PCB vs. Breadboard: The Main Differences Explained

pcb vs breadboard

The title of this article might be a little misleading; after all, when you read something like PCB vs. Breadboard, you expect that, by the end of the article, one would outweigh the other. You will either conclude that the printed circuit boards are the way to go or that the breadboard is still superior, right?

Well, no, that’s not the case with this topic. Both PCBs and breadboards have their uses in modern-day machinery. In fact, there isn’t a single machine out there, big or small, that doesn’t have a specific type of board controlling all of its functions. So, this particular PCB vs. Breadboard article will focus on both types of boards, what makes them tick, what their advantages and disadvantages are, and where you can use them to their fullest extent.

But before you and I let the two boards ‘collide,’ a short overview of them both is in order. So, let’s dive in and find out what these two actually are.

PCB vs. Breadboard: the Boards, In-Depth

PCBs

PCB stands for printed circuit board. These boards are used in a wide variety of different machines, both big and small, including but not limited to:

  • Computer components
  • Smart devices
  • Traffic lights and other light fixtures
  • Automobiles and other vehicles
  • Audio and video equipment
  • Various kitchen appliances
  • Medical equipment
  • Equipment for scientific research

You can usually recognize a PCB due to its green color, its fiberglass or aluminum basis, its copper circuitry, and the many components soldered onto it. Based on its looks alone, you can tell just how easy it is to put together compared to other electronic parts. In fact, you can even design one yourself.

The PCB business has been booming in the past few decades. Experts suggest that, by 2024, the worldwide PCB market will reach close to $90 billion. With the advent of consumer electronics and the advances in aerospace travel and the military industry, there will be a need for PCBs.

Breadboards

A typical breadboard, as the tech-minded like to say (with the pun very much intended) is the bread-and-butter of DIY electronics. Both beginners and veteran tinkerers will use a breadboard at least once in their life in order to work on any tech-related projects.

So, what is a breadboard, why the name ‘breadboard’ in the first place, and how does it work?

First, let’s cover the name. In the early days of engineering, the tinkerer would mount sockets, as well as place the circuits and other elements, on a wooden board not unlike the one you cut bread on. The name (and the idea behind it) was just fun enough to stick.

Generally speaking, a breadboard is a rectangular prototyping panel that doesn’t require you to solder any elements onto it. In fact, all you need to do is slide the items in place and, if needed, move them around as you wish.

You will recognize a typical breadboard easily. When looking at it from the top, you’ll see the following:

  • Two rows, consisting of five holes each, near the center of the board
  • A single channel running between them (you can attach a chip with pins there)
  • Power busses, on one or both sides of the board, which can either run or ground power.

Since you can attach and detach components on breadboards, the boards themselves are not a permanent electronic solution for your device. However, they are an amazing tool for up-and-coming engineers and other tech enthusiasts.

PCB vs. Breadboard: Advantages

Each individual board has its strong and weak points. For this comparison, I will only focus on the best that either board has to offer. With that in mind, let’s start with breadboards.

The Advantages of Breadboards

  • A breadboard is incredibly easy to both assemble and disassemble, since you don’t have to solder any parts.
  • If you want to test out different scenarios, you can shift the connections.
  • Capacitors or the resistor value are also easy to change on a breadboard if you want to experiment.
  • You can reuse the breadboard to make as many different circuits as you want.
  • By shifting wires, you can add an ammeter anywhere on the board.
  • You can put additional resistors in or break tracks in your design.

The Advantages of PCBs

  • A PCB is permanent, meaning it will have no continuity when it’s running a device.
  • Due to its permanence, it’s the safer option in the long run.
  • A PCB has a better current-running capacity than a breadboard. In fact, you can make the traces on a PCB wider so that you get even more current running through it than before.
  • If you want external connections, you can add various terminals to your PCB.
  • You can make your PCB more rigid than before. All you need to do is mount some heat sinks to the board.
  • If you manufacture your PCBs properly, they will have a sleeker, cleaner look than any breadboard.
  • The circuitry on the PCB is easier to understand than the one on the breadboard, mainly because there aren’t any looping wires.
  • An amazing-looking board design will only sell if it’s on a PCB. No seller will manage to earn anything if they showed their design on a breadboard in 2020.
  • PCBs are far more common in electronic devices today than breadboards.
  • PCBs are lightweight and quite durable.

PCB vs. Breadboard: Which One Should I Use?

As you can see, each of these boards has its own strong points, so how can you really determine which one is better? Well, first of all, you’re asking the wrong question. It’s not really about PCB vs. Breadboard, but rather about the best time to use one over the other.

When Do I Use a Breadboard?

Since it’s not a permanent fixture, the breadboard is the best tool for the preliminary design tests. You can fiddle around with the circuitry and create your own design from scratch. And since you can move everything around, not only can you tweak your design but you can also reuse every single element as many times as possible in the future.

Of course, a breadboard is not meant to be used in electronics if you need a board that will work non-stop. More importantly, it has a limited current capacity. In short, you can use a breadboard when you’re trying to figure out a permanent design for a future PCB.

When Do I Use a PCB?

Once you have your design figured out on a breadboard, you can start work on your PCB. PCBs are permanent fixtures, meaning they will be the ‘heart’ of your electronic device until the circuitry gives out. Technically, you can replace the parts you’ve soldered if you need to, but it will take a long time and a lot of effort.

PCB vs. Breadboard: Final Thoughts

Among techies, the PCB vs. Breadboard question is not really a debate. After all, old and new tinkerers alike tend to fiddle around with both breadboards and PCBs. It all comes down to what you’ll use them for. So remember, you play around with the breadboard first, and once you have the design you need, you’ll craft the perfect PCB that will run for a long time.

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