(Day 3 and 4 of 4) Mini-Ramble: Dallas! TI! Batteries!

Oh wow, already a week since the event finished; I need to get posts written up more often!

Anyway, the last 2 days of the event were pretty much information seminars with three separate ‘tracks’ with one of them being all about fuel gauges (you can guess which one I went to 🙂 ). They discussed the reasons that fuel gauging is so important (and why “just measure the voltage” usually isn’t good enough), and also explained why your battery life just plummets after a few hundred cycles or 20% wear.

One of the main fuel gauge guys at TI gave me an evaluation board for their latest-and-greatest fuel gauge, the bq40z50. This gauge is able to handle 1-4 cells in series, which means that you can now pack a laptop battery’s smarts into a battery meant for a smartphone or tablet.

I’d post more but these few posts were “Mini-Rambles” after all. I may post a few pictures later on.

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(Day 2 of 4) Mini-Ramble: Dallas! TI! Batteries!

Today was the first day of the actual Texas Instruments Battery Management Systems event. To my surprise, a couple hundred of people showed up from TI employees, a lot of customers (representatives from various companies like Bose, Google, and many others), and me as well. 🙂

The first day was a basic but still detailed introduction to the inner workings of Li-Ion technology as well as its limitations, failure modes (the gas coming from a Li-Po [lithium-ion polymer] cell contains carbon monoxide, hydrogen and a bunch of other gases), with this leading towards battery fuel gauges and why just measuring the voltage is not enough to accurately determine how full a battery is.

The day ended with a lab showcasing TI’s new Gauge Development Kit (GDK), which, in layman’s terms, is a “battery lab on a board”. It includes PC communication hardware, an adjustable charger, adjustable load and an on-board fuel gauge (but it’s set to use an external fuel gauge by default). I even got a chance to talk the TI battery management team, and even had a dinner with a few key TI guys including the one who made THE design for the GDK.

(Day 1 of 4) Mini-Ramble: Dallas! TI! Batteries!

Woohoo, travel time! Today marks the first day in Dallas attending Texas Instruments’ Battery Management Systems deep-dive seminar. Okay, technically it doesn’t start until tomorrow, but that doesn’t mean today was any less exciting.

The flight from Calgary to Dallas wasn’t too eventful, besides a controller fault that required going back to the terminal to resolve, but trying to grab a SIM card to put in my phone was a whole other ordeal. Fry’s carries the card but doesn’t carry the refill PINs, and my Canadian credit card would not work both online and on the phone; it was only when I went to Best Buy to purchase a refill card with cash that I was finally able to get cellular phone and data access.

I was also given a tour of the main TI facility, and boy it is HUGE! As much as I would have loved to share images, I signed an agreement explicitly stating I cannot do so. However, I was able to see a bunch of the lab rooms, offices and demo stands showcasing various TI technologies at work, such as the ARM processors in the Nest thermostat, the DLP chips in pocket projectors, and so on. I even got to see many of the people in the TI Battery Management team in person, but because of the seminar running from Tuesday to Thursday, they were visibly too busy with work to have a chat.

Tomorrow marks the first instalment of the Battery Management Deep-Dive Training sessions. There is preliminary word that I may have an opportunity to speak in public for a couple minutes about the TI forums and why I’m here.

A Little Pick-Me-Up: Samsung 840 EVO SSD slowdowns, and how to fix it (for now…)

There’s been word going around that Samsung’s 840 EVO solid-state drives have an issue where they become really, really slow to read if the data on it has been sitting around for a few months, and I can confirm this is the case as well.

The first half of the drive (which holds a fair amount of static data) was being read at around 30 MB/s, with newer data being read at almost 500 MB/s. That’s a pretty big difference. One thing to note (I didn’t take a screenshot for this) is that although the overall read speed was significantly affected, the read latency was only somewhat slower; only about 10-20 microseconds of extra latency.

To temporarily fix this (at least until Samsung releases a firmware update in the middle of October), I used Hard Disk Sentinel to read and rewrite all of the data on the SSD. Because this involves accessing data that is normally locked by Windows, I made a custom WinPE (a slimmed-down, portable version of Windows that’s used for installation and recovery) image with Hard Disk Sentinel inside it. This allowed me to boot outside of the normal Windows setup, and perform the Read+Write+Read test to refresh all of the data stored on the SSD. Note that this will impart a lot of write activity to the NAND flash in the SSD (hence a chance for increasing wear), but modern SSDs aren’t as delicate as people might think.

HD Sentinel's Refresh Data Area test

Hard Disk Sentinel’s “Refresh Data Area” test

This took about 2 hours on my 250 GB SSD. Afterwards, another read test showed that the drive was working smoothly again.

Will I still buy a Samsung SSD? Absolutely. No data was lost and Samsung did the right thing by acknowledging the issue and also finding a way to fix it, as opposed to simply calling it a non-issue and sweeping it under the rug.