Design Review: Switching Regulator Edition

This article was prompted by a friend of mine asking for help on a board with an ESP32 heart. The board outputs 2.1 V instead of 3.3 V, and it doesn’t seem like incorrectly calculated feedback resistors are to blame – let’s take a look at the layout. Then, let’s also take a look at a recently sent in design review entry, based on an IC that looks perfect for all your portable Raspberry Pi needs!

What Could Have Gone Wrong?

Here’s the board in all its two-layer glory. This is the kind of board you can use to drive 5 V or 12 V Neopixel strips with a firmware like WLED – exactly the kind of gadget you’ll want to use for LED strip experiments! 3.3 V power is provided by a Texas Instruments TPS54308 IC, and it’s the one misfiring, so let’s take a look.

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PCB Design Review: A 5V UPS With LTC4040

Do you have a 5 V device you want to run 24/7, no matter whether you have electricity? Not to worry – Linear Technology has made a perfect IC for you, the LTC4040; with the perfect assortment of features, except perhaps for the hefty price tag.

[Lukilukeskywalker] has shared a PCB for us to review – a LTC4040-based stamp you can drop onto your PCB whenever you want a LTC4040 design. It’s a really nice module to see designed – things like LiFePO4 support make this IC a perfect solution for many hacker usecases. For instance, are you designing a custom Pi HAT? Drop this module to give your HAT the UPS capability for barely any PCB effort. if your Pi or any other single-board computer needs just a little bit of custom sauce, this module spices it up alright!

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Design Review: USB-C PD Input For Yaesu FRG7700

Today is another board from a friend, [treble], who wants to convert a Yaesu FRG7700 radio to USB-C PD power. It’s yet another review that I’ve done privately, and then realized I’ve made more than enough changes to it, to the point that others could learn from this review quite a bit. With our hacker’s consent, I’m now sharing these things with you all, so that we can improve our boards further and further.

This board’s idea is thought-out and executed well – it replaces a bespoke barrel jack assembly, and is mechanically designed to fit the screw holes and the free space inside the chassis. For USB-PD, it uses a CH32V003 coupled with FUSB302 – I definitely did help pick the latter! For mechanical reasons, this board is split into two parts – one has the USB-C port, whereas the other has the MCU and the PD PHY.

In short, this board is a PD trigger. Unlike the usual PD triggers, however, this one is fully configurable, since it has a 32-bit MCU with good software support, plus, the PD PHY is also well known and easily controllable. So, if you want special behavior like charger-power-dependent profile selection for powering a static resistance load, you can implement it easily – or, say, you can do PPS for variable voltage or even lithium ion battery charging! With a bit of extra code, you could even do EPR (28 V = 140 W power) with this board, instantly making it into a pretty advanced PD trigger, beyond the ones available on the market.

Also, the board has some PCB art, and a very handy filter to get some of the USB-C charger noise out. Let’s take a look at all of these!

Current Flow Improvements

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PCB Design Review: HDMI To LVDS Sony Vaio LCD Devboard

Today, we revisit another board from [Exentio] – a HDMI/DVI to LVDS transmitter for the Sony Vaio P display. This board is cool to review – it has a high-speed serial interface, a parallel interface, a healthy amount of power distribution that can be tricky to route, and many connectors to look over.

I’ve decided to show this review to you all because it demonstrates a PCB improvement concept we haven’t yet touched upon, that you should absolutely know about when doing board layout. Plus, I get a chance to talk about connector choice considerations!

The board is lovely. It integrates the DPI-LVDS circuit we’ve previously reviewed, but also a HDMI to parallel RGB chip from Texas Instruments, TFP401, a chip appreciated enough that even Adafruit has adapters with it. The fun thing about this chip is that it doesn’t even handle EDID like the usual HDMI to RGB/LVDS chips you get on cheap Aliexpress boards. So, there’s no firmware to take care of – it just receives a HDMI/DVI signal, converts it into parallel RGB, then converts that to LVDS, and off to the display it goes. The downside is that you have to provide your own EDID with an EEPROM, but that isn’t that tricky.

Again, this is a two-layer board, and, again, I like this – fitting tracks to the smallest possible space is a respectable and enjoyable challenge. This board has absolutely done well by this challenge. I do see how this board could be routed in an even better way, however, and it could be way way cleaner as a result. For a start, rotating the chip would improve the odds a whole lot.

The Chip Gets Rotated

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PCB Design Review: Tinysparrow, A Module For CAN Hacking Needs

I enjoy seeing modules that can make designing other devices easier, and when I did a call for design reviews, [enp6s0] has submitted one such board to us. It’s a module called TinySparrow (GitHub), that helps you build your own vehicle ECUs and any other CAN-enabled things. With a microcontroller, plenty of GPIOs, a linear regulator and a CAN transceiver already onboard, this board has more than enough kick for anyone in hobbyist-range automotive space – and it’s surprisingly tiny!

You could build a lot of things around this module – a CAN bus analyzer or sniffer, a custom peripheral for car dashes, or even a full-blown ECU. You can even design any hardware for a robot or a piece of industrial technology that uses CAN for its backbone – we’ve all seen a few of those! It’s a great board, but it uses six layers. We’ll see if we can do something about that here.

Modules like TinySparrow will make your PCBs cheaper while ordering, too! Thanks to the carefully routed microcontroller and the CAN transmitter, whatever board you design around this chip definitely wouldn’t need six layers like this one does – and, unlike designing your own board, you can use someone’s well-tested and tailored libraries and reference circuits!

With TinySparrow, you save a lot of time, effort and money whenever you want to design a car or industrial accessory. After looking at the board files, my proposal for helping today’s board is – like last time – to make its production cheaper, so that more people can get this board into their hands if the creator ever does try and manufacture it. I also have some tips to make future improvements on this design easier, and make it more friendly for its userbase.

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PCB Design Review: ESP32-S3 Round LCD Board

For our next installment, I have a lovely and daring PCB submitted by one of our readers, [Vas]. This is an ESP32-S3 board that also has an onboard round TFT display, very similar to the one we used on the Vectorscope badge. The badge is self-sufficient – it has an ESP32, it has a display, a programming connector, two different QWIIC ports you could surely use as GPIOs – what’s not to love?

This is a two-layer board, and I have to admit that I seriously enjoy such designs. Managing to put a whole lot of things into two layers is quite cool in my book, and I have great fun doing so whenever I get the opportunity. There’s nothing wrong with taking up more layers than needed – in fact, if you’re concerned about emitted/received noise or you have high-speed interfaces, four-layer is the way to go. But making complex boards with two layers is a nice challenge, and, it does tend to make these boards cheaper to manufacture as a very nice bonus.

Let’s improve upon it, and support [Vas]’s design. From what I can see looking at this board, we can help [Vas] a lot with ease of assembly, perhaps even help save a hefty amount of money if they go for third-party PCBA instead of sitting down with a stencil – which you could do with this board pretty easily, since all of the components on it, save for the display, are the ones you’d expect JLCPCB to stock.

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PCB Design Review: DPI-LVDS Sony Vaio LCD Devboard

Ordering a PCB with mistakes sucks. We should help each other avoid such mistakes – especially newcomers. One of the best ways to avoid these mistakes, especially if it’s your first one, is to get a few other people to look at it. You deserve to get a PCB that is as functional and as helpful as humanly possible, so that you can be happy with your project, and feel ever so slightly more confident in yourself in whatever you shall set out to do next.

At the end of last year, I put out a call for design review submissions, and we’ve received enough projects to make me feel overwhelmed for a bit. A design review has always felt like a personal thing, and here we are doing them in public. But in that sense, we hope that everyone can learn from them, and we hope to push forward a healthy review culture.

What’s more, these articles won’t just be design review. Every project I’m highlighting is worthy of a Hackaday feature just on its own, so tune in and learn more about them!

Today’s Contestant

For this example, I will be walking through a review I’ve already given someone with a pretty cool board, for a pretty cool project I’ve already shown you. Remember the Sony Vaio remake project? A fair bit of people have reached out to me afterwards, and one of them, [Exentio] also had the same Sony Vaio rebuild idea in mind. We started chatting, and he decided to tackle one of the project’s milestones, and perhaps the most crucial one – adapting the LCD.

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