Breakout Boards

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What is a breakout board?

RC Switch with Small Low-Side MOSFET on breadboard

The purpose of a breakout board is that it takes an electrical component, like a small sensor, and makes it easy to connect this to your Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or whatever platform you are using. Breakout boards are designed to simplify the process of prototyping with different components in your latest electronics project.

The component being connected is usually an integrated circuit (IC) – a small computer chip – which has a number of “pins” on them. These act as the connections between the chip and the rest of the system such as for power supply, ground or input and outputs. In the past ICs were large enough that you could drill a hole in the circuit board and use this to solder in a “through hole” pin which can easily be used with solderless breadboards. Over time the size of electrical components shrunk to the point were it is not practical to drill a hole in the circuit board – this has led to the rise of surface mount devices (SMDs). The ICs in these devices can no longer be used directly with solderless breadboards – breakout boards “break out” the conductors from the SMD onto a printed circuit board which can be easily be clipped into a breadboard again.

A comparable product is an Arduino shield which also allows simplifies the process of connecting new components to the main development platform. One advantage of breakout boards are that they tend to be smaller with the printed circuit board often being of a similar size to the IC. The main benefit is that breakout boards are not designed for use with any particular platform and are compatible with most micro-controller development boards – giving you more flexibility when you are experimenting with different setups.

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