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Ross Robotics' Lab

 

  Everyone knows what a lab is, right?  Personally, I didn't have a name nor did I want one.  But my youngest son, around, 5 or 6 years old, started calling my work area "The Lab."  I had a 16' x 24' room dedicated to this hobby.  Now, my "Lab" is just a 10' x 10' area in my bedroom (yes, I am single).  But, I do have an outside shop that I use for the actual building and fabricating. 

  I think you can say that my lab has all the basic equipment to handle the small to medium sized projects and electronic repair work.  I'll list some of my equipment and post some pics, and link in some relevant info from time to time.

  Most electronic hobbyist should have some basic components on hand to quickly prototype and troubleshoot basic circuits.  You know the usual stuff like: resistors, capacitors, transistors, Diodes, LEDs and some generic IC chips.  Yep, gotta have a few dozen 555 timers on hand!  I have different varieties of LED drivers, LCD drivers, op-amps, 7400 logic chips, and quite a few varieties of MicroControllers.  I still have a ton of through-hole resistors and caps from when I started this hobby.  Now SMD is king.  But, I do still use through hole for rapid prototyping as this stage is usually done with Breadboards.

  So let's get to the good stuff!  I have some basic test equipment that are a must have if your heavily into electronics, like the usual multimeter, power supply, and a soldering iron.  But, there comes a time when these are just not good enough.  Plus, I really just want to show off my collection!

Multimeter

  Ok, so all electronics hobbyist must have some kind of multimeter.  You really can't do much without one.  So a decent hand held meter is the first option.  These can go a long way with this hobby.  I started out with just the cheap $5 meters and when I needed more accuracy and more features, I stepped up.  So, I'm going to be up front here, I don't own a Fluke, Agilent, Keysight DMM (Digital Multimeter).  I don't have the money for name brand.  So I got a good cheaper alternative, a Vichy.  A Vichy VC97.  These are about $30 on the popular auction site.  Has some nice features and, honestly, pretty accurate when used correctly.  There are a number of YT vids that hate on the China made brand which, by the way, has a number of ways to spell Vichy.  I've had mine for a number of years now and has never failed me.  I've beat this thing different ways to Sunday, yet it still turns on.  That's a huge plus in my book.  Ok, so maybe I got lucky.  But I love the damn thing.

  On the subject of DMMs, I got to the point where I needed more accuracy and more digits than my VC97 can give.  Did a ton of research and decided on a Fluke bench meter.  The 8840a.  One of the most common and respected bench DMMs in the EE world.  You can pick one of these up on auction sites between $40 that needs some repair or around $100-$120 for one that works.  I paid $104 including shipping and works a treat.  I really don't know how I got by without it.  I did purchase another 8840a that has a display problem.  These meters have the old fashioned VFD (Vacuum Fluorescent Display) and are notorious for going dim with age or just stop working all together.  I am in the process of trying to upgrade this display with an LED equivalent.  You can find my progress over here.

Soldering Station

  First, thanks for clicking!  Nice to know at least one person has read this..

  Anyway, the next item that is a must have, is the soldering iron.  Really can't do much with electronics without one.  Started out just using a $10 iron and this should be enough for the casual hobbyist.  Nothing wrong with using these cheap irons.  But, with the use of Lead-Free solder, the iron needs to be a little hotter to do the same job.  So, we have to go out and spend more money on an adjustable iron.  This opens up more possibilities for the iron besides just doing electronics work.  But, if you're going to spend more money for adjustable, why not expand it even more?  SMD components are the best for so many reasons, but are harder to solder by hand with a cheap iron.  It can be done, but if your spending the money to upgrade, go ahead and get the Station.  Stations include a hot air gun to get those tiny IC pins soldered.  With my budget, a Wakko, or any other name brand station is just out the window.  So we go back to our beloved auction site and do some research.  I settled on the GQ Electronics 5200 Station that has an adjustable iron and hot air station together.  Think I only paid $30 to $40 for it about 5 years ago and is still top notch today.  Again, I may have gotten lucky with the cheap brand.  This thing has done everything I've ever asked of it.  I would recommend this station to anyone on a budget.

Power Supply

  Power Supply

EM 20205 Bench Power Supply

  Next, I would recommend a good power supply.  Now, I do believe the saying, "you get what you pay for." Your power supply needs to be stable, low ripple (low noise), and most of all, reliable.  But I'm still on a budget.  I watched that one auction site and got this power supply dirt cheap and I liked the look of it as well (another important feature)!  It's the Electronic Measurement, INC. (EM) model 20205.  It's a 0-20V with a max current of 2.5 amps. 

  I've had this supply for about 8 years and is still my go to supply.  Part of this is due to it being an older model and they don't build anything like they used to. 

 

Mastech GPC3030D Power Supply

  I bought this supply new when I needed some more power.  It's not bad considering the price.  I think I bought like $60 for it on that one auction site.  It's been very reliable but it does have an issue of not being very accurate.  It has an error of ~2% when checked with my Fluke 8840a.  So I need the higher voltageand/or current, I will dial the voltage in with my Fluke before I power my project.  Other than that, it hasn't failed me.  Maybe I could make a little tutorial about adjustment..

Counter

C&C 150MHz Universal Counter

  Although this piece of equipment is not necessary, it's very handy.  Yes, an oscilliscope would do the trick, but it takes time to setup.  Counters are just easier.  I can agree that you don't need a name brand, well, not in the hobbyist market.  I picked mine up for $55 shipped. Even though this is a cheapie, it's pretty damned accurate.

  Image on the left is a 1KHz signal input.  I am highly impressed.  The closer you get to the bandwidth limit, the accuracy drops, which is to be expected.  But still impressive with just .08%.

more to come

Oscilliscope

Rigol DS1102E 100MHz 1Gsa/s

  It's defenitely nice to have an oscilliscope when doing any kind of electronics work, repairing, to prototyping.  The Rigol DS1102E is one that's common with hobbyists and features a wide range of features that's fairly affordable.  When this article was writen, this model was going for $300-$450 on that auction site.  Patience pays off.  I found mine on Craigslist for $200 brand new, never opened!  The gentleman was a college student and got his hands on a higher end model and I talked him down to $150.  I was stoked!  $150? Really? Yep.  Got home and I had to cut the bags open to play with it.  I new right then that I got lucky.  I absolutely love it!

  I'm going to get into detail about this scope since there is more than enough info scattered on the interwebs.  I will make a page for it on my Wiki with the specs and a few images.  I will also post some of it's quirks and down falls if there is any.