For several years I have been looking for a HP 3335A, which is probably the most precision level generator that is available. Some of the more recent devices struggled to keep up with the performance, so the 3335A is still used in some calibration labs, and has thus been quite expensive even until now. This time, in Japan, I found a non working unit for 10 EUR (!!!) including a precision OCXO reference. It is a very clean and late unit (about 1991), but not showing any signs of operation.
The front panel, it is pristine, with no scratch or anything. Maybe a rarely used instrument from some remote Japanese cal lab or university.
The key part, the attenuator, it is a marvel of engineering, don’t touch it without reading first the repair instructions.
The 1990 HP catalog entry, 0.05 dB absolute level accuracy, 0.07 dB flatness. Such performance did not come cheap, 13000 US dollars in 1990….
To achieve the frequency resolution, a fractional N loop was used, it is one of the first instruments that used such PLL technique.
The RF boards are in two metal enclosures, pretty heavy extruded aluminum.
After some tests, pretty obvious faults – the -5 and -15 V rails are dead. There is unregulated voltage present, so it must be something with the regulators, a classic design with darlington pass transistors, and opamps to regulate the voltage and current.
The strange thing, with the modules disconnected, the rails come back to the precise voltages.
Made a plug with a 27 Ohm resistor to load the rails a bit, and, they immediately drop to near-zero. Seems there is not enough capability to drive current.
Took out the pass transistors, and tested these by driving 1 mA of current – but no amplification or anything. Open circuit.
Opened up both transistors, and both have the same defect – the die is not attached to the case any more, somehow, time, heat or something destroyed them (overload is unlikely, because the current regulation loop and foldback is working).
The original parts 1853-0415, power darlington, seem to be equivalent to PMD13K60 of a mysterious Lambda semiconductor company.
There are NPN and PNP complementary sets available. It is a fairly standard darlington power transistor.
From the web, we get another proof, there HP installed the parts with the original part number, rather than re-labeled to HP number.
The replace, the 2N6052 seems to be a good replacement. So I ordered a few – waiting.
As a backup, also ordered some KD366B which seem very strong and well fabricated.
The NPN transistors seem still Ok, but who knows, they might have the same manufacturing defect, so I ordered some BDX87B (which are ST devices universally compatible with various NPN power darlington transistors up to about 100 V; nowadays, all these power darlingtons seem to have the same die inside).
Now, let’s wait for the transistors, stay posted!
3 thoughts on “HP 3335A Synthesizer/Level Generator: a marvelous piece of engineering and precision”
Now that is an interesting failure mode, detached dies I have never encountered before. Very curious to see if the replacement Darlingtons will fix it. I’d guess the answer will be ‘yes’.
€10… Japan most definitely is an Alladin’s Cave when it comes to very nice classical HP equipment!
Nice to meet you.
The connector with round pins, which is used in some products such as HP’s 3335A, does not work well with the board and causes solder cracks.
Over a long period of time, poor contact seems to destroy the transistor.
Check the soldering of the connector.
Thank You, it is a good point, will check. Had some similar contact issue with transistor contacts with an 3326a! At that time there were burn marks.