Neon Lamps — Not Just For Pilot Lights

Barbie Espinol

It’s easy to see why LEDs largely won out over neon bulbs for pilot light applications. But for all the practical utility of LEDs, they’re found largely lacking in at least one regard over their older indicator cousins: charm. Where LEDs are cold and flat, the gentle orange glow of a neon lamp brings a lot to the aesthetics party, especially in retro builds.

But looks aren’t the only thing these tiny glow lamps have going for them, and [David Lovett] shows off some of the surprising alternate uses for neon lamps in his new video. He starts with an exploration of the venerable NE-2 bulb, which has been around forever, detailing some of its interesting electrical properties, like the difference between the voltage needed to start the neon discharge and the voltage needed to maintain it. He also shows off some cool neon lamp tricks, like using them for all sorts of multi-vibrator circuits without anything but a few resistors and capacitors added in. The real fun begins when he breaks out the MTX90 tube, which is essentially a cold cathode thyratron. The addition of a simple control grid makes for some interesting circuits, like single-tube multi-vibrators.

The upshot of all these experiments is pretty clear to anyone who’s been following [David]’s channel, which is chock full of non-conventional uses for vacuum tubes. His efforts to build a “hollow state” computer would be greatly aided by neon lamp circuits such as these — not to mention how cool they’d make everything look.

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