software to hardware - help

Folks, How difficult it is for a software guy to learn working with hardware. I've been working on embedded systems for about 4 years. Worked on various platforms like TI DSP, Morotola, Intel x86 etc. Having sound knowledge of C, Assembly, DD, RTOS and other system level stuff. I want to learn some basic skill on hardware side (like soldering etc.) to prototype some very simple circuits. My main focus is on Firmware designing and RTOS. Do I need to take up some course in basic electronics?

What are the essential tools that I need to buy in order to get started playing with hardware?

Books for a beginner like me (who dont have any background in electronics)?

Some of you guy might have faced the same thing. It would be really helpful for me to get advice and tips, and quickly get started.

Thanks and Regards,


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Subscribe to Nuts&Volts and CircuitCellar magazine and walk through some of their tutorial projects and visits sites like:

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for inexpensive kits to play with

Pers>Folks, How difficult it is for a software guy to learn working with

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The answer depends on wether you take the blue pill or the red pill. Sorry, but I couldn't resist with you using the name Neo.

work, as you mention soldering and basic prototying. You may be able to find some classes at a community or technical college that would help you gain some hands on experience with the correct methods to use. Also look for certification trainging that may be offered in your area. Personally, I took a class in SMT rework and have been very comfortable with soldering and desoldering ever since. While I am certain that some may disagree with my suggestion I find that there really is no substitute for learning from someone who knows how to teach a subject properly.

If you are interested in learning electronics theory, which will go a long ways towards your goal, I would recommend the book, The Art of Electronics and the corresponding lab work book by Horowitz and Hill. The book covers many of the fundemental aspects of analog and digital electronics from a "this is how you use and apply it" perspective. The book covers how to analyze circuits and components from a practical - real work perspective. Armed with this book, I would suggest getting some basic equipment, such as a bread board, digital multi meter and power supply. You may wish to purchase some basic parts to perform the experiements in the book, but these should be available from any online electronics supplier, such as Digikey.

Good Luck and enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole!

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- a multimeter

- a logic probe

- as big a Wish Board (or equivalent brand) as you can stand getting. This is one of those large socket/terminal blocks that can accept DIP chips and component leads and so on, for prototyping circuits.

- fine solid wire left by phone installers

A good, cheap electronic parts store in the neighbourhood is an immense help.

Yes, mandatory. Other people than I will know what's current. I used _Electronic Design with Off-the-shelf Integrated Circuits_, but I got it remaindered. I bet it's unfindable now. Obsolete, too.

Manufacturers sites on the world-wide web have the data sheets you need, and there are lots of sample applications in these.

I subscribed to Elektor and Electronic Musician for a few years. I don't know if Electronic Musician pushes do-it-yourself as much as they used to.

I moved from big-iron software support to embedded programming. The biggest change is that I can now afford to own the computers I work on. Everything else is about the same. An engineer who'd worked for Marconi was talking lately about an early monster with about 128 words of data memory. It sounded pretty much like an ATtiny28.


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Mel Wilson

I think you should think in terms of "component level hardware/electronics". Please note I intentionally made no mention of software ;}

My gut reaction would be "look for local Amateur Radio club". AKA "hams". These days they cover a broad range of interests.

I may be out of date. I remember type 80's, 6J6's, and CK722's. I've seen a *LEGAL* spark gap transmitter operate ;}

Am I dated?

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Richard Owlett

In the same line of thought, the ARRL Handbook may be worth its price . It is a pretty condensed package about modern electronics.

It depends on yourself - if you've running with the development, no problem.

I've also used 807's, 813's and 866A's.

Tauno Voipio, OH2UG (since early 1960's)
tauno voipio (at) iki fi
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Tauno Voipio


If you've got a good line, maybe...
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John Fields

I would say it is incredibly hard to make the transition in this direction. Software is at least an order of magnitude less complex than hardware so it is difficult to become a good hardware engineer. Many people make the transition in the other direction from mechanical engineering and mathematics to software.



Reply to
Ian Bell

Beside the time and missing education you're looking at substantial investments.

Yes, the stuff is cheap, the mixed channel scope is also payable, but the bulk is what it makes.

The basic soldering is not it. In order to make the hardware suitable for the embedded stuff you're used to takes a decade to learn beside the job. And it is a moving target. Fine pitch pcbs, programmable logic, fast logic, the lot adds up.

Very simple circuits ? a few transistors ? TTL ?


Ing.Buero R.Tschaggelar -
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Rene Tschaggelar


some good solder.

That's it.... you can play with electronics using a wire from a coat-hanger heated on the kitchen hotplate as a soldering iron, and a simple continuity teester made with a few AA cells and a salvaged LED....

in the almost essential list:

a soldering iron.

a heat-resistant, (or scrificial) work surface

a bench vice or other extra hand...

small pliers both long nose, and angle cutters.

a multimmeter, I'd go with an analogue model first, they're easier to read.

if you're into playing with digital stuff something to power them apropriately even if it's just a 9VDC plugpack and a 7805 regulator.

anti-static devices equipment if you're wanting to play with CMOS.

otherwise a 20 pack of cheap AA dry cells can handle most tasks....

the nice to have list:

a second multimeter - go with a digital one for precision readings, and you can also use both together to mesure th status in two parts of the circuit at the same time...

a propane blow torch - great for salvaging components from obsolete equipment.

a wire stripper - sure you can strip wires using two pairs of pliers but it;s a whole lot easier with one of these...

a selection of parts, nuts and bolts and other random hardware

solderless breadboard

some prototyping board (either stripboard, unconnected perf, or some other connection scheme.

As for what to study, you probably are already familiar with digital logic, so got the other way, refresh your knowledge of Ohms's law and kirchoff's current laws. get some practice reaading the resistor colour code.

passive RC filter networks.

build yourself a LED flasher.

Bye. Jasen

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Jasen Betts

Horowitz and Hill - 'The Art of Electronics' is a good, well written, introduction to electronics.


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Reply to
Andy Baxter

You have received some good advice here. I'll add that picaxe chips are a lot of fun and there is wide range of internet sources for software, schematics and so on.

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Charles Schuler





Its really not as difficult as some would make out ... tho i suppose it's depends on your aptitude, perhaps just as important your 'determination' ... and also the level of complexity you wish to move it. Much like yourself, was a programmer, wishing to take up electronics as a hobby. Digital electronics is actually fairly easy ... it's such connecting a bunch of black-box chips together - I'd grab a quick an easy guide to analog electronics ... to lend the fundamentals .. and a digital electronics book ... then start playing about with a few kits - its the best way to learn ..

As for how i got on ...5 years on ... well ... my last little project was a dual wireless phone + base station ... connects to the PC and phone line ... allows me to switch from voip, skype, landline and send sms's by gsm card :-) ...

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Thanks a lot. A grabbed a copy of "The Art of Electronics" and basic tools - Multimeter, Soldering Iron, cutting pliers, Breadboard, General purpose PCB, a variable DC output adapter, 25-pin male D connector (for parallel port interfacing),

555 Timer IC, a bunch of LEDs, registors, capcitors and transistors etc. from the local store. Its really exicting to play with these things. Things are up and running... :-)

But I didn't found the Lab Workbook. Is it necessary to have a copy?


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Well, my aim is not to transition from software to pure hardware engineer. Understanding how a peice of hardware works is of immense help for a firmware engineer. Working closer to hardware, controlling a device this is what makes this field interesting and exciting.


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That sounds amazing. Digital electronics I know quite a lot. Which microcontroller/microprocessor will be a good start? PICAXE seems quick and fast. How about ARM, MIPS etc. though i am not targeting these at this stage, its for later what I would like to use. For now I want "Play With It Yourself" on a tight budget and yet the power and flexibility to build real world gadgets.


-Neo "Do you Really think, What you think REAL is Really REAL?"

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I wouldn't say that it is necesary, however you might find it both helpfull and enjoyable to have it.

The lab workbook does two things. One it provides a different perspective on some of the critical concepts that can be somewhat difficult to understand initially. Second it presents a number of recommended realtively simple experiments to perform on a bench, which in my opinion is the real value of the book.

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PIXAXE?? ... took a glance at the site and yeah! seem's like a good place to start ... i started off on the Microchip product line too ... my first project, the "hello world" equivalent to embedded hobbyists - controlling a bunch of LED's :-) ... which had me excited for all of 10 minutes ... ARM & MIPS? .. not much experience i'm afraid, never used MIPS. As for ARM - i've worked on them, but only from a 'software perspective' ... from the sounds of which, you've more experience than i.

the project? (dual wireless thingies) cheers for the thumbs up :-) ... built it, and worked ... but decided the change the plan! .. no bulk level purchase's meant scaling up was too damn costly ...

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