Faded Beauty DMM Gets An OLED Makeover

When a fine piece of lab instrumentation crosses your bench, you’ve got to do your best to put it to work. But even in the highest quality devices no component lasts forever, especially vacuum tubes. For some vintage instruments with vacuum fluorescent displays, that means putting up with less-than-perfect digits in order to get that sweet, sweet precision. Or not – you can always reverse engineer the thing and add a spanking new OLED display.

The Hewlett-Packard 34401A digital multimeter that fell into [qu1ck]’s lap was a beauty, but it had clearly seen better days. The display was full of spuriously illuminated dots and segments, making it hard to use the 6.5 digit DMM. After a futile bit of probing to see if a relatively easy driver fix would help, and with a replacement display being made of solid unobtanium, [qu1ck] settled in for the long process of reverse engineering the front panel protocol. As luck would have it, H-P used the SPI protocol to talk to the display, and it wasn’t long before [qu1ck] had a decent prototype working. The final version is much more polished, with a display sized to fit inside the original space occupied by the VFD. The original digits and annunciator icons are recreated, and he added a USB port and the bargraph display show in the clip below.

We think it looks fabulous, and both the firmware and hardware are on Github if you’d like to rescue a similar meter. You may want to check our guide to buying old test gear first, though, to get the most bang for your buck.

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Shirt Pocket Slide Rule: History of the HP-35

In a recently updated post, [Codex99] has a detailed history of the HP-35 pocket calculator. Unless you are a certain age, you probably don’t think much of calculators. They are cheap and not very essential in this day of cell phones and PCs. But in the 1970s they were amazing technology and the desire of every engineer and engineering student.

The story opens in 1965 when Tom Osborne — who was not an HP employee — build a floating point calculator he called the Green Machine. Apparently, he had painted the balsa wood case green. He had been showing it around but failed to get any interest until he showed it to Bill Hewlett. Hewlett wanted it to do trig functions and offered him a six-week consulting gig to work on improvements.

HP engineer Dave Cochran helped out and also helped envision making the device keystroke-programmable. By 1968, this collaboration led to a 40-pound desktop calculator — the HP 9100 — that was the size of a typewriter. It could be yours for only $4900. Keep in mind, that same amount would buy two brand new cars in 1968.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The 70s Called. They Want This Calculator

For those of us who grew up during TI’s calculator revolution, the concept of reverse polish notation (RPN) might be foreign. For other more worldly calculator users, however, the HP calculator was ubiquitous. Hewlett-Packard peaked (at least as far as calculators are concerned) decades ago and the market has remained dominated by TI since. Lucky for those few holdouts there is now a new microcode emulator of these classic calculators.

Called the NP25 (for Nonpariel Physical), the calculator fully emulates the HP-21, HP-25C and HP-33C. It’s a standalone microcode emulator, which means that these calculators work exactly as well as the original HP calculators of the 70s did. The new calculators, however, are powered by a low power MSP430G2553 processor and presumably uses many, many fewer batteries than the original did. It has an LED display to cut power costs as well, and was built with the goal of being buildable by the average electronics hobbyist.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 70s with one of these in your desk drawer, it’d still be a great project and would help even the most avid TI user appreciate the fact that you don’t have to use RPN to input data into calculators anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This isn’t the only calculator we’ve featured here, either, so be sure to check out another free and open calculator for other calculator-based ideas.

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Imaging And Emulating An HP-IB disk drive

If you look on the back of old, old test equipment, you’ll find a weird-looking connector that’s either labeled IEEE-488, GPIB, or HP-IB. It’s a very old interface designed by HP for their test equipment, and it was licensed to other manufacturers for everything from power supplies to logic analyzers. Hewlett-Packard also made computers and workstations once upon a time, and it’s no surprise this interface also made it into these boxes. They even had external hard drives that operated over the HP-IB interface.

[Chris] has a few of these old computers, and wanted to see if he could emulate one of these HP-IB hard drives. There is a project to emulate these hard drives, but the electrical connection is a bit tricky; you need an IEEE-488 card, and those really aren’t made anymore.

Nevertheless, [Chris] found an old ISA IEEE-488 last year, and installed it in the PC system he’s using for all his retro explorations. After getting the card and cable to fit in the case of his PC, [Chris] connected a real HP-IB disk to his modern computer running HPDrive, made an image, and connected an old HP 150 computer. The image was read by the HP 150, and [Chris] had a vintage computer running off an emulated drive.

Circuit Plotting With An HP Plotter

Over the last few years we’ve seen a few commercial products that aim to put an entire PCB fab line on a desktop. As audacious as that sounds, there were a few booths showing off just that at CES last week, with one getting a $50k check from some blog. [Connor] and [Feiran] decided to do the hacker version of a PCB printer: an old HP plotter converted to modern hardware with a web interface with a conductive ink pen.

The plotter in question is a 1983 HP HIPLOT DMP-29 that was, like all old HP gear, a masterpiece of science and engineering. These electronics were discarded (preserved may be a better word) and replaced with modern hardware. The old servo motors ran at about 1.5A each, and a standard H-Bridge chip and beefy lab power supply these motors were the only part of the original plotter that were reused. For accurate positioning, a few 10-turn pots were duct taped to the motor shafts and fed into the ATMega1284p used for controlling the whole thing.

One of the more interesting aspects of the build is the web interface. This is a small JavaScript app that is capable of drawing lines on the X and Y axes and sends the resulting coordinates from a server to the printer. It’s very cool, but not as cool as the [Connor] and [Feiran]’s end goal: using existing Gerber files to draw some traces. They’re successfully parsing Gerber files, throwing out all the superfluous commands (drills, etc), and plotting them in conductive ink.

The final iteration of hardware wasn’t exactly what [Connor] and [Feiran] had in mind, but that’s mostly an issue with the terrible conductivity of the conductive ink. They’ve tried to fix this by running the pen over each line five times, but that introduces some backlash. This is the final project for an electrical engineering class, so we’re going to say that’s alright.

Video below.

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XOXO for the OCXO

HPocxo

[Kerry Wong] recently got himself a frequency counter. Not just any counter, a classic Hewlett-Packard 5350B Microwave Counter. This baby will go 10Hz all the way up to 20GHz with only one input shift. A true fan of Hackaday Prize judge [Dave Jones], [Kerry] didn’t turn it on, he took it apart. In the process, he gave us some great pictures of late 80’s vintage HP iron.

Everything seemed to be in relatively good working order, with the exception of the oven indicator, which never turned off. The 5350B had three time bases available: a Thermally Compensated Crystal Oscillator (TCXO),  an Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator (OCXO), and a high stability OCXO. [Kerry’s] 5350B had option 001, the OCXO. Considering it was only a $750 USD upgrade to the 5350B’s $5500 USD base price, it’s not surprising that many 5350B’s in the wild have this option.

[Kerry] checked the wattage of his 5350B, and determined that it pulled about 27 watts at power up and stayed there. If the OCXO was working, wattage would have dropped after about 10 minutes when the oven came up to temperature. Time to tear open an oven!

Armed with a copy of the 5350B service manual from HP’s website, [Kerry] opened up his OCXO. The Darlington transistors used as heaters were fine. The control circuit was fine. The problem turned out to be a simple thermal fuse. The service manual recommended jumping out the fuse for testing. With the fuse jumped, the oven came to life. One more piece of classic (and still very useful) test equipment brought back to full operation.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Rebuilding a Custom IC Saves HP Pulse Generator

 

Rebuilding an HP Custom IC[Matthew] got himself into a real pickle.  It all started when he was troubleshooting a broken Hewlett Packard 8007A pulse generator. While trying to desolder one of the integrated circuits, [Matthew] accidentally cracked it. Unfortunately, the chip was a custom HP Pulse shaper IC – not an easy part to source by any means. That broken chip began a 5 year mission: to explore strange new repair methods. To seek out new life for that HP 8007A. To boldy fix what no one had fixed before.

[Matthew’s] first repair attempt was to build a drop in replacement for the HP chip. He took a look at the block diagram, and realized the chip was just some simple logic gates. He built his version with a small PCB and Fairchild TinyLogic gates. Unfortunately, the TinyLogic series is fast CMOS, while HP’s original chip used Emitter-coupled Logic (ECL). Thanks to the wildly different voltage levels of the two logic families, this design had no chance of working.

Five years later, [Matthew] was going to school at MIT, and had access to a wire bonding machine. He rebuilt the package using some epoxy, and managed to re-run the various bond wires. While everything looked promising, this attempt was also a failure. After all that work, the chip was blown.

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