In another forum I came across intriguing news: ALLPCB was offering free PCB fabrication and shipping, one order of 5 PCBs per month for each participant. The size limit is also larger than the usual economy deals: 100x150mm instead of 100x100mm.
Now free PCBs I can understand, many of the current deals offer 5 PCBs for the paltry sum of $2, shipping extra. Would ALLPCB actually make and ship PCBs to me for free? Boy, competition sure is fierce between Chinese PCB fabricators and hobbyists gain. Maybe economy shipping would be charged which takes between 2 to 4 weeks to get here. Still, free is free, and I am in no hurry, so why not give it a try?
I didn't have any designs of my own to submit, being in the middle of renovating my dwelling. Then I remembered a project that I am following: #68k-MBC: a 3 ICs 68008 homebrew computer by @Just4Fun It didn't take long to check the gerbers and verify that they had squeezed everything onto a 99.06x99.06mm board so the design qualified. I uploaded the Gerber files, and made sure that I accepted the options required for free fabrication. This meant standard green soldermask and white silkscreen, no great hardship, but intriguingly, HASL lead-free rather than the usual HASL with lead solder. I think this indicates that the free PCBs are made from the margins of larger paid industrial jobs. It's FR4 area that would go to waste so why not use it to attract more business?
Before I knew it I had clicked on Submit and the job went through. No payment for shipping was requested. I was pleasantly surprised. It took 2 days to make, then it was sent out. I half expected it to go by an economy method like China Post air parcel, but it went via DHL parcel. That's not cheap! Perhaps ALLPCB has volume contracts with DHL.
A week later, the parcel landed on my doorstep, and the boards were in my hands. Here's the front of it:
Notice the ALLPCB assigned board number under the 74HCT00. And here's the back:
I looked at the board with a magnifying glass and to my amateur eye, everything looks fine. Edges are crisp. I haven't built a board yet. I actually don't have many of the components. I was hoping to build this project some day to use the 68k processors in my
junkspares box. 😺 So I'm going to have to go shopping for components. That makes 1002 things on my to do list now. 🤣 Actually make that 1003: to design something to take advantage of the offer again before the end of the month. 😉