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Parallel Port: Shift Registers

Now that we've controlled a LED by a single pin on the Parallel Port, it's time to expand our abilities. The goal of this post is to describe the usage of Shift Registers and then consume a minimal amount of pins, 3 out of the 8 available, to control up to 64 outputs!

A Shift What?

So, you have 8 digital input/output pins on the Parallel Port. This isn't the greatest amount and it'd be really nice to extend the amount available. There are a few ways, but a popular method is to employ a shift register.

A shift register is an IC which takes a 'serial' input and then outputs this on it's output pins in 'parallel'. By 'serial', we mean that the IC accepts input data on one pin only. This data is provided by you, as either a '1' or a '0'. Once you've set the value on the input pin, you then toggle another pin, known as the 'clock' pin, to tell the IC that the data is ready to be consumed.

The shift register, once the clock pin is toggled to a '1' and then back to a '0', will look at the input pin and then copy this value into it's internal register. We're using a 74HC595 which has 8 internal registers and therefore 8 output pins. At this point, the IC shifts all values on it's 8 internal registers up one slot and then sets the very first internal slot to the value you've provided.

You can then provide 7 more values, toggling the clock pin between each, an the IC will shift them along it's internal registers. What you've now done is set an 8-bit value inside this IC. Once the IC contains the value you've requested, you toggle the 'latch' pin and the IC will shift these 8 values out to the 8 output pins. These are known as 'parallel' as there is a single pin for each value; as opposed to the input which is serial (or one-after-another) on a single pin.

So, we've used 3 pins/wires here to control 8 output pins... pretty neat hey? We've turned our original 8 Parallel Port pins into (8-3) + 8... 13!

But wait, there's more! There's an 'output' pin on the shift register that reports the 'shifted off' value. What can you do with this? Feed it into a neighbour shift register as the 'input'. Hook up the same clock/latch wires as the first register and then, when you shift the 9th bit into the first, the very first bit you shifted in will be shifted out of the first register and into the second.

This means that, with the same 3 wires, you now have 16 outputs! Of course, you can keep doing this. I can't find anywhere that mentions how many you can effectively chain up. Of course, as you add more, the time to toggle out the values increases and you need to make sure that your code/hardware has time to think about other things instead of spending it all talking to the shift registers.

Connecting it to our previous circuit

We only used one line of the parallel port in the previous circuit and therefore only controlled one LED. For this first shift register, we'll need 3 lines. First thing is to hook up three LEDs with matching resistors. We could just hook two other lines up direct to our new shift register, but I like being able to visualise the data (and troubleshoot issues!)

Parallel-Port with 74HC595With this circuit, you'll be able to use the sample code in the previous post to control the 3 LEDs.

Sending out a 1, 2 or 4 should switch them on individually. Sending any combination of these, by adding them together, will turn on the associated LEDs. For example, sending out the decimal value 3 will switch on the first and second LED. The value 5 will switch on the first and third LED. As the value makes it to the port, it is split into it's individual bits, which are then translated to the data pins.

Once these are working, we're going to splice in some opto-couplers. We don't want any untoward voltages getting back to the parallel port. Optocouplers contain an LED and an internal light sensor. When power is applied to the input, the LED lights and the light sensor receives the signal. This is then output to the secondary circuit. This effectively provides an 'air gap' between the two circuits.

From these couplers we can control our shift register(s). Hook the three outputs to the 74HC595 shift registers SERIAL, CLOCK and LATCH pins. Remember the order as they each play key roles (as per the description of how they work above.)

Once you're ready, check that the three input LEDs react accordingly to basic Parallel Port data. Note that you may get erroneous data coming out of the shift register from the get-go. Data coming off the Parallel Port during system boot cannot be controlled and may cause havoc. We'll do something about this in a later article.

Building this required a LED array... you could do it easier and get one of those bar-graph arrays. Wiring up all the individual LEDs gets a little tricky.

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Controlling the data output

Based on the initial description of the shift register, we know that we have to control the 3 data lines in a special sequence. First thing we need is an 8-bit data value to send out. Once we have this we can send each data bit out via the SERIAL line; toggling the CLOCK signal in-between. Finally, toggling the LATCH should see our value displayed in a glorious binary LED representation!

I've used Windows and the Parallel Port code here to manually try and turn on LEDs. My wires are hooked up as D0:SERIAL, D1:CLOCK and D2:LATCH. I am going to send 00000001 as the value to ensure that all LEDs are turned off bar the first.

  1. Ensure that LATCH is low (red)
  2. Toggle D0 to RED, this is a '0' for the first bit of the serial value.
  3. Now toggle the CLOCK (D1) on and off 7 times.
  4. Toggle D0 to GREEN.
  5. Toggle the CLOCK on/off once more.
  6. Toggle D2 on and off...

If everything is hooked up, then you should now have one LED showing on the output of the 74HC595. It didn't quite work with this initial circuit... LEDs would light a little randomly.

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Although the above circuit worked, it was not reliable! Every now and then one LED (or two) past the one I wanted to switch on would also switch on! Sure, my soldering was dodgy, let alone the wiring also being messy. Either way, noise was being introduced and the flipping of the serial and clock was jumbled, causing random output.

The solution to this was to put a 100nf capacitor across the +5v and gnd supplying the 74hc595. This cap should be put as close to the IC pins as possible. Once in place, this stabilised the data from the PC Parallel port.


- HowTo: Understand the 74HC595 (David Caffey)
- Gammon Forum: Using a 74HC595 output shift register as a port-expander
- protostack: Introduction to 74HC595 shift register – Controlling 16 LEDs

What's Next?

Next is a 12v throttle. I intend on using the described sample here. The only issue is that it wants a potentiometer to vary the output voltage. This is an analogue method; we'll convert it to digital by calculating 8 resistor values to imitate the throttle at 8 positions.

I'll write this up soon once I've completed the circuit.

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