The USB Type-C Cable That Will Break Your Computer

USB has been on our desktops and laptops since about 1997 or so, and since then it has been the mainstay of computer peripherals. No other connector is as useful for connecting mice, keyboards, webcams, microcontroller development boards, and everything else; it’s even the standard power connector for phones. The latest advance to come out of the USB Implementers Forum is the USB Type-C connector, a device with gigabits of bandwidth and can handle enough current to power a laptop. It’s the future, even if Apple’s one-port wonder isn’t.

Ground is red, V is Black. Photo: Benson Leung
Ground is red, V is black. Photo: Benson Leung

The cable of the future is, by default, new. This means manufacturers are still figuring out the port, and how to wire it up. You would think remembering ‘red = power, black = ground’ is easy, but some manufacturers get it so terribly wrong.

[Benson Leung] is a Google engineer who works on the Chromebook Pixel products, a huge proponent of the USB Type-C connector, and a very prolific reviewer of USB Type-C connectors on Amazon. The latest cable he tested destroyed his test equipment, including a $1500 Chromebook Pixel 2. How did a cable manage to do this? The manufacturer switched black and red.

The cable in question was a SurjTech 3M cable that has thankfully been taken down from Amazon. Swapping GND and Vbus weren’t the only problem – the SuperSpeed wires were missing, meaning this was effectively only a USB 2 cable with a Type-C connector. The resistor required by USB spec was the wrong value, and was configured as a pull-down instead of a pull-up.

This isn’t an issue of a cable not meeting a design spec. Ethernet cables, specifically Cat6 cables, have been shown to work but fail to meet the specs for Cat6 cables. That’s shady manufacturing, but it won’t break a computer. This is a new low in the world of computer cables, but at least the cable has disappeared from Amazon.

Cramming a Pi Zero into a USB Hub

We kinda feel bad posting all these awesome hacks you can do with a Raspberry Pi Zero when we know most of our audience here probably doesn’t have one due to the backlog of orders… but regardless — here’s another one you can try — if you have one anyway. A Raspberry Pi USB Hub!

In case you didn’t know, Amazon has a series of electronics accessories called Amazon Basics — and they’re actually pretty good quality accessories. One of them is a 7-port, 4A USB hub. Looking at this [gittenlucky] figured he might just have enough room to fit a Pi Zero inside… and as it turns out. He did.

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Hacking a USB Port Onto an Old Router

Sometimes hacks don’t have to be innovative to be satisfying. We thought that [daffy]’s instructions and video (embedded below the break) for turning an old WRT54G router into an Internet radio were worth a look even if he’s following a well-traveled path and one that we’ve reported on way back when.

The hack itself is simple. [daffy] locates unused USB data lines, adds in a 5V voltage regulator to supply USB bus power, and then connects it all to a USB sound card. Hardware side, done! And while he doesn’t cover the software side of things in this first video, we know where he’s headed.

The WRT54G router was the first commodity Linux-based router to be extensively hacked, and have open-source firmware written for it. If you’re using OpenWRT or dd-wrt on any of your devices, you owe a debt to the early rootability of the WRT54G. Anyway, it’s a good bet that [daffy] is going to find software support for his USB sound card, but we remain in suspense to see just exactly how the details pan out.

Our favorite WRT54G hack is still an oldie: turning a WRT54G into the brains for a robot. But that was eight years ago now, so surely there’s something newer and shinier. What’s the coolest device that you’ve seen a WRT router hacked into?

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Steampunk USB Cryptex Keeps Your Data Secure

Worried about people snooping around your USB drive? Digital encryption not good enough for you? What you need is a USB Cryptex to secure the drive from even being accessed!

Made completely out of copper and brass, [Scots72] really put a lot of effort into this beautiful piece of metalworking. The USB drive itself is encased in epoxy inside of a copper tube — the rest is built around it. Built almost entirely using hand tools, and we can only imagine how long the process took to complete. But patience is often rewarded with results like these!

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Raspberry Pi Zero – Turning the Pi into a USB Gadget, over USB

[gbaman] has figured out a simpler way to program the new Raspberry Pi Zero over USB without modifying the board. Why is this useful? One example which appealed to us was setting the Zero’s USB port up as a mass storage device. Imagine plugging in your Pi powered robot, dragging and dropping a Python script into the mass storage device that shows up, and pressing a button on the robot to run the new script. Pretty fancy for $5.00.

You can get the PI to emulate a whole range of devices from a USB MIDI controller to a simple USB serial interface. We’re excited to see what uses people come up with. Unfortunately the Pi Zero is still out of stock most everywhere as we wait for the next production run to finish. Though if you’ve got one, why not check out a few of our thoughts and experiences with the device!

[gbaman] based his work off the work done by [Dave-0] and others over at the Raspberry Pi forums. [LadyAda] also has a version of this hack, which we covered, that involves soldering a header to the pi and using a UART adapter.

[via Hacker News]

Yet Another Pi Zero USB Hub

The Raspberry Pi Zero was back in stock at Adafruit this week – for about eight minutes. That means a few more people get Pi Zeros, many more will put them up on eBay, and everyone is working on their own version of a Pi Zero USB hub. The latest version of a Pi Zero hub comes from [Nate], and he’s doing this one right. His Pi USB adapter adds four USB ports and features not found in other DIY USB hubs like fuses and ESD protection.

As with other Pi Zero USB hub add-ons, this build relies on a USB hub controller, a few passives, and not much else. The chip used in this hub is the FE1.1s chip, a highly integrated 4-port hub controller that can be found through the usual Chinese resellers. This hub controller doesn’t require much, just a 12MHz crystal, a few passives, and four USB jacks.

Of particular interest is how [Nate] is connecting this hub to the Pi Zero. He’s left the option open for using either a USB cable, or soldering the USB’s differential pairs directly between the Pi and the hub. In either case, the hub should work, and with the addition of the zeners, fuses, and other parts that keep the hub from frying itself, [Nate] might have a very nice project on his hands.

Turning The Pi Zero Into A USB Gadget

The Raspberry Pi Zero is limited, or so everyone says, and everyone is trying to cram a USB hub and WiFi adapter on this tiny, tiny board. One thing a lot of people haven’t realized is that the Raspberry Pi Zero comes with a USB OTG port, meaning it can function as a USB device rather than a USB host. This means the Raspi can become a serial device with just a USB cable, an Ethernet device, MIDI device, camera, or just about anything else you can plug into a USB port. Adafruit has your back with a tutorial for using the USB OTG port as a serial and Ethernet interface, and the possible applications are extremely interesting.

The only requirement for using the USB OTG port for device applications is an update to the kernel. This is easily installed by dumping a few files on an SD card and a employing bit of command line wizardry. The simplest example is setting up the Pi Zero as a USB serial device, allowing anyone to log into a serial console on the Pi with just a USB cable.

A slightly more interesting application is setting up the Pi as an Ethernet gadget. This effectively tunnels all the networking on the Pi Zero through a USB cable and a separate computer. The instructions are extremely OS-specific, but the end result is the same: you can apt-get on a Pi Zero to your heart’s desire with a new kernel loaded onto the SD card and a USB cable.

This experimentation is just scratching the surface of what is possible with the OTG port on the Pi Zero. MIDI devices are easy, and with a ton of GPIOs, the Pi Zero itself could become a very interesting musical instrument. Want the Pi Zero to be a storage device? That’s easy too. The USB Gadget will end up being one of the most exciting uses for the Pi Zero, and we can’t wait to see what everyone will come up with next.