555 Teardown Isn’t Just A Good Time, It’s To Die For

It seems only appropriate that hot on the heels of the conclusion of Hackaday’s 555 Timer Contest that [Ken Shirriff] posts a silicon die teardown of an early version of a hacker’s favorite chip, the 555.

A Microscopic View Of the 555 Die

Starting with a mystery chip from January 1973, [Eric Schlaepfer] painstakingly sanded down the package to reveal the die, which he deemed to be a 555 timer. Why didn’t they know it was a 555 timer to start? Because the package was not marked with “555” but rather some other marks that you can see in the blog post.

In addition to a great explanation of how the 555 works in general, [Ken] has taken a microscopic look at the 555 die itself. The schematic of a 555 is easily available, and [Ken] identifies not just sections of the die but individual components. He goes further yet by explaining how the PNP and NPN resistors are constructed in silicon. There’s also a nice and juicy bit of insight into the resistors in the IC, but we won’t spoil it here.

Be sure to show your love for the winners of the 555 contest, or at the very least check out the project that took the stop spot: a giant sized 555 that you don’t need a microscope to see inside of.

Check Your Pockets For Components

The ideal component tester is like a tricorder for electronics — it can measure whatever it is that you need it to, all the time. Maybe you have a few devices like an ohmmeter and maybe a transistor socket on our multimeter. But what do you do when you need to see if that thyristor is faulty? [Akshay Baweja] wants an everything-tester at the ready, so he’s building a comprehensive device that fits in a pocket. It will identify the type and size of: Continue reading “Check Your Pockets For Components”

Sidney Darlington

In a field where components and systems are often known by sterile strings of characters that manufacturers assign or by cutesy names that are clearly products of the marketing department and their focus groups, having your name attached to an innovation is rare. Rarer still is the case where the mere mention of an otherwise obscure inventor’s name brings up a complete schematic in the listener’s mind.

Given how rarely such an honor is bestowed, we’d be forgiven to think that Sidney Darlington’s only contribution to electronics is the paired transistor he invented in the 1950s that bears his name to this day. His long career yielded so much more, from network synthesis theory to rocket guidance systems that would eventually take us to the Moon. The irony is that the Darlington pair that made his name known to generations of engineers and hobbyists was almost an afterthought, developed after a weekend of tinkering.

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Preheat Alarm Added To A Basic Kitchen Oven

[Justin] didn’t want to keep checking if the ‘oven heating’ indicator light had gone off before popping his unbaked edibles into the oven. Many models offer a buzzer to let you know when the chosen temp is reached, but for folks who own a basic oven model there’s just a light that tells when the heating element is getting juice. Not to worry, he plied his circuit design skills and built a buzzer to alert him when the oven’s ready.

It only took a few components to accomplish the task. [Justin] uses a pair of NPN transistors triggered by a photoresistor. One transistor is responsible for switching on the buzzer, the other transistor is driven by the photoresistor and controls the base of its companion transistor (see the schematic for a better understanding).

He designed and etched a small PCB to host all the parts. As you can see above, it mounts over the indicator light and is powered by a 9V battery. There’s an on/off switch to the right so the buzzer doesn’t keep triggering while cooking, and a potentiometer allows him to fine-tune the photoresistor sensitivity.

Simple Transistor Tester Makes Sorting Easy


Hacker [Dino Segovis] is back with yet another installment of his Hack a Week series, and it’s looking like he isn’t too worse for wear after hunkering down to face hurricane Irene.

This week, it seems that [Dino] is having some problems separating his PNP transistors from his NPNs. After Albert Einstein proves to be less than useful when it comes to sorting electronic components, [Dino] decided to build a simple transistor tester to help him tell his PNPs and NPNs apart without having to resort to looking up product data sheets.

The tester itself is relatively simple to build. As you can see in the video below, it consists of a power supply, an LED, a few resistors, a pair of known transistors, and not much else. When everything is hooked together, the NPN/PNP pair causes the LED to light up, but the circuit is broken whenever one of the transistors is removed. Inserting a new transistor into the empty spot on the breadboard immediately lets you know which sort of transistor you have inserted.

Sure you can tell transistors apart with a multimeter, but if you have a whole drawer full of loose components, this is a far more efficient option.

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Quick And Easy Audio Preamp


The most recent installment of [Dino Segovis’] Hack a Week covers the construction of a simple NPN transistor audio preamp. Some time ago, he built a small audio amplifier using an LM386 which worked well, but didn’t quite get his music as loud as he would like it. He decided to build a preamp to complement his amplifier, and demonstrates how you too can build one with just a small handful of components.

As the name probably suggests, the cornerstone of this amplifier is an NPN transistor. He explains that a forward bias is applied to the base-emitter junction, which results in the transistor operating halfway between its cut-off and saturation regions. Both halves of the input audio signal are superimposed on this bias voltage, resulting in a decent amount of gain across both channels from a relatively small package.

The preamp isn’t going to win any awards among audiophiles, but it is definitely a great beginner project. Its a novel way of demonstrating how transistors work, while producing a useful takeaway piece of audio equipment at the same time.

Continue reading to see a video showing just how big an effect [Dino’s] NPN preamp had on his music.

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Adding Ambilight Clone System To Your Home Theater Just Got A Big Price Cut

Whenever we get a tip claiming a project is cheap and easy we raise a cynical eyebrow. But [Yonsje] isn’t telling us a story, his Amiblight clone really does boil down the complexity and slash the price.

For the uninitiated, this is a clone of the Philips Amilight system that has been an option with some of their TVs over the years. It puts RGB LEDs on the back of the frame, pointed at the wall. They are tuned to the edge colors of the display, linking the color of the ambient light in the room to the colors on the screen. We’ve seen a ton of clones over the years, just search our blog for “Ambilight”.

Like the others, this iteration depends on you playing back video from a computer. [Yonsje] is using an Arduino with his own shield to connect to the HTPC. NPN transistors in the shield drive the RGB LEDs. The real cost savings is in his lighting source. A Deal Extreme RGB LED bar costs just $11.30 including shipping, and can be cut into six different segments for even spacing around your television. Check it out in the clip after the break.

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