Transistor Tester Becomes Car Display

These days, the electronics hobbyist is lucky to have access to a wide range of ready-made modules that enable sensors, screens, and microcontrollers to all be linked up with ease. However, this manner of working generally ends up with a project that becomes more of a PCB salad than a finished product. Oftentimes, it’s possible to find something off the shelf that’s close to your requirements, and repurpose it to work. That’s exactly what [Aaron] did.

[Aaron] wanted to install a display in his classic Jeep to display the time and some basic parameters. A screen and a microcontroller were called for, and a cheap open-source transistor tester had exactly that already. Consisting of an ATmega-328P linked up to an 128 x 64 graphic LCD module, it had most of what [Aaron] needed from the get go.

To repurpose the device, [Aaron] started by swapping the 8 MHz crystal for a 16 MHz one to make it more easily programmable through the Arduino IDE. Then, a custom firmware was written, which communicates with a DS3232 real time clock, temperature and pressure sensors, and also monitors battery voltage. It’s all neatly installed in the vehicle behind a 3D printed faceplate, and the graphic LCD is clear and easy to read – if you speak German.

[Aaron] has helpfully outlined the various online resources that helped with the hack, including the transistor tester schematic. Our very own [Adam Fabio] reviewed these units in 2015.

If you’ve cleverly reused some existing hardware yourself, be sure to let us know on the tip line. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Transistor Tester Becomes Car Display”

T-Rex Runner Runs on Transistor Tester

If you’ve ever spent time online buying electronic doodads — which would mean almost all of us — then sooner or later, the websites get wind of your buying sprees and start offering “suggested” advertisements for buying more useless stuff. One commonly offered popular product seems to be a universal component tester, often referred to as a “Mega328 Transistor Tester Diode Triode Capacitance ESR Meter”. These consist of an ATmega328, an SPI LCD display, a Button, a ZIF socket and a few other components. Almost all of them are cheap clones of the splendid AVR-TransistorTester project by [Markus Frejek]. [Robson Couto] got one of these clone component testers, and after playing with it for a while, decided to hack it and write a T-Rex runner game for it.

The T-Rex runner game is Chrome’s offering for you to while away your time when it can’t connect to the internet. It needs just one button to play. This is just the kind of simple game that can be easily ported to the Component Tester. The nice take away from [Robson]’s blog post is not that he wrote a simple game for an ATmega connected to an LCD display, but the detailed walk through he provides of the process which can be useful to anyone else wanting to dip their feet in the world of writing games.

After a bit of online sleuthing and some multimeter testing, he was able to figure out that the LCD controller chip was connected to Port D of the ATmega, which meant the use of software SPI via bit-banging. He then looked inside the disassembled firmware to find writes to Port D to figure out pin assignments. Of course not long after all this work he found a config.h file with the pin mappings.

Armed with this information he was able to use the Adafruit ST7565 library to drive the LCD, but not before having to flip the image. The modified fork of his ST7565 library is available on GitHub. His game code is also available, but reading through the development process is pretty interesting. Check out a video of the Runner game in action after the break.

In an earlier post, we did a product review of one of these cheap Transistor Testers, and if you have one of these lying around, give [Robson]’s game a spin — it could be handy while you wait for your reflow oven to finish its soldering cycle.

Continue reading “T-Rex Runner Runs on Transistor Tester”

Review: Transistor Tester

Amazon has been getting creepier and creepier lately with their recommendations.  Every time I log in, I’m presented with a list of new Blinky LEDs, Raspberry Pi accessories, Arduino shields, and the like. It’s as if they know me. Their customer database paid off when it recommended a $22 transistor / component tester. I’ve been seeing those testers around quite a bit lately. Curiosity got the better of me and my mouse found its way to the “Buy it now with one click” button. Two days later I had a “SainSmart Mega328 Transistor Tester Diode Triode Capacitance ESR Meter MOS/PNP/NPN L/C/R” in my hands.

I’m going to get the obvious out of the way. This thing is built cheap – as cheap as the factories can make it. My particular unit arrived with the LCD flapping in the breeze, hanging on by its flex cable. Fitting the LCD back into the acrylic backlight frame revealed a slightly worrisome twist in that same flex. Thankfully nothing was actually damaged, though I do want to give the flex cable some protection in the future. More on that later. The circuitry was open for all the world to see on the bottom of the tester. The heart of the unit is an ATmega328. Supporting it are a few transistors and a handful of passives.

I didn’t have huge expectations for the tester, but I hoped it would at least power up.  Hooking up a 9 volt battery and pressing the magic button brought the tester to life. Since I didn’t have anything in the socket, it quickly lit up and displayed its maker information – “”, and “By Efan & HaoQixin”, then it informed me that I had “No, unknown, or damaged part”.

I had a few resistors lying around the bench (doesn’t everyone?) so I put one in. The tester read it as 9881 ohms. Sure enough, it was a 10K 5% resistor.  Capacitors – ceramic disc, electrolytic, and surface mount all worked as well. The tester even provided ESR values. The real test would be a transistor. I pulled an old  2N2222 in a TO-18 metal can, and popped it in the tester. The damn thing worked – it showed the schematic symbol for an NPN transistor with Collector, Base, and Emitter connected to Pins 1,2,and 3 respectively. Flipping the pins around and re-testing worked as well. The tester showed hFe as 216, and forward voltage as 692 mV, both reasonable numbers for a 2N2222.

triacThe tester worked surprisingly well – it was able to correctly identify BJTs, FETs, even esoteric parts. The only thing it balked on was a linear voltage regulator, which showed up as two diodes. Regulators are a bit more than a simple device though, so I can’t blame the tester there.  The values returned were all reasonable as well. While I don’t have a calibrated lab to check against, the numbers lined up with my Fluke meter.

So what exactly is driving this little tester? There are about 20 versions of it on the market, all of them from China. 91make is a seller on, often referred to as “China’s ebay.” 91make’s front page features no less than 7 versions of the transistor tester, with various cases and LCDs. Some digging turned up the history on this device. It turns out the transistor tester is an open source hardware project (translated) originally created by [Markus Frejek], and built upon by [Karl-Heinz Kubbeler] and a number of others. The Subversion repository  for the project shows it is quite active, with the most recent check-in only a few hours ago. The project is also well documented. The English PDF is 103 pages, explaining theory of operation, the circuit itself, and the software. The document even explains some of the shortcomings of the Chinese versions of the tester, including using a zener diode where the original schematic calls for a precision 2.5V reference. Yes, it will work, but it won’t be as accurate as the original.

The devs also don’t officially support the clones which I can understand, considering the quality and changes in design each manufacturer is baking in to their own version. There is  a huge thread on the EEVblog forum covering these testers. Some can be modified to be closer to the official version. In fact, with an ISP tool the intrepid hacker can update the firmware to the current rev from [Karl-Heinz’s] repository.

So the final verdict on this tester is that it is a thumbs up with a small caveat. These testers are built down to a cost (and that cost is as close to zero as possible). They’re great for sorting parts, but they’re no substitute for a higher quality measuring device. I’d also love to see a version that supports the original developers.