Test Equipment

Now that you are interested in Microcontrollers and Electronics, you might be looking around for test equipment. On other sites, you would have seen the words bandied around such as Logic Probe, DVM Multimeter, Logic Analyzers, USB Oscilloscopes, Analog Oscilloscopes, DSO Oscilloscopes, MSO Oscilloscopes and naturally hybrids of all of these (as well as a few others not mentioned here – but the ones mentioned above are your core group)

You will note that this category is not under Digital Electronics or under Amateur Radio. That’s because Test Equipment, is not necessarily used for one or the other. A modern Oscilloscope can be used in Digital Electronics, and be just as useful in RF work. Likewise you will find that there is more crossover than ever before between various branches of Electronics. Whilst working with Lora-WAN modules, I found that it has some crossovers with Amateur Radio.

So when I publish an article in this area, I will make it clear on what branch it is suited to.

As you peruse the Web for equipment, you will notice that the costs steadily increase, to the point that you start to become concerned about buying the right equipment, or to put it in another way, equipment that you only need to buy once that will suit 90% of your needs. Don’t worry this is natural, but you also need to weigh it up on how much use you will get from it, your budget, whether this is a pastime, or a serious interest, whether you want to move into this field (e.g. you have a number of projects that will benefit from learning this field and learning it well).

Put it this way, you are going to make mistakes in buying the right gear, its a natural rite of passage. Mistakes can come from not understanding clearly what you are trying to measure (or what you need to measure in the future). Other mistakes will be due to the “fluid” nature of the Test Equipment Vendors specification sheets or advertising, which can also be not understanding the intricacies and relationships between specifications.

This happens to everyone, and does not naturally need to be in this particular field. I am personally finally moving into the field of 3D Printing. I took an interest in it to understand it a few years back, but now I am researching it in detail, ready to make a purchase. I have a whole lot of questions come up such as the the size of the objects I want to print now, what do I want to print in the future, do I need a dual extruder now, or can the model I get now been fitted with one later, do I want a magnetic plate, or a glass plate, do I want a full frame (Cube) or a standard frame, what fits in my budget, and am I prepared to make a mistake first go. It comes down to research, research, research and over many weeks (or months). I have even reached out to a business (that I have known for almost 20 years involved in higher end 3D printing/CNC/Extrusion Moulding), and discussed what they have found and know. The main thing is not to impulse buy unless you have endless pockets.

Below is a summary of this Test Equipment.

Logic Probe

Logic Probe

You will see less and less logic probes in use nowadays, especially in real electronics workshops. That is not to say that the logic probe has no place, but more suited to static or slower designs.

They are still good for that quick check, but due to the limited feedback, it still will leave you grabbing for the Oscilloscope or Logic Analyzer.

DMM (Multimeter)

No matter what level you are going to get into Electronics, you should have a Digital Multimeter (DMM). Ideally go for some reasonable quality but it does not have to be the best on the market. A basic good quality meter is all that is needed here. Ideally get one that has a good backlight or a high contrast display. The amount of times you take your eyes off the probes to try and read the meter and the probes slip and short your circuit.

My last meter that I bought I paid a little extra, got the shock absorbent case, had an external temperature probe, capacitance tester….and it lasted 30 years which was a good run. I also recommend buying some additional leads/probes, but just make sure that they are from the same manufacturer otherwise they may not fit.

Logic Analyzers

Now we open a can of worms, but the Logic Analyzer is probably one of the most useful tools on your test bench and interestingly these devices cross over into the USB Oscilloscopes and vice versa.

Typical Logic Analyzers including the following devices

Low cost Logic Analyzer Clone – typically less than $US20
DSLogic Plus

USB Oscilloscopes

Analog Oscilloscopes

DSO Oscilloscopes

MSO Oscilloscopes