Exploring ABC Electronics in Minneapolis

Exciting stuff is going on at work, but as often happens, excitement involves a bit of overtime. I spent last week in the Twin Cities, working with two test engineers to evaluate an ASIC during the day, and working on patent paperwork at night. I did manage to get away long enough to visit ABC Electronics, a surplus dealer in Minneapolis. (The Twin Cities are also served by the Ax-Man Surplus Stores, about which I will write another time.) I left ABC assuring myself that I am not jealous of the Twin Cities’ surplus options, but I’m not sure I believe myself.

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Skywired’s new tutorial section

I’m happy to announce a new tutorials section here on Skywired!  A click on “Tutorials” on the menu bar above will take you to a list of Skywired’s how-tos and explanations.  The first tutorial is about how to solder fine-pitch parts, such as QFPs, TSSOPs, SOICs, and so forth. Over time, I plan to expand the range of tutorials to cover both practice and theory.

Freescale’s SDR on a Chip

Freescale has introduced a very nifty part, the MC13260 SoC Radio, where SoC is “System on a Chip”.  Picture for a moment a complete transceiver on a chip, including an 100 MHz ARM processor, a programmable DSP modem, a frequency synthesizer, a transceiver, a USB interface, an audio CODEC (for the microphone and speaker), and miscellaneous support components, all on one chip.

The thing operates at RF frequencies from 60 to 960 MHz. It’s designed primarily for analog FM and certain digital modes, but with an external modulator it can support linear modes, presumably including SSB.  Output is only 5 dBm, so the advertised “few external components” had better include an amplifier!

Though the chip is aimed at the military and commercial markets, hypothetically it could make the fine foundation for a fine amateur transceiver for any or all of the 2m, 1.25m, 70cm, or 33cm bands. Imagine an all-mode 2m, software defined radio HT with built-in data capabilities, for example. Integrated parts like this usually can’t achieve the performance of a discrete design, but the reduced part count would be worth the tradeoff.

What do you think? Would a transceiver based on a part like this be within the reach of a few dedicated homebrewers?

Freescale MC13260 data / article in Electronic Design

Building the ProASIC 3 nano FPGA board

After a busy week spent traveling for work and a morning digging out from a surprise snowstorm, I had a great weekend with my family.  It was Sunday night before I heated up the soldering iron and got down to business building the ProASIC 3 nano FPGA board.

I started with the toughest component, the FPGA.  Its central location and low height means that I will have an easier time accessing it before other components are mounted.  That is not likely to be a big problem for this board, with plenty of space around the chip, but I would still prefer not to have to work around the filter capacitors if I can avoid it.  On the other hand, its 100 pins and 0.5 mm pin pitch makes it far and away the most difficult soldering job on the PCB.

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The FPGA boards are here… and they’re purple!

Despite my last post mentioning the lateness of the breakout boards, it turns out they had already arrived.  The mailer was stuck between two magazines in the mail, so my wife and I missed seeing it.  I had hoped to get the PCBs by February 26.  They were here the 22nd.  Oops!

They came out quite nicely, with no obvious defects, and they look quite regal with gold plating and Laen’s signature purple solder mask. How often do you see purple circuit boards?  The gold is nice, too. Laen’s standard boards are have a solder finish, but sometimes some of his customers pay the extra for gold, in which case all the boards on that order come back with gold.

The FPGA board, gleaming and ready for some solder.

I’m looking forward to building up these boards and writing some Verilog to bring them to life.