The Battle of Fives: How the NE555 and LM555 are Different

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A customer recently asked us some questions about the Three Fives discrete 555 timer kit. One in particular really got my attention.

What is the difference between the National Semiconductor LM555 and the Signetics NE555 timer ICs? Well, the Signetics part certainly came first and the National part was a second source, but the customer noted that The 555 Timer Applications Sourcebook, on page 5-31, states

…Table S-2 points out that the threshold overrides the trigger for the type LM555H (National), but the threshold is overridden by the trigger for the type NE555V (Signetics).

Let’s compare the two. First, here’s the NE555 schematic (click for larger versions).
And here’s the LM555 schematic. I’ve kept the component numbering consistent with the NE555 datasheet rather than National’s datasheet to make comparisons easy.
The LM555 makes three minor changes to the timer design:

  • The trigger comparator now has a current mirror active load (Q26 and Q27) instead of resistor load R6.
  • The threshold comparator gets a current mirror active load (Q28 and Q29) and an emitter follower buffer Q30.
  • R10 is now 7.5K instead of 15K, but I suspect there is a typo. Imagine several generations of photocopies. The 1 starts to look like a 7, and a decimal point appears.

The most interesting changes are the first two. How do these changes reverse the priority of the two comparator inputs?

The original NE555 gives priority to the trigger signal because transistor Q15 can always overpower the current coming from Q19A and Q6.

For the LM555 in the normal case where the trigger signal is active, Q15 is on, Q16 is off, and Q17 is on hard since its base is pulled to VCC through Q18, R10, and the current mirror Q19.
However, if both the trigger and threshold inputs are active, then both Q15 and Q30 are on. This leads to an interesting situation where the collector of Q18 is pulled to ground through Q15 and Q30. At that point, there’s nothing to provide current to the base of Q17, and any residual charge will probably drain away through the reverse leakage current of Q18. Q17 then turns off, and the output does the opposite of the NE555! Leaving the gate of Q17 hanging like that seems really odd, so I bet this was unintended behavior. I ran some LTSpice simulations so you can see what is going on. First up is the NE555:
NE555 Flop
And here is the LM555:
LM555 Flop
If you look carefully at the V(comp) trace right before 12ms, it actually goes negative due to Q18 behaving like a diode clamp.
This behavior doesn’t seem to get in the way of normal operation, but it is something a circuit designer would need to take into account. This is why designers and purchasing people should always be wary of “drop in” replacements, especially when the manufacturer claims “improved performance!”
National Semiconductor made the changes to improve the performance of the comparators, specifically their performance over temperature. I ran some more simulations so you can see the difference. Here is the NE555 set up in a simple astable circuit, with superimposed waveforms at 0C, 35C, and 70C:
And the LM555 at the same temperature ranges.
Note that I put the temperature coefficients only on resistors inside the 555 timers, not on any of the external oscillator components.
If you want to play with the LTSpice circuits, click the links below to download them.
A quick side note about the names: The LM in the part number stands for Linear Monolithic, which National Semiconductor used to describe many of their analog ICs. The NE probably stands for Network Electronics (the sources are anecdotal). Apparently the Signetics name came from Signal Network Electronics.

Making Dis-Integrated Circuits

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Details coming soon!

CRT Phosphor Video

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Inspired by commenter Katemonster, I’ve put together a short clip with a couple of CRTs from my collection, demonstrating various types of phosphors. There are charts out there that talk about persistence using vague terms like “medium” (compared to what?), so it’s nice to see a real video showing what such a CRT actually looks like.

For the video I’ve used my “orbiter” demo that uses Newton’s law of gravity and Newton’s 2nd law of motion (F=MA) to generate simulated planets that orbit around a sun. It’s a nice way to demonstrate persistence (the way the phosphor fades as the electron beam moves away).

P1 Phosphor
This is the basic green phosphor. At 525nm primary color wavelength, it looks slightly more blue than common super-bright green LEDs. The chart linked above lists the persistence time as 20ms which seems reasonable. The formulation for this phosphor varies between manufacturers so some tubes might be slower than others. It’s very common in early oscilloscopes and oscillographs, and apparently some radar systems as well.

P2 Phosphor
The P2 phosphor color has even more blue in it than the P1–it’s very close to “stoplight green”. The persistence is much longer as you can see in the video (30 seconds or more, depending on the ambient light levels). The charts and reference documents I have list the primary applications as oscillography and radar.

P7 Phosphor
P7 is a very interesting phosphor. It is a cascade phosphor, meaning that it has two layers of material. The electron beam strikes the first (outer) layer which emits a bright blue light with some light near ultraviolet. This high energy light excites the second layer (inner, in contact with the glass) which is a much slower material that emits a yellowish-green light with a very long persistence (around a minute). In the video I move the “orbit” trace off to the side so you can see that original afterimage persists.

It was used mostly for radar and sometimes in oscilloscopes to capture one-time events before storage tubes were invented.

So why use a cascade phosphor? One source states that it was originally designed to be used in intensity-modulated displays (varying brightness levels), but it turns out it also helped prevent radar jamming. Since the jamming signal was not synced to the radar pulses, a long persistence phosphor could average out the jamming signal and allow the operator to see the true signal as viewed on an A-scope (time-based pulse waveform monitor). [Cathode Ray Tube Displays, MIT Radiation Laboratory Series, pg. 626]

P12 Phosphor
This one is my favorite. It’s an orange medium-persistence (a few seconds) phosphor that was apparently used for radar indicators. I don’t know of any that were used in oscilloscopes.

P31 Phosphor
The P31 phosphor was invented as an improved P1 phosphor. It’s much brighter (P1 is 32% as bright) and has short persistence (<1ms). The color has a bit more blue in it--in fact, very close to the P2 phosphor's color. I would say most analog oscilloscopes from the 70s to today use CRTs with the P31 phosphor.

In many cases these CRTs would be installed behind a colored piece of plastic acting as a color filter. For example, P7 CRTs were often installed with an orange plastic filter in front to make the blue/white phosphor look more similar to the secondary yellow phosphor. P31 CRTs usually have a blue or green plastic filter.

For further reading:

CRT Driver Boards, Now With Altium Sources

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Take a look at my crt-driver GitHub repository. I tidied things up a bit and more importantly, released the Altium project files, schematics, boards, and even the output job file. It’s all licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. Read the Creative Commons page for the full terms, but basically you can share or adapt any of it as long as you give me credit (a link to this blog would be appreciated) and make sure that you keep the same license so that others can do the same.

If you don’t have Altium (expensive, closed source), you can at least open and edit the schematics with CircuitMaker (free, closed source, limited). Sadly, CircuitMaker will not let you edit the Altium PCB layout.

CRT Magnetic Deflection Driver Design

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I’ve uploaded the design files for my CRT deflection yoke driver board. This works for CRTs that use magnetic deflection. For a complete design, you will need the following boards:

  • ScopeMag
  • ScopePower – +1KV power supply
  • ScopeVideoOnly – Video amplifier, focus chain, and nothing else (the ScopeDefl electrostatic design combines this amplifier with the electrostatic deflection amplifiers)
  • ScopeVideo – +60V video amp bias supply

Gerbers are in the repository but you can get them directly from OshPark by clicking the links for each board above.

This board, unlike the others I’ve developed so far, requires both +12V and -12V. My projects typically use an Artesyn NFS40-7608J but it is now obsolete and a bit expensive, so you probably should use something else for power.

There are places on the board (C6/R9, C10/R20) for coil compensation components. You can figure out the values that you need with a little experimentation.

The board is designed for a vector-style yoke, not the far more common raster scan yoke that has a high inductance vertical deflection coil with lots and lots of turns. It can usually drive the horizontal coil no problem, but you’ll want to modify the vertical winding to reduce the number of turns. Check out my blog post on winding deflection yokes for more information on making your own.

The LM4765 audio amplifier, which drives the deflection coils, will dissipate a lot of heat so you will need to bolt it onto a good-sized heat sink (at least 3″ x 3″ aluminum with fins, not some dinky little TO-220 clip-style heat sink).

Circuit operation is pretty straightforward. CRT electron beam deflection is proportional to the magnetic field which is proportional to the current in the coil, so the LM4765 controls the coil current (measured through R14/R25) instead of the voltage. The current is therefore directly proportional to the input voltage (X or Y). An extra gain stage facilitates the width/height and left/right offset adjustments.


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