Logic probe

Introduction

A ligic probe is a very simple, yet very useful tool for digital electronics project. The basic principle is very simple: you attach it to a signal in your circuit and it shows you the signal level on the wire. The simplest version of it would be an LED driver and an LED. If it lights up, there is a high signal on the wire, if it does not, there isn’t.

There are some serious problems with this simple approach that limits its usefulness. One of the main limitations is that if the high-level on the wire exists only for a short period of time, the LED might not light up or if it does, it’s brightness is so low that it cannot be seen. The other major problem is that it cannot distinguish between low levels and no driver on the wire (also called a high-impedance, or ‘Z’ state).

This project solves these problems. It can detect pulses of 5ns or larger and displays three states of the signal: low, high and high-impedance.

Features

  • Three independent LEDs for three detectable states
  • Over one 1MOhm input impedance
  • 100MHz operation
  • Pulse stretching for detection of non-repetitive events

License

This document and all the accompanying design documentation (for example schematic and PCB files) are covered by the H-Storm Non-Commercial License (HSNCL).

H-Storm Non-Commercial License (HSNCL)

Copyright 2004-2007 Andras Tantos and Modular Circuits. All rights reserved.

Redistribution and use in source or binary forms, or incorporated into a physical (hardware) product, with or without modification, are permitted for non-commercial use only, provided that the following conditions are met:

  • The redistribution doesn’t result in financial gain.
  • Redistributions of source code must retain the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer.
  • Redistributions in any other form must contain in printed or electronical format the above copyright notice, this list of conditions and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
  • All advertising materials mentioning features or use of this technology must display the following acknowledgment:
    This product includes H-Storm technology developed by Andras Tantos and Modular Circuits.
  • Neither the name of Andras Tantos or Modular Circuits may be used to endorse or promote products derived from or using this technology without specific prior written permission.

ALL THE INFORMATION, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED BY THE AUTHORS AS IS” AND ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE ARE DISCLAIMED. IN NO EVENT SHALL ANDRAS TANTOS, MODULAR CIRCUITS OR CONTRIBUTORS BE LIABLE FOR ANY DIRECT, INDIRECT, INCIDENTAL, SPECIAL, EXEMPLARY, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES (INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, PROCUREMENT OF SUBSTITUTE GOODS OR SERVICES; LOSS OF USE, DATA, OR PROFITS; OR BUSINESS INTERRUPTION) HOWEVER CAUSED AND ON ANY THEORY OF LIABILITY, WHETHER IN CONTRACT, STRICT LIABILITY, OR TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE OR OTHERWISE) ARISING IN ANY WAY OUT OF THE USE OF THIS SOFTWARE OR TECHNOLOGY, EVEN IF ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGE.

Design description

Analog interface

To detect three distinct states on the wire, a window-comparator must be employed. This comparator is set up to detect the the ranges of valid CMOS low and high levels as high and low, and the in-between region as high-impedance state. This comparator is fed through a high-bandwidth operational amplifier to provide the required high input impedance. It is required so that the probe doesn’t interfere with the drivers on the wire and not to alter the voltage levels set by pull-up or pull-down resistors. The input of the operational amplifier is biased to the middle of its operating range and since the amplifier is not a real-to-rail device, an input divider is used to move the input levels into the operating range. The input impedance of the circuit is set by this divider to be above 1MOhm. This however also means that the operational amplifiers input will be drive through an extremely high impedance, so the bias current of the inputs of the amplifier could produce a significant voltage drop. Also, in order to work up to 100MHz a high bandwidth amplifier had to be chosen. The amplifier that met these requirement was the AD8065 from analog devices. The high-speed dual comparator that is used in the window-comparator configuration is the AD8612.

Digital logic

The output of the window comparator is fed through some logic gates that decode the three distinct states of the wire. These signals are then wired to re-startable monoflops built from 74AHCT123 ICs. These devices are used to stretch the length of short pulses to the level detectable by the human eye. The output of these monoflops however will return to 0 after their time elapses even if the input is still high. Wired OR configuration of diodes is used to drive the LEDs from both the input and the output of the monoflops to get both pulse and static readings.

Powering options

The internal circuit runs from a 5V power supply but an on-board regulator is provided, so the circuit can be powered from a wide range of power supplies. Power consumption can be in the 50mA range while detecting high-speed signals.

Physical layout and operation

The device is laid out in a pen-like fashion, in fact it can be put inside a large pen. The needle at the front is the probe, and can be inserted into small vias or holes on the tested PCB. Power supply to the probe is provided on the other end. Note that the ground of the probe and the tested device must be connected some way to do measurements.

Design files

Schematic and PCB in PDF format (HSNCL)

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7 thoughts on “Logic probe

  1. Just wondering if anyone can advise a complete amatuer – would a logic probe be useful when diagnosing faults in modern computerised vehicles that use the much written about but much misunderstood CAN-bus system? I am one of the millions that know it is there but don’t understand how it works.

    • No. A logic probe will get you nowhere with CANbus. What you need is a protocol analyzer. There are many on the market for a few hundred dollars, but I haven’t used any, so I can’t give a recommendation.

      • Protocol Analyser for a few hundred dollars! You might as well have replied in Swahili for all the sense that makes to this amateur, but thank you for trying…

        If I wanted to spend a few hundred I would buy an oscilloscope, the ideal tool for detecting digital pulses are present and the duty cycle is changing as sensor or actuator conditions change. I just had the mad idea a logic probe might be a tool that for a few dollars just might be suitable for checking a digital signal is present through a sensor circuit and be helpful to this amateur.
        Due to the lack of knowledge, skills and experience I need to leave the serious analysis to the big boys.

  2. I like that you have pulse stretching for all 3 states. Be better if there was the option to disable it too
    100MHz input bandwidth seems excessive for a logic probe though. Why does it need to be so fast?

    • Thanks for checking in!

      I’ve developed this tool when I was working on a circuit with a 100MHz SDRAM in it. While of course a logic probe can’t give you detailed information about the shape of the signal, it was important for me that it didn’t lie about there being a signal. Of course at a 100MHz large ground loops that are almost inevitable with a logic probe will ruing signal integrity anyway, but that – again – is not all that interesting: as long as it can detect a signal, it doesn’t matter if the signal would decode properly.

      I’m not sure how disabling the signal stretcher would help: it would just make the probe not show you activity that is on the probed wire. I guess if you wanted to use it as a sort of PWM intensity modulation and see how much activity is there, it might help, but I didn’t have that kind of application in mind.

      • Thanks for the explanation, that’s not something I would ever have thought of (being a mainly analogue person). I have been trying to sort out some switching timings this past week or so, slow signals but actually seeing a condition end has been very important. Pulse stretching would have masked that. OTOH I only just realised – you still see the start of the next condition so my point is irrelevant!

      • You could have avoided the big ground loops with a double tipped probe. 1 tip is signal, the other tip is 0v so you make the connection right next to what you’re probing. High frequency ‘scope probes can be equipped like this.

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