How-to Tuesday: USB7 build

How-to Tuesday: USB7 build

Yes, I know it’s Wednesday! Consider this post my Special Post-Election Edition of How-to Tuesdays!


This week I made a USB7 6 Digit LED Display Kit from the Maker Shed. It’s a really cool electronics kit that can be controlled from your computer via USB. I decided to modify it a little so it’s easier to read while it sits on my desk. Nothing too fancy, but I think you’ll like it.

The USB7 expands most computers with a USB connected 6-digit
seven-segment display. Supporting letters, numbers, and a range of
punctuation, the USB7 benefits any project requiring highly visible
Using common a USB cable for both communication and power, the USB7
requires no special or bulky cables and with a simple virtual-serial
port protocol, sending regular ASCII characters is all that’s required
to control the USB7s full output capacity.
Based on the AVR-CDC project, the USB7 is supported by Windows XP,
Windows 2000, OS X, and many Linux variants.

What you need:

Tools you need:

Step 1: Take inventory


Spread out all the parts and take a look through the instructions. It’s always a good idea to check out all the steps prior to starting.

Step 2: Add a lot of resistors


I started by adding all the 68Ω, 1.5KΩ, 10KΩ, 82KΩ and 1KΩ resistors. Be careful not to mix them up. The board is labeled, so it makes this step really easy.


It’s a lot of leads to solder, but it isn’t too difficult since they are spread out over the board.

Step 3: Adding the diodes


Next step, I soldered in the zener diodes. Make sure to place them in properly since zener diodes have polarity. The board is nicely marked so you can see how to insert them. Just align the stripes and solder away!

Step 4: Solder in the IC socket


Now you should solder in the 28 pin socket. You might want to hold, or tape, the socket in place so it is easier to solder. Make sure to put the socket in according to the diagram on the board.

Step 5: Adding the (6) transistors


I placed all (6) transistors in at once. You need to bend the leads slightly so they fit in the board. Make sure you align the flat side of the transistor with the flat side of the silkscreen on the circuit board.


Solder all the leads and move on to step 6!

Step 6: Solder in the capacitor & resonator


Now it’s time to solder in the capacitor and resonator. The electrolytic capacitor has polarity, so make sure that the “black line” is facing where the LEDs will be soldered to the board. The resonator can be soldered in either way since it doesn’t have polarity.

Step 7: Adding the ICSP header


You don’t need the ICSP header if you don’t plan on re-programming the chip. I don’t think I will use it, but why not solder it now just in case.

Step 8: Solder the USB connector


Now you need to solder in the USB connector. Solder the (4) small pins first, then solder in the (2) large clips. Use a lot of solder so there is a solid connection.

Step 9: Adding the 7-Segment displays


I decided to make the LED displays “stand up”. You can insert the LEDs flush with the circuit board and solder them up, but I like them “standing” so I can see it easier when it’s sitting on top of my monitor. I used needle nose pliers to create a 90-degree angle in the bottom row of pins of each LED.


The upper row can be bent with you fingers. It should end up at a 45 degree angle. Once all the leads are bend, solder in the bottom row to the circuit board.


I added a lot of heat-shrink tubing to the wires connecting the 7-Segment LED. I plan on leaving all the electronics exposed and I like the look the heat-shrink gives the final piece.


Insert a piece of wire about 1 inch long into the board. Next solder the wire to the appropriate lead on the LED. Don’t forget to add the heat-shrink to the wire prior to soldering.


Once you finished soldering the wire, you can shrink the tubing. Now all you have to do is solder 26 more!


I ended up doing (9) wires at a time. It gets a little crowded, but it really isn’t hard to do.


That’s (27) wires with (27) pieces of heat-shrink tubing. I really like how it looks.

Step 10: Plug it in and give a test it out


All done! Now you need to install some software that controls your new USB7. You can get all the instructions and software here. The software is really easy to install and it works great.

I was able to get it up and running in just a few minutes. Basically, I configured the USB7 to work over an open COM port. Now I can send it data via Hyper Terminal. You can also use LCD Smartie to send the USB7 data.

You can do a lot more with the USB7, like make it display the current temperature, the number of emails in your inbox, or you favorite stock price. If you have a program that can send data to a COM port, you can use it to control the USB7. You can find a lot more information about programming the USB7 here.

USB7 6 Digit LED Display Kit

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