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Review: Schmartboard EZ

Schmartboard EZ review and tips on using it

I picked up the SchmartBoard EZ while working on a USB-Serial circuit using FTDI's FT232R. It's an SSOP package with 28 pins, so I ran over to Fry's to pick up the Schmartboard and give it a try.

I didn't remember what the pin spacing was so I picked up a few boards. I ended up using them all;


.65mm SOP


.8mm SOP


Discrete board

Once I got back, I opened the package and got to work.

It's easy to tell when you're using the right board - the legs on the IC 'slide' in to the slots on the board. Using a board with a chip that has different pin spacing won't work. The FT232R fit perfectly in the .65mm board. Once it was on the board, I dabbed a bit of flux on a paper towel and wiped the board a bit.

THE TECHNIQUE

You might remember I reviewed the Propeller SchmartModule a while back - I thought it was pretty cool, but I now realize I was using it incorrectly. Here's how you use it;

  1. Drop the IC on the board so the legs fall into the slots. You'll know when it's right when the IC doesn't slide around.
  2. Heat up your iron a little hotter than usual. I usually use lead solder. The Schmartboard is lead-free, and you should turn up your iron a bit to compensate.
  3. Wipe the tip on your iron and add flux to the board. Flux is critical! It won't work if you don't use it.


    Flux

  4. Slide your iron along the groove toward each pin on the chip, one at a time. You'll see the solder 'wave' engulf the IC leg.

The included color instruction sheet suggests using masking tape to secure the chip. I didn't find that necessary with the SSOP package, but it might be helpful with QFP / QFN packages.  I also picked up a discrete SchmartBoard for soldering surface mount resistors, caps, and SOT-23 packages. The way to use this board is more conventional;

  1. Add a bit of solder to one pad on the board.
  2. Using tweezers, grab the discrete with one hand. In the other hand, use your soldering iron to heat up the pad you just added solder to and place the part. You'll now have a dicrete soldered to one pad.
  3. Use a bit of solder to solder the second pad.

If you're using 0805 sized parts, you don't need a special board - 0805 parts fit nicely between .1" through holes. But if you're using smaller or larger parts or different packages, the discrete SchmartBoard is helpful.

Complaints
None, really. I was concerned about the lead-free solder, but it worked just fine. The package mentioned using certain size iron tip, but I just used my regular Elenco. Using smaller tips might be more important if you're using extremely small packages. One suggestion: they should probably mention on the outside of the package that flux is necessary. Most people who use this probably already have flux, but it would be nice.

Nice Stuff
Each module comes with a handy color guide on usage. I haven't tried it, but all the boards are notched so they can fit together.

VERDICT
The easiest way to solder SMT devices. Especially helpful with QFP/N, SOIC, S/SOP.

Great If
You want to prototype a surface mount design or test a circuit before ordering boards.