High-Speed PCB Design Hack Chat With Bil Herd

Join us on Wednesday, September 25 at noon Pacific for the High-Speed PCB Design Hack Chat with Bil Herd!

Printed circuits have become so commoditized that we seldom think much about design details. EDA software makes it easy to forget about the subtleties and nuances that make themselves painfully obvious once your design comes back from the fab and doesn’t work quite the way you thought it would.

PCB design only gets more difficult the faster your circuit needs to go, and that’s where a depth of practical design experience can come in handy. Bil Herd, the legendary design engineer who worked on the Commodore C128 and Plus4/264 computers and many designs since then, knows a thing or two in this space, and he’s going to stop by the Hack Chat to talk about it. This is your chance to pick the brain of someone with a wealth of real-world experience in high-speed PCB design. Come along to find out what kind of design mistakes are waiting to make your day miserable, and which ones can be safely ignored. Spoiler alert: square corners probably don’t matter.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, September 25 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. Continue reading “High-Speed PCB Design Hack Chat With Bil Herd”

Help For High-Frequency Hobbyists

Dead-bug circuit building is not a pretty affair, but hey, function over form. We usually make them because we don’t have a copper circuit board available or the duty of making one at home is not worth the efforts and chemical stains.

[Robert Melville and Alaina G. Levine] bring to light a compromise for high-frequency prototypes which uses the typical FR4 blank circuit board, but no etching chemicals. The problem with high-frequency radio is that building a circuit on a breadboard will not work because there is too much added inductance and capacitance from the wiring that will wreak havoc on the whole circuit. The solution is not new, build your radio module on a circuit board by constructing “lands” over a conductive ground plane, where components can be isolated on the same unetched board.

All right, sometimes dead-bug circuits capture an aesthetic all their own, especially when they look like this and they do allow for a darned small package for one-off designs.

Model Of A Transmission Line

Transmission lines are the kind of thing that seems to confuse beginners. After all, the fact that short-circuits can have infinite impedance and open-circuits can behave like a short is not intuitive at all!. That’s why we like [Tinselkoala]’s latest video that shows a nice model of a transmission line. It helps to understand the line as inductors and capacitors in series-parallel connection.

Any pair of wires used to transmit electrical power have tiny amounts of inductance and capacitance. This is not a problem with DC or low-frequency AC, but when the frequency is sufficiently high, weird things start to happen. The energy tends to escape as radio waves, and current reflects from discontinuities such as connectors and cable joints.  For this reason, transmission lines for high frequency signals use specialized construction to minimize those effects and reduce power losses.

[Tinselkoala] has built a model of a transmission line using coils and capacitors to simulate the inductance and capacitance of the line, with LED’s placed between the coils. He feeds the system with the signal generator with frequencies from 10 kHz to 1 MHz. In his words, they act as simple “visual voltmeters” to show the peaks and nodes of the standing waves of voltage in the line.

It is relatively simple to build your own version if you want to experiment with this fascinating subject. You will only need some magnet wire, capacitors, resistors and LED’s. If the subject sounds interesting to you,  here you can find an excellent introduction to transmission lines.

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Using A Lecher Line To Measure High Frequency

How do you test the oscillator circuit you just made that runs between 200MHz and 380MHz if all you have is a 100MHz oscilloscope, a few multimeters and a DC power supply? One answer is to put away the oscilloscope and use the rest along with a length of wire instead. Form the wire into a Lecher line.

That’s just what I did when I wanted to test my oscillator circuit based around the Mini-Circuits POS-400+ voltage controlled oscillator chip (PDF). I wasn’t going for precision, just verification that the chip works and that my circuit can adjust the frequency. And as you’ll see below, I got a fairly linear graph relating the control voltages to different frequencies.

What follows is a bit about Lecher lines, how I did it, and the results.

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Two Guys, A Hotel Room And A Radio Fire

Can you build a HF SSB radio transciever in one weekend, while on the road, at parts from a swap meet? I can, but apparently not without setting something on fire.

Of course the swap meet I’m referring to is Hamvention, and Hamvention 2016 is coming up fast. In a previous trip to Hamvention, Scott Pastor (KC8KBK) and I challenged ourselves to restore tube radio gear in a dodgy Dayton-area hotel room where we repaired a WW2 era BC-224 and a Halicrafters receiver, scrounging parts from the Hamfest.

Our 2014 adventures were so much fun that it drove us to create our own hacking challenge in 2015 to cobble together a <$100 HF SSB transceiver (made in the USA for extra budget pressure), an ad-hoc antenna system, put this on the air, and make an out-of-state contact before the end of Hamvention using only parts and gear found at Hamvention. There’s no time to study manuals, antennas, EM theory, or vacuum tube circuitry.  All you have are your whits, some basic tools, and all the Waffle House you can eat.  But you have one thing on your side, the world’s largest collection of surplus electronics and radio junk in one place at one time.  Can it be done?

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Hacklet 80 – Gigahertz Projects

Somewhere between the HF projects many of us have worked on, and the visible light spectrum lies the UHF, EHF, SHF, and THF. That’s Ultra, Extremely, Super, and Tremendously High Frequency for those who aren’t in the know. All of them involve frequencies in the gigahertz and terahertz range. While modern computers have made gigahertz a household term, actually working with signals in the gigahertz frequency range is still a daunting prospect. There have always been an elite group of hackers, makers, and engineers who tinker with projects using GHz frequencies. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best GHz projects on Hackaday.io!

radar1We start with [Luke Weston] and Simple, low-cost FMCW radar. For years people like Hackaday’s own [Gregory L. Charvat] have been building simplified radar systems and documenting them for the rest of us. [Luke’s] goal is to make radar systems like this even more accessible for the average hacker. He’s put all the specialized parts on one board. Rather than large Mini Circuits modules, [Luke] went with Hittite microwave parts in chip scale packages. Modulation comes from a Microchip MCP4921 mixed signal DAC. The system works, and has demonstrated transmission and reception 5 GHz to 6 GHz bands. [Luke] has even demonstrated detection of objects at close range using a scope.

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An Excel Based High Frequency Transistor Amplifier Calculator

amplifier calculator

 

[Paulo] just tipped us about an Excel based high frequency transistor amplifier calculator he made. We’re guessing that some of our readers already are familiar with these class A amplifiers, commonly used to amplify small audio signals. Skipping over the fact that their efficiency is quite low — they are cheap to make, don’t require many components and usually are a great way to introduce transistors to new electronics enthusiasts. All you usually need to do is a few calculations to properly set your output signals and you’re good to go.

Things are however more complex when you are amplifying 200MHz+ signals, as all the components (complex) impedances have to be taken into account so you can get a nice amplification system. On a side note, at these frequencies your transmission lines impedances may even vary depending on how much solder and flux you left on your SMT pads along the way. [Paulo]’s calculator will therefore compute most of the characteristics of two class A common emitter/collector amplifiers for specified loads.