Integrated circuits, chipsets, memory modules, and all kinds of other transistor-based technology continues to get smaller, cheaper, and more energy efficient as time moves on. Not only are the components themselves smaller, but their supporting infrastructure is as well. Computers like the Raspberry Pi are about the size of a credit card and have computing power on the order of full-sized PCs from a few decades ago. The Arduino is no exception to this trend, either, and this new dev board called the Epi 32U4 might be the smallest ATmega platform we’ve seen so far.
As the name suggests, the board is based around the ATmega32U4 which is somewhat unique among Atmel chips in that it includes support for USB within the chip itself rather than relying on external translating circuitry. This makes it an excellent choice for any project which involves sending keyboard, mouse, or other peripheral information to a computer. This goes a few steps further with eliminating “bloat” compared to other boards, too — there’s no on-board voltage regulator, and just a single LEDs on pin 13.
One of the other features this board boasts over other small form factor boards is on-board USB-C, which is definitely a perk as more and more devices switch away from the various forms of older USB-type plugs. The project’s specifications are also available on this GitHub page for anyone that wants to produce their own. And, if you don’t have a 32U4 on hand and still want to build a keyboard project, it’s possible to get some other Arduinos to support these features but it’ll take a little more work.
Thanks to [Rasmus L] for the tip!
Last time, we configured the FUSB302 to receive USB PD messages, and successfully received a “capability advertisement” message from a USB-C PSU. Now we crack the PD specification open, parse the message, and then craft a reply that makes the PSU give us the highest voltage available.
How did the buffer contents look, again?
The zeroes at the end might look non-significant, and they indeed are not with 99.99% certainty – that said, don’t just discard the entire tail end; one of the bytes in the beginning encodes the length of the message. We’ll read those bytes first, and then read only exactly as much as we need, making sure we aren’t reading two messages and interpreting it as one, and that we’re not discarding zeroes that are part of the message.
Today, we will write code that parses messages right after reading them from the FIFO buffer – however, keep this message handy for reference, still; and if you don’t have the hardware, you can use it to try your hand at decoding nevertheless. If you wanna jump in, you can find today’s full code here!
Continue reading “All About USB-C: Replying Low-Level PD” →
Home consoles were never intended to be made portable, though enterprising hackers have always pushed the boundaries with various tricks and innovative builds. [Robotanv] hasn’t built a fully handheld Xbox Series S, but he has demonstrated one neat trick: making one run on a USB powerbank.
The project starts with an Anker USB-C powerbank, chosen for its ability to deliver a mighty 140 watts. It’s hooked up to a ZY12PDN USB-C trigger board, which enables the powerbank and tells it which voltage to output. It’s set up to run at 20 volts, which is too much for the Xbox, which prefers 12 volts. The reason for this is that the only way to get the full power out of the powerbank is to run at its maximum voltage. A buck converter is used to step down the voltage to 12 volts.
As for the console itself, a lot of disassembly is required, but minimal modifications. Just two wires connect the power supply to the Xbox’s motherboard. Subbing in your own 12 volt supply here is enough to run the console without any problems.
Running the Xbox off the powerbank, along with an external screen, [Robotanv] is able to play Cyberpunk 2077 for an about hour before the juice runs out. While we’d love to see the whole setup duct-taped together into a ersatz Xbox portable, it would probably be a little messy. [Robotanv] has big plans for the future of the project, though, and we can’t wait to see what those are. Continue reading “Running The Xbox Series S On A USB Powerbank” →
In this USB-C series, we’ve covered quite a bit of USB-C – things that are well known, things that should be better known, and a couple things that just appeared online for the first time. We’ve covered almost everything in some depth except USB Power Delivery. I’ve described the process a bit in the “Power” article, but that was mostly about how to use PD by simply buying the right solution. However, that’s not enough for a hacker. Let’s see if we can make our own PD trigger board. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Talking Low-Level PD” →
People experience a variety of problems with USB-C. I’ve asked people online about their negative experiences with USB-C, and got a wide variety of responses, both on Twitter and on Mastodon. In addition to that, communities like r/UsbCHardware keep a lore of things that make some people’s experience with USB-C subpar.
In engineering and hacking, there’s unspoken things we used to quietly consider as unviable. Having bidirectional power and high-speed data on a single port with thousands of peripherals, using nothing but a single data pin – if you’ve ever looked at a schematic for a proprietary docking connector attempting such a feat, you know that you’d find horrors beyond comprehension. For instance, MicroUSB’s ID pin quickly grew into a trove of incompatible resistor values for anything beyond “power or be powered”. Laptop makers had to routinely resort to resistor and one-wire schemes to make sure their chargers aren’t overloaded by a laptop assuming more juice than the charger can give, which introduced a ton of failure modes on its own.
When USB-C was being designed, the group looked through chargers, OTG adapters, display outputs, docking stations, docking stations with charging functions, and display outputs, and united them into a specification that can account for basically everything – over a single cable. What could go wrong?
Of course, device manufacturers found a number of ways to take everything that USB-C provides, and wipe the floor with it. Some of the USB-C sins are noticeable trends. Most of them, I’ve found, are manufacturers’ faults, whether by inattention or by malice; things like cable labelling are squarely in the USB-C standard domain, and there’s plenty of random wear and tear failures.
I don’t know if the USB-C standard could’ve been simpler. I can tell for sure that plenty of mistakes are due to device and cable manufacturers not paying attention. Let’s go through the notorious sins of USB-C, and see what we can learn. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Manufacturer Sins” →
As many people have pointed out, what matters with USB-C isn’t just the standard, it’s the implementations. After all, it’s the implementations that we actually have to deal with, and it’s where most of the problems with USB-C arise. There is some fault to the standard, like lack of cable markings from the get-go, but at this point, I’m convinced that the USB-C standard is a lot better than some people think.
I’d like to walk you through a few USB-C implementations in real, open-source, adjacent, and just interesting products. They’re all imperfect in some way – it can’t be otherwise, as they have to deal with the messy real world, where perfection is a rarity.
Today, let’s check out the Pinecil. A soldering iron by Pine64, released a few years ago, keeping the price low and quality high. It sports both a barrel jack and a USB-C port for its power input – a welcome departure from the Miniware iron strategy, where neither the barrel-jack-only TS100 nor the low-power proprietary-tip TS80 irons quite did it. And, given its design around TS100 T12-style tips, it’s no wonder Pinecil took a well-deserved spot in hobbyist world.
Can’t Just Pull The Trigger
Now, you might be thinking that Pinecil ought to be a simple device. The usual way to get high power out of a USB-C port is a Power Delivery (PD) trigger IC, and you could merely use that. However, if you’ve read the USB-C power article, you might remember the 45 W vs 60 W charger scenario, where such an arrangement would fail immediately. Overall, the configurability of trigger ICs is quite low, and when encountering a PD compatibility problem with some PSU, you can’t do anything about it except replace the IC with a slightly-different-logic IC- if a replacement even exists, and it usually does not. This is costly and limiting for a real-world use product. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Pinecil Soldering Iron” →
Talking about high-quality USB-C implementations, there’s a product that has multiple selling points designed around USB-C, and is arguably a shining example of how to do USB-C right. It’s the Framework laptop, where the USB-C expansion cards take the center stage.
Full disclosure – this article is being typed on a Framework laptop, and I got it free from Framework. I didn’t get it for Hackaday coverage – I develop Framework-aimed hardware as hobby, specifically, boards that hack upon aspects of this laptop in fun ways. As part of their community developer support effort, they’ve provided me with a laptop that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get for such a hobby. By now, I’m part of the Framework community, I have my own set of things I like about this laptop, and a set of things I dislike.
This is not an article about how I’m satisfied or dissatisfied with the Framework laptop – there’s plenty of those around, and it would not be fair for me to write one – I haven’t paid for it in anything except having lots of fun designing boards and hanging out with other people designing cool things, which is something I do willingly. I’m an all-things-laptops enthusiast, and the reason I’d like to talk about Framework is that there is no better example of USB-C, and everything you can do with it, in the wild. Continue reading “All About USB-C: Framework Laptop” →