Introduction to Electronics for Beginners | Printed Circuit Boards from 10,000 Feet

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If you have even a little bit of interest in learning about electronics, then you absolutely need to know about the printed circuit board or the PCB. Why? These boards are in every piece of electronics known to man, no exceptions! Open your computer, smartphone, or even a fork, and you’ll find a PCB.

To the electronics beginner, these green shapes can seem a bit mysterious at first. There’s a ton of different looking components, and so much to learn to know how it all works together. But with a high-altitude perspective, understanding what a PCB is and how it works can be easy. Look at a PCB from 10,000 feet, and you’ll find that it looks just like a city!

Take the Window Seat

Although not lately, likely you’ve flown in an airplane at least once in your life. My favorite part of the journey is when the plane takes off from the runway. As you climb higher and higher, you get a new perspective on a city that you only see from the great heights. And the higher you go, the more you start to see just how your city is organized and meticulously planned. There are roads, buildings, cars, and people all connected in a complete system.

Just like our cities, circuit boards provide a complete system, a foundation, for all of the electronic components that make our everyday devices come to life. In fact, you can compare many aspects of a city to a PCB.

Traces = The Roads

Queue Willie Nelson

On a PCB, you’ll notice a bunch of lines running all over the place, connecting to various components. These are just like the roads in our cities, except instead of cars zipping around, electrons are flying down streets made out of copper, hurrying off to power one component after another! These copper roads are called traces in our PCB city.

pcb-traces

A PCB without any of its components, you can see the traces connecting everything.

Integrated Circuits = The Downtown

Queue Petula Clark…

Downtown is where all of the work in a city happens. You’ve got your big corporate offices, local business on every corner, and maybe even some open markets. This central hub of human activity is just like those square black shapes that you’ll find on a PCB called Integrated Circuits (IC). These ICs are where all of the heavy processing happens in a PCB, doing rapid-fire calculations.

Passive Components = The Suburbs

Queue Arcade Fire…

In the suburbs are where homes, parks, and schools are a common sight. From a plane, you’ll notice that the rows of houses in a suburb often look just like the small resistors or capacitors found all over a PCB. These resistors are out there, resisting the flow of current according to their value.

Pads = The Construction

Queue The Hammer Song…

No city is free from construction! Whether it’s building a new skyscraper or a new apartment complex, you’ll find new foundations being laid everywhere. These foundations are just like the empty pads that you’ll find on a PCB with no components on it. While they might be empty now,

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