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.
[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.
USB first hit the scene in the 1990s, and was intended to simplify connecting peripherals to PCs and eliminate the proliferation of various legacy interfaces. Over 20 years later, it’s not only achieved its initial goals, but become a de facto standard for charging and power supply for all manner of personal electronic gadgets. If you asked someone back in 1995 whether or not you could build a USB-powered soldering iron, they’d have politely asked you to leave the USB Implementers Forum. But times change, and Solder Ninja is just that!
With a maximum power draw of 40 W, the Solder Ninja required careful design to ensure practicality. It supports a variety of USB power standards, including USB-BC 1.2, USB Quick Charge, and USB Power Delivery. This enables it to draw the large amounts of current required for the heating element. To make it easy to use with a variety of chargers out in the wild, it displays the current negotiated voltage and maximum current draw. This enables the user to understand the varying performance of the device, depending on the charger it’s plugged into.
Given the multitude of different USB power standards, we imagine [Nicolas] has the patience of a saint to perfect a project like this. We’ve seen similar builds before, too. Video after the break.
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and ever since its formation, the USB Implementers Forum have been working hard on the “Universal” part of the equation. USB Type-C, which is commonly called USB-C, is a connector standard that signals a significant new chapter in their epic quest to unify all wired connectivity in a single specification.
Many of us were introduced to this wonder plug in 2015 when Apple launched the 12-inch Retina MacBook. Apple’s decision to put everything on a single precious type-C port had its critics, but it was an effective showcase for a connector that could handle it all: from charging, to data transfer, to video output. Since then, it has gradually spread to more devices. But as the recent story on the Raspberry Pi 4’s flawed implementation of USB-C showed, the quest for a universal connector is a journey with frequent setbacks.
Is this something you should be worried about? Almost certainly not. The Pi folks have tested their product with a wide variety of chargers but it is inevitable that they would be unable to catch every possible one. If your charger is affected, try another one.
What it does illustrate is the difficulties faced by anybody in bringing a new electronic product to market, no matter how large or small they are as an organisation. It’s near-impossible to test for every possible use case, indeed it’s something that has happened to previous Pi models. You may remember that the Raspberry Pi 2 could be reset by a camera flash or if you have a very long memory, that the earliest boards had an unseemly fight between two 1.8 V lines that led to a hot USB chip, and neither of those minor quirks dented their board’s ability to get the job done.
Mistakes happen. Making the change to USB-C from the relative simplicity of micro-USB is a big step for all concerned, and it would be a surprise were it to pass entirely without incident. We’re sure that in time there will be a revised Pi 4, and we’d be interested to note what they do in this corner of it.
It’s a very brave person who takes a Dremel or similar to the case of their svelte new laptop in the quest for a new connector, it sounds as foolhardy as that hoax from a while back in which people tried to drill a 3.5mm jack into their new iPhones. But that’s what [BogdanTheGeek] has done, in adding a USB-C port to his Acer.
Of course, the port in question isn’t a fully functioning USB-C one, it’s a power supply jack, and it replaces the extremely unreliable barrel jack the machine was shipped with. He’s incorporated one of those little “ZYPDS” USB-C power delivery modules we’ve no-doubt all seen in the usual cheap electronic sources, and in a move of breathtaking audacity he’s cut away part of the Acer mainboard to do so. He’s relying on the laptop’s ability to accept a range of voltages, and presumably trusting his steady hand with a rotary tool. Some Kapton tape and a bit of wire completes the work, and with a carefully reshaped hole in the outer case he’s good to go.
The result is beautifully done, and a casual observer would be hard pressed to know that it hadn’t always been a USB-C port. We’re sure there will come a moment at which someone will plug in a USB-C peripheral and expect it to work, it’s that good.