Electronic Load Basics | Workbench Wednesdays

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During the Bench Power Supply basics video, I made use of my electronic load. An electronic load can sink current from power sources such as power supplies or batteries. Loads are useful to test a power supply’s design margin or verify a battery’s capacity. See how three different instrument options from ultra low-end to midrange to high-end compare. After this element14 Presents Workbench Wednesday video, you will understand how to use modes on an electronic load like constant current and constant resistance to make different measurements.

In the video, I compare three different types of tools: a $50 battery tester from eBay, BK Precision 8540 Electronic Load, and a high-end Rohde & Schwarz NGM202. They are all capable of acting as a constant current sink. In other words, you program the current and let the supply under test run. In the case of batteries, this mode is useful to test battery life. The 8540 and NGM202 both feature other capabilities like constant resistance which, as you can imagine, acts as an electronic resistor. The cool thing about using an electronic load as a power resistor is that some of them are capable of sinking up to 10s of amps.

After submitting the video to the producers, I realized I focused very heavily on batteries. More often, you use an electronic load to test power supply boards or modules. I wish I had shown those more, but it didn’t seem like it was missing until the end. So maybe in the future I can convert tools for measuring DC/DC power supplies? However, I did cover one topic significant to me. I show just how bad 9V batteries are, a topic which I like to come back to often. So I made sure to show off just how bad they work when driven past 100 mA. (It is terrible!)

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Bench Power Supply Basics | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube

A bench power supply makes powering circuits easy and safe. Learn how to adjust basic controls like voltage. Finally, see how “current limiting” works (and why you should use it.) See how you can use built-in series or parallel tracking to increase a bench power supply’s voltage or current output. Last, if you are in the market for a power supply, do not forget to add some leads like mini-grabbers, alligator clips, and banana plugs.

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DCA Pro Transistor Tester Review | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube

When it comes to transistors, there are only so many things a multimeter can measure. The DCA Pro from PEAK Electronics makes short work of testing parts like a transistor. This small device can determine pinout, component type, and essential parameters in a matter of seconds. Not only that, but it can be connected to a (Windows) PC and draw parameter curves.


Check out the video review to see how the device and software works. Then head over to the element14 page where you can download a zip file full of example parts I measured for you. Use the free DCA Pro software to open them.

You might also want to check out this MOSFET Curves post, which complements this video tutorial. Another resource you might find helpful on semiconductors, or transistors, is this post on MOSFET Myths.

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Tenma 72-2660 Portable Hand Held Supply | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube

The TENMA 72-2660 portable power supply offers bench supply capability in a backpack friendly package. The single output is capable of 45 watts with up to 30 volts and 3.75 amps out. The built-in USB ports offer an easy way to power 5 Volts Arduino or Raspberry Pi projects while limiting their current. See how this portable supply performs, the things the Bald Engineer likes about it, and the points to consider before buying

This $100 power supply, model number 72-2660, is cool. It’s about the size of a digital multimeter but can output 45 Watts. Both voltage and current are adjustable. It can output up to 30 volts and 3.75 amps, but not at the same time. It does have a flaw in its design though. Fortunately, I was able to find and apply a fix for it. Overall, if you want a portable adjustable supply, this one is worth checking out.

If you are new to bench or lab power supplies, check out this bench power supply basics video.

To answer a common question: yes, I did injury my shoulder. Right before shooting the A-Roll, the parts with me on camera, I tripped. As I went to catch myself falling, I tore two of the muscles in my shoulder. It took about 6 weeks to completely heal. Yuck!

Show notes on element14

Classic, vintage, or retro computer systems are well documented on sites like Wikipedia. Their historic position is well known. Their schematics are even published from original documentation. But how useful are those schematics in their current form? (Spoiler, not much.) Presented at KiCon 2019.

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high-end-oscilloscopes-evaluation engineering

The concept of high end varies depending on what you are talking about and who you talk too. In this Evaluation Engineering Evaluation Engineering article the author discusses high-end oscilloscopes. I am mentioned several times in this article as part of my day job at Rhode and Schwarz. There I am a product manager for oscilloscopes in North America. We have scopes that range from 50 MHz to 8 GHz.

For a little bit of context let me explain how this type of article works. The author, or editor, reaches out to some field experts. Each person is asked to fill out a written interview form. From there the author compiles the responses into a story like this one. This process is always nerve racking to me. I always worry I’ll misquote a specification or make a major typo. I don’t get see the article until it is published.

If you aren’t familiar with high bandwidth oscilloscopes, I think you will still find some value in reading about my favorite test tools.

Read the full article

Date: March 25, 2019
Appearance: High-end Oscilloscope report on Evaluation Engineering
Outlet: Evaluation Engineering
Format: Magazine

Surface Mount Rework Tools | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube

In this element14 Workbench Wednesdays episode, I review tools provided by Weller which are suitable for surface mount soldering. Through-out the soldering series, I have been using mini-projects to see how the gear works. Making this particular video was special to me. The subject was a TI-85. Back when I was a kid, one of my first soldering projects was to replace a capacitor in the TI-85. At the time, all I knew is that the change would make it run faster. I didn’t know why I just knew it worked.

Today, I now know that capacitor was part of an RC oscillator for the Z80 CPU. It clocked the processor. By putting in a lower value, such as 2.2 or 4.7 pF, the calculator would speed up. The trade-off, of course, is that it means the batteries drain faster! But hey, before someone created Zshell, this was the only way to make Breakout run fast.

Of course, the focus of the episode is the gear from Weller. So please, hit-up element14 and check that stuff out. You can also find the polls I mention at the end of the video there.

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Soldering Tool Upgrade Paths

element14 - Workbench Wednesdays

Right after the digital multimeter, or DMM, a soldering iron is a must-have tool for electronics work. Like most tools, there is a vast variety of options available. In this episode of element14’s Workbench Wednesdays, I look at a range of instruments from Weller. They offer everything from a cheap $10 “fire starter” (sorry, it is what we call them!) all the way up to a full-blown surface mount rework station.

Whether you don’t have a soldering iron or you have a  $100 station, this video will show you options to consider when thinking about an upgrade.

After you watch the video, head over to element14 and tell me for you favorite solder tips! (Or your most burning questions!)

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Answering BJT questions with Karen on element14’s The Learning Circuit

element14's The Learning Circuit

Over on element14, Karen hosts The Learning Circuit. It is a tutorial show geared towards learning STEM basics. So far she has covered subjects like soldering, diodes, and how to make a DIY electromagnet. She did a great job on introducing BJTs and how they work. While I thought she provided a clear explanation of the internal workings, some members of the element14 community still had questions.

She invited me on to revisit BJTs and transistors to (hopefully) clarify the connection between how transistors physically work and how to use them.


Looking through my parts boxes, I have counted at least 15 distinct “Arduino boards” in my collection. Either they are variants of the Uno form factor or they have different processors from the 8-bit boards. That number easily goes to 30 if I include boards with just the “Arduino header” on them. This pile of microcontrollers got me thinking, how does anyone ever choose the right board?

For example, I have had several people tell me the ESP32 is the “ultimate Arduino.” But is it? Well, yes and no. Extra hardware you do not need can lead to complexity and unexpected behavior. When using an advanced module like the ESP32, it is important to learn how to use sleep modes to limit current consumption, especially for battery applications. But if you need WiFi, Bluetooth, I2C, SPI, UART, and high-performance processing, capacitive touch, GPIO, and analog inputs then the ESP32 is an obvious choice.

As for the other boards, I have written a guide to picking the right Arduino. You can find it over on the Hackster.io blog.

Read: Picking an Arduino

Appearance: How to pick from all the Arduino boards
Outlet: Hackster.io Blog
Format: Magazine