Power Supply Choices

Unless you are building a crystal radio or you’ve finally invented that infinite energy machine, any project you do is going to need some sort of power supply. There was a time when a battery was enough, but these days you probably need some sort of regulation. But there are many kinds to choose. Linear, switching, SEPIC, LDO… how do you pick? [Andreas Spiess] has some practical advice in his recent video, which you can see below.

[Andreas] calls the video “Voltage Regulator Cheat Sheet” and that’s an apt name. He covers the major architectures and even points out why you can’t always trust the vendor’s information on certain types of supplies.

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Cooling fan speed controllers do it by generating heat


We’ve never torn one apart ourselves, but it boggles the mind just a little bit to learn that these cooling fan controllers generate heat to do their job. We’d bet we’ll get shouted down in the comments, but doesn’t this seem counter-productive?

At any rate, we enjoyed reading two posts on this topic. [Göran’s] first adventure with the hardware started when he was trying to design his own speed controller. He saw a reference design in the LM7805 linear regulator datasheet which allows the adjustment of the output by changing the ground reference. When fed with 12V this ends up putting off some heat but it is a simple and reliable solution. He was a bit surprised to crack open a Zalman module and find the exact same circuit inside.

The controller in the background is an eBay purchase. He cracked that one open as well (that’s the link at the top) and found a circuit with a linear regulator in it, but this time it was a TL431 adjustable regulator. So here are our questions: Which one of these two is better and why. And can you do it relatively inexpensively without generating as much heat?

Dummy batteries let you use an AC adapter

We find it frustrating when battery operated consumer electronics don’t include a way to connect an external power supply. We try not to purchase disposable alkaline cells if we can avoid it, and this dummy battery AC adapter hack will aid in our mission.

The battery compartment shown above is for a motorized baby swing. It accepts C sized batteries (who has those just lying around?) and lacks a barrel jack to connect a wall wart adapter. [Jason Smith] mentions you can get around this by connecting your positive and ground wires directly to the conductor springs. But using a dummy battery makes it a bit easier to remove the adapter if you do want to use battery power.

Each of the orange dummy is a wooden dowel with a screw at each end. The screws are connected with a piece of jumper wire, shorting the two terminals. This completes the circuit in the battery compartment and allows him to power everything from the adapter cell at the bottom. The adapter uses an LM317 adjustable voltage linear regulator. He used fixed resistor values to dial in his target voltage. The equipment should be rather forgiving as battery voltage starts higher than the printed value and drops as the cells are used up.

This technique has been around for a long time. One of our favorites was a hack that converted an Apple Magic Trackpad to USB power.

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Bench supply built in a power strip

Back in his college days [Print_Screen] grew tired of always building a power supply on his breadboard. To make prototyping quicker he came up with the bench supply that is build into a power strip. This one is using linear regulators for power, and create much less noise on the lines than a supply made from a switch-mode PSU.

First thing’s first, he needed to step down from mains voltage and rectify the AC into DC. He gutted the smallest adapter he could find and managed to fit it into the gutted power strip. It puts out 15V which will work perfectly for the regulators he’s chosen. Each one gets its own slot where an outlet is on the case. The ground hole has been plugged by a toggle switch which routes power to the free-formed regulator/capacitors/heat sink modules. There is a slot for 15V (coming directly off of the converter), 10V, 5V, 3.3V, and two variable regulators which are controlled by the knobs above the outlet. We’ve never seen anything like this and find it most excellent!

[Thanks OverFlow636 via Reddit]

Cellphone charger has a USB port forced upon it

We still can’t figure out why a standard charging scheme hasn’t been developed for handheld devices (other than greed). Certainly we understand that many devices have different electrical needs as far as voltage and current are concerned, but we still long for the ability to use one charger for many different doodads. [Rupin] is trying to narrow down the number of dedicated chargers he uses by adding a USB charging port to his Nokia cellphone charger. Since the USB standard calls for regulated 5V a hack like this can often be done just by patching into the power output coming off of the voltage regulator in the plug housing of the device. [Rupin’s] charger had 5V printed on the case, but when he probed the output he found well over 8 volts. He added a 7805 linear regulator to get the stable output he needed, then cut a hole in the case to house the connector.

Since [Rupin] wants to use this as an iPod charger he couldn’t just let the two data lines float. Apple uses a specific charger verification scheme which requires some voltage dividers to get the device to start charging.