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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

Bench Talk


Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Development Kits Evolve to Include Fewer Instructions Lynnette Reese

Development kits (dev kits) save time because they are a ready-made circuit/platform. The purpose of a dev kit is so you can run experiments on it. It’s much cheaper to burn up a dev kit than an original design. A dev kit usually comes as a box with manuals, one or more PCBs, and maybe some cables, a power supply, and software or links to software, and they are perfect for getting a next look past the data sheet. There are dev kits for all kinds of parts from fiber optics to complete design-your-own car remote key fobs. Most processor/CPU/MCU-focused dev kits are complete in that they can be used right out of the box, and maybe you do a little programming to customize things.

I don’t know if everyone would call a reference design kit (RDK) a “dev kit,” but RDKs include complete designs that are meant to be copied, with the hope that high volumes of chips will be sold based on the copied design. RDKs are usually more expensive because you get a complete, tested, shelf-ready design for an end-user’s product. It’s a great way to move silicon: OEMs buy your RDK, tweak the design, manufacture in volume and slap a label on them and put ‘em on a shelf at electronics stores. Why?  Because the silicon gets sold “in volume.” Lately, open source hardware has been a vehicle for getting kits into the hands of makers. The more kits get used, the greater the likelihood that something cool will happen. A little-known secret is that manufacturers may price some kits below cost so that engineers will invest time in, and get to know their products.

A Dev Kit by Any Other Name…

Development kits are also known as evaluation (EV) kits, design kits, demonstration (demo) kits, system development kits (SDK), evaluation modules, and reference design kits (RDKs) or boards. Usually, an evaluation board (Eval Board) or demonstration board will have a goal of simply showing how the product works. A kit for a processor chip is more complex and would show how the processor works, how it talks with other devices (peripherals), and would include the board and software/drivers/firmware updates, cables, a power supply, and other stuff. For example, Cypress Semi's BLE Pioneer Kit (CY8CKIT-042-BLE) comes with everything needed to start using it right out of the box, including jumper wires and battery. Cypress has excellent documentation. Disclaimer: I used to be the PSoC Eval Board person at Cypress. Think of it this way; with this inside view, I can truly say I know what I am talking about. We put a lot of heart into our kits. (Shameless plug now over...)



There is almost always a “Quick Start Guide” in a kit. (Cypress puts little pictures in their Quick Start Guides.) This is because engineers don’t need any stinking instructions; i.e., they don’t read User’s Manuals. Engineers are so excited to get their new toy (kit) that they rarely read anything because they want to see the blinking lights right away. Companies still provide Users Manuals, however, because they know engineers also hate to ask for help on something that they think they should be able to figure out on their own, but the User’s Manual might just be given as a link in the Quick Start Guide. This is because to engineers, phones are an anathema. Email is less so. Searching online forums is the least painful method that engineers use to find help, because in forums they can search for just the snippet they need to know and then they are off to working/fiddling/adjusting again. Engineers are the kind of folks who put bicycles together at Christmas without following instructions. It’s when the bike won’t roll that they might try looking at the User’s Manual, because that’s better than calling a help line, especially if it’s 1AM.

For the serious eggheads, key performance details may also be laid out in the User Guide/Owner’s Manual, often with graphs showing the results that the user should also be able to get by doing what amounts to “guided experiments” using the dev kit. Some manuals are as easy as following a recipe, such as in the Adafruit FLORA kit, which is a blinking LED device that is sewn into clothing. (Didn’t I say there was a kit for everything?) Adafruit is known for easy-to-understand guides, videos, and tutorials. In this case, the line between dev kit and fun is blurred as ordinary people create things with electronics kits.

Kits allow you to “test drive” a device to see if it can do everything as promised and a few things that aren’t even mentioned in the datasheet. Mouser Electronics has an enormous selection of kits that cover a broad range of technology, and is always open. But don’t try calling us at 1 AM (Texas time, that is.) We’ll be busy building something without reading the instructions.


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Lynnette Reese holds a B.S.E.E from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Lynnette has worked at Mouser Electronics, Texas Instruments, Freescale (now NXP), and Cypress Semiconductor. Lynnette has three kids and occasionally runs benign experiments on them. She is currently saving for the kids’ college and eventual therapy once they find out that cauliflower isn’t a rare albino broccoli (and other white lies.)

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