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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NTP, Rust, And Arduino Make A Phenomenal Frequency Counter

Making a microcontroller perform as a frequency counter is a relatively straightforward task involving the measurement of the time period during which a number of pulses are counted. The maximum frequency is however limited to a fraction of the microcontroller’s clock speed and the accuracy of the resulting instrument depends on that of the clock crystal so it will hardly result in the best of frequency counters. It’s something [FrankBuss] has approached with an Arduino-based counter that offloads the timing question to a host PC, and thus claims atomic accuracy due to its clock being tied to a master source via NTP. The Rust code PC-side provides continuous readings whose accuracy increases the longer it is left counting the source. The example shown reaches 20 parts per billion after several hours reading a 1 MHz source.

It’s clear that this is hardly the most convenient of frequency counters, however we can see that it could find a use for anyone intent on monitoring the long-term stability of a source, and could even be used with some kind of feedback to discipline an RF source against the NTP clock with the use of an appropriate prescaler. Its true calling might come though not in measurement but in calibration of another instrument which can be adjusted to match its reading once it has settled down. There’s surely no cheaper way to satisfy your inner frequency standard nut.

Easy Frequency Counter Looks Good, Reads To 6.5 MHz

We were struck by how attractive [mircemk’s] Arduino-based frequency counter looks. It also is a reasonably simple build. It can count up to 6.5 MHz which isn’t that much, but there’s a lot you can do even with that limitation.

The LED display is decidedly retro. Inside a very modern Arduino Nano does most of the work. There is a simple shaping circuit to improve the response to irregular-shaped input waveforms. We’d have probably used a single op-amp as a zero-crossing detector. Admittedly, that’s a bit more complex, but not much more and it should give better results.

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Radio Shack Shortwave Goes Digital

If you spent the 1970s obsessively browsing through the Radio Shack catalog, you probably remember the DX-160 shortwave receiver. You might have even had one. The radio looked suspiciously like the less expensive Eico of the same era, but it had that amazing-looking bandspread dial, instead of the Eico’s uncalibrated single turn knob number 1 to 10. Finding an exact frequency was an artful process of using both knobs, but [Frank] decided to refit his with a digital frequency display.

Even if you don’t have a DX-160, the techniques [Frank]  uses are pretty applicable to old receivers like this. In this case, the radio is a single conversion superhet with a variable frequency oscillator (VFO), so you need only read that frequency and then add or subtract the IF before display. If you can find a place to tap the VFO without perturbing it too much, you should be able to pull the same stunt.

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Hackaday Podcast 036: Camera Rig Makes CNC Jealous, Become Your Own Time Transmitter, Pi HiFi With 80s Vibe, DJ Xiaomi

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys work their way through a fantastic week of hacks. From a rideable tank tread to spoofing radio time servers and from tune-playing vacuum cleaners to an epic camera motion control system, there’s a lot to get caught up on. Plus, Elliot describes frequency counting while Mike’s head spins, and we geek out on satellite optics, transistor-based Pong, and Jonathan Bennett’s weekly security articles.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Frequency Counting A Different Way

Counting frequency is one of those tasks that seems simple on the face of it, but actually has quite a bit of nuance. There are two obvious methods, of which the first is to count zero crossings for some period. If that period is one second you are done, otherwise it’s a simple enough case of doing the math. That is, if you count for half a second, multiply the result by 2, or if you count for 10 seconds, divide by 10. The other obvious method is to measure the period of a single cycle as accurately as you can. Then there’s this third method.from [WilkoL], which simultaneously counts a known reference clock alongside the frequency to be measured.  You can see the result in the video, below.

The first method is easy but the lower the frequency you want to measure, the longer you have to count to get any real resolution. Also, you need the time base to be exact. For the second method, you need to be able to make a highly precise measurement. The reason [WikolL] chose the third method is that it doesn’t require a very precise time base — a moderately accurate reference oscillator will do. The instrument gets good resolution quickly at both high and low frequencies.  Continue reading “Frequency Counting A Different Way”