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10 thoughts on “Need your help: What are alternatives to popular test equipment?

  1. The first two items below are not alternatives but are might handy sometimes.

    1) LED Tester T1 & T3/4 20 to 150 mA (Jameco, about $10). Makes it super easy to go through a bag of LEDs and get LEDS which have the same approximate brightness at a given current.

    2) Original Heiland DIY M12864 Version Transistor Tester Kit LCR ESR PWM (Banggood.com, about $17). I was surprised; this kit came with high quality parts and PCB. Shows transistor, JFET, MOSFET pinouts, resistance, capacitance inductance, and many other things.

    After building the kit I measured a bunch of test resistors, capacitors, inductors, and transistors both with this kit and with any test equipment I had available (Agilent U1273A, Mooshimeter). All tests on all instruments were within expected tolerance range and different little from each other. All pinouts were correct and reported betas were in tolerance range specified by data sheets. The measurement part of the circuit uses six .1% resistors.

    Note that this is a commercial version of an open source project so one could build it from scratch (http://www.mikrocontroller.net/articles/AVR-Transistortester), The Banggood Atmel328 chip is code protected and no direct source code is available. Compiling the latest version from open source and programming a 328 works on this board although the font is then much smaller and the rotary encoder does not work as well. But it does work. There are many other Chinese clones of this project.

    I will use this now and then, mainly, to quickly identify pinouts.

    3) Mooshimeter (Mooshim Engineering, about $130). This will be a frequently used test instrument. Although it does display to a smart phone so you can measure remotely, the best feature for me is data logging to a microSD card. At present you have to remove the card to get the data but they will release a BT connection to a desktop making it easy to get the csv file.

    My Agilent U1273A meter has data logging (1k samples)but it is really painful to get the data off the meter. I had the U1173A IR to USB cable but this works only with Windows XP. I had to buy the U1173B cable to work with Windows 10 but it will not work with my (preferred) iMac. Even working, it takes too many steps to get the cvs file. There is a U1177A BT attachment but I have never gotten this to talk with Windows 10, OS X 10, or Agilent’s smartphone app.

  2. I always have some cheap USB soundcard with me, and TrueRTA software as simple software oscilloscoop, signal generator and more. For logic analyser I use a chinese Saleae knockoff. Both pieces of hardware fit in a matchbox.

  3. This is a great endeavour!

    Besides the ‘conventional’ must-haves, I have 2 instruments I find indispensable;

    1) Superprobe: An ingenious instrument that’s crammed with functions. Amazing what a single pic can be made to do!

    http://mondo-technology.com/super.html

    To my knowledge this is not available commercially, one has to build one oneself. Schematics, hex file available on the site, and a very helpful developer.

    2) AVR component tester. This one is a gem; very inexpensive, and tests most all components.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/12864-Mega328-ESR-Meter-Transistor-Resistor-Diode-Triode-Capacitor-Mosfet-Tester-/321943892116

    Available even cheaper at times. Worth every penny/cent/paisa!

    Plans to build one also available, but at this price might not be worth it, unless its an exercise by itself.

  4. A 4×16 line LCD displaying RMS mV & Volts, dBM, Frequency (or Perioud, selectable) and 0 to 360 Degrees Phase. The Analog sections as external interfaces to a PIC or Arduino. No one seems to provide a homemade design with all of these functions in one Instrument.
    A range of 0 to 50MHz would suit most Hobbyists requirements.

  5. A good “backup” multi-meter would be the ICL7107 chip from Maxim. Together with a few passive components from your junk box you can throw together a fairly decent voltmeter for times that you are without your normal multi-meter. I have one on permanent standby on my workbench and it has helped me out a few times.

  6. There are a few free download, computer-based software items that can, in some cases, take the place of an oscilloscope, input via soundcard. Also, circuit design assistant programs such as for the 555 timer. But it’s awfully hard to beat a real oscilloscope! There are some LCD kit versions of a DSO, in the range of $25-50, that was fun to build and use! Works well for the price.