HP 436A Power Meter: a strange analog ground issue

This power meter had been received with strange defect, a permanent overrange error, irrespective of any settings or input to the sensor. Sure enough, in most cases, this would be because of a dead sensor – but not here.
The 436A is a really simple instrument, at first glance, but with its design dating back over 40 years (mid-1970s), it has a remarkable complex design to achieve the A/D conversion, and to use something close to a CPU, at the time, called a state controller.

What was wrong with this unit? Something with the analog ground driver.

Checking the A2 and A3 assemblies, it turned out that the analog ground was floating, at about -6 V. Strange! And, simple enough, grounding the analog ground on either A2 or A3 solved the issue! For a temporary fix, a wire was added, from the board edge connector, to chassis ground. Need to look at the analog ground driver…

436a analog ground wire

Using chassis ground for general grounding – an indication of the dated design, and some of these board use 3 or 4 separate grounding path to keep noise down…

436a analog gnd schematic

After this fix, working again (still need to check out what it wrong with the analog ground driver).

Update: found the issue – lower right and corner of above diagram, this is the analog ground driver (also supplying analog ground to the A3 assembly (via mother board) – transistor Q1 found dead, a 1854-0003 (which is equivalent to 1854-0637, JEDEC 2n2219A, or any other ordinary 0.8 W NPN transistor).

436a 1854-0003 2n2219a

Soldered in a 2n2219A, and removed the temporary ground wire. Fix done.

436a analog ground circuit

After a full calibration and extended test, the instrument is rock stable, both for zero point, and 1 mW input. Also checked linearity, and it appears to be better than any means available here to check… most likely, better than 0.1 dB.

Output of the 50 MHz 1 mW cal source – cross checked with a calibrated HP power meter, 437B , and in agreement within 0.01 dB – good enough!

436a pwr meter working

Some other issue with this unit – a stuck analog indicator. After disassembling the front panel, used a razor blade to open up the plastic case of the indicator, and some mechanical adjustment of the inner workings fixed the issue.

436a analog indicator

436a front panel

The 7 segment decoders, these use heat transfer compound, for some pretty unusual way for HP design – being pushed vs. the front panel for cooling. To make sure these stay cool, I added some fresh white stuff.

436a dm9374 7seg decoder driver latch

The decoders are quite remarkable anyway, for their time – these are latching decoders with constant current output, high level integration for the early 70s….

HP 8663A Signal Generator: another power supply repair

Always good to do a proper test of equipment after repair – especially, after a power supply repair – see recent post 8663A pwr supply repair. In most cases, all will be fine, but this time, another failure followed the initial repair: the -10 V rail showed an error, only providing about -8 V to the instrument, not enough, to keep it going. An issue with the A7A1 assembly, linear regulator board, hp part 08662-60157 (the HP 8662A uses an identical assembly).

After some checks it was clear that the final pass transistor Q2 was OK, and that there was no current limit issue (by checking the voltage drop over the sense resistor, R36).

8663a pwr -10v section a7a1 08662-60157

So, I guessed, something must be wrong with U2, the actual regulator. This is a 1826-0016, alias LM104H. Not quite a common part, at least, I didn’t have a spare on hand. Found some new old stock online, about USD 3 per piece, well, not too bad. It arrived a few days later, but, the exchange of U2 was to no avail – still no regulation.

8663a pwr lm104h alias hp 1826-0016

Well, I should have done a proper check earlier – turns out, the transistor Q7 (2N2904A) didn’t provide enough current for the final stage, despite being fully driven by U2. This time, I had more luck and found a 2N2904A in my parts collection (datecode: 7050 – 46 years old – but still working, hfe=170).

8663a pwr 2n2904a

Some final test with a 25 Ohms power resistor to test under load, before risking any damage to the venerable 8663A. And, long story short, all is good now.

8663a pwr test setup