USB-C Charging On Your ThinkPad, One Step At A Time

Hackers love their ThinkPads. They’re easy to work on, well documented, and offer plenty of potential for upgrades. For the more daring, there’s also a wide array of community-developed modifications available. For example, [Berry Berry Sneaky] has recently put together a step-by-step guide on swapping the common ThinkPad rectangular charging port (also used on ThinkBooks and other Lenovo machines) for USB-C Power Delivery.

Now to be clear, this is not a new concept. But between freely sharing the STL for the 3D printed adapter, providing a full parts list, and providing clear instructions on how to put it all together, [Berry Berry Sneaky] has done a fantastic job of making this particular modification as approachable as possible. For the cost of a common PDC004 Power Delivery “trigger” module and a bit of PETG filament, you can add yet another device to the list of things that work with your shiny new USB-C charger.

While not strictly necessary, [Berry Berry Sneaky] recommends getting yourself a replacement DC input cable for your particular machine before you crack open the case. That will let you assemble everything ahead of time, making the installation a lot quicker. It will also let you keep the original rectangular power jack intact so you can swap it back in if something goes wrong or you decide this whole unified charging thing isn’t quite what you hoped for.

Not a member of the ThinkPad Army? No worries. We’ve seen a lot of interest in using these configurable USB-C trigger modules to upgrade all manner of devices to the new Power Delivery standard or sometimes put together custom battery chargers for their older mobile gadgets.

USB-C Programmable Power Supply For Any Project

USB-C Power Delivery 3.0 (PD3.0) introduces a new Programmable Power Supply (PPS) mode, which allows a device to negotiate any supply of 3.3-21 V in 20 mV steps, and up to 5 A of current in 50 mA steps. To make use of this new standard, [Ryan Ma] create the PD Micro, an Arduino-compatible development board, and a self-contained software library to allow easy integration of PD3.0 and the older PD2.0 into projects.

The dev board is built around an ATMega32U4 microcontroller and FUSB302 USB-C PHY. The four-layer PCB is densely packed on both sides to fit in the Arduino Pro Micro Form factor. The board can deliver up to 100W (20 V at 5 A) from an appropriate power source and shows visual feedback on the PD status through a set of LEDs.

The primary goal of the project is actually in the software. [Ryan] found that existing software libraries for PD take up a lot of memory, and are difficult to integrate into small projects. Working from the PD specifications and PD PHY chip data sheet, he created a lighter weight and self-contained software library which consumes less than 8 K of flash and 1 K of RAM. This is less than half the Flash and RAM available on the ATmega32U4.

[Ryan] is running a Crowd Supply campaign (video after the break) to get some of these powerful boards out in the wild, and has released all the source code and schematics on GitHub. The PCB design files will be released during the last week of the campaign, around 25 January 2021.

USB-C and power delivery are not simple standards, but the ability to add a high-speed data interface and a programmable power supply into almost any project has real potential.

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A Plethora Of Power Delivery Potential

Here at the Hackaday we’ve been enjoying a peculiar side effect of the single-port USB-C world; the increasing availability of programmable DC power supplies in the form of ubiquitous laptop charging bricks. Once the sole domain of barrel jacks or strange rectangular plugs (we’re looking at you Lenovo) it’s become quite common to provide charging via the lingua franca of USB-C Power Delivery. But harnessing those delectable 100W power supplies is all to often the domain of the custom PCBA and firmware hack. What of the power-hungry hacker who wants to integrate Power Delivery in her project? For that we turn to an excellent video by [Brian Lough] describing four common controller ICs and why you might choose one for your next project.

A superb illustration from the TS100 Flex-C-Friend documentation

[Brian] starts off with a sorely-needed explainer of what the heck Power Delivery¬†is; a topic with an unfortunate amount of depth. But the main goal of the video is to dive into¬†the inscrutable hoard of “USB C trigger boards.” Typically these take USB on one side and provide a terminal block on the other, possibly with a button or LED as user interface to select voltage and current. We’ve seen these before as laptop barrel jack replacements and TS100 power supplies but it’s hard to tell which of the seemingly-identical selection is most suitable for a project.

The main body of the video is [Brian’s] detailed walkthrough of four types of trigger boards, based on the IP2721, FUSB302, STUSB4500, and Cypress EZ-PD BCR. For each he describes the behaviors of it’s particular IC and how to configure it. His focus is on building a board to power a TS100 (which parallels his TS100 Flex-C-Friend) but the content is generally applicable. Of course we also appreciate his overview of the products on Tindie for each described module.

For another angle on Power Delivery, check out this series of posts by [jason cerudolo], a perennial favorite. And don’t miss his classic project, the USB Easy Bake Oven.

Have JBC Soldering Handle, Will USB-C Power Deliver

Frequent converter-of-tools-to-USB-C [Jan Henrik] is at it again, this time with a board to facilitate using USB Power Delivery to fuel JBC soldering iron handles. Last time we saw [Jan] work his USB-C magic was with the Otter-Iron, which brought Power Delivery to the trusty TS100 with a purpose built replacement PCBA. This time he’s taking a different approach by replacing the “station” of a conventional soldering station completely with one tiny board and one giant capacitor.

If you’ve been exposed to the “AC fire starter” grade of soldering iron the name JBC might be unfamiliar. They make tools most commonly found with Metcal’s and high end HAKKOs and Wellers on the benches of rework technicians and factory floors. Like any tool in this class each soldering station comes apart and each constituent piece (tips, handles, base stations, stands, etc) are available separately from the manufacturer and on the used market at often reasonable prices, which is where [Jan Henrik] comes in.

The Otter-Iron PRO is a diminutive PCBA which accepts a USB-C cable on one side and the connector from a standard JBC T245-A handle on the other. JBC uses a fairly typical thermistor embedded in the very end of the iron tip, which the Otter-Iron PRO senses to provide closed loop temperature control. [Jan Henrik] says it can reach its temperature setpoint from a cold start in 5 seconds, which roughly matches the performance of an original JBC base station! We’re especially excited because this doesn’t require any modification to the handle or station itself, making it a great option for JBC users with a need for mobility.

Want to make an Otter-Iron PRO of your own? Sources are at the link at the top. It sounds like v3 of the design is coming soon, which will include its own elegant PCB case. Check out the CAD render after the break. Still wondering how all this USB-PD stuff works? Check out [Jason Cerudolo’s] excellent walkthrough we wrote up last year.

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Charging LiPos With USB Power Delivery

DC power bricks were never a particularly nice way to run home electronics. Heavy and unwieldy, they had a tendency to fall out and block adjacent outlets from use. In recent years, more and more gadgets are shipping with USB ports for power input. However, power over USB has always been fraught with different companies using all manner of different methods to communicate safe current limits between chargers and hardware.

These days, we’re lucky enough to have the official USB Power Delivery standard in place. Even laptop chargers are using USB now, and [FPVtv DRONES] decided to see if it was possible to use such a device as a high current power supply to charge batteries.

The test starts with a MI brand USB C laptop charger. A USB power meter is plugged inline to determine voltage and current output of the charger, while a small microcontroller device is used to speak with the laptop charger and set it to high voltage, high current delivery mode. A lithium battery charger is then plugged in, and the setup is tested by charging two large 4-cell LiPos at over 1.4 amps concurrently.

The setup demonstrates that, with the right off-the-shelf modules, it’s possible to use your laptop charger to run high-current devices, as long as you can spoof it into switching into the right mode. This is the natural evolution of USB power technology – a road which started long ago with projects like the MintyBoost, way back when. Video after the break.

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