Thursday, 21 July 2016

Arduino Pro Mini - it's ok as it is

Sometimes, making custom PCBs can be quite fun. There still remains - even after all these years - that little tingle of a thrill when you boot up your custom circuit board and everything works.

It's like committing to your idea. Once etched in copper, there's no going back and changing it (although given the number of times we've forgotten to add a ground plane, it is easy to tack on a wire or two to correct a couple of mistakes!),

I still love making PCBs (at least, I do, when they work). But that's only for one-offs or small volume prototypes. The idea of having to make 100 identical circuit boards leaves me cold.

Which is probably what Tony was thinking when he asked why, for our latest board-game-controller-idea, we'd stuck a "hulking great big atmega" onto a board and simply extended all of the i/o lines to the edges.

But that's all we actually need - we're multiplexing an array of hall sensors, and sending the data out to a bus-connected serial port. That's all there is to the board! Size is important, so we made the board as small as we could. But not everyone is a whizz with hand-soldering surface mount parts, so we used the large, through hole components.

So he asked "why are you making your own boards? Why aren't you using an Arduino Pro Mini?"

And we couldn't think of a single good reason.
Although not everyone may be comfortable hand-soldering surface mount parts, there are more people comfortable with ebay than a soldering iron - so why not just buy the boards, ready-made?

It seemed like such a dumb question. Which made our current approach look even more stupid! So that's what we're doing - not only going open source, but using off-the-shelf parts. Steve would be so proud!