Understanding the Nuances Between Breadboard Projects and Prototype Layouts

January 24, 2018

I was just making myself some lunch and cutting up some fixin’s for a sandwich when it occurred to me that I was using a breadboard. Although I’ve always thought of it as a cutting board, it is actually what my grandmother would have called a breadboard; a flat piece of wood for slicing bread. For those of us in the electronics world a “breadboard” is something very different then what we use in the kitchen, and so I decided to look it up. I was surprised to learn that the term “breadboard” comes from many years ago when people were first experimenting with electronic circuits. They would grab the family breadboard, pound some nails into it, and start wiring up their circuits.

Today we’ve advanced quite a bit in how we wire up circuits, and the breadboards of today are nothing like those early slabs of wood. This is a good thing too as I have no desire to share my platform for building sandwiches with my platform for building electronics. Not only that but if I were to pound nails into what my wife uses to slice bread with, I would be toast!

Breadboards are very different than the circuit boards that PCB designers are used to, and for those of you unfamiliar with breadboard projects we’ll take a quick look at what they are. We’ll also look at the benefits a breadboard as well as the benefits of a PCB. So come along with me and let’s see why PCBs and breadboards are the best things since sliced bread.

A breadboard is a platform to build the prototype or temporary circuits on. They are also a great way to test a new part by building a quick and simple circuit to run the new part through its paces. Breadboards come in different sizes, but they are all characterized by a dense pattern of holes with which to put thru-hole component leads or jumper wires into. Rows of these holes are connected together underneath the breadboard so that by putting a lead or a wire into one hole, it will connect to another lead or wire in a different hole in the same row. These rows can be oriented vertically, horizontally, or both depending on its size and complexity of the breadboard. Additionally, breadboards will also have rows specifically designated for power and ground to simplify those connections for the user.

Breadboards come in two different versions; solderless and solderable. The solderless versions are more as they are the easiest to work with. Each row of connected holes has a metal clip in the hole to capture the leads or wires that you will put into it. A soldered breadboard, on the other hand, requires that each lead or wire be soldered into the hole. This makes the soldered versions of breadboards more robust as the leads are permanently captured, but they are not as reusable as the solderless versions.

A circuit built on a breadboard for testing

As I originally stated, breadboard projects are a great way to build a prototype or temporary circuit. They can be done quickly compared to designing a printed circuit board, and do not require a CAD system or other similar tools typically used in the design of PCBs. With the relative ease of connecting components together, breadboards also lend themselves well to electronics education.

Breadboards will allow you to connect various components together in different combinations allowing you to produce many different circuits. If you are using a solderless breadboard, you can create these circuits without any special tools either. Being able to quickly and easily make component and wiring display changes, as well as any needed repairs to the circuitry, keeps it adaptive. Breadboards are also very easy to test as you have unobstructed access to the circuitry for probing, and you can easily break into a circuit to test it.

There are many benefits to creating your prototypes with a PCB layout

Advantages of Using a Prototype Layout

Although there are many benefits of using a breadboard, there are many more advantages to creating a prototype PCB layout instead. Here is a partial list of those advantages:

• You can create the size of a circuit board that you need instead of being restricted by the size of the breadboard.
• You can use any component that you want, such as surface mount , instead of being restricted to thru-hole .
• It is easier to see and understand the circuits without looping wires going everywhere like they do on a breadboard.
• A PCB is more robust than a breadboard which will bend under the weight of many large devices.
• The copper of a PCB is more durable than the metal connections and jumper wires of a breadboard.
• The components on a PCB are soldered in for a strong connection, and won’t slip out of the clips like they can on a solderless breadboard.
• A PCB will have a better current carrying capacity than a breadboard because the power traces or metal area fills can be adjusted during the design for the optimum width. A PCB can handle higher voltages than a breadboard as well.
• Signals will perform better on a PCB without the higher parasitic inductance and capacitance that is typical in a breadboard.
• Replicating a PCB is a much easier task than creating multiple hand-assembled breadboards. This will reduce your manufacturing time and costs considerably.
• If you are trying to sell your circuit board, you will probably find that a completed breadboard just isn’t attractive to buyers like a completed PCB layout is.

Although a breadboard is a great way to learn electronics on or to build a quick test circuit, there are many more benefits to creating your prototype boards with a PCB layout. Fortunately, there are resources available to you to help you create your prototype layouts quickly and inexpensively.

Make sure that your PCB design software is intuitive to learn, use, and has the capabilities to create the prototype PCB layouts that you need. To quickly get your designs ready to build so that you can test your new circuits as a finished PCB instead of a breadboard, consider using Altium’s CircuitStudio® to grant you access to the features and tools that you need from your design software.

Would you like to find out more about how Altium can help you to design your prototype PCBs? Talk to an expert at Altium.