Posted on February 12th, 2015 No comments
Mum and dad were always very generous to me, particularly when it came to toys that allowed me to explore my obsession with experimentation and construction. As quite young child I had got the “starter” Philips X20 electronics kit, which I played with a lot. Not too long afterwards, sometime in the late 1970s, and still as a pre-teen, I got the monster Philips Radionics X40 kit for my birthday.
For a child excited by technology (in a hands-on way, not the XBOX, iPad, App-store version of technology that many kids love today) the X40 was an impressive and exciting toy. It allowed you to build 40 projects – called “Experiments” in the manual – from testing to see whether water was conductive (boring) to regenerative radio receivers. The radios were the things I loved the best, particularly when dad and I had made special coils and we could tune it to get SW broadcasts. In the pre-Internet era hearing Voice of America and Radio Tirana was exciting.
As well as the radios the kit had some simple digital electronics. I learnt the function of all the basic logic gates from the X40. I also particularly remember a project which was a multivibrator driving a frequency divider. That project used all four transistors in the kit and seemed particularly sophisticated.
Dad put a lot of thought in to which system to buy and I think he liked the Radionics kit because it was open to expansion and the construction technique was very much like real electronics. The kit came with a large (A4 sized) PCB which was cleverly designed to work with all the projects. The components were mounted on plastic bases with brass screws that went through holes in the PCB to make the connections. Basically it was a solderless version of through-hole PCB construction and you got to see the real components pretty much unpackaged. When I went on to building projects on breadboard and veroboard it was an easy transition because I was so familiar with what things looked like from the X40.
I can’t claim that all the time I spent with the X40 taught me much about electronics theory. Even now I find the lumps of theory dished out in the manual rather hard to follow. At the time they were way over my head. What I did learn was a lot about practical electronics and also that electronics was an experimental science – you could just try changing stuff and seeing what worked. Also the presentation of the manual with the circuit diagrams and the physical layout side-by-side taught me to read circuit diagrams intuitively and that’s a skill that’s been really useful.
The connection with Philips seems to be a bit tenuous by the way. The X40 and other kits in the same range were rather confusingly co-branded “Philips” and “Radionics”. Philips had their own range of kits that was popular in Europe and as far as I can tell the X40 was a created by the UK Radionic company who I guess then applied the Philips brand under licence.
For the fundamentals of electronics using bipolar transistors I still think that the basic outline and structure of the X40 projects is very appropriate, so much so in fact that when I designed by Electronics for Absolute Beginners course I took the X40 as the initial starting point.
I still have the components and manual for my X40 kit – one day I’ll have to build some circuits to show you. In the meantime, here is a scan of my manual (48MB to it’s big!).
I am not the only fan of the X40 on the web. Try these sites for more info, photos and manual scans: