Retromaster’s Electronics Projects

…related to old computers and other assorted stuff…

UFE Prototype Assembled

Posted by retromaster on April 26, 2010

Here is a photo of the UFE prototype, fully-assembled. I am able to program the on-board PIC32 using the PicKit2 programmer. The clock line is connected to the Amiga. Actually, while I was taking this photo, the board was running a tiny test application that alternately blinked the two on-board LEDs. The PIC32 is running at ~75.6Mhz here. The system clock is derived from the 28.375Mhz Amiga system clock, by first dividing the input clock by 6 (to get a ~4.73Mhz clock suitable for the PIC32 PLL) and multiplying it by 16. I am hoping that using the PLL will reduce or eliminate the clock jitter as this was a problem in the earlier TFE+ design, partly due to the relatively long cable over which the clock signal is transmitted. Being able to run the PIC32 at a speed so close to the maximum is very good news, but of course there is no guarantee that problems will not occur with the much more complex setup that will ultimately arise during firmware development.

It is not all good, however. It turns out that my PCB making techniques are still in need of some finetuning. During the soldering process and the cleaning afterwards, the soldermask crackled and popped in several places. I thought it was due to the soldermask not being cured well enough, so it did some tests with a spare, new PCB. It turns out that a thicker layer of paint, plus a higher curing temperature created a much stronger soldermask. During mask removal, the soldermask seems to lose some of its strength, but it works well to cure the board a second time after this step. This step seems to really strengthen the soldermask and that way it is able to withstand soldering and cleaning. I’ll do some more tests to confirm these first findings and finetune the process. Nevertheless, it seems that even in its weak state, a soldermask like this is better than no soldermask at all, since it greatly protects the PCB, especially from the usual trace lifting problems that I frequently experienced previously.

Another issue I encountered with the prototype board was that some of the vias lost connection after the soldermask curing. I am guessing this is due to thermal expansion. I solved the issue by scraping the soldermask above the vias and soldering them on both sides (For hidden vias, I removed the excess solder using a solder wick). This way, a very reliable connection was formed. I’ll soon be updating the page on PCB making with my latest findings.

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