22nd April 2017
Review, Teardown

ZD915 Desoldering Tool Review

The ZD915 is a cheap, basic desoldering tool, which is sold under many different guises. Duratool and Proskeet are just two of the brand labels used on desoldering tools with the ZD915 design. At less than £100, it is a very tempting option, particularly considering tools such as the Hakko FR-301 retail for upwards of £200, with the Hakko FR-410 on sale for north of £500!

Having purchased a Duratool branded ZD915 from CPC, I decided to put it through it's paces. Is it a bargain, or too good to be true?

Overview

The ZD915 offers up to 80W of heating power. Capable of a maximum temperature of 480°C, this tool should have more than enough power to desolder both leaded and lead-free solder. It's 600mmHg vacuum pressure is similar to other desoldering tools on the market.

While the vacuum pressure of the ZD915 is similar to the much more expensive FR-301, the 50% lower power rating is likely to hinder its performance, particularly when faced with large ground planes or large metal components.

In terms of appearance, the off-white colour gives the ZD915 a distinctly '90's microwave' look.

ZD915
Meet the ZD915, complete with retro 90's paint job.

On first handling the tool, it becomes clear that the hand tool is a simple passive device with a switch. It is incredibly light, to the point of feeling rather tacky. On the up side, it's low weight will ensure that it can be used for long periods without causing cramp.

ZD915 Hand Gun
The lightweight hand gun, which feels like it's made of that special plastic Poundland toys are made of.

The base appears solid, with it's metal case completed with a plastic front. The plastic is similar to that of the hand tool. The display is nice and bright, with the temperature easy to read. The two temperature control buttons are tactile and give good feedback. Overall, it seems like a decent, if unspectacular unit.

Before use, it is necessary to attach the pipe from the hand gun, to the base unit. The pipe needs to be squeezed over the nipple of the included plastic connector, which can then be fitted to the front of the unit. The metal power connector also needs to be plugged in, to the helpfully labelled 'desoldering' port.

Hand Gun Connector
Connector for the hand gun air pipe.

Teardown

As with any cheap electronics I buy, I elected to open the tool up before plugging it in for the first time. Quality control issues plague cheap electronics, and while this one was purchased from a reputable retailer in the UK, I still prefer to take a look inside.

Removing the four screws on the top of the case allows the metal sheet to be removed.

Inside the case, you are greeted with a metal box (containing the power supply), a vacuum pump, and a plethora of wires connecting everything together. The control board is screwed directly into the plastic front panel. The case is properly grounded, and the soldering quality appears decent.

Teardown
Inside the ZD915, featuring a pump, a power supply, and a control board.

The switching power supply, hidden inside the metal box, takes in 230V from the mains, and outputs 18V. This feeds in to a small board, screwed on to the back of the case, next to the fan. This board is hidden inside a small black box.

The purpose of this board is to reduce the voltage further, from the 18V output from the power supply, to the 12V required by the pump. The cooling fan is also connected to this.

Performance

To test the tool, I attempted to desolder 2 USB ports, and a USB cable connector, from an old PC front panel board. The board was held in a clamp, so I had both hands free to use the tool if necessary.

Test Board
The test board, featuring 2 USB ports, and a USB connector cable.

Removing the connector cable was very easy. Holding the gun for a second on the pin, followed by a quick squirt of the gun, was enough to remove solder from the pins. Looking at the result, the holes are very clean, and the pads are intact.

The connector, however, is a different story. While the USB pins were equally easy to desolder, the gun was unable to fit over the rectangular pins, using any of the included nozzles.

Test Result
The result. The cable has been desoldered cleanly. However, the nozzle would not fit over the ground pins.

I then tested the tool on a SEGA Mega Drive console, which has a faulty 7805 linear regulator. The unit struggled, and was unable to desolder the ground pin, which is connected directly to a large ground plane. This was the case even with the temperature turned up to its maximum of 480°C.

During use, the unit is audible, but not unreasonably loud. The pump is noisy, however, given that the pump will only be active in short bursts, it is not too bad. It would be interesting to see if the pump noise can be reduced, perhaps by adding noise insulation to the case.

The hand gun is easy to control, in part due to its very low weight. The pipe connecting the gun to the base unit is flexible enough, though I found it did tend to get in the way due to its length.

Overall, performance is reasonable, though it did struggle with large ground planes. This is not unexpected given the cost, though is worth considering if you are likely to need to desolder such joints on a regular basis.

Conclusion

Overall, the ZD915 is a more than adequate desoldering tool, available at a very low price. It's a shame that the included nozzles are so limited on size, but for small connectors it has decent performance.

The general feel of the tool is cheap, but functional, which is to be expected at this price point. There is certainly scope to make a few cheap upgrades to the tool, to make performance even better.

The ZD915 can be picked up from CPC here.

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