Zener Diode Tutorial

We always enjoy [w2aew’s] videos, and his latest on zener diodes is no exception. In it, he asserts that all Zener diodes are not created equal. Why? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out.

Zener diodes are one of those strange items that have several uses but are not as popular as they once were. There was a time when the Zener was a reasonable way to regulate a voltage inexpensively and easily. Unfortunately the regulation characteristics were not very good, and the power lost was very high. But that was sometimes a reasonable trade, compared to putting a pass transistor and the associated discrete circuitry in place to make a linear regulator. With the advent of chips like the 7800-series regulators, you can have a high-quality regulator with one extra wire and still keep your costs under $1. Even if you want to do better and go with a switching power supply, that’s easy now and not much more expensive.

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Gamers Rejoice: Here’s a Fix for ASUS Strix Vega 64 Thermal Issues

Every year, we demand our computers to be ever faster, capable of delivering progressively more eye-watering graphics and doing it all as reliably as ever. Unfortunately, sometimes, new designs miss the mark. [Cloakedbug] was having issues with voltage regulator temperatures on an ASUS Strix VEGA 64 — one of the latest RADEON graphics cards on the market — and decided to investigate.

Right away, issues were apparent; one of the main thermal pads was making poor contact with the FETs it was intended to carry heat for, and was poorly sized to boot. In a show of poor quality, the pad wasn’t nicely sized for the aluminium plate it was attached to, and was applied in a rather haphazard manner. Suspecting this was perhaps one of the root causes of the card running hot, the decision was made to replace the pad with something more suitable.

Specifying a thicker pad that was properly sized to the heatsink plate was the order of the day, and a couple of other smaller heatsink pads were also replaced, all with Thermal Grizzly Minus Pad 8. [Cloakedbug] reports a temperature drop of over 30 degrees C under load on the VR SOC bank, down from 115 C initially. It sounds like this will go a long way to keeping the card happy and healthy over time. Looking around the web, there’s definitely a few reports of thermal issues out there, so this could be a useful fix if you’re having trouble with the same card at home.

In the end, it’s a simple, tidy fix to an expensive piece of hardware that really should have shipped with this sorted from the factory. We’ve seen a fair few thermal fixes over the years here, like this one involving a thermal camera as a diagnosis tool.

[Thanks to Keith O for the tip!]

Ambient Lighting for Baby with the ESP8266

There are plenty of great reasons to have a child. Perhaps you find the idea of being harshly criticized by a tiny person very appealing, or maybe you enjoy somebody screaming nonsense at you while you’re trying to work on something. But for us, we think the best reason for procreation is getting another excuse to build stuff. It’ll be what, at least two years before a baby can solder or program a microcontroller? Somebody’s going to have to do it for them until then.

To try to help his baby daughter get on a better sleep schedule, [Amir Avni] decided to outfit her room with some “smart” lighting to establish when it’s time for her to wake up. Not only can he and his wife control the time the lights come on to “day” mode, but they can also change the colors. For example, they can switch over to a red glow at night. Despite some learning experience setbacks, the both the parents and the baby are very happy with the final product.

An ESP8266 controls a WS2812 LED strip to provide the adjustable lighting, and a DHT22 sensor was added to the mix to detect the temperature and humidity in the baby’s room. [Amir] used Blynk to quickly throw together a slick mobile application that allows for complete control of the brightness and color of light in the room, as well as provides a readout of the environmental data pulled from the DHT22.

But not everything went according to plan. [Amir] thought he could power the LED strip from the ESP8266 development board by soldering to the 5 V side of its AMS1117 voltage regulator. Which worked fine, until he turned on too many LEDs. Then it pulled too much current through a resistor connected to the regulator, and let all the magic smoke out. An important reminder of what can happen when we ask more of a circuit than what it was designed for.

We’ve covered many awesome projects that were born of a parental need, from feature packed baby monitors to devices seemingly designed to program nostalgia in the little one’s subconscious.

Investigating the Tiny Salvaged UPS from a Lightbulb

Recently I had the opportunity to do a teardown of a battery-backed LED bulb, and found some interesting details on how the device operated. Essentially, the bulb contained a low voltage DC uninterruptible power supply that would automatically switch between AC power and internal battery as needed. The implications of this seemed pretty exciting. For around $12 at big box retailers, this little bulb could be a cheap and convenient solution for providing fault tolerant power to microcontrollers and other low-power devices.

The teardown was a runaway success, with quite a bit of discussion of the UPS idea specifically. Some people hated it, others loved it. But as we’ve come to expect from Hackaday readers, the comments from both sides of the aisle contained keen observations and invaluable real-world experience. From the safety of the device to the accuracy of the manufacturer’s claims, it seems like every element of the product was addressed.

I had ended the teardown with a promise that I’d continue experimenting with the tiny salvaged UPS, but even if I hadn’t, with so much feedback it seemed revisiting the subject was all but a necessity. It this little UPS really viable? Is it too dangerous to safely implement in your project? Will the thing just blow up?

So with your comments as a guide, and free of the somewhat restrictive teardown format, I set out to conduct a more thorough investigation of this little circuit that caused so much debate last month. It’s not all good news, but it’s not in the trash either. Not yet, anyway.

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Power Supply Choices

Unless you are building a crystal radio or you’ve finally invented that infinite energy machine, any project you do is going to need some sort of power supply. There was a time when a battery was enough, but these days you probably need some sort of regulation. But there are many kinds to choose. Linear, switching, SEPIC, LDO… how do you pick? [Andreas Spiess] has some practical advice in his recent video, which you can see below.

[Andreas] calls the video “Voltage Regulator Cheat Sheet” and that’s an apt name. He covers the major architectures and even points out why you can’t always trust the vendor’s information on certain types of supplies.

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A Magic Light Bulb For All Your Bright Ideas

[Uri Shaked]’s lamentation over the breaking of his smart bulb was brief as it was inspiring — now he had a perfectly valid excuse to hack it into a magic light bulb.

The first step was disassembling the bulb and converting it to run on a tiny, 130mAh battery. Inside the bulb’s base, the power supply board, Bluetooth and radio circuits, as well as the LED board didn’t leave much room, but he was able to fit in 3.3V and 12V step-up voltage regulators for the LiPo battery.

[Shaked]’s self-imposed bonus round was to also wedge a charging circuit — which he co-opted from a previous project — into the bulb instead of disassembling it every time it needed more juice. Re-soldering the parts together: easy.  Fitting everything inside a minuscule puzzle-box: hard. Kapton tape proved eminently helpful in preventing shorts in the confined space.

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Bench Power Supply Uses Server Voltage Regulator

If you stuff a computer into a rack with a bunch of other machines, you’d better make it a tough machine. Server-grade means something, so using server parts in a project, like this high-wattage power supply using server voltage regulators, can take it to the next level of robustness.

But before [Andy Brown] could build this power supply, he had to reverse-engineer the modules. Based on what he learned, and armed with a data sheet for the modules, he designed a controller to take advantage of all the capabilities of them and ended up with a full-featured power supply. The modules are rated for 66 watts total dissipation at 3.3 volts and have a secondary 5-volt output. Using an ATmega328, [Andy] was able to control the module, provide a display for voltage and current, temperature sensing and fan control, and even a UART to allow data logging to a serial port. His design features mainly through-hole components to make the build accessible to everyone. A suitable case is yet to come, and we’re looking forward to seeing the finished product.

Can’t scrape together some of these modules on eBay? Or perhaps you prefer linear power supplies to switched- mode? No worries – here’s a super stable unregulated supply for you.

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