Wise Warthog Logo

Recommendations for Breadboarding and Prototyping

On this page you can find resources for building your circuits, ranging from the simple solderless breadboard that is best suited for beginners, to advanced prototyping techniques like the "dead bug" technique that are much better suited for high performance circuits. If you have questions, a good place to ask is the allaboutcircuits forum - either in the General Electronics Chat (if you have a general question about breadbords or more advanced techniques) or in The Projects Forum (if you have a problem with a circuit that you have built).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before you start builiding your own circuits, you should familiarize yourself with the basic safety measures. You can find a very good introduction in the free e-book by Kuphaldt in the chapter Electrical Safety. I strongly recommend that you study it very carefully.

Using a solderless breadboard (sometimes just called breadboard) is the most simple method of building your circuits. If you have never heard about it, this breadboarding video provides a nice explanation (you should however use shorter wires than those that are shown in the video). And the wiki from Northwestern University has some more tips on using solderless breadboards.

Perhaps the most important thing about solderless breadboards is to know when to stop using them. They are great for eductational purposes and allow the student to focus on the electronic properties of the circuit instead of struggling with its construction. And the circuit can be easily disassembled so that the components are available for the next student. However, connections on a solderless breadboard are less reliable than a properly soldered junction (the problem becomes worse after the breadboard has been in use for some time). And if you move to higher frequencies, the capacitance between adjacent strips of the breadboard cannot be ignored anymore.

You can find a short but good overview about alternatives to the solderless breadboard in the note Prototyping Methods by Sullivan from Dartmouth College. The advantages and disadvantages of the solderless breadboard, the springboard, wirewrap, perfboard, the generic PCB (with a pattern of holes and connections), dead bug, and the PCB are listed. Also some options for building prototypes with SMD components are mentioned.

If you want to learn how to solder - and if you are serious about electronics, you really should - an excellent starting point are the Soldering Tutorial videos by Dave Jones from the EEVblog: In Part 1 he discusses the necessary tools, Part 2 shows the basic soldering techniques for through hole devices (these are the easy ones) and Part 3 the techniques for the more difficult SMDs (Surface Mounted Devices).

The free Analog Devices seminar notes Op Amp Applications by Jung contain a very good section on Breadboard and Prototyping Techniques (chapter 7, p. 153-159). The advice you will find there is very important if you want to build analog circuits of high precision and / or high speed.

When the analog designer has to choose between different prototype construction techniques, there is the temptation to choose according to the optical impression of the resulting prototype. It seems that sometimes the excellent "dead bug" technique is neglected just because it looks somehow untidy. I have even heard some people describing it as a technique for hobbyists. But the truth is, that with a little practice (obviously you have to develop some soldering skills) you can achieve superior results with this technique. It allows you to keep the distance between the components at a minimum, which would not be possible with techniques that force you to place the components on any kind of pre-defined grid. Short connections between the components mean, among other advantages, that less noise can be coupled into the circuit (this will also be aided by the screening effect of the copper ground plane). Everybody who is not yet convinced of the benefits of the dead bug technique should have a look at Jim Williams app note AN120 1ppm Settling Time Measurement for a Monolithic 18-Bit DAC where he describes how he developed a test circuit of the highest precision. On pages 25-29 he shows several commented pics of the circuits he built. The comments should make it clear that, irrespective of the untidy appearance of the circuits, they have been very carefully constructed to achieve their extraordinary performance, there is nothing amateurish about them. Obviously the dead bug technique is not suitable for series production. But if you need a technique for an analog circuit prototype with superior electronic performance it is a very good choice.

The cover of the book Troubleshooting Analog Circuits by Bob Pease shows the author with a "bird's nest" circuit. While I would not recommend this construction technique, the book is highly recommendable. Pease had not much to say about the different prototyping techniques (though on p. 153 he explains why the solderless breadboard should be avoided for serious work). But he has a lot of practical tips that you will find to be of great help while constructing, testing and troubleshooting your circuit. Chapter 2 Choosing the Right Equipment (p. 14-25) is very useful for the beginner as well as for the more experienced analog designer.

Much more difficult than building a prototype is designing a printed circuit board (PCB) for serial production. Maybe I will later add a page about this, but I would first have to look deeper into this subject myself. But one book that I know to contain some good information is The Circuit Designer's Companion by Tim Williams. Chapter 2 (pages 40-68) is about PCBs. And if you have questions, you could ask at the edaboard, especially at the PCB Routing and Schematic Layout Software and Simulation subforum. Their focus is on the layout software, but they have some very good threads about details of PCBs too.

Wise Warthog Site Overview:

General: Forums, Tips on how to seek Advice

Practical Electronics: Books and Other General Resources, Troubleshooting, Introductions to Oscilloscopes, Breadboarding and Prototyping

Foundations: Basic Linear Circuit Analysis, Analysis and Design of Electronic Circuits, Introductions to Analog IC Design, Circuit Simulation with SPICE

Devices: General Op Amp Resources, Op Amp Applications, Resistors, Capacitors, Diodes, Bipolar Junction Transistors

Application Notes: Analog Devices Seminar Notes, Columns and App Notes by Bob Pease, App Notes by Jim Williams, E-books and App Notes from Texas Instruments

Mathematics: Complex Numbers, Calculus, Mathematics for Physics and Engineering

Wise Warthog - Learning Resources
for Analog Electronics and more