SparkFun's Bus Pirate

Months ago SparkFun mentioned that they were working on something similar to the Bus Pirate. We asked them to please consider using the Bus Pirate design because it already has a bunch of features, and it’s in the public domain.

Today we received a prototype of the SparkFun Bus Pirate. SparkFun is the fourth company to sell Bus Pirate hardware, a group that already includes an eBay seller, Fundamental Logic, and Seeed Studio.You might call this the Arduino-fication of the Bus Pirate.

It’s awesome that the Bus Pirate is becoming a popular, widely available prototyping tool. Hopefully SparkFun’s exposure gives a lot more people the chance to use one. Of course, we’d prefer you buy a Bus Pirate at Seeed Studio because each sale directly funds the development of this open source project.

We give our impressions of the SparkFun hardware after the break.

SparkFun started with the BPv3 design, and shrunk the passive components to 0402. This is probably their stock size, the way we use 0805. The Bus Pirate is intended as a hackable engineering tool, the 0402 parts make it more difficult to mod or repair by hand, but that won’t matter to most users.

The 0402 size components opened up a bunch of extra board space. SparkFun added a second USB status LED so that both RX and TX status are displayed. They were also able to move the IO header to the corner, and fit a shrouded connector.

The ICSP header to the PIC is unpopulated. We added our own connector between the PGC and PGD pins in order to trigger the bootloader for firmware upgrades.

SparkFun removed the ferrite bead that filters the USB power supply. They also replaced the 10uF tantalum capacitors on the voltage regulator outputs with ~1uF ceramics. We prefer to include the ferrite bead, but we may follow their lead and reduce the output capacitance on future designs that use MIC5205 regulators.

We had seen the schematics for this Bus Pirate prior to receiving the hardware. VR2, the 3.3volt regulator for PIC, was listed as a 5volt part. The PIC24FJ64GA002 is a 3.3volt PIC, 5volts will eventually ruin the chip. We reported the error, but noticed that they included the 5volt regulator on this prototype. We’re not sure if this is just an engineering sample, or if they had actually manufactured some Bus Pirates with this defect.  Update: yes, some shipped, but it has been corrected.

After we hot-aired off the 5volt regulator and replaced it with the correct 3.3volt regulator, the PIC still seems to work. The Bus Pirate passed a self-test without errors.

The Bus Pirate developers don’t get a cut of the SparkFun Bus Pirate sales, but we’re proud our hardware is featured at another site. SparkFun is a great company with a reputation for working with open source hardware.

If you want to support the development of the Bus Pirate, and new features like the AVR STK500v2 programmer clone and the PIC programmer firmware currently in development, please consider buying a Bus Pirate at Seeed Studio.

Each Bus Pirate purchased at Seeed Studio funds the development of this open source project, the bounties placed on new features, and the staff who answer questions in the forum. If you order one from SparkFun, that’s great too!

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  1. I noticed this on their website a while back and don’t really approve, in all fairness it’s an open design so I can’t really find anything wrong with selling them but you guys developed it so I’ll never by it anywhere else.

  2. The major reason I do like that SparkFun is now selling them is lead time. If I were to order one from them, I can have it in three days. Seeed Studio takes 3-4 weeks, and one order from them a while back took OVER FIVE WEEKS, even though the part was listed as “in stock”. SparkFun’s BPv3 was available about 3-4 days after Seeed had shipped mine out, and that took 3 weeks.

  3. Personally I think it’s kind of weak that SparkFun doesn’t kick something back to Bus Pirate Int’l, LLC. Especially since the bulk of the BP’s value is in the software, not an area in which SparkFun is particularly prolific.

    Perhaps everyone at BPI,LLC can get a cut of the Free Day action. And I guess you could argue that moves like this help make Free Day possible.

  4. SparkFun REALLY fubar’d the voltage reg?!?! That’s a hard messup.

    Any suggestions on a replacement part for the *correct* vreg? I’d also like to replace.

    1. Check the Bus Pirate v2go or v3 article, it’s the 3v3 used for vr2.

      Measure between the 3.3v and gnd pins of the ICSP header to be sure. Maybe it was only the prototype where they did this.

  5. Its unfortunate that sparkfun didn’t make an agreement with you to sell your design.

    I would much rather purchase from seed (to help fund development as much as possible), but they always seem to be out of stock! Is there any way to get on a waiting list or something?

  6. We just bought a bus pirate for some prototyping from Sparkfun due to the difference in lead times compared to Seeedstudio. That lead time is a huge problem, hopefully Seeed can get that resolved soon.

    1. Hi Brian – Seeed has the Bus Pirate in stock and ready to ship, they usually ship on the same or next day. We find the HongKong Post takes less than a week to US and EU.

  7. I purchased a SparkFun BP from a local retailer in Toronto before I realized that it was not licensed from the original developers. I think it’s a bit of a shame they don’t kick-back a royalty. The next BP I buy will be from SeedStudio, whether a replacement or a new version depending on how lucky my experimentation is. IMO, this situation is an exemplar of the problem with OSS. Time is money, and yet there are a metric crapload of people who spend time developing application which sometimes attain widespread use, but which are usually unfunded. The prevalent mores in this regard cheapen the perceived value of the act of actually making something. While everyone benefits from OSS (and hardware analogues) the basic fact of the matter is TANSTAAFFL. My OSS projects will be free for non-commercial use, which is the reasonable middle ground. I’ll let everyone know how it works out in practice when I publish.

  8. Many of the comments above say what a shame it is that Sparkfun doesn’t kick back a royalty for the BP, but the following is quote from their page:

    “Note: This product is a collaboration with Ian Lesnet. A portion of each sales goes back to them for product support and continued development.”

    1. We didn’t get anything from them at first, but once Nate realized we were selling them too he insisted on paying a royalty. This post is probably before that happened.

  9. Hmmm. I just purchased the BPv3 from Sparkfun. Funny, I did NOT even realize that there was a difference until reading this page. There really ought to be some type of disambiguation between
    both “pirates”.

    SeeedStudio is soooo slooow. However, I noticed that Amazon has started carrying SeeedStudio stuff.
    So, I might order from Amazon, a SeeedStudio produced, Dangerous Prototype designed, Bus Pirate 4.0.

  10. The worst version out there.

    There is no pinout written on the pcb, and the connector is rotated 180°, Sparkfun has no real documentation (just links here to outdated infos).

    Aside from sparkfun pro mini (with the most unreliable bootloader in the world) and the quadstep (busable DIR pin? where they drunk?) the worst product ever.

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