Routaboard Review (first impressions)

I’ve just received some RoutaBoard…

http://routaboard.com/

RoutaBoard claims to be the next generation of electronic prototyping board; a bold claim so I had to try it out.

It works by exposing a matrix of connections that you bridge with solder joints, the top layer layout looks like this:

and the bottom looks like this:

RoutaBoard comes with software called RoutaEdit which allows you to layout and connect virtually before committing the design to the board.

Using a combination of the top and bottom layers allows you to do some very inventive routing that wouldn’t be possible on stripboard without jumper wires. As it happens, RoutaEdit allows you to insert jumper connections as well if you’re really stuck.

Step 1: Use the RoutaEdit software to design a layout.

(Layout is of the ‘Weird Sound Generator’ by Ray Wilson at www.musicfromouterspace.com)

The software is rather good for a early version, it loads extremely quickly (written in Delphi) and has the minimum set of complete functionality to lay out a board. I’d like to see future versions have the ability to import a netlist & BOM and use this data to create the components and provide connection hints.

Step 2: Copy this layout onto the actual board.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that practice makes perfect so this mini-review is really more a ‘first impression’ than a serious determination of the usefulness of RoutaBoard. As it happens, my experience isn’t completely positive.

The board comes pre-soldered, each interconnect region looks like this:

An amount of solder with acceptable coverage. Alignment of the solder resist and drill hits to the copper layer is a bit off, but this is reflected in the cheap price of RoutaBoard. ENIG finish helps solderability too. Also reflected in the price is the extremely poor silk screen:

A good quality silkscreen looks like this (picture is at the same zoom level):

The silkscreen and slightly off alignment shouldn’t affect the end result too much, so lets put those aside for now.

Using my good soldering iron (often used to solder TSSOP and 0603 components without issue), I set about doing about 30 practice joints on a throw-away board.

A good joint looks like this:

Good flow, full width bridge should lead to the maximum allowable current to flow. I’m happy with this. Unfortunately this only occurred in about 50% of my joints. The other joints looked more like the following…

A poor joint:

This joint shows a minimal amount of bridge and the solder looks a bit ‘dry’.

A nightmare joint:

This joint shows a good bridge but has unwanted connections to adjacent pads.

I also tried a few pads with the application of flux pen, this didn’t seem to help. I tried a few different techniques of getting the solder to bridge, I think my next step is a more methodical assessment of these techniques to narrow down the best way to do it.

In conclusion, my first impression; a great idea but not the easiest to get started with. I can see a scenario where you make unwanted connections which are difficult to see without a microscope (the pattern on the board looks like an optical illusion so it can be difficult to focus on a small joint if you’re tired). These would be difficult to fix as they’re on the same side of the board as the components. I shall persevere and see how I get on & report back later.

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Nice review. I, too, have some of these coming, so will see how it goes. Can’t promise fancy 'scoped photographs though.

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Hi…here is in the software a top side for a doubleside version not yet listed in the available products. top side is what you see, bottom is buss bar layout. personally, I would rather have that reversed. buss bars on top, otherwise to much chance of having a component overlapping a needed solder point. Solution is simply flip the board.
Software, looks like an enhanced grid pad with the routaboard overlaying it. can put some pretty dip outlines, but you still get to plan and route connections by hand.