’75 Nixie Multimeter As Digital Dice

For the casual Monopoly or Risk player, using plain six-sided dice is probably fine. For other games you may need dice with much more than six sides, and if you really want to go overboard you can do what [John] did and build electronic dice with a random number generator if you really need to remove the pesky practice of rolling physical dice during your games of chance.

The “digital dice” he built are based on a multimeter from 1975 which has some hardware in it that was worth preserving, including a high quality set of nixie tubes. Nixies can be a little hard to come by these days, but are interesting pieces of hardware in their own right. [John] added some modern hardware to it as well, including an AVR microcontroller that handles the (pseudo) random number generation. A hardware switch tells the microcontroller how many sides the “die” to be emulated will need, and then a button generates the result of the roll.

This is a pretty great use for an old piece of hardware which would otherwise be obsolete by now. [John] considers this a “Resto-Mod” and the finish and quality of the build almost makes it look all original. It’s certainly a conversation piece at the D&D sessions he frequents.

Is That Cheap Multimeter As Good As A Fluke? Let’s Find Out

When [learnelectronics] talks about cheap meters, he always says, “If you are doing this for a living, get yourself a Fluke.” But he realized he’s never shown the inside of a Fluke meter, so he rectified that in his most recent post. For comparison, he opens up a Fluke 26-III and an Aneng AN870 (retailing at about $500 and $30, respectively).

The initial opening shows that the Fluke has hefty brand name fuses, but the Aneng has little generic fuses. In addition, the Fluke has an internal case that helps keep you away from live voltage. The Fluke also has a proper rotary switch, while the cheap meter has a switch that is etched on the PC board; a cost-cutting trick that’s often a point of failure on these cheap meters.

The Fluke also has a significantly larger number of protection devices and heftier components, you presume can take more punishment. Of course, if you don’t have a few hundred volts running through your meter, it probably doesn’t matter. The cheap meters are certainly good enough, even though you do get what you pay for, as you might expect.

As long as you have a meter open, you might as well hack it to have WiFi. Or, if you prefer, a serial port.

Continue reading “Is That Cheap Multimeter As Good As A Fluke? Let’s Find Out”

Multimeter Display Perked Up With Nixies, LEDs, And Neon Tubes

Just because something is newer than something else doesn’t automatically make it better. Of course the opposite is also true, but when it comes to displays on bench multimeters, a fancy LCD display is no guarantee of legibility. Take the Hewlett Packard HP 3478A multimeter; the stock transflective display with its 14-segment characters is so hard to read that people usually have to add a backlight to use it.

That wasn’t good enough for [cyclotronboy], though, who chose to completely replace the stock 3478A display with Nixie tubes. He noticed that with a little modification, six IN-17 tubes just fit in the window vacated by the LCD. He sniffed out the serial data stream going to the display with a collection of XOR gates and flip-flops, which let him write the code for a PIC18F4550. The finished display adds a trio of rectangular LEDs for the + and – indicators, and an HDLO-1414 four-character alphanumeric display to indicate units and the like. And the decimal points? Tiny neon bulbs. It already looks miles better than the stock display, and with the addition of a red filter, it should look even better.

If you’re stuck with a lame LCD multimeter but Nixies don’t quite do it for you, worry not – an LED conversion is possible too.

The True Cost Of Multimeters

If you are building a home shop, it is common to try to get the cheapest gear you can possibly get. However, professionals often look at TCO or total cost of ownership. Buying a cheap car, for example, can cost more in the long run compared to buying an expensive car that requires less maintenance. Most consumers will nod sagely and think of ink jet printers. That $20 printer with the $80 cartridges might not be such a deal after all. [JohnAudioTech] bought a few cheap multimeters and now has problems with each of them. Maybe that $120 meter isn’t such a bad deal, after all.

The problems he’s seen are the same ones we’ve all seen: noisy selector switches, suspect display readings, and worn off lettering. You can see the whole story in the video below.

Continue reading “The True Cost Of Multimeters”

Finally, An Open Source Multimeter

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Martin] is building an Open Source Multimeter that can measure voltage, current, and power. It’s an amazing build, and you too can build one yourself.

The features for this multimeter consist of voltage mode with a range of +/-6V and +/-60V. There’s a current mode, basically the same as voltage, with a range of +/-60 mA and +/-500mA. Unlike our bright yellow Fluke, there’s also a power mode that measures voltage and current at the same time, with all four combinations of ranges available. There’s a continuity test that sounds a buzzer when the resistance is below 50 Ω, and a component test mode that measures resistors, caps, and diodes. There’s a fully isolated USB interface capable of receiving commands and transmitting data, a real-time clock, and in the future there might be frequency measurement.

This build is based on the STM32F103 microcontroller, uses an old Nokia phone screen, and unlike so many other multimeters, this thing is small. It’s very small. More than small enough to fit in your pocket and forget about it, unlike nearly every other multimeter available. There’s one thing about multimeters, and it’s that the best multimeter is the one that you have in your hands when you need it, and this one certainly fits the bill.

The entire project is being written up on hackaday.io, there’s a GitHub repo for all the hardware and software, and there’s also a video demo covering all the features (available below). This is a stand-out project, and something we desperately want to get our hands on.

Continue reading “Finally, An Open Source Multimeter”

Cheap Multimeter Leads Come With Extra Ohms, Free!

[Nop head] discovered that cheap multimeter leads costing only a few bucks can come with more than one may have bargained for. The first set had a large amount of useful-looking attachments, but the wires used for the leads were steel with a resistance of about one ohm each. With two leads in use, that means any resistance measurement gets two ohms added for free. More seriously, when measuring current, the wires can heat up rapidly. Voltage measurements would be affected the least, but the attachments and lead design expose a large amount of bare metal, which invites accidental shorts and can be a safety hazard with higher voltages.

Are all cheap multimeter leads similarly useless? Not necessarily. [nop head] also purchased the set pictured here. It has no attachments, but was a much better design and had a resistance of only 64 milliohms. Not great, but certainly serviceable and clearly a much better value than the other set.

It’s usually not possible to identify garbage before it’s purchased, but [nop head] reminds us that if you do end up with trash in hand, poor quality counterfeits can be good for a refund. That goes for electronic components, too.

Agilent LCR Meter Teardown

Since 1999, one of the more popular manufacturers of test equipment has been Agilent, the spun-off former instrument division of Hewlett-Packard. From simple multimeters to fully-equipped oscilloscopes, they have been covering every corner of this particular market. And, with the help of [Kerry Wong] and his teardown of an Agilent LCR meter, we can also see that they’ve been making consistent upgrades to their equipment as well.

The particular meter that [Kerry] took apart was an Agilent U1731B, a capable LCR (inductance, capacitance, resistance) meter. He had needed one for himself and noted that while they’re expensive when new, they can be found at a bargain used, but that means dealing with older versions of hardware. For example, his meter uses an 8-bit ADC while the more recent U1733 series uses a 24-bit ADC. The other quality of this meter that [Kerry] made special note of was how densely populated the circuit board is, presumably to save on the design of a VLSI circuit.

While we don’t claim to stump for Agilent in any way, it’s good to know that newer releases of their equipment actually have improved hardware and aren’t just rebadged or firmware-upgraded versions of old hardware with a bigger price tag attached. Also, there wasn’t really any goal that [Kerry] had in mind besides sheer curiosity and a willingness to dive deep into electronics details, as those familiar with his other projects know already.