Soldering The Elusive USB C Port

Many SMD components, including some USB C ports, have their terminals under the component. When installed, the pins are totally hidden. So, how do you solder or unsolder them? That’s the problem [Learn Electronics Repair] encountered when fixing a Lenovo Yoga, and he shows us his solution in the video below.

He showed the removal in a previous video, but removal is a bit easier since you can just heat up the area, yank the connector, and then clean up the resulting mess at your leisure. Installation is harder because once the socket is down, you no longer have access to the pads.

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Designing A USB-C Upgrade PCB For The MX Ergo Mouse

As the world of electronic gadgetry made the switch from micro USB to USB-C as the charging port of choice, many of us kept both of the required cables handy. But it’s fair to say that these days a micro USB port has become a pretty rare sight, and the once ubiquitous cable can be a bit elusive in the event that you encounter an older device that requires it.

[Solderking] has a high-end Logitech cordless mouse with just this problem, and so he replaced its micro USB socket with a USB-C port. That makes the task sound deceptively simple, because in fact he had to reverse engineer one of the device’s PCBs in its entirety, making a new board with the same outline and components, but sporting the new connector.

Instead of attempting to replicate the complex shape with geometry he started with a scan of the board and had Fusion 360 trace its outline before 3D printing a version of it to check fit in the Logitech case. Then it was a case of tracing the circuit, designing the replacement, and hand transferring the parts from board to board.

The result is a USB-C chargeable mouse, and while all the design files don’t appear to be online, it’s possible to download the Gerbers from a PCBWay page. On top of that there’s a YouTube video of the process which we’ve placed below the break.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody spin up a new board to add USB-C to an older device — this drop-in replacement for Sony’s DualShock 4 comes to mind. If you’ve got enough free space inside your particular gadget, you might be able to pull of a USB-C conversion with nothing more exotic than a hacked up Adafruit breakout board.

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A Basic USB-C Primer

Over the last five years or so there has been a quiet take-over of the ports on laptops, phones, and other devices, as a variety of older ports as well as the familiar USB A and micro USB sockets have been replaced by the now-ubiquitous USB-C port. It’s a connector which can do so many things, so many in fact that it bears a handy explanation. The Electromagnetic Field 2022 hacker camp has been quietly uploading videos of its talks, and a recent one has [Tyler Ward] explaining the intricacies of the interface.

Many of you will be familiar with XKCD number 927 which makes a joke about proliferating connector standards, and it’s evident that USB-C is a rare case of a connector which bucks the trend of simply making another standard, and has instead created something with which it makes sense to replace what went before. We learn about the intricacies of inter-device communications and USB-PD, and the multiple high-speed connection  lanes shoehorned into it. That one small connector can plug into a laptop and provide power, USB peripherals including network, and display, is nothing short of amazing. Take a look at the video below the break, and if you’re interested in diving deeper, have a look at our colleague [Arya Voronova]’s USB-C for hackers series.

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Getting Started With USB-C And Common Pitfalls With Charging And Data Transfer

USB-C is one of those things that generally everyone seems to agree on that it is a ‘good thing’, but is it really? In this first part of a series on USB-C, [Andreas Spiess] takes us through the theory of USB-C and USB Power Delivery (PD), as well as data transfer with USB-C cables. Even ignoring the obvious conclusion that with USB-C USB should now actually be called the ‘Universal Parallel Bus’ on account of its two pairs of differential data lines, there’s quite a bit of theory and associated implementation details involved.

The Raspberry Pi 4B's wrong USB-C CC-pin configuration is a good teaching example.
The Raspberry Pi 4B’s wrong USB-C CC-pin configuration is a good teaching example.

Starting with the USB 2.0 ‘legacy mode’ and the very boring and predictable 5 V power delivery in this mode, [Andreas] shows why you may not get any power delivered to a device with USB-C connector. Most likely the Downstream Facing Peripheral (DFP, AKA not the host) lacks the required resistors on the CC (Configuration Channel) pins, which are both what the other USB-C end uses to determine the connector orientation, as well as what type of device is connected.

This is where early Raspberry Pi 4B users for example saw themselves caught by surprise when their boards didn’t power up except with some USB cables.

The saga continues through [Andreas]’s collection of USB-C cables, as he shows that many of them lack the TX/RX pairs, and that’s before trying to figure out which cables have the e-marker chip to allow for higher voltages and currents.

On the whole we’re still excited about what USB-C brings to the table, but the sheer complexity and number of variables make that there are a myriad of ways in which something cannot work as expected. Ergo Caveat Emptor.

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USB-C PD: New Technology Done Right

There is a tendency as we get older, to retreat into an instinctive suspicion of anything new or associated with young people. All of us will know older people who have fallen down this rabbit hole, and certainly anything to do with technological advancement is often high on their list of ills which beset society. There’s a Douglas Adams passage which sums it up nicely:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:
1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Here at Hackaday we’re just like anybody else, in that we all get older. Our lives are devoted to an insatiable appetite for new technology, but are we susceptible to the same trap, and could we see something as against the antural order of things simply because we don’t like it? It’s something that has been on my mind in some way since I wrote a piece back in 2020 railing at the ridiculous overuse of new technologies to limit the lifespan and repairability of new cars and then a manifesto for how the industry might fix it, am I railing against it simply because I can’t fix it with a screwdriver in the way I could my 1960 Triumph Herald? I don’t think so, and to demonstrate why I’d like to talk about another piece of complex new technology that has got everything right.

In 2017 I lamented the lack of a universal low voltage DC power socket that was useful, but reading the piece here in 2024 it’s very obvious that in the years since my quest has been solved. USB Power Delivery was a standard back then, but hadn’t made the jump to the ubiquity the USB-C-based power plug and socket enjoys today. Most laptops still had proprietary barrel jack connectors, and there were still plenty of phones with micro-USB sockets. In the years since it’s become the go-to power standard, and there are a huge number of modules and devices to supply and receive it at pretty high power.

At first sight though, it might seem as though USB-PD is simply putting a piece of unnecessary technology in the way of what should be a simple DC connector. Each and every USB-PD connection requires some kind of chip to manage it, to negotiate the connection, and to transform voltage. Isn’t that the same as the cars, using extra technology merely for the sake of complexity? On the face of it you might think so, but the beauty lies in it being a universally accepted standard. If car manufacturers needed the same functionalty you’d have modules doing similar things in a Toyota, a Ford, or a Renault, but they would all be proprietary and they’d be eye-wateringly expensive to replace. Meanwhile USB-PD modules have to work with each other, so they have become a universal component available for not a huge cost. I have several bags of assorted modules in a box of parts here, and no doubt you do too. The significant complexity of the USB-PD endpoint doesn’t matter any more, because should it break then replacing it is an easy and cheap process.

This is not to say that USB-PD is without its problems though, the plethora of different cable standards is its Achilies’ heel. But if you’re every accused of a knee-jerk reaction to a bad piece of new technology simply because it’s new, point them to it as perhaps the perfect example of the responsible use of new technology.

2023: As The Hardware World Turns

We’ve made it through another trip around the sun, and for the first time in what feels like far too long, it seems like things went pretty well for the hackers and makers of the world. Like so many, our community suffered through a rough couple of years: from the part shortages that made building even the simplest of devices more expensive and difficult than it should have been, to the COVID-mandated social distancing that robbed us of our favorite meetups. But when looking back on the last twelve months, most of the news was refreshingly positive.

Pepperoni costs ten bucks, but they can’t activate Windows on their registers…

Oh sure, a trip to to the grocery store can lead to a minor existential crisis at the register, but there’s not much we at Hackaday can do about that other than recommend you some good hydroponics projects to help get your own home farm up and running.

As has become our New Year tradition, we like to take this time to go over some of the biggest stories and trends that we picked up on from our unique vantage point. Some will be obvious, but there’s always a few that sneak up on us. These posts tend to make for interesting reading in the future, and if you’ve got the time, we’d recommend going back and reading the previous entries in this series and reminiscing a bit.

It’s also a good time to reflect on Hackaday itself — how we’ve grown, the things that have changed, and perhaps what we can do better going forward. Believe it or not we do read all of the feedback from the community, whether it’s in the comments of individual posts or sent into us directly. We couldn’t do this without readers like you, so please drop us a line and let us know what you’re thinking.

So before we get any farther into 2024, let’s wind back the clock and revisit some of the highlights from the previous year.

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The Small And Silly Synth Now Even Smaller (But Just As Silly)

What do you do when you’ve carved out a niche for yourself as a builder of small and useless synthesizers? Why, build an even smaller and less useful synthesizer, of course!

If you’ve been paying even a minimal amount of attention you’ll know right away that this comes to use from [mitxela], who while not playing with volumetric POV displays is often found building smaller and smaller synthesizers, including putting them in DIN plug shells. The current synth is based on his “Silly Synth,” which puts all the guts for the synth inside a USB connector. This time around, though, it’s USB-C, and rather than fitting everything inside the connector shell, the entire synth sits on a PCB that’s smaller than a tiny piezo speaker. The whole thing runs on a CH32V003 microcontroller, and aside from a few support components and the right-angle USB-C plug, not much else.

The PCB is what really shines in [mitxela]’s design, especially the routing. He’s got a 20-pin QFN chip on one side of the board and the USB plug right behind it on the other side to deal with, plus the big through-holes for the speaker and the physical connections on the plug. It’s quite a crowded design, but it gets the job done. What’s more, he panelized the design so that mass production is possible; the reason for this is revealed at the end of the video below.

Pretty much every time we see one of these “smallest synth” videos we’re convinced that we’re seeing the lower limit of what’s possible, but every time, [mitxela] goes ahead and proves us wrong. That’s fine, of course — we don’t mind being wrong about something like this.

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