Nixie Clock Build GN-4, Proximity Sensor, GPS & Dekatron

2 years 8 months ago #10604 by mclegg
Hi Everyone
I am new to all this Nixie stuff, but really want to build a clock, and Im sure this will not be the first post of someone who has said this!
I have about 10x GN-4 Nixies and want to build an hour/min/sec 6 digit clock.
To help prevent the Nixies burning out, I want to have it so its only on when it detects either movement or ultrasound or something to say its worth turning on.
I also need to it be accurate, I've read all sorts of stories about them losing a lot of time. So someway to keep it accurate, GPS?
I would also like to implement a single dekatron (model as yet unknown) to go around once a second. Whether this triggers the rest of the clock I am unsure.

I know the very very basics about electronics, but I'm keen to learn. I don't know if a circuit needs to be built specifically for this type of Nixie, or these Nixies may work with other circuits all ready designed?

There are also the Ardunio units that run everything, but I'm not sure on these? Would a dedicated IC be better? Any suggestions are welcome, and if anyone has any resources they can share, or ideas I'm more than happy to listen.


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2 years 8 months ago #10605 by Ty_Eeberfest
GN-4 is pretty uncommon but when it comes to controlling them they're no different than many (most) other Nixies. I couldn't find a full data sheet for them but I was at least able to determine they're not biquinary.

"Very very basics" means different things to different people. But since you saw fit to point it out I'm going to assume your experience is very minimal. In which case I suggest you build a kit rather than trying to design and build from scratch. It's the easiest, not to mention cheapest, way to get yourself a working clock.

Ian Sparkes at sells a kit called "Classic Rev. 6" that meets all your requirements except for the Decatron spinner.

Disclaimer - Ian is the owner of this forum.
Disclaimer - I am not compensated by Ian in any way for recommending his kits.

Classic Rev. 6 is a 6 digit clock board that can run almost any non-biquinary tubes. It is based on a somewhat Arduino-like circuit that uses an Atmega328P chip as its brains. It is programmed in C++ using the Arduino IDE. Code and schematic are open source.

Assuming that the clock is in a location where it can connect to WiFi, timekeeping is kept accurate to +/- 1 second by periodically fetching the time from whatever NTP pool you prefer. This requires the optional "WiFi Time Provider" to be installed in the clock.

If this doesn't suit you, let me know and we can talk about all the design decisions and various approaches involved in building from scratch. I have designed, built and programmed a number of Nixie devices, including clocks, as have a number of others on this forum, so there is plenty of info available here.

Look into it later when the dust is clearing off the crater.

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2 years 8 months ago #10606 by mclegg
Thanks Ty_Eberfest.

When I say limited knowledge, I know what all the components are and am a competent at soldering (I work in the audio industry) but don’t understand why x happens when y is there rather than z. If that makes sense?
That said, I have built crossovers etc. before for speaker systems. So I can’t be that bad?

Anyway, the reason I was wanting to build it was because I thought that
a) someone would not have built exactly what I require and
b) although all the arduino boards are good, I’m wondering if they have the longevity required for the clock to operate for a solid amount of time before needing to be re-built? Ten years type of thing?
In saying that, the only thing that kit doesn’t do is the Dekatron. Any ideas here?

What’s your opinion around the staying power of systems designed from the arduino platform?
Is it possible to build in semi colon separators between the numbers with Ian’s kit? (Just thought of this as a possibility)
How involved is it to build it not using Ian’s kit?

Sorry for all the questions, but I’m over the moon someone actually replied!


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2 years 8 months ago #10607 by Ty_Eeberfest
We need to distinguish between "Arduino-like" and an actual Arduino. Actual Arduinos vary in quality (and therefore, probably, longevity) depending on who made them and how much, if any, consideration was given to the quality of the components used. There must be 50 companies out there making boards that carry the Arduino name so it's hard to know what you are going to get. But in my mind probably the biggest weakness of Arduino boards is that they are typically made using lead free solder, which is IMHO setting them up to die young. But the design of Arduinos seems to be reasonably solid and there is no reason I can think of to consider it unreliable or sleazy. The issues I'm aware of are all to do with manufacturing.

Having said that, a Classic Rev. 6 (for example) is not an Arduino. It's more an Arduino-like circuit, and really about the only thing it has in common with an Arduino is the Atmega328P controller. That and the fact that the code is written using the Arduino IDE and libraries and whatnot. But it's not an Arduino.

To design and scratch build, here are some things that come right to mind that you will need to do.

Design a high voltage power supply, preferably a boost converter topology, to power the tubes.

Design your display driving circuitry. Are you going to go multiplexed or direct drive? Traditional TTL decoder + transistors, or modern HV drivers (Supertex, etc.)?

Design timekeeping circuit. Traditional TTL or modern microcontroller? Which microcontroller: Atmega, PIC, ESP, ARM, the list goes on. Traditional TTL is more "vintage" (like the tubes) but implementing features beyond being a basic clock is quite difficult compared to adding some more code to a micro.

Decide what your timing source (determines accuracy) will be, and implement it. Plain old crystal oscillator, temperature controlled crystal oscillator, GPS, NTP via WiFi? Some combination of those? Crystal oscillators are probably good to a couple minutes a month, with a temperature controlled oscillator and patient "trimming" I've gotten as good as one minute a year, GPS keeps perfect time but your clock has to have a view of the sky, NTP is perfect as long as your clock has WiFi access. And so on.

Design the circuit board to hold everything together and see your board thru manufacturing. Or if you are very brave and crazy, hand wire the whole works on a perf board.

If using a microcontroller, program it. What language to use? Arduino toolchain, WinAVR toolchain, assembly language, ???

It's not a simple matter. I've never tracked the hours I spend on a new scratch-build (that's not just a mod of something I already designed once) but it's in the hundreds. Maybe Ian can chime in here and tell us how many hours he has into the design of his kits 0 I have no idea except that it will be "a bunch". Ian and I both have many years experience with this sort of thing and we both work in related fields.

TL;DR - I don't mean to discourage you but you should know what you are getting into! There is a lot to think about, know and do.

Look into it later when the dust is clearing off the crater.

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2 years 8 months ago - 2 years 8 months ago #10608 by Ty_Eeberfest
I forgot the Dekatron. The reason I said to use a Rev. 6 specifically is that unlike other revs of the Classic the Rev. 6 has a couple outputs left spare on the controller and also I2C is exposed and can be made use of if necessary. I was thinking along the lines of making a totally separate Dekatron "spinner" circuit and then using a spare output or the I2C to sync the Dekatron spinner up to the clock seconds. That's the concept, the specifics would have to be worked out.

Look into it later when the dust is clearing off the crater.
Last edit: 2 years 8 months ago by Ty_Eeberfest. Reason: Too many typos

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2 years 8 months ago #10610 by mclegg
Thank Ty_Eeberfest.

So after reading all that I think the Rev. 6 board Ian has made will be the way to go, with Wifi to keep it accurate.
In regards to the Dekatron, what do you believe is the best way to go about doing this? How would I utilize the spare outputs on the board?

Does the board come with 'Instructions' to some degree for normal nixie operation?

Cheers once again,

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