As a prototype designer and diehard maker, I experiment with a lot of cool toys to help me make better projects. I share the most interesting ones on Thursdays.
Surface-mount chips are the bane of a maker’s existence. Not only are SMT parts a pain in the ass to solder by hand, but they need special tools and you need to special-order breakout boards to prototype with them.
You can’t just walk to your local Radio Shack and buy a breakout board that uses standard soldering gear…
Well, I’ll be damned. You actually can walk to Radio Shack and buy exactly that. It’s called SchmartBoard, and nearly every Radio Shack carries them.
In short, SchmartBoard adapters are the real deal; they’re actually much cooler than you’d think. They’re not just breakout boards – instead of pads, the SchmartBoard has little solder-filled slots etched into its surface. You drop the chip into place, its legs snap into the slots, and you use a fine-point soldering iron to shovel the solder onto the pin, locking it down.
No flux, no paste, no delaminating, no solder wick, no trying to pin the little bastard down with a pair of tweezers while your Parkinson’s hands slosh solder over five adjacent pins. SchmartBoard works, quickly, and did I mention you can buy it at RadioShack?
The chip porn above is a MAX7456 OSD driver for an upcoming augmented-reality project, mounted on a SchmartBoard breakout. Instead of paying SFE $40 for a breakout, I got a free sample of the chip and a $6 SchmartBoard. Swag.
One heads-up: The solder can bunch up underneath and short out chips that have an exposed thermal pad. If your chip does, you’ll need to apply a slim strip of Scotch tape and you may need to add more solder. Still beats the hell out of waiting for two weeks to agonizingly solder a SparkFun breakout.
All in all, this is a hell of a thing to have available at the Shack. You can now order a free sample of virtually any chip, and break it out right away, really easily, for less than $10. I give the SchmartBoard adapter line four and a half 74LS74 dual edge-triggered D-type flip-flops out of five. Buy one!