@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
@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.
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.
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.
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.