It’s Super Easy To Build Yourself A USB-C Variable Power Supply These Days

Once upon a time, building yourself a power supply required sourcing all manner of components, from transformers to transistors, knobs, and indicators. These days, everything’s a bit more integrated which helps if you’re trying to whip something up in a hurry. This build from [Ricardo] shows just how straightforward building a power supply can be.

The build is a simple mashup, starting with a ZY12PDN USB Power Delivery board. This board talks to a USB-C supply that is compatible with the Power Delivery standard, and tells it to deliver a certain voltage and current output. This is then used to supply power to a pre-built power supply module that handles current limiting, variable voltage output, and all that fancy stuff. It even comes with a screen built-in! Simply slap the two together in a 3D printed case with a couple of banana plugs, and you’re almost done.

All you need then is a USB-C power supply – [Ricardo] uses a portable power bank which allows him to use the power supply on the go. It’s a great alternative to a traditional heavy bench supply, and more than enough for a lot of hobby uses.

We’ve seen a lot of interest in USB Power Delivery recently, and its likely hackers will continue to enjoy the standard for some time to come. If you’ve got your own USB PD hack, be sure to let us know!

Fewer Millimeters Make A Useful ESP32 Devboard

Sometimes the most useful hacks aren’t the flashiest, they’re the ones that improve an already great tool and make something better. Through hole components are still the fastest and perhaps most satisfying way to prototype a new electronics project so it’s extra frustrating when the happy hacker discovers their new devboard is too wide to fit in a standard breadboard. [Tobias] had the same thought and redesigned the standard ESP32 “NodeMCU” style devboard to be almost exactly the same, but narrower.

Interactive BOMs make assembly a snap

Not to trivialize, but that’s pretty much it. And we love it! The new design retains the great support of the original devboard but adds a few nice tweaks. Obviously there’s the small size change that allows it to fit on a standard 5×5 breadboard leaving sockets available on either side for interfacing. Even in this smaller size [Tobias] managed to retain the boot mode and reset buttons though the overall pinout has changed slightly. And for easier connections ye olde micro USB socket has been swapped for sleek modern USB-C. You have cables for that common standard now, right?

How do you get one? As far as we know [Tobias] isn’t selling these but the design is completely open source and the design, fab, and BOM files are all in the github repository. [Tobias] even went so far as to include the extremely handy interactive BOM to speed up hand assembly. The real trick here is that the board is designed to facilitate the extremely inexpensive turnkey assembly now available from our favorite fab houses, with an example cost of $8/piece for a run of five. The repo includes a properly formatted BOM and fab files to make ordering them a snap. See the bottom of the README for details about what to order.

Hacking A ThinkPad USB-C Adapter

USB-C has brought the world much more powerful charging options in a slimline connector. With laptop chargers and portable battery packs using the standard, many with older hardware are converting their devices over to work with USB-C. [victorc] was trying to do just that, purchasing an adapter cable to charge a ThinkPad. Things didn’t quite work out of the box, so some hacking was required.

The problem was the power rating of the adapter cable, versus the battery pack [victorc] was trying to use. In order to allow the fastest charging rates, the adapter cable features a resistor value which tells the attached Lenovo laptop it can draw up to 90 W. The battery pack in question could only deliver 45 W, so it would quickly shut down when the laptop tried to draw above this limit.

To rectify this, [victorc] looked up the standard, finding the correct resistor value to set the limit lower. Then, hacking open the cable, the original resistor on the Lenovo connector was removed, and replaced with the correct value. With this done, the cable works perfectly, and [victorc] is able to charge their laptop on the go.

For all the benefits USB-C has brought, there’s been plenty of consternation, too. Whether this clears up, only time will tell!

USB-C Is Taking Over… When, Exactly?

USB is one of the most beloved computer interfaces of all time. Developed in the mid-1990s, it undertook a slow but steady march to the top. Offering an interface with good speeds and a compact connector, it became the standard for hooking up interface devices, storage, and even became the de-facto way to talk old-school serial, too.

In late 2014, the USB Implementers Forum finalised the standard for the USB-C plug. Its first major application was on smartphones like the Nexus 5X, and it has come to dominate the smartphone market, at least if you leave aside the iPhone. However, it’s yet to truly send USB-A packing, especially on the desktop. What gives? Continue reading “USB-C Is Taking Over… When, Exactly?”

New Part Day: Arduino Goes Pro With The Portenta H7

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is traditionally where the big names in tech show off their upcoming products, and the 2020 show was no different. There were new smartphones, TVs, and home automation devices from all the usual suspects. Even a few electric vehicles snuck in there. But mixed in among flashy presentations from the electronics giants was a considerably more restrained announcement from a company near and dear to the readers of Hackaday: Arduino is going pro.

While Arduino has been focused on the DIY and educational market since their inception, the newly unveiled Portenta H7 is designed for professional users who want to rapidly develop robust hardware suitable for industrial applications. With built-in wireless hardware and the ability to run Python and JavaScript out of the box, the powerful dual-core board comes with a similarly professional price tag; currently for preorder at $99 USD a pop, the Portenta is priced well outside of the company’s traditional DIY and educational markets. With increased competition from other low-cost microcontrollers, it seems that Arduino is looking to expand out of its comfort zone and find new revenue streams.

Continue reading “New Part Day: Arduino Goes Pro With The Portenta H7”

The Not Quite USB-C Of Nintendo Switch Accessories

Historically gaming consoles are sold at little-to-no profit in order to entice customers with a low up-front price. The real profits roll in afterwards from sales of games and accessories. Seeking a slice of the latter, aftermarket accessory makers jump in with reverse-engineered compatible products at varying levels of “compatible”.

When the Nintendo Switch was released with a standard USB-C port for accessories, we had hoped those days of hit-or-miss reverse engineering were over, but reality fell short. Redditor [VECTORDRIVER] summarized a few parts of this story where Nintendo deviated from spec, and accessory makers still got things wrong.

Officially, Nintendo declared the Switch USB-C compliant. But as we’ve recently covered, USB-C is a big and complicated beast. Determined to find the root of their issues, confused consumers banded together on the internet to gather anecdotal evidence and speculate. One theory is that Nintendo’s official dock deviated from official USB-C dimensions in pursuit of a specific tactile feel; namely reducing tolerance on proper USB-C pin alignment and compensating with an internal mechanism. With Nintendo playing fast and loose with the specs, it makes developing properly functioning aftermarket accessories all the more difficult.

But that’s not the only way a company can slip up with their aftermarket dock. A teardown revealed Nyko didn’t use a dedicated chip to manage USB power delivery, choosing instead to implement it in software running on ATmega8. We can speculate on why (parts cost? time to market?) but more importantly we can read the actual voltage on its output pins which are too high. Every use becomes a risky game of “will this Switch tolerate above-spec voltage today?” We expect that as USB-C becomes more common, it would soon be cheapest and easiest to use a dedicated chip, eliminating the work of an independent implementation and risk of doing it wrong.

These are fairly typical early teething problems for a new complex technology on their road to ubiquity. Early USB keyboard and mice didn’t always work, and certain combination of early PCI-Express cards and motherboards caused damage. Hopefully USB-C problems — and memories of them — will fade in time as well.

[via Ars Technica]

[Main image source: iFixit Nintendo Switch Teardown]

USB-C: One Plug To Connect Them All, And In Confusion Bind Them

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.

Continue reading “USB-C: One Plug To Connect Them All, And In Confusion Bind Them”