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Setting Up a Home Lab

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by [email protected], Jan 5, 2008.

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  1. Guest


    I'm a physics student and I just finished a (mostly theoretical)
    electronics class. I really enjoyed it and I was able to get a grant
    through my school for $250 to buy some electronics equipment to
    continue my studies independently (my school only offers one
    semester). I was looking for some suggestions as to what to buy. I've
    been looking at some analog trainers like the XK-550 Elenco Analog/
    Digital Trainer. My school has an oscilloscope and some circuit
    components, but that is about it. Any suggestions are appreciated.

  2. Tom Biasi

    Tom Biasi Guest

    Look for some kits that give hands-on application to the level of theory
    that you have studied so far.
    Investigate some kits that go a little beyond what you have studied and
    educate yourself as you go.
    Even though you have finished your semester, the professors would most
    likely assist you in what you are asking.

  3. Rich Webb

    Rich Webb Guest

    I'd recommend springing for "The Art of Electronics" AND its companion
    workbook "Student Manual for The Art of Electronics." You can get all
    the gizmos but a structured approach makes all the difference in the
    world. *Possibly* available through the school at a discount.

    The "Schwab's School Selection Grab Bag" ( may
    help fill in your miscellaneous parts drawers. You'll also need some
    op amps and other items that aren't likely to be in the grab bag.

    Note that a third edition is rumored to be on the way. In the natural
    course of things if you buy the current (second) edition the third
    will be released two weeks later. If you put off buying the second,
    then the third won't show up until sometime in 2009.
  4. radiosrfun

    radiosrfun Guest

    NRI's trainers - found on E-Bay (usually for like $10 or so) are good
    starters. NRI is out of business but it "appears" CIE is still in business -
    maybe they can expand the knowledge! Courses don't seem too bad in price.
  5. Chuck

    Chuck Guest

    Sounds as though the whole field is open game. Sometimes the best
    approach is to focus on something that really interests you. The other
    stuff will usually catch up with you sooner or later.

    Since you've had some theoretical background, the Art of Electronics
    suggestion is a good one. You might also look into The Electronics of
    Radio by Rutledge. It is intended to provide the underlying theory
    behind the construction of an actual shortwave transceiver that is
    available as a kit. That could be the beginning of a lifelong hobby.

    You can explore the book online here:

    Good luck.

  6. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    Instead of buying a ''trainer", consider buying proto-boards
    and the parts needed to build your own power supplies.
    A power supply is a good first project. You can wire it up
    on the proto-board, test everything, then if you want you
    can wire it permanently on perfboard, or etch your own
    PC board. See for complete
    PC board creation instructions and tips forusing the
    hand-drawn (Sharpie marker" approach.

    If you want to do digital stuff first, start with a single 15V supply
    and buy some generic 4000-series CMOS chips plus the "CMOS Cookbook"
    by Don Lancaster. Then you can later build a -15V supply to do
    standard op-amp stuff. I don't particularly recommend starting
    out with single-supply op-amps... they are too quirky and you
    will waste time tracking down circuit problems that would never
    have happened in a standard dual-supply circuit.

    If you want to stick to only digital, you can just build a single +5V

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    DAQARTA v3.50
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
    Scope, Spectrum, Spectrogram, FREE Signal Generator
    Science with your sound card!
  7. neon


    Oct 21, 2006
    i would spend the whole bundle on a used scope tektronics. books are there in the library for free and some people read the pictures and disregard the rest anyhow.
  8. I studied physics in college too. Perhaps I was fortunate to have a
    bit more extensive electronics course: Two semesters taught from the
    first edition of Horowitz & Hill, plus lab. But I was also interested
    in electronics as a hobby, so I continued the pursuit on my own.

    The aforementioned suggestions are good. I didn't have anything
    radically different. So I will make some parallel comments. First is
    to familiarize yourself with some suppliers, as you will quickly
    outgrow your neighborhood Radio Shack. Assuming you are in the US, a
    place like All Electronics or Parts Express if you are interested in
    audio, have catalogs that are not too forbidding. Those of us who do a
    lot of prototyping seem to favor Digi-Key and Mouser Electronics. Did
    I forget anybody else worth mentioning?

    Second, there is now some free software out there that is beneficial.
    I learned a lot about design by having to do it without modeling
    software, but today, I model everything I can with LTSpice. It's fun
    to doodle around with when I should be working. At audio frequencies,
    you can measure waveforms using your PC audio input / output (taking
    care not to blow up your PC) using a program like Virtual Analyzer.
    Should you ever consider making a printed circuit board, ExpressPCB is
    worth considering, though their software ties you to their fabrication
    service. There are free PCB boards that generate generic CAD files
    (Eagle), but with much steeper learning curve.

    Hope that helps. Electronics is a blast.
  9. Tom2000

    Tom2000 Guest

    Assuming that you're starting from scratch, probably the bare minimum
    to get you started on your budget would be:

    1. Breadboard strip and a roll of #22 ga jumper wire

    2. Some sort of power supply. It doesn't have to be fancy... might
    even be a battery pack.

    3. Digital voltmeter: don't spend a lot

    4. Cheap logic probe

    5. Hand tools: small long nose pliers, good wire cutters, flat-blade
    screwdriver. It's worth the money to splurge on good tools.

    6. A good soldering iron or used soldering station, small diameter
    solder, and a spool of SoderWick.

    There are a lot of good online sources of inexpensive parts, but
    shipping costs can kill you on small orders. Maybe you can talk to
    your electronics instructor to see if you can obtain some surplus
    parts from the school, or see if they'll obtain some parts for you
    through their purchasing folks.

    Depending upon what you're planning to do, you can get a lot of
    mileage from just a few carefully chosen transistors and ICs, a good
    resistor assortment, a handful of capacitors, maybe a few inductors,
    etc. Mostly you'll be scrounging cheap parts whenever and wherever
    you can. This will be a never-ending process.

    Try to find others locally who share your interest. Maybe you can
    trade parts among you, or set up joint purchases from online sources
    to minimize the impact of shipping costs.

    These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. (I'm a home
    experimenter.) If the bug bites, you'll find yourself expanding your
    capabilities and inventory little by little, from discretionary funds.
    And if it doesn't bite, you won't have wasted a lot of cash.

    Have fun!


  10. You'll need a digital multimeter for starters, buy a half decent one,
    autorange, 4000 count at least, decent accuracy (<0.5%), capacitance
    tester etc. $100 will get you something decent.
    Get some variable laboratory power supplies (more than one), say 0-30V
    0-1A is popular. Make sure they have adjustable current limiting.
    These can be second hand from eBay.
    Get a function generator (sine/square/triangle), this can be second
    hand from eBay.

    Spend the rest on a breadboard, lots of parts, and any books you can

    Just checked that link you proved to the Elenco unit. It basically has
    the minimum what I said above, but the individual parts will be much
    better value than that kit.

  11. redbelly

    redbelly Guest


    Good idea, but instead of a roll of wire get a kit of pre-cut, already
    stripped, color-coded jumper wires. Available at Radio Shack, should
    be next to their breadboard strips.

  12. Why?

    Learning to cut and strip wire is something that needs to be learned.
    It's actually something the beginner can do, since it's a mechanical
    skill while much of the electronics will still be a mystery. And after a
    bit of breadboarding, the wire will build up so there's an existing pile
    for the further breadboarding.

  13. Rich Webb

    Rich Webb Guest

    Plus, the color coding in the pre-cut wire kits that I've seen is based
    on length, not on function. Honestly, it's not all that terribly useful.
    A few feet of scrap CAT5 cable (solid, not the stranded "patch cable")
    could provide practically a lifetime supply of jumper wires. And one
    gets eight different color patterns! ;-)

    Small spools of real red and black may still be a good idea, though,
    for the power/ground jumpers.
  14. Bob Masta

    Bob Masta Guest

    Back in the day, Ma Bell used to provide a lifetime
    supply of jumpers every time she installed an office PBX,
    as the leftover scraps. Fat cables with many conductor
    pairs, all color coded. You may still find smaller lengths
    when they work on your neighborhood phone junction
    boxes, or hit the jackpot where they are tearing out an
    old PBX.

    Best regards,

    Bob Masta

    DAQARTA v3.50
    Data AcQuisition And Real-Time Analysis
    Scope, Spectrum, Spectrogram, FREE Signal Generator
    Science with your sound card!
  15. redbelly

    redbelly Guest

    Michael, Rich,

    Guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.

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