Kit review – Freeduino v1.22 Arduino-compatible

Hello readers

Time again for another kit review. Today we will examine the Freeduino Arduino Duemilanove-compatible board in a kit. It is always interesting to see how the different types and makes of Arduino-compatible boards present themselves, so this is review is an extension of that curiosity. This kit was originally designed by NKC Electronics and released under a Creative Commons license.

The packaging can either be classed as underwhelming or environmentally-friendly, as the kit arrives in several plastic resealable bags. Upon emptying them out we are presented with the following, the parts:

partsss

and the PCB:

pcbss1

Hopefully you noticed what ends up being the key features of this kit – the pre-soldered FTDI IC and mini-USB socket. This means the Freeduino can be used with a USB cable (not included) and not an expensive FTDI cable. The PCB itself is very solid, has a very descriptive silk-screen layer with all the component positions labelled, is solder-masked, and has nice rounded corners.

Reviewing the included parts did make me wonder why the supplier has used 5% carbon-film resistors and ceramic capacitors instead of polyesters (except for one). It turns out that Seeedstudio (the distributor for my example kit) claim 5% resistors are easier to read. Originally I claimed that this was an excuse to save a few cents, however a few people have said that such resistors are easier to read.

Furthermore, this one missed out on the polyfuse for USB overcurrent and short-circuit protection. And whether or not the larger tolerances affect the operation of the board, the cheaper components make the finished product look very 1977. However on a brighter note, an IC socket is included.

Assembly was quick and simple, and you can also follow the silk-screen labels on the PCB as well. A good method is to start with the lowest-profile components, such as resistors and capacitors:

solder2ss

… then followed by the capacitors, crystal, LEDs and reset button:

solder3ss

Notice how the ceramic capacitors lead-spacing is too narrow for the holes on the PCB – this makes me think that the distributor has skimped out on the final product and been too lazy to update the PCB layout. The ATmega168 label is an example of this. Moving forward, the voltage regulator and sockets. The easiest way to solder in the shield sockets is to place them into the pins of an Arduino shield and solder – as such:

solder4ss

And there you have it, one Freeduino v1.22 Arduino Duemilanove-compatible board:

finishedss1

The image above also displays another bugbear with this kit – the LED placement. When you have a shield inserted, all of the LEDs are covered up. Furthermore, unlike other Arduino board kits you are stuck with the maximum current output of 50mA for the 3.3V rail as there isn’t a dedicated 3.3V voltage regulator on board. Finally, the power switching between USB and the DC socket is controlled with a jumper and header pins between the USB socket and the 7805 voltage regulator.

Although I might have sounded a little harsh about this kit, it is relatively inexpensive, easy to assemble, and has the USB interface onboard. These are all good things. However the PCB layout could have been improved by correctly spacing the holes for the ceramic capacitors, and moving the LEDs to the end of the board so they are visible with shields inserted. What’s the point of having all those LEDs if you cannot see them…

So if you really get the urge to make your own board with the USB interface, or want to give someone some reasonable soldering practice, this isn’t a bad choice at all. High resolution images are available on flickr. You can order your own Freeduino from Tronixlabs.

And finally a plug for my own store – tronixlabs.com – offering a growing range and Australia’s best value for supported hobbyist electronics from adafruit, DFRobot, Freetronics, Seeed Studio and much much more.

visit tronixlabs.com

As always, have fun and keep checking into tronixstuff.com. Why not follow things on twitterGoogle+, subscribe  for email updates or RSS using the links on the right-hand column, or join our forum – dedicated to the projects and related items on this website.

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John Boxall

Founder, owner and managing editor of tronixstuff.com.

7 Responses to “Kit review – Freeduino v1.22 Arduino-compatible”

  1. John Smith says:

    H John, I thnk the 5% resstors are a great dea, ( n ths stuaton where the tolerance s not crtcal ) for exactly the reason they gve.
    For the frst 40 years or so of my electroncs lfe I could look at a ple of resstors and nstantly know every value wthout even thnkng. In fact

    • John Boxall says:

      H John
      I ddn’t realse they were that easy to read. Thanks for lettng me know. I’m colourblnd, so have always used a multmeter. Wll update the artcle.
      Cheers
      john

  2. John Smith says:

    H John, I thnk the 5% resstors are a great dea, ( n ths stuaton where the tolerance s not crtcal ) for exactly the reason they gve.
    For the frst 40 years or so of my electroncs lfe I could look at a ple of resstors and nstantly know every value wthout even thnkng. In fact I forgot the colour code, t was rrelevant, a 47k was obvously a 47k just from ts “looks”
    In the same way I couldn’t wrte down off hand the dots and dashes of Morse code, but I could read t, a Y just sounded lke a Y …
    Then along came these 1% resstors and you had to fgure out whch end s whch.
    Thank heavens they ddn’t put a party dot on each Morse character :-)

    For those not old enough to remember Morse code, t was a way of slowly sendng wrtten nformaton by tappng on a button . How archac ! t has been superseded by SMS text messages where you slowly send wrtten nformaton by tappng on several buttons wth bent thumbs :-)

    John Smth Cape Town

  3. Collin says:

    John, You’re complanng about the placement of the LEDs, whch I thnk s vald, however, when was the kt produced?

    It s desgned around the Duemlanove whch s a prevous teraton of the Arduno.

    I don’t know f the LED ssue has been fxed on the Uno (I took your recommendaton, bought the Eleven and love t), but you can’t really compare t to the KtTen or Eleven as they are more recent and based on the Arduno nstead of the Duemlanove.

    Perhaps SeeedStudo should thnk about updatng the unt. That sad, there’s so many clones of the newer Uno around these days, s t really worth ther tme?

    My recommendaton to anyone lookng (I have had a few ask) for a clone (or kt) s for the KtTen or Eleven as they are much superor bts of kt.

    Thanks for takng the tme to wrte ths revew!

    • John Boxall says:

      H Colln
      Lke yourself I use and recommend the Freetroncs gear as well. You’re rght, Seeed/NKC should update the kt. However an Uno clone kt would be a mess due to the second mcrocontroller that replaces the FTDI chp n the Freeduno.
      take t easy
      john

  4. bill says:

    I enjoyed my own verson of the kt very much. The delvery from seeedstudo was farly quck and the prce was very reasonable. It took me about an hour to buld the board up and t worked frst tme. Your observatons about the caps are correct, but my other complant about the board s that I had some dffculty wth solder flow to the PCB. The solder just ddn’t flow as smoothly as I would’ve lked.

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