Fritzing – Open Source Electrical Design Software

fritzing-logoFritzing is an Open Source piece of software used for the design of electrical circuits. Whilst Fritzing doesn’t do circuit simulation, it does design very, very nicely. You have probably seen some of the Fritzing graphics posted on the Arduino.cc website which is what initially caught my eye.

First impressions upon loading is that it has a clean, polished layout with the interface being snappy and switching between tabs very efficient.

There are 3 layouts in which you can see your design: Breadboard, Schematic and PCB. You can switch between any one of these whilst designing, I have included screenshots of each layout below (this is the Arduino Blink LED example)

Fritzing            Fritzing5            Fritzing6

So, what’s so good about it?

The look and feel of the designs it produces look extremely professional, the PCB Layout is ideal for posting up how things should be connected and linked together and I can see myself using this on this website as well. Some other notes below:

  • High quality illustrations, including the Arduino (pictured above), breadboards and many components.
  • Open Source software, it’s completely free to download and use (check the License information first though!)
  • Missing some parts? You can create your own components and save or share them using the built-in parts editor.
  • A variety of export options, including PNG, PDF, SVG and also Etchable export formats.
  • The PCB view is useful (and cool!) for displaying your circuits.
  • There is a service to manufacturer your PCB design, however I have not used this service.

And the bad?

Well, not really any bad remarks at all, only some feature requests. How good would this be with circuit simulation? Absolutely amazing, that’s what. Plus maybe an installer so I have start menu/desktop short-cut created for me but that’s not exactly important at this stage.

This is still BETA software so you can expect the occasional bug here and there, but plenty of software updates.

More Information & Where to Download

As Fritzing is written with C++ and Qt it has support for Windows, Linux and MAC. You can also download the source code on the Fritzing website. Keep in mind that the source code of Fritzing is licensed under GNU GPL v3, the documentation and breadboard view graphics under CC Attribution-ShareALike. Please do leave credit when creating and sharing your designs online.

I haven’t been a Fritzing user for very long, so my apologies if I have missed something vital. This has got to be one of the best, free design tools available at the minute.

You can download Fritzing from fritzing.org  you won’t be disappointed. There are various tutorials, guides and FAQs on the Fritzing website.

Product Review – Peak Atlas ESR70+

esr70-1Around 80% of the faulty electronic devices I look at repairing are caused by faulty electrolytic capacitors. Sometimes you can see a physical fault with a cap (bulges on top or even leaked electrolytic fluid) but often you can’t. The only way I had to test any suspect caps was to simply replace them and test the circuit. This took ages and could end up unnecessarily costly. If only there were a better way……..

Hang on… what’s that? an ESR meter? What’s that then?

An ESR meter measures equivalent series resistance across a capacitor. Basically it’s a magic tool to tell you if your capacitor is any good or not.

I’ve wanted an ESR meter for ages but having never even used one, I didn’t know how useful it would really be….. Until I got one!!!

I got my grubby little mitts on a Peak Atlas ESR70 (or ESR plus, I’m not sure of it’s official name) and have never looked back. I’ll admit, it’s not something I use every day but it’s one of those tools that even if you only used it twice a year, it’d be worth it. In fact, I get a bit giddy every time I do get the chance to use it….. yes, I know that’s sad…

I won’t fill this post with lots of photos, I’ll just point you directly to the products web page. http://www.peakelec.co.uk/acatalog/jz_esr70.html

Anyway, back to the point. The Atlas ESR70 measures both ESR and capacitance. It’s great for checking caps to see if they are even close to the value they have written on them. I know there is a certain tolerance with the values but sometimes you find a cap that clearly isn’t performing as it should and needs to be replaced.

One feature of the ESR70 is that it can test caps in-circuit… but only in certain situations. If the cap is in series with any other caps, the reading will either be off or the meter will kindly tell you that it’s in-circuit. Nice. To be honest, I hardly test my components in circuit now because there always seems to be something that affects the result so I just whip it out and test it but the feature is there and can be useful in certain situations.

The ESR70 couldn’t be simpler to use. You turn it on and connect your capacitor. Simple. The LCD display shows the ESR value pretty much straight away whereas the capacitor value can take a few extra seconds. Once the ESR70 has read the capacitor, it makes a pleasant little “ding-ding” sound. If it finds a capacitor that is too leaky, it only makes one little “pip” sound. The beeps are especially helpful when you can’t look directly at the meter because you’re too busy holding the test probes onto a part. If you leave the unit unused for a few minutes, the meter will automatically turn itself off. This is great for people like me who forget to turn things off and then the next time I go to use it I can’t because it’s 2am and there aren’t any battery shops open……. Please tell me it’s not just me who’s experienced this….

Another useful feature is how the test leads are supplied. The unit has a crocodile clip on each wire but it can be  removed to reveal a mini banana plug. This allows you to take off the crocodile clip and connect a pair of test probes for when you need to get into a tight space. As I test most of my capacitors out of circuit, I hardly ever use this feature but it’s good to have. An extra feature on the ESR70 is that it auto-discharges capacitors before it tests them. Some other meters insist you discharge them manually first… who has time for that??

As good as this meter is, there is a little bit of work you have to do yourself (not just this ESR meter but all ESR meters). The LCD display shows you the ESR reading of the capacitor but you have to look up the result on a chart which is supplied with the ESR70. I’ve printed several of these charts, laminated them and stuck them all over the hackshed so I can read the results at a glance. Basically you find the capacitance and the voltage of the component under test and look it up on the chart. If the ESR shown is lower or very close to the value on the chart, chances are that it’s a good cap. If the results are much higher than the chart suggests, then the component is bin food.

So now you’ve googled ESR meters and found a nice man in China who will sell you one at a seemingly great price on aliexpress. Why shouldn’t you buy that one instead? Well, for the same reason you would rather use a fluke multimeter instead of the one that came free in a box of cornflakes. (Slight exaggeration but you get my drift). I personally wouldn’t want to rely on a piece of test equipment that was thrown together for a few pence and will probably fail within a few months.

Peak Electronic Design Ltd is a British company. It’s Managing Director is a chap called Jeremy Siddons and he’s also the lead engineer within his company. I’ve spoken to him before and it’s immediately obvious that this is a guy who knows his product inside out (he did design it) but more than that, he cares. He cares about his products, his company and most of all, he cares about his customers. If you follow his Twitter feed (@peakatlas), you’ll see his conversations with his customers. It really is important to me that a company cares about it’s customers. Too many companies out there don’t give a toss, once you’ve spent your money, you can leave them alone. Peak isn’t one of those companies.

D-Link is but that’s another story……

Anyway, do yourself a favour – go and buy one. I promise it’ll change your life.

No, I’m not affiliated with Peak Electronic Design in any way and no, I haven’t been paid or asked to do this review. I’ve done it because I firmly believe in credit where credit is due.