The birth of a lab.

I have been a practicing electrical engineer since 2004. I figured a decade was long enough to go without the ability to ply my trade at home. A soldering iron and multimeter will only get you so far.

I have had my soldering iron and multimeter since college and love them. I have used many a soldering iron including Hakkos and Metcals. For the price and versatility, I will pick my Edsyn over and over again. The standard chisel tip has easily soldered mounting lugs and 0201 resistors.

Earlier this year I set aside a small amount of money to put together my lab. About what you might spend on a nice computer. I wanted to see what sort of lab I would be able to put together for this amount. Having had the experience of a low bandwidth scope hiding problems from me in the past I was not going to settle for a 100MHz scope. If you have been following my blog you have witnessed my love affair with the Tektronix MDO3000. Even the promotional price for this guy was double my budget. Coupling that with a few minor draw backs, like lower bandwidth, lower RF sensitivity (on the spectrum analyzer function) and the logic analyzer was not enabled even with the free analysis upgrade I decided to quit dreaming and get practical. Having standards, and a budget is hard. I could spend the next decade pining over the $20k instruments I can’t afford, hoping to save up for one, or I could pare down my wish list to what really mattered and compromise as necessary elsewhere to meet my budget.

I make no claims that my selection of equipment is magical or complete by anyone’s standards but my own. The beauty of electrical engineering is the seemingly infinite variety of applications, and thus the specification of the equipment required.

A lab has to actually exist somewhere. My generation loves to sit on the couch and work on their laptops, and I am no exception. However, this does not lend itself to lots of cables, large equipment, nor static sensitive devices. So I recently got my wife to agree to let me take over a closet in our house for my lab. It is only 5′ x 7′. It had a small dividing wall in it that she recommended I remove so I could fit my desk in it. That desk is a large corner desk I built from a pile of Western Hemlock Fir 2×4’s when I was in high school.

Closet?!?!? Why a closet? I chose the closet for a couple of reasons.

  • Location: It is isolated from my daughter’s bedroom and near the master bedroom. This way I can work on a project into the wee hours of the night without disturbing my daughter, and be near my wife who likes having me near when she is sleeping.
  • Isolation: I wanted a dedicated single purpose space that I could keep my 4-year old’s curious fingers out of my fragile and static sensitive projects.

 

My prioritized shopping list:

Spectrum Analyzer
Oscilloscope
Logic Analyzer
Microscope
Docking Station
Monitor

 

I think this post is as long as most would want to read, so I will relinquish text for pictures. Below is a picture diary of putting the lab together:

 

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Tektronix TDS744A (500MHz, with DPX)

I decided to focus on this vintage oscilloscope and try to find one used in working condition with as much bandwidth as possible. I would have preferred 1GHz, but this guy was in really good shape, still in calibration, and the price was right. Only $550!

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Agilent E4411B (9kHz – 1.5GHz) (Taking a look at the local radio stations)

This find was pure luck! I was looking in the right place at the right time! For a relatively inexperienced e-bay bidder I was very fortunate to win this bid at $8 above my budget with 3 seconds on the clock. It is a year out of cal, but been lightly used and well maintained. It only goes out to 1.5GHz, so I won’t be debugging wifi issues with this guy, but that’s not why I bought it. 🙂

Zoe at the analyzer

My 4 year old playing with my spectrum analyzer the day it arrived.

The closet a new beginning

The humble closet with all the “closet” accessories removed.

 

Demolition begins!!!

Demolition begins!!!

The white board comes home

A fresh coat of paint and a white board should do the trick. A 4×8 sheet of white melamine from Lowe’s for $13 fit the bill.

 

 

Moving in the desk!!!

Moving in the desk!!!

 

 

Move in day!

Move in day!

 

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