I designed 4 PCBs before this project, two iterations of a guitar amplifier and two ATtiny boards for PCB design introduction lessons and also a demo at work.
Those 4 boards I designed with Eagle CAD. Why? I’m not even sure. It was free (as in beer), available on my platform (Linux) and there was a lot of tutorials and other resources on the web.
For this project I switched to Kicad. Thanks to Chris Gammell’s “Getting to blinky 4.0” video series, I was able - in a couple hours - to do as much with Kicad as I was able to do with Eagle.
Before switching to Kicad, my main concern was the lack of autorouter, but I quickly realized that up to a certain complexity there’s no way around manual routing. The most difficult part of board layout is to find the right place and orientation for the components, Eagle’s autorouter is not doing that for you. Also the push-and-shove routing feature of Kicad really helps.
To this day, my only problem with Kicad is the workflow produced by the disconnect between the schematics and the PCB layout. I think I understand the rationale behind it and It’s actually very nice to be able to put a resistor in the schematic without having to make a decision on the package right away. But in my own experience, designing a board is an iterative process. I go back and forth between the PCB and the schematic usually to change net names or connect a button to that MCU pin rather and this one. Having to click 4 or 5 times just to do that is really not practical. I heard this will change in version 5, let’s see.
Big bonus: 3D render out of the box!
A few weeks ago I brought a fantastic piece of electronic, the Pocket Operator Arcade (PO-20) from Teenage Engineering. It’s a software synthesizer on small PCB with a grid of push buttons and LEDs, two potentiometers and a custom LCD screen like you would find on a Game & Watch.
Here’s a short video that demonstrates the features of the PO-20: httpps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5PvXQq3DVQ
After playing a little bit with it, I had a feeling you may know if you are reading this: I want to make my own!When I start a project like this one, I jump right in and design a first PCB very quickly while I’m still in the excitement of this brand new idea. The PCB is of course not very good (two bodge wires this time) but now I can’t go back :)
The first board was designed as daughter board for the STM32F4 DISCO. It has a powerful microcontroller (Cortex-M4F ~160 Mhz) and an audio DAC with headphone output, so the “only” thing left to do is the user interface (buttons and LEDs).
With this board I was able to start working on the software, play with multiplexed LED and buttons, start a first version of the state machine and get some sounds out.
But it’s time for the second design. I’m a software engineer so the electronic part of this project is the most challenging and interesting for me.