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PROM Programmer Introduction:

This page will attempt to give you pointers on finding a PROM / EPROM / EERPOM programmer. These programmers may also called burners (this is because the original PROMs were fusible link devices internally and the original programmers actually burned out these fusible links to program the device).

First, all chips are not created equal. For example; a SEEQ brand 2816A and an Xicor 2816C are not exactly the same chip. Some programmers can program both, some can only program one, some can only program the other and some can not program either. Both of the above sample chips have shown up in Syntor X radios (I think the Xicor was an aftermarket substitution) so you may encounter either chip or even the slightly different 2816B. Another example is the Intel 27128A EPROM. It appears to be different from any other 27128 chip from any other manufacturer. So the chip manufacturer as well as the chip part number must be taken into account when looking for a programmer. The most important thing to realize about programmers is they only support certain chip part numbers and even then, usually only chips from certain manufacturers. The reason is, different chips can be very sensitive as to how the programmer programs them, so the ability to program chips that are close, similar or from another manufacturer is not good enough. Different chips use very different programming voltages and algorithms, so if you use the wrong programmer the worst case is the programmer can be damaged/destroyed, or the chip can be damaged/destroyed, or the programmed bits may not hold for anywhere near their rated life span (i.e. the chip may self erase while in use), or the chip may not program completely or at all.

The documentation on what chip part numbers and manufactures a programmer supports is called their device list. A programmer without its documentation is just about useless to most people.

If you buy a used programmer, pay special attention to the above paragraph. Unless it is positively known to program the chips you want to program, the device list is critical. Unless you have experience and detailed knowledge about a particular programmer or have money to burn, I strongly advise you not to buy any used programmers without their complete documentation. Sometimes you can still get factory documentation and/or support on some used programmers (find out first before you buy it).

Keep in mind that some programmers have special adapters or parts for different chips. This means that even if the device list claims the programmer will program a particular chip, you might not have all the programmer's optional parts needed to actually program that chip. This is especially important for used programmers when these special parts might not be available any longer.

If you think you have all the above figured out, keep in mind that you may run into an unexpected chip substitution like the Xicor 2816C chip in the Syntor X example above. The other significant part of selecting a programmer is figuring out exactly what chips you might ever possibly want to program. You can drop a large chunk of change on a programmer, only to run into some unexpected chip substitution that it will not be able to program. Frustration is a complete understatement when you buy an expensive item that does not do what you need it to do.

The other big difference between programmers is the cost. If you want a programmer that can program almost any chip that was ever made, the starting price tag will probably be around $ 2000 for a new one and will go well beyond the starting price by the time you get the specialized chip sockets. New programmers can go for as little as $ 160 new, but they have a very limited number of devices they can program. So your selection of what chips you want to program will have a huge effect on new programmer prices.

There are also programmer kits and some home built programmers. The home built ones are usually targeted at programming a specific chip and some of them can be darn simple to build. Here is an example link for one you can build yourself.

Some programmers require a computer that can host a dedicated PC board card to support the programmer. A cable connects the external programmer hardware with the computer PC card. These are typically old IBM compatible PC computers with ISA card slots, but not always. The computer also hosted special programming software that used the PC card to run the programmer. These can be a bit bulky as they typically require a desktop computer and will not run without the computer and its special PC card. In this case the computer is actually considered as part of the programmer.

Do not forget that most programmers require a specific type of computer and operating system to download the information you want to program on a chip. Some programmers require special software that runs on a compatible download/interface computer just to work at all (if needed, this is especially important for used programmers). These download/interface programs are usually written for a particular operating system and computer type. Even some new programmers still require real MS DOS to run their interface programs. Some programmers only require a serial data connection and will work with anything that can send RS-232 data in a specific format. Most programmers require a serial or parallel port connection to the host computer. The newer laptops are getting rid of RS-232 and going to USB. You might think you need an RS-232 adapter for a USB laptop, except you can not run real serial port MS DOS programs with a USB adapter, so what you may really need is an old DOS capable computer with a serial port for some programmers. Really cheap or sometimes free 286 / 386 / 486 computers will usually fill this niche nicely. So, you have to think ahead to get a computer that will run the programmer's interface software (if needed), can communicate with the programmer and is compatible with whatever you use to generate the information you want to program into any chips (if your source information is on a CD ROM or 3.5" floppy and you get an old 286 with 5 1/4" floppies and no CD ROM, well you get the idea.....).

There are also specialized programmers that will only copy already programmed chips which are not useful for programming new radio code plugs. They were designed for manufacturing operations where a worker without much training can make production copies from a master chip. There are also gang programmers that are usually like the regular programmers, except they have multiple chip sockets and can program many chips at the same time. Gang programmers are usually useful even for single chips, but the prices for new ones can go through the roof. Some gang programmers are designed to only make many simultaneous copies of an already programmed chip and are also not useful for programming new radio code plugs.

If you take all the device lists, special parts, "some", "many" and "most" programmers variables already mentioned into account, you can begin to understand why complete documentation is so important with used programmers. There are lots of different things to understand about any individual programmer that can remain a complete mystery without the documentation. Buying a mystery programmer will eat your money and most probably give you nothing at all in return (well, maybe it can be used as a doorstop or something).

Then there are the bells and whistles. You can purchase PROM programmers that run off of batteries. Some of these are limited to only allow programming certain chips when they are battery powered. A battery powered programmer can be run with a laptop in the field and it could also cost more.

Here is a list of code plug chips that might be found in Syntor and Syntor X radios:

The Syntor X 9000 RSS and RIB handles programming its EEPROMs. If you wanted to try hacking a Syntor X 9000 radio code plug then you can add all versions/manufacturers of the 2816, 2864, 28C16 and 28C64 to your list. In addition the 27128A is commonly found in Syntor X 9000 radios and the 32 pin PLCC version AT27C256R-JI is commonly found in SMD Syntor X 9000 control heads.

Syntor conversions may also use the 2716, 2816 and 28C16 variations. Syntor conversion adapters can also be setup for 2764, 27C64, 27128, 27C128, 27256, 27C256 or 2864, 28C64, 28128, 28C128, etc. and a host of other possible chips.

The above chip part numbers are only ones I am aware of. The factory could have substituted chips I am not aware of or someone could have done a substitution in the field. So the above information may not be correct in every case.

I know some people that also want to program some the old Xicor X2212 chips used in some G.E. radios. Finding a new programmer that can handle this chip will usually drive the base price up to around $ 400 or so.

After you put your requirements for your programmer together, here are a very few links I found on the Internet. I have never used any of these new programmers, so I can not recommend any of them. However, they appear to be from reputable manufactures, so I assume they will do what they claim to do:

Just be careful and make sure what the manufactures say their programmer can do is what you need or want to do.

You can use a search engine to check the Internet for additional programmers. Magazines like Nuts & Volts or Circuit Cellar for example, and others also have adds for programmers.

Unfortunately programmers are an item that like to have lots of money thrown at them (for a new one at least). Most people with simple needs can get by with the cheapest ones. More specialized needs or insurance against the odd unexpected chip substitution (i.e. larger device lists) really jack the new prices up.







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