Friday, January 20, 2017

ESP8266-01 Prototyping PCB

I have been working a lot lately with the ESP8266-01 WiFi module. This module can be used to add wireless network capability to an Arduino, but it is also capable of being programmed directly. They are great for Internet of Things devices since they are cheap (less than $2 each) and they have WiFi support built in. They can also run reasonably on batteries if you use sleep mode properly.

Unfortunately, they are not at all breadboard friendly. To make my life easier, I am developing a small prototyping board specifically to support the -01 version of the ESP8266. There are a few prototyping boards that support the -01 as well as other versions but I found them to be too large and more complex than what I wanted. Here is a view of my first few versions.

Here is the latest version with a few parts soldered on. I already have a few improvements for the next version, but that's the reason I only get 5 or 10 manufactured at a time. I paid just over $30 for 10 of these PCBs but if you are willing to wait a month for a shipment from China, you can get them for less than $15. You can compare prices at but be sure to note the total days and the total cost with shipping.

Once I settle on my design I will make the Gerber files available for download. If there is huge interest I might even start selling them.  On that note - How much would you pay for a kit that includes the PCB, the ESP, voltage regulator, capacitor, and headers?

A Word About PCB Design Software

I have tried numerous programs for designing Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) and would like to share some info. There are lots of free programs available to create PCBs and some of them are quite good. However, they often provide output in a proprietary format to lock you into using their PCB manufacturing service. If you want more freedom, then you have very few options. What you need is a program that will output standard Gerber file format.

Rather than re-hash what has already been done, here is an excellent review of the various options.

One option that is not included is Fritzing. I did try this and did not find it well suited for PCB design. The software that I eventually went with is DipTrace. The free version will create PCBs up to 300 points and the lowest paid level is only $75.

Please leave your opinions and experiences with PCB design software in the comments.

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