Despite some of the shonkiest soldering in living memory, the Xino Basic that arrived the other week is now built up and – rather amazingly – fired up first time. Well, to be fair, the soldering itself wasn’t really the problem; it was more a combination of me simply not putting components in straight/flush before flipping the board over and soldering, and in one case, totally ignoring the build guide for no discernible reason, grabbing a blue capacitor that “looked right” and whacking it into completely the wrong place on the board. Setting all that aside though, it still worked first time!

Here you can see it fired up for the first time and there’s the little power LED shining away.

Ciseco Xino Basic completed

Power comes through the FTDI connector as the Xino has no plug-in power connectors as standard. Similarly, it doesn’t have a USB port, so to upload sketches to it you use the FTDI interface using a standard FTDI cable or breakout board … oh no, sorry, you don’t. Now, I’m sure there are good reasons for doing it, but a standard FTDI interface is 6 pins and the one on a Xino is 5 pins … oh, and the pins are in a different sequence, and … it needs a 100nF capacitor on the reset line. I couldn’t be bothered arsing around, so just added a little breakout board from Hobby Tronics to a recent order. There it is in the right of the photo, with a Sparkfun FTDI breakout connected, into which you then plug a mini USB cable. Another thing you don’t get with a Xino is an LED on pin 13, so you can’t just run a blinky sketch out of the box – just echo hi/ho down the serial line instead and watch on the Serial Monitor. As I said before, it’s like an Arduino, there’s just less of it …

When all’s said and done, you have a microcontroller that can be connected up to your PC for programming, the usual headers for attaching pretty much any shield you want and a little prototyping area if that’s all you need. Current price from Ciseco for the Xino kit along with the additional ATmega chip with an Uno bootloader, crystal and capacitors is still under £7.50.

Now – even more interestingly – if you then pair the Xino up with the ENC28J60 ethernet shield, you have a fully functional network device for less than £17.50.

Xino and ethernet shield

Pay a little more and for twenty five quid you could get yourself a Nanode Classic kit, which gives broadly the same feature set but on a single board, and I’m sure I’ll end up ordering one at some point, if for no other reason than idle curiosity. I’ve heard of some recent problems with stock of Nanodes, but if that gets sorted out then the Nanode/WiNode combination looks a good route to a simple wireless sensor network.