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Kit Reviews: Snootlab Power ScrewShield and I2C Power Protoshield

Hello Readers

In this article we will examine the first two products from a bundle sent for review by Snootlab, a Toulouse, France-based company that in their own words:

… designs and develops electronic products with an Open Hardware and Open Source approach. We are particularly specialized in the design of new shields for Arduino. The products we create are licensed under CC BY-SA v3.0 (as shown in documents associated with each of our creations). In accordance with the principles of the definition of Open Source Hardware (OSHW), we have signed it the 10th February 2011. We wish to contribute to the development of the ecosystem of “do it yourself” through original designs of products, uses and events.

Furthermore, all of their products are RoHS compliant and as part of the Open Hardware commitment, all the design files are available from the Snootlab website. First, let’s examine the Power Screwshield kit. This is a feature-laden prototyping shield suitable for Arduino Uno and compatible series boards. It can be used with the Mega, however not all of the I/O pins will be available.

Apart from obvious use as a prototyping shield, there are also three other useful features:

  • space for a 16-pin SOIC SMD part in the prototyping area;
  • a full line of screw terminals that connect to all the shield pin connections (in a similar way to the Wingshield Screwshield);
  • and a socket to allow power to be sourced from a standard computer ATX power supply, which brings 5V and 12V DC to the shield. I have never seen this implemented on a shield in the past – a very novel and useful idea.
If you are unfamiliar with the ATX power supply options, consider this image of the tronixstuff bench PC’s internals:
The connector we would use is the one with the four round pins in a single row. In recent times using PC power supplies as bench power supply units has become quite common, so the designers at Snootlab have taken advantage of this in a very clever way by allowing their Power ScrewShield to use these power supplies. Assembly of the shield is simple and well documented. Although it is self-explanatory, you can download an illustrated guide from here. The kit is packaged in a reusable ESD bag:


Assembly of the shield is simple and well documented. Although it is self-explanatory, you can download an illustrated guide from here. The kit is packaged in a reusable ESD bag:

… which contains all the necessary parts:


… and a very high quality PCB:


The PCB thickness is over 1mm, and as you can see from the image above the silk-screening describes all the areas of the PCB in a detailed manner. Note that this shield is much larger than a standard Arduino shield – this becomes obvious when compared with a standard prototyping shield:


Assembly was very smooth and quick. There are a couple of things to watch out for, for example you need to slide the terminal blocks together so that they are flush on the sides, such as:


… if you want to enable the 12V DC rail from the ATX power lead, short out the jumper SJ1 with a blob of solder:


… when soldering the PC power connector, be sure to make the clamp bracket flush with the socket, for example:


… and finally, to enable use of the shield’s LED, you need to cut the track in this area on the underside of the PCB:

Although at first the introduction of another Arduino prototyping shield may not have seemed that interesting – this version from Snootlab really goes all out to cover almost every possible need in a shield all at the same time. Sure, it is a lot larger – but none of the board space is wasted – and those terminal blocks would be very hand for making some more permanent-style prototypes with lots of external wiring.  And the ability to accept power from a PC ATX-style power supply unit is certainly original and possibly very useful depending on your application. So if you need to create something that needs a lot of power, a lot of prototyping space, and a lot of wiring – this is the protoshield for you.

For the second half of the review we have the Snootlab I2C Power Protoshield. This is another example of an Arduino prototyping shield with some interesting twists. Apart from employing the same PC power connector as used with the Power ScrewShield, this shield is designed for hard-core I2C-bus enthusiasts. (What’s I2C? Check my tutorials). This is due to the 10-pin HE connector on the edge of the board – it contains pins for SCL, SDA, 3.3V, 5V and GND. With this you could use you own cable connections to daisy-chain other devices communicating via the I2C bus. Again, the shield is a kit and assembly was simple.

Like other Snootlab products, the kit arrives in a reusable ESD bag:


… with a high-quality thick PCB that has a very detailed silk-screen layer:


… and all the required parts are included:


When soldering in the shield connectors, using another shield as a jig can save time:


And we’re finished:


One could also mount a small solderless breadboad on the I2C Power Protoshield:


One great feature is the inclusion of an NCP1117DT33 3.3V 1A voltage regulator. Using this you can source 3.3 volts at up to one amp of current (only) when using the PC power supply connection. This is a great idea, as in the past it can be too easy to accidentally burn out the FTDI chip on an Arduino Duemilanove by drawing too much current from the 3.3V pin. The use of the external 3.3V supply is controlled by a jumper on the header pins here:


Finally, in the image above you can see the area for external I2C pull-up resistors. Generally with our Arduino the internal pull-up resistors in the microcontroller are adequate, however with many I2C devices in use (e.g. eight 24LC512 EEPROMS!) external pull-ups are required.

After examining the two shields I am impressed with the quality of the components and PCBs, as well as the interesting features described in the review. Theyare certainly unique and very much useful if required, especially the PC power supply connections. Support is available on the Snootlab website, and there is also a customer forum in French (use Google Translate). However the people at Snootlab converse in excellent English and have been easy to contact via email if you have any questions. Stay tuned for more interesting Snootlab product reviews.

Snootlab products including the I2C Power Protoshield and the Power ScrewShield are available directly from their website.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow on twitterfacebook, or join our Google Group.

[Disclaimer – the products reviewed in this article are promotional considerations made available by Snootlab]

Posted in arduino, kit review, microcontrollers, snootlabComments (13)

Part review – Linear Technology LTC6991 “Timerblox” low frequency oscillator

Hello Readers

Time for a new component review – the Linear Technology LTC6991 low frequency oscillator. This is part of Linear‘s Timerblox series of tiny timing devices. The full range is described on their web site. It is available in DFN or SOT-23 (below)  packaging. Our example for today:

The graph paper in the image is 5mm square, so the IC itself is tiny yet worthwhile challenge. Although reading the data sheet may convince you it is a difficult part to use, it is actually quite simple. This article will give you the “simple way”. Once again I have lashed out and will hand-solder an SMD onto a SOT-23 board:

Messy, but it works. Moving along…

My reason for examining the LTC6991 was as a lower-power substitute to using a 555 timer to create a square wave at various frequencies. Normally I wouldn’t give two hoots about the current draw, as everything on my bench is powered from a lab supply.

However when designing things for external use, they are usually powered by a battery of some sort or solar – so the less current drawn the better. The bog-standard TI NE555 has a current draw (with output high) of between two and five milliamps (at 5V). Which doesn’t sound like much – but our 6991 is around 100 to 170 microamps at 5V. These figures are for the respective timers without an output load. You can source up to 20mA from the output of the 6991, and when doing so will naturally increase the current load – but still it will be less than our triple-nickel.

The LTC6991 offers a period range of 1 millisecond to 9.5 hours; which translates to a frequency range of 29.1 microhertz to 977 Hz, with a maximum frequency error or <1.5%. Only one to three external resistors are required to setup your timing requirements. For a more detailed explanation, please see the data sheet.pdf. The duty cycle defaults to 50% however this can be altered by using the IC in voltage-controlled period mode.

Linear have made using the IC very easy by providing an Excel spreadsheet you can use to make your required calculations, available from this page. For example, to create a 1 Hz oscillator, we enter our figures in as such:

and the macro returns the following details:


Very convenient – a schematic, the required resistors, and example timing diagram. I recreated this example, however not having the exact values in stock caused a slight increase in frequency – with Rset at 750k,  Rdiv1 at 910k and Rdiv2 at 180k my frequency was 3.1 Hz. Therefore to match the accuracy of the LTC6991 you need to ensure a your external components are close to spec and a very low tolerance. It produces a good square-wave:


If you cannot use the exact resistor values recommended, use resistors in series or parallel to achieve the desired values. Don’t forget to measure them in real life if possible to ensure your accuracy does not suffer.

Pin one (RST) can be left floating for nomal oscillation, when high it resets the IC and forces output (pin six) low. As you can see, it is very simple to use especially with the provided spreadsheet. The required formulae are also provided in the data sheet if you wish to do your own calculations. Pulse width can be controlled with a fourth resistor Rpw, and is explained on page sixteen of the data sheet.

Although physically it may be difficult to use as it is SMD, the power requirements and the ability to generate such a wide range of oscillations with so few external parts makes the LTC6991 an attractive proposition.

The LTC6991 and the Timerblox series are new to market and should be available from the usual suppliers in the very near future such as RS and element-14.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group.

[Note – The LTC6991was a personally-ordered sample unit from Linear and reviewed without notification]

Posted in education, LTC6991, part review, tutorialComments (4)

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