The SparkFun FTDI SmartBasic is a variation on our classic FTDI Basic board which allows you to connect a second device to the hardware serial port on an Arduino Pro, Pro Mini, or other USB-less board without compromising the ability to bootload code from the Arduino IDE. The FTDI SmartBasic hardware is pretty simple, it routes the serial signals from any board which uses the standard FTDI header footprint either to the programming PC via a USB-to-serial bridge or to any other device with a FTDI header.
Normally, to use a device which requires a serial port resource on an Arduino board, you would have to use a software serial port or plug and unplug the device during programming. The SmartBasic board adds a multiplexer to the serial port pins coming from the Arduino, which allows the application code to switch the serial signals from the USB port to another device. No special code is required to enable programming, either!
The SmartBasic uses the venerable FT232RL chip used on the original FTDI Basic boards and the TS3USB221A signal multiplexer from TI to make connecting to multiple serial devices easy. On this board you will find two main sets of headers, CLIENT (basically the same as the output header on a standard FTDI Basic board) and HOST (which can enable the application code to route serial data from the hardware port to either the USB serial bridge or the device connected to the HOST header). With this compact design and the power of TIs TS3USB221A multiplexer you should find no issues switching high-speed USB signals.
This skill defines how difficult the soldering is on a particular product. It might be a couple simple solder joints, or require special reflow tools.
Skill Level: Noob - Some basic soldering is required, but it is limited to a just a few pins, basic through-hole soldering, and couple (if any) polarized components. A basic soldering iron is all you should need.
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If a board needs code or communicates somehow, you're going to need to know how to program or interface with it. The programming skill is all about communication and code.
Skill Level: Rookie - You will need a better fundamental understand of what code is, and how it works. You will be using beginner-level software and development tools like Arduino. You will be dealing directly with code, but numerous examples and libraries are available. Sensors or shields will communicate with serial or TTL.
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If it requires power, you need to know how much, what all the pins do, and how to hook it up. You may need to reference datasheets, schematics, and know the ins and outs of electronics.
Skill Level: Rookie - You may be required to know a bit more about the component, such as orientation, or how to hook it up, in addition to power requirements. You will need to understand polarized components.
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Switching between 3.3 and 5v. Solder pads are just not acceptable and severely limit the utility of the board. The sort of person who has a need for the convenience of switching out the serial connection probably works with more than one kind of processor voltage as well. I was disappointed to not find a place for jumper pins or (better), a switch.
If increasing the size of the board is a price to pay, so be it.
I’m left trying to figure out how to implement that myself. The goal is not to tear up the contact points on the board. My best thought is to glue a micro switch onto the female connector and then run leads, using wire wrap wire, back to the solder pads. This will be delicate surgery.
The capability to simultaneously use these boards to program from USB and make a serial connection with another board looks useful, although I have tried it out yet.
My main complaint, as others have said, is the cumbersome requirement of soldering two pads together to change the operating voltage from 3.3V to 5V. I regularly switch between the two voltages, so having to unsolder and re-solder two tiny PCB pads was unacceptable. I spent a fair amount of time wiring in my own surface mount slide switch. Not easy or pretty, but better than the solder pad approach. I understand the concern about damaging a connected 3.3V board if this board is set to 5V. Having to re-solder tiny PCB pads is also risky. How about using a .1" jumper or shunt - not as easy as a switch, but a lot more convenient (and safer) than a solder bridge.
I’ll make one more point that others have made. There is no way to mount this board, no mounting holds in the PCB. I have this complaint about many other Arduino PCB products. I understand they want to make them small, but I’d take the small increase in board size to be able to easily mount the boards.