Did you know that your Arduino can spawn other Arduinos? Don't worry, it can't do it autonomously so you won't wind up with a replicator situation (-gate, not -Trek). The point is, the ArduinoISP sketch allows your Arduino to act as a programmer. You can use this awesome power to burn bootloaders onto ATMega chips, turning them into Arduino-compatible microcontrollers! In the past, this required a breadboard and a whole mess of jumper wires but we've just made it a ton easier on you with the SparkFun AVR ISP Shield!
This shield, once assembled, gives your Arduino a 28-pin ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) socket so it can grab onto unsuspecting ICs. The socket is wired to work directly with the ArduinoISP code, but burning bootloaders isn't the only thing you can do with it. We've also connected the serial I/Os so that if you're a programming ninja you can do cool tricks like programming ICs using the bootloader on-the-go.
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: Rookie - The number of pins increases, and you will have to determine polarity of components and some of the components might be a bit trickier or close together. You might need solder wick or flux.
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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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I kind of wonder about the quality of the "TFXTOOL" ZIF (3M makes a TXTTOOL - note the second character - ZIF socket; This is clearly made by someone not quite affiliated with 3M), but it seems good and it works. I'm able to program things fine.
I would have liked the LEDs to do something as I'm programming it without an Arduino (using an Adafruit USBTiny) - only the power LED lights. It would have been nice to see if there was activity on the MISO/MOSI lines, but I can live with that.
Oh, this is the second Sparkfun product I purchased that had a problem with one of the surface mount LEDs. I'm not sure what Sparkfun is doing wrong with these, but this one had a missing LED. The last product with surface mount LEDs had a tombstoned LED. Not a big deal, but should be caught by QA ("All parts on board?").