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I am a total zero in electronics. I just know what is a resistor and what is a capacitor. I also know what is a 555 just because I've been told what it does, 15 years ago. Apart from this and a bunch of other names, nothing more. However, I do have advanced knowledge of math and physics.

I would like to learn electronics. The quicker the better, but without wacky stuff and practical exercises. I am not going to implement the circuits practically. I don't want to make my own blinking led or my own crystal radio. I'd like instead to know what are the characteristics of the many components (transistor, zener diode, FET, MOSFET, whatever), when it's appropriate to use them and why, how to design a circuit and balance the components etc. In other words, I want to understand. I don't want to do (I'd like to, but I can't for lack of space).

Where can I find resources (either books or online tutorials) to achieve this goal?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you want to also learn microcontroller programming? There's only so much that can be done in hardware. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Sep 30 '10 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Wrong! You can conceivably do anything in raw hardware, it just becomes prohibitive to maintain eventually. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Oct 1 '10 at 3:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ microcontrollers are raw hardware. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Oct 25 '10 at 15:00
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Let me make one thing clear: without actually making the blinking LED and the transistor amplifier and the diode steering circuit and the bistable miltivibrator you WILL NOT understand. You can't book learn this stuff, you need to get hands-on. You need to get a visceral understanding of what's going on; you need to identify when something's going wrong by touch and by smell.

Grab practically everything from Forrest M. Mims III; "Getting Started in Electronics" was my bible when I was learning this stuff. His Engineer's Mini-Notebooks were also gold. Robert Grossblatt was another author I frequently checked out from the local library.

Get a little breadboard, a resistor kit, a small capacitor kit and some diodes and transistors and start playing. It's the only way to learn. Spice is nice, but I have only found it useful once you have a half an idea of what's going on. Spice has a nasty nasty habit of lying to you and unless you have a decently-tuned bs detector when it comes to electronics, spice can really throw you for a loop. You mention a lack of space, but really this won't take up anything more than a small kitchen table when it's all out, and it'll pack away into a small box or briefcase when it's put away.

After that I'd start looking at an Arduino or Propeller chip to start your journey into microcontrollers. I've never used either but they're pretty much the de-facto standard when it comes to beginner microcontrollers. After that, jump right in to small ARM processors. Skip the PICs and AVRs; nothing beats using REAL gcc and REAL debuggers. If you really find yourself needing a small microcontroller for space or power reasons, THEN look to the PIC/AVR stuff, but not before looking at low power beauties like the MSP430.

I've developed industrial control equipment using the PICs and I've done my share of time on 68xx/z80/80186/80196 microcontrollers and even more with various DSPs and microprocessors. For a hobbyiest or someone trying to learn there really isn't any need to stray from what I'd mentioned above. Not unless you either want to learn a particular processor or need the specific features of one of them.

Above all, enjoy learning. Electronics is a lot of fun.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I love that magic-smoke smell when I'm at school - It means I've learned something. When I'm at home, it means I burned something in the process, so the joy is (slightly) dulled. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Oct 1 '10 at 2:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes indeed - Forrest Mims' books got me started when I was a young lad, and I still have scans of them to this day. \$\endgroup\$ – user1307 Oct 2 '10 at 6:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Cool Answer, however imho AVR should be given importance before jumping into the world of ARM(after that there is no looking back)....AVR not strictly RISC itself teaches,some RISC like mechanisms like the the load and store way of accessing memory, and computing without an accumulator(I found this useful coming from 8051 background)... \$\endgroup\$ – Barath Bushan May 7 '13 at 10:43
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I think you've made a good start already, forums like this are great for learning, general help and advice, one of the nice things about this forum in particular is the fact that you can ask the simplest or most basic of questions and still get good responses.

If you want to look into the theory, maths and nitty gritty of it all, you can have a look at The National Program On Technology Enhanced Learning Youtube channel. It's a great resource for lectures on electronics and semiconductors, it's got pretty much entire university courses on there. To be honest you can get quite a lot from just using Youtube and Wikipedia, the electronics specific wiki is pretty darn good.

There's a heap of good books on electronics too, just have a look through some of the previous questions and answers on the Electronics Exchange - there's plenty of talk about it, I guess it kinda depends on what kind of things you want to make, but there's also good general reference books available too. Just search for "book" on the Electronics exchange search.

And finally my favourite technique, I know you said you didn't want to do practical stuff - but..........pull stuff apart! do it often, every day if possible! - I pulled apart an old compressor today, it was dumped by a beauty salon, they used to use it for spray tans, I got tanning gunk all over my hands! was great tho, I love pulling things apart :)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, for the pulling things apart. One of my kids really likes to pull (old) things apart. Luckily he sometimes needs help from his dad ;-). \$\endgroup\$ – Toon Krijthe Sep 30 '10 at 21:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ National Program of Technology Enhanced Learning (nptel) is a very good resource, and a better site would be there official website at nptel.iitm.ac.in.It can work for any thing you want, getting marks or personal learning. And it has some pretty heavy dose of basic theory. Look at Basic Electronics by Prof. Chitralekha Mahanta its in electronics and communication section. Complete this and you will get an equivalent of semester and a half of theory classes. \$\endgroup\$ – Rick_2047 Sep 30 '10 at 21:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your right Rick_2047, nptel has helped me out loads in the past, I'm lovin' it! \$\endgroup\$ – Jim Oct 1 '10 at 15:12
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Learning electronics is like driving a car. You can understand everything about a motor vehicle, the theory behind internal combustion, emissions, suspension geometry, road camber, interior ergonomics, types of fuel, etc. But you will still need to start driving to put it all together.

Same for electronics :) Build a 555 timer circuit; an oscillator; etc. Plus it's much more fun that way.

If you are short of space, that is quite understandable. No matter how much space you have - it isn't enough! I manage to run tronixstuff.com with a 100 x 80cm desk that holds a PC, CRO, test equipment, tea, etc (and small ikea boxes underneath) and have one bookshelf 2m wide by about 2m tall.

[edit] Forgot to mention this website - Talking Electronics, run by an Australian man who is devoutly passionate about many things. The layout is a little 1995, but the information is there.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for tea being an essential item on your desk... College student here, and I have a similar situation in my dorm, especially comparing to my labs at school or work (both with nearly limitless space). Low quantity will make space less of an issue, and good organization can make it work. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Oct 1 '10 at 14:31
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Simulators are a great help. Have a look at http://www.falstad.com/circuit/ You could also try one of the SPICE versions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I really love that thing, however, it does not really tell me a lot on how to connect the things together, nor how they behave. Clearly, it's an invaluable tool to do experiments though. It's really a lot of fun. \$\endgroup\$ – Stefano Borini Sep 30 '10 at 19:53
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I highly recommend the allaboutcircuits.com textbooks. They are free, open source textbooks. I'm an active member of the All About Circuits forums as well.

Also, there is only so much simulations can teach you. I manage to fit a PC+LCD, oscilloscope, laptop and electronics lab (including breadboards and a multimeter...) on an entire desk about 1.5m long. The only problem is storing components: at the moment, I keep everything in small boxes and organisation is tricky.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I found allaboutcircuits.com being the best resource for learning from the very basics through more advanced topics. \$\endgroup\$ – András Szepesházi Apr 3 '16 at 6:50
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Here in Brazil we have a web site of a man that has more than 2600 articles about electronics, and everyday has a new article. His name is Newton C. Braga and his site is this: http://www.newtoncbraga.com.br.

It's in Portuguese, but you can try to use a translator tool.

He has some books in English too: www.amazon.com/Newton-C.../e/B001H9U1U2

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Well, in my opinion, you need to get down and dirty if you have to understand what component goes where and optimal placements in a given circuit. Just a dry theoretical knowledge will not get you anywhere especially in electronics.

One of the best ways to get up and running quickly is buy yourself something like an Arduino or a clone of it with a starter kit and have fun. Using such a platform ensures that you have a validated and functional microprocessor platform and provides you with an easy programming interface. You are then free to spend the majority of your time in understanding electronics, which is what, I gather, you want. Such platforms (most of the popular ones) come with a very vibrant community forum who will help you out a lot.

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