Semiconductor Analyzer Review

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M3 Semiconductor Analyzer

This is a kit from M Cubed Electronix [1] which is intended to tell you what ( in electrical terms, not part number ) that unknown transistor in your junk box is. No marking or spec sheets needed! Go to the site and read the description.

Order Process

It was unclear to me if the case was an optional extra, it was ( and at a good price ). I ordered it as well, worth it just to get the cutouts done for me. Ordering went smoothly, kit arrived quickly. Nicely packaged. Either they forgot the assembly directions or I lost them, an email resulted in the directions arriving within a few hours, on a weekend. Great service.

The Kit

All of the parts looked first quality, pretty much industry standard parts. The board was very professional, nice solder mask and well marked. The IC were all dip parts and the routing was not aggressive. Everything needed for complete assembly ( including the enclosure which I ordered as an option ) was there. The first suggestion in assembling the kit is to verify the parts against the parts list, I eyeballed it. Later it turned out that indeed everything was there. The parts are usefully broken down into different sets in different bags. Solder and tools are up to you. The microcontroller has its part number hidden ( but not on the schematic, I will only reveal that it is a PIC, pre 18 series). Source code is not provided, but updates are available.

Building

This is pretty straightforward, stuff and solder. I followed the directions anyway, except I added extra sockets for the 74HC4052 Dual 4-channel analog multiplexers. Then I double checked the parts. The resistor color codes are difficult to distinguish ( not their fault, this is an industry standard ) so I used a magnifier and double checked with a ohmmeter. No mistakes found. The one place I had difficulty was soldering the header onto the LCD display. It acted as if there were some coating on the LCD board which repelled the solder. It was too late to clean up the pins. The solder may have been good down in the hole. I skipped cleaning up the flux (probably a bad idea, based on other reviews). Powered up without the CPU ( according to directions ) and measured some voltages, so far so good.

Next I inserted the CPU and powered up again. LCD should light and display. It did neither. Twisting the contrast control for the LCD gave me a line of blocks, but that was it.

I revisited the solder connections and reheated anything that looked at all in doubt, added a bit of solder.

Powered Up -- Got the expected light and display, now on to calibration.

To calibrate you short two jumpers together on the circuit board, power up and then remove the short. Went as expected ( RTFM ) until I opened the short. At this point the unit should cycle through some calibration values. For me display remained on but blank. Back to reading the directions. That step about shorting the test leads together: skipped it. When back and un-skipped it. Now calibration routine ran fine.

Evaluation of the Working Unit

This is preliminary, but using know parts from my inventory the tester seemed to be right on. Using random unknown components it seemed to do a good job, but since they were unknown it is hard to be sure.

If you would like to do a bit of pre-evaluation download the user manual. It seems to be a very good description of the unit.

Good Price?

The whole thing with case came to about $70. The parts in moderate quantity I estimate to be worth about half that. If I had a chance to run a business on that low a margin, I would hardly jump at it. Seems like a very good deal to me, careless ordering and ordering in single quantity could push your cost to the full kit cost. PCB's are never cheap at quantity 1, normally more than the whole amount of this kit.

Then what about the code, and burning it into the PIC priceless for those of us who cannot code.

My evaluation is that if you want the functions of this test device then this is an excellent deal.

Suggestions to the Manufacturer

These are not big deals but in the directions:

  • Make it clear what the orientation of the LCD is in its socket, not a problem if you have the enclosure and realize that it will only fit in one way.
  • Add a test point for ground, if room can be easily found. Note that one side of the calibration jumper can be used for VCC.
  • Ambiguous as to existence of backlight, which I think is always included.
  • Indicate where pin 1 is on the layout esp. for the LCD connector.
  • If the case is included you can insert and knot the leads through the from panel prior to soldering, this adds strain relief and makes assembly in the case easier, the probes no longer need to taken apart and re soldered as in current directions.

Feature issues:

  • It would be so cool if it could identify linear voltage regulators, which often look like transistors.
  • Add a test point for ground, if room can be easily found. Note in the directions that one side of the calibration jumper can be used for VCC.

Links

Mostly other reviews: ( they generally seem to like it )

Comments from Other Users

got more info? add it here.....

Comments from the Manufacturer

if they wish, for additions corrections or just comments....

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