Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards Offers Dirt Cheap PCB Fab

Dirt Cheap PCB


When your project is ready to build, it’s time to find a PCB manufacturer. There are tons of them out there, but for prototype purposes cheaper is usually better. [Ian] at Dangerous Prototypes has just announced Dirt Cheap Dirty Boards, a PCB fabrication service for times where quality doesn’t matter too much. [Ian] also discussed the service on the Dangerous Prototypes forum.

The boards are definitely cheap. $12 USD gets you ten 5 cm by 5 cm boards with 100% e-test and free worldwide shipping. You can even choose from a number of solder mask colors for no additional cost. [Ian] does warn the boards aren’t of the best quality, as you can tell in the Bus Pirate picture above. The silkscreen alignment has some issues, but for $1.2 a board, it’s hard to complain. After all, the site’s motto is “No bull, just crappy PCBs.”

The main downside of this service will be shipping time. While the Chinese fab house cranks out boards in two to four days, Hong Kong Post can take up to 30 days to deliver your boards. This isn’t ideal, but the price is right.

Script makes custom pinout labels for your chips


After years of prototyping hobby electronics we’ve learned (several times actually) that when something’s not working it’s a problem with the hardware. Usually the jumper wires aren’t hooked up correctly, or we needed to throw a pull-up resistor in and forgot to. One thing that can really help sort these problems out quickly is a pinout label for each chip like the ones seen above. This is a project which [John Meacham] came up with. It uses a script to generate chip pinouts on a label maker.

The label maker he started with is a Brother PT-1230PC. It connects to a computer via USB and can use a few different widths of self adhesive label tape. [John] found that the 1/4″ wide tape is nearly a perfect fit for PDIP components.

His script takes a YAML file as the input. This formatting standard makes is quick an easy to whip up a label for a new chip using just your text editor. From there his Pearl script turns the data into a Portable Network Graphics (.png) file with the labels spaced for the 0.1″ pitch of the chip. Send this graphic to your label maker and you’ve got an adhesive reminder that will help reduce the time you spend pawing through datasheets just for the pinouts.

Ancient laptop given new life as mobile prototyping platform

What can you do with a broken Compaq SLT 286? Its briefcase-like size and shape actually make for a pretty interesting portable electronic prototyping station. [Philip] gutted the components and started adding back the items he most commonly uses when developing a project.

He shares all of the details in the video after the break. At center stage is a double breadboard where the keyboard would normally be found. It’s hard to make out in the image above, but there is a set of terminal strips running vertically to either side of these breadboards. Each terminal is connected to a peripheral or power/ground bus. The black knob to the left lets him adjust the output of a variable voltage regulator. To the lower right there’s a rotary encoder, push button, toggle switch, and a couple of potentiometers. These, along with the keypad and character display (mounted where the screen used to be) and DB connectors (on the back of the case) have their pins mapped to the terminal block to the right. [Philip] has mounted an Arduino Uno over the area to the bottom left, but we’re sure that it’s pretty easy to swap out for just about any breakout board he needs.

To answer [Philip's] running dialog from the video: no, it is not the worst demo ever. We think you did a great job demonstrating all the features. Loose connections are par for the course when it comes to prototypes.

[Read more...]

Arduino notebook cover makes it easy to tinker anywhere


[Erv] was putting his holiday shopping list together and decided that instead of buying his friends something from the store, he would give them something a bit more useful. A former Electrical Engineer by trade, [Erv] typically prefers PIC microcontrollers, but he says that Arduinos are just so convenient to use for prototyping that he likes to always have one on hand.

He figured that his friends might enjoy having easy access to an Arduino as well, so he made them some slick ZapBook covers which enable them to have a prototyping platform on hand at all times. The cover is made from a PCB and includes a socket for an Arduino Pro Mini, along with a handful of built-in LEDs. He has extended a few other I/O pins from the Arduino as well, but he says that the small solder bridges connecting the LEDs can be removed in a pinch, freeing up 8 additional pins with ease. We are pretty keen on the idea of an easily portable prototyping setup, though it doesn’t hurt that [Erv] incorporated a Hack a Day skull with light up eyes into his design either!

We’re not sure if he’s planning on releasing the schematics for the board, but the notebooks would be pretty useful for any hackerspaces hosting beginner Arduino programming classes.

DIY breadboard modules for easy prototyping

[Rajendra] got tired of building the same basic circuits time and again on the breadboard. He decided to build some simple, modular circuits on protoboard and make them easy to interface with the breadboard. As you can see, he ended up with seven modules that make prototyping faster and easier.

At first glance some might not seem all that beneficial. For instance, making a board for an 18-pin PIC microcontroller into a single-in-line form factor would seem like you’re actually wasting breadboard space when compared to the DIL package of the chip. But consider that the oscillator and its capacitors, reset button, and programming header are also on the breakout board and will not have to be built in place. There are also several I/O boards, one with five buttons, another with an LED bar graph, and a set of LEDs with a SIL resistor package on-board. These modules can be plugged into a breadboard and wired up with jumper wires, or connected directly to the same rows as the microcontroller module.

Propeller proto board has you flying in no time


[Parker] was in need of a Propeller development board to make working on his projects easier. More often than not, when he needed to prototype something, he would pull the only one he had on hand from his home made pinball machine, and replace it when finished. This was time consuming and cumbersome, so he decided he needed a better way of doing things.

He looked into purchasing a Gadget Gangster proto board which allows you to use a Propeller much like an Arduino, complete with support for shields and the like. Unfortunately, they were sold out and he was in a hurry to finish up a project. Rather than wait, he decided to build his own proto board, which would be more flexible than the COTS version – allowing him to add things like an Analog to Digital converter without having to use a shield.

He looked around online and found some schematics to follow, and had his proto board constructed in no time. It gets the job done and looks quite clean, considering it was put together using perf board.

Keep reading to see a video walkthrough of the Propeller development board construction.

[Read more...]

USB man-in-the-middle adapter

The module works as a pass through, providing access to data and power lines for a USB device. [BadWolf] built it in order to sniff out communications between peripherals and the Universal Serial Bus. For now it just provides access to the different signals, but we think there’s quite a bit of usefulness in that. First off, the power rail is mapped out to a jumper, making it dead simple to monitor the voltage stability or patch in a multimeter to get feedback on current consumption. But you can also see in the foreground that a pin socket makes it easy to tap into the board using jumper wires. We think it would be a great breadboard adapter for USB work that would continue being useful after you’ve populated your first PCB for the prototype.

[BadWolf] has other plans in store for it though. He wants to intercept and decipher the communications happening on the data lines. In the video after the break he mentions the possibility of using a Bus Pirate for this (we have our doubts about that) but plans to start his testing with an STM32 discovery kit. We can’t wait to see what he comes up with.