Spice With A Sound Card

In years gone by, trying out a new circuit probably would have meant heating up a soldering iron. Solderless breadboards have made that even easier and computer simulation is easier still, but there’s something not quite as satisfying about building a circuit virtually. [Thedeuluiz] has a way to get some of the best of both worlds with the RTSpice project.

The idea is simple in concept, although not as simple in execution. The program does a Spice-like simulation of a circuit and can accept input and produce output from a PC’s sound card. Obviously, that means you can’t simulate RF circuits — at least not at the input and the output. It also means the simulation has to run lightning fast to keep up with the sound card sample rate. According to the author, it works best with modest circuits but exactly how big you can go will depend on your hardware.

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Visualizing How Signals Travel In A PCB

If you play with high speed design for long enough, eventually you’re going to run into clock skew and other weird effects. [Robert Feranec] recently ran into this problem and found an interesting solution to visualizing electric fields in a PCB.

A word of warning before we dig into this, for most of the projects we see on Hackaday something like this is completely superfluous. There aren’t many people dealing with high speed interfaces here, and there aren’t many people dealing with 100 Gigabit per second data links, period. That said, it’s not unheard of, and at the very least it’s interesting to look at.

The basics of this video is simulating the signals visually in a differential pair on a (virtual) printed circuit board. The software for this is Simbeor, and [Robert] talked to the founder of the company behind this software after watching a video on simulating electric fields in differential traces. This software does what it says, and is a great illustration of why differential pairs must have the same length.

While this might not be for everyone, it is a fantastic visualization of signals in high-speed design that goes above and beyond what you would expect from a Spice simulation. Even if you’re not doing high-speed design, you may someday and it’s never too soon to get an intuitive understanding of how electrons work.

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Simulating A Speaker

Speakers are one of those components that are simple to use, but difficult to simulate. Most of us have used a simple resistor to do the job. But a speaker’s response is much more complex, and while that might be enough for a simple simulation the fidelity is nowhere near close. [Sourav Gupta] recently shared his technique for modeling speakers and it looks as though it does a credible job.

[Sourav] shows how a simple resistor and an inductor can do the job, but for better fidelity you need more components to model some mechanical effects. The final model has six components which keeps it easy enough to construct but the problem lies in finding the values of those six components. [Sourav] shows how to use the Thiele-Small parameters to solve that problem. Speaker makers provide these as a guide to low frequency performance, and they capture things such as Q, mass, displacement, and other factors that affect the model.

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Simulate PIC And Arduino/AVR Designs With No Cloud

I’ve always appreciated simulation tools. Sure, there’s no substitute for actually building a circuit but it sure is handy if you can fix a lot of easy problems before you start soldering and making PCBs. I’ve done quite a few posts on LTSpice and I’m also a big fan of the Falstad simulator in the browser. However, both of those don’t do a lot for you if a microcontroller is a major part of your design. I recently found an open source project called Simulide that has a few issues but does a credible job of mixed simulation. It allows you to simulate analog circuits, LCDs, stepper and servo motors and can include programmable PIC or AVR (including Arduino) processors in your simulation.

The software is available for Windows or Linux and the AVR/Arduino emulation is built in. For the PIC on Linux, you need an external software simulator that you can easily install. This is provided with the Windows version. You can see one of several videos available about an older release of the tool below. There is also a window that can compile your Arduino code and even debug it, although that almost always crashed for me after a few minutes of working. As you can see in the image above, though, it is capable of running some pretty serious Arduino code as long as you aren’t debugging.

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Circuit VR: Simple Buck Converters

The first thing I ever built without a kit was a 5 V regulated power supply using the old LM309K. That’s a classic linear regulator like a 7805. While they are simple, they waste a lot of energy as heat, especially if the input voltage goes higher. While there are still applications where linear regulators make sense, they are increasingly being replaced by switching power supplies that are much more efficient. How do switchers work? Well, you buy a switching power supply IC, add an inductor and you are done. Class dismissed. Oh wait… while that might be the best way to do it from a cost perspective, you don’t really learn a lot that way.

In this installment of Circuit VR, we’ll look at a simple buck converter — that is a switching regulator that takes a higher voltage and produces a lower voltage. The first one won’t actually regulate, mind you, but we’ll add that in a future installment. As usual for Circuit VR, we’ll be simulating the designs using LT Spice.

Interestingly, LT Spice is made to design power supplies so it has a lot of Linear Technology parts in its library just for that purpose. However, we aren’t going to use anything more sophisticated than an op amp. For the first pass, we won’t even be using those.

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Circuit VR: Sink Or Swim With Current Sources

If you got your start in electronics sometime after 1980 your first project might well have been to light up an LED. Microcontroller projects often light up an LED, too, and a blinking LED is something of the “hello world” program for embedded systems. If you tried lighting up your LED with a 9 V battery directly — not that you’d admit to it — you found it would light up. Once, anyway. The excess current blows up the LED which is why you need a current-limiting resistor. However, those current limiting resistors are really a poor excuse for a current source or sink. In many applications, you need a real current source and luckily, they aren’t hard to create.

As always with Circuit VR, we’ll be using LT Spice to examine the circuits. If you need a quick tutorial, start here and come back after that. If you use Linux, don’t be dismayed. I run LT Spice under WINE and it works great. You can find all the Spice files on GitHub.

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Open-source Circuit Simulation

For simple circuits, it’s easy enough to grab a breadboard and start putting it together. Breadboards make it easy to check your circuit for mistakes before soldering together a finished product. But if you have a more complicated circuit, or if you need to do response modeling or other math on your design before you start building, you’ll need circuit simulation software.

While it’s easy to get a trial version of something like OrCAD PSpice, this software doesn’t have all of the features available unless you’re willing to pony up some cash. Luckily, there’s a fully featured free and open source circuit simulation software called Qucs (Quite Universal Circuit Simulator), released under the GPL, that offers a decent alternative to other paid circuit simulators. Qucs runs its own software separate from SPICE since SPICE isn’t licensed for reuse.

Qucs has most of the components that you’ll need for professional-level circuit simulation as well as many different transistor models. For more details, the Qucs Wikipedia page lists all of the features available, as does the project’s FAQ page. If you’re new to the world of circuit simulation, we went over the basics of using SPICE in a recent Hack Chat.

Thanks to [Clovis] for the tip!