Where to find parts for your netduino?

B9A Nixie Tube

B9A Nixie Tube

So you got a netduino and wrote the obligatory ‘Hello World!’ app for it. Great!

Now what? As it stands, a micro-controller won’t do much by itself and it needs to be interfaced with other parts and components to do something interesting.

In this post, I’ll attempt to make a list of the parts and their suppliers that I’ve found necessary for my own projects:

Basic Tools

  1. Breadboards: larger is better to start with. Get smaller ones too if you can. You’ll need at least one to build project prototypes.
  2. Tons of hook-up wires, males ones for breadboarding of course, but female ones too. You can also make your own with wire strippers and various types of 22 gauge solid-core wires. Pick various colors: it helps. Ready-made ones are available from Solarbotics, Sparkfun, Fry’s or RadioShack.
  3. A multi-meter: you’ll always need to test your voltages, currents, connections, resistors values, etc. and this is the tool you’ll need for that. Do not buy a cheap one, especially one from RadioShack! You’ll go through a few cheap ones over time, and then realize that you’d have spent the same amount on a good one that would have lasted you a lifetime. I’ve made that mistake, and hopefully you won’t have to. Fluke makes great multi-meters and I highly recommend their 115 model. You can find them new and used on Amazon.
  4. A soldering iron: anywhere between 15 watts and 30 watts is great to start with. You can get these at RadioShack, Fry’s, or Amazon.com. If you can afford it, get a temperature-controlled one.
  5. Rosin core solder. Available nearly anywhere mentioned above.
  6. Make yourself a solder fume extractor using a recycled PC fan and a carbon filter or buy one if you have to.
  7. Learn to solder: Even if you may think you only need a breadboard to learn, you’ll always find an occasion when you actually need to solder two parts together. (Edit: Make Magazine also has a nice tutorial).
  8. A good light source, preferably with a built-in magnifying glass. A good LED headlamp and a magnifying glass will also do the trick, but will take one of your hands to hold it.
  9. A second set of hands: I cannot stress enough how frustrating it is to solder anything if you don’t have something steady to hold the parts you need to work on. I highly recommend a PanaVise over “Helping Hands” with crocodile clamps, which tend to get loose, hard to adjust and become useless over time.

Parts

My advice about parts: don’t start buying random parts thinking that you might use them eventually. While it is true that there are ‘electronic staples’ such as the items in the list below, you’ll be buying stuff you don’t need.

If you have a specific project or just an idea in mind, even if it’s just for learning, take the time to think through what it will take to build it:

  • Research how you plan to interface the parts with your micro-controller: make sure you’ll have enough pins to do it.
  • Find out what protocol(s) may be required to talk to the components and make sure your micro-controller can handle it.
  • If you’re not sure about how a component works, try to find sample code for it ahead of time or find out if the manufacturer has a library for it. Even if the code is written in C/C++ instead of C#, it will provide a good starting point for your own.
  • If you don’t know how a typical circuit works (power supplies, controlling relays, motors, servos, solenoids, etc.) try finding a pattern for it: chances are, you will find out that someone like you has already figured it out. Sometimes, the manufacturer of the parts required to implement the circuit have documented the correct patterns in their datasheets.

Before going any further, read this article. It will save you a great deal of time and money. In addition, a Google search on the subject of “free electronic samples” yields a treasure trove of sources.

  • Starter Kits: maybe a good way to get started with parts and the guidance needed to learn how to use them. There. I’d suggest the following:
  • Make Magazine: Electronics Components Pack 1 & Pack 2
  • Ada Fruit: Sensor Pack. Be sure to check out the rest of the products on the site as many of the essentials for a beginner are right there.
  • Arduino Project Pack: this one deserves an explanation. The netduino finds its roots in the Arduino micro-controller and it shows in many ways: for instance the netduino is pin-compatible with the Arduino, meaning that their pins are in the same locations on the boards, which makes their shields (more on that later) often compatible. Not only that, but the large body of  knowledge, sketches, wiring diagrams applicable to the Arduino can be ported over to the netduino with little effort. Just pay attention to voltage levels as the original Arduino worked with 5 volts while the netduino works with 3.3v but tolerates 5v on its inputs, so it’s not a huge issue. One exception is the OneWire protocol which is not supported yet on the current v4.1.0 netduino firmware, so for now try to find parts that use the I2C or SPI protocols instead.

Starter Packs can be expensive though and there are large suppliers online who generally offer better prices on the same parts. I generally use these guys:

Shields

Recycled Parts

Old electronics can be fantastic source of parts: I tend to never throw away outdated or broken electronics for the sole purpose of scavenging parts from them later. Examine them for burn marks and weird smells before recovering them, then test them with a multi-meter, an oscilloscope or in a test circuit to make sure they’re still good before using them. Keep an eye out for old PCs, TVs, VCR/DVD players, printers, R/C toys, game consoles, HiFi gear for parts. If your workplace recycles electronics, ask your admin if you can take them home: they’ll generally be glad you do.

That’s it for now. Happy hacking!

2 comments

  1. John · January 20, 2011

    Hi,
    now that the Plus is available, do you think it could still be cost effective to buy the standard one (to see whether my son is into this) and buy the additional sheild for SD and/or Ethernet later – rather than paying £50-£60 for a Plus?

    Cheers

    • Fabien Royer · January 20, 2011

      Hi John,

      I really like the netduino Plus and I think that it’s a good deal compared to other solutions requiring additional shields to get networking and storage features. Having said that, your choice depends on the application that you have in mind, accessibility and potential form factor constraints. For instance, I tend to favor WiFi connectivity over Ethernet, so I would go for a regular netduino and a wireless shield. But that’s just me🙂 For educational purposes, I’d likely go for the netduino Plus right away.

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