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I've just recently discovered an incredible interest in building my own circuits and my own logic. I'm in a computer architecture class and we're learning how to make ALUs based on a set of instructions.

Last year, we would create logic circuits on a breadboard using NAND and NOR chips. This year, we're using Altera to download circuits we build in software to download to a circuit board. This stuff gets me so excited, it's not even funny.

I've been collecting certain parts (some logic gates and LEDs) and I have a breadboard. I'm also thinking of buying an (or a couple) Arduino(s). However I want to build more complicated circuits with other components (variable resistors, sensors, etc). Is there a good online source where I can buy these on the cheap (maybe even bulk)? I've also heard of companies giving parts for free (as long as it is for education purposes, which I believe it is).

I'm a student and I can't afford to spend significant amounts of money on a part collection, but I do want to learn and explore.\

(On a side note, I've read Which electronics components should I always have on hand?. Does this apply to a student as well? Any advice on WHAT components I would benefit from?)

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    \$\begingroup\$ In spite of the numerous upvotes and answers that this question has received, I don't believe it's a good fit for our site for a number of reasons, chief among them being the high degree of subjectivity: there's no right answer to this question. If you disagree, please start a discussion and explain why questions like this will help build this site into a source of great, expert Q&A on the Meta site. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Nov 10 '11 at 0:13
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I am also a student and always try and get the parts as cheap as possible.

Here are a few pointers: Many companies give out free samples of their devices. One of my lecturers posted this on his website:

For "samples", try Texas Instruments, Maxim-IC, Microchip and Motorola (ICs) en Samtec (connectors). For National Semiconductor, Philips, Atmel, ST Mirco, ens., ask EBV Elektrolink (Local distributor) for samples.

Most of these companies will provide you with a couple of samples if you fill out a small form. If they do not, email them and ask if they will assist you for "educational" purposes.

Another source I usually look at is Ebay. Many Chinese manufacturers sell their LEDs and other products cheaply over Ebay. It might not be the best but nothing beats 100 LED's for $5.

I have dealt successfully with these suppliers:

http://stores.ebay.com/ledhk

http://stores.ebay.com/bestchoose702

http://www.ebay.com/sch/sweetflower8588/m.html?_nkw=&_armrs=1&_from=&_ipg=25&_trksid=p3686

Try and look for local supply companies in your area/country. Stay away from big supplies such as RS. They usually have EVERYTHING but you pay a premium for their service.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, I'll try some of the companies you mention and see if I can get any "samples". \$\endgroup\$ – n0pe Nov 9 '11 at 16:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Many places will go much easier on samples for students. \$\endgroup\$ – rfusca Nov 9 '11 at 16:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just ordered a bunch of logic gates, some flip flops, multiplexers and an IC from TI. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – n0pe Nov 9 '11 at 19:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MaxMackie - since you're going down a TI route, take a look at the TI Launchpad - its only $4.30 \$\endgroup\$ – rfusca Nov 9 '11 at 20:37
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Maybe not what you are referring to, but salvaging components is fantastic and free, and I source most of my components from garbage people throw out.

A CRT has good high voltage components, a printer is good for the motors and rods if you want to make a CNC'ish thing, and flat screen tv's have good backlight stuff in them.

If you find old computers then you can get the memory chips out, saving you a good five bucks or so per RAM chip.

And all you need to do this is a soldering iron, a good sponge, good light, and a lot of time. Best would be to use a paint stripping gun or just stick it in an oven to get the parts to pop out. (Careful about the capacitors and other plastic items) Also, you can consider it as being green, since you are preventing land fills from getting filled with harmful materials from all these electronics. Lastly, you can learn a huge amount about electronics very quickly this way because you see exactly how it is implemented in a a working product.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is a great answer, I completely missed this. \$\endgroup\$ – n0pe Nov 9 '11 at 19:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ A full +1 for 'dumpster diving'! Ah, the good old days... \$\endgroup\$ – Adam Lawrence Nov 9 '11 at 21:44
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Give http://www.futurlec.com/ a try. They have a good range of basic components at very reasonable prices (most times much cheaper that digikey or mouser). They don't have a huge selection to choose from but that will make it a lot easier to actually chose a part.

They sell some very nice "grab bags" of resistors, caps, and leds at dirt cheap prices. Don't be afraid of the low prices, each component comes in it's very own hand labeled bag...one for each of the 25 or so resistor values in their resistor packs.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have used them often, but not when I am in any hurry. \$\endgroup\$ – russ_hensel Nov 10 '11 at 0:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @russ_hensel: No kidding...Last time I ordered anything from there, it took nearly a month to get to me. For work, the one name we go with is "DigiKey". Nothing can beat ordering something at 5pm and having it on your desk at 7am the next day (and for $8.00 shipping?!). \$\endgroup\$ – Faken Nov 10 '11 at 0:29
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Aside from the excellent points brought up by Konsalik's answer, I would add:

  • Jameco is one of the inexpensive vendors of electronics. They're inexpensive because they sell "generic" ICs from companies like NJR, and have "grab bags" (bunch of components in general category w/o specific part #s known ahead of time) of overstock capacitors and other components.

  • Digikey and Mouser are probably the most reputable vendors of brand-name components that sell in single quantities, and they charge reasonable prices.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Agree with all that, but I'd also add Newark to the list as a reputable vendor who will sell single quantities of components. Futurlec also seem to have an interesting supply of some otherwise hard to find parts, and their prices seem pretty reasonable from what I've seen. \$\endgroup\$ – mindcrime Nov 9 '11 at 18:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ Huh. When I posted the above, I was almost going to say avoid Newark. 10-15 years ago, Newark was the reputable vendor of last resort: if Digikey didn't have it, and you couldn't get it elsewhere, then Newark would have it in single quantities, but you'd pay 50% - 150% more than Digikey. Maybe they've become more price-competitive over the years; I'm not sure. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason S Nov 9 '11 at 20:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting. I don't necessarily price compare every part I order down to the cent, but my perception has always been that it's Digi-key who are usually far more expensive than Newark or Mouser or Jameco. :-) On a semi-related note, I tend to like Newark because one of their distribution centers is one state over from where I live, and orders that ship from that location (and mine usually have) tend to arrive really quickly. But obviously that won't be the same for everyone... \$\endgroup\$ – mindcrime Nov 9 '11 at 21:57
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Since almost all the other answers is about buying cheap components, don't forget that there is a lot of components that you can get for free if you just work a little bit.

I mean of course about reusing / salvage electronic components from scraped electronic boards. Just google for videos on the topic "salvage electronic components" and you will get the idea on how it is done.

Just remember to check that they are still ok after taken them of the pcb:s.

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http://www.mcmelectronics.com/ has been my go-to for hack-ables, solder/solderless breadboards, etc.

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