Tips on building an Ardweeny (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing and Technology, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 07 Feb 2012

Tips on building an Ardweeny

[Ardweeny] I've wanted an Ardweeny for a long time. It's just so cute -- it's an Arduino compatible that's barely bigger than the Atmega 328 chip driving it. Plus, it's cheap: $10 including the chip.

Like most small or low-cost Arduino clones, the Ardweeny doesn't have its own USB connection; instead, you use an adaptor such as an FTDI Friend, which slides onto a 6-pin header on the Ardweeny. I knew that ahead of time.

One thing I hadn't realized was that the Ardweeny gets its only power from the USB adaptor. So if you want to use an Ardweeny by itself with no computer connection, you need a regulated 5v power supply. Those are easy enough to build (see the Breadboard Arduino), but don't forget to allow for that when designing projects.

The Ardweeny comes as a kit that needs soldering -- something that isn't made clear in the sales literature, though for the price, it didn't surprise me. I downloaded the Ardweeny soldering steps (PDF) and got to work.

Easy initial build

The PDF estimates 15 minutes for the construction. The first part, soldering the 10 components, was a snap, and took maybe 10 minutes. At this point you can take the Ardweeny and nestle it down over the Atmega chip, and test it to check your soldering work.

I plugged in my FTDI Friend and the LED immediately started blinking. Success! (It's nice of them to pre-program the chip with blink code, so it's easy to tell it's working.) Downloading my own version of the blink sketch (use the Duemilanove w/Atmega 238 setting, or atmega328 if you use my Makefile) also worked fine.

The last step: soldering the legs

Except that I wasn't done. The next step of the build is to solder all 28 legs of the Ardweeny directly to the Atmega chip's legs. Scary idea -- won't all that heat kill the chip? But the instructions didn't have any warnings about that. I took a deep breath and forged ahead.

This part put me way over the 15-minute estimate -- 28 pins is a lot of pins, and I took it slowly, careful to be sparing with heat and solder.

When I was finally done, I plugged the FTDI Friend back in and ... nothing. Not a blink. And when I checked voltage on one of the V+ pins versus the ground pin, it measured around 1.5v, not the 5v I expected to see.

So I'd messed something up. Somehow, even though it worked without soldering the legs, that additional soldering had broken it. I went through all the pins with a voltmeter checking for shorts, and tested everything I could. Nothing obviously wrong.

It might have been nice to inspect my solder joints on the Ardweeny -- but once the Ardweeny is soldered to the chip, the solder is all inside and you can't see it. But anyway, I'd tested it and it had worked fine.

Detaching the backpack from the chip

So I figured I must have destroyed the chip with heat or static during that soldering process. My Ardweeny was a brick. Nothing salvageable at all. Unless -- if I could somehow de-solder the legs and pull the two apart, I could use the Ardweeny with another chip.

But how do you de-solder 28 legs? I tried a solder sucker (a pen-shaped vacuum pump) and de-soldering braid, but neither one broke the bond between the two sets of legs. I tried sliding an X-acto knife in between the Ardweeny's legs and the chip's while heating the leg with solder; no luck, the knife blade was too good a heat sink and the solder never melted.

Dave finally found a solution. With my assurance that the chip was probably dead anyway, he rolled the Ardweeny on its back, and used the tip of the heated soldering iron to bend each chip leg inward away from the Ardweeny leg. When he was done, the chip looked bent and sad, like a squashed millipede -- but the pieces were separated.

Testing to find the problem

And now I could take the Ardweeny and stick it on an Atmega 328 I pulled out of another Arduino. Plugged in the FTDI Friend and -- nothing.

Wait, it was the backpack that was bad? But I tested it before doing that last soldering phase!

I took the sad squashed-millipede Atmega and carefully bent all the pins back into shape, or at least close enough that I could plug it into a socket in my Diecimila. And, amazingly -- that poor abused overheated squashed bent 328 still worked just fine.

Okay, so the problem is definitely in the Ardweeny backpack. Now that the solder joints were exposed again, I examined them all and found two that looked questionable. I re-soldered them -- and everything worked.

Lessons for the Ardweeny

I still don't know why my board worked the first time, then failed after the step of soldering the legs. But it makes me nervous about repeating that leg-soldering step. What if something else, something that's working now, stops working?

For now, I'll probably solder just a few pins -- maybe the four outermost ones -- and rely on pressure for the other contacts. Of course, in a real environment where the Ardweeny might be subject to vibration and temperature changes, that might not be good enough. But until then, it seems the safest option.

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[ 17:26 Feb 07, 2012    More hardware | permalink to this entry | ]

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