A Compact SMD Reflow Hotplate Powered By USB-PD

When it comes to home-lab reflow work, there are a lot of ways to get the job done. The easiest thing to do perhaps is to slap a PID controller on an old toaster oven and call it a day. But if your bench space is limited, you might want to put this compact reflow hotplate to work for you.

There are a lot of nice features in [Toby Chui]’s build, not least of which is the heating element. Many DIY reflow hotplates use a PCB heater, where long, thin traces in the board are used as resistive heating elements. This seems like a great idea, but as [Toby] explains in the project video below, even high-temperature FR4 substrate isn’t rated for the kinds of temperatures needed for some reflow profiles. His search for alternatives led him to metal ceramic heaters (MCH), which are commonly found in medical and laboratory applications. The MCH he chose was rated for 20 VDC at 50 watts — perfect for powering with USB-PD.

The heater sits above the main PCB on a Kapton-wrapped MDF frame with a thermistor to close the loop. While it’s not the biggest work surface we’ve seen, it’s a good size for small projects. The microcontroller is a CH552, which we’ve talked about before; aside from that and the IP2721 PD trigger chip needed to get the full 60 watts out of the USB-PD supply, there’s not much else on the main board.

This looks like a nice design, and [Toby] has made all the design files available if you’d like to give it a crack. Of course, you might want to freshen up on USB-PD before diving in, in which case we recommend [Arya]’s USB-PD primer.

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Cheap LCD Uses USB Serial

Browsing the Asian marketplaces online is always an experience. Sometimes, you see things at ridiculously low prices. Other times, you see things and wonder who is buying them and why — a shrimp pillow? But sometimes, you see something that probably could have a more useful purpose than the proposed use case.

That’s the case with the glut of “smart displays” you can find at very low prices. Ostensibly, these are being sold as system monitors. A business-card-sized LCD hooks up via USB and shows your CPU speed, temperature, and so on. Of course, this requires sketchy Windows software. I don’t run Windows, and if I did, I wouldn’t be keen to put some strange service on just so I could see tiny displays of my system information. But a 3.5-inch IPS LCD screen for $15 or less probably has some other uses. But how to drive it? Turns out, it is easier than you think and the hardware looks reasonably hackable, too.

Like a lot of this cheap stuff, these screens are sold under a variety of names, and apparently, there are some subtle differences. Two of the main makers of these screens are Turing and XuanFang, although you rarely see those names in the online listings. As you might expect, though, someone has reverse-engineered the protocol, and there is Python software that will replace the stock Windows software the devices use. Even better, there is an example of using the library for your own purposes.

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Macro Pad Cheap Enough To Give Away

Supercon 2022 showed that hackers are starting to come together again in Maker Faires, conventions, and festivals. [Toby Chui] plans to be one of those hackers and wants something to give to fellow attendees. Thus, the $3 Macro Pad was born.

We’ve seen our fair share of macro pads, so a simple four-key pad isn’t exactly novel. However, the focus on size and cost makes it stand out. The pad is the size of a business card, making it easy to give away. For a microcontroller, [Toby] used a CH552G, which is cheap and compatible with the Arduino IDE. Although, with 10 GPIO, a matrix layout could have supported a full-sized number pad, the diodes required would have added to the cost significantly. A cheap PCB and 3d-printed base make up the device’s bulk.

[Toby] provides a handy tool for assigning keys from your browser without coding. However, the source code is on GitHub if you want to develop a more complicated scheme. This isn’t the first time we’ve featured the CH552 chip, and it likely won’t be the last.

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A Hackaday.io page screenshot, showing all the numerous CH552 projects from [Stefan].

All The USB You Can Do With A CH552

Recently, you might have noticed a flurry of CH552 projects on Hackaday.io – all of them with professionally taken photos of neatly assembled PCBs, typically with a USB connector or two. You might also have noticed that they’re all built by one person, [Stefan “wagiminator” Wagner], who is a prolific hacker – his Hackaday.io page lists over a hundred projects, most of them proudly marked “Completed”. Today, with all these CH552 mentions in the Hackaday.io’s “Newest” category, we’ve decided to take a peek.

The CH552 is an 8-bit MCU with a USB peripheral, with a CH554 sibling that supports USB host, and [Stefan] seriously puts this microcontroller to the test. There’s a nRF24L01+ transceiver turned USB dongle, a rotary encoder peripheral with a 3D-printed case and knob, a mouse wiggler, an interface for our beloved I2C OLED displays, a general-purpose CH55x devboard, and a flurry of AVR programmers – regular AVRISP, an ISP+UPDI programmer, and a UPDI programmer with HV support. Plus, if USB host is your interest, there’s a CH554 USB host development board specifically. Every single one of these is open-source, with PCBs designed in EasyEDA, the firmware already written (!) and available on GitHub, and a lovingly crafted documentation page for each.

[Stefan]’s seriously put the CH552 to the test, and given that all of these projects got firmware, having these projects as examples is a serious incentive for more hackers to try these chips out, especially considering that the CH552 and CH554 go for about 50 cents a piece at websites like LCSC, and mostly in friendly packages. We did cover these two chips back in 2018, together with a programming guide, and we’ve seen things like badges built with its help, but having all these devices to follow is a step up in availability – plus, it’s undeniable that all the widgets built are quite useful by themselves!

Hands-On: Whiskey Pirates DC29 Hardware Badge Blings With RISC-V

The Whiskey Pirates have once again dropped an excellent electronic badge for DEF CON 29. This is, of course, unofficial, but certainly makes the list of the hottest custom bling seen so far this year.

I’m not able to make it to the con in person, but the Pirates sent over one of these badges anyway for an early look. It’s gorgeous, and peering into the circuit board it would be easy to think that the chip shortage ain’t got nothin’ on this badge. But this was possible only because of some very creative parts sourcing, and a huge dose of inspired design work.

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How To Program A Really Cheap Microcontroller

There are rumors of a cheap chip that does USB natively, has an Open Source toolchain, and costs a quarter. These aren’t rumors: you can buy the CH552 microcontroller right now. Surprisingly, there aren’t many people picking up this cheap chip for their next project. If there’s no original projects using this chip, no one is going to use this chip. Catch 22, and all that.

Like a generous god, [Aaron Christophel] has got your back with a working example of programming this cheap chip, and doing something useful with it. It blinks LEDs, it writes to an I2C display, and it does everything you would want from a microcontroller that costs a few dimes.

The CH552, and its friends the small CH551 all the way up to the CH559, contain an 8051 core, somewhere around 16 kB of flash, the high-end chips have a USB controller, there’s SPI, PWM, I2C, and it costs pennies. Unlike so many other chips out there, you can find SDKs and toolchains. You can program the chip over USB. Clearly, we’re looking at something really cool if someone writes an Arduino wrapper for it. We’re not there yet, but we’re close.

To program these chips, [Aaron] first had to wire up the microcontroller into a circuit. This was just a bit of perf board, a resistor, a few caps, and a USB A plug. That’s it, that’s all that’s needed. This is a fairly standard 8051 core, so writing the code is relatively easy. Uploading is done with the WCHISPTool software, with options available for your favorite flavor of *nix.

But it gets better. One of the big features of the CH552 is USB. That means no expensive or weird programmers, yes, but it also means the CH552 can emulate a USB HID device. The CH552 can become a USB keyboard. To demo this, [Aaron] programmed a CH552 board (DE, here’s the Google translatrix) loaded up with touch pads and LEDs to become a USB keyboard.

If you don’t feel like soldering up one of these yourself, there are some suppliers of CH554 dev boards, and the files for [Aaron]’s projects are available here. Check out the videos below, because this is the best tutorial yet on programming and using some very interesting chips that just appeared on the market.

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