A followup on the Dot Matrix Clock

Since I never quite finished the story about my dot matrix clock, I see no reason why I shouldn’t write a bit of a continuation of my current developments. Shortly before I left on my mission for my church in November 2009, I received my boards for the dot matrix clock and assembled them. However, I ran into a problem: The displays would turn off after the voltages on the gates of the row driving mosfets reached a certain voltage and when the voltage was at a level where it would turn on the display, it had some problems with turning on and off the LEDs. Now, after I left on my mission I would think about this once in a while and I figured out the problem: I was using N-Channel mosfets with only 5V or less of gate driving voltage so they wouldn’t turn on/off all the way. I am sure there are more problems than just that, but I keep kicking myself for using N-Channel mosfets instead of using P-Channel. Had I used P-Channel, the problem would have been avoided and this whole thing would have worked great. For the moment, however, this project is on hold since I am designing and building a few things that I will need in the long term here at college since I can’t lug around a power supply and an oscilloscope.

So, in summary, if I were to do a re-design I would change the following:

  • The row drivers would be P-Channel mosfets. This would require using something other than a 4->16 demux for a gate driver unless I could find one with inverted outputs. Even with that I would probably put some very small gate drivers (if they exist…the size restriction might be too much) as a buffer to ensure the mosfets were turning on and off properly.
  • I would factor in larger tolerances. If there was one design lesson I learned from getting these boards it is that I need to make sure that I make the holes for things a little larger. It would definitely make assembly easier.
  • The PIC18F4550 would be replaced for a ATMega of some sort or maybe even a small FPGA. I was running into speed problems with the 18F4550 with getting refresh rates up (I know this is contrary to previous posts, but I was starting to have problems getting 30-60fps like I wanted…even though the image wasn’t showing up anyway because of the mosfets). The 12MIPS speed was just a tad too slow and so I think if I were to use a 20MIPS ATMega it would work a lot better. Also, the tools for ATMega seem to be a little more opensourced than the ones for the PIC. I say this because avrgcc runs much better on my Linux machines than the various C compilers for the PIC series. Also, my AVR programmer (a USBASP) has very good native Linux support.

Now all that is left for me to do is to figure out how I can modify the boards I have so that I wouldn’t have to drop $70 again…

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