Hacker’s Wishlist: What Must-Have Components Let You Build Anything?

We’re putting in a parts order at the end of the week, yet we don’t have a specific project in mind. Trying to wrap your noggin’ around a bill of materials to build anything is tough, but that’s the gist of stocking components for a hackathon.

So we put it to you: what components can’t you live without when you roll your sleeves up for some good old fashioned hardware hacking?

What Can You Build in Two Days?

multiplierThis parts order is for the badge hacking at this year’s SuperCon. What we saw last year was amazing considering the parts we had available. What you see above is the back of the conference badge with a lot of caps and diodes added to it. It’s a voltage multiplier that [Sprite_TM] built onto his badge to get the 9V input up to a 1000V output.

So diodes and caps, check. They’ll be on the order. But we want to know what you would add to a parts order where anything is possible? Let us know in the comments below.

Unlock Beast Mode

Part of the fun last year was starting from a badge that had no circuitry built onto it at all. [Brian Benchoff] joked in his coverage of the hacking that this year’s badge would just be a piece of copper clad FR4 — a great idea and challenge accepted. In addition to the normal badge, for those willing to test their mettle, we want you to go for Beast Mode. We’ll have copper clad (single and double-sided) and protoboard on hand.

We’re looking for Manhattan style, dead bug, and any other elegant, interesting, or hacky method of rapid prototyping. Bring along your own pre-spun or home-etched boards — if they’re not already populated you can do that in the badge hacking area. If you want to learn the awesome X-Acto knife method of carving up copper clad, Zach Fredin will be helping out in the badge hacking area. You’ll also find Voja Antonic, Paul Stoffregen, and others hanging out there too.

But What About the Badge?

2016-supercon-badge-circuitYes, there is a hardware badge and it’s a doozy this year. Voja Antonic designed it and published a great explanation last week. It’s based around a PIC18LF25K50 and features an LED Matrix and user inputs. This will be a lot of fun for the firmware hackers, but why not get in on the hardware hacking action while you’re at it?

The back of the badge has a 9-bin breakout header (2x 3V, 2x Gnd, 5x GPIO). This pin header is 0.1″ pitch so you can design in advance for any add-on circuits you might want to build. We’ll also have connectors on hand to use in your hacks.

Last year Paul Stoffregen’s Teensy audio workshop was hugely popular and one of the most interesting badge hacks added a Teensy, audio board, and LCD to the mix to create a spectrum analyzer with waterfall display. I’m sure we’ll see some hacks that reach that level this year. But it’s a welcoming and jovial environment; even if you never blinked an LED there will be throngs of people waiting to cheer your accomplishment in the name of getting everyone in the world excited about hardware.

Seriously Though, What Components Should We Order?

Tools are going to be no problem this year since we have the Supplyframe Design Lab at our disposal. But we really are putting in a parts order this week and need your advice. We’ll have the usual suspects: pin headers, shift registers, voltage regulators, level converters, 7400 series logic and 555 timers, extra battery holders, passives, etc.

Even if you’re not in on the hacking, let us know what you can’t live without. What’s your analog hacking wishlist? What type of sensor breakouts would you like to see people playing with? Sound off in the comments below.

63 thoughts on “Hacker’s Wishlist: What Must-Have Components Let You Build Anything?

  1. Some microcontrollers in prototype friendly packages would be nice; DIPs are rarer these days, but SOIC and TSSOP and QFPs with 0.8 pitch can be hand soldered quite comfortably. They’re not as sexy as building a whole state machine using 555’s but they get the work done. If you stock ARM MCUs in particular, one advantage is that they can be programmed with nearly any ARM debugger and tool chain.

  2. Where I work, always having a supply of piezo buzzers lying around has been beneficial (perhaps you included that under passives).

    Also having photodiodes or phototransisitors could be fun, especially if you also made some cheep laser diodes available. I mostly use the two for making optical isolators or laser mics, which might not have a place on a badge, but if you get enough people together I’m sure you would see some interesting builds. It’s just too bad I can’t make the SuperCon…

      1. Honestly, I just did a google search for a driver circuit and replicated what I found. As far as a power source, a tabletop high current DC power supply works well. I have not tried a battery operated version yet, since I haven’t needed one.

      2. I just used a resistor. Start with 470 Ohms at 5V, and then go down in resistance until you get reliable lasing. I used this system on 8 laser diodes and they all work fine after months of use.

  3. NE-2 neon bulbs (or similar)? 90VDC breakdown, 0.6ma operating. R-C-NE relaxation oscillator, anyone?

    Hall effect sensors?

    Specialties like the TI LDC1312 or similar? (I just like these. They are super useful in odd places, though they aren’t dead cheap and the dev boards are not cheap– about $30–, but they are handy)

    A jellybean price processor: MSP430G series are my cheap go to for under $1 in quantity. ESP8266 modules are really, really handy, but cost more. There are a pile of others available, as well. When you ask what I can’t live without, I have a couple tubes of the MSP430’s in the rack, and I have rarely burned the same code into more than a couple.

  4. One of the absolute essentials is a set of passive kits. Sparkfun has some through-hole 1/4W resistor kits, and you can get some awesome 128/256 value SMD kits (resistors, capacitors, inductors; 0402, 0603, 0805, 1206) with 1% tolerances here:


    It’s a great way to eliminate the QTY 10 order of resistors from DigiKey or Mouser for each project. I design my projects to use values I have in stock, and just replenish as I need. Plus, it makes tweaking values super easy, since you can have some of every conceivable value in stock.

    They also come in awesome little kit boxes that are super easy to store. No more free bags of resistors with sharpie labels!

    I am not a paid actor. I just love these kits.

  5. ULN2083 – 8 darlington transistors in a nice package. Good for taking digital outputs and driving bigger things. Also lots of RGB LEDs, both plain and the fancy ones you can chain together. Some cheap little joysticks and weird buttons for extra input. Also, wires with crocodile clips for linking things temporarily – much easier than pin headers in certain situations. Maybe some cheap relays for the brave. Also, can I suggest some shapelock/polymorph/friendly plastic/polycaprolactone – heat it up and shape it for quick and dirty fixtures, led diffusers and adding mechanical strength or insulating things.

    1. ULNs are useful but I’d suggest a serially-loadable driver with FET outputs instead, less pins to drive and can be cascaded easily if required. I really like the TI TPIC6A595 – 8 channel, sinks 350ma per pin at up to 50v, comes in DIP or SMD, works off 3v3 (not according to datasheet but fine in practice). If you can get Saleae to donate a couple of Logics you know they’ll come in handy for debug. Oh and Cuckoo clocks – I had to bring my own last time :-)

  6. I’m not sure if you provide the tools, but reasonably thin solder and very small chisel/bent tips should be available. Thin tips are quite useless when soldering to a proper PCB, but they’re essential when it comes to hacking stuff together.
    As for components, you don’t actually need much.
    (i) A small and easily-programmable microcontroller like the Attiny2313 or the Attiny85 in DIP or SO package.
    (ii) A small jellybean amplifier. I like the MCP600x series, they’re cheap and rail-to-rail. If you want to cheap out, you can also order some LM348.
    (iii) Voltage regulators. LM317, AMS1117, MCP1703, LM78xx, you name it.
    Try not to cheap out on the dielectrics and the voltages. X5R is the minimum you want, Y5U is completely out of the question. I’ve found Samsung’s MLCC caps to be rather inexpensive and work well. As a voltage rating, try to pick 25V or above.
    (iv) 100nF MLCC capacitors, 0805 or 0603.
    (v) 1uF
    (vi) and 10uF MLCC capacitors, 0805.
    (vii) 100uF electrolytic capacitors
    (viii) some small-ish C0G dielectric MLCC capacitors (<1nF) for filters, but I don't have much of a clue about these
    (ix) Assorted THT resistors, 5% or 1%
    (x) 100R 0805, 220R 0805, 470R; Case 0805 (for LEDs)
    (xi) 100R, 470R, 1k, 4.7k, 10k, 100k, 1M; Case 0603 (general-purpose digital stuff)
    (xii) multi-turn spindle trimmers, 10k, 100k. These are extremely nice, but somewhat expensive. Allows you to dial in rather precise resistances. I always keep some around, even though the cost double-digit cents apiece (as compared to fixed-value resistors, which cost practically nothing)
    (xiii) Wire-wrapping wire in assorted colours. Go for the one with PVDF ("Kynar") insulation, even though it's not extremely cheap.
    (xiv) screws and spacers. You can also replace spacers by small PVC or PS pipe and bring a set of taps.
    (xv) Pushbuttons
    (xvi) THT and SMT headers, straight and right-angle
    (xvii) THT and SMT sockets, straight and right-angle
    (xviii) Mini/Micro-USB sockets
    (xix) Cyanoacrylate glue for fixing wires to the board.
    (xx) Hot-melt glue.
    (xxi) Epoxy is also nice, but requires ventilation, so rather not.
    (xxii) Polyimide ("Kapton") tape
    (xxiii) Masking tape

    That's what I have in my "I-need-this-all-the-time" assortment. Throw in a couple of LEDs and jumper wires (male and female) and you're set.

  7. Another thought, for a fun challenge, you could give people only a ATTiny10 and some passives (maybe add a few other parts if it would improve the builds) and see what shakes out. For the really crazy people, give them the UDFN package. Too mean?

  8. Oh if you’ve got time to get a China order in, a bag of of I2C accelerometer/gyro breakout boards. MPU6050 is cheap and good but there’s a ton of options. Solder wick/braid for fixing errors. A selection of trimpots for quick’n’dirty prototyping.

  9. A little tube of those 60 Amp Mosfets. A box of resistors. A few cheapo arduinos. Some switching diodes… Maybe a baggie of small capacitors so I can feel like I’m doing something useful. A step-down voltage regulator or two. Some leds and pushbutton switches. Also a few cheap character ld’s. Those really nice adafruit protoboards and some wirewrap wire too.

    Mostly I do mechanical stuff. So, an assortment of 3mm screws. A 3D printer. A fuck ton of superglue. I really like the set from fastcap.

  10. my list of “use on everything” parts:

    pro mini clones
    ftdi friend clones
    esp-12 breakouts
    decoupling caps (.01 .1 1 10 100)

  11. A spool of enamel copper wire to make wire jumpers on a pcb. Just heat up the end by pushing it against the side of your solder iron tip and add some solder to tin the ends. Dont inhale the smoke.

  12. I’d add some battery boxes with switch, and a grab bag of ferrite toroids. (Wire wrap wire works just fine as magnet wire.)

    I’d also have a selection of measurement tools handy. I.e. some multi-meters, an LCR meter, a cheapo transistor tester, an oscilloscope or two, a function generator, lab power supplies, etc.

    For semi-conductors, I’d add some OPA2350 op-amps to the semi-conductor stock for when you need more speed than a MCP6002 can give. (btw, both are available in DIP) Maybe an op-amp that can take higher voltage as well? (a 30sec search shows the LT1638 and NJM4580D look like good options) Oh and a pile of the LM10, it’s just packed with analog goodness!

  13. Don’t forget documentation like pinouts or datasheets in printed form, since wifi access is likely to be spotty at best with so many people present. For SMT parts on cut tape, actually labeling or writing the part info on the tape is important, since every piece of cut tape looks alike once they’ve been taken out of the bags and mixed together on the table in the chaos of trying things to get some particularly creative hack to actually work.

  14. – *reliable* internet access over wifi and a big stash of PDF datasheets/guides on a local fileshare/webserver, hopefully covering everything you supply
    – common passives, small BJTs and FETs, LEDs, regulators, opamps, etc
    – 18650 batteries, chargers and holders
    – CR2032s and holders
    – cheap buck and boost regulator modules
    – 5V and 12v switching wall-warts, DC connectors, etc
    – LCDs (cheap HD44780 and maybe some of the I2C 128×64 mono OLEDs)
    – pots, rotary encoders, matrix keypads, big buttons & toggle switches, touch-sensor breakouts (MPR121 etc)
    – NFC boards and some cheap tags
    – cheap relay modules, optoisolators
    – DS18B20s and cheap accelerometers on breakout boards, HC-SR04 ultrasonics?
    – stepper motors and H-bridge chips? fat TO-220 FETs, motors, light-bulbs, servos?
    – heatsinks and fans?
    – nRF24L01+ and bluetooth modules
    – 38kHz IR-remote receiver modules
    – RGB programmable LEDs, e.g. APA102
    – stack of Nano clones, some attiny85 and atmega384, usbtinyisps, FTDIs, some of those $2 STM32F103C8T6 boards and $5 stlinkv2 clones and ESP8266s
    – USB cables and connectors
    – a handful of saleae clones and a couple of busblasters
    – loads of male and female jumper wires, breadboards, etc
    – ribbon cable and a few common sizes of IDC connector (just need a small vise to close them up)
    – project cases, baby drill press, dremels and a nibbling tool
    – plastic M3 threaded PCB standoffs and M3 screws
    – Dymo labellers

  15. I carry some of cypress’ super cheap dev boards in my bag in case I need anything, PLCs and fpga pieces can be wonders for logic intensive things, shrink tubes are darn handy. Have you seen formcard? Great little moldable plastic things to help with structural integrity without baking or drying times – I keep those on hand too. Small cameras, particularly with removable IR filters can be thrown in bins and put to all kinds of shenanigans. Some cheap RF stuff could be handy, sdr along with the usual BLE/WiFi suspects. Ferrite cores for cutting weird interference. Magnets, buy various sizes of Neodymium magnets and a few rolls of magnet wire. Acid, for reasons. Do you have tanks of inert gasses on hand? Glass rods of the easy blow variety. Maybe a few bags of getter materials. Rotors and high speed brushless motors for drone designs, bearings of all kinds, steppers, lasers, cable ends and crimpers for the inevitable. Coin cells. LN2. Solvents. R/C gas. Anodes of various kinds can be useful. Squids aren’t supplies, but they do end up being consumables. LEDs, esp ir, uv, laser since they harder to find. Filter material and diffraction gratings.Copper tubing. Fluorescent gunk of some variety. Sensors, lots of cheap sensors out there if you don’t include the measuring circuitry: barometers, gyros, various MEMS chicanery. USB otg cables, usb serial boards. common cable tips like ethernet, phone, usb, 3.5mm, alligator, 3 pronged power. grounding straps would be good to have on hand. Polarizing filters. Mirrors.

  16. Looks like a pretty good selection in these comments… I like the 74xx574, 8-bit D-latch, which can easily be converted into a serial-in-parallel-out shift-register as well, etc. Also recently learned about arbitrary-clock-generators, this one looks handy: Si5351A-B-GT, Adafruit has a tutorial/library for it, as well.

  17. Wet ware boosters caffeine, sugar, chocolate and three basic food groups:salt, more sugar, monosodium glutamate. Good quality solder 60/40 and flux paste , box o minty fresh iron tips var sizes, green 3M scratchy pads, nail polish, can o black spray paint, paper towels, somebody say duct tape or epoxy?

  18. Some of those solar panels found in garden led lights would be great. Combined with a super cap and motors and servos some awesome stuff can be made.

    Germanium diodes for some hf stuff, hf broadband detectors etc, varicaps, crystal microphones, low noise transistors for mike amp. Like bc549b.

    Some 433mhz transeiver modules, all kinds of sensor breakout boards like accelerometors, magnetometors, optical, capacitive and inductive sensors, ultra sound transducers, mini lidar modules.

    What I find really essential are dupont male and female connectors, breakable to make custom connectors on anything. It’s breadboard friendly. The 90degree ones are also great for limiting the height of a project. Some ribbon cable to go along with it. I have still a good supply of atapi cd rom cables, floppy drive, scsi and ide cables which are great to extend and solder connectors from or to just about anything. Dupont connectors back to back are also great as gender changers.

    Tools like needle/bent tweezers, 3rd hands, no clean soldering flux pen or syringe, pre heater.

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