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Home Grown... Electronics Labs


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#1 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 03:15 AM

I thought it would be cool to see everyone's electronics lab/shop. Plus I wanted show off the tiny little lab I put together from broken down and discarded equipment. That said, I do have some things I bought new, like my Rigol oscilloscope, Fluke 289 multimeter and BK LCR meter. Other than that though, everything was either second hand or repaired.
 
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I have so much equipment (and more not shown) that I have almost no table space, haha. I usually end up putting things I'm building or fixing on top of the old HP pulse generator or the floor. Got to love how small my room is. Before anyone thinks I'm a creep who doesn't use his equipment--the dust caps are put on because my room fills with lint and dirt from the wind blowing up against my window and the dryer vent leaking in the house. Both of which sinisterly work together in filling my room with a thick layer of dust in a weeks time, which subsequently makes me want to fight someone. But what can you do...
 
Tomorrow I'll upload some more pics of the lab, mainly my assortment of cables and probes as well as my meager library of engineering books, which is still slowly growing.


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#2 Raui

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 07:31 AM

Nice lab Garrett, certainly got a bit more test equipment than myself. I'll post up a picture of my lab in the near future. You've certainly got a nice collection there though and you say you have more..every hackers wet dream :D


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#3 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 29 July 2013 - 05:05 PM

Thanks. I've been collecting for a while now; though, sometimes I wonder if I'm going overboard. But when I see sweet deals on things I'm interested in I tend to get excited and pick them up... and do the ritual tear down, checkup and calibration. It's funny how hobbies progress, as I started out not knowing anything and am now regularly fixing and calibrating complicated pieces of equipment. I've been buying, fixing, selling and collecting equipment since 2009. Though I've made a lot of mistakes along the way, I think I now have a pretty good handle on the art of test equipment. Recently I've been getting into exotic equipment like current sources, pico ammeters, electrometers, lock-in amplifiers and various RF gear. When I save up enough money I want to buy a spectrum analyzer with tracking generator, as these things are pretty versatile and to use Dave Jones' (of EEV Blog) favorite phrase "pornographic," haha.


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#4 Sputins

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Posted 30 July 2013 - 12:02 AM

Very nice collection of equipment! Impressive indeed. Going overboard, ..nar!  


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#5 ColoradoSpringsFilms

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Posted 02 August 2013 - 04:36 AM

I'm embarrassed haha.

Beautiful collection there Garrett.

 

Mine is still quite small, considering I haven't had too many years collecting. 

Being a sophomore in HS...lol, but I'm gonna keep bringing in some stuff and hopefully it'll

amount to something quite nice.

 

John


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#6 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 02 August 2013 - 06:21 AM

John and Sputins thanks!

 

Yeah, labs take time to assemble. Also, knowing what you want or need is a hard thing to grasp initially. I started assembling mine out of high school and didn't know anything about anything at first, and I was a guy who loved electronics but never took it to the next level. Getting equipment can definitely help you become more proficient in the art, as you will end up learning more than you intended from reading up on how to use equipment and repairing them. Especially from the older (pre 1990s) Tektronix, Keithley and HP equipment, as their manuals are shining examples of logical thought and mental clarity that make todays look like toilet paper in comparison.

 

When assembling a new lab, know that "old" or vintage equipment is sometimes much better than new stuff--notably cheap Chinese equipment. Especially with pulse generators, for high voltage and pico second rise times at least--I seem to have an infatuation for pulse generators lately, haha. Good 6 & 1/2 digit multimeters can be had pretty cheap on eBay, notably older HP, Keithely or Fluke units are among some of the highest quality for the price. Somethings that most people don't consider are test leads and probes, which ends up being where most of my money is actually spent. These are indispensable when working and interconnecting a device under test (DUT) with equipment. I try to stay with Pomona when it comes to simple connectors and cables, as for probes, Tektronix, PMK/Lecroy and HP/Agilent are among the better brands to buy. Other accessorites that people don't usually have are coaxial resitive spliters, 50ohm feed-throughs, termiations and attenuators, which all become important when using oscilloscopes, signal generators, fequency counters and other time and fequency domain equipment.


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#7 Robert

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Posted 02 August 2013 - 11:20 AM

Hi Garrett,

 

I take your point about the vintage tools and their manuals often being better.

 

If you could only have one pulse generator, which would it be?


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#8 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 02 August 2013 - 08:08 PM

Good question Robert,

It really depends on what you are looking for: maximum pulse repetition rate, maximum pulse amplitude, fast rise and fall times, adjustable dc offset, minimum pulse width, etc. These are all important for different reasons and specific applications, like time-domain reflectometry requires short pulses with sharp rise times--preferably sub nanosecond rise times. If working on logic circuits you would sometimes want to control the slope of rising and falling edges to minimize RF bandwidth as well as control the DC offset level to conform to ECL, TTL and CMOS logic.

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For an all-around pulse generator, I would say that the HP 8116A or its brother the 8112A are the best to buy for their extreme versatility. The 8116A can produce pulse sine and triangle waves along with more complex signals with use of a second signal generator and it’s advanced triggering, sweep and modulation functions. The pulse functions on the 8112A are better but the 8116A is more well-rounded, and has good pulse characteristics like a 50MHz repetition rate, 8ns min width, 6ns rise and fall times with 8v peak pulse amplitude and 16v max sine and triangle amplitude. These are some of the best pulse generators ever made for the physical dimensions and the price (~$150USD); newer Chinese gear may look better but they can't compete with well-engineered vintage American or European equipment.

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For something more exotic, the HP 214B is a 100 volt 200 watt pulse generator with vacuum tube output. These are capable of a pulse repetition rate around 15Mhz, with output power reducing from 4MHz to 15MHz. Rise and fall times are around 15ns and the minimum pulse width is around 10ns. Being an all analog piece of equipment you can enable settings that are incompatible and takes some skill and understanding to use properly. The unit shown is actually comprised of three different pulse generators that I bought to fix up. In the end, I made triple my investment after selling the other two and a spiffy clean and fully functional pulse generator to boot.

 

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Going into the extreme and ultra rare, a Huggins 961D Nanosecond Pulser [1] can provide 500pS rise times at up to 3000 volts amplitude for 180kW of pulse power. Though the repetition rate is limited to 60 cycles per second. The magic of this unit is done with charge-lines--a length of coaxial cable used to store electrostatic energy much like a capacitor. To operate the unit you need to connect an HN [2] equipped coax cable between the top right terminals, the length of the cable determines the pulse width or duration. As could be guessed, this is a cumbersome unit in regards to ease of use, but the capabilities of it are worth the hassles of mucking around with coax cables.

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On the other side of the extreme, for faster rise times and a small form factor, the AVTech AVMP-2-P is an interesting choice. This oddball pulse generator is rated for 0-10v amplitude, up to 1MHz repetition rate with 5-100ns pulse widths and less than 100-135pS rise and fall times, which makes it a good pulse source for time-domain reflectometry.

As you can see, no two pulse generators are quite alike. They all vary in form, specifications and ease of use. Finding the right one really comes down to realizing what you want to do and determining the basic requirements of your application.

Foot Notes:
[1] This unit is so old (~1960s) and so rare that I wasn't able to find a user manual, but oddly enough it was used in a physics experiment for someone's PhD thesis which gave some of the operating specs of the unit (pg 11-12)
[2] HN is a high-voltage version of the N connector (Neill connector).

[3] All voltages and power ratings are in reference to a 50 ohm load.


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#9 Robert

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Posted 02 August 2013 - 09:26 PM

Thanks for such a detailed answer, Garrett.

 

I searched and found quite a few units that were advertised as "for parts or not working" and those were the ones in the price range that you mention. The listing would typically state that a certain error code was shown on the status display. So perhaps that might be one reason why you got into repair? In a past life I was a component-level repair guy, of PCs, peripherals, and VDUs, so I'm wondering, how easy or difficult is it to diagnose and repair these units?

 

 

EDIT: It could even be a nice little business: buying the faulty units and reselling the repaired units.


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#10 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 03 August 2013 - 04:16 AM

Yeah, to save on costs I usually take the plunge into buying the "parts not working" units--with great scrutiny of course.

 

Normally, most problems are related to fuses, worn out electrolytic capacitors, bad fans and broken switches. Other times you have bad semiconductors which can be hard to find equivalent replacements as many old semiconductor IC parts have become obsolete. If you get the service manuals, which are relatively easy to find for these older units, then fixing them is fairly easy and straight forward. Although depending on how the unit is damaged, makes the repairs easier or harder, especially when you have to find obsolete ICs that don't have a modern equivalent part. It’s always a risk buying something that isn't working but it’s also very rewarding when you can fix it. You would want to at least have a DMM and preferably an oscilloscope when making repairs, as these are some of the most helpful tools on any repair bench. LCR meters are handy when checking the health of capacitors and when building analog circuits.


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#11 jimm

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 02:24 PM

Garrett,

 

Nice collection of unusual and "hard to find" equipment! Do you have a local source or Ebay?

All you need now, my friend, is a tall industrial storage rack to stack the equipment that you are not currently using for a task. You need room on the bench!

My bench has a "riser shelf" so that the commonly used items like the signal generators, multimeter, bridge, power supply and scope are always there just above the work area..

Everything else is shelved and "imported" as needed.

 

Your back must start to hurt if you have to stand and bend over to work on stuff for an extended period of time, doesn't it?


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#12 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 07 August 2013 - 10:16 PM

Thanks Jimm. I get some parts and equipment from my University's surplus department (picked up a box crammed with vacuum tubes the other day--mostly "compactron" tubes though), but most are from eBay and government auctions. I try to find the weird and exotic equipment and look for things that can be had for a poor mans price, which is usually older gear. Surprisingly most things I grab end up working, but I do get the occasional broken item or two. Before turning anything on, I usually do a ritual tear down and look for basic problems like bad aluminum electrolytics, open fuses and other common issues. If I can get the service manual, and have the right equipment on hand, I like to do a basic calibration as well.
 
I wish I had more room to put a rack; the room with all the equipment is actually my bedroom, haha. Weird I know, but I only have one room in the duplex I'm renting while going to school. Rent is cheap so I'm alright with the limited space, for now at least. I've been meaning to pickup some of the school's lab tables from surplus, but just don't have anywhere to put them yet.
 
I usually move equipment off the table when I'm working on something big, but if it's small, I set it up on top of the larger equipment, which doubles as a convenient ground plane. I do end up getting annoyed with the layout at times but its something I'll have to endure till I get a larger place to rent.
 
Speaking of equipment, I just picked up a couple of new things to fix:
 
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A Kepco OPS 1000B 1000v 10ma operational power supply, a Keithley 220 pico-ampere current source, and an HP 6177C current source. All these guys have problems, probably why I was even able to get them, but I think I can get them back up and going now that I have some free time. It's always fun trying at least.


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#13 dR-Green

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Posted 18 August 2013 - 01:33 AM

Nice setup Garrett, there's a nice bit of equipment there.

 

I currently don't have a lab as much as a pile of junk. Up until recently everything has been done in my bedroom, my father recently retired from being an electronics service engineer so I've acquired all his components, parts he took out of machines, meters etc. Remaining on the desk is a Fluke 96B ScopeMeter, not in view is an old Philips analogue scope, 2x Universal AVO Meter Mk2, some other Model 500 analogue multimeter, 3x Uni-T digital multimeters that were on 50% sale, and a broken AVO All Wave Oscillator. As well as a DC bench power supply and other DIY power supplies. Also in view is a very broken KORG Polysix.

 

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The shed is currently being converted into a lab, but the top part will house a drum kit and whatever other audio related things will fit. One of the CRT monitors is not working and will be stripped for parts.

 

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More of the junk pile. This had been in the garage for years as my father acquired things but since he retired he wanted it out, so my bedroom and the shed had to make way for it otherwise it was going to the dump. I already lost a 12V 500 amp transformer and a cupboard full of hollow cathode lamps which got "donated" to a local university, which I was not happy to discover when I went to the cupboard to get one! Especially since they are going on ebay for around £200 each, and there was easily 20 of them. Fortunately I took two out before so they are the only two I have left. This pile consists of old car batteries, computers and related things, circuit boards, various parts from machines (generally spectrometers), and there are two more old Philips analogue scopes in there.

 

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All that was stacked vertically to make some temporary space for experimenting in the opposite corner away from metallic/sensitive objects and what not. The plan is to put a bench in up against one of the walls but I haven't decided which one yet, probably up against the left in the picture. The water heater was also saved from the dump because it seems like it would make a good big capacitance.

 

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Books that are relating to the subject.

 

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Nikola Tesla - Colorado Springs Notes

Nikola Tesla - On His Work With AC

Thomas Commerford Martin - Inventions, Researches And Writings Of Nikola Tesla

Charles Steinmetz - Electric Discharges, Waves And Impulses

RCA - Radiotron Designer's Handbook 3rd Edition

ARRL - The Radio Amateur's Handbook 1961 & 1963

Ernst Guillemin - Communication Networks Vol 1 & 2

L Jacob - High Voltage Physics

Mullard - Transistor Audio And Radio Circuits 1st & 2nd Edition

Edward Hughes - Electrical Technology 4th Edition

E H Jones - Principles Of Radio & Electronics

J J Brophy - Basic Electronics For Scientists

K J Dean - Transistors Theory And Circuitry

M V Joyce & K K Clarke - Transistor Circuit Analysis

Siemens - Design Examples Of Semiconductor Circuits Edition 1974

Viktor Schauberger - The Water Wizard

Viktor Schauberger - Nature As Teacher

Viktor Schauberger - The Fertile Earth

Viktor Schauberger - The Energy Evolution

Callum Coats - Living Energies: Viktor Schauberger's Brilliant Work With Natural Energy Explained

Walter Russell - The Secret Of Light

Franz Bardon - Initiation Into Hermetics

Manly P Hall - The Secret Teachings Of All Ages

Manly P Hall - Lectures On Ancient Philosophy

Michael S Schneider - A Beginner's Guide To Constructing The Universe - The Mathematical Archetypes Of Nature, Art, And Science


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#14 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 18 August 2013 - 06:35 PM

dR-Green thanks!

 

Your work area looks a lot like the one I had back in high school, haha. I was forced to throw most of my "stuff" away when I moved, but I kept a lot of the good junk parts I had collected. Spectrometers are some very expensive equipment! How did you get access to those--even if for scraps? The hollow cathodes were a great find, each one has a different metal inside with a noble gas to produce a specific wavelength--or something like that. I've wanted to pick some of those up but never pulled the trigger. Btw, I love all the audio gear you have laying around! Do you record music? Or just an enthusist? I've always wanted to play the piano and guitar but never dedicated the time to do so.

 

Here's my small library. Most of the older books came from my late uncle who was a WII veteran and was really into radio--stormed the beach of Normandy and live to tell the tale. The Rad Lab books I got from a friend, and the Guillemin books I bought online a long with Perine's Physics & Mathematics. I'm still looking for a copy of Guillemin's Comm. Networks Vol.I, but haven't found a copy that I can afford.
 
6wmo.jpg


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#15 dR-Green

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Posted 26 August 2013 - 10:27 PM

Nice, I'm going next week to see all the D-Day beaches etc. Nice book collection you have there. Yeah some of the old books can be expensive, I paid less for Comm Networks Vol 1 than Vol 2 though. Vol 1 was £14.13 and Vol 2 £17.34, and Vol 1 is in better condition on the outside, same on the inside. Both came from USA.

 

My father was an electronics service engineer so that's how I got all the stuff, he was one of a team of I think 6 people covering UK for clients such as Ministry Of Defence and Royal Mint etc, so they made sure he had the equipment he needed and most of the spare parts for the common issues upon arrival on site without having to order bits in. The Fluke scope cost me nothing because he got issued it, he didn't like it so it's hardly been used, and they never ask for anything back, so now it's mine  ;) That's also how I've got another 3 analogue scopes. New and lighter ones get issued over the years and then it's trash. He's retired now though so I doubt I can get any new (old) stuff unless he's willing to tap some contacts, but it's unlikely. If only I had gotten into this 10 years earlier!

 

Anyway I took some pictures of some more stuff that was accessible.

 

Photomultipliers. You may have already seen these. Don't ask me what the plan is for these yet.

 

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Lasers and power supplies. I'm not sure what works and what's broken, or whether they were replaced during a service before they broke down etc. There are two 12VDC input, 1.1-1.5 KVDC 4.5mA output power supplies, and one 115-230VAC input, 1.7-2.45 KVDC 6.5mA output power supply.

 

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Hollow cathode lamps and a laser tube that I dismantled years ago. I'm sure I can find an use for that! The laser tube is possibly helium-neon. One hollow cathode lamp says the element is D2, the other Chromium.

 

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Power supplies. The output of the big one is unknown and will probably be taken apart. The others range from +/-5VDC 6-8A to +/-15VDC 1-1.5A. I haven't dismantled these for parts because they seem quite nice and are brand new, but they also haven't been used yet because they seem quite complicated when I want a basic power supply. Transformer, rectifier and voltage regulator seems the safer option, less things to cause interference. Switched mode power supplies are already capable of lighting neon bulbs with one wire. I've charged capacitors up to 230V from a 12V power supply using two diodes and ground, so I would rather avoid using things like that to power my DIY RF circuits testing!

 

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Some more power supplies and HV modules, a couple of circuit boards that have already been stripped, and there's a couple of TV/CRT monitor parts in there.

 

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As for the music, I was a semi-professional session drummer at one time as well as being in my own band, but after we kicked out all the other band members and there was only two of us left the other guy went to university, so since I couldn't do any personal stuff on a regular basis I turned my attention to producing music on the PC, and my brother had a small studio (the shed) so I've been the engineer a few times for some local musicians/projects. I can also play guitar but not very well :D

 

If you're interested in doing something with music a sequencer might be good in your case if you can't play anything. I can't play piano either which is the primary method of doing anything musical with a computer but it's easy enough to press a sequence of notes on a (MIDI) keyboard and record it, or draw notes with a pencil tool and edit it all and make it do stuff I couldn't possibly play. But there's also another more technical side to it in terms of making the sounds themselves from basic waveforms etc if you're interested in that sort of thing. Personally I find the whole thing to be very useful with the Tesla related stuff despite the fact it's a seemingly different subject. So definitely something to consider especially for someone who can't play an instrument, you can get free sequencers/VST hosts and VST instruments (VST = virtual studio technology). Just draw in some notes, layer up some harmonics and away you go. Chords and stuff you couldn't do on a piano. Anyway I've only been getting back into that relatively recently too, I had been focusing on electrical things instead. This was the last thing I was doing around 2009 before getting into the coils.

 


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#16 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 07 December 2013 - 02:17 AM

It's been awhile since I posted here!
 
dR-Green,
 
That’s a fantastic collection of photo tubes and lasers you have there! I'm planning on picking some photo tubes up in the near future for some basic experiments. Looks like you've quite the gaggle of linear LV and HV circuit boards there. Always good to have scrap boards to pull components off of! Definitely faster to scavenge parts for projects than buying new parts and much cheaper too.
 
I didn't know you played in a band! Seriously, that song you posted up on youtube was freaking awesome!  It’s funny how much has changed in the way I think of "sound" after learning about Fourier’s theorem and related topics in radio like modulation. Now all I think about is superposition, bandwidth, filters, and changes in amplitude with respect to time--probably not the most musically inclined way to look at it haha. I plan on getting back into messing around with music and making videos. Used to do all that stuff when I was in high school, and was actually planning on going to school for cinematography. It’s weird how things turned out, cause now I plan on being a material scientist emphasizing in fuel cells and batteries (as I think that's where the money is at).
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#17 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 07 December 2013 - 02:58 AM

As a quick update, I just acquired some more test equipment glom! Picked up four Keithley 427 current amplifiers, a 400vpp 4-channel amplifier and a Keithely 230 voltage source.

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On a low point I thought I "fixed" my Keithley 220 current source but found new problems! When calibrating, it appears to work fine but when hooked up to a load the source voltage doesn't change when adjusted, arg! It stays locked in at 1v for the v_limit. The original issue was a hairline fracture on the second conductor of the triaxial bulkhead connector leading to the back of the unit. I think the V_source/limit issue is probably op-amp related, so it should be quick to repair once I get the motivation to disassemble it again.

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I feel like I'm building a wall of equipment on my desk haha. The funny thing is I'm still not finished collecting gear, as I still want some hard to get items like a Tektronix curve tracer, an HP spectrum analyzer, a better oscilloscope and a decent spectrophotometer. The test equipment game never ends...


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#18 Raui

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Posted 10 December 2013 - 02:38 AM

Woahh, nice Garrett! Wall of equipment on your desk? At your current rate you'll be able to wall your whole house in test equipment! Looks like I have some significant catching up to do :lol: I thought I should get a snap of my very modest bench. I did ask my uni about surplus parts/test equpiment but apparently they just fix all their own stuff so no cheap test equpiment for me, at least not from them.

 

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In case anyone is wondering;

Oscilloscope: Rigol DS1102E

Sig Gen: Rigol DG1022

Attached Files


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#19 G4ΓΓ3ττ

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Posted 10 December 2013 - 03:35 AM

Nice setup Raui, I can't help but notice your lab appears to be camouflaged as part of a laundry room; multipurpose, I like it! And it seems like you've been working hard at the bench! I think I can spot an Arduino nestled in there amongst all the fun. Which reminds me to get back into microcontrolers! They're freaking awesome. I went the TI route with their cheapy MSP430, not a bad way to go for the price though they don't have all the cool add-on boards that the almighty Arduinos have.

Speaking of "the Wall" (which is how I've been referring to my gear recently), it just got bigger, haha. I picked up an old school Tektronix P6042 50MHz current probe yesterday, a another brick for the ever growing wall.

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My cable box is growing as well, quite the colorful mess of spaghetti there! I bought some holders to hang the cables on but haven't gotten around to using them yet. I also bought a storage rack to put unused equipment on like Jimm suggested, but haven't gotten around to put that together either. It would seem I've been quite the lazy arse lately haha.
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#20 Raui

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Posted 10 December 2013 - 03:54 AM

If I took a better shot of the room you'd see it is a multipurpose bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, laundry and lab :lol: A granny flat is the best way to describe it, now I just have to convince my parents to let me live out here and my plan for world domination will be complete!

 

Yes have been brushing up on my arduino skills, certainly much easier than the good ole intel 8051 I had to program this year, not to mention a whole lot less buggy too. I find them so much more engaging than purely software programming. I'm tossing up whether or not to build a GPS assisted/programmable quadcopter from scratch possibly with some sort of EEG control, there's something about controlling flying machines with my thoughts which makes me amazed and scared all at the same time. I could do it with the multiple arduino sheilds you can get for flight control but I want an engineering challenge not a lego kit :P

 

Woahhh where do I get a nice big box of spaghetti like that, that rivals my EE faculties probe collection, well nearly :lol:


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