Name that Ware, August 2009

This month’s ware is pictured below. Click on the photos for a much larger version.

This month’s ware is a user-submitted ware. This ware doesn’t quite qualify as a “production” ware but it does qualify as a very interesting ware, partially because of its vintage and its relative sophistication. I’d be surprised if anyone out there could exactly identify what this ware is, but I’m thinking someone out there can at least name the general function and origin of this ware…when I name the winner I’ll post some interesting details about the ware!

52 Responses to “Name that Ware, August 2009”

  1. JCash says:

    From the looks of it its some expansion board
    looking into those TI’s there

  2. Ben Hutchings says:

    It’s an expansion board, but for what? It doesn’t appear to fit an ISA slot – it has 60 pins but then an extra 2, and the board will collide with the edges of the slot. It isn’t an Apple II, S-100 or Unibus board either.

    The TI chips presumably each have four logic gates.

    The apparently loose wire makes me wonder whether it’s supposed to be an antenna. Could this be a packet radio device?

  3. gpshead says:

    I’ve never seen the tin can packages (op amps?) mounted upside down with the legs splayed out and over like that, nor the two lead components folded back over. Perhaps surface mount assembled by hand with no way to solder anything this tightly if the leads were simply cut short into pads? I’m also assuming there was a component height restriction for the board to fit into whatever slot it fits into.

    It looks like its doing some signal processing or generation but I have no idea what. It doesn’t look digital, though ADC or DAC is a possibility. Even though the TI name makes me think DSP today, this has the feel of being way before that time.

    nice serial number. intrigued.

  4. J. Peterson says:

    My guess would be 70’s vintage military avionics or control system of some sort. The expensive gold-plated mil-spec 5400 series TTL (vs. more common 7400) and the solid body (non-color code) resistors indicate military or serious industrial use. It’s kind’ve tricky to guess what the analog stuff was with the TO-5 cans upside down. My guess would be they’re op-amps and comparators to feed the digital chips at the top. The digital chips are all very basic gates and flip-flops.

    Obviously a prototype (hand fixit wires, “S/N 001”). I guess the expected production run was less than 1000…

  5. KE5FX says:

    Going to guess part of an inertial guidance system from (as J. P. says above) either military avionics, or even civilian. More likely civilian than military, since it did, after all, see the light of day.

    Date codes seem to be in the 1971 era.

    Not cheap, whatever it was.

  6. DavidR says:

    I think those wires aren’t (all) fixits; the board seems to have an interior ground plane and a single internal signal layer; for that kind of component density, the designers may well have needed jumpers to fit it all in.

    Others have noted the 5400/7400 distinction. I add that the tolerances on the components are all very tight (all those 1/4% capacitors, for example). The components seem weirdly overspecced too; it would take 700V to hit the limits of those .5W 1Meg resistors, but this doesn’t seem to be a high voltage board. And the resistors seem so huge that a space constrained designer wouldn’t use them just for fun. Clearly I’m missing something; I’m curious to learn what. If the voltage ratings on the caps are to be paid attention to, this isn’t just some simple +/-15V signal processing.

    This board does not appear vibration-hardened, so I don’t think it’s avionics. At least I’d want those wires potted down before I got on the plane. Or maybe this is just the prototype?

    What’s up with the two shielded cables across the top of the front side?

    I am going to guess it’s something RF, just because of those cables and because there seems to be some amount of power flowing around the place. With 0 confidence, I will guess it’s a digitally-controlled FHSS radio. (Or heck, maybe prototype hardware for AMPS which was demonstrated 2 years after these date codes)

  7. […] Name that Ware, August 2009 @ bunnie’s blog! This month’s ware is a user-submitted ware. This ware doesn’t quite qualify as a “production” ware but it does qualify as a very interesting ware, partially because of its vintage and its relative sophistication. I’d be surprised if anyone out there could exactly identify what this ware is, but I’m thinking someone out there can at least name the general function and origin of this ware…when I name the winner I’ll post some interesting details about the ware! Filed under: random — by adafruit, posted August 23, 2009 at 11:00 pm […]

  8. aonomus says:

    Judging from the fact that all the cans are upside down above a ground plane, probably the entire circuit was noise sensitive with some really expensive opamps. There is some coax and the odd loose wire, and all the logic chips are gold plated surface mount devices, something probably not too common for the era that it came out of.

    Its most certainly a radio, since its only a prototype it probably only got bench testing, but all the gold-coated IC’s up top almost hints at something requiring radiation hardening, perhaps it was meant for a satellite of some sort?

  9. J. Peterson says:

    If it was a radio, I’d expect a few inductors in the analog mix (particularly for that vintage). This mix looks much more measurement oriented. Another possibility is some sort of early digital test equipment or lab instrumentation (would explain the use of such high-spec parts).

  10. Oren T says:

    @gpshead: I a not sure the upside-down cans are for grounding as you guessed. If you want to glue them to the board so their weight won’t stress the leads you have to put them upside down. If that is the case, anything heavier than a small resistor is probably glued, too. The board screw mounts are massive and numerous. I also note the lack of trimmer pots for calibration. You would typically trimmers in such circuits but they are sensitive to vibration.

    The wires seem much flimsier than the rest of the circuit and are not glued in place. Perhaps these are later fixes that never left the lab.

    The most common logic part other than basic gates seems to be the 54L73 Dual J-K flip flop. It’s a very versatile component so it’s hard to know if it was used for counters or shift registers. If I am feeling VERY bored I might start to analyze the traces…

  11. mazzoo says:

    my guess it’s some kind of analog calculator (add/sub/integrate/differentiate/…). Thats my vague conclusion, as I think I see lots of OPAMPs there.

  12. b says:

    my guess is that it’s a possibly telemetry related satellite or other spacecraft processing board, mid to late 1960’s.

  13. Aris says:

    Looks like it has core memory – my guess is a board from an old DEC PDP model maybe a PDP-8?

    • Aris says:

      I’m not so sure on the core memory now. Whatever it is, it looks like it has been at the bottom of a swamp.

    • Wang-Lo says:

      I don’t see a core memory. But the component-free rectangle is about the right size to accomodate a small core memory on the adjacent board.

  14. oPossum says:

    I think it is an ADC board. It has a mix of digital and precision analog components. The 54xx gates may implement SAR or multi-slope logic for analog to digital conversion. Could be from a DSO or DAQ system.

    • James Snyder says:

      I agree with this guess, something related to sampling or data acquisition. I’ve not yet found an oscillator on there, but perhaps it’s either in a form I’m not seeing or it’s run off of an off-board system clock?

  15. Toxicshadow says:

    If i had to hazard a guess at the opamps i would prob assume something like the following:

    It seems odd that they are upside down, as others have suggested i would have expected them to have been soldered to a ground plane to reduce noise problems. Even the transitors are mounted upside down aswell.

    I wonder if they had problems with the joints fracturing on the logic IC’s. Gold and solder dont go together too well due to Gold Leaching.

  16. Ryan says:

    I’m guessing that it is prototype civilian work for military application. Probably mobile radar signal processing or radio triangulation/signal tracking oddities that were in use and studied in the 60’s and 70’s.

    I maintained and crewed the AN/TPQ-46A Radar system in the Marines and after looking at a lot of the older boards and talking to the old guys that that were around then I could see this being used back then.

  17. Anon says:

    I can tell you that it was not a part of any military avionics package. Even prototypes have to be MIL spec’d and you can bet that dead-bugged ICs and loose wires wouldn’t make the cut.

  18. dan braun says:

    With all the gold-plated mil-spec SNC54L78, SNC54L30T, SNC54L00T TTL chips, the vibration dampened upside down TO-220 cans, all the shielding and mini-ax, and low tolerance caps and resistors, I’d guess that it likely something space hardened for a satellite control system or millitary avionics.


  19. Steve Shockley says:

    Judging by the date codes on the ICs, I’d say it was probably made in early ’72 or later.

  20. feroze says:

    Wow, never seen anything like this before. Digital ICs with legs splayed out from the body, those upside down transistors and op-amps. Also, the analog components seem to be very old – the black cans are wire-wound resistors. The thing I am curious about is that big round thing on the lower right corner, which seems to have 4 pins, but only 3 are used.

    Looking from the mounting spacers on the board, I would assume that this board is a module, meant to be stacked one on top of the other, and the bus on the side is to connect the boards together. The design of the edge connector looks like it is for an original PC/XT bus.

    A google search for RNR65J (one of the components on the board) turned up a document on a japanese website which seems to hint that it is for some sort of space application.

  21. David Fowler says:

    Maybe an analog computer used to calculate projectile trajectory or as part of an airborne bomb sight. Maybe just an analog computer for some industrial process in a factory.

  22. Andy Johnson says:

    Apollo-era space avionics?

  23. Antoine says:

    Maybe the prototype of the Apollo Guidance Computer ? I unfortunately tried to look for some pictures…

  24. blueberry says:

    board module of a AIM-54 Phoenix missle?

  25. pete says:

    I have no idea what the board is.

    From reading the other comments I’ll contribute my 2 cents.

    I don’t think it’s leaving earth. The board quality, even for a hand-soldered prototype, isn’t of flight quality. The coax terminations aren’t up to RF standards. The ground leads are much to long. Could be video, or something requiring some shielding. Is there some serious noise-emitting device in there? The build looks mid-late 70s. The dead-bug mounting of the IC cans says prototype to me. Also, the metal packs may also have to do with shielding rather than common Mil Spec builds. This would never qualify for a vibration table ride, with that kind of mounting. So, I really don’t think this thing is going to travel.

    Shouts to upper case Pete

    lower case pete

  26. boredguy says:

    The metal can is usually grounded, probably mounted upside down so the can itself can help shield from nearby interference sources. (Notice some of the traces are routed “oddly” for similar reasons).
    For the number of pads on that edge connector compared to the relative density in different areas of analog vs TTL components, I’m going to say it’s some kind of AD converter, (shielded cables being the input).
    Heck, I’ll even go out on a limb and say it’s from a (prototype) hard-disk! :)

    • pete says:

      Have any of you folks taken any older HP test gear apart? The board work looks a lot like prototype work for something HP. HP did a lot of work for the Govt. boredguy has some interesting insight as per the grounding. If I was building with small cans, that would be an easy ground+shield for a quick test run.

  27. Badware says:

    Homemade “badware”:

  28. Thatcher says:

    Looks like a lot of tweaky analog filters.

    I’m going to guess it’s for recognizing the radar signature of something important (e.g. enemy fighter plane or missile).

  29. pete says:

    This may be of help: The coax, likely RG174 RG178 Thermax (50 ohm) size is very high quality. The dielectric is Teflon. The shield (possibly double shield) is silver plated. This is common in military RF and in a lot of high end test gear. I don’t know that this quality was necessary for the application. But, it may say something about the lab or shop where the board was designed or tested. This coax is fairly common today, but would have been uncommon and found in high-end labs or RF shops in the 70s. Do you guys think it’s signal storage for analysis?

  30. lyalc says:

    Probably a A/D converter or digitiser board from an oscillascope, spectrum analyser or similar test test equipment- maybe even a display driver for a 7-segment or nixie/neon tube display.
    Probably dual channel – the ‘op-amps’ are in pairs around the coax input area.

    Optionally, its a clock generator for a variety of digital clock frequencies, using an analog PLL design to track a /submultiple multiple of an input master analog RF signal, and the digital chips providing discrete clock pulses for different timing reasons.

  31. drake says:

    It’s a wii-mote prototype

    • Wang-Lo says:

      Of course! It’s so obvious.

      And the mounting brackets are for securing it to the two-foot by two-foot laser ring gyroscope.

      A technological marvel of its time, the 1974 Wii was a commercial failure because the hand-held controller was larger than most people’s television sets.


  32. Burlap says:

    Those digital IC packages look like packages I remember seeing in books in my youth. Maybe they were called ‘lead carrier’. Gold plated and probably replaced by DIP.

    So it will not have been an abnormal/prototypey way of mounting, just ancient and possibly high-end.

  33. Wang-Lo says:

    This ware uses the highest quality parts available at the time. The ICs are probably mounted that way because the equivalent parts were not available in DIP packages, and the designer would not accept the slightest performance sacrifice. It is very carefully made. Whatever it does, it was pushing the envelope of electronic art and engineering when it was made, probably in 1972.

    It may have never been a real product, but this board has seen plenty of use. Grime like that comes only from months or years of cooling fan breath.

    Given the use of high tolerance and mil spec parts, and the extreme care taken in the design and construction, why does the ware have a couple of co-ax cables carrying an important signal more than halfway across the board? Why not just put the sensitive circuit next to the edge connector?

    I am going to make a leap here and say we are looking at a 500 picosecond delay line.

    That means that whatever it does, it begins with a delta-time differentiator that can detect edges in the 2 GHz range.

    So, what was going on circa 1972 that needed a few handmade specialty S-band analyzers that stayed on the ground?

    The International Space Station was under construction and the Space Shuttle was being designed about this time. According to Wikipedia, the S-band is used by some communications satellites, especially those used by NASA to communicate with the Shuttle and the ISS.

    Interplanetary probes used S-band in the 70s, and the Viking craft may have been designed around this time. Viking carried both X-band and S-band.

    As Ryan says, it could be some kind of experimental direction finder or navigation triangulator. Maybe the CIA tried to use a Wullenweber array to detect the EMP from nuclear bomb tests.

    I would go with the NASA ISS & Shuttle communication satellite receiver guess. Am I allowed to guess? I’ve already gone pretty far out on a limb with that delay-line differentiator thingy.


    • pete says:

      You may be correct. But, most of the delay lines that I’ve seen, use a large amount of coax, generally very high quality hard line. The point you make about the high quality coax may be a shielding issue. I don’t think data loss in such a short run would be a problem. If this was data at super high frequency (I don’t mean above UHF here), I would think more care would have been taken in termination of the ends. S band is >2GHz. I don’t see anything on that board that looks like it was built for that neighborhood or above. If you look at the modules built for UHF and above in the 70s, they were pretty cool. No stripline on that board. Please correct me if you see something I missed.

  34. Prometheus says:

    … from the days when iPhone display technology was being developed as a replacement for airbeds.

  35. Pontus says:

    I will continue on the guess that it is related to core memory. I’m guessing it is a part of the sense/inhibit or driver logic of a core stack. It’s not from a PDP machine though, at least not one of the higher numbered ones.

  36. Adam says:

    Its a communications processor / receiver board.

    The analog front end is a 6+ order filter, then some signal discrimination (comparator), then a sequence detectector / comm decoder.

  37. Jacek Krzywicki says:

    This is particularly an interesting board. As some have stated, the vintage appears to be early 70’s. Some of the ICs are marked 1971/1972.

    What is also interesting, is that this is a 3 layer board. You can clearly see a mid-layer which appears to be a grounding plane. Thus, you are dealing with some high-frequency signals.

    Looking at the ICs, we can identify the following parts:
    ’00 – quad 2-input nand
    ’04 – hex inverter
    ’20 – dual 2-input nand
    ’30 – 8-input nand
    ’73 – dual JK flip-flop
    ’78 – dual JK flip-flop with common clk & clear
    ’86 – quad 2-input xor
    ’93 – decade counter

    There seems to be more of the ’73, ’20, ’00 and ’04, than any other parts. The JK flip-flop is a good workhorse for building counters, but also for state machines. The various “misc” logic could be used to force the counter (or state machine) into different states, or to detect and act upon specific states.

    There is one other part on this board which (if I read it correctly) is a “GI19AL”. If indeed this is a General Instrument part, it would lead itself to broadcast/video applications. It may be military, but I do not know whether GI had any military affiliations. Video also makes sense for the shielded cable found on the board.

    It is also interesting to note that some of the upside down canisters are not op-amps. The ones with 6 legs are actually 2 transistors in a single can – either Darlington pairs, or matched pairs for gain characteristics. This is useful in high-accuracy drive or amplification situations.

    There also appears to be some type of transformer (gray can) in the lower-right of the “top” view. Could it be a local step-up power supply for the op-amps, or a driver stage?

    Thus, I am torn between three different applications:
    1. a driver board for some type of display device with rudimentary digital control
    2. a signal generation board for some type of broadcast application
    3. a signal processing board with digital control for broadcast


  38. signal7 says:

    Don’t know if anyone got it yet, but my best guess is that this is part of an analog computer – which probably used a modular backplane configuration. They used to be more common and I think I’ve only ever saw one of them in my 25 year career.

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