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I would like to clarify this writeup just a bit... What our good friend Deimeios describes is the Motorola 68HC11 EVBU kit. The term evaluation board is by no means limited to products from Motorola.

When a semiconductor manufacturer tapes out a new chip, undoubtedly their customers (and undoubtedly the company's marketeers) are itching to have working applications involving the freshly minted part. Back in the days of MSI and DIP packages, this was a non-issue: The customer (or whoever) could take a part obtained as a sample, breadboard it, and test it.
In these days of 500+ pin BGA chip packages and signal speeds that need specially routed PC boards, a new part alone is not enough for a customer to kick the product's tires. Thus, the evaluation board was born.

An evaluation board (or eval board or eval kit) usually consists of a populated PC board with the component of interest and some support parts, some documentation, and often a power supply and other necessary cables and/or software. Most often the board is targeted at a sample application. For example, a chip designed as a CCD DAC might be combined on a board with the rest of the components necessary to make a video camera. For more complex components, like FPGAs or microprocessors, an eval board will tend to have all of the most likely external components on board as well as hardware necessary for programming the device from a host PC. One common feature of all eval boards over an end product is the inclusion of test points, signal break-outs, and debugging interfaces.

Many companies still hand out free samples of parts just for the asking (ahem... Maxim). But for most engineers, the fastest way to become acquainted with a new chip or chipset is through an evaluation board.

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