Circuit Description

News

06-29-2010
New software release 1.00.11.

Fixed bug in pendulum Mode 0 which would only light some of the quarter hour lights on after a razzle. The lights are now forced on.

06-09-2010
New software release 1.00.10.

Modified the code to write the clock's sense of the time out to the rtc before each razzle (auto or otherwise). This compensates for the inaccuracy of the crystal on the RTC board.

05-29-2010
New software release 1.00.09.

Restricted the minimum time that sync time can be set to 60 seconds. Times less than that can make it hard to comunicate with the clock.

02-25-2010
New software release 1.00.08.

Modified to detect and use the RTC on power up if it's present.

Modified to detect AC or DC power and generate 60hz if DC power is detected. (This only works for 14.7456MHZ crystals).

Reduced the help messages as well as other strings to make room for the above changes.

01-17-2010
New software release 1.00.07.

Modified to have pendulum mode 0 set the lamps always on.

Modified to have the sync time to always occure at the top of the interval (an interval of 3600 will be the top of the hour)

11-02-2009
New software release 1.00.06. Modified code to calculate the current time directly from the zero crossings without converting to milliseconds first to eliminate the rounding errors that were occurring.
10-24-2009
New software release 1.00.05. The code was modified to allow advancing the minutes and hours by clicking the buttons as well as just holding them down.
The nixie tube clock consists of a high voltage power supply, seven rings counters and an Atmel AVR processor. The power supply is shown in schematic Schematic 1. It takes 12 volts AC and converts it to DC which drives the Maxim 1771 switching power supply to generate 160 volts. The Maxim 1771 operates by effectively shorting the 12 volts DC to ground through the coil L1 using the MOSFET Q1. When it turns off Q1, this releases the coil from ground and a large positive spike is generated which is then stored in an electrolytic capacitor C3. The diode D1 keeps the capacitor from discharging back though the circuit. Resistors R2, R4 and the potentiometer R3 make a voltage divider which feeds a small voltage back to the Maxim IC so that it can adjust the pulses frequency and duty cycle to regulate the voltage. Resistor R5 and zener diode Z1 are used to regulate down this down to 120 volts do drive the ring counters. The AC input is also used to provide a 60hz signal to the first ring as well as an interrupt to the processor.


Schematic 1 - Power Supply

Three of the ring counters divide by 6, 3 others divide by 10 and the last ring divides by 12. The divide by 6 rings and the divide by 10 rings are paired to count the 60hz down to 1hz, the 1hz to 1cpm and the 1cpm to an hourly pulse. Each of the rings are similar. The difference being the trigger circuit is different for the first two rings than the subsequent rings.

The first two rings use a single transistor to drive them, while a 3 transistor circuit is used to provide clean consistent pulses to drive the remaining rings. In addition to the different triggering circuits, the minutes and 10s of minutes rings have half of the diodes replaced with the base emitter junction of a transistor. Those transistors as well as others are used to drive the digits of the nixie tubes.

Schematic 2 is indicative of the divide by 10 rings. It depicts the simpler 1 transistor trigger circuit which is used in the first 2 rings which divide the 60hz down to 1hz. Notice that the transistor is capacitively coupled to the ring driving the positive side towards ground in short pulses.


Schematic 2 - 10 Stage Ring Counter

The ring counters work by relying on the fact that the neon lamps require a higher voltage to turn on than to remain lit. Schematic 2 will be used to explain the operation of the ring.

On initially powering up the ring, one (maybe more) lamps will light. We will assume that lamp GL3 is lit. This will put a 5 to 10 volt drop across R3 which will charge C3 to the same voltage through D4. If a positive pulse is applied to "Pulse In" a negative pulse will be applied to the ring counter which should extinguish the GL3. This will bring the voltage level on the resistor side of C3 to 0 which will force the diode side of the C3 to -5 to -10 volts. As the voltage is re-established on the ring, lamp GL4 will light up first because it will have the additional voltage of the capacitor as an advantage over the others. Once it lights, it will draw enough current through the 150K resistor R11 to lower the voltage on the ring down below the level that any of the other lamps will be able to light. The lighting of lamp GL4 will then charge C4 and the process will continue with each pulsing of "Pulse In". To cascade rings, "Pulse Out" can be taken from the lamp side of any of the 11K resistors which are tied to ground. It must not be loaded too heavily by the successive stage or its operation will be effected. One important thing to remember, as far as the overall nixie clock is considered, the stage which is used for "Pulse Out" will be 0 for that ring. This is most important for the minutes and 10s of minutes rings.

Schematic 3 is indicative of the divide by 6 rings. It depicts the more complex 3 transistor trigger circuit used in the latter 5 rings. This trigger circuit uses the first two transistors to clean up the pulses from the previous stage which then are capacitively coupled to the third stage which is then tied directly to the ring. This provides a short clean pulse to ground with each input transition from low to high.

Schematic 3 also depicts the nixie tube drivers. For driving the nixie tubes, 3 of the diodes tied to ground in the standard ring are replaced with the base-emitter junction of a transistor. When the neon lamp lights, the transistor turns on which lights the appropriate digit. This works for half of the digits. To drive the other half of the digits, a transistor is tied to the lamp side of the resistor through a resistor. The transistor drivers are only used in the ring for the minutes and the ring for the 10s of minutes.


Schematic 3 - 6 Stage Ring Counter with Nixie Drivers

To indicate hours, a twelve stage ring (which is not shown) is used. This ring is similar to the divide by 10 stage adding 2 stages to the ring as well as using the 3 transistor trigger circuit.

Schematic 4 shows the CPU of the nixie tube clock. It's purpose is to track the time by counting the cycles of the 60hz wall current and periodically resetting the clock to the correct time afeter doing a short dance for the sake of eye candy. The main purpose of having the CPU reset the clock is to compensate for the inevitable mis-counting of one of the rings. Unfortunately, as time goes on, the characteristics of the bulbs change which will cause rings to mis-count. If it gets bad enough, the ring will have to have a bulb replaced.


Schematic 4 - CPU

If you have any problems about this site, please email
joe (at) croftj.net
© Copyright Joe Croft 2011