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.
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.
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.
Apple has a reputation in the tech world as being overpriced, and nowhere is that perception more common than in the Hackaday comments. The standard argument, of course, is that for a device with equivalent specs, Apple charges a lot more than its competitors. That argument is not without its flaws, especially when you consider factors other than simple specs like RAM and processor speed, and take into account materials used and build quality. But, as this teardown by [Ken Shirriff] shows, Apple’s attention to detail extends beyond simply machining Macbook bodies out of aluminum.
In his teardown, [Ken Shirriff] thoroughly investigates and describes all of the components and circuitry that go into the ubiquitous Macbook charger. Why does it cost $79? Other than the MagSafe connector, what makes it any better than the charger that came with your Toshiba Satellite in the ’90s? Isn’t it just a transformer to convert AC power to DC?
[Ken Shirriff] answers all of this and more, and you may be surprised by what he found. As it turns out, the Macbook charger isn’t just a transformer in a plastic case with a fancy magnetic connector. There is a lot of high-quality circuitry involved to make the power output as clean and stable as possible, and to avoid potential damage to your Macbook that could be caused by dirty power or voltage spikes. Does it justify the costs, even with so many reported failures? That’s for you to decide, but there is no questioning that Apple put more thought into their chargers than simply converting AC to DC.
It seems that any time you have a circuit on the bench, there’s wires. Lots of wires. If you are working on something new, it is a good bet that some of those wires are clipped to other wires using some field expedient, especially the power wires. We often have an alligator clip awkwardly grabbing the shell of a BNC. [Felicitus] got tired of this, so he created Monsieur Adaptateur, a breakout board that has common connectors you’ll need when working on a prototype.
What kind of connectors?
DC Jack 2.1mm
Scope probe connector
Standard 6 pin 0.1″ female header
Standard 6 pin 0.1″ male header
4.75 and 6.3mm blade connectors
The dual conductor items (like the 2.1mm jack and the BNC) connect to both sides of the board. The other connectors are in pairs. The idea is you can connect, for example, a BNC cable from a signal generator to some jumper wires on the male header, connect the scope to the scope probe connector, and still have the banana jacks to hook up, say, a digital meter.
No one would say this is going to change the world, but this is one of those things that is simple, but very useful. The plans are all on Github, and obviously you could adapt it with connectors that make sense for your specific situation.
[Gnif] had a recent hard drive failure in his home server. When rebuilding his RAID array, he decided to update to the ZFS file system. While researching ZFS, [Gnif] learned that the file system allows for a small USB cache disk to greatly improve his disk performance. Since USB is rather slow, [Gnif] had an idea to try to use an old i-RAM PCI card instead.
The problem was that he didn’t have any free PCI slots left in his home server. It didn’t take long for [Gnif] to realize that the PCI card was only using the PCI slot for power. All of the data transfer is actually done via a SATA cable. [Gnif] decided that he could likely get by without an actual PCI slot with just a bit of hacking.
[Gnif] desoldered a PCI socket from an old faulty motherboard, losing half of the pins in the process. Luckily, the pins he needed still remained. [Gnif] knew that DDR memory can be very power-hungry. This meant that he couldn’t only solder one wire for each of the 3v, 5v, 12v, and ground pins. He had to connect all of them in order to share the current load. All in all, this ended up being about 20 pins. He later tested the current draw and found it reached as high as 1.2 amps, confirming his earlier decision. Finally, the reset pin needed to be pulled to 3.3V in order to make the disk accessible.
All of the wires from his adapter were run to Molex connectors. This allows [Gnif] to power the device from a computer power supply. All of the connections were covered in hot glue to prevent them from wriggling lose.
[Eric] has an Atwater Kent 55C AM radio from the early 1900’s. He’s been trying to restore the radio to proper working condition. His most recent pain has been with the rectifier tube. The tube is supposed to have a complete vacuum inside, but that’s not the case here. When the tube is powered up, it glows a beautiful violet color. It may look pretty, but that’s indicative that gas has leaked into the tube. It needed to be replaced.
[Eric] had a tube that would serve as a good replacement, but it’s plug didn’t fit the socket properly. He was going to have to use this old broken tube to make an adapter. Rather than just tearing the old tube apart, he decided to have some fun with it first. He hooked it up to a variac, an ammeter, and a volt meter. Then he slowly increased the voltage to see what would happen. The result was visually stunning.
The tube starts out with the same violet/blue glowing [Eric] experienced previously. As the voltage increases, it gets more and more intense. Eventually we start to see some green colors mixing in with the violets. [Eric’s] reaction to this unexpected result is priceless. As the tube gets increasingly hot, the anode starts glowing an orange-red color. Finally, the filament starts to crackle like a sparkler before the tube just gives up and completely fails.
After the light show, [Eric] moves on to replacing the tube. He begins by tapping on the old tube’s socket with the end of a screwdriver. After much tapping, the glass starts to come lose from the socket. After a bit of wiggling and twisting the tube finally came free from the socket. [Eric] luckily had an unused octal socket that fit perfectly inside of the old socket. All he needed to do to build his adapter was to connect the four pins from the old adapter to the proper pins on the octal socket. Piece of cake.
…Or so [Eric] thought. After testing some new tubes with a tube tester, he realized he had soldered all four pins incorrectly. On top of that, he had super glued the adapter together. He eventually got the two pieces apart. This time he removed all of the unused pins from the octal socket so he wouldn’t get it wrong. Another run on the tube tester confirmed that everything looked good. After plugging the tube into the radio, it worked just as expected
VGA, DVI, and HDMI ports use Display Data Channel (DDC) to communicate with connected displays. This allows displays to be plug and play. However, DDC is based on I2C, which is used in all kinds of electronics. To take advantage of this I2C port on nearly every computer, [Josef] built a VGA to I2C breakout.
This breakout is based on an older article about building a $0.25 I2C adapter. This adapter hijacks specific lines from the video port, and convinces the kernel it’s a standard I2C device. Once this is done, applications such as i2c-tools can be used to interact with the port.
[Josef] decided to go for overkill with this project. By putting an ATmega328 on the board, control for GPIOs and LEDs could be added. Level shifters for I2C were added so it can be used with lower voltage devices. The end product is an I2C adapter, GPIOs, and LEDs that can be controlled directly from the Linux kernel through an unused video port.
Phones, MP3 players, designer bags, artwork, money…. anything with value will bring out the counterfeiters looking to make a quick buck. Sometimes the product being counterfeited isn’t even necessarily expensive. For example, an Apple iPad Charger. [Ken Shirriff] got a hold of a counterfeit iPad Charger, took it apart, and did some testing.
So why would someone buy a counterfeit product? To save some money! The counterfeits are usually cheaper to reel the potential buyer in thinking they are getting a deal. In this case, the Apple product costs $19 and the knock-off is $3, that’s a huge difference.