ARMing a Breadboard — Everyone Should Program an ARM

I’m always a little surprised that we don’t see more ARM-based projects. Of course, we do see some, but the volume isn’t what I’d expect given that low-level ARM chips are cheap, capable, low power, and readily available. Having a 32-bit processor with lots of memory running at 40 or 50 MIPS is a game changer compared to, say, a traditional Arduino (and, yes, the Arduino Due and Zero are ARM-based, so you can still stay with Arduino, if that’s what you want).

A few things might inhibit an Arduino, AVR, or PIC user from making the leap. For one thing, most ARM chips use 3.3V I/O instead of the traditional 5V levels (there are exceptions, like the Kinetis E). There was a time when the toolchain was difficult to set up, although this is largely not a problem anymore. But perhaps the largest hurdle is that most of the chips are surface mount devices.

Of course, builders today are getting pretty used to surface mount devices and you can also get evaluation boards pretty cheaply, too. But in some situations–for example, in classrooms–it is very attractive to have a chip that is directly mountable on a common breadboard. Even if you don’t mind using a development board, you may want to use the IC directly in a final version of a project and some people still prefer working with through hole components.

The 28 Pin Solution

One solution that addresses most, if not all, of these concerns is the LPC1114FN28 processor. Unlike most other ARM processors, this one comes in a 28 pin DIP package and works great on a breadboard. It does require 3.3V, but it is 5V tolerant on digital inputs (and, of course, a 3.3V output is usually fine for driving a 5V input). The chip will work with mbed or other ARM tools and after prototyping, you can always move to a surface mount device for production, if you like. Even if you are buying just one, you should be able to find the device for under $6.

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Organize That Messy Prototype

You’re working away busily at your project. A pcb here cabled to a breadboard in the middle, and over there some motors and other devices. It should work but it doesn’t. Time to hook-up the multimeter but the test point is on the other side. As things are moved around to reach the point, the magic smoke escapes from a critical component. Should have put those pliers away.

Workbenches are always messy. [Ryan Clark] may have an idea that can help.  His Jigmod system — currently running a kickstarter campaign — uses an acrylic a polycarbonate sheet with a grid of mounting holes to keep prototyping hardware in place. If you need to move the prototype around there is no strain on the wiring and no way to set a circuit down on that pair of pliers. The positioning of everything is your decision.

[Ryan] is also providing breakout type boards for connectors like USB and Ethernet, switches, battery holders, and other typical components. This is one place where the system really shines. A lot of these interface connectors tend to be breadboard-unfriendly and the terminal blocks these modules offer solves those issues. When you need to demonstrate your project it’s easy to transport since everything is attached to the plate. No more disconnecting cables, especially jumper wires, and hoping you get them all hooked back the right way at the destination.

With so many dev boards out there we really enjoy seeing jigs that can hold them along with a breadboard. This Stickvise-inspired 3D printed jig sticks out in our minds as a favorite. Do you have your own system of organizing your prototype builds? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

Breadboards Go to Pot

Solderless breadboards are great for ICs and discrete components like resistors, capacitors, and transistors (at least the through hole kind). They aren’t so good at holding big components like potentiometers. Sure, you can jam trimmers in maybe. You can also solder leads to a pot, but that’s not pretty and tend to pull out when handled. [PaulStoffregen] got tired of it, so he put together some good looking PC boards that mount a 6mm shaft pot securely to a breadboard.

[Paul] noticed that having delicate or knobless adjustments on a breadboard inhibited people from playing with demo circuits. The new set up invites people to make adjustments. The pictures and video show an early version with six pins, but [Paul] added two more pins on the recent batch to increase the grip of the breadboard.

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Literal Breadboard Hack Forces It to Accept Dual Pin Headers

Usually when there is a clear demand for something, some entrepreneur will fill that demand. Unfortunately, no one seems to think there’s a need for a solderless breadboard product that can handle boards that have a dual row header. These devices have 0.1″ spacing in both directions, so while they will fit in a standard breadboard, the contacts will short out the adjacent pins on the device, which makes it worthless.

[Baz] needed to connect an RF24L01 module to a breadboard. Instead of connecting leads to the device or devising a breakout board, [Baz] actually hacked his breadboard. To make an area to plug in a dual row device, he took the breadboard apart, pulled the spring contacts, cut them, and then put them back in.

Of course, you have to make sure the cut is wide enough that the two parts of the spring won’t touch. It looks like [Baz] used a small screwdriver to help the springs keep their shape and cut them with simple diagonal cutters.

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Panel-Mounted Breadboard Accessories

[Chuck Stephens] grew up with Radio Shack 100-in-1 electronic kits. The ones with lots of components and spring terminals that could be wired to be a radio, a burglar alarm, or whatever.[Chuck] graduated to solderless breadboard, but did miss having panel mounted components like pots and switches easily available. So he has been building his own accessory boxes.

Of course, it is easy enough to just connect breadboard wires to component, but [Chuck] went further than that. Using boxes of different types (including a cigar box), he mounted the components properly and also wired them to a breadboard for easy connection.

If you’ve ever tried to solder to breadboard springs (we have), you’ve found it is hard to get adhesion to the shiny metal. [Chuck] solved the problem by crimping little wire hooks to the springs. The result is a good looking and functional prototyping aid.

They do make tiny breadboard style contacts (called tie point blocks; good luck finding them) for this kind of application, but the crimp technique works on common breadboards. These are cheap and much easier to find.

Of course, these days, we are as likely to want to mount SMDs than panel mounted controls. Now if we could only figure out where to put the components. If you want something less involved, take a look at the video below.

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3D Printed Vice Holds Dev Boards Beside Breadboard

The Stickvise has been a staple of the Hackaday community for a while now. If you need something held for soldering there’s no better low-cost helping hand. But if you’re just using a breadboard and a dev board of some sort, there’s another vice on the horizon that uses similar spring clamping to hold everything in place while you build something awesome.

BreadboardVise1-croppedWhile [Pat]’s inspiration came from the aforementioned Stickvise, the new 3d-printed vice is just what you’ll need before you’re ready to do the soldering. The vice is spring-loaded using rubber bands. The base is sized to fit a standard breadboard in the center with clamping arms on either side to hold dev boards such as an Arduino. This innovative yet simple de”vice” grips boards well enough that you won’t be chasing them around your desk, knocking wires out of place, anymore.

There are some nuances to this board, so be sure to check out the video below to see it in action. As we mentioned, it uses rubber bands instead of springs to keep it simple, and it has some shapes that are easily 3d printed such as the triangular rails. If you want to 3d print your own, the files you’ll need are available on the project’s site. If you want to get even simpler, we’ve seen a few other vices around here as well.

The Stickvise is available for sale in the Hackaday Store.

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Vulcan 74: A Masterpiece of Retro Engineering

[Radical Brad] has played around with FPGAs, video signals, and already has a few astonishing projects of bitbanged VGA on his resume. Now he’s gone insane. He’s documenting a build over on the forums of a computer with Amiga-quality graphics built out of nothing but a 65C02, a few SRAM chips, and a whole pile of logic chips.

The design goals for this project are to build a video game system with circa 1980 parts and graphics a decade ahead of its time. The video output is VGA, with 400×300 resolution, in glorious eight-bit color. The only chips in this project more complex than a shift register are a single 65c02 and a few (modern) 15ns SRAMs. it’s not a build that would have been possible in the early 80s, but the only thing preventing that would be the slow RAM chips of the era.

So far, [Radical] has built a GPU entirely out of 74-series logic that reads a portion of RAM and translates that to XY positions, colors, pixels, and VGA signals. There’s support for alpha channels and multiple sprites. The plan is to add sound hardware with support for four independent digital channels and 1 Megabyte of sample memory. It’s an amazingly ambitious project, and becomes even more impressive when you realize he’s doing all of this on solderless breadboards.

[Brad] will keep updating the thread on until he’s done or dies trying. So far, it’s looking promising. He already has a bunch of Boing balls bouncing around a display. You can check out a video of that below.

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