As a college student, money has always been tight, so finding ways of getting electronic parts for cheap or even free have been a necessity. There have been four main ways I have gone about doing this.
This article was submitted by Craig Houston as part of the uC Hobby “Hobby parts for articles” program. Craig receives a Graphic LCD module for this helpful article. Many more articles have been received, all of them are good and will earn the authors free parts. The plan is to put up one per week, this is the first.
1) Free Samples
A lot of the major manufacturers of electronic parts have a program called “sampling.” The idea behind this is that these companies send you a limited supply of various parts that you request for free (most of the time S&H is also free). You give them some information about what you plan to use the parts for and an estimated amount of parts you would use if you where to manufacture a certain project (which can be bloated to help increase your chances of getting the parts). Since I have been in school I have always associated my college with my profile. The manufacture of these electronic parts hopes that you learn about their products and start/continue to use them in high volume applications.
Here is a list of companies that I have successfully sampled products from: (click the logo to visit the sample request page)
Microchip is well known for the PIC microcontrollers and memory products but they have a lot of other products, highly recommended and I have never been turned down.
Maxim/Dallas parts are extremely well documented components, I enjoy reading their application notes and using their power management (regulators, DC/DC converters, etc…) components.
EDABoard.com has a forum post listing other sampling companies but I can’t confirm any of these sites.
When ordering components from these sites pay careful attention to the size/type of packages you get. When I first started using this method I was ordering parts left to right not paying attention, and 2 weeks later, I found myself with some great parts but unusable because there were so fine pitch. For the hobbyist who is simply using a breadboard or strip board, one is limited to DIP’s (Dual in-line package at Wikipedia) and thru hole devices.
Freecycle is a mailing list made up individuals in certain geographical area. It is a free list to join in which people post items in which they want to give away for free and others post about items they want if anybody has them. I have had great success in getting electronics that don’t work anymore from many people (ones person garbage is another person treasure). I have gotten things like old printers, tape players, vhs players, computers, the list goes on… I live in city of around 100,000 people and I’ve had over 30 responses from a single post. From there I take the electronics apart, unscrew and desolder tell my heart’s content. Read the scrounging article at uC Hobby a general tutorial on scrounging electronics parts.
3) School Institutions – Free
Some schools throw out a plethora of great electronic equipment. A lot of this stuff is pretty dated but that usually makes it easier to scrap parts from as a lot of the components are DIP or thru-hole. If you’re not shy, find a school/college/university around your area and take a trip to their computer/electronic/electrical technology department. If you can talk to the right person you can walk away with more electronics then you can hold. While you’re there it might be a good idea to ask if they have any documentation on electronics, like old magazines or books.
Although one can find pretty much any documentation on the internet, I prefer to read a hard copy.
4) Ebay – Usually cheap
From personal experience I have used eBay for discrete components (resistors, capacitors, diodes). I usually search for kits which gives one a general range of components. Prices definitely vary from seller to seller but if you dig for a bit you’ll find something cheap. Just remember to always to check the shipping and handling charges to your area, or ask the seller.
Well that’s my list, hope you all enjoy it and have fun getting your free on!