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Equipment for Hobbyists

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by hugoender, Jun 13, 2008.

  1. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    I just entered the field of electronic circuit hobbyist. I am an Electrical Engineering Graduate and am looking to start purchasing my own equipment (tired of using the equipment at work/school).

    I am a college student, however, I do have family members that would be willing to buy me some pricey components (graduation presents). By pricey i do not mean $1000+... instead i mean <$300 :eek: This should give you an idea of my budget. I know in electronics you get what you pay for but hey, this is the budget I have to work with.

    I need a power supply, soldering iron (and station), DMM, oscilloscope, maybe function generator.

    Now my questions are the following:
    1. For a hobbyist (so far I am only making simple circuits such as LM386 audio amplfiier, FM transmitter, IR alarm, etc.), do I need all the equipment I listed above or do I not need all of that or do I need more? I already have the small stuff like breadboard, perfboards, wires, etc.

    2. Which make and model of each of those components would you recommend (they need to be good since I will probably be doing this for the rest of my life, but not extremely expensive since I am still a college student)?

    I know that an oscilloscope is really expensive but I believe it is a very useful tool for creating a troubleshooting circuits. I have two relatives that want to give me something for my graduation so I would be able to purchase two relatively expensive pieces of equipment (<$300) or maybe even one really expensive one (<$600).

    Thank you for your time and input on this matter. Hopefully this thread can serve as a starting point for other newcomers to the world of electronics.
     
  2. Optikon

    Optikon New Member

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    Since you are a hobbyist, I assume you will continue with your hobby for a long time to come. So my suggestion would be that you need all of it (above) in the long term. The order in which you aquire your items should be commensurate with what you need at the time. Some tips:

    1) there are lots of cheap DMM's that will temp someone with a tight budget. Don't fall for it (you will thank me later) buy a good model and you'll never have to buy one again.

    2) The scope is tricky on a budget. I would recommend a digital storage (will be more expensive) but some good used deal can be had on ebay. My best advice is to just save up for that one on your own and it will take awhile but a scope is a good investment.

    3) Let someone get you a power supply for a gift. You pick it out (dont let them!) and tell them thats what you want.. it fits nicely into the < $200 category.


    4) ditto on the solder station. get adjustable heat with plenty of tips big & small. dont forget solder/sponges/tinner/stand etc.. all useful



    After years of being a hobbyist and doing electronics for a living as well - if I was to do it all over again I would have someone give me the $600 and I would save up another $400 or so and blow that on a digital storage scope (ebay or otherwise) in the meantime, I would make due with the schools equipment (soldering, powers supplies etc..)

    My opinion only.. it is very tought to get a *GOOD* scope... there are lots of deals on low frequency analog ones (say < 100MHz) but your will be dissapointed when your work starts becoming more complex.. like needing 4 channels instead of 2, 100MHz instead of 20MHz. Ability to freeze display on a one-shot event. etc... I have *GIVEN* low-end analog scopes away to people just to get rid of them.. that's how little I value them. They are good only for the most fundamental & mundane kind of work. Again my opinion only.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2008
  3. uaefame

    uaefame New Member

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    I recommend you to get
    1- Multimeter
    2- PIC programmer
    3- Few PIC
    4- variable Power supply
     
  4. dave

    Dave New Member

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  5. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    Thank you for your posts. If you could include the make or models of some of the equipment you think would be good for someone like me I would greatly appreciate it.

    As far as the oscilloscope goes... I know this is the hardest piece of equipment to get just because it is so expensive and you really are getting what you pay for. What do you guys think of the Bitscope and Picoscope ones that use your computer? These seem like cheap alternatives with decent specs.
     
  6. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    Another question, uaefame mentioned PIC. I have never dealt with anything I have had to program with my computer. This being said, is it easy to learn? I have noticed that a lot of circuits sometimes use PICs so I am interested in learning. If someone could link to me a nice set for programming PICs that'd be great.
     
  7. dknguyen

    dknguyen Well-Known Member

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    It's not hard to learn..but how did you get through EE without ever having to program anything? At my university there are mandatory programming courses, and then after that programming is part of other courses, and then there is the final project which is almost impossible to avoid programming in.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2008
  8. quixotron

    quixotron New Member

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    You can probably rent scopes and function generators from your school. at purdue, some friends and i were able to ret out a digital scope for short term lease w/o any deposit.

    but yes, for a hobbyist you will need:

    1: oscilloscope, otherwise how will you analyze your signal in the time domain? probably a rhode-schwarz, HP or agilent or Tektronix
    2: soldering iron, solder wick, etc
    3: waveform/function generator HP or agilent
    4: spectrum analyzer, to view your circuits frequency components
    5: multi-meter. if you dont want a bench set, you can buy a handheld one for under 50 USD.


    I suggest you look for ham radio fests. they have the equipment you're looking for at bargain bin prices. dont expect the latest model to sell for 100 USD, some of the stuff maybe outdated, but of course you aren't rich.

    good luck!
     
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  9. quixotron

    quixotron New Member

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    don' laugh! at the inillinois institute of technology they teach java based courses but lack matlab. a number of students had to transfer or take classes from purdue in matlab because their dept was lacking it.

    but most EE teach some type of programming. i can't see any campus not teaching matlab.
     
  10. uaefame

    uaefame New Member

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    lol, i am a mechanical engineering and the only thing i am familar most in electrical are PIC because its easiest to learn here are some good websites:
    1- Tutorial 1
    2- Tutorial 2

    These are not my tutorial but i am reading them no harm in sharing :)

    I wish that help u start
     
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  11. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    Well I went to University of Michigan but I specialized in microwave circuits and never touched a PIC. Yes, of course I had programming (Matlab, C++, etc.) but not programming a PIC. Never had to use one. My senior design project was designing and fabricating a transceiver. This did not require any programmable circuit.

    Thank you all for your input and thanks for the links. I will be sure to take a look.
     
  12. BeeBop

    BeeBop Active Member

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    I agree, take the cash for gifts and combine it with your own to get a scope. Older analog scopes can be found for a reasonable amount.

    A quality DMM, and soldering station are worth spending the cash for, you will probably use these a lot more than any other equipment...

    A bench power supply is not too difficult to make yourself. There are many ways to do this, and for the first few years, something simple - an analog supply which can provide about 1.5 Amps at ~0 to ~25V plus and minus should serve you well... Designs can be found in data sheets for 78xxx and 79xxx regulators. Some 7805 data sheets have a good design for a 5V power supply with a bypass transistor to get more than 1.5A with current limiting

    As some of the others point out, micro controllers will keep you delighted for hours, and are really worth the time you spend...
     
  13. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    I was going to make my own power supply but being that I just started making circuits, I don't really want to mess around with Mains. They scare me. I wired a battery pack using wires and tape once for an audio amplifier and wired them wrong by mistake and burnt my hand when I touched them (I am guessing a lot of current was running through the small wires and thus dissipating a lot of heat). After this I decided I was not ready to start messing with Mains :p
     
  14. BeeBop

    BeeBop Active Member

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    Well, that doesn't mean you have to spend several hundred dollars on a bench supply, just yet. You could get by with wall warts...

    Or, get an old amplifier for cheep - perhaps one that an amplifier IC is toast, and the power supply still functions, and turn it into a bench supply. That way the 'mains' stuff is done for you.

    I have respect for things like electricity, but not fear. When you have respect, you realize the danger, and use appropriate caution. When I first started, power supplies were usually + and - 250V or so....
     
  15. hugoender

    hugoender New Member

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    You are right. I typed that wrong... I have respect for electricity... but I do not have trust in my ability to know/use appropriate caution... and so I fear that I will do something dumb and die. :D
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2008
  16. Sceadwian

    Sceadwian Banned

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    The simplest and cheapest power supply I know of is an ATX power supply pulled from an old computer. You get high current +3.3 +5 and +12 volt lines, low power -12 and a stanby 5 volt line that operates even if the power supply is 'off' Turning it on is easy as shorting the green wire to ground (look up details on google) I hear recommendations of using power resistors on the various output lines because regulation on a switch mode supply goes out under very light loads. A single high power mosfet (and a damn good heatsink)with a simple opamp using a feedback resistor can turn the +12 volt line into a very nice linear regulated supply.
    Mine works great. I power my STK500 (AVR programmer) from it with a dedicated line and have the +12 -12 and +5 volts lines on bannana jacks I drilled holes for in the case with a simple toggle switch for power on. Looks like crap but it's idiot proof. ATX supplies are short circuit protected so if you end up shorting any line to ground the supply shuts down (I've tested this on numerous occasions)
    I've been thinking about buying a slightly better quality ATX supply for my next one as the power connector on this one is broken. If you intend to use an ATX supply seriously I'd recommend mounting a secondary box to the main ATX supply to hold control and connectors, the inside of an ATX supply is full enough and it needs it's airspace anyways.
     
  17. Henry T

    Henry T New Member

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    Imagine you short circuit something! Couple of amps flowing through something isn't fun, no variable current limiting, very "dirty" output, with all kinds of problems resulting...

    Best if you are just starting electronics is just to go get a LM317 or something similar a couple of resistors and voila, a variable power supply from 1.2V to ~30V, easy, can deliver an amp or 2, short circuit protected...

    Or make a nice little power supply with a couple of opamps and a (big) transistor, with variable current limiting,...

    See how I hammer on the fact that you best use a current limiting setup, it saves beginners a lot of frustrations from seeing stuff blow up the moment they apply power...


    Just my 2mV though...
     
  18. Mikebits

    Mikebits Well-Known Member

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    You should try to locate a electronics surplus store in your area. These outlets are a great place to get your hands on a power supply.
    Sci.Electronics FAQ: Surplus: USA
     
  19. Sceadwian

    Sceadwian Banned

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    Henry, ATX supplies are short circuit protected. I've never tested the +3.3 volt lines on mine, but tested both the +12 -12 and +5 main lines. I've plugged an RS232 board accidentally inverted into my PC, so it's 24 volts, power supply 'clicks' and humms in shutdown but no damage to any circuits. I wouldn't rely on it for 'serious' current limiting, but for a hobbyist it's wonderful.
     
    Last edited: Jun 14, 2008
  20. Mikebits

    Mikebits Well-Known Member

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    You could always fuse your project as a precaution. Cheap insurance, unless you use a fluke fuse. lol
     
  21. Sceadwian

    Sceadwian Banned

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    LM317 is a linear regulator, so it's power dissipated limited, forget to put a heat sink on it and it goes up in smoke, not so good for a hobbyist that doesn't know it. The ATX power supply takes care of all the nasty details for you for a basic +5 +12 -12 supply.
     

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