Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Counterfeit 2N3055 Transistors from eBay

I recently needed some 2N3055 TO-3 transistors for a project, but could not locate any around my basement, so I went ahead and carefully purchased some from eBay. I'll explain what I mean by carefully, a little back story on this before I continue.

Counterfeit 2N3055 Transistors vs Real

Counterfeit components sourced from eBay is not a new thing or a surprise. I don't think that I would be wrong in saying that most components on eBay are a no-name brand from Shenzhen, if not actually counterfeit. Now if you know what you are looking for specifically and don't just buy the first thing that pops up in your search results, you will be fine. Plenty of components from China are just fine, LEDs are a good example. I have LEDs of probably every wavelength available in bags by the hundred that cost next to nothing from China, all from eBay. Many have been used in projects running for years without issue, for items like this I have no issues with cheap components. But when I'm expecting a legitimate transistor sold as a name brand, and get a knock-off cheap piece of crap there is an issue. As I have learned, TO-3 transistors for whatever reason are a very popular thing to counterfeit.

So back to buying my transistors. Fake transistors are usually easy to spot visually. The cases are always shiny, the label on the case is usually crooked, or blurry from the poor printing process that is used. The type fonts are often weird. They just look cheap. So I first picked a few ST Micro 2N3055s that in the auction picture looked like original OEM transistors comparing to other TO-3 style transistors I had around. This was from a US seller with a good reputation too, everyhting looked legit. I had them in a few days, what I received though was not the same transistor shown in the picture. It looked wrong, it felt wrong, everything was just wrong about it. I purposely avoided all of the listing with transistors that looked like this as I knew they were counterfeit but ended up with them anyway.

To test for a counterfeit transistor, first just see if you can rub the label off with your finger. The label on this transistor came off with little effort just by rubbing on it. A stronger test is to use some rubbing alcohol, a real transistors label will not come off even with alcohol. Also look at the date codes, most counterfeit transistors will have a misleading date code or just be non-existent altogether.

So at this point I knew they were crap, time to crack one open. Stick it in a vice and with a couple taps of a hammer on a chisel right on the lip of the edge, it popped open with barely any effort. What is inside is comical:
Counterfeit ST 2N3055

A tiny little die glued down with some white stuff and tiny little bonding wires, really pathetic. My favorite feature is the surface rust seen on the inside of the can. I wonder how long this case was sitting around before someone manually assembled it.

For what it's worth, I did test the transistors and they do work, although I highly doubt they will handle the current they are rated for. Based on this discovery I was curious to see what else I could find. Could I get any real new 2N3055 transistors on eBay? To find out I went back on eBay, found another set of this time Toshiba transistors, the most legitimate listing I could find that was not labeled as NOS or used. It was a similar auction, US based seller with good rating, transistors are claimed to be OEM. After receiving, they again are different from the picture and just wrong:

Counterfeit Toshiba 2N3055

The ink rubbed off on this one just as easily, the can popped off almost with no effort. There in fact wasn't even any damage to them when I removed it, a clean break. And inside, this one was even better. Similar construction, and the bonding wires! Oh my, even smaller than the previous labeled ST transistor. At this point I could keep buying them seeing if I could find anything legit, but I decided to cut my losses and just get the real thing.

As a final comparison of what this transistor should look like, I purchased some legitimate ON Semi 2N3055s from Digikey. They were only about a dollar more a piece than the ones available on eBay. After receiving, a noticeable difference is noted right away. Most importantly is the weight, they feel much heavier. Also the labeling, you can rub them with alcohol and the label does not come off at all. I decided to sacrifice one (which did not come apart very easily) and you can see the obvious differences on the inside:

On Semi 2N3055

First big difference is the backing plate. The die is mounted directly to a piece of metal designed to better distribute the heat off of it and down to the case. Next is the die itself, noticeably larger than the other transistors and it is better mounted to the backing plate, not a big dab of white adhesive. Finally the bonding wires, they are considerably thicker than the other two transistors. Here is a close up comparing each transistor:

I ended up contacting the sellers of the transistors from eBay just to see what their response would be in telling them that their components are most likely counterfeit. One seller actually seemed to care and began questioning his supplier, whether or not he actually will do anything about it is yet to be seen, the transistors I bought are still available by him. The other seller didn't seem to care at all and simply said I could return them if  I didn't like them. I will also note that all of these transistors did work, although I have not tested them at higher currents which is where most people say they will fail. Either way I don't trust them and wouldn't use them in any serious project. It seems the counterfeit market for these is much worse than I had expected.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HP 54503A NVRAM Replacement - DS1235YW to DS1230Y

A few weeks ago I turned on my HP 54503A to find it behaving strangely. While probing a circuit under test, I could not get any waveforms at all. Was very unusual, so ran a quick self test and was greeted with the following:

HP 54503A Selftest Failure - Protected Non-Volatile RAM

This didn't look good.  An important key to the cause of the failures was the failure of the Non-Volatile ram. Most older equipment like this used a Dallas Semiconductor real time clock / NVRAM IC to store the calibration data along with waveform storage. In this case it is not a real-time clock, just a battery backed DS1235YW RAM ic. This classic chip has an internal battery to backup the contents inside, technology that existed way before inexpensive flash memory that has a limited lifetime. Based on the manufacturing date on the late 1980s, this ic was almost 30 years old, way beyond its expected lifetime but about average for how long I see these devices last.

The HP 5450NA family of scopes 54501A, 54502A, and 54503A are really nice scopes readily available for cheap. My favorite part about them is the interface, it is intuitive and lightning fast. Response from button inputs is instantaneous, unlike many modern scopes which makes it a pleasure to use. This was definitely getting repaired.

A quick way to check to see if the NVRAM is indeed the issue is to flip the write protect switch on the back of the unit off and attempt calibration. Once you calibrate this scope, you flip this switch to protect the contents from accidental writing, but in this case I want to re-calibrate it and to do so you must enable writing. Once this switch was changed I ran the calibration procedure for channel 1. It calibrated successfully and brought the scope back to a working state. So this was the only problem and the NVRAM ic will need to be replaced, unless you feel like going through a full calibration every time you power the scope on. Since a full calibration of all channels takes around 25 minutes, this is not ideal.

HP 54503A Main Board

This scope comes apart very easily, the main board slides out of the back with little effort. Once removed the Dallas NVRAM was easy to spot:

HP 54503A DS1235YW

Removing this ic is pretty easy, use a nice fat hot iron and some fine solder wick and the ic falls right out with no damage to traces.

HP 54503A NVRAM Removed

As far as a replacement, the original DS1235YW is not easily available, but the pin compatible DS1230Y is available. It is still made and Digikey sells it for $30. Then there is the eBay source of them direct from China for only $5. While the Chinese version is guaranteed to be a knock off, it does work as I have used them before. I went ahead and used one for this replacement since I have a few laying around.

There are also available pin compatible flash based alternative ics that you can use in this scope, but I have never personally tried them. One last note is as long as you are going through the trouble of this, go ahead and place a socket on the board so in the event your new NVRAM doesn't work, you won't have to stress the board with another de-solder. Here is the replaced ic:

HP 54503A DS1230Y NVRAM

Once replaced and everything is back together, calibration is the last step. Set the write protect switch to off and run through all the calibration procedures. The calibration for this scope requires a 50ohm bnc cable to be fed from two outputs on the back of the unit to each channel is sequence, the scope really walks you through everything. The manual will explain all of this as well, but is really a simple procedure and a really nice feature.

HP 54503A Calibration
When done, set the switch back to write protect, test it out and power cycle it to verify all calibration was held. Good as new.

Friday, September 11, 2015

10GHz Station Upgrades

With the 2015 September 10GHz and up contest approaching fast, I am in process of making some performance improvements to my 10GHz station. I had already missed the first round of the August 10GHz and up, so I wanted to make sure to complete a few necessary items before the 2nd round is here.

First on the agenda is to upgrade my PLL frequency synth that runs my LO to use low-noise regulators. This was a design error on my part, when I originally designed these freq synths, they had less than ideal phase noise as a result. The noise itself was determined to be coming from the 78nn series of linear regulators I had originally spec'd out for the design for the 5v vco, and dual 3.3v analog and digital supplies. A test of an unused synth I had built (for a beacon project) proved to show quite an impressive improvement once I replaced the regulators:

ADF4107 Phase Noise
Phase noise is shown here on the left with the original noise regulators, and a much cleaner output is shown on the right after the low-noise regulator replacement.

Next item on my list was to add some additional attenuation into the LO path that drives the mixers. Originally when I had a phased lock PLL brick, LO drive power through both outputs was approximately 12dBm. This was ideal for the two Magnum Microwave mixers I was using. After switching to the PLL synth and x4 multiplier, my output to the LO's through a splitter was a little hot at 15dBm. This was the upper max limit of power in the datasheet. This as a result was causing some additional spurs on the RF side, which while immediately filtered was still resulting in some spur leakage. A 3dB pad in line with the output of the x4 multiplier cleaned the excessive spurs up nicely.

The final improvement is in regards to the actual frequency reference itself for the LO PLL freq synth. I had designed my synth to use an on board TCXO protected by a shielded enclosure for both rf shielding and hopefully help stabilize the temperature. Temperature drift is critical in any design, this one was particularly touchy to temperature. When the synth was running and locked to my 2556GHz output frequency, simply blowing air across the TCXO caused the output frequency to start drifting. The specs for the particular crystal I had chosen were not that great at ±2.5ppm over the specified temperature range, I would definitely need to do better for good stability.

I have a rubidium 10MHz reference I use at my bench. I didn't want to devote this just for my mobile station as I use the reference for all of my test equipment. I would also need to frequency double it to work with my ADF4107 PLL as it requires a minimum 20MHz reference. As a compromise, I decided to go with a crystal oven oscillator (OCXO). I had a 20MHz version available that runs off of 12V which will be perfect for this mobile 10GHz station. Details of this will probably be in a separate post due to the difference being pretty interesting.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Decreasing Phase Noise with Low Noise Regulators

I have posted several times in the past on the PLL frequency synthesizer I designed and built based on the Analog Devices ADF4107. The overall design is a platform for a fractional PLL frequency synthesizer for any frequency range up to about 5GHz.  A single frequency or range could be generated simply by changing out the VCO and loop filter and reprogramming the ADF4107s registers. The design overall has worked very well, I have used it as a LO for a 1.42GHz hydrogen line radio telescope, a 2556GHz LO for my 10GHz ham station, and a 5.4GHz LO for some specific satellite downlinks.

One element of the design that has been less than ideal was the devices phase noise. My specific PLL was on average about 10dB to 20dB under spec of what the documented phase noise should be for similar designs using the ADF4107 and Z-Comm VCOs. After reading to the application notes some more and a recommendation via twitter from Tony (KC6QHP) who suggested looking into using very low noise regulators for the design, I decided to make the change.

Searching regulator semiconductor manufacturers for very low noise versions is not an easy task, often, the noise levels are not available in any parametric search. So to keep things simple, I just went with the ADP150 which is what Analog Devices recommends for their own designs including the ADF4107. Now this is definitely something I should have considered to begin with in the design, but it was my fault for not reading the docs and assuming the basic ST Micro KFNN regulators which I often use would be suitable for a project like this. Looking at the datasheets, the stated noise levels of each are quite a bit apart:


OUTPUT NOISE  10 Hz to 100 KHz 50 µV rms


OUTPUT NOISE  10 Hz to 100 KHz  9µV rms

The issue I now have is I had designed the board for standard DPAK package regulators, the ADP150 used tiny TSOT packages. Because of this I would have to be creative in mounting the devices in the DPAK footprints. This turned out to not be too bad of a task although not the most elegant solution.

The results speak for themselves, after replacing the regulators with the ADP150s, phase noise has considerably decreased. I have already started on a version 2 of this synthesizer and I will be definitely switching to these regulators for all future versions.

Standard KF33 and 7805 regulators on the left, low noise ADP150 regulators on the right.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Tektronix 2246 Repair Part II

In the process of debugging the strange intermittent display issue on my Tektronix 2246 after re-capping the power supply, things are not looking so good. Things have actually gone from bad to worse. First of all, the short (or open connection) somewhere in this unit which I can return the unit to normal operation by twisting the chassis has been more difficult to find that planned. I pulled and went through the entire power supply again and did not find any issues. Same for all of the connectors, all are seated correctly without issue. Every screw was in place and I checked to make sure there were no poor grounding issues throughout the scope. What happened next is the result of my own stupid mistake (again) which is just making things worse.

In the process of removing the power supply, you have to remove the high voltage anode cable to the crt which is generated in the main power supply. This cable runs out of the supply towards the front of the unit and has an insulated high voltage connector that is clipped on the the metal chassis between the power supply and front panel board. When I was pulling the power supply out for the third time, I wasn't careful and unplugged this connector only a minute or two after powering the scope down. At this point I let the cable go and it fell towards the A16 main processor board letting a nice spark jump from the high voltage cable to the main board most likely due to stored capacitance that had not been bled off yet. I didn't see exactly where it hit, but it didn't matter. The stored voltage had hit the board and I knew damage had been done. Upon reassembly and power up it was confirmed.

The display was in bad shape at this point, everything to the left say 2/5ths of the display was not showing up and squashed into a vertical line. Definitely not good. So now my priorities have changed, now I have to debug this issue to make sure I haven't burnt out something serious like the main display DACs or readout processors as these would most likely be difficult parts to locate and replace.

I started right with the schematic, which was my next stop anyway in locating the intermittent display issue. The full service manual including schematics is easily available for this scope which is another reason why I love the older Tektronix gear. I focused right away at the character generator and display readout circuitry.

After some probing around, I noticed that output from the A16 processor pcb was odd, the horizontal output drive for the display was not looking right, the bottom half of the waveform was clipped which would explain the left half of the display being smashed into a vertical line. Further up the signal path, the signal was looking correct from the DAC and the multiplexer. So the final op amp stage was looking to maybe be the culprit which makes sense as these op amps definitely wouldn't survive a direct high voltage hit.

Output of mux on left, output after op amp on right
So only the final output stage from the A16 pcb was looking bad, this is a good sign as the actual logic does not look to be damaged. Only the final outputs through an op amp look to have been hit. The op amp in question is a TI TL074. There still may be more damage but I'm going to focus on this op amp for now. I didn't have any in my parts bins, so I placed an order for a handful with Digikey which I should have in a few days. Stand by for part III.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Tektronix 2246 Repair

Last year I had talked about how I accidentally destroyed my Tektronix 2246 oscilloscope by removing the cover. There was a small dent in the metal bottom panel that while removing it had snagged a heatsink on a Motorola 151-0846-00 labeled TO-39 transistor, specifically Q702 on the A10 main board. This ended up ripping the pins out of the transistor can leaving me with a unusable scope. Unfortunately this was not a common part and trying to locate one is next to impossible. I had attempted to use a 2N3866A with no success, the scope was definitely not happy with that transistor in it, an original replacement part would be necessary.

I did ultimately find a donor board. Late last year I found a complete used replacement board on eBay for around $40 which contained both of the 151-0846-00 labeled transistors. This option was definitely cheaper than a whole parts scope and I would hate to ruin another 2246 which may be repairable just for this one transistor. Once I replaced this transistor in my 2246 it was good as new.

I want to focus the attention now to a second Tek 2246 scope that I own with its own set of troubles. I purchased another 2246 a few years ago for cheap, I think it was only around $100. This scope had a lot more use than my original one, while it was in good cosmetic shape it had some issues mostly related to old capacitors. The display was not stable, the character generated osd and cursors would jump around and upon probing the supply rails you could see there was some noise present. A re-cap would be necessary and possibly some additional caps on the A-10 main pcb if necessary.

The 2246 main power supply is pretty basic, much more simple to work on than the Tektronix 2445B power supply which I have also done. One interesting observation upon accessing it is that all of the caps look to be large axial electrolytics:

Trktronix 2446 Power Supply

The bottom of the board told a different story, and once removing a capacitor and testing it was indeed a standard radial cap with an interesting third lead out the top that wasn't connected to anything. Maybe it was designed for additional stability? I know this scope was a popular portable model so my guess it was just some additional ruggedness built into the design. Interesting regardless, at least I can replace them with standard radial caps which are much easier to source.

Replacement caps were all Panasonic 105 degree C. units which are always my first choice, then using Nichicon capacitors in cases where the Panasonic's were not available. The final rebuilt version looked like this:

Tek 2446 Power Supply Rebuild
Quite a difference in size. For good measure I also replaced all of the high voltage film capacitors on the board, many looked stressed as they did in the 2445B. I left the large primary switching capacitor alone, they are rarely every a source of trouble. Everything else looked okay.

This is where things started to get interesting. After putting everything together and powering the scope back up, I had strange display issues. The entire display was shifted left. I started looking around to see if I had missed a cable or possibly had a connector loose during the reassembly but didn't see anything obvious. This scope was working just fine before the power supply rebuild so this issue was definitely something that I caused. At this time I went to turn the scope over on its side while powered up that the display snapped back into alignment. After some more poking around I realized that if I put pressure on the chassis, twisting it just lightly I could get the display back in alignment. So it must be a bad ground, loose connector, bad solder joint, or some other mechanical failure where putting pressure on the chassis would complete whatever broken connection was occurring. It will just be a matter of tracing down where the issue is at. More to come in part II.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Large Display for GPS Disciplined Time Server

Since building my own GPS disciplined local time server I have wanted a large display of some sort to display my super accurate clock. The primary purpose of doing this was really just because it would be rally really cool looking. I also have a personal issue with any clock that does not set itself from the WWVB or support NTP, in 2015 we shouldn't have to manually set clocks anymore. A secondary use for doing this would be for ham radio purposes. A nice large clock that is always accurate so I can easily and quickly log contacts in UTC would be very useful. Ultimately I ended up with a very nice solution and here is the result:

ESE ES-166 timecode display used for GPS clock

Searching for someone who makes such a clock was frustrating. It seems either you can have a large format clock for cheap that does not support NTP, or you can have one that does support NTP but costs hundreds of dollars. Designing and building my own was the next option that I had considered for awhile. A simple PIC based device that drives some large 7 segment led displays would be trivial to build, but I couldn't get into the project. It just didn't excite me, It's one of those things that would be so simple and mundane that I just couldn't drive myself to do it. It would be like a software engineer being assigned the task of writing a word processor. It's already been done so many times and is such an unfulfilling project you can just never get excited about it.

So on to Plan C. Let's see what's already available and either modify or make it work for my intended use. Basically I would be looking for a large LED, backlit LCD, or big VFD display of some sort that would be able to easily display time. Input can be via various means, ethernet or serial would be first choices, some other parallel type interfaces would be not ideal although I could still make it work if needed. Luckily having some experience is professional video editing when I was in college, I looked towards something I felt might me the perfect solution: Timecode displays.

Upon scrounging around I found a perfect device on eBay, an ESE-166 remote timecode display. These can be found for less than $50 at times are are beautiful pieces of gear. It is a big 2U rack mount enclosure with a nice large format LED display on the front panel. This display is designed for displaying accurate time code for video editing systems. The particular display I purchased had hour, minute, and second digits which would be perfect. Many time code displays also include a 4th digit section for frames which this one did not as I did not need it for my purpose. The inputs on these devices are typically a single 75ohm timecode serial input for SMPTE timecode. I was fine with this as designing some hardware to convert an rs232 serial stream to SMPTE timecode actually sounded pretty fun, but I ended up not needing to. This specific display also included an rs232 serial input that supports a few ASCII time formats. This would be a perfect solution, just have a script that takes my local time directly off of the time server itself and dump it out the serial port to this display. There would be some very minimal latency with this obviously, but regardless this solution would be perfect! The ASCII format I chose to use is as follows:

Format #0: (CR)(LF)I(^)(^)DDD(^)HH:MM:SS(^)DTZ=XX(CR)(LF)

As for getting the time data into the ESE, it has two runtime options set by some dip switches inside. The first is a free running clock that when the serial port receives a time string, it updates the internal clock to the time received. The second option does not free run, you simply continuously provide the time signals to update at the interval you specify. In this option, you would need to provide the time signal at least once a second to keep the display real time. For now, I went with the first option. I have the ESE free running with a cron dumping data from my NTP server sending an rs232 time string via cron every five minutes. The noticeable time drift of this clock over a five minute period is not noticeable at all and this solution keeps the clock up to date on five minute intervals without having to constantly send it serial data.

For those that are curious what is inside the ESE ES-166, it is pretty basic:

There is a whole lot of room in that chassis with not very much there. Just a mains transformer and simple analog rectified power supply with a handful of logic to decode the SMPTE / serial port data and drive the display. I'm planning on moving my Trimble GPS receiver inside of this case as there would be plenty of room for it. This would consolidate some of the hardware laying in the back of my server rack.

Additionally the manual for the ES-166 includes a schematic which is also nice to see. There was one part of the design that I really loved, the rs232 to TTL translation:

There is no serial driver there, MAX232 or equivalent. Just a simple level converter based on a 2n2222 with a diode and resistor. I love it! You see MAX232s in everything these days when they are often just not needed for serial RX conversion.

Further plans include racking this unit in my server rack and possibly getting a second unit so I can display both local time and UTC.