Category Archives: Test Equipment Repairs

For some, it is like solving crossword puzzles: fixing defective test equipment. Preferably, mid-70 to early 90s vintage.

HP Attenuators: another great method to fix them

Thanks to a kind contributor there is a new way of fixing the HP step attenuators that are ubiquitous in the various HP and Agilent generators, analyzers.
These attenuators exhibit some common failures modes-

(1) blown pads – fix by replacing with pads from good donor units. Keep in mind that even if the pad value is the same, there are pads of different geometry/length!
(2) mechanical issues with aged O-rings, easy to fix, best use some FKM O-rings
(3) the broken-off contact fingers, difficult to fix unless you have some precision equipment like a good milling machine or fine drill.

Here is an alternative way to fix it – use some two component epoxy glue after removing the remaining plastic parts from the contact finger by heat (heat gun or hot plate, about 200 degC).

To ensure a permanent repair, a piece of FR4 is affixed with epoxy glue. Sure enough this is not quite ideal for high GHz frequencies, but no problem up to 2 or 3 GHz.


HP 856x and 859x Series Spectrum Analyzer: Rubber keypad issues with 8561e 8562e 8563e 8593e 8593e 8596e, etc.

The famous and still very common HP 856x and 859x analyzers come in two versions of keypads, the earlier A, B models have hard-plastic buttons that go to individual switches, while the later models feature rubber keypads. Sure such rubber pads are good to touch and easy to use, however, very commonly they develop issues over time for these HP instruments, the buttons will eventually only react to the strongest push, making the analyzer bothersome to use.

Having fixed many of these, here the instructions how to fix the issue, and the repair seems to hold up well (some instruments already fixed 8 years back still good today).

To remove the keypad, you have to take off all the front panel, carefully disconnect the SMA connectors, and make sure not to damage the power cable. Best do it on an ESD surface, or other non static surface like an old moist carpet, a piece of cardboard, or wood. Make sure all is clean (this instrument doesn’t tolerate cut-off wires and solder droplets inside, floating around on your workbench).

Disassembly proceeds with some good screwdrivers.

The keypad has some extensions, these must be pushed out, don’t pull off the keypad from the front!!

Soak the whole rubber in 70% Isopropyl alcohol (I take 99.9% and mix with distilled water), good enough to soak for 5 minutes at room temperature, then just take it out, dry overnight on a paper towel, maybe cover it up with some paper if you are in a dusty workshop.

The board with the gold contacts, I first wash it with 99.9% isopropanol, then use an abrasive sponge (ultrafine), to give it a light polish, just one stroke, at an 45 degree angle over the contact area, and another stroke prependicular to it. Don’t scratch off the gold! Afterwards clean and polish a bit with a paper towel and pure isopropanol. Let it dry overnight.

Then, after assembly (don’t overtighten the SMA connectors, don’t squeeze or damage any of the cables, don’t use force on the boards), all will be good.

Working like new, how pleasant to use!

HP 8566B Spectrum Analyzer: lock and roll issues

With the 8566B main issues fixed, I carried out extensive tests, also switching it on and off many times, running it for a while. So far so good. With all the tests, discovered only one issue, unstable display for spans above 5 MHz.

The instability is difficult to see on the picture, it is a bit random, and at slow sweep, the trace becomes very wobbly and noisy. Jumps around. The common suspects are the A19, A20, and maybe A21 assemblies, these control the YTO. There are various capacitors on these boards that may fail or leak. Or some dead bits on the DAC, or similar. A bit strange that it works so well below 5 MHz span – isn’t it? Not really, because the 8566B has a different mode of operation, depending on the sweep width. Below 5 MHz, the LO stays locked all the time, above, it is only locked at the start of the sweep, and then the YTO is swept just be increasing the tuning coil current in a linear (and linearized) fashion.

After considerable study, probing, checking capacitors, including desoldering some – no success. Some more checks, solder joints fixed, finally, so occasional improvement. Touching the assemblies A19, A20, some response.
From that, suspected a contact issue with the board edge connectors, and indeed, these were not very clean. So I gave them a thorough treatment with polishing cloth, rubber erasor, alcohol. Reseated the boards, A19 and A20.

Finally, the sweep is very stable. Seems a lot of unnecessary concerns about capacitors and such, but well, finally, fixed. Screen shows a reference (stored) trace with slightly below 5 MHz, and a longer time max-hold display, slighly above 5 MHz span. Clearly, not much noise and instability. All looking good.

HP 8566B Spectrum Analyzer: Defective and fake transistors, and finally, a HP 4-404 equivalent

Recently, I got a HP 8566B at very low cost, unknown working condition of course. First, it would not power on, at least not fully. Some activity on the 8566B, but no display at the 85662A display unit.
Clearly, next step, to open it all up and do a good survey. Quickly found the issue in the 85662A power supply board. While all the other boards where good and clean, the power supply boards are directly in the airstream and showed some leg corrosion of transistors. Especially, 2n2369A transistors, and the famous 4-404 HP transistors (not that the 4-404 is anything special, but there are no replacements mentioned by HP.

Recently I found in some late 8662A boards that HP subsitute the then obsolete 4-404 with a MPS6521, a high gain NPN transistor. So I did the same and put in BC337-25 (-40 may be a closer match but not at hand here).

With these fixes, the 8566V turns on just fine, but it doesn’t turn off well. The 5.2 V rail goes high a little, and then nothing happens, no power down, when you switch the analyzer off. So measures all currents and voltages in the 5.2 V supply, and finally traced it to a defect of the main power transistor, a 2n5886 equivalent power NPN transistor in TO-3 case.

Checked it out internally, the defect is actually within the area of the bonding wire connection. So the transistor became better, non conducting, once I pulled of the bonding wires and measured directly on the die.

Quickly ordered some 2n5886 from China, a bag of 5 for less than a dollar a piece including shipping. Well, you get what you pay for. Look at the small die, the missing plate (die is directly bonded to the steel case, the bonding wires much thinner).

Doesn’t look like a genuine ON brand device, even the marking is not in accordance to the datasheet.

For comparison, the HP-Motorola part:

Tried to fix it with a 2n3055 temporarily, but it turns out there is not enough gain with that transistor. So the rail would only go up to 4 Volts.

The 2n5886 is a quite remarkable device, high current and substantial gain.

Finally, I got hold of this “Motorola” device, it may be genuine, at least it looks like solid quality. So I unstalled it for a test.

You can see it installed, a new and shiny transistor. Soldered it in generously applying solder.

Voltage is spot on without any adjustments.

Now all seems to work, except the various IF filters need a bit of alignment.

Although they are brittle, for these adjustments ceramic screwdrivers are definitely handy. Make sure to isolate other screwdrivers, easily there can be shorts when adjusting, resulting in complicated repairs of the IF signal chain.

Finally all adjusted within the toleraces, there are all too many adjustable capacitors inside this unit!!

At least, a well worthwhile repair, because the CRT is like brand new. It seems that someone had replaced it, but then put very little further use on the unit. I plan to use it together with my microwave phase noise measurement installation, for rough characterization of microwave sources prior to engaging the complicated phase noise test gear.

HP Attenuator 33321SB AKA 33321-60026 ATTENUATOR: fixing a defective spare part

After some consideration, I decided on the fix of the the 33321SB attenuator. The defect – the plastic of the grey holders broke off, probably, a matter of age and a matter of stress in the special construction of the 33321SB with the side connector.

It is not the first attenuator that has such defect, so it seems to be a certain weakness of the HP design, albeit, a weakness showing up much after the design life.

Originally, I planned to fix it back home in Germany, with some precision machine tools – drill two holes, fit/glue two plasic rods, and the mount it in the original fashion. But currently, it is uncertain when I can go to Germany again, so I decided on an alternative fix. There are several unused HP attenuators around here, so I checked their internals for a contact of the same design (length). Take care, there are many different configurations of these attenuators that all differ in the length of the contacts, the distances between contact, and so on.

Found a good donor – now, cutting the piece with a razor blade.

The part is obviously fragile, better don’t touch the contact.

After assembly, it seems to work well and fits well. To avoid further risk of breakage, added some 2K epoxy glue underneath the metal spring – it is not visible on the picture. So I hope it will be a permanent repair. Otherwise, we will fix it again using better tools and methods.

With the spare part repaired, and installed in the 8662A, the generator is working well again, at all power levels.

HP 8753C Network Analyzer: a new old YTO, and a new old firmware

After another trip to Germany, another HP 8753C to fix. This unit had option 020, 006, a 6 GHz unit, but there is no 6 GHz test set.

First, we need to get a suitable YTO, found a good ASF-8751M, from Israel. Cleaned it up and gave it a proper test.

It is a 4-8 GHz unit, but I easily got good power down to necessary 3.6 GHz. It is a well-behaved unit, with reasonable power consumption running of +15 and -5 Volts. The heater may be better run with 24 Volts, but there is only 15 Volts in the 8753C, and it is good enough it seems.

Some modification of the PLL board, as described before, to approximately double the tuning current, installed a 20 Ohms sense resistor, and installed a BD249C transistor on a good heatsink.

A quick drawing of the heatsink, should you need it. Use 1 mm aluminum sheet. Don’t cut yourself, when cutting the metal!

The YTO, installed in the veritable source assembly. Pretty confident that this will last for a while.

This time, all worked well and the pretune correction functioned immediately, no further adjustments needed. Phase lock seems very stable at all frequencies, scan rates, and band transitions.

Out of curiosity, did a phase noise test of the 8753C in CW mode (fixed frequency mode), getting well below 100 dBc. Pretty good. Maybe better than the original YTO.

For the current unit, I also wanted to update the firmware, and install the 010 option (time domain analysis). The option installation (and EEPROM backup), done like described in an earlier post, but desoldering the EEPROM, and changing three bytes…

The unit is still running pretty old firmware.

Should be easy enough to program some 27010 EPROMs, but the devil is in the detail. After a number of incorrectly programmed EPROM, finally figured out the once of the CD4015 CMOS of the EPROMMER had failed! Fortunately, I had some in stock to fix it.

After these efforts, the 8753C is starting up with the latest (albeit, dated) firmware, and all options.

A few tests with filters and such, a very useful and well working unit. The CRT also very good, no need to install a LCD.

HP 3325B Synthesizer/Function Generator: a quick fix, and a hot transistor

Recently, I got a defective HP 3325B, it is a very useful generator even for today’s standard. It features some highly linear ramps, has great frequency resolution and a powerful output (10 Volts p-p into 50 Ohm). This unit reportedly had major issues, no output, and failures with startup. So even before switching it on, I removed the panels to check. Nothing obvious at first glance.

After a quick power on, some smell from the output section, and clearly, there are some burned resistors, and one of the power stage transistor is terribly hot, so hot that the solder melts… don’t burn you fingers!

Removed the board altogether (take care not to damage the connection flat cables!), and even the solder had some spray by heat effect, so I cleaned the area well.

To get access to the resistors, and to also do a proper test, all the transistors in the area were removed, and the transistors desoldered. All cleaned up pretty well, the board seems to be of good quality.

The 3-440 transistor aka 1853-0440, cut open. It has a tiny chip, difficult to see the damage with my means, but it is shorted to base.

The resistors, the only issue is a slightly discolored 47 Ohms carbon composition resistor, part EB4701, a 0.5, 10% tolerance resistor. Quite expensive to get, and the part, despite some signs of heat, tested good and within tolerance. So I decided not to replace this transistor, because it has an effect on the high frequency performance of the circuit.

The power amp, it is a marvelous push-pull design. It relies on complimentary NPN-PNP transistors that have high frequency power.

Nowadays, the PNP RF transistors of this sort are rare, probably they even were rare and expensive during their time.

The damaged resistors, fortunately, after a good amount of searching, I found the bags here in by temporary Japanese workshop.

The transistors, these 3-440 are equivalent to the 2N5160, and I happened to have 3 of these back in Germany, new old stock. Purchased them some years back, because they are generally not easy to get.

After these replacements, I run the adjustments and performance checks as per service manual, with no trouble at all. Also the self test passes flawlessly. We can call the generator fixed.

Out of curiosity, I checked with ebay, and there are very reasonable offers of what appear to be Chinese copies of 2N5160 transistors. They have the Motorola label, but to my knowledge, the date code is much past the obsolescence of these parts at Motorola. So I am waiting to receive these parts, and will give them a good test and study, to see if these are good replacements, or just fake.

HP 33321SB aka 33321-60026 Attenuator: HP 8662A Synthesized Signal Generator fix

Finally, I received the attenuator set for the HP 8662A repair. The very special 5+40+40 db attenuator with a side connector (rather than the usual design of these attenuators with two top SMA connectors).
However, a quick test showed that the 5 dB step is not working right. The “through” path is fine, but when I engage the 5 dB attenuator, is is something like 45 dB, unstable. Maybe a blown segment? That would be an easy fix.

So, I opened it up carefully, and found a broken contact. It seems the side connection is pushing a bit on the contact, and over the year, this design caused the plastic to fail. Tough to fix without precision drills and machine tools. So it will need to wait for the virus to clear, and for me to go to the German workshop again, to attempt an repair.

There are two small plastic studs, and they broke off, maybe the plastic got brittle over time with the pressure of the side contact pushing.
Let’s think about how to fix it, if at all possible.

Note – the seller was kind enough to refund half of the price, without having me to ship back the part, fair enough. At least some spare coils and segments should I need to fix other attenuators in the future.

HP 85662A Spectrum Analyzer Display: a quick fix of the 120 V power supply

A 85662A spectrum analyzer display for repair, the symptom (I didn’t take a picture) – a green square in the middle of the CRT -some lines are visible within, but no proper display. So, acceleration, CRT, and focus seem good – at least it seems to be a manageable fault rather. Maybe something with the XY deflection amplifiers – but why would both fail at the same time? In any case, first things first and checked the power supply. All the LEDs are on, on the power supply boards, but there is no output on the 120 VDC supply (well, some output, like 7 VDC) – the supply that is essential for the deflection system to work.

Some study of the schematic of the A1A7 assembly. Note that the voltages differ with the serial, this is a 85662-60235 part number board. Q7 is a current source that is driving the main transistor, Q8. If the voltage is trending higher, some of the Q7 current will be shunted to ground through U2.

It is a bit troublesome and dangerous to work on the life circuit (about 150 VDC at the input!). So, I did a check of all the transistors with a diode tester – and found the B-C junction of Q5 shorted. A HP part 1854-0019.

Some study of cross-reference lists, the 1854-0019 is a simple 2N2369A, found some in the basement parts storage (even a military rated and tested JANTX2369A with golden legs!).

Still, even with this fixed, no success. Further to other parts – replaced the green parts in the picture, an LM301 opamp, and another transistor, with no luck. Finally, soldered a few wires to the board and did careful checked in the circuit with power on, it can’t be helped otherwise it seems.

A few minutes later – the failure found. The Q7 current source is not giving any current, the base of Q7 is not biased properly. An open 110 kOhm resistor! It is quite rare to find defective resistors in HP equipment, but especially high value resistors running at higher voltage are prone to aging and failure, eventually.

With a simple, new resistor added, a metal film 110 kOhm, the supply is working again, and so is the 85662A.

HP 6205C Dual DC Power Supply: a generous binding posts fix

The repair itself, it is not particularly noteworthy, because this supply has served me well in the last years, in fact, it had been switched “ON” all the time to power an experimental setup.
The initial repair of this supply has been documented before, and on the pictures there it is quite visible that this supply had damaged binding posts. Seems that the prior user dropped it on the front panel.

Now the noteworthy facts, a kind reader of this blog, an American fellow, had a few of these posts at hand, from a HP plotter. He kindly sent them to me, free of charge!

So, as a result of the kindness of the reader, and the standardization of the parts HP used in their equipment, the power supply is now in better shape than ever before.

Did a few tests, like, checking ripple current at full load, and electrical safety – ground resistance, but all looking good.