But what about a non-hardware reference design -- should this also come with a cost involved or -- if using the design involves your purchasing that vendor's components -- is it more appropriate for the reference design to be provided for free?
But they are available for free. Scroll down to the bottom of the Alameda page and you will find "Hardware files" for free download. You don't even have to register.
I realize that now. And, in fact, my question "should non-hardware reference designs be available for free" was not targeted at the Maxim folks.
The thing was that when I first saw their announcement, it wasn't obvious that there was a hardware component -- they just waffled on about schematics and layout files and then said "call to see howe much it is"
It was only when I really got into it that I realized that hardware was involved and that indeed the schematics could be downloaded for free -- but by then my mind was thinking about reference designs in general, so my question was more general in nature along the lines of "should any reference design from any vendor that does not have associated hardware be mnade available for free" -- my bad that I didn;t word this better.
Free reference designs are important because smaller clients are becoming bigger portion of revenue stream for bigger companies with each year. And most of them will be manufacturing products for themselves, rather tham OEMing.
Me too -- I was building up to a very righteous indignation (and I'd almost finished the column) when I discovered the reference designs themselves were free -- it was the hardware that cost -- so I was left foaming at the mouth with nothing to foam at LOL
I have usually found the opposite to be true. In particular, I've found Linear Technology has excellent reference designs and demo boards. Remember, the quicker a vendor can get a part working in a customer's design, the quicker orders for those parts start rolling in. It's to a vendor's advantage to make designing with the part as easy and reliable as possible.
@Betajet: "I've found Linear Technology has excellent reference designs and demo boards"
I totally agree!! About 5 years ago I was involved in the design of an embedded Linux system and the deadline was in danger. I used Linear Technology components in the board power system design, despite the fact that some providers had offered me cheaper alternatives.
What was the point about doing this? My Linear's FAE sent me some specific linear reference design and associated dev kits and I just copied the main layout features. Zero-risk design and fast time-to-market worth the little BOM cost increase!!
I don't think "NEVER" is a fair comment, I have had a number of issues with various circuits from different manufacturers, but I have also had very good ones. Also condsider some integrators actually buy a bunch of OEM modules and stitch them together for an actual final product, so I'm inclined to disagree with you on a few fronts.
I've worked for Embelectron-IP, a Spanish company in which the core business is selling reference designs and Intellectual Property.
They have two different product lines:
Linux Board Support Packages: a reference hardware based on different SoCs (schematics, board layout, gerbers... but they don't sell the board as a product...), an optimized filesystem, kernel + drivers and a full Linux SDK.
RF Transceivers: a reference hardware module featuring a smart transceiver on ISM band and a proprietary communication protocol.
I'm curious to know how many of you would consider to buy this kind of product and how much you would pay for it -- note that I already know the prices ;-)
We strive to be super consistent in the documentation that we offer for our designs:
- Layout files
- Gerber files
- Test data
- Quickstart guide
Please let me know what other things you would like to see in our reference designs, I only want to make them better.
Now, we do charge for boards, to cover the cost of manufacturing. Also, I think that certain companies should absolutely charge for their reference designs, if that is their business model. Maxim is in the business of providing solutions to our customers (and selling our chips), so all design files will continue to be free.
All of our reference designs (MAXREFDESXX# part numbers) are always available for purchase. Many companies post a variety of design files and the boards aren't available.
@David: We strive to be super consistent in the documentation that we offer for our designs...
Hi David -- thanks for the input -- in fact I've heard from several folks that they very much respect your reference designs.
My problem was that I got confused by a press release which did not clearly explain that the reference design was free and only the optional hardware board had a cost associated with it. I'm sure that your existing users have got used to this, but it was confusing for someone new to your site.
I find reference designs to be very useful. Among other major details, the FAE's know the circuit and can help you with customization.
I learn the most by buying the components and building my own circuit. Lots of details you would overlook just getting the PCB with components. That is from the circuit designer's viewpoint. If you are looking to start writing code quickly, get the demo board.
A good reference design (or app notes with sample layouts) should also help you with layout design for the tricky areas, such as DDR2 memory, USB 2.0 high speed, power supply layout, etc. For example, Samtec has sample layouts for their high speed connectors that they've verified.
@DCH0: I learn the most by buying the components and building my own circuit. Lots of details you would overlook just getting the PCB with components. That is from the circuit designer's viewpoint. If you are looking to start writing code quickly, get the demo board.
@Thinking_J: Then you realized you got hardware with money being requested... I got nearly to the end of your column... before you mention this... Gotta love it...
Think how I felt -- I got the press release -- visited the website -- got all of a-fluster thinking they were charging for the reference design -- almost finished the column -- and then just before I pressed the "go" button I found the bit at the bottom of the webpage that said the cost was for the hardware board. Even then it wasn't all that clear -- it still looked like it was the data sheet they were charging for.
I thought about re-writing the column to remove names and faces and just say "a company" and "a reference design" ... but then I thought ... "never mind" LOL
Ref designs are not free. They are included in the price of the part. If companies charge more for ref designs or do not supply "hello world" proof that their part works which requires more of my time to write a test program or a circuit then that part is too expensive and I will look for a more cost effective part. Secondly, if 1000's of engineers collectively spend 1000's of hours to reinvent the same wheel by doing their own simple design to evaluate a company's product, this glaringly shows that that company does not think much about their customers time or adding more stress to their customers life. Since bosses already do that quite well, I do not need to seek out such companies.
Max, I have no issue paying for a good reference design board. Most of the time one of the distributors or reps will get them for you at no cost if you ask them for their help.
What I find appalling is when the reference design contains property software. This is a real reply from ST when I asked about the source code to a demo for one of their accelerometers:
"I am happy that you liked the **really cool** demo software that came with our reference design. Sorry, the source code for it is not available. We won't tell you how we did it, you'll have to figure it out."
More recently I was told I had to sign a NDA to get the source code for one of Freescale's App. Notes. for their new Kinetis Bootloader KBoot. The embedded end is available but the PC end is not without NDA. Meaning more time spend reinventing the wheel. :-(
Right now I'm trying to track down the source code to an Analog Design LVDT reference board design. Paid several hundred dollars for the hardware, and no source code came with it, to allow me to interface it to anything. Just an other cool demo with no information. :-(
None of those give me the warm fuzzies about designing in their parts in the future.
Isn't the point of the reference design to learn the part to reach the market faster? Someone in these originations isn't 'getting it'!
Lawyers are starting to interfere in the design process far to often. Such as when I asked Telit, who make GPS modules and other cool things, for a data sheet. They wanted me to sign a NDA. I don't even know that I want to use your part yet, until I see your data sheet, and you want me to get tangled up with your legal department? Sorry, I won't be using your parts in my products.