Spectrum Analyzer Basics – Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents
2019-10-09

A spectrum analyzer displays signals in the frequency domain. To use one, you only need to know about four controls: reference level, center frequency, and resolution bandwidth. In this episode, see how to use a spectrum analyzer and determine the transmitting frequency of a device.

The example device is my microphone transmitter. It operates around 500 MHz with FM modulation. You’ll see how I step through the spectrum analyzer controls to find the exact frequency. At the end of the episode, I show some advanced measurements you can do with a modern spectrum analyzer. My favorite one is the demodulation. (more…)

Electronic Load Basics on Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-09-18

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
2019-08-28

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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Semiconductor Measurements | Workbench Wednesdays Review

element14 Presents on YouTube
2018-08-07

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. The free to download software can open them.

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Measuring ESR with the PEAK ESR70 | Workbench Wednesdays Review

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-06-25

There are three capacitor measurements you need to know how to make: capacitance, leakage current, and equivalent series resistance. Capacitance is easy to measure if you have a current limited supply or can use a resistor. Apply a voltage, then time how long it takes to charge-up. You might need to use an oscilloscope or even an Arduino for the second part.  Leakage current is the easiest of the three, apply a voltage (ideally through a resistor) for a few minutes, and then measure the current. ESR requires some special tricks. Since it is the resistance of the “wires” connecting to the capacitive element’s anode and code, you have to measure resistance without charging up the capacitor. (Otherwise, you get leakage.)

In the post Measuring Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitor’s ESR, I go through those methods in more detail. I also introduce the PEAK Electronics ESR70. It’s a pocket-sized instrument that measures both Capacitance and ESR. There’s a button you can touch, or it detects when a new capacitor is connected. Check out my Workbench Wednesdays review where I go into depth about how the meter works (and whether or not I like it.) Oh one bonus feature, it works while in-circuit!

As of this post, it has been almost six years since I first wrote about capacitors on my blog. The article was the Arduino GSM Shield’s capacitor has a serious design flaw. Wow, how time passes.

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Bald Engineer’s ESD Must-Haves | Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-06-04

Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) damage can occur without you knowing it. That’s bad. However, the good news is that with little effort you can prevent it. Duratool has a kit of the most common ESD tools for any electronics workbench. It includes a large mat, grounding cable, wrist strap, ESD-safe cleaner, and a simple electronic tester. Don’t get shocked by ESD; add these simple tools to prevent it.

This review is on a kit that includes:

  • Large ESD Mat
  • Ground Cable
  • Wrist Strap
  • Wrist Strap Tester
  • ESD Mat Cleaner

Even if you aren’t interested in ESD, you might want to watch the first 30 seconds. 🙂

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Tenma Portable Hand Held Supply – Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-05-08

The TENMA portable power supply (72-2660) 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 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.

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Health and Solder Fumes – Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-04-10

An overlooked danger of electronics soldering is the fumes. While the smell and smoke may not be pleasant, the chemicals in the fumes can be harmful. Is solder made with lead(Pb) your only concern? Learn about where lead-free solder came from, what different flux types mean, and two ways to keep your air (and your lungs clean.)

In the video, I show a cheap “smoke eater” and a professional fume extractor. There is a cost difference of $50 and $700 between the two. However, either is better than having nothing.

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Surface Mount Rework Tools – Workbench Wednesdays

element14 Presents on YouTube
2019-03-27

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
06-FEB-2019

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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