HP 5335A Universal Counter RF Prescaler (Option 030) replacement

This page details my work to upgrade my HP 5335A universal counter with the Option 030 RF prescaler.

Last updated:

         2015-05-25: Initial publication

Please note: there are two versions of this type of board, Iím redesigning the older version which uses an oddball divide by 20 circuit, later versions apparently used a divide by 32 or 64, this board will not work for those versions.


5335A overview.. 1

Option 030, original 1

Electrical design. 1

Physical design. 1

Option 030, redesigned, rev A.. 1

Overload protection. 1

Limiter. 1

PIN attenuator. 1

MMIC amplifier. 1

ECL dividers. 1

Power Tap and ALC. 1

Prototype, testing. 1

Option 030, rev B. 1

Front Panel 1


Figur 1 - 5335A showing a 10 MHz signal 1

Figur 2 - Option 030 block diagram.. 1

Figur 3 - HP option 030 schematic. 1

Figur 4 -Option 030 Assembly Picture. 1

Figur 5 - Revision A block diagram.. 1

Figur 6 - Prototype 5335AO030. 1

Figur 7 - Revision A testing showing 2.8 GHz. 1

Figur 8 - 3D render of 5335A O030 rev B. 1

Figur 9 - Option 030 front panel 1


5335A overview

The 5335A is a fairly sophisticated frequency counter with a lot of extra features, the version I have comes with a fairly basic kit.

Figur 1 - 5335A showing a 10 MHz signal

The standard version has two 150 MHz inputs with a fairly standard oscilloscope style input set, 1M/50 ohm input impedance, AC/DC coupling and adjustable trigger levels.

By default you will measure frequencies with it on channel A, channel B is usually not used and canít be used to measure frequencies directly.

A basic arithmetic set can be enabled on measurements, offset, scaling, normalizing etc. are supported and can be used to make the instrument display readings in ppm, with relative frequencies etc.

Channel B can be used to measure timing between two events, for example time from pulse on A to B or frequency of A/B.

A neat feature of the 5335A is the automatic switchover from frequency to on-time measurement which means that unlike simpler instruments 1 Hz signals can be measured with the same number of digits as a 10 MHz signal with the same gate time. In frequency only instruments measuring slow signals with precision takes a very long time since the instrument only displays the number of pulses counted in the gate time, requiring a ridiculous gate time to measure slow signals.

The service manual is available online and has a lot of detail about the architecture of the instrument.

Option 030, original

To support higher frequency measurements an option board can be fitted, in this case option 030 which allows measurements up to 1300 MHz.

Electrical design

Here is part of the system block diagram containing the prescaler:

Figur 2 - Option 030 block diagram

As we can see the RF input is called channel C, it contains fairly basic circuitry at the block level, some basic levelling circuitry including an attenuator, an amplifier and a divide by 20 circuit. The divider is implemented as a custom divide by 10 IC and a standard ECL divide by 2. The divide by 2 is nominally CPU controlled but I havenít found any situations where thatís actually used to Iíve left it out in revision B of my PCB as the counter will happily count without it.

Here is the original schematic:

Figur 3 - HP option 030 schematic

The original also included a power supply for an active probe, I will not be implementing this, but adding this shouldnít be a problem.

The entire high speed and counting section is powered by NECL circuitry, the most interesting parts are HP custom.

Thereís some other interesting parts of this design, we can see that this design is limited by the 1600 MHz hybrid amplifier (a pretty old MMIC basically), at the maximum input frequency the output to the counter is only running at around 65 MHz, we know the logic is capable of around 150 MHz. This means that with modern circuitry this design could be capable of at least doubling the RF frequency range supported.

I donít have a Option 030 board (if I did I would have used it instead of making my own), but testing using a VHF radio transmitting into the logic input of the counter showed it would definitely accept 150 MHz on the input and correctly show 150*20 MHz on the display.

What is certain is that this is enough information to redesign the PCB, almost all parts will have to be replaced but we know we need a robust RF input, a divide by 20 circuit with NECL outputs and a squelch.

Physical design

I donít have the PCB Iím trying to redesign, but I do have a picture of the design:

Figur 4 - Option 030 Assembly Picture

As we can see itís a double sided design, no doubt a beautiful gold finish with a SMB connector going to the front panel.

A word of warning: thereís two 2x6 pin card edge connectors in the counter, the one closest to the front panel is the option 030 slot, the other is a slot for the DVM module, this contains a 24V AC supply thatís always live. I suggest putting a piece of tape over this port unless you intend to use it, connecting this board in that socket will destroy a very large amount of TTL logic (ask me how I know) and it will take a long time to repair.

HP helpfully provided the pinout but werenít kind enough to describe the reverse side of the connector so I had to measure my way to that:

We can see that all relevant supplies are available from the instrument.

Option 030, redesigned, rev A

My plan for the new version of the O030 board was to use modern circuitry to improve performance and reduce cost.

I built a prototype PCB of revision A, testing showed reasonable but not ideal performance. Specifically sensitivity was worse than desired (-30 dBm @ 280 MHz required no attenuation on the input) and performance above 2 GHz was spotty.

Additionally the lack of a squelch circuit meant that the counter would pick up anything in the air and typically read 920 MHz whenever the input was floating, either oscillation or GSM pickup.

Hereís the basic block diagram, each section is separated with a 100 pF capacitor giving a lower input range of around 100 MHz.

Figur 5 - Revision A block diagram

Overload protection

The overload protection is implemented with a 90V 15kA Gas Discharge Tube immediately after the first AC coupling cap and a 150mA polyswitch in series.

This has not been properly tested, and the components have been replaced with lower rated SMD versions in revision B.


The limiter circuitry uses a HSMP-4820 PIN diode from Avago in a self biasing configuration, this will typically limit a +30dBm input signal to around +15 dBm. This diode is supposed to conduct enough to heat up the polyswitch in the overload protection part if a severe overload is encountered.

PIN attenuator

The PIN attenuator uses 4 pin diodes in a pi configuration with a 1-15V control voltage, the basis is Avago application note AN-1048. Attenuation range is around 40 dB at GHz frequencies. The diode is a HSMP-3814 dual pin diode in SOT-23.

MMIC amplifier

The MMIC amplifier is a composite amplifier using 2xABA-53563 MMIC amplifiers from Avago, each amplifier can handle +20 dBm CW on the input and provides 21 dB gain at 2 GHz with a P1dB of +13dBm below 2 GHz. Gain is flat up to around 3.5 GHz.

These amplifiers work well, a third amplifier was added in revision B to improve sensitivity.

ECL dividers

To support the x20 divide ratio two dividers are used, the MC100EL33 is well suited to this application and has balanced I/O with a bias pin built in to simplify single ended inputs, it divides by 4 with a maximum of 4 GHz in. The MC100EP139 is a programmable divider, in this case it is configured for mod 5, it also has balanced I/O with multiple outputs.

The dividers work well and have not been significantly changed in revision B, however the original design used PECL, which required AC coupling on the output. This was changed to use NECL in revision B since this is generally a more robust way to use ECL and it simplifies interfacing to the rest of the instrument.

Power Tap and ALC

Originally the circuit was supposed to detect the power level of the MMICs to allow an ALC circuit to trim the gain control to keep them operating with lower distortion. The detector never worked very well and this has been replaced in rev B with a squelch circuit which might work. A LED is used to indicate the status of the ALC/squelch.

The manual gain control is connected to a trimmer on the front panel and buffered by a TS912 opamp.

Prototype, testing

A prototype exists of revision A, hereís proof:

Figur 6 - Prototype 5335AO030

The prototype was built and tested, aside from some issues with capacitors and opamps inserted backwards the design worked. Using the LO out on my spectrum analyzer (around +10 dBm) I was able to reach a maximum of 2.8 GHz.

Figur 7 - Revision A testing showing 2.8 GHz

Several issues were observed with the PECL/NECL conversion and with sensitivity in general, at 280 MHz/-30dBm the gain control must be set to maximum to get a stable reading.

Additionally the ALC circuitry doesnít work at all and has been disabled.

I used OSHPark for the prototype, the PCB quality is pretty good and I have no complaints, especially considering the low price.

Option 030, rev B

Revision B is currently undergoing testing, here is a list of changes made:

         Overload protection now uses all SMD components to improve RF performance

         Routing improved in limiter and PIN attenuator section to improve performance

         Third MMIC amplifier added to improve sensitivity

o   High speed schottky diode clamp added between 2nd and 3rd amplifier to improve limiting (HSMS-2822)

         Even more vias added, donít ask me how I managed to fit them

         Power tap now uses ADL5501 true RMS detector IC to get a reliable reading of signal levels going into the ECL dividers

o   Internal trimmer now used to set squelch level based on the power detector reading, squelching is achieved by setting the RESET of U6

         CPU control of counters removed to free up space

         ECL dividers now use the N5V2 rail for power

         Status LEDs added for all power supply rails

         Polyfuses added for all power rails to prevent shorting the instrument rails in case of failure on the board

When the design has been tested I will post schematics, BOM and gerber files for anyone to download and build.

Here is a 3D render of the PCB:

Figur 8 - 3D render of 5335A O030 rev B

Front Panel

The front panel section included in the default kit is a standard plate and it can be removed by disassembling the front panel part of the counter. The internal aluminium frame has cutouts for all options so all we need to do is drill holes at the right points.

I didnít get pictures of the inside but hereís my first attempt at a front panel:

Figur 9 - Option 030 front panel

I later replaced the knob with one salvaged from a HP spectrum analyzer module which is larger and has labels from 0 to 12, corresponding roughly to the amount of attenuation added.

The LED indicates if the squelch is open.

The BNC connector is a BNC-SMA adapter, a small SMA-SMA pigtail connects this to the board inside the input.