WS2801 Breakout

Replacement:BOB-11820. The new rev of this breakout now comes standard with the addressable WS2812 LED installed, go check it out! This page is for reference only.

This is a breakout board for the WS2801 RGB LED controller, the same IC used in our addressable RGB LED strips. The board comes with the chip on one side and an RGB LED on the other. Several of these breakouts can be chained together to form a display or an addressable string. Voltage, ground, clock and data are broken out as input on one side and output on the other to standard 0.1" spaced headers.

WS2801 Breakout Product Help and Resources

Core Skill: Soldering

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.

1 Soldering

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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Core Skill: Programming

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.

2 Programming

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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Core Skill: Electrical Prototyping

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.

2 Electrical Prototyping

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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Customer Comments

  • So just so I’m clear, I could run this board off the USB power connection for the Arduino Uno at 5V, correct?

    • Yes, but keep in mind that these have a fairly high current draw, so if you add more than one you can quickly reach the maximum current draw allowed from your USB port. Check out some of the other comments here :)

  • Got two of these, just fantastic. Even on low settings they are bright. Being able to just set the colour using RGB values is cool. The only thing I cannot find, I would like to document and blog what I am doing, using Fritzing to show the layout of the breadboard and Arduino. I cannot find the part in any of the libraries or anywhere on the net. Is there a ready made part to use in Fritzing?

  • What size resisters where used? 0805, 0603 oo 0402

  • how would you connect three of these to a arduino mega 2560 and control them by an app on the host computer?

  • what about the smd led : schematic show SMD 5050 and datasheet show SMD5060 ?

  • The ws2801 datasheet shows resistors on the output and the feedback pins. Your circuit does not have them, so would I just use the appropriate resistors for the led on the feed back pins and connect the led directly? (I’m talking using the bare chip, not your breakout)

    • There are 27ohm resistors on feedback pins on this board. They regulate current output on 22mA on R/G/B channels. If you are using 5050 LED and 5V supply, you can void resistors on output pins.

  • With the strips I thought I had damaged a couple I was playing with and the library suggested by Sparkfun did not explain itself very well . I had difficulty understanding it. In the first post here is a link to a page on the strip and its suggested library is

    I got this library and it required three changes -Change WProgram.h to Arduino.h and delete the reference to wiring.h. With these changes it now runs on Arduino Version 1 and I noticed the reference text included with the library had some good explanation notes for novices like myself.

  • Does anyone know what this from the reference arduino is for?

    “for(byte color_bit = 23 ; color_bit != 255 ; color_bit–) { //Feed color bit 23 first (red data MSB)”

    color_bit <— this is not referenced anywhere. I have no idea where its defined. Its causing me compilation errors. I have nothing against arduino but I do not want to limit myself to that environment.

    • Update. I managed to get the code working. I used a tiny85 and if anyone is interested I can send them the code or post it where they wish. Works but is crude. The arduino code was bit banging it out. Not taking any advantage of the USI iterface or the spi in the case of the atmel 328p chip.


      • I am very interested in your code, I too am trying to implement these with an attiny.

        • I will see about digging up the code. If I cannot find it I will recreate it. I can even get it to bit bang it out if you want that instead.

          as far as the arduino environment I have been working on other projects that require it and can convert from standard to arduino sketches now.

  • Example code is for the Adruno environment only. I need to figure out what the refrences are. like color_bit.

    Its frustrating to try to convert the code. :/

  • I wish the sample code was standard and not specific to Arduino IDE….
    Its taking me a while to figure work around.

    • Did you find a work around, I have code working for RGB output. Looking for HSL to RGB or some way to fade throw the colors.

  • Hey SFE, what configuration is this? It looks like the constant voltage configuration, however the schematic in the spec sheet has the resistors on R/G/BOUT pins going to the LED with R/G/BFB going to ground - this is backwards from that. The constant current mode has resistors on both sides, which this breakout doesn’t have either. So, I’m curious.
    Also baffling is the 27 Ohms resistors being used. Calculating numbers based on the spec sheet, the red channel ought to have a 100 Ohms and the green and blue 68 Ohms (based on 5V VCC pin on an Arduino). So, what gives?

    • Ok, Pearce responded (thanks Pearce!) The BoB is in constant current mode. From the datasheet, it shows 2 sets of resistors, RL and RXFB. The RL resistor is a load resistor and the engineer(s) said that’s optional.
      As for the 27 Ohm resistors used, at the top of page 9 there’s a formula, Ixout = Vref/Rxfb where Vref is 0.6V. So a 27 Ohm resistor will set Iout to approximately 22.2mA.
      There ya have it.

  • What is the max length between each WS2801 chip before they start flaking out? Does this run on I2C bus?

    • Page 13 of the Spec sheet says up to 6 meters at 2MHz. Not 100% on the I2C since a proper I2C device supports clock stretching, and I don’t think the WS2801 does. So it’s labeled as a 2-wire scheme, or interface device.

  • Greetings Sparkfunners,
    congrats for all the good work you’ve been doing!
    how about cooking for us a breakout board for something beefier, such as TI’s TLC5910? $5 per one RGB does not make sense in any decent RGB LED project, which may contain dozens of LEDs…

    • You probably want to move up to the TLC5911 (parallel, 80mA x16 channels) or the TLC5930 (serial, 40mA x12 channels). The TLC5910 is obsolete.
      Mind you, there are others, however my search criteria was for active drivers with 1024 PWM steps driving between 40mA to 500mA. Change the PWM steps to a lower value and you get many other options.

  • Looking at the datasheet, the absolute maximum constant current for each LED is 30mA, but with 27Ω current limiting resistors I calculate ~100mA current. Can you explain this discrepancy? I believe it should be using 100Ω resistors instead.

    • According to the WS2801 datasheet on page 9, a feedback resistor (R_XFB) with a value of 30 ohm will give a current of 20 mA.

  • total newb question - Could I drive 10 of these from an arduino pro using an external power supply (li-ion battery)?
    Here’s what I"m thinking:
    I see that the datasheet says it maxes out around 150mA. I know that the arduino maxes out at about 40mA per pin so I’m assuming I’d need an external power supply.
    Could I use a lithium ion battery and a 5V voltage regulator and hook up the positive terminal of the battery to the voltage (VCC) pin on these boards? How many amps (mA) can the li-ion battery supply? I know how to create a voltage regulator from this tutorial:
    What is the best way to run these and the arduino pro at the same time with as light a battery as possible?
    I am planning to attach these to a kite.

  • Anyone that wants to run this chip VERY easily from an Arduino should look at the FASTSPI lib:
    FAR better than the example approach.

  • Man these things are bright. I bought 3 of them just to try them out and joined them together with some put through the holes and bent over on the ends just see how these work using the sample code. I like them. Too bad for me that they are so expensive. Great product though.
    I think to make the connections more secure but still make it so each unit could be removed I could solder some right angle breakaway male headers to these units and hook them together with wires that have some kind of female end on the wires. Is there anything out there like this?

  • Hah i find these boards funny :) You guys are crazy. How do you sell the PCB with the stuff on it but dont sell the stuff?
    Where can i buy these LEDs? I bought a strip from china and desoldered about 10 of them but that was some work heh.

  • How about getting some of these:
    They’re RGB LEDs with an inbuilt driver IC.

    • This would be a dream LED! Wow. Diffused lens, integrated IC.. I WANT. Too bad you can’t even find them for sale, and if you do.. I’m betting that they’re expensive as hell. Soon though. It’s coming.

  • I can’t find the 4 pin right angle female headers that are used in this weeks video with this product.

    • It seems likely they probably used the 6-pin variant and snipped two of the pins off.
      Failing that or needing more spacing then another good alternative would be 4-pin jumper wire.

  • specs for the LED? is it the same as the ones in the addressable strip?

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