Where to Buy Robot and Electronic Components?
Updated: Jan 17, 2020
Any beginner in electronics and robotics has to answer the question of where they should get their supplies from. That is a tricky question to answer and should be taken seriously. Let me explain.
In the case of buying arudino or raspberry pi boards (that's such a fantastic name btw), you COULD buy the fake boards which generally function the same. They do look different in color and font and especially when you look on the bottom of the boards. New learners will often buy these fake boards without even knowing it. The good news is they will work. The bad news is, sometimes you may have to fix them by downloading some sort of firmware and flashing that to the board at first. This is ok and there are usually people who have already gone through this and posted the steps to get your board working. BUT, and everyone has got a big but, this means a significant number of people would not be supporting the designers and manufacturers of the real product. This could lead to a drop in quality for future boards, less chances of new features, higher costs, etc. So, as tempting as it may be to save a few dollars, I would recommend going for the REAL DEAL and finding out where to purchase from a qualified seller.
I experienced this problem first hand when I decided to take the training wheels off and go bare bones AVR. That means doing away with the blue arduino board and using just the removable black chip. Oh yeah, I wanted to live DANGEROUSLY! I wanted to really understand what was going on and build my knowledge from that one single chip through adding other components and really cutting all the fat. This also meant I could potentially make lower profile projects and become more skilled at soldering the chips to boards and becoming more familiar with all that goes with it.
My mistake was in ordering the arduino's 328p chips on ebay. Now, ebay is great for getting very cheap replaceable items like LEDs, resistors, potentiometers, etc. The problem is your order will usually come out of China using some sort of free shipping method and in this world you generally get what you pay for. Sometimes, the shipping takes over a month to get to my house here in Korea. Yes. Over a month. I could take a plane and get there in 40 minutes.
The packages are always labeled as 'gift' meaning they are sneaking these shipments and have to do it very carefully over time. Props to them for making that work. However, there are better options if you just pay a few more dollars you can have your components much quicker. As far as the chips go, they were all BRICKED. I could not flash a program to any of them. I triple checked my connections with my usbtiny programmer multiple times but no luck. I was so angry I tossed the chips many times!
I finally gave in and found the REAL AVR chips were being sold by Microchip on their website. Their website was easy enough to navigate and even let me purchase 2 tubes full of REAL AVR chips. I noticed when they came the lettering was much clearer on them and they worked the first time! Keep in mind they are clocked at 1/8 of the speed to save you power so if you need to change that it would be up to you. The good news is it is very easy! The package even came with an official proof of quality. I was all new to ordering directly from the company producing these chips and it was a very very good experience, like putting on new sneakers that feel just, ahhhhhhhh. You know? I can show you how to change the clock speeds later.
I had a similar experience with buying 2 usb programmers on ebay which didn't work and delayed my progress. I lost my discipline which I talk about as being the most important thing beginners in robotics and electronics need to know. Check it out here.
So, what I want to tell you is buy from reputable sources! If its small components buy them from anywhere because they are all coming from the same manufacturer anyway but if you can buy locally it is much better for your sanity. For the chips and USB programmers and sensors, you should buy from reputable sites like Sparkfun, Adafruit, or Amazon as the first two have tutorials and product support in case something is not working. I used to HATE the Adafruit site but recently it was updated and is FANTASTIC. Really, check it out! Sparkfun needs a slight update to theirs as well. I'm taking notes from Adafruit to improve this site!
If you haven't already, check out my beginner's course where I teach all of the necessary components to get anyone started in electronics and robotics. I am here to help you understand quickly so you can start making faster and understand what is happening under the hood. If you haven't already make sure to check out my channel which has advice and videos dedicated to the course with helpful tips and advice.