Faulty Arduino Nano (Part 1)

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What I’m writing on this post happened a month ago and it was before I got my Uno R3. After much hassle I’m finally able to share this with you all.

I ordered an Arduino Nano V3.0 on Ebay. The seller is from Hong Kong and it took around 2 weeks for it to arrive. It’s not a genuine Arduino though, at only USD 15 (RM45) it’s very cheap so I didn’t put much thought into it.

So came the day it arrived and I was very excited.

I knew the Nano was small but I didnt expect it to be this small. An old RM1 coin is bigger than it.

So I plugged it into my computer and it detected the FTDI chip (that’s a USB to serial converter chip built into older Arduinos).

The driver installed fine and I tried to upload a sketch through the Arduino IDE (the latest version 1.0 btw).

Immediately, an error code was shown and after a quick search, that is a common error code for device not found.

I looked on the Internet for hours, and then I stumbled upon this forum which says pre 2009 models did not properly ground the TEST pin (pin 26) of the FTDI chip.
And, true enough on the PCB it’s printed year 2009, and to double-check I used the continuity check on my multimeter and detected no connection at all to ground.

Feeling furious and was about to contact the seller, I continue to read the forum and some people managed to make it work by just jumping pins 26 and 25. Miraculously, pin 25 is ground and all I had to do was jump the two pins. Being an SMD, it was easier said than done. I took a good 15 minutes to form a tiny blob of solder between pins 26 and 25.  (I wish that I can show you a picture of it but my camera is absolutely useless in macro mode). So I fired up the Arduino IDE again, and it failed, still showing the same error message.

Feeling frustrated, I contacted the seller immediately and he insisted that he tested my unit before sending it out. I didn’t want to waste any money shipping back my unit to him, so I soldiered on and searched the Internet for more answers. Finally, I found the culprit, my unit did not have the bootloader installed.

In short, the Arduino is actually just a platform utilizing an already established Atmel 328 chip. To program the Atmel chip by itself, you don’t need a bootloader. But once the Atmel chip is plugged into the Arduino platform, it needs the bootloader so that the Arduino IDE can detect it and subsequently upload sketches into it. If the Atmel chip has the correct bootloader, upon powering up the Arduino, the built in LED (which is connected to Digital Pin 13) will blink as a sign to confirm that it has the bootloader. Mine doesn’t blink at all. The only LED that lights up is the Power LED. It had to be the missing bootloader.

In the official Arduino site, arduino.cc, there is a cheap, almost free way of burning a bootloader into the chip. It’s called Parallel Programmer. You can read more about it here. Basically, the user just need to connect some resistors from some of the pins on the Parallel port to the ICSP header on the Arduino. Below is the schematics taken from the website :

Looks simple. Since my new computer doesn’t have a Parallel port in the Rear IO, I had to dig out my old parallel port header bracket (Thank God that my motherboard still has a parallel port header) and I connected it to the Arduino with a few jumper wires. Tested the connections with my multimeter and it’s solid.

It’s a mess but I’ll do anything to revive my Arduino.

Fired up the IDE again and selected the burn bootloader mode. It failed again. Apparently, the Parallel programmer method is not always consistent and might work for some people only. I guess I’m the unlucky one. There are only two options left now, getting an Atmel chip programmer or getting another Arduino to flash the bootloader on this one. I chose the latter one for an obvious reason, at least I still have an Arduino if all else fails.

Feeling afraid and skeptical towards non-official Arduino boards, I opt for the official ones which are Made in Italy and comes with a nice box (and a few stickers, like you get from buying an Iphone). So I placed an order right away for the latest Arduino Uno R3 and it costed me RM 105 (painful I know). Well at least the Uno R3 doesn’t use the FTDI chip anymore.

I bought it from an official distributor listed on the Arduino.cc website. ( I have already received the Uno R3 but only able to write this post now).

The Arduino adventure continues… (Part 2 is up, you can read it here)

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