TOP 3000 Universal Programmer (Product Review)

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   *TOP 3000 Universal Programmer & IC Analyzer

The Chinese have done it again – and we are most certainly quite impressed! For under US 200 dollars -- this compact, fully feature packed programmer is capable of programming such a diverse array of MCUs (micro controller units) – and EPROMs (erasable programmable read only memory) chips, that it really is literally extremely overwhelming. This includes almost the entire line up of 10F, 12F, 16F, 18F and some 30F series of Microchip's PIC range. The compatibility with the number of supported Atmel MCUs is equally as impressive. How do they do it so cheap? But besides this vast array of integrated circuits that you are capable of working with, unlike most other programmers on the market – this unit comes professionally packaged in a case. Chances are that you already have enough circuit boards on your desk, so for many, this entirely enclosed unit will at first glance seem remarkably appealing. Unfortunately, basic circuit board only programmers can be easily susceptible to damage if care is not taken. If the solder side of the board comes into contact with any piece of material, which has the ability to conduct electricity, then the components on the board could be placed at risk of short circuit, therefore damaging the programmer. This TOP 3000 universal programmer addresses this issue by compactly, and neatly sealing everything into an attractive case. The unit only measures (150H x 110W x 25D) mm, and connects to your computer’s USB port.


:: Build Quality ::

Usually, when something looks good on the outside – it is also typically all swan on the inside too, but we still had to open the case to inspect the internals. Upon opening the case, the first thought that sprung to mind was “modern technology”. As can be seen by the picture depicted above, most of the components are surface mount, and the circuit board is a multi-layer, solder masked, silk screened overlay derivative. Not a trace of solder flux was detected, and the quality of the soldering almost certainly seems too near to perfection to have been done by a human. This is a professionally designed and mass manufactured circuit board, which has been assembled by robots. The engineers of the TOP 3000 have found very few corners to cut. The unit even has a power switch, which in some people's opinion, being an USB product -- is unnecessary to have. Not to mention too; the unit can be powered from an external 5VDC supply, or powered from the USB port itself. It is recommended that the external 5VDC power supply (which is supplied with the product) be used in most situations where other USB devices are being used, because this unit will draw a few hundred milliamps of current, and 500mA of current is bordering on the limitations of the USB port(s).


:: More than just a programmer ::

The TOP 3000 also has the ability to analyze many ICs (integrated circuits) -- this includes the CMOS 4000 series and the now almost certainly defunct 74 TTL (transistor- transistor logic) devices. The comprehensive hardware of the TOP 3000 (lots of buffers and a RISC (reduced instruction set computing) -- processor make this possible. In fact, we believe that almost every pin of the 48-pin ZIF (zero insertion force) socket is of an active IO (input / output) nature. So, if you suspect that a discrete IC is at fault whilst doing a repair, then forget about using an oscilloscope and a datasheet to verify its integrity -- just de-solder it and place it in the TOP 3000 to test it. It could not be any simpler. 


:: Windows-based Software ::

We installed, ran & tested the Windows-based software on Pentium 4, 3.0GHz machine running Windows XP. We are not as equally as impressed with the software as we are with the physical hardware attributes of the programmer itself. Unfortunately, the software appears to lack a degree of coherency and a somewhat intuitive nature for the user, and the rather mediocre level of English doesn’t help. However, the software does appear complete, comprehensive, fast and bug-free.


:: Conclusion ::

This is a professionally crafted tool, which is more than capable of programming / reading almost any MCU or EPROM that you could ever possibly imagine. The list of devices that are supported is absolutely phenomenal. The unit comes neatly packed in a case, which will require minimal realestate on your desk. The unit is USB driven and powered, with the option to power it from the supplied external power supply. For the price – you really couldn’t ask for much more, besides some PLCC44 & 32 adaptors, which are readily available! 


Trent Jackson

20 years experience with electronics. Qualified computer programmer ...     
Author of numerous DIY projects, published in print & online.



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