. The instrument is an ELV FC-500, which for such an old design looks surprisingly modern. Its Achille’s heel in terms of accuracy is the plain crystal oscillator it uses as a frequency standard, which has no temperature compensation and thus drifts by about 0.2 ppm per degree.

For a mains-powered lab instrument, the obvious solution would be an oven-controlled crystal oscillator. Those are prohibitive in terms of space and power for a handheld instrument, so instead a VCTCXO — voltage-controlled, temperature-compensated crystal oscillator — was selected for better stability. Unfortunately, no such oscillators matching the original 4.096-MHz crystal spec could be found; luckily, a 16.384-MHz unit was available for less than €20. All that was required was a couple of flip-flops to divide the signal by four and a bit of a bodge to replace the original frequency standard. A trimmer allows for the initial calibration — the “VC” part — and the tiny PCB tucks inside the case near the battery compartment.

We enjoyed the simplicity of this upgrade — almost as much as we enjoyed seeing all those zeroes. When you know, you know.

Simple STM32 Frequency Meter Handles Up To 30MHz With Ease

[mircemk] had previously built a frequency counter using an Arduino, with a useful range up to 6 MHz. Now, they’ve implemented a new design on a far more powerful STM32 chip that boosts the measurement range up to a full 30 MHz. That makes it a perfect tool for working with radios in the HF range.

The project is relatively simple to construct, with an STM32F103C6 or C8 development board used as the brains of the operation. It’s paired with old-school LED 7-segment displays for showing the measured frequency. Just one capacitor is used as input circuitry for the microcontroller, which can accept signals from 0.5 to 3V in amplitude. [mircemk] notes that the circuit would be more versatile with a more advanced input circuit to allow it to work with a wider range of signals.

It’s probably not the most accurate frequency counter out there, and you’d probably want to calibrate it using a known-good frequency source once you’ve built it. Regardless, it’s a cheap way to get one on your desk, and a great way to learn about measuring and working with time-varying signals. You might like to take a look at the earlier build from [mircemk] for further inspiration. Video after the break.

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Vintage Digital Frequency Meter Teardown

You think of digital displays as modern, but the idea isn’t that new. We had clocks, for example, with wheels and flip digits for years. The Racal frequency counter that [Thomas Scherrer] is playing with in the video below has columns of digits with lamps behind them. You just need the right plastic and ten lightbulbs per digit, and you are in business. Easy enough to accomplish in 1962.

Inside the box was surprising. The stack of PC boards looks more like a minicomputer than a piece of test gear. There were a few novel items inside, too, ranging from a glass-encapsulated crystal to an interesting method of selecting the line voltage.

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Do Not Attempt Disassembly: Analog Wizardry In A 1960s Counter

[CuriousMarc] is back with more vintage HP hardware repair. This time it’s the HP 5245L, a digital nixie-display frequency counter from 1963. This unit is old enough to be entirely made of discrete components, but has a real trick up its sleeve, with add-on components pushing the frequency range all the way up to 18 GHz. But this poor machine was in rough shape. There were previous repair attempts, some of which had to be re-fixed with proper components. When it hit [Marc]’s shop, the oscillator was working, as well as the frequency divider, but the device wasn’t counting, and the reference frequencies weren’t testing good at the front of the machine. There were some of the usual suspects, like blown transistors. But things got really interesting when one of the boards had a couple of tarnished transistors, and a handful of nice shiny new ones — but maybe not all the right transistors. Continue reading “Do Not Attempt Disassembly: Analog Wizardry In A 1960s Counter”

To Turn An ATtiny817 Into A 150MHz Counter, First Throw Out The Spec Sheet

One generally reads a data sheet in one of two ways. The first is to take every spec at face value, figuring that the engineers have taken everything into account and presented each number as the absolute limit that will prevent the Magic Smoke from escaping. The other way is to throw out the data sheet and just try whatever you want, figuring that the engineers played it as safely as possible.

The latter case seems to have been the motivation behind pushing an ATtiny way, WAY beyond what the spec sheet says is possible. According to [SM6VFZ], the specs on the ATtiny817 show that the 12-bit timer/counter D (TCD) should be limited to a measly 32 MHz maximum frequency, above which one is supposed to employ the counter’s internal prescaler. But by using a 10-MHz precision frequency generator as an external clock, [SM6VFZ] found that inputs up to slightly above 151 MHz were countable with 1-Hz precision. Above that point, things started to drift, but that’s still pretty great performance from something cobbled together on an eval board in a decidedly suboptimal way.

We’d imagine this result could lead to some interesting projects, since the undocumented limit for this timer puts it well within range of multiple amateur radio allocations. Even if it doesn’t prove useful, that’s OK — just seeing how far things can be pushed is cool too. And it’s not like this is the first time we’ve caught [SM6VFZ] persuading an ATtiny to do unusual things, either.

Clock Testing Sans Oscilloscope?

Like many people who repair stuff, [Learn Electronics Repair] has an oscilloscope. But after using it to test a motherboard crystal oscillator, he started thinking about how people who don’t own a scope might do the same kind of test. He picked up a frequency counter/crystal tester kit that was quite inexpensive — under $10. He built it, and then tried it to see how well it would work in-circuit.

The kit has an unusual use of 7-segment displays to sort-of display words for menus. There is a socket to plug in a crystal for testing, but that won’t work for the intended application. He made a small extender to simplify connecting crystals even if they are surface mount. He eventually added a BNC socket to the counter input, but at first just wired some test leads directly in.

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Old-school frequency counter

Edge-Mounted Meters Give This Retro Frequency Counter Six Decades Of Display

With regard to retro test gear, one’s thoughts tend to those Nixie-adorned instruments of yore, or the boat-anchor oscilloscopes that came with their own carts simply because there was no other way to move the things. But there were other looks for test gear back in the day, as this frequency counter with a readout using moving-coil meters shows.

We have to admit to never seeing anything like [Charles Ouweland]’s Van Der Heem 9908 electronic counter before. The Netherlands-based company, which was later acquired by Philips, built this six-digit, 1-MHz counter sometime in the 1950s. The display uses six separate edge-mounted panel meters numbered 0 through 9 to show the frequency of the incoming signal. The video below has a demo of what the instrument can do; we don’t know if it was restored at some point, but it still works and it’s actually pretty accurate. Later in the video, he gives a tour of the insides, which is the real treat — the case opens like a briefcase and contains over 20 separate PCBs with a bunch of germanium transistors, all stitched together with point-to-point wiring.

We appreciate the look inside this unique piece of test equipment history. It almost seems like something that would have been on the bench while this Apollo-era IO tester was being prototyped.

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