Quick And (Not Very) Dirty Negative Voltage Supply

There comes a time in every hardware hacker’s career during which they first realize they need a negative voltage rail in their project. There also comes a time, usually ~10ms after realizing this, when they reach for the Art of Electronics to try and figure out how the heck to actually introduce subzero voltages into their design. As it turns out, there are a ton of ways to get the job done, from expensive power supplies to fancy regulators you can design, but if you’re lazy (like I am) you might just want a simple, nearly drop-in solution.

[Filip Piorski] has got you covered there. In a recent video, he demonstrates how to turn a “China Special” $1 buck converter from Ebay into a boost-buck converter, capable of acting as a negative voltage supply. He realized that by swapping around the inputs and outputs of the regulator you can essentially invert the potential produced. There are a few caveats, of course, including high start-up current and limited max. voltages, but he manages to circumvent some of them with a little clever rewiring and a bit of bodge work.

Of course, if you have strict power supply requirements you probably want to shell out the cash for a professionally-built one, or design one yourself that meets your exact needs. For the majority of us, a quick and easy solution like this will get the job done and allow us to focus on other aspects of the design without having to spend too much time worrying about the power supply. Of course, if power electronics design is your thing, we’ve got you covered there, too.

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A troublesome Triple-Z80 arcade board requires negative voltage for audio output

Vintage Arcade Used Negative Voltage To Turn Volume Up To 11

When [Nicole Express] got her hands on the logic board for the 1986 SNK arcade game Athena, she ran into a rather thorny problem: The board expected to be fed negative five volts! [Nicole]’s analysis of the problem and a brilliant solution are outlined in her well written blog post.

[Nicole]’s first task was to find out which devices need negative voltage. She found that the negative five volts was being fed through a capacitor to the ground pins on the Mitsubishi M151516L, an obscure 12 W audio amplifier. After finding the data sheet, she realized something strange: the amp didn’t call for negative voltage at all! A mystery was afoot.

To fully understand the problem, she considered a mid-1980’s arcade and its cacophony of sounds. How would a manufacturer make their arcade game stand out? By making it louder, obviously! And how did they make their game louder than the rest?

The answer lays in the requirement for negative five volts. The amplifier is still powered with a standard 12 V supply on its VCC pin. But with ground put at -5 V, the voltage potential is increased from 12 V to 17 V without overpowering the chip. The result is a louder game to draw more players and their fresh stacks of quarters.

How was [Nicole Express] to solve the problem? ATX PSU’s stopped providing -5 V after the ISA slot disappeared from PC’s, so that wouldn’t work. She could have purchased an expensive arcade style PSU, but that’s not her style. Instead, she employed a wonderful little hack: a charge pump circuit. A charge pump works by applying positive voltage to a capacitor. Then the capacitor is quickly disconnected from power, and the input and ground are flipped, an equal but negative voltage is found on its opposite plate. If this is done with a high enough frequency, a steady -5 V voltage can be had from a +5 V input. [Nicole Express] found a voltage inverter IC (ICL7660) made just for the purpose and put it to work.

The IC doesn’t supply enough power to get 12 W out of the amplifier, and so the resulting signal is fed into an external amplifier. Now [Nicole]’s arcade game has sound and she can play Athena from the original arcade board, 1986 style!

Arcades are few and far between these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t introduce your young ones to the joys of dropping a quarter or two, or build a gorgeous oak Super Mario Bros cabinet complete with pixel art inlays. Do you have a favorite hack to share? Be sure let us know via the Tip Line!