PC on the workdesk or the other way around?

December 9, 2016 | 00:00
Do you use a PC in your e-workplace? How? What type? (photo credit: EDN)
Do you use a PC in your e-workplace? How? What type? (photo credit: EDN)
At Elektor I am almost singular among the few magazine editors left, as far as having a real-life electronics workspace at home is concerned. Fortunately and forced by social circumstances the place is not as “richly filled” as Jim Williams', which I could not resist picturing above as it is iconic. (photo credit: EDN. Image cropped to suit size prescribed for this e-zine).

My gear comprises oscilloscopes (both CRT and USB), generators (DC to daylight they say), cables, solder tools (10-250 watts), a 2 kilowatt AC line isolation transformer … the whole shebang as many Elektor readers may have it too in their attic, garage or basement. The equipment I use ranges in age from about 1950 right up to December 5, 2016 (yes, today) when I received an Atlas ESR Tester as my Sinterklaas gift. I promise to Sinterklaas I will no longer blow up sleepy electrolytics and put the tester to good use in my ongoing battle against Tantalum & The Badcaps.

I consider a personal computer (PC) a plain tool in my workspace. I need it mainly to quickly look up things on the net, like the pinning of a SCART connector (recognize that one?), tube equivalents, or the proper supply voltages to a MAX232. As you will appreciate, with the typical activity going on at an electronics workdesk, a state of the art laptop or tablet is in real danger of getting some rough treatment most likely from the solder iron or bits and pieces dropping. For that reason, using the “living room” laptop is out of the question too. That’s why I decided to permanently install an old mini-tower PC with a 19-inch LCD screen and running Win 7. I do not care much about the mediocre speed, and this “clunker” is linked to my home network by a 10-Mbit (yes) Ethernet c-a-b-l-e rather than Wi-Fi to keep RF interference in the shack as low as possible. The keyboard is tattered but solid and I am on my second mouse currently as the first one perished under a dropping transformer. I admit there is also an inkjet printer. An even older PC of the 386-turbo class still runs Win 3.11 and Norton Utilities from HD at amazing speed, not just for PROM and EPROM programming jobs but also for playing Alley Cat and helping out with anything requiring real Centronics, real RS-232 or a bit of GPIB. It has an ersatz USB on it that’s horribly slow. Total investment in the two PCs: none.

Rest assured I also happily use a modern laptop with 100's of gigabytes of SSD and an Intel i7 inside and Cloud connectivity outside. I use it to watch Dave Jones' EEVBlog on the couch but hesitate to carry it into my e-workspace. The two resident PCs there are perfectly suited to the job and I am not in the least worried about bashing them because spares are aplenty -- not from RS or Mouser but from friends and the local thrift shop. Plus they make visitors smile.

I’m curious to hear from you, the PC arrangement in your electronics workspace. Maybe you hate the PC, you will have no such thing anywhere in the e-workplace and you are reading this on paper or on your grandson’s iPhone. That’s okay, send me a letter and I shall retype it for publishing here. Maybe your electronics workbench is all-virtual and it comes alive in less than 20 seconds when you open your laptop. That’s okay too, just click on the Add a Comment button below and tell me how you experience electronics that never smells. Everyone else, click on that button too.
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