Brilliant Brick Prototyping

Have a rusty collection of protoboards wired together that would benefit from mechanical support? Working on putting together a robot and need to attach PCBAs without drilling holes, zipping a cable tie, or globing hot glue? Add some stud holes with [James Munns]’ Brick Mount! This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an interface between everyone’s favorite Nordic building system and circuitboards, but this implementation has the elegance we’ve come to expect from [James]’ software work.

4×8 Feather Medium protoboard

The project repository contains two things: a KiCad library with components for holes in standard patterns and sizes (1×1, 1×2, etc) and a series of protoboards made with those hole components. The protoboards feature a couple common elements; QUIIC connectors for easy chaining between them and holes in the middle or edges for easy mounting on studs. Some are intended to be carriers for Feather-format PCBAs (very convenient!) and others are primarily undifferentiated prototyping space. Of particular note is the “medium” Feather breakout seen to the left, which incorporates clever cutouts to make it easy to wires down under the board so it can be mounted flush against another board.

The thesis here is that getting custom PCBs fabricated is easier and less expensive than ever before. So easy and inexpensive that fabricating customized protoboard to use in one-off projects is cost-efficient enough to be worthwhile. Waste concerns aside this does seem like a great way to level up those temporary projects which find a more permanent home.

ESP8266 Socket Is A Snap-Fit, Breadboard-Friendly Wonder

It all started with wanting to program an ESP-12 variant of an ESP8266 module without involving any solder. Displeased with all the socket offerings on Thingiverse, [tweeto] set out to design their own breadboard-friendly snap-fit socket.

This certainly looks like a handy solution. All you have to do is print the thing, add all the wires, and stick your ESP in there. Even that wire is easy to find; [tweeto] used 0.8 mm paper clips which are sturdy, conductive, and haunting the darkest corners of every desk drawer. They’re also a little bit on the thick side, so [tweeto] plans to test out 0.6mm copper wire in the future.

The challenge with this type of print is to design something that will stand up to repeated breadboardings without losing legs or falling apart. [tweeto]’s elegant solution is a tiny groove for each wire in the bottom of the socket — it keeps the wire in place by countering the play caused by inserting it into and removing it from a breadboard. See how [tweeto] bends the paper clips in the short video after the break.

There’s more than one way to use 3D printing to your circuit-building advantage, even in permanent circuits — just take a look at this PCB-free Arduboy.

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[Ben Eater]’s Breadboarding Tips

A solderless breadboard is a place where ideas go to become real for the first time. Usually, this is a somewhat messy affair, with random jumpers flying all about the place, connecting components that can be quickly swapped to zero in on the right values, or to quickly change the circuit topology. Breadboards aren’t the place to make circuit artwork.

That is, however, not always the case, and we’ve seen more than a few examples from [Ben Eater] on breadboarding that approaches the circuit sculpture level of craftsmanship. And like any good craftsman, [Ben] has shared some of his breadboarding tips and tricks in a new video. Starting with a simple 555 blinkenlight project that’s wired up in the traditional anything-goes fashion, [Ben] walks us through his process for making a more presentation-worthy version.

His tools are high-quality but simple, with the wire strippers being the most crucial to good results. Surprisingly, [Ben] relies most heavily on the simple “scissors-style” strippers for their versatility, rather than the complicated semi-automatic tools. We found that to be the biggest take-home from the video, as well as the results of practice. [Ben] has done tons of this type of breadboarding before, which means when he “eyeballs” stripping 0.3 inches of insulation, he can do it down to a ten-thousandth precision.

Granted, there’s not much new here, but watching this video is a little like watching [Bob Ross] paint — relaxing and strangely compelling at the same time. You can get more of the same with pretty much any of his videos that we’ve covered, like this 6502 breadboard computer build. We’ve also seen [Eater]-inspired builds that are pretty impressive, like this full-8-bit breadboard computer.

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Full 8-Bit Computer On Breadboards

Getting into a big electronics project often involves the use of specialized tools, namely the use of some sort of soldering iron or other way to apply solder to often intricate, tiny, and heat-sensitive parts. While it’s best to learn to pick up this skill at some point, it’s not always necessary, even for big, complicated projects like [DerULF1]’s full 8-bit computer that he built entirely on breadboards.

For a fully featured 8-bit computer, this build goes deep into the details of how the computer works. The clock allows programs to be stepped through one cycle at a time, and even the memory can be individually accessed with a set of switches. There are plenty of other interesting features as well, such as using registers to access extra memory. It features an SPI port and PS/2 keyboard controller and also loads programs from an SD card.

The build was inspired by some of [Ben Eater]’s projects which famously focus on using logic gates and TTL chips to perform complex tasks, such as another breadboard computer which plays snake on a small display. It’s certainly a great way to learn about the inner function of computers, and better still that no soldering is required. But you may need a few extra breadboards.

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Super-Simple VGA Adapter Sports Low-Res Output With Only Four TTL Chips

Here at Hackaday we cast a wary eye at tips that come in with superlative claims. Generally, if we post something that claims to be the fastest or the smallest of all time, we immediately get slapped down in the comments by someone who has done it faster or smaller. So we present the simplest TTL video card ever knowing the same thing will happen, but eager to see how anyone might scale things down.

To be fair, [George Foot] does qualify his claim to the simplest usable VGA adapter, and he does note that it descends from [Ben Eater]’s “world’s worst video card”, which he uses for his 6502 breadboard computer. But where [Ben]’s VGA adapter uses about 20 TTL chips and an EEPROM, [George] has managed to decrease the BOM to just four TTL chips along with the memory and a crystal oscillator. This required a fair number of compromises, of course; the color depth is fairly low, as is the resolution. Each pixel appears as a thin horizontal bar rather than a small square, leading the images to be smeared out across the screen. They’re still surprisingly viewable, though, which probably says more about the quality of the pattern-recognition wetware between our ears than anything about the quality of the adapter. [George] gives a tour of the circuit in the brief video below.

It looks like [George] has posted a few improvements to the project since we first spotted it, so we’re looking forward to seeing how much the parts count went up. We’re also keen to see if anyone can outdo the simplicity of this effort — be sure to let us know if you give it a shot.

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SMD Breadboard Adaptors Skip Schematic, Goes Straight To PCB

If you need to add one or two SMT chips to your breadboarded prototype, [Travis Hein] has you covered. He designed a set of small SMD adaptor boards for various SOIC, SOT23, and DPAC patterns using KiCad.  He has released them as open source, so you can feel free to use them or modify them as needed.

Normally we don’t see people bypassing the schematics when designing a PCB. But we can agree that [Travis] has found a situation where going direct to PCB makes more sense. He just plops down the package in Pcbnew, adds some pin headers and wires everything up directly on the PCB. (But don’t worry, some of you may remember [Travis] from his earlier SSR mains switching project, which demonstrates that he can indeed draw proper schematics.) We know there are more people out there who prefer to go straight to PCB layout… [mikeselectricstuff] comes to mind. If you could yourself among this tribe, let use know your reasoning in the comments below.

We wrote about a similar universal breakout boards for SMD parts back in 2016, which is a single breakout board for two- and three-pin jelly-bean components. If you paired some of those boards with [Travis]’s breakout boards, it would make a great combination to keep in your prototyping gadgets bin. Consider this project the next time your favorite PCB shop has a sale.

A Breadboard Block For 8-Bit CPUs

Breadboard CPUs are a fantastic learning experience and require serious dedication and patience. Occasionally, CPU builders eschew their breadboards and fab their design onto a PCB. But this takes away the flexibility and some of the opportunity for learning that breadboard CPUs offer. [c0pperdragon] was doing the same sort of repetitive wiring from project to project as most 8-bit breadboard CPUs use memory, a bus, an IO controller, ROM, and a few other passive components.

Taking a compromise approach, [c0pperdragon] built a PCB that can be used as a building block in his custom CPUs which they have titled “ByteMachine”. A single row of 34 pins offer power, clock, reset, 19 address bus lines, 8 data bus lines, and a ROM selector. This means that the CPUs can fit on a single breadboard and can run faster as the impedance of the breadboard has less effect on the circuit. With 512 KB of RAM and 512 KB of ROM, in a ZIF socket for easy reprogramming, ByteMachine has plenty of space.

One drawback is the lack of IO. There is no dedicated address space as this would require decoding logic between the RAM and the CPU. [C0pperdragon] added a simple 8-bit output register provided by a 74-series logic IC. The data is displayed on 8 red LEDs and can be accessed via pins. Input is accomplished in a similar way with just 8 bits of digital input provided.

[C0pperdragon] has built the 65C02, 65C816Z84C00, and the i8088 with the ByteMachine. Each was documented with incredible schematics, pictures, and test programs on GitHub. Next time you’re looking to build a CPU on a breadboard, maybe start with a ByteMachine. In some ways, it might improve your learning experience as it makes the incredible mass of wires we’ve seen on other projects a tad more manageable.

Thanks [Reinhard Grafl] for sending this one in!