Frequently Asked Questions
  • How Do I solder mPCIe connectors?

    Implementing the Mini PCE Express (mPCIe) based mounting system used in BrainBoardz does require access to some tools and supplies that are commonly available to electronics hobbyists:

    • A hot air station
    • A reusable mPCIe stencil (available from JLCPCB and the BrainBoardz store etc. )
    • Lead free SMD solder paste
    • A soldering iron with a fine chisel tip. Hakko T12-D08 tips or similar tips work well for this task.
    • Thin solder wire for the mPCIe re-work on pins and pads. Thicker solder wire can be used for the two larger pads
    • Resin and a solder wick for fixing any soldering issues
    • An analog or digital microscope or a magnifier for verification/rework is strongly recommended

    Alternatively, it is also (very!) possible to hand solder mPCIe connectors. For this we recommend:

    • A soldering iron with a fine chisel tip. Hakko T12-D08 tips or similar tips work well for this task.
    • Resin and a solder wick (for fixing any soldering issues)
    • Thin solder wire for the mPCIe pins and pads. Thicker solder wire can be used for the two larger ground pads
    • An analog or digital microscope or a magnifier for verification/rework is strongly recommended

    We recommend that you apply liquid resin copiously and use the minimal amount of solder on the pins/pads to limit solder bridging.

  • Is the mPCEe pin configuration the same as that used with mPCIe on other motherboards (e.g., laptops)?

    The mPCIe pinout configuration as used with Neurons is NOT compatible with the pinout configuration of computer motherboards.  The positioning of the mounting locations and the design of the mounting components is also considerably different from PC based mPICe boards.   Connecting a Neuron to a PC motherboard will result in damage to both the Neuron module and the PC motherboard. Neurons should only be connected to a computer via a USB connection.

  • Do you have a beta-testing program?

    Yes. If you are interested in joining our beta-testing program pleas email us at brainboardz@gmail.com.

  • I have a questions not covered in the FAQ. Can you help me with those?

    Yes. The easiest way to get answers is to use our contact form. Alternatively, you can email us at brainboardz@gmail.com.

  • Do Neurons support WiFi?
    Yes.  Neurons natively support 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi  802.11(b/g/n). A PCN (surface mount) antenna is included.  Time of Flight (TOF) and AP mode are also supported. It is possible to use a Neuron (with or without a BrainBoardz) as a standalone data logger for Wi-Fi applications as it provides an on-board microSD card reader.
  • I’ve been using other Development Boards. What makes this better?

    BrainBoardz is a complete end-to-end ecosystem. The Neuron modules are based on extremely powerful ESP32-S3 microcontrollers. Neurons are fully compatible with CircuitPython and Arduino. They can easily cope with the most of demanding projects. We’ve combined the best currently available hardware with the most efficient prototyping and mounting workflow. There really isn’t anything that compares.

  • What makes BrainBoardz unique?

    We have been using all sorts of development boards for a very long time, and one of the most persistent issues we encountered is that we were spending loads of time sorting out microcontroller mounting issues. We wanted something to prototype or deploy that would not have fragile pins. A modular approach was determined to be the best solution. Most manufacturers support pin headers for their development boards, but headers require soldering and they tend to be very fragile. Headers can also make moving microcontroller boards between projects a perilous activity! Furthermore, smaller microcontroller boards have to sacrifice pin counts to reduce space requirements.  Neuron modules, in contrast, are extremely compact while still providing access to every available ESP32S3 microcontroller pin.

    We explored a variety of approaches in our quest to find the best method of attaching our modules to circuit boards. Our solution, based on an industry standard SMD Mini PCIe connector, was determined to be ideally suited to the task. Mini PCIe connectors are inexpensive, support SMT, are low profile and are very connector dense.  They are ideal for connecting Neurons to BrainBoardz and for including Neuron modules in your custom circuit board projects. Adding this capability to your board projects requires minimal soldering skills and it provides a much more compact and low profile footprint. If you board reaches a mass production stage the ability add ESP32S3 modules using SMD greatly reduces production time and eliminates hand assembly.

    We liked the modular approach so much that we built an entire ecosystem around it (cutting-edge ESP-S3 based Neuron modules and a wide range of BrainBoardz boards). We have also developed a range of robust 3D printed components to make board mounting extremely easy and inexpensive.

  • Will my code or circuits work on other ESP32-S3 based boards from Adafruit, Unexpected Maker, Espressif?

    While code that uses core features of an ESP-S3 module should work perfectly, other ESP32-S3 based boards may have components that connect to different pins or components that are not included on our boards. In most cases simply changing pin assignments in your code or adding the missing components via a breadboard will fix any compatibility issues. Please note that GPIO Pin 47 on the Neuron mPCIe module is assigned to the “blink” LED and it cannot be used for other purposes. Refer to the Neuron schematic in our downloads section to avoid using pins that are reserved or assigned differently between boards. The process of migrating code from other ESP32-S3 based board is generally very straightforward,  but there can be occasional exceptions.

  • Do I have to use a microSD card? Does the microSD card have to be a specific size?

    Neurons do not require microSD cards to work with most projects. That said,  some files (e.g., images and audio) can consume a lot of space,  and microSD cards are ideal for storing large files that cannot fit in the modules available memory. For this reason we have added an on-board microSD  reader to all of our Neuron modules. Our downloadable MicroSD card image contains everything needed to start using BrainBoardz. We support up to 128GB on our Neurons, but a 32-64GB cards or even smaller cards will also work fine. Smaller capacity microSD cards are fine  for data logging scenarios.

  • Can I design my own BrainBoardz compatible board? Can I make or manufacture my own Neurons?

    Yes. The entire BrainBoardz system is an open source project published on GitHub. Schematics for the Neurons,  BrainBoardz and related files are updated as new designs are completed. You are welcome to design/manufacture your own BrainBoardz compatible board and Neuron compatible module(s). We do not permit 3rd party boards and modules to use our logo/branding, but you are welcome to indicate your board is BrainBoardz compatible (using a logo indicating compatibility of your own design or by using our recommended logo) if it is 100% pin  compatible and it is manufactured using lead free solder.

    Please ensure that you follow our design guidelines very closely. The pin assignments are very specific and have to be 100% consistent to maintain wide compatibility.  The distances between the mPCIe connector and the mounting hole for Neurons must be very precise. This will ensure compatibility with both the module positioning and the correct sizing of the 3D printed mounting components. We recommend using our Nucleus template as a base outline for your project as it provide a minimum footprint for Neuron based projects. You can use our templates as a guide in your preferred EDA. At BrainBoardz we use EasyEDA for our designs, but it is easy convert our JSON template files to KiCad using this conversion tool if that is your preference:

    https://wokwi.com/tools/easyeda2kicad

    Implementing the Mini PCE Express (mPCIe) based mounting system used in BrainBoardz does require access to some tools and supplies that are commonly available to electronics hobbyists. There are two approaches to soldering the Mini PCIe connectors:

    • A hot air station
    • A reusable mPCIe stencil (available from JLCPCB and the BrainBoardz store etc. )
    • Lead free SMD solder paste
    • A soldering iron with a fine chisel tip for re-work. Hakko T12-D08 tips or similar tips work well for this task.
    • Thin solder wire for the mPCIe pins and pads. Thicker solder wire can be used for the two larger pads
    • Resin and a solder wick for fixing any soldering issues
    • An analog or digital microscope or a magnifier for verification/rework is strongly recommended

    Alternatively, it is also possible to hand solder mPCIe connectors. For this we recommend:

    • A soldering iron
    • Resin and a solder wick for fixing any soldering issues
    • A fine chisel tip to apply solder to the mPCIe pad/pins. Hakko T12-D08 tips or similar tips work well for this task.
    • A analog or digital microscope or a magnifier for verification/rework is strongly recommended

    The schematics for the Neurons and all BrainBoardz boards are being released under the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license Version 4.0. The software and firmware files for the BrainBoardz Project are being released under the GPL V3 License. If you design a really  interesting board we would love to see it!

BrainBoardzTM and Plug and CodeTM are Trademarks of BrainBoardz Inc. © Copyright, 2021