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By Guido Socher


The Tuxgraphics AVR NTP clock



The Network Time Protocol (NTP) has revolutionized the world. Suddenly one could have anywhere in the world accurate time and date. NTP is a simple UDP based protocol and can be implemented in a Microcontroller.

Using the tuxgraphics ethernet board and a LCD display we build a nice clock which gets time and date via NTP. Just attach it to you DSL router!

_________________ _________________ _________________


A NTP client

So far we have only implemented UDP and TCP servers. A clock needs however to be a client. This is something new. A server just answers to incoming IP packets it is therefore a bit easier to implement. However NTP is a short packet and it is therefore possible to add a NTP client to the existing network stack. We can therefore build a clock which has not only a LCD display but also a build-in webserver. This can then be used to configure the clock or see the current time.

The NTP protocol is described in RFC958. Essentially it is just a 64 bit time-stamp. 32 bits of this time-stamp are the seconds in UTC (=GMT Greenwich mean time) since since Jan. 1st 1900. The other 32 bits are fractions of a second. In other words NTP can be very very accurate. For our purposes it is however enough if we just evaluate the seconds.

The AVR NTP clock synchronizes at startup with a NTP server and uses then a timer interrupt to maintain time locally. Every hour it tries then to synchronize again. If your DSL router is however off during the night then it's not a problem. The clock just continues. We use the on board crystal to maintain the clock locally. This will minimize the drift even if no Internet connection was possible for a couple of days.  

How to build a clock

A clock is essentially just a counter. Since NTP is already a 32-bit "counter" we just take a 32bit variable and increment it. That is: the initial setting of the counter comes via NTP and then we just count up every second.

For this we just generate a timer interrupt every second. The 16bit timer/counter of the atmega168 supports this already on hardware level.

The basic clock is therefore just this:
// interrupt, step seconds counter
The hardware interrupt is generated every second and we step the counter "time". Very easy.

If you had already a look at the code you might have noticed that the included README file says that one needs an atmega168 for this and a atmega88 not sufficient. Why should such a simple counter not fit into an atmega88 chip??.

The problem is the math to convert seconds since day-X into a human readable format. This requires quite heavy math for a microcontroller. AVR is a 8-bit processor therefore 32-bit math is expensive. Add the NTP client, the web-server and the LCD driver and you are above the 8Kb available in the atmega88. An atmega168 has however more than sufficient space. It fills not more than 2/3 of the atmega168. You can therefore easily add additional functions to this wall clock if you want.

The tuxgraphics AVR NTP clock

[LCD display + AVR webserver SMD board]
LCD display + AVR webserver SMD board is all you need.

The 16x2 LCD display with blue backlight and the AVR webserver SMD board are mounted on an acrylic glass sheet. For the power supply I used an old Ericsson Mobile phone charger (not visible on the picture). It produces 5V DC and is very light as it is a switched power supply. It plugs directly into the wall socket and the 5V DC output is then connected via a 1.5m cable to the clock. I got the charger at ebay for 2 Euro.

[NTP clock front view]
NTP clock front view

[NTP clock at night]
NTP clock at night


Using the clock

The clock has a LCD display with the following fields:
DayOfWeek       Date  X
Time     (offset to utc)
The X in the right corner is a status indicator: With the build-in web-server you can easily configure the clock:

[NTP clock config page]
NTP clock config page

The fields on that configuration page (URL http://ClockIP/config) are as follows:

It is also possible to use this clock if the NTP server to query is not in the internet but on the local LAN. In this case you just specify the NTP server address as both "NTP server IP" and "Default GW".

The web server has also a second page (URL http://ClockIP) where you can just see the current time and date as shown on the LCD display.

[NTP clock main page]
NTP clock via web-browser


The NTP clock hardware

The hardware is the tuxgraphics AVR ethernet board (aka avr webserver board) and a 16x2 HD44780 compatible LCD display. I recommend to use for the ethernet board our SMD board as it fits nicely behind the display. A circuit diagram of the ethernet hardware is available at http://tuxgraphics.org/electronics/200611/embedded-webserver.shtml. The LCD display is then connected as follows:

[NTP clock circuit, LCD connection]
NTP clock circuit, LCD connection (click for a circuit diagram in PDF format)

You can power the 3.3V regulator of the ethernet board and the LCD display and the back light from a 5V DC power supply. I used an old Ericsson mobile phone charger for that purpose.

Between atmega168 pin PB1 and VCC (3.3V) you can optionally connect a 270 Ohm resistor and a LED. The LED will then go on and off every second (blink).  

FAQ section

Q: My clock works but it is almost 5min off before the next synchronization at the full hour.
A: You forgot to set the fuse bytes. Change the low fuse byte from 0x62 to 0x60: avrdude -p m168 -c stk500v2 -u -v -U lfuse:w:0x60:m

Q: When I access the clock via the web browser then everything is fine. The LCD display shows however no time. I see just a row of squares.
A: Make a table on paper and note down which ATmega pin name needs to be connected to which LCD pin name and number. After that check every wire between ethernet board and LCD. There is a mistake somewhere.



A very nice clock and very pretty to look at ;-). There is space left on the flash memory of the atmega168. You can easily add functionality if you want.

Have fun!  


© Guido Socher, tuxgraphics.org

2009-03-23, generated by tuxgrparser version 2.56