Update on updating the Retro IC Chip-Tester

Like most engineers I can’t leave something alone for too long if it’s broke and have to keep picking at it. In my previous blog post I talked about wanting to test some suspect ICs I’d bought and the fact that to accomplish this, I would need to update the firmware on my Retro IC Chip Tester device, and all the ensuing troubles I’d had accomplishing this.

I did for a while think about creating a test vector file for my own legacy IC tester, but then I thought, “what happens if I use a chip that is faulty to test my test file”. Also, there are a lot of combinations to test and to be honest, I really couldn’t be bothered to enter all the required test data. The GUI I use for setting up these test files isn’t the best, so I started hacking that around to make it nicer to use and then realised “WHAT AM I DOING”… I just want to test some chips and because I can’t update the firmware in my Retro chip tester, I’m now going to blow several days re-writing some legacy code to get my legacy; and to be frank, very inferior IC tester working. This is ridiculous. At some point I know I’m going to have to crack the problem getting the Retro tester updated, so may as well spend the time figuring out a solution sooner rather than later.

Obviously what I needed was a decent programmer. The recommended one I couldn’t find. Well, it’s available from the EU but the UK isn’t in the EU anymore and nobody will ship it to the UK because of the customs paperwork. Way to go Boris…

More research and I found the solution was sitting under my nose and it took me only 20 mins or so to get a working solution.

I have to say I’m still not a fan of the ATMEL series of processors. From what I can see; and I’m obviously generalising and haven’t spent half my lifetime researching this, but it seems the programming side is geared towards LINUX and MAC users. I would find programming hardware but then getting drivers to work with Windows 10 was enough to send your crazy.

As it happens, you can use an Arduino as a programmer and it just needs a simple cable making and all the software required is supplied as an example project within the Arduino IDE. So, soldering iron in hand, a scrap piece of ribbon cable and a 6 pin header socket I made the required cable, and hey presto it works.

I’m so happy this works that I’ve placed the Arduino and my interface cable in a box, and stuck a label on it “Programmer for Chip Tester” and it’s staying on the shelf right where I can get at it for next time. I don’t mind dedicating an Arduino to this as I’ve got several.

Happy that I’d managed to update my Retro Chip tester I proceeded to test the 74590 chips and as I suspected, 11 out of the batch were faulty. I’m pretty sure they are fakes and you’ve got to wonder how long the working ones will last. Since the chips have the Hitachi stamp on them, I’m half tempted to contact them and see what they say. Anyway, I’ve enough chips for the project in mind and if I start getting odd results my fully updated Retro Chip tester can quickly give me a go/no go indication of a chips functionality.

** UPDATE **

When I said “fully updated”… I am now mistaken. Literally I’d just completed chip testing when an Email arrived informing me there was a new version of the Retro Chip tester firmware available. I’m not going to update it again. Firstly I don’t want to press my luck and second I’m not a fan of using the latest version of firmware for anything unless I really have to.

A chap I used to work with used to say “better to be at the trailing edge of the bleeding edge”… he’s been proven right on several occasions and I’m sticking to that rule. At least now I know how to do it and I’ve got the hardware tools ready.

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