Something new for my toolbox: FTDI Basic

IMG_0001smI decided to pick up an FTDI board so that I can explore a new way to program the Atmega328p, specifically to see first-hand that it works so I can implement an FTDI header in the next Atmega328p Breakout Board. The FTDI Basic is a Sparkfun board, though I purchased it from RobotShop because they can ship within Canada.

I believe the one feature that sets it apart from the USBtinyISP (what you use those 6-pin ISP headers with on the Arduino, etc) is that enables you to do serial communication. This makes it a lot better for prototyping since you can debug using the serial monitor.

The original purpose of the Breakout Board was to take over from your Uno once you are finished prototyping… not really to use it to prototype. Technically speaking, there’s nothing wrong with prototyping on the Breakout Board, but it’s not currently breadboard-friendly and it only got a programming header (ISP) in the last revision. It sounds like an excuse, and it is, but to keep the board small while keeping the pins in order, it’s hard to organize the traces in the restricted amount of space to make the board breadboard-friendly. It’s a learning process with each board and revision so I hope I have learned enough to make it happen with the next one!
IMG_0001smAnyways, in short, the FTDI Basic works perfectly. I tested it with this Atmega328p setup on a breadboard. After installing the FTDI drivers, I was able to upload new sketches and print things to the serial monitor.

The one odd thing is that I had the understanding that to upload using the FTDI board, I had to hold shift while clicking Upload in the Arduino IDE, which changes it to “Uploading Using a Programmer”. That didn’t work. After a few searches, it turns out that changing the Programmer in the IDE to “Arduino as ISP” does the trick.

Getting up and running with the FTDI Basic so quickly makes me eager to get it into the next Atmega328p Breakout Board. I’m on the fence about keeping the 6-pin ISP header since you have more functionality from the FTDI chip (serial communication). I’d like to keep both, but if I can’t fit both on the small board, the 6-pin ISP header would be the one to go. Stay tuned!

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Adventures with surface mount soldering (and store updates)

IMG_0001Finishing up a soldering session with a pile of PCBs is so satisfying!

Over the past little while, I’ve been working on getting new products in my Tindie store, while learning new things and hitting a few speed bumps along the way.

Adventures in Surface Mount Soldering

When I started assembling the ATmega328p Breakouts that use surface mount components, I was excited to gain some experience working with SMT components. The first time I was exposed to surface mount soldering was back in my first semester of college where we used flux, solder paste, and a toaster oven to assemble some SMT kits. Hand soldering my ATmega boards, I realized quickly that it would be impractical for me to assemble every single one. To date, I’ve sold about half assembled and half as unassembled kits. In my time assembling all of those boards, I’ve picked up a few lessons.

My first lesson is that you’re screwed without flux, at least if you want decent looking joints. My method is to get the component on with any amount of solder, then throw some flux on it and hit it with the iron. It lets the solder flow again and makes a cleaner joint than if you were relying on the flux in the solder.

My second lesson is to use rubbing alcohol to clean up the flux residue, specifically 100% (or as close as you can) alcohol. I accidentally picked up rubbing alcohol that’s only 70% and it’s doing a poor job compared to when I was using something like 95% earlier. Still, with some aggressive wiping, and sometimes even rinsing the board with water, I can still get the boards looking clean.

My final lesson is to never go smaller than the size 0805. The capacitors I’m using on those ATmega328p Breakouts are 0603 and they’re the hardest components to put on. Of course there had to be two of them. In my new NCP1117 voltage regulator boards, I’m using 0805 capacitors and they were a lot easier to put on.

What’s New?

So after all that about surface mount soldering, I decided to go back to the basics with the ATmega328p Breakout Board and reintroduce one with just through-hole components. The ATmega328p Breakout Board BASIC is much like the original one I was using before I ever opened my Tindie store. I hope with less components and only through-hole components, the kit option will be more appealing to people. It’s also easier for me to put together too so I can get more assembled boards up quicker than I ever could with the original, which is now dubbed as the PRO version.

I also put up a couple of SMT breakouts, 0805 and SOT-223.

I’m working on a couple new board designs, and I’m also thinking of putting up some components I don’t need for sale. Stay tuned!

Maybe I just need to market better

featured

My ATmega328p Breakout Board was featured in a Tindie email newsletter. As soon as that email went out, orders started coming in, including one that picked up all 30 assembled boards that were in stock at the time. It sold out in just 24 hours and I’m currently in the process of restocking it. At the time of this post, the PCBs are being manufactured and half of the components are on their way. I’m planning on assembling the majority, if not all, of the boards before they’re put back in stock. I’d estimate them being back in stock within the first couple of weeks in April.

My other products on Tindie haven’t had as much interest. In addition to more Atmega328p PCBs, I also threw in a simple LED bar PCB that is specifically designed to work with the shift register boards. There are 16 individual SMD LEDs in a row. They’re all numbered so it would be a great tool for debugging and as system indicators in your project. I hope that bringing three of my products together (shift register board + LED bar + Attiny85 Programmer & Breakout) will spark some more interest in all of them.