Why Is Adafruit So Damn Expensive

Adafruit is an online store synonymous with the word maker. They sell electronic parts and kits to make gadgets that in most cases you can buy fully built. For example their MintyBoost is a $20 AA to USB charger you make yourself and it doesn’t work on all phones. For $5, You can buy an already-assembled similar gadget on Ebay (screenshot).

Another example is this $10 WiFi adapter designed to work with Linux systems like the Raspberry Pi and the BeagleBone Black. A quick search on Ebay for the chipset, 8188CUS, shows one for about $3 including shipping. With Adafruit you pay extra for shipping which starts at around $5.

I understand that Adafruit has to make a profit and, unlike most Ebay sellers, has fast shipping with easy returns and exchanges. However, that doesn’t justify 3x – 4x markups. If an Ebay item does not work as advertised then I’d simply order another one, it is very unlikely I’d get 3 or 4 bad ones in a row. Plus the threat of a PayPal charge-back coupled a bad review and subsequent loss in sales keeps most Ebay sellers honest.

So how can the frugal semi-literate techie work around these incredibly high markups?

Look on Ebay. Find the actual part number and search for it on Ebay. You’ll be surprised at what you find. Ebay sellers often include shipping and sometimes throw in extras. For example right now Adafruit has the Raspberry Pi 2 for $40. The Ebay seller loverpi has the Pi 2 for **$38 **(screenshot), with two heatsinks for overclocking, a two year warranty, and includes shipping.

Make your own. Judicious reverse engineering often reveals what is on an Adafruit board and it helps that they open-source many of their designs. Building them is somewhat tricky – many of Adafruit’s PCBs can be replicated on a prototype board. For PCB designs under 10x10cm you can easily get 10 PCBs through DirtyPcbs at $15 for 5x5cm or $25 for 10x10cm.

Find alternatives. Adafruit has some neat stuff. For example this potentiometer with a big knob is nice. But, Ebay seller cell.expert has 10 potentiometers for $1 with free shipping (screenshot). You could have a 90% fail rate and still come out ahead. For that price I’ll get a tiny screwdriver set from the dollar store to turn that screw!


A Cheap Standing Desk For Small Spaces

I used to live in a small space and didn’t have the space for a desk as well as a chair. While walking around at Ikea one day, I noticed they have a very versatile shelving system called IVAR. IVAR comes in two sizes, about 35×20 inches or 19×12 inches, and in a variety of heights.

I decided to try out the smaller one, the 19×12 inch version, for a standing desk. I found they are good for storage, but also make excellent standing desks.  Besides the sizes, you can also choose how many shelves you want. I got a 5-shelf version for about $70, similar to the one Ikea shows on their page here. For stability I opted for two X-supports instead of the recommended single X-support. The shelves are adjustable in about 1/2 inch increments so you can easily set them up to match your height and arm length.

I put my monitor on the top shelf and keyboard and mouse on a second shelf adjusted for my arm height. my laptop and power strip go on the fourth shelf. With all that, I still have two more shelves for storage or additional computer peripherals. I put a Novaform memory foam mat on the floor to help with fatigue.

There are a couple drawbacks though. It is hard to see the keyboard since it is hidden by the shelf supporting the monitor. But that isn’t a big problem if you are a touch typist and only need to look at the keyboard occasionally. The small shelf isn’t wide enough for a full size keyboard and a mouse. Luckily I have a 10-keyless Deck Keyboard. You can also get by with putting the mouse on the top shelf with the monitor.
Removing the shelves takes a lot of force and one of the shelves developed a crack during dis-assembly for my last move. I don’t think the IVAR shelves can take a lot of moving around. The shelf, typical of Ikea quality, is stable for vertical forces but, despite the X-supports, a wobbly when pushed forward or backwards.

One assembly ‘hack’ is to flip the legs over so the big gap is at the top, basically to do the opposite of what Ikea shows on this page.  This way you have more room under your monitor for adjustment.

Overall it is a decent deal for $70 considering regular stand-up desks can cost $200 and up, require much more space, and don’t have as many storage options.

A picture of my setup

IKEA IVAR stand-up desk shelf