If you design your own electronics circuits you have to select the best parts for your design. This can be very time consuming especially if you do not know where to look for them. For me problem parts are electromechanical parts, connectors, push-buttons, that sort of thing. What I do in those cases is look through a component distributor catalog and see if I can find something to my likes. Unfortunately these catalogs no longer reflect very well the full offering of the distributor’s products as they prefer to present them on-line.
On-line component browsing on a distributor site just is not very practical. When Digikey decided to stop distributing their paper catalog we did a little reader’s survey of which the outcome was unanimous: No!!!
If you do a search on a part you will get many useless results, but you will also miss many because the search engine didn’t find them. Typical is the table refinement option where you can tick the specifications you want. You cannot simply tick one because often the same specification is listed several times with different wording so you have to tick ‘em all. Also ticking an option will remove the parts for which this particular parameter was not specified in the first place. “Number of ways” or “polarity” can mean the same thing for a switch, but the filter only knows one of them. Voltage regulators are one example of hard to select parts. Input voltage range, output voltage range, type, etc. all parameters that can be (and are) specified in different ways making them difficult to compare.
RS Components just launched their new improved website where they put a lot of effort in improving the search engine. They told me that they now remove much more irrelevant results and they return harder to find results, but they didn’t say anything about addressing the issue of parameter homogeneity.
So is it any better now? Let’s try to pick a low-dropout voltage regulator. The RS website returns 58 results (September 30, 2011, 14:00 h CET). Filtering on “Input Voltage” only shows 19 possibilities; strange, what happened to the other 39 parts? They have no specified input voltage? I find that hard to believe for a voltage regulator.
There are three parts with an input voltage range from -1 to 40V that turn out to be three versions of the same device (UC3836/2836 from TI). There is only one device with a range of 3.5 to 36V (LTC1624 from Linear Technology) but it is not the same as the TI one although the input voltage range is inside the -1 to 40V range, so the TI part would be an option too.
The filter proposes four devices with an input voltage of 40V without a minimum value. The result is again four similar devices, again from TI, but this time the UC3834/2834. Looking up the device on the TI website I discover that TI specifies an input voltage range of 5 to 35V for this device, not 40V. So what do they specify for the UC3836 on its product page? 6 to 40V! Eh? But RS said -1 to 40V, right? Yes, but actually that is the absolute maximum range. Duh! In that case, why didn’t they use -0.3 to 36V for the LTC1624? Pears and apples, that’s what this is.
Now you may think that I spend a day or so on finding this example, but no, I didn’t. I found it while typing up this post. It was that easy, meaning that it is the same for other parts. It is still very hard to use a distributor’s website for selecting parts for a design. The new RS site does look slicker and maybe the search engine is better, but I am not sure if I will notice the difference.
BTW, did I mention that the filter button doesn’t work in Firefox? I suppose (for now) that’s just my Firefox being incorrectly set up.