This guide helps you to maneuver through the overwhelming variety of starter kits and electronics equipment. The basic version of a most items are available for cheap, while there is mostly also a standard and a high-end version available, often for 10x the price.
For the challenge, there are a couple of "must have" items and some others which are rather "nice to have". In most cases, the basic or medium version is totally sufficient so you can get away with spending less than 100USD.
"Must Have" Items
The following items are absolute must haves to get through the first 50 days of the challenge. Also in the later stages, they will be a solid foundation to build upon. If you want to learn more about, when you will need which components and tools, read more about the challenge structure
Basic Hardware Kit (13–99USD)
To kickoff your challenge, it makes sense to get a plain electronics starter kit. These kits include a variety of basic electronics components that will fuel your initial learning phase focused on pure electronics.
- Basic Electronics Basic Kit, 350pcs - 13.5USD (link)
- Medium Electronics Component Fun Kit, 500pcs - 16USD (link)
- High-end Electronic Component Assortment, 2000pcs - 99USD (link)
If possible, try to get a large breadboard, your circuits will outgrow the small once very quickly. Most of these kits come with 5V power supplies, however you probably need to get an additional power cord. Instead of spending another 5USD on one of these, it’s a good idea to get your microcontroller directly and use it as a power source, as Arduinos almost always come with an USB cable to power it from your computer.
Latest when you reach the second section of the challenge covering digital electronics, you need to get a microcontroller. Arduino is the goto brand for microcontrollers. But there are also Arduino clones available which are fully compatible with other Arduino and ship for a cheaper price by still remaining a good product quality. If you have decided for a basic electronics kit initially, you should get a microcontroller from the get go to use it as your power source - saves you some bugs for another power cord.
- Basic Seeduino (Arduino Uno Clone) - 7USD (link)
- Medium Elegroo Uno R3 (Arduino Uno Clone) - 14USD (link)
- High-end Original Arduino Uno - USD24(link)
During a later stage, you'll get to the point, where your projects will required additional electronic components, or sensors, which where not included in my basic starter kit. There are three ways how you can get your parts. Directly from China, Online Electronics Shops, Local Electronics Stores. None of them is perfect, they all come with pros and cons.
Directly from China
You can get your components directly from Chinese suppliers. The most common platforms to get in touch are AliExpress, Wish and Ebay. They all allowed you to cut out the middle man and save up to 20–40%.
That makes it definitely the cheapest source, unfortunately that’s the only positive aspect.
Shipping is typically a problem, you easily wait weeks for your orders and tracking codes are not always provided. Depending on the supplier, shipping fees can be high and scaling very poorly, so you can end-up with linearly increasing shipping costs, which mitigated the initial cost savings.
The product quality is varying a lot too. To be save, it is recommended to use Chinese Suppliers to source for simple, non critical parts. Everything you need in-time to continue your learning, it's not a great option. The potential cost saving is definitely not worth killing your learning routine.
Avoiding Chinese Suppliers for more complex (e.g. ICs) parts or tools (e.g. soldering iron, multimeter) is also recommended, especially since these suppliers do not have to comply to any of your local safety or quality standards. The Risk of soldering components which might include toxic substances or using a Multimeter that goes up in flames is just to high.
Nevertheless, check these websites for some cheap basic components and tools
Online Electronics Shops
When you have a complete parts list for a project, it's a good idea to check out well established online electronics shops. They really offer a tremendously large selection of components. There is probably nothing you can’t find in their inventories. However, you will need to know exactly what you are looking for, otherwise you drown in pages and pages of identically looking components, just differing in some technical detail. These electronics retails are quite expensive, especially when only ordering small quantities, their shipping cost are almost as expensive as ordering directly from China. However, the quality is up to the mark.
So, it's totally recommend to get specific and complex components there. If possible batch order, to keep shipping costs low.
The largest and globally operating shops are:
Local Electronics Stores
The third source of components and tools is your local electronics store. In general, it's great to support your local businesses.
Often it's a great way to get in touch with people in your region who share the same interests as you are. If you know other makers just from the web, it can be very motivating to meet someone you can talk about your challenge and projects face-to-face. People who work at those stores are often makers themselves, so if you are in doubt about the component you need, you can definitely get some advice there. However, you can't expect to have the same selection of components instantly available as you get online. They might can order them for you though.
All in all, the big strength of local stores is personal service, instant availability and no shipping costs, hence picking up even small quantities is makes sense.
"Nice to have" Items
There are also a couple of items which are nice to have, but definitely not required to successfully complete your challenge.
Microcontroller Kit (36 − 90USD)
As mentioned before, a basic electronics kit + extra Arduino will get you very far already. If you have some more money to spend, there are also a lot of dedicated Arduino Starter Kits. h These come already with a microcontroller and many complex electronics components like sensors, motors, bluetooth remote controls etc. Even though all these toys are very tempting to play with, they prevent you from growing. Sounds contradicting, right? In fact, the wide range of toys and the also provided coding libraries will make prevent you from mastering the underlying technologies. Nevertheless, here are some good option if you want to go down that road:
- Basic Elegroo (Arduino Clone) Kit - 36USD (link)
- Medium Elegroo (Arduino Clone) Kit - 53USD (link)
- High-end original Arduino Kit - 90USD (link)
The multimeter is one of the more useful “nice to have” items. It allows you to measure current, voltage, resistance and continuity. It gets handy to verify assumptions you make about your circuit, like "this component should get X amount of voltage." Without a multimeter you don't have a chance to see what's going on in your circuit.
Later-on it also helped me to debug my own project, since seeing component goes up in smoke, is a very late indicator for some wiring mistake.
A basic meter will definitely carry you though the challenge, however it's recommend to pick the medium one, as it’s still affordable and “auto ranging”, meaning it finds the most suitable range to display your measured value automatically - very convenient.
- Basic digital Multimeter - 11.50USD (link)
- Medium digital Multimeter - 23USD (link)
- High-end digital Multimeter - 62USD (link))
Soldering Iron (15–70USD)
Soldering is skill that gets proves itself valuable very quickly, especially when you start to build your own, more complex, projects.
The amount of mistakes people make while wiring complex circuits is insane. Learning to solder allows you to hardwire connections and be sure they will remain function correctly while moving on. Considering the fair price & flat learning curve, it's a worthy invest of time and money.
The price range of soldering equipment is just crazy. You can get a full set with plenty of accessories for 9USD, while you can also spend 50USD to just get a plain soldering iron. If you can afford it, I’d recommend to go with the one from the mid price range. The cheapest will just be a gamble on how long it lasts, while the expensive one is a good choice when you expect to use it excessively. Keep in mind will need some more accessories like Helping Hands, Desoldering Pump and a Roll of Solder.
- Basic Soldering Kit - 9USD, (link)
- Medium Soldering Kit - 25USD (link)
- Medium+ Soldering Station + 5 Soldering Tips - 40USD (link)
A Oscilloscope is an advanced diagnostics tool that shows you a visual wave graph of an electronic signal. They have tons of sophisticated analysis applications, so you could use it for visualizing the time and voltage values of a signal or verify whether or not a malfunctioning component is distorting the signal. Proper once start at about 300USD, which is kind of overkill for this challenge. However, if you are interested there are a couple of DIY kits, so you can build your own Oscilloscope. Obviously these kit tools, can't keep up with professional equipment, but all in all it's a still powerful tool for a fair price and a good opportunity to get soldering practice!