PCB Prototyping Service Review: JLCPCB

2017-10-01 10:46 - Making

Scan of a board produced by JLCPCB.

Disclaimer: the PCBs pictured and discussed in this article were provided to me at no cost, in return for writing this review. I've received no other compensation and this is my own personal un-altered opinion.

Recently I was contacted about a new PCB prototyping service called JLCPCB and asked to do a review. I've done a few of these over time, and this is much the same. Pictured at left is four copies, two front and two back, of the board that I had made for this review.

It's a simple board so I can't comment on high density pads, but all of the traces, holes, and solder mask appear to be well aligned. The silkscreen is solid and legible everywhere. Overall, I would say these are perfectly fine boards.

I got ten copies, and they were all generally fine. Look (very) closely at the far bottom right of the image, though. You'll have to go full resolution to see it, but there's some scuffing around the pads near the bottom middle and bottom right. Cosmetic only, it seems, and the other nine boards had no issues or only even more minor scuffs/scrapes.

Cost

JLCPCB's claim to fame appears to be their $2 minimum cost. This applies only to the first board in any given order, and shipping from China applies to any order. So really you can get a few copies of one board made for $2, but you can only get it delivered for more like $12. Add a second board to the same order (e.g. to share the shipping overhead) and it will be $5.

Customer Numbers

Just like EasyEDA, this is some sort of batching service, which adds customer numbers in the silkscreen. They do say this ahead of time, but as I've called out in earlier reviews, I really don't like it. Especially here. I explicitly put in the in the "remark" box that I'd prefer this number to be located under U2 or U1. It would fit in either place. But instead, it was put out near the edge in the most visible place.

Final Call

These are fine boards, there's (almost) nothing wrong with them. But if I'm going to pay a couple bucks for the boards, plus $10 to $15 for shipping, I'd rather go with Elecrow's "special" service, ten copies up to 10x10cm for $5 — with no extra customer number printed.

Fanboy Mode Unlocked: SNES Classic

2017-09-30 21:06 - Gaming

Me proudly holding my SNES Classic.

Nintendo released their NES Classic last year, and the shortages were famous. The SNES classic was just released yesterday. I spied a few lines outside on my way to work, but couldn't really afford to join. I looked a bit online and indeed everything was sold out everywhere. Then I spied a tweet from the Nintendo NYC store, past 6PM, saying they were out today (yesterday) but tomorrow at 9AM (today) you could get in line again.

I ended up awake a bit early, anyway so I headed out and was in line by 8:30. The line was already huge. It took nearly three hours for me to get to the front, but I did, and I might regret it just a hair, but I'm happy overall!


New Super Mario Bros. U: All star coins!

2017-09-04 13:38 - Gaming

New Super Mario Bros. U: All star coins!

After plenty of playing, especially one or two of the levels in the star world in the background here, I finally int "100%" in New Super Mario Bros. U, having beaten all the levels, plus collected all three star coins from each. Phew!

Quarto Game Board

2017-08-11 12:57 - Making

I recently discovered (via the awesomely named YouTube channel I Like To Make Stuff) of a board game called Quarto. It's got simple rules and it's pretty easy to make a set yourself. I'm visiting my Mom in New Jersey, and that means access to some tools I couldn't keep in the city.

Rounding the material for half the pieces. The pieces are all rough cut out.
The board is a grid routed into some already-finished wood. Complete!

I picked some already-one-inch-square scrap available, it seems to be PVC. I rounded off the corners on the router table, then cut out eight short pieces and eight tall pieces, half of each from the rounded over section and half from some raw square section. Then half of the pieces got holes drilled in the top, and half got spray painted black.

The board is another scrap piece, of wood that was already finished. A grid of shallow lines, again with the router table, formed the play spaces. I chamfered the edges and with the paint dry, it was done!

This was a quick and dirty project. The grid lines were not routed the best, and the spray paint leaves a lot to be desired. But they're definitely good enough to play with. So I'll give that a try, and then decide if it's worth trying again, with perhaps better materials and more care.

Superlative Cookies (Brown butter, Sea salt, Nutella-stuffed)

2017-08-06 12:45 - General

Superlative cookies, pre-bake. Superlative cookies, post-bake. Superlative cookie, revealing its stuffed goodness.

For a party I went to yesterday, I made some cookies. I specifically looked around for a "decadent" recipe, and I totally found one. These are Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter + Sea Salt Chocolate Chip Cookies.

I'd never heard of brown butter before, at least that I can recall. Definitely never used it as an ingredient. It's simple, but so amazing. Its smell alone, during preparation, left me sure these would be amazing cookies. In the final product, I think the Nutella overpowers the rest of the cookie, so I might try again without that. The brown butter also didn't cream like I'm used to, but the dough started to come together in a familiar manner once the eggs were added.

I probably slightly under-baked most of these. The process of stuffing the cookies left them each bigger than I'd normally make, plus the Nutella itself added some thermal mass, but they still all came out scrumptious!

Killer Queen Berry Flower Plush

2017-07-29 12:04 - Making

An in-game berry flower, full of berries. An in-game berry flower, picked clean. I've hardly posted about it, besides the tapper buttons I made last year, but since early 2016 I've been spending a lot of time playing an arcade game called Killer Queen. It's played by ten people at once, in two teams of five. The social aspect of working with your team to outplay the other one turns a fantastic game into an addictive one. At left and right here are two pictures of one of the key parts of the game: these yellow flowers are scattered around the play area. They start, like at left, full of six berries and often end up like at right, plucked clean. The berries are central to play, being a direct path to one of the win conditions and also the means by which players upgrade themselves to pursue the others.

One of the very dedicated players that I know thanks to this game is pregnant, with her baby due in just a few weeks. A coworker and fellow player had the wonderful idea to give a Killer Queen themed baby gift, and one was a plush berry flower toy. I was excited from the moment I heard the idea. I finished making it, and gifted it, this week. Here's a photo gallery plus some explanation of the build process.

Some fuzzy pom-poms will be the berries. A plush berry pile, on a flower-to-be.

First was gathering materials. There's some yellow felt here for the flower, and some fuzzy pom-poms of just the right color to stand in for the berries. I had to make two orders of these. At first I just got six, because that's how many there are in game. Once I saw them in person though, I realized I'd need to make a pyramid in three dimensions for this to make sense as a physical object.

The first of the petals, top and bottom, being stitched together. Using printed paper templates, I cut four petals out of yellow felt, and sewed two layers together.

I found what seemed like a reasonable petal shape and drew it out on the computer, then printed it out on paper for templates. These were traced onto yellow felt which was sewed and trimmed into the final outer shape. It took two tries to get the size right. This worked out great: though I wanted the profile of the smaller size, using the larger size ended up being just the right amount of extra material to wrap around the depth I wanted. So I sewed and cut the outer shape of all four petals. Each was one sheet of felt, cut in half and stitched together into a pocket.

An early step of sewing the separate petals into one flower, two seams join one petal to either side of a third.. Continuing the process of flower assembly, all four petals are either sewn together already, or pinned in place for sewing. The first half of flower assembly complete:  All four petals are sewn together on one side.  The other side

With all four separate petals prepared, the next step was to start sewing them together into one flower. This involved pinning the remaining flaps in place, stitching from the outer corner of two petals down to the middle, and repeating three more times. When done one side of the flower was sewed up, with flaps remaining on the other side.

A piece of upholstery foam is cut into the flower shape. The foam is stuffed into the flower, by flipping it inside out over the foam. After fit was confirmed, a few last seams were done by machine, leaving the smallest flap open for stuffing the foam through while inverting the felt flower around it.

The plan is to flip the felt flower inside out around a piece of upholstery foam, leaving it stuffed and plush, with the seams hidden inside. This was tested first, and the fit was fine. So the foam came back out and two of the four remaining seams were done by machine, again on what would be the inside. With a smaller open hole left, the flower was stuffed again, leaving just a few loose flaps.

Stitching the second of the remaining seams by hand, from the outside. Last seams of the flower complete, foam stuffed inside.

The remaining two seams were stitched by hand. This leaves a raised seam, but they'll be hidden shortly.

A green pistil and some berries are laid out to plan their placement. The pistil is stitched in place.

I had hardly noticed despite playing the game for over a year, until I looked closely for this project: There's a green structure that holds the berries. I'm choosing to call this the pistil (a discrete organ in the center of a flower capable of receiving pollen and producing a fruit). So I made a simple cone out of green felt and stuffed with a bit more foam, with the intent that it holds up the higher layers of berries without crushing the lower ones. I laid the bottom layer of berries in an arrangement that would mostly cover the raised seams, and leave room for the pistil in the middle. Then stitched the pistil in place, again by hand.

The petal The lower layer of berries were stitched onto the petals. The lower layer of berries are all in place.

Next I added the vein pattern onto the top of the flowers. I found a reasonable image online, then traced out the main structure and stretched and tweaked it to fit my exact petal shape. I printed this out onto paper and cut out the shape to form a stencil, which was drawn over with a marker. With that done, the first layer of berries were stitched onto the petals in a triangle shape, around the pistil.

Two more layers of berries are stitched onto the pistil, to form a tetrahedral shape. The finished flower, shot one. The finished flower, shot two.

All that remained was to attach the final four berries. These went onto the pistil, using its structure to help with the shape. Which did not end up perfect. There was more slack than I hoped for, but I'm still very happy with the final result!

Pancakes for ... Lunch?

2017-07-08 11:55 - General

Mmmm, pancakes.

When you wake up late on the weekend and your first meal is at noon, is it breakfast or lunch? Who cares when it's pancakes!


Cable Hangers

2017-04-09 18:53 - Making

The first cable hanger, holding mostly micro- and mini-USB cables.

The second cable hanger, holding mostly portable game system charging adapters, and a few miscellaneous things.

A while ago I came up with an idea which I finally brought to fruition this weekend. I've got a lot of cables, mostly USB cables. They generally sit in messy piles and are difficult to find. This is a system to hang the cables on the wall so they remain out of the way, but also easily found.

There are two locations with plenty of wall space in my apartment which are also very out of the way, and they now both hold one of these three foot long organizers, for a total of just over sixty spaces to hold cables. Most of which are full!

It started with some very cheap mini clothespin style clips. Then a one-by-two board with a small groove routed into it. The clips are glued into that groove, then the board is screwed to the wall with a couple drywall anchors. That's it!

One (pictured left) holds mostly micro USB and mini USB cables, with a couple USB extensions and full size USB cables. The other (pictured right) holds mostly charging adapters for various portable game systems, but also some wall adapters, earbud headphones and a couple USB C cables as well.

Now I just need to come up with a way to straighten all those cables, so that it looks neater!


PCB Fab Review: EasyEDA

2017-03-30 22:39 - Making

Following my two previous such posts, EasyEDA reached out to me requesting a review of their service. Disclaimers up front: First, they offered a $50 coupon so I paid only the shipping for these boards, but this article remains my own unvarnished opinion. Second: I did not use their design tools, I already know KiCad and can't spend the time to learn a new one. This is review is about only the PCB fab service, so point one is that they support both modes (use their design tools, or upload your own produced separately).

Three revisions of my wi_ther board.  Rev A by Elecrow, rev B by Seeed, Rev C by EasyEDA.

To the right is a comparison of three revisions of the same board. The green board on the right is the back and front of the board made by EasyEDA, with a PCB ruler showing centimeters besides that. Click to embiggen, open in a new tab to go even bigger.

The Good

The quality of the boards I received was very consistent. And quite good overall. There was the occasional light scratch, and a semi-consistent sort of wrinkle in the solder mask, but they are only evident under close inspection, never deep enough to cut through the solder mask. The silkscreen is bold and legible, even under a microscope it's consistent and solid. Compare especially the line around U4 to the rev B board in the middle, whose silkscreen is spotty and hard to read. Routing of the internal cutouts is also quite good (although I intentionally rounded as many corners as I could in this version, after experiencing this in rev B). The square corner cutouts around U3 show the worst, still minor, issue here: one corner has a bit of over-cutting.

The Bad

There's a fair deal of dust, especially visible along the right side of M1 on the front-up board at far right. Easy enough to wipe off before assembly. Then of course those darn added part numbers! I specifically put instructions to place the number inside the outline of M1. That will be covered by a part once assembled, becoming invisible. Instead they put it right smack along the edge of the front layer. There's hardly a more visible spot.

Cost

Cost was very good. I also got a stencil, which due to size/weight forced express shipping. So I'll do a separate cost comparison, for this 99x33mm board, cheapest options including shipping:

QuantityEasyEDASeeed Fusion 1Elecrow 2Dirty PCBs
10$17.51
$1.75/ea
$16.21
$1.62/ea
$13.76
$1.38/ea
$23.00
$2.30/ea
20$24.57
$1.22/ea
$28.94
$1.45/ea
$24.34
$1.22/ea
$25.00
$1.25/ea
50$55.48
$1.11/ea
$67.84
$1.36/ea
$56.08
$1.12/ea
$49.00
$0.98/ea

1 Seeed had a (temporary?) $5 off shipping special, in these prices.

2 Always the "special two layer, 10qty" service. Edit to multiple quantity of that in the cart for 20/50 total quantity.

When I first put this chart together, EasyEDA had the best price after shipping at anything but quantity 10, for this board. I then had the idea to use multiples of Elecrow's "special" service, which brought them down to the same price range. It's worth noting that pcbshopper.com isn't clever enough to try this. If you're cost sensitive, invest a little time into exploring all the options offered from several fabs.

I've got a different larger board that I'm working on (149x68mm) and I only need one of it. In this case five from EasyEDA is easily the least expensive among several fabs (coming in about 25% cheaper than the next lowest option). Once again it's worth checking several sources, and even designing to fit into a particular envelope which is efficiently priced if you can. For this larger board, it has to be that size.

Overall

These boards are perfectly good, and also very inexpensive. They match or beat the quality of the previous revisions from other fabs, for similar or lower costs. I'm very happy with this service. That said, when I'm not getting the service for free I'll probably pay the premium to not get extra part numbers added to hardly-controllable usually-too-visible parts of my boards.