How To Buy A Cheap (But Good) Multimeter On eBay

Doing a little circuit work today (sounds impressive, but just LEDs on a breadboard), I realized I didn’t like my multimeter. Not one bit. It was slow, old and cheap (I think it cost about $20, something like 15 years ago).

Thusly, I found myself wondering what the latest and greatest of multimeter technology is like today – and decided to check out eBay.

Big mistake: It didn’t take long to find a half dozen multimeters under $10 – and I realized I had no idea what I wanted (or needed), how to tell the good from the bad, or even if any were quality at all.

So it was off to Arduino guru LadyAda to read about how to pick a multimeter. I thought I knew the basic requirements (AC and DC measurement, as well as resistance measuring). But it turns out there is a lot more available now, such as continuity testing (with a handy buzzer) and diode testing – both of which she considered must-haves.

Her list also included items she considered optional (like auto-off, or a stand). But it was the “rarely used” list that got my attention – in particular, capacitor testing, and frequency/duty cycle measurement. After all, if you have an oscilloscope I suppose you don’t need your multimeter to count cycles – but I am oscilloscope free at the moment, and that sounded ideal for digital work (especially duty cycle measuring for PWM motors).

Anyway, armed with her knowledge I started to search around some more. And was fortunate to hit on a truly great article on several different multimeters, with a detailed head to head comparison, on RobotRoom.

That article is well worth a look even if you aren’t in the market for a multimeter. It answers the basic questions, like “how can I tell if a cheap one is crap or not”, and “what exactly are all those features used for”.

As I worked through the article, I checked eBay for matching multimeters. The list ended up at four: The VC97, the UT10A, the DT-830B, and the RSR 01MS8268.

It didn’t take long to narrow down the choice to the VC97 or the RSR 01MS8268; his rating of the super cheap 830 model (under $5) was very low, and the UT10A, while doing some things well, rated low for me (in my case, I had gotten stuck on frequency counting, which apparently the UT10A couldn’t do when it was a square wave).

Interestingly enough, his testing of accuracy showed they all did quite well, whether cheap or expensive. So if you’re looking for an ordinary multimeter, the DT-830B, at $3.69 on eBay (last I checked) is perfectly fine and accurate, if somewhat lacking in the feature department.

However, in my case the choice boiled down for me to lower cost plus a wider range of frequency counting for the VC97, versus only 200kHtz max for the 8268. No backlight or resettable fuse for me, but I considered it a fair trade. And I got a temperature probe at no extra charge!

In conclusion, I put in my order for a VC97 from eBay tonight – about $24 all told. And although there was no comment form to thank David Cook of RobotRoom.com with, I hope he knows that his testing helped make a tough decision much easier!

SOME ITEMS YOU MIGHT ENJOY
XL-830L Handheld LCD Digital Multimeter 3 1/2 Voltmeter Ohmmeter Multitester
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