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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Upgrading A Cheap LX-2BUPS UPS Board To Fix Fatal Flaws

Cheap uninterruptable power supply (UPS) boards that take Li-ion cells of some description seem to have cropped up everywhere the past years. Finding use in applications such as keeping single-board computers ticking along in the case of a power failure, they would seem to be a panacea. Unfortunately most of these boards come with a series of fatal flaws, such as those that [MisterHW] found in an LX-2BUPS board obtained from AliExpress. Worst of all was the deep discharge of the Li-ion cells to below 2 V, which took some ingenuity and hard work to fix this and other problems.

The patched up XR2981 boost IC with MCP809 reset IC installed. (Credit: [MisterHW])
The patched up XR2981 boost IC with MCP809 reset IC installed. (Credit: [MisterHW])
This particular board is rated for 5V at 3A, featuring the all too common TP4056 as charging IC and the XYSemi XR2981 boost converter. Since there is no off-switch or other protections on the board, the XR2981 will happily keep operating until around 2.6V, at a rather astoundingly high idle power consumption. Because of this the fixes mostly concentrated on optimizing the XR2981, by using better resistor values (R7, R8, R9), as well as adding a 3.15V MCP809 reset IC, to reduce idle power usage of the boost converter and disable it below a safe cell voltage.

The final coup de grâce was the eviction of the red LED (D6) and replacing it with the blue LED from D2, to stop the former from draining the cell as well. With these changes in place, no-load power usage dropped from nearly 900 µA to just over 200 µA, while preventing deep discharge. Although this board now has a second life, it does raise the question of what the point of these cheap UPS boards is if you have to spend money and time on reworking them before they’re somewhat acceptable. What is your go-to solution for these boards?

Open Source DC UPS Keeps The Low-Voltage Gear Going

We all like to keep our network gear running during a power outage — trouble is, your standard consumer-grade uninterruptible power supply (UPS) tends to be overkill for routers and such. Their outlet strips built quickly get crowded with wall-warts, and why bother converting from DC to AC only to convert back again?

This common conundrum is the inspiration for [Walker]’s DC UPS design, which has some interesting features. First off, the design is open source, which of course invites tinkering and repurposing. The UPS is built for a 12 volt supply and load, but that obviously can be changed to suit your needs. The battery bank is a 4S3P design using 18650 cells, and that could be customized as well. There’s an ideal diode controller that prevents DC from back-feeding into the supply when the lights go out, and a really interesting synchronous buck-boost converter in place of the power management chip you’d normally see in a UPS. The converter chip takes a PWM signal from an RP2040; there’s also an ESP32 onboard for web server and UI duties as well as an STM32 to run the BMS. The video below discusses the design and shows a little of the build.

We’ve seen a spate of DC UPS designs lately, some more elaborate than others. This one has quite a few interesting chips that most of us don’t normally deal with, and it’s nice to see how they’re used in a practical design.

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Mods Turn Junk UPS Into A Long-Endurance Beast

If you’ve got a so-called uninterruptible power supply (UPS) on your system, you’re probably painfully aware that the “uninterruptible” part has some pretty serious limits. Most consumer units are designed to provide power during a black out only long enough to gracefully shut down your system. But with a few hacks like these, you can stretch that time out and turn it into a long-endurance UPS.

As many good stories do, this one starts in the trash, where [MetaphysicalEngineer] spotted an APC home office-style UPS. It was clearly labeled “broken,” but that just turned out to be a dead battery. While he could have simply replaced it with a 12-volt sealed lead-acid battery, [Meta] knew that his computer setup would quickly deplete the standard battery. A little testing showed him that a car battery would extend the run time significantly, especially if he threw in some extra cooling for the onboard inverter.

His final design uses a marine deep-cycle battery in a plastic battery box with the UPS mounted on top. The vacated battery compartment made a great place to add a cooling fan, along with a clever circuit to turn it on only when the beeper on the UPS sounds, with a bonus volume control for the annoying sound. He also added accessories to the battery box top, including a voltmeter, a USB charger, and a switched 12-volt power outlet. And kudos for the liberal use of fuses in the build; things could get spicy otherwise. The video below shows the entire build along with all the testing. [MetaphysicalEngineer] managed to triple the estimated runtime for the load he’s trying to power, so it seems like a win to us.

If your needs run more toward keeping your networking gear running through a blackout, you might want to check out this inverter-less DC UPS.

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Stay Online When The Power Goes Out With This Fiber Modem UPS Hack

It’s desirable to have your Internet connection up at all times, particularly as it can take some time to get back online if you have a power interruption or similar. [Brink] had some issues with the power supply in their apartment, so they set about whipping up a backup power solution to keep their Verizon ONT fiber modem up and running in such events.

The I-211M-L modem is actually equipped to run on backup battery power, but by default, it will only keep phone service online. Data and television services are normally switched off when the mains supply goes out. Thankfully, a minor mod to the unit’s power cable shared by [mousehunt] enables it to keep data services online when running on backup power. Grounding a bunch of pins with a strip of foil is enough to do the job.

From there, it’s a simple matter of hooking up a stout 12 V battery to the modem via its backup power connector. [Brink] specified a nifty 12 V rechargeable lithium ion pack for the job, which is sold as a portable power unit for running LED strips. Some neat cabling to keep the battery charged later, and you’ve got a working UPS setup to keep the comms online.

Combined with a UPS to run the rest of your computers and networking equipment, this is a great solution to stay online during local power outages. We’ve featured some other great UPS hacks over the years, too, like these supercap UPSs for special cases. If you’ve got your own nifty power hacks, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

A small circuit board glowing purple inset with computer code

Power Cycling Museum Computers On The Cheap

Flicking a circuit breaker to power cycle hundreds of desktop computers inside interactive museum exhibits is hardly ideal. Computers tend to get cranky when improperly shutdown, and there’s an non-zero risk of data loss. However, financial concerns ruled out commercial computer management solutions, and manually shutting down each exhibit at the end of the day is not practical. Tasked with finding a solution, [Jeff Glass] mixed off-the-shelf UPS (uninterruptible power supply) hardware, a Featherwing and some Python to give the museum’s computer-run exhibits a fighting chance.

Without drastically changing the one-touch end-of-day procedure, the only way to properly shutdown the hundreds of computers embedded in the museum exhibits involved using several UPS units, keeping the PCs briefly powered on after the mains power was cut. This in itself solves nothing – while the UPS can trigger a safe shutdown via USB, this signal could only be received by a single PC. These are off-the-shelf consumer grade units, and were never intended to safely shut down more than one computer at a time. However, each 300 watt UPS unit is very capable of powering multiple computers, the only limitation is the shutdown signal and the single USB connection.

To get around this, the Windows task scheduling service was setup to be triggered by the UPS shutdown signal, which itself then triggered a custom Python script. This script then relays the shutdown signal from the UPS to every other computer in the museum, before shutting itself down for the evening.

While many computers can be enabled to boot on power loss, the UPS and safe shutdown scripts meant that this wasn’t an option. To get around this, an ESP32 Featherwing and a little bit if CircuitPython code sends out WOL (wake-on-LAN) signals over Ethernet automatically on power up. This unit is powered by a non-UPS backed power outlet, meaning that it only sends the WOL signal in the morning when mains power is restored via the circuit breaker.

There are undoubtedly a variety of alternative solutions that appear ‘better’ on paper, but these may gloss over the potential costs and disruption to a multi-acre museum. Working within the constraints of reality means that the less obvious fix often ends up being the right one. How would you have tackled this problem? Sound off in the comments below. And while you’re here, make sure to check out our coverage of other UPS solutions, like this supercap UPS.

The powerbank PCB, with all the components on one side, 18650 holder on the other, a MicroUSB cable plugged into the PCB's MicroUSB socket

Open Hardware 5V UPS Improves On Cheap Powerbank Design

Often, we need to power a 5V-craving project of ours on the go. So did [Burgduino], and, unhappy with solutions available, designed their own 5V UPS! It takes a cheap powerbank design and augments it with a few parts vital for its UPS purposes.

You might be tempted to reach for a powerbank when facing such a problem, but most of them have a fatal flaw, and you can’t easily tell a flawed one apart from a functioning one before you buy it. This flaw is lack of load sharing – ability to continue powering the output when a charger is inserted. Most store-bought powerbanks just shut the output off, which precludes a project running 24/7 without powering it down, and can cause adverse consequences when something like a Raspberry Pi is involved.

Understandably, [Burgduino] wasn’t okay with that. Their UPS is based on the TP5400, a combined LiIon charging and boost chip, used a lot in simple powerbanks, but not capable of load sharing. For that, an extra LM66100 chip – an “ideal diode” controller is used. You might scoff at it being a Texas Instruments part, but it does seem to be widely available and only a tad more expensive than the TP5400 itself! The design is open hardware, with PCB files available on EasyEDA and the BOM clearly laid out for easy LCSC ordering.

We the hackers might struggle to keep our portable Pi projects powered, employing supercapacitors and modifying badly designed Chinese boards. However, once we find a proper toolkit for our purposes, battery-powered projects tend to open new frontiers – you might even go beyond your Pi and upgrade your router with an UPS addon! Of course, it’s not always smooth sailing, and sometimes seemingly portability-friendly devices can surprise you with their design quirks.