A brief overview of my tiny electronics lab which is more like a corner in a room than a lab. I could say the philosophy of my lab is similar to my desings – keeping it compact as well as minimal and tidy when possible. Many electronics hobbyists are hoarders, having lots of old, broken, and excess stuff “just in case” there would be a need for all that one day. I used to be more like that as well but moving abroad forced me to save only the necessities. While I have started re-collecting things, I do try to stick with the “do I really need this?” thinking.
Multi-functional instruments are excellent when trying to keep the lab compact. PC-controlled instruments can also be useful and good enough for occasional use.
Oscilloscope: Keysight MSOX3104T
The king of my lab. I could never afford such scope but I won it on Keysight Scope Month raffle in 2016. It is a superb piece of kit for a small lab due to extensive features:
- 1 GHz mixed-signal oscilloscope with 8.5″ touchscreen, 5 GSa/s sample rate, 1M waveforms/s update rate, and full software options bundle – all in a compact package
- Four 1 GHz analog channels
- 16 digital channels
- 20 MHz arbitrary waveform generator
- 3-digit digital voltmeter and 8-bit counter
- I2C, I2S, SPI, RS232/422/485/UART, CAN, etc. decoders
- Few other extra software options
With full software bundle this is basically a high-bandwidth (for non-RF use) oscilloscope, logic analyser with serial decoders, and simple waveform generator in one device.
While this kind of scope is beyond the budget of almost any hobbyist, you can get quite similarly featured lower-bandwidth models for example from Rigol for a reasonable price.
PSU: Keysight E36312A
Solid bench PSU from a reputable manufacturer but has had some bugs as this is still very new model. Some of them have been addressed in firmware updates already, hopefully the rest will follow.
- Triple output (linear) bench power supply
- 2x 0-25 V / 1 A
- 0-6 V / 5 A
- Main terminals on front, rear terminals with sense lines
- Extensive I/O with USB, GPIB, and LAN
- Logging, sequencing, series/parallel settings, and various bells and whistles in terms of software features
Again a freebie from Keysight, this time not from a raffle but “Power Up Your Bench” contest. Needless to say, I really recommend attending Keysight contests and raffles!
PSU: Rigol DP832
This I have bought myself before I got the Keysight PSU. Basic functions are similar to Keysight but it misses some of the fancier software stuff although some can be bought as software options (or hacked…). Rigol does provide more power than Keysight, in fact triple the current on two main outputs. This is my PSU suggestion for a hobbyist, very good value for money compared to more “pro” brands. This model also has had quite some issues in the beginning, both hardware and software, but they have been fixed by now – check this if buying a second hand unit. EEVBlog have several videos regarding these issues.
- Triple output (linear) bench power supply
- 2x 0-30 V / 3 A
- 0-5 V / 3 A
- Extra software options such as higher resolution readings, trigger I/O, monitor and analysis, RS232 and LAN – but as Rigol scopes this is also hackable which may interest hobbyists.
DMM: Two cheap handheld meters
Two basic handheld meters I’ve had for over 15 years. Nothing fancy here but do the job which is mostly checking that voltages/currents are present and in the ballpark.
Soldering iron: Metcal SP 200
I got this second hand from another hobbyist with a good set of tips few years ago. Very good but basic soldering iron, does not have any controls, not even temperature which is set by the tip model. Metcals can be a bit pricey overall though as tips are more expensive than many other brands.
I also use a cheap Maplin fume extractor.
Hot air: 858D
Somewhat famous cheapo eBay model. I don’t use it that much though. Usually if I need to desolder ICs I use ChipQuik desoldering alloy (very handy!) as I do not like hot air melting everything on surroundings. However, it is good to have.
What instruments next?
I am lucky to have access to Audio Precision analysers at work. However, I do not want to spend much extra time there working on my own things. As I do lots of audio stuff, I really need to get some kind of analyser at home to do debugging with, and then only do final performance measurements at work. Unfortunately good and versatile audio analysers are outside hobbyists’ budget so this will likely be some form of DIY USB-audio interface with generic PC software.
I do not have need for an accurate DMM often but proper bench DMM would be handy sometimes. I presume my choice would be again Rigol or used Agilent/Keysight.
The same goes for bench wafeform generator; not often need for such thing but sometimes. My scope’s integrated generator is quite crippled in terms of bandwidth (especially using square wave) and features.
Components and tools
Following my philosophy, also my component stock is very small. I got rid of all “just in case” stuff when I moved abroad so I mostly have SMD parts and only basic connectors and through-hole components. I order only what I need when building a board.
The same with tools, I try to keep my toolbox quite minimal. And to be fair you do not need many tools for electronics work. You get quite far with pliers, wire cutter, wire stripper, and basic screwdriver kit.
For soldering I have thin and thick solder, metal and plastic tweezers, soldering wick, flux, and ChipQuick desoldering alloy.
Software and services
PC work is big part of electronics engineering these days. Luckily times are excellent in terms of free software and PCB services. I use following software and services:
- KiCad, schematics and PCB layout
- I have slowly created my own library which is getting quite comprehensive for my needs
- In addition to basic package I have bom2csv BOM plugin and my own Python script that pulls components from my “stock” spreadsheet
- I order PCBs from Elecrow and components from Mouser and Digikey
- Custom aluminium front panels are from Schaeffer AG, otherwise cases are mostly from eBay
- I am not the biggest fan of Arduino but have used it for some designs; and must say Arduino have done a lot of good for electronics maker community
- Otherwise I develop my Atmel C firmware with Atmel Studio
- Simulations I do with LTSpice