Logic analyzer capture, showing the rails constantly oscillating at a high rate

When Your Level Shifter Is Too Smart To Function

By now, 3.3V has become a comfortable and common logic level for basically anything you might be hacking. However, sometimes, you still need to interface your GPIOs with devices that are 5 V, 1.8 V, or something even less common like 2.5 V. At this point, you might stumble upon autosensing level shifters, like the TXB010x series Texas Instruments produces, and decide that they’re perfect — no need to worry about pin direction or bother with pullups. Just wire up your GPIOs and the two voltage rails you’re good to go. [Joshua0] warns us, however, that not everything is hunky dory in the automagic shifting world.

During board bring-up and multimeter probing, he found that the 1.8 V-shifted RESET signal went down to 1.0V — and its 3.3 V counterpart stayed at 2.6V. Was it a current fight between GPIOs? A faulty connection? Voltage rail instability? It got more confusing as the debugging session uncovered the shifting operating normally as soon as the test points involved were probed with the multimeter in a certain order. After re-reading the datasheet and spotting a note about reflection sensitivity, [Joshua0] realized he should try and probe the signals with a high-speed logic analyzer instead.

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Taking It To Another Level: Making 3.3V Speak With 5V

If your introduction to digital electronics came more years ago than you’d care to mention, the chances are you did so with 5V TTL logic. Above 2V but usually pretty close to 5V is a logic 1, below 0.8V is a logic 0. If you were a keen reader of electronic text books you might have read about different voltage levels tolerated by 4000 series CMOS gates, but the chances are even with them you’d have still used the familiar 5 volts.

This happy state of never encountering anything but 5V logic as a hobbyist has not persisted. In recent decades the demands of higher speed and lower power have given us successive families of lower voltage devices, and we will now commonly also encounter 3.3V or even sometimes lower voltage devices. When these different families need to coexist as for example when interfacing to the current crop of microcontroller boards, care has to be taken to avoid damage to your silicon. Some means of managing the transition between voltages is required, so we’re going to take a look at the world of level shifters, the circuits we use when interfacing these different voltage logic families.

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