My birthday's coming up in a couple of days so I took that as an excuse to get me a second soldering station. I wanted one for quite some time as it's just handy to have two irons on the go while fighting with some new project.
I decided to get the Zhongdi ZD-916 because...well, because the price seemed OK and I had my fingers on one before. Didn't seem that bad.
There it is. Shall we have a look inside? Sure!
Oh, they forgot to put the electronics into mine! Hang on, ah there it is. It is remarkably empty in there, they could have made that thing soooo much smaller. It has to be said, the station's rather huge. I guess that's the price of a one-size-fits-all-case. They sell the ZD-917 (I think) wich has a soldering iron and a vacuum desolder tool in the same enclosure.
The build quality inside is quite good, there's not much I'd complain about. The mains and low voltage wiring are well separated, the contacts on the IEC connector and the mains switch are nearly covered with heat shrinking tube. Not too bad I think. Earth connection looks good and is fitted with these star type washers. They even removed the paint.
The iron itself is another matter. I'm really not too impressed by it. First thing you notice is the usual rubbish plastic they used. It's hard to describe but it looks and feels cheap and nasty.
The iron is relatively slim, at least compared to the Weller LR21, which is quite nice. The area where you grip it has a rubber sleeve pushed on, presumably to stop you burning your fingers. It really doesn't do that very good as it still gets really hot. I'm used to the Weller where the handle doesn't heat up noticeable.
The lead is reasonably flexible, it looks actually like silicone rubber.
The iron is easy to dismantle, just undo the black nut and pull it apart. The insides are als mediocre. They didn't bother with a strain relief. Why would you when a cable tie may do the same job? I'm curious when the first wire in there will break. It's not so much because of strain I'm worried but torsion on the wires.
The construction of the heating element doesn't look too well thought out either. Everythings wobbly and the fit of the tips is not 100%.
I think it was a wise decision to get a replacement iron - they're cheap at least
The tips look really weird if you're used to shiny Weller tips. They're all black apart from the active tip itself. It could be the outer layer is made of some sort of ceramic, it can be scraped of quite easily and underneath there's a silvery layer. Weird.
Usage is straight forward: Three wonky buttons +, - and °C/°F. The display is large and readability is good. The blue backlight is a bit uneven but not too bright. I generally don't much like blue LED light but this display is ok, I guess.
Oh, and of course it beeps. Why does a soldering station have to beep everytime you press a button? The buttons click, why the beep?
Another annoying feature is the transformer. The bastard hums loudly everytime the iron heats up
It overshoots while heating up by about 10°C, not a big deal I'd say.
Here finally the three boards. The top board behind the frontpanel holds the LCD and this is also where most of the magic happens. The second one underneath only holds the buttons.
The small board on the back holds a bridge rectifier, an optocoupler, the switching MOSFET and some discrete stuff.
All the interconnnects are pluggable and the plugs are secured with hot melt glue.
Oddly the IEC lead supplied with the station is a neoprene rubber affair, H05RR-F, interesting, have never seen one like that.
If you compare the Zhongdi and the Weller LR21 iron, I think you can clearly see where they got their ideas from. There are a lot of similarities.
All in all I'd say it is a reasonable station, certainly there are worse. It's probably all right as a second iron but I can't see that my Weller will be retired any time soon. You see what you pay for when comparing the cheapie with a good brand.