USB Power Has Never Been Easier

USB to Dupont adapter by [PROSCH]

USB cables inevitably fail and sometimes one end is reincarnated to power our solderless breadboards. Of course, if the cable broke once, it is waiting to crap out again. Too many have flimsy conductors that cannot withstand any torque and buckle when you push them into a socket. [PROSCH] has a superior answer that only takes a couple of minutes to print and up-cycles a pair of wires with DuPont connectors. The metal tips become the leads and the plastic sheathing aligns with the rim.

The model prints with a clear plus sign on the positive terminal, so you don’t have to worry about sending the wrong polarity, and it shouldn’t be difficult to add your own features, like a hoop for pulling it out, or an indicator LED and resistor. We’d like to see one with a tiny fuse holder.

If you want your breadboard to have old-school features, like a base and embedded power supply, we can point you in the right direction. If you are looking to up your prototyping game to make presentation-worthy pieces, we have a host of ideas.

48 thoughts on “USB Power Has Never Been Easier

      1. Specification says you should draw no more than 100 mA until USB enumeration is complete. Then, once the host acknowledges it, you can draw whatever you asked, up to 500 mA (unless host and deceives support USB-PD). Of course many (most?) hosts will not enforce this, and let you draw as much current as their power supply is capable of delivering.

        1. There is usually some current limiting element for any equipment that has a safety certification for consumer products. e.g. UL/CSA e.g. self resetting polyfuse or more fancy electronic fuse. You can’t exactly sell something without one.

          As for mail order/dollar store junk from China or from your makers, you are on your own.

  1. I don’t think I would use those connectors. It seems like the sharp tips might scrape the mating connector every time it is inserted. It won’t scrape too much, but just a tiny bit every time, eventually leaving a tiny groove in the connector. Maybe use for a throw-away power supply, but not my laptop.

    1. Unlikely. Those Dupont pins are made of cheese and are structurally very weak.

      You could file a chamfer on the leading edge if you are concerned (although you do know this is “hack”-a-day, right?), but I think this is a practical, viable, stop-gap solution.

  2. Oh seriously HaD, why advertising such horrors ?, at any moment the pins can pivot and wreak havoc the hardware.

    Just to fish a junk USB cable from almost any drawer or neighbors drawer, cut it and splice the wires cleanly ?

    1. You assume there is a USB cable to butcher nearby. Were it me, and I had such a cable available, I would to that too instead of use CAD to 3D print a plastic block.

      But in the absence of the CAD and 3D printer, I’d gone with another similar hack, hot glue those wires to a stick of popsicle stick or to and file it down a little to get it to the right size.

      It’s what some would call a “hack” =)

  3. Ironic enough to replace the flimsy USB cables with flimsy premade “Dupont” cables.
    Didn’t HaD talked about the flimsy copper plated aluminium cables just a few days ago?

    If you want more reliable cables, you should make yours with know quality wires. I have my stock of grey PVC jacked cables from pre-2000 for doing my own wiring. Their solderability, plating, insulation are still good. They are better shape than the typical made in China recycled cables with questionably plastic, under spec (as in thinner than spec) non-plated copper strands.

  4. Classic problem where for someone with a hammer everything starts looking like a nail.
    Why not keep some USB-A IDC plugs at hand, then cut two female-female jumper cables in half and assemble.

    1. Or it’s a hack … like the name of this site implies? Seriously, this is just a potentially useful idea for those niche cases where this is all you have and you need to bodge something that works in a few minutes, but it doesn’t have work forever. If you expect to have a full stock of the actual components and need something that will be permanent then clearly this hack isn’t for you.

        1. OK, admittedly a bit too much frustration with the subject at hand. Nevertheless, there are other suitable contacts around which don’t scratch up the receptacle that is a lot harder to replace once ruined.
          Perhaps the saving grace for this hack would be adding pockets at the far end and bending the pins down into the plastic so the sharp bits don’t scrape off the receptacle pin finish? Damaging sliding contacts is still an issue, but with the smooth side facing up and the tips tucked away, this might just fly.

          1. I’d be surprised if the soft metal and nickel plating on these dupont pins won out against the gold plating on most usb female ports. I use these crimp connectors and they are stupidly easy to nick/bend/deform. Not a bad idea though allowing some flex of the pins just to be safe though. See, this is the benefit of sharing ideas like this, they can be improved by discussion and testing new ideas rather than hiding or not sharing them out of some random dislike of giving someone clicks which cost you nothing.

    2. I bought stocks of USB-A SMT connectors for my projects for like $1 for 10. They are cheap enough for me to keep a good stock. The SMT ones are preferred because they are designed to handle higher temperatures. They have horrible ones for USB-A kits that melts as soon as you try to solder.

      Even if it is one time quick hack, I would use a proper plug and won’t damage the other side it is plugged into.

  5. I’ve only had 2 USB cables go bad in over 20 years.

    It’s only inevitable of you step on them, roll over them, tie them in knots, pull them out by the cord, etc.

    Though I guess that’s not all good, as the story implies; I have to buy USB breakout boards for my solderless breadboard!

    1. I’ve seen a number of bad ones, although I’m not sure whether some of them were _made_ bad in the first place. Mostly they wear out by fraying next to the connector. The most interesting failure was one which would charge for a few seconds, and then stop; I’d jiggle the connector and it would charge for another few seconds, and then stop.

      After an autopsy I discovered that one of the power contacts had burnt through. Jiggling the connector would cause it to make momentary contact, and then the high current flow though the thin contact point would burn the pin even more.

      This is a really cool trick, and one I’ll need to remember — not so much for USB, but for making other connectors. I’ve prototyped connectors using DuPont wires and hot glue but 3D printing them is better when the geometry’s known in advance.

      1. They cheap out on the strain relief. e.g. don’t have it or they don’t use a soft enough plastic with voids so that it can bend more easily. So the already crappy wire breaks at where the cable exits as there is where it bends most often.

        A proper strain relief is supposed to spread out the bending over a length of the cable.

      2. This is a good point. I believe I’ve had more bad, brand-new USB cables than old, used ones. Most of the faults have been in the form of mangled pins in the connectors, pulled-out wires, or uncrimped pins, with a rare broken wire, usually near the connector, as you said.

        It’s most dreadful when you’re dealing with a customized cable, and it’s failed somewhere in the end with the custom/non-standard connector. Thankfully, these days, they’re using soft, cheese-like plastics for molding the ends, so getting into them is easy work with a utility knife.

        As you said, I’ll be keeping this idea in my back pocket, for other situations where I need to make a connection without butchery. For USB/5 V though? I think I’d open my PC chassis, and simply use a spare SATA power connector, and alligator clips. Or I’d yank the 5 V and ground wires from the back of that connector, and dive in there, if it’s something that needs a more solid connection.

    2. the (natural rubber?) sheathing on most OEM-with-phone micro/C USB cables I’ve ever handled tends to rot and turn the wires inside to green nastiness. There’s like, a very specific consistency that’s very pliable, but also tends to just fail brittle without first turning brittle. it’s like cheddar cheese where it crumbles at the curd-lines

    3. Because prior to MicroUSB, the spring contacts were in the device side of the connector – yup, I’ve never seen a USB-A male connector go bad without damage that destroyed the host port too.

      Which is why this hack is a BAD idea – it will increase wear on the host-side connector, eventually destroying it. (Many of my coworkers have USB hubs semipermanently plugged into their laptops as port savers – yes, they have worn out USB-A host ports with too many mating cycles before.)

      MicroUSB and USB-C are the opposite – spring contacts are in the cables, so they’re more likely to go bad, but it’s a lot cheaper to replace a cable than a device.

    4. I genuinely call doubt on this. My cables from 12-15 years ago I have have have either started to deteriorate their outer sheaths, or already have. These are the good branded cables from the likes of Nokia, Samsung, and NEC. The newer cables have build quality issues where USB has been so ubiquitous and unregulated by the license consortium that quality has been cut to save money. Having said this you can get great cables from the least expected places, Poundland USB-C cables tend to be better than the cables from Currys and PC World, and as such I have stocked up on them form my Raspberry pi tower build.

    5. 2 in 20. Bless your soul. I imagine one living life in pajamas in a parlor. I’m super active outdoors, kayak, hike, motorcycle, including off roading and ocean /Beach. I’ve gone thru more usb cables than the total of times this hack will be printed.

  6. My kids were destroying cables about one a month.

    Dollar store has usb-c and micro USB cables for $1.

    I put some small alligator clips on one of the cables a couple years ago, and been using that.

    To each his own

    1. My daughter goes through USB cables pretty quickly.
      The Dollar store ones are often flimsy.
      Unfortunately, last month she bought one for $32 on my gas card. B^(

    2. You can actually buy USB connector kits from China. They have USB-A and Micro-USB. Both types comes with a solderable connector and molded plastic bits. The micro-USB connectors are a bit tricky to solder as the pads are tiny.

      I have made cables with these with good quality cable and extra strain relief. They usually last for at least a year before the micro-USB side wears out. One of mine lasted 2+ years and that’s like using it about 1-2 times every day.

  7. Had a PS3 Eye on a linux robot for vision system, made some fast acceleration and turns and suddenly my USB device had enumerated up from 1 to like 80. what i wanted to say is USB cables are dodgy to start with. this is pure horror, in a delightful way.

  8. Funny how many people complain “not a hack” when something is posted that uses store bought modules for their intended purpose, and likewise others complain when something is posted that is literally a hack in every sense of the word but doesn’t meet their exact rigorous niche requirements and thus they act like it cant possibly be useful to anyone else in the entire world. It’s like you cant win lol.

    1. That’s 100% true lol. People here are complaining so much, it’s like they’re forced to visit this site and comment…

      it’s the same pattern over and over, too: “What, I need a 3D printer/this part/that part? Thats stooopid!”

      Like everyone had exactly the same part drawers and access to technology.

      Man, people are getting more closed minded with every day…

  9. The secret to long lived USB connectors is to keep the cables short so that the connector pops out before the phone hits the floor. With a long cable, the connector will get pushed up into the phone when it hits the floor, potentially destroying both the cable and the connector in the phone. Been there, done that, no fun.

  10. this is a heck of a hack and a technique i’ve approached a few times but never for usb. i realized why i never use it — when i want convenient power for a breadboard hack, these days i have an adjustable bench supply (though it is really crappy). but i also have a big box of wall warts from dead devices, nokia chargers, that sort of thing. you know, i’ve never owned a nokia phone?? a lot of them put out 5V but i also keep around a drawer full of 7805s. and the nice thing about them is, they’re pretty crappy but i never wonder if they’re gonna current limit me or destroy my laptop or whatever. for the most part they are all just the kind of supply that outputs about 1V to 5V over nominal until they’re loaded. i don’t know what that means…from the bulk of them, i imagine an unregulated 24:1 transformer with a diode rectifier and an electrolytic capacitor? you could write a book about what i don’t know about power supply design. at any rate, a nice known quantity.

    1. Yeah, I have 2 or 3 boxes of wall warts.
      Most of them are in separate zipper lock plastic bags, and if the voltage/current/polarity are tough to read, I’ll label them with large print.

      1. I have a ton of wall-warts as well. Most of them are still in the boxes they were shipped in. The loose I have kept from old devices have tags made from white electrical tape and sharpie has the output voltage and current. I never keep center negative wall-warts.

  11. Clicking on “Download all files” on Thingiverse no longer results in the download of a zipped file, it just scrolls the page down to individual files. That can be more of a pain in the case of an item with a large number of associated files.

    1. Yep it’s a known bug to an update on Thingiverse’s end that affects all new objects. The site has been falling downhill for quite some time and I don’t expect fixes any time soon, if ever.

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