Category Archives: HP 8642B Synthesized Signal Generator

HP 8642A Signal Generator: Further repairs

After quite a bit of traveling and other time consuming endeavors, back to the 8642A. After the repairs described earlier, the unit was working fine, until some some escaped from the A2 assembly, which has the low frequency source – one of the tantalums blew. No problem, this can happen for a 30 year old unit that hasn’t been used for while. With close inspection, I discovered not only the defective tantalum, but also two resistors to be defective-burnt.

These resistors are in the supply circuits of some of the amplifiers, to remove ripple from the power supplies.

These are the parts, R17 and the blown C17, and R23. Maybe C27 has some issues as well?

The burnt parts marked in red:

… same case for R23. Note that the resistors had about 12 ohms and 15 ohms, so they did not fail open, and this is why the A2 assembly had no functional defect.

Further tests showed that C27 is perfectly fine. Maybe some overload occurred out the output, or the resistor R23 has some weak design (these are only 50 mW resistors!).

The repair is easy, just put in 22 Ohm resistors (0.4 Watt metal film – don’t have any 19.6 Ohm resistors here, but for the given purpose, 22 Ohms is good enough). The 10 uF tantalums C17 and C27, I replaced by 10 uF multilayer ceramic capacitors.

Carrying out the full self test (Shift-Preset-Shift-SPCL-330-Hz).

It takes a while to test the unit, several minutes, but all tests passed with no issue. Modulation output and amplitudes are fine as well.

As you can tell, I have also fixed the backlight (same as before – some high efficiency white LEDs and two 120 Ohm resistors; keep in mind, the common pin for the backlight is ground, and the bulbs are driven by -5 Volts, so, make sure to get the polarity right).

Last but not least – I also replaced the front frame of the instrument, I had a spare back home in Germany, and carried it over to Japan at the occasion of the last visit in Germany, end of March.

HP 8642A Signal Generator: To be, or not to be a parts unit

The HP 8642A is the cheaper brother (or sister) of the 8642B (see here, I have two of the 8642B around and still use them quite a lot, one in Japan, one in Germany), it is essentially the same unit, but the “B” has a built-in doubler to effectively double the frequency range. The 8642A works up to 1057 MHz, good enough for most HAM purposes. It has all the desirable HP high frequency goodies inside, including, a set of precision 140 dB attenuators, and a huge number of parts that would come in handy for repair of other RF gear, everything of highest quality, low noise transistor, high reliability tantalums, a box of cables and connectors, and at least 20 kg of case aluminum. So, I did not hesitate to buy this unit for the scrap price of the aluminum contained. It also has a low distortion modulation source, which is also very useful, and has a may high quality relais and opamps.

The unit is somewhat dirty, seems it had been sitting in some storage room for a while, and looking at the fan inside, it also has seen some hours of operation (which is not necessarily a bad thing).
The front frame has a mechanical damage, some part is missing – fortunately, no damage to the front panel. But I have some spare HP System II frames, let’s see.

Strangely enough, one module is quite shiny, the case aluminum had some other surface treatment – also, it has a later date code (1989), compared to the other units (1985-87). Upon close inspection of the connectors there are slight scratches – seems this module has been replaced. The 8642A had a field repair program based on module exchange (even the specs were guaranteed after such exchange), quite likely that this module had failed after a couple years of service.

After a quick power up test – nothing to report, the unit is not powering up at all. Took all the panels off, and checked the voltages – nothing present. Checking around the rectifiers and capacitors – all is good here, but the voltage regulators (+-5.2 V, +-15 V, and +-50 V) won’t start up, even when I try to force them. Checked the rails – disconnected the cable (ribbon cable) from the supply assy (A17) to the power distribution board. The 15 V line has a hard 0 Ohms short!

15 Minutes later – checked each module. And the shiny one has the short! A bad 10 uF Tantalum (25 V rated, running at 15 V – should usually be good enough). Replaced it with a 15 uF, 25 V Kemet – no 10 uF Tantalums here in my Japan workshop.

Still, before we proceed, let’s be careful with the power supply. Not that it starts up, and has some issues, and all the modules are gone. Easier said than done – there are sense wires going to the power distribution board, and, a ground sense wire going to the rectifier board (A18). I didn’t bother to study the schematic and notes too precisely, there it says: sense ground, connected to a screw and to the chassis. Of course, I had removed this screw, and now wonding why the supply won’t work…

That’s how this screw and trace looks on the schematic.

Fixed it with a jumper wire, still no success.

Fortunately, only minor trouble, a dead Zener in the 15 V crowbar (using a Zener-Thyristor-SCR circuit, marked red below). And, by design of the supply, if the 15 V is dead, all supplies stop.

After this fix, the supply is starting up, and all voltages are accurate to 5 mV, with no adjustments… this is real quality. And with the supply, the unit is starting up, and passing the start up self test, and even the extended self test (preset-shift-330-Hz), no issues.

Not so high quality are the elastomeric materials used – two kind of foam, one of low density, which completly desintegrated to a black glue like substance (same applies to the 8642Bs I have, so it is a material age issue, not related to the storage or use condition). First, scratching off all the old stuff with a credit card. The bottom cover was a mess, so I don’t show pictures (couldn’t touch the camera with the gloves).

Everything cleaned off. Below, these are the craps (including a chocolate bar cover, which you will need after this messy work).

The new foam pieces (not shown), were all cut to the precise shapes, and mounted with double-side tape (carpet tape).

There will be some further repairs needed (the backlight is not working, and I need to get a good front frame from my German junk pile), but some initial tests were done. Phase noise is good, at least as much as I can check, vs. a 8662A, tested at some random frequencies (10 and 56-odd below).

Note, at above 10 kHz, the 8662A has higher phase noise than the 8642A, so the test can only show the overall function and absence of phase noise issues (for the 8642A) above these frequencies.

There are issues with the attenuators. And flatness, see below. Even with a rather crude spectrum analyzer as flatness indicator, all within 1 dB easily, over the full span.

All in all, still a good unit, and I won’t yet use it for parts and spares.

HPAK 8642B Synthesized Signal Generator: backlight replacement

The 8642B is an excellent generator, very clean, at least at offsets >1 kHz, hard to beat. It is also very heavy, thanks to a special modular concept that HP was pushing at the time. Their intention was to make the unit more serviceable, with the result that the generator is super heavy, and so expensive that it never was a real commercial success for HP. Frequency range is from below 100 kHz, to 2115 MHz. Pretty useful, with amplitudes from -140 dBm to 20 dBm.

The generator has a rather large (for the time) LCD display – fully story can be found in the HP Journal, December 1985.

backlight assy

backlight detail

The backlight has a very thoroughly designed light diffusor, which directs light from two 5V axial bulbs evenly to the LCD. Sure enough, these bulbs can burn out.

Some webpages claim that such bulbs would only last a few 100, maybe 1000s of hours, but such statements are incorrect. The bulbs used, 5 V, 115 mA, will typically last about 40000 hours, much longer than common household light bulbs.

t-1 axial lamp

These little bulbs have 1.9 Lumen each, not bad. To replace with a LED, 14000 mcd, at 25 deg angle, are about 2.2 Lumen. Close enough.

Found some 3 mm superbright white LEDs:

ligitek superbright 3 mm white

0.04 USD each!! Amazing!

Also these won’t least forever, white LEDs do lose intensity over time, like, 50% remaining intensity after 20000 hours.
I decided to run them below the rated current, at about 16 mA (120 Ohm series resistor with 5.2 V supply). Maybe this will make them last a bit longer.

Note that the backlight is software-controllable (special functions 134 and 234). This is how it is implemented (let me know if you need to full schematics of the 8642A or 8642B):

8642b backlight driver

The resistors (1.8 Ohm) make sure that the lamps operate at 5.0 Volts, not 5.2 Volts, and don’t interfere with the operation of the LEDs. Quite amazingly, running at 5.2 V vs. 5.0 V would reduce the life span from 40000 hours, to 25000 hours!

5-0 volts bulb
5-2 volts bulb

Agilent sold these bulbs for about USD 18 each!!

No mechanical modification of the 8642B at all, the LED and the resistor fit well into the cavity (don’t worry about the lens of the LED – the light will find its way.

8642b backlight mod

The result:

8642b backlight uneven

– not to my full satisfaction (non-uniform brightness, looks a bit dark on the left hand side, albeit, very easy to read).

After a bit of head scratching – turns out I soldered in the left LED with incorrect polarity – so it can’t work.

With this little mistake corrected, all is good:

8642b backlight

Now, let’s hope that these LEDs will last. Never mind, I have a bag of spares!

Note: the display assembly is said to be rather ESD sensitive. Make sure not to damage it!