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I know about SparkFun.com, but their product line is limited to general appeal for the average hobbyist. I appreciate them for that. But when I want a specialized component, I'm not sure if vendors don't sell or if I'm looking in the wrong spots.

I find sites for chip manufacturers that make components I'd like to buy, but they never seem to publish their prices (why??), and some seem to have minimum quanities or minimum purchase totals. I'm intimidated to ask for a quote on a single item.

Where does the hobbyist source high-end parts? Should we expect a full product catalog with prices? Any tricks to the ordering process?

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Most chip companies don't publish prices because they are useless to most of their customers. And by "customers", I mean people that buy chips in volume. For example, TI publishes prices at 1,000 units per year. If I buy more than that, I can get a better price-- and most manufacturers will buy more than 1k/year. But on top of the normal volume discount, I can negotiate a better price. Let's say that I want 1k/year of a part, I can usually get 5k/year pricing. I could also make a case for a "package deal", where if I need 1k/year each of 5 different chips then I could request 5k/year pricing on everything.

In the end, the price on the web site is almost never the price that I actually pay. Further, the price I pay is almost never the price that you will pay. Maybe you got a better price, or maybe I did. Either way, TI doesn't want us to know each others price because then we could use that as leverage to get a lower price.

The other thing is that these chip companies don't make any money selling small quantities. Their overhead is quite large, and they need customers buying large quantities at a time. The point is, they have no motivation to sell direct to the small customer. That's why there are places like Digikey. Digikey will buy large lots, divide them up, and sell them 1 or 10 at a time.

Some chip companies know that selling small qty is a loosing proposition, and they are actually better off giving them away-- if in "good will credit" if not actual money. That's what Maxim, National, TI, and Microchip do. TI actually contracted with Digikey for their sample program. If you ask for samples from TI, Digikey will be the one to ship it to you.

So, when buying specialized components in small qty you'll frequently be out of luck. The chip manufacturers won't sell it to you, and probably won't sample it either. The wholesale distributors won't talk with you for similar reasons. And Digikey and places like that won't help either.

One thing to look for is each manufacturer will list, somewhere, places that sell their parts. Sometimes it's a link off of the individual chip's page, or sometimes it is somewhere else. But check out that list. Most of those suppliers will be wholesalers who won't talk to you, but they might mention places like Digikey or Mouser. Failing that, you could email their main sales people and just be up-front about what you're doing and how much you will be buying and ask them where you should go to buy it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for a comprehensive answer. One more thing to add is that sometimes, the semiconductor could put some budgetry prices up on their website. They are mostly used for the designers to get an idea if the part is expensive or cheap. \$\endgroup\$ – tehnyit Jun 9 '11 at 7:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @tehnyit I forgot to mention that part. That's really what TI and others are doing-- putting budgetary pricing up. Usually you can go to the distributors web site, like arrow.com and avnet.com, and get similar pricing. For my budgetary purposes, I always take 30 percent off of any web site pricing from the mfg, distributor, or places like Digikey. \$\endgroup\$ – user3624 Jun 9 '11 at 12:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, this "budgetary" pricing and a "where to buy" link on the manufacturer's site would be helpful when researching designs. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason Kleban Jun 9 '11 at 13:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 @David your answers are informative and a pleasure to read. \$\endgroup\$ – JYelton Jun 9 '11 at 15:52
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I used to work for one of the big semiconductor companies, and our policy was to redirect any queries for less than 100k parts to the distributors. We were already too busy providing support to the large customers, the ones that would buy 15-20M parts a year. The 1k pricing you see on the websites has become a standard that aids engineers when it comes to selecting a part instead of another, depending on the available budget. For example, if a microcontroller with a little bit more memory is 4 times more expensive, the engineer might decide that is worth spending a little longer squeezing the code into it, rather than denting the profit margin of the end product.

When it comes to buying small quantities of parts, I suggest the following sources:

In the EU:

Farnell, RS, Distrelec

In the US:

Digikey and Mouser. The last two are US based, but will ship to the EU.

Worldwide, it is worth looking at Ebay, and Aliexpress, although keep in mind that these are not approved distributors, and therefore the origin of the parts might be uncertain. I've used them for personal projects, and never had an issue, but I would never dream using them to source parts for work.

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I'm intimidated to ask for a quote on a single item.

There are many manufacturers that chose not to deal with small quantity orders, and they will probably forward you to distributors. Find a distributors list on their site, or ask for free samples.

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The first thing I do is stick to companies that offer free samples. You don't even have to pay for shipping in most cases. Try Maxim, National, and Microchip -- they all give free samples for certain parts. Maybe you can start prototyping with something that's close to what you need, but maybe not exactly it.

Have you tried the obvious ones like Digikey, Mouser, Jameco, Arrow, or AVNet?

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    \$\begingroup\$ And if your in Europe all those that @Dave mentioned can be found on cpc.farnell.com - I find allot of US stuff on there that no other UK/EU provider does - Others also include maplin.co.uk/Home.aspx and some other i forgot now. \$\endgroup\$ – Piotr Kula Jun 9 '11 at 5:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Beware of the Maxim/Dallas trap! Often they will sample you a single chip for free, and you can buy it if you want 10k, but if you want 100 you are out of luck. Before you sample, check the usuall suspects (or www.findchips.com) to see wehther your chip is available in mid-quantities. \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen Sep 20 '11 at 9:47

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