Why is nothing ever simple

I’ve just bought 100 x 74LS590 IC’s for a project. They came from China and looking at them, I’m not sure they are genuine. They look a bit suspect (the laser etching isn’t quite right) and the packing was terrible with the pins bent all over the place, so it makes sense to test them.

Retro IC Tester

A while ago I bought the Retro IC Tester kit. It’s been a really useful piece of kit and whilst I don’t use it all that often, it’s saved me hours of messing around when trying to identify faulty chips. However, I’ve never updated it and it’s running the original firmware. The Retro IC Tester can do a lot of things including testing memories, logic ICs, reading EPROMS and PROMS and can even program EPROMS with the right add-ons; it truly is a useful piece of kit. It is a bit clunky in that there are only three push buttons to navigate huge lists of chips, but it’s manageable. Unfortunately, my version won’t test the 74LS590 chips… it needs a firmware upgrade.

The tester uses an ATMEL processor and I am geared up for using PICs so first I needed an ATMEL programmer. Getting hold of an affordable programmer proved a challenge and I’m still not sure I succeeded. Trying to install one I found on Amazon in Windows 10 proved a nightmare so I gave up. Back to Amazon and I found another programmer and am waiting for that to arrive. However, reading the steps to program ATMELs makes it look like a nightmare. It’s all command line parameters that are different for all the programmers and no proper instructions. It also appears that if you mess up you can brick the ATMEL… what is this crap. It’s like being back in the 1950’s. With much trepidation and feeling of doom I decided to grit my teeth and try and press on.

I thought I would go for a quick win by getting the latest firmware from the authors site and see if there was someway of perhaps persuading MPLAB to accept it… PIC and ATMEL are now the same company after all – maybe I could use my PICKIT4 programmer… you never know. I’m no fan of MPLAB but at least it’s point and click and a lot of people use it… there would probably be community information out there to help.

Off to the authors website to grab the firmware only to find you need a user ID and password to download the latest version. This is annoying as I receive periodic updates from the author telling me there are new versions of firmware available but no mention of passwords and nothing in the user manual.

All I want to do is test some stupid logic ICs and I’ve spent a day messing around and I’m nowhere.

Digital IC Tester

Back in 2002 I published a design for the Digital IC Tester. I was very proud of this project as it was the first project I designed a PCB for and was also the first I had published. But it also doesn’t support the 74590 chip… but I think I’m going to drag it out and use it. It’s nowhere near as fancy as the Retro IC Tester above, though there is no reason why the PC based software and firmware couldn’t be updated to support a larger variety of different devices. It does however just work. No fancy USB drivers (it uses a serial port) and the PC software will run on any Windows operating system from WinXP to Win11 with no modifications or messing around. I believe there is 3rd party software available for other platforms as well. The reason I passed using this gizmo is I don’t have any of these ICs that I know for certain are genuine, so didn’t want to base a new test script around possible fake devices, but the universe has left little option.

So, time to read the IC’s datasheet in detail and create a test script for my 20 year old, faithful IC Tester. Sometimes old is best.

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