A picture of the bottom of the Pi 4 PCB, showing the three points you need to use to tap into the Pi 4 I2C bus going to the PMIC

Dead Raspberry Pi Boards, PMICs, And New Hope

Since the Raspberry Pi 3B+ release, the Pi boards we all know and love gained one more weakpoint – the PMIC chip, responsible for generating all the power rails a Pi needs. Specifically, the new PMIC was way more vulnerable to shorting 5V and 3.3V power rails together – something that’s trivial to do on a Raspberry Pi, and would leave you with a bricked board. Just replacing the PMIC chip, the MxL7704, wouldn’t help since the Raspberry Pi version of this chip is customized – but now, on Raspberry Pi forums, [Nefarious19] has reportedly managed to replace it and revive their Pi.

First off, you get a replacement PMIC and reflow it – and that’s where, to our knowledge, people have stopped so far. The next step proposed by [Nefarious19] is writing proper values into the I2C registers of the PMIC. For that, you’d want a currently-alive Pi – useful as both I2C controller for writing the values in, and as a source of known-good values. That said, if you go with the values that have been posted online, just having something like a Pi Pico for the I2C part ought to be enough.

[Nefarious19] reports a revived Pi, and this is way more hopeful than the “PMIC failures are unfixable” conclusion we’ve reached before. The instructions are not quite clear – someone else in the thread reports an unsuccessful attempt doing the same, and it might be that there’s a crucial step missing in making the values persist. However, such an advancement is notable, and we trust our readers to take the lead.

A week ago, [Mangy_Dog] on Hackaday Discord brought up fixing Raspberry Pi boards – given that the Raspberry Pi shortages are still an issue, digging up your broken Pi and repairing it starts making sense budget-wise. It’s no longer the ages where you could buy broken Pi boards by the hundred, and we imagine our readers have been getting creative. What are your experiences with fixing Raspberry Pi boards?

Shorting Pins On A Raspberry Pi Is A Bad Idea; PMIC Failures Under Investigation

You may have noticed, we’re fans of the Raspberry Pi here at Hackaday. Hardly a day goes by that we don’t feature a hack that uses a Pi somewhere in the build. As useful as the Pis are, they aren’t entirely without fault. We’ve talked about the problems with the PoE hat, and multiple articles about keeping SD cards alive. But a new failure mode has popped that is sometimes, but not always, caused by shorting the two power rails on the board.

The Pi 3 B+ has a new PMIC (Power Management Integrated Circuit) made by MaxLinear. This chip, the MxL7704, is a big part of how the Raspberry Pi foundation managed to make the upgrades to the Pi 3 without raising the price over $35.

A quick look at the Raspberry Pi forum shows that some users have been experiencing a specific problem with their new Raspberry Pi 3 B+ units, where the power LED will illuminate but the unit will not boot. The giveaway is zero voltage on the 3v3 pin. It’s a common enough problem that it’s even mentioned in the official boot problems thread.

Make sure the probe you are measuring with does not slip, and simultaneously touches any of the other GPIO pins, as that might instantly destroy your PI, especially shorting the 3V3 pin to the 5V pin will prove to be fatal.

Continue reading “Shorting Pins On A Raspberry Pi Is A Bad Idea; PMIC Failures Under Investigation”

Making Custom Silicon For The Latest Raspberry Pi

The latest Raspberry Pi, the Pi 3 Model B+, is the most recent iteration of hardware from the Raspberry Pi Foundation. No, it doesn’t have eMMC, it doesn’t have support for cellular connectivity, it doesn’t have USB 3.0, it doesn’t have SATA, it doesn’t have PCIe, and it doesn’t have any of the other unrealistic expectations¬†for a thirty-five dollar computer. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot of engineering that went into this new version of the Pi; on the contrary — the latest Pi is filled with custom silicon, new technologies, and it even has a neat embossed RF shield.

On the Raspberry Pi blog, [James Adams] went over the work that went into what is probably the most significant part of the new Raspberry Pi. It has new, custom silicon in the power supply. This is a chip that was designed¬†for the Raspberry Pi, and it’s a great lesson on what you can do when you know you’ll be making millions of a thing.

The first few generations of the Raspberry Pi, from the original Model B to the Zero, used on-chip power supplies. This is what you would expect when the RAM is soldered directly to the CPU. With the introduction of the Raspberry Pi 2, the RAM was decoupled from the CPU, and that meant providing more power for more cores, and the rails required for LPDDR2 memory. The Pi 2 required voltages of 5V, 3.3V, 1.8V, and 1.2V, and the sequencing to bring them all up in order. This is the job for a power management IC (PMIC), but surprisingly all the PMICs available were more expensive than the Pi 2’s discrete solution.

The MXL7704, with four switching power supplies. The four symmetric gray and brown bits are inductors.

However, where there are semiconductor companies, there’s a possibility of having a custom chip made. [James] talked to [Peter Coyle] of Exar in 2015 (Exar was then bought by MaxLinear last year) about building a custom chip to supply all the voltages found in the Raspberry Pi. The result was the MXL7704, delivered just in time for the production of the Raspberry Pi 3B+.

The new chip takes the 5V in from the USB port and converts that to two 3.3V rails, 1.8V and 1.2V for the LPDDR2 memory, 1.2V nominal for the CPU, which can be raised and lowered via I2C. This is an impressive bit of engineering, and as any hardware designer knows, getting the power right is the first step to a successful product.

With the new MXL7704 chip found in the Raspberry Pi 3B+, the Pi ecosystem now has a simple and cheap chip for all their future revisions. It might not be SATA or PCIe or eMMC or a kitchen sink, but this is the kind of engineering that gives you a successful product rather than a single board computer that will be quickly forgotten.