Spectrum Analyzer Basics – Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents
2019-10-09

A spectrum analyzer displays signals in the frequency domain. To use one, you only need to know about four controls: reference level, center frequency, and resolution bandwidth. In this episode, see how to use a spectrum analyzer and determine the transmitting frequency of a device.

The example device is my microphone transmitter. It operates around 500 MHz with FM modulation. You’ll see how I step through the spectrum analyzer controls to find the exact frequency. At the end of the episode, I show some advanced measurements you can do with a modern spectrum analyzer. My favorite one is the demodulation. (more…)

Electronic Load Basics on Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-09-18

During the Bench Power Supply basics video, I made use of my electronic load. An electronic load can sink current from power sources such as power supplies or batteries. Loads are useful to test a power supply’s design margin or verify a battery’s capacity. See how three different instrument options from ultra low-end to midrange to high-end compare. After this element14 Presents Workbench Wednesday video, you will understand how to use modes on an electronic load like constant current and constant resistance to make different measurements.

In the video, I compare three different types of tools: a $50 battery tester from eBay, BK Precision 8540 Electronic Load, and a high-end Rohde & Schwarz NGM202. They are all capable of acting as a constant current sink. In other words, you program the current and let the supply under test run. In the case of batteries, this mode is useful to test battery life. The 8540 and NGM202 both feature other capabilities like constant resistance which, as you can imagine, acts as an electronic resistor. The cool thing about using an electronic load as a power resistor is that some of them are capable of sinking up to 10s of amps.

After submitting the video to the producers, I realized I focused very heavily on batteries. More often, you use an electronic load to test power supply boards or modules. I wish I had shown those more, but it didn’t seem like it was missing until the end. So maybe in the future I can convert tools for measuring DC/DC power supplies? However, I did cover one topic significant to me. I show just how bad 9V batteries are, a topic which I like to come back to often. So I made sure to show off just how bad they work when driven past 100 mA. (It is terrible!)

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Bench Power Supply Basics | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-08-28

A bench power supply makes powering circuits easy and safe. Learn how to adjust basic controls like voltage. Finally, see how “current limiting” works (and why you should use it.) See how you can use built-in series or parallel tracking to increase a bench power supply’s voltage or current output. Last, if you are in the market for a power supply, do not forget to add some leads like mini-grabbers, alligator clips, and banana plugs.

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Semiconductor Measurements | Workbench Wednesdays Review

element14 Presents on YouTube
2018-08-07

When it comes to transistors, there are only so many things a multimeter can measure. The DCA Pro from PEAK Electronics makes short work of testing parts like a transistor. This small device can determine pinout, component type, and essential parameters in a matter of seconds. Not only that, but it can be connected to a (Windows) PC and draw parameter curves. Check out the video review to see how the device and software works. Then head over to the element14 page where you can download a zip file full of example parts I measured for you. The free to download software can open them.

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This AddOhms episode is part 3 of the “design your own Arduino” series. In this one I populate a bare PCB, reflow solder it, debug a few issues, and load the Uno bootloader. Originally, I designed 2 versions of the board. One version contained an error that I planned to fix in the episode. Well, turns out, the “correct” board had two issues which were more interesting.

Check out the #27 show notes for links to a bunch of stuff in the episode, including the design files.

Watch on YouTube

Learn Six Oscilloscope Measurements with an Arduino DUT

Grab an Uno and learn how to use your scope!

Oscilloscope Measurements with RTM3004 Alternative

One of the best ways to learn how to use a new piece of test equipment is to use it. Sounds easy, right? The problem is, sometimes when you are in the middle of troubleshooting your circuit, figuring out what the knobs on your scope do is an immense frustration. Use these 6 oscilloscope measurements, and just an Arduino Uno, to learn how to use a new or unfamiliar digital scope.

This tutorial is not a step-by-step guide on how to make each of these measurements on a particular scope. Instead, it is a general explanation on how to setup the Arduino and a screenshot to help identify if you set up your scope correctly. I reference the R&S RTM3004. However, practically any two (or more) digital channel oscilloscope should work.

Between each measurement, I highly recommend using your scope’s default setup (or autoscale) before proceeding to the next one!

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Oscilloscope Probes Primer – Why so many types?

Compare Passive, Active, High Voltage, and Current Probes

Oscilloscope Probes Primer

Unless you have a BNC or SMA connector your board, you will need a probe to get signals into an oscilloscope. Understanding what kind of oscilloscope probes are out there, which ones should you have for your scope and which ones to use for different measurements can be daunting. In this post, I look at some common scope probe types and offer some suggested measurements for each.

Special thanks to Rohde and Schwarz for providing the equipment used in this post. You can learn more about their scopes and probes at rohde-schwarz.com .

This post is not a comprehensive guide of oscilloscope probes. I am covering the types I have used. I do think this information should be enough to least form questions to ask your vendor before purchasing. Asking questions is important. If you have never bought specialized oscilloscope probes, you might not realize they can cost more than the scope itself. Maybe not an individual probe, but get one for each channel, and the cost rises. So picking the correct probe type is essential.

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Debug SONOFF AC Relay with a Thermal Camera

Find the problem without a live measurement

SONOFF FLIR Banner

My recent SONOFF WiFi Switch experience reminded me of something from high school. I attended an off-site electronics class with my best friend. As teenage boys, we were prone to doing stupid things. One of our favorite games was to see who could handle the highest voltage. Our bench had a variable AC supply that went from 0 to 120 volts. So we would grab the alligator clips while the other person slowly turned the knob up. John once made it to 50 volts. I seem to recall my tolerance around 30 volts. First, DO NOT do this. It was stupid. Second, I think this game is why handling AC makes me so uncomfortable.

While I am not an electrician, I do know the basics about wiring mains AC circuits. So when one of my studio lights needed a new switch, I was okay to replace it. Mains AC does not scare me when it is off. I did not have a mechanical switch available. Instead, I opted for a SONOFF WiFi Switch. I did not intend to connect WiFi, at least not yet. I just wanted to control the light with the manual push button.

The clever solution seemed to be clever, at least for a few minutes. Suddenly the light turned off. I thought maybe there was a timeout for the manual button. Annoying, but workable. The lamp remained off for about another 2 minutes when I started to smell that unmistakeable burning plastic odor. Touching the case of the SONOFF identified the culprit immediately.

Great. So I have an AC mains switch that isn’t working, but I do not want to go poking my multimeter into it. What do I do?

Turns out, that SONOFF module was defective. I wanted to debug it, but I did not want to measure anything while connected to AC. Here’s how I used a thermal camera to debug my SONOFF.

What is a SONOFF?

SONOFF Board Backside 1600px

See the ESP8266 and Antenna?

The SONOFF WiFi switch is an inexpensive AC relay. Internally it has an ESP12 chip, which became popular with the ESP8266. There is even an unpopulatd serial header which can be used to reflash the firmware. Among hackers, these modules are a popular way to get an AC relay that is easily programmed.

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Supplyframe Hardware has published a video of a talk I gave in July 2017. This talk was at HDDG 22. The focus of my discussion was how an oscilloscope’s trigger circuit works. I built on that and talked about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff of what is going on with a digital oscilloscope. (You can download my HDDG 22 slides here.)

During #22 of the Hardware Developers Didactic Galactic meetup, I discussed Oscilloscopes. (Previously James talked about capacitors.) In the presentation, I broke down the internals of an oscilloscope. The presentation started off with a block diagram. Then I discussed the main components: vertical amplifier, A/D, memory controller, some of the computer side stuff, and the keynote was on triggering.

The trigger circuit of an oscilloscope fascinated me since very early in my HP/Agilent career. When I saw trigger modes like Pulse, Violation, Rise Time, and “Runt,” I thought: Wow, this must be the most complicated circuit in the scope! While it isn’t trivial, it very clever how just a few pieces of (relatively) simple hardware drive one of the most important aspects of a digital scope.

Download Slides

Rick Altherr also gave an excellent talk on ECUs and their sensors. (I always thought ECU only meant engine control unit. His talk helped me understand why that isn’t really the case anymore!) It was great to learn about the combination of the engine mechanics with the electronics that control it. !)

See Rick’s Slides