Completed: Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 6)

Looking for the teardown or how well the Kentli PH5 battery performs under load? Click the links to learn more.

It’s finally happened – the self-discharge test of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery has finally come to an end… and it only took almost 3 years!

 

april 29 2018 stats

Kentli PH5 self-discharge test statistics

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Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 5)

It’s amazing – 894 days (and counting) have elapsed since the start of my long-term experiment, documenting the real-world self-discharge behavior of the Kentli 1.5V Li-ion AA battery… and it’s still ongoing! How have things fared so far?

Surprisingly, even after spending nearly 30 months on the shelf, there is still 12% capacity left. The voltage has dropped from 4.216 to 3.692 volts according to my bq27621 Li-ion fuel gauge; the State of Charge (SoC) has dropped 50% since my last update.

november 28 2017 stats

The linear end date prediction is holding pretty steady, having changed slightly to an estimated 0% charge date somewhere in February 2018.

On that note, I’m impressed by how much attention this little battery has received, even years after my initial review. Every day I see a handful of views checking out the teardown and performance metrics, and there seems to be hardly any sign that this will change anytime soon. To everyone who stops by to check out my blog posts: thank you! 🙂

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 4)

“It’s been a long time… How have you been?”

It’s been almost a year since I started my discharge test of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery, and the battery has lost almost 40% of its capacity due to self-discharge.

The discharge curve has gotten a lot less… linear since the last time I posted a self-discharge update. The battery is down to 62% state-of-charge, and its voltage has dropped down to 3.89 volts. Still, there’s a lot of time left until this battery reaches empty… but when?

I’m no statistician, but doing a linear extrapolation in Excel gives an approximate end date of January 2018, and the SLOPE() function in Excel gives me an average drop of 0.111%/day. Of course, this can easily change over the course of this test, but only time will tell…

HDQ Utility version 0.96 now available!

Whew, I’ve been working on this version for quite a while. With the helpful feedback of many people that have tried my software, I’ve made a large number of improvements to the software; of course, there are plenty of features that aren’t implemented yet, but are being worked on.

More information about how this utility works can be found here.

Download HDQ Utility v0.96 here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/pf0vszgfei7s8ly/HDQ%20Utility%200.96.zip?dl=0

Updates

  • (Major improvement!) Improved HDQ logging functionality (logs are now saved to a separate file instead of being overwritten).
    • Example: “HDQ Log (2015-10-26 at 19.02.50) – HDQ Utility v0.96.txt”
  • Improved HDQ communication (HDQ breaks no longer require the serial port to be opened more than once, and HDQ no-response timeouts are decreased from 0.5 to 0.3 seconds.
  • Reworded certain error messages for clarity.
    • Example: “Communication error: Cannot read byte from address 0x02 (No response from device).” 
  • Renamed file ‘config.txt’ to ‘Config – COM Port.txt’ for clarity.
  • Improved state-of-health warnings by making them non-modal (they do not require the user to dismiss the message).
  • Added more notifications for unidentified and uninitialized batteries. (Uninitialized batteries are determined by a FULL ACCESS security state, with Impedance Track disabled.)
  • Fixed invalid device name and maximum load current readings for v5.02/sn27545-A4 based batteries (e.g. iPhone 6, 6+…).
  • Added time-to-full readings (for firmware older than v2.24).
  • Improved error-checking for device identification (it will display a notice that the tool may need to be restarted).
  • Updated DingoLib UI library to auto-resize window to 0.9x display resolution for improved readability on larger monitors.

To-Do

  • Create a dedicated section on my blog for the HDQ Utility.
  • Create a user’s manual describing the parameters displayed by the program (in particular, the Advanced Battery Information section).
  • Improve data logging functionality by saving logs to a subdirectory instead of the program’s root to decrease file clutter.
  • Improve error-checking for commands (retry reads if one or more bytes are not received from the device).
  • Add error statistics indicating how many communication errors occurred during data collection.
  • Improve support for older (older than v1.25) firmware.
  • Improve support for v5.02/sn27545-A4 devices (make use of advanced commands available in this firmware version).
  • Add support for restarting of data collection without having to re-execute the program.
  • Add Data Flash memory functions to allow for readout of advanced configuration, serial number, lifetime/black-box data, etc.
  • Rewrite this program in something that’s not LabWindows/CVI… also, use of a GUI rather than a non-console text UI.

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 3)

Aw what, it’s October already? So much for having another blog post in September…
But anyway, “more months, more data!™”

The voltage of the PH5 has dropped down to 4.093 volts as of today (October 1st, 2015), and its State of Charge is now 93%. There’s just enough data to guess the discharge rate of the PH5: with the currently logged data, the PH5 self discharges at approximately 0.103%/day. At this rate, the cell should last years before finally reaching zero. Looks like this will be a very, very long term test…

(At least that would give me more time to procrastinate write blog posts.)

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 2)

After my first self-discharge analysis of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery, I have collected another month’s worth of data.

The battery’s voltage drop has been surprisingly linear. Although I didn’t get the exact day when the bq27621-G1’s State of Charge readout dropped to 99%, it is quite clear that the state of charge is dropping with a fairly steep curve now. That said, because the battery’s voltage is still far away from the ‘flat region’ of the discharge curve, it is difficult to determine when the battery will discharge itself completely at this time.

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 1)

As an extension to my previous performance analysis of Kentli’s PH5 Li-ion AA battery, I fully charged an unused PH5 and left it on my desk to self-discharge. Every now and then, a Texas Instruments bq27621-G1 fuel gauge is hooked up to the Li-ion battery terminals (in the case of the PH5, the recessed ring around the 1.5V terminal) and the bq27621’s default settings are used to measure the voltage and state of charge.

I started this test on June 18th, 2015 and will keep taking occasional measurements until the protection IC in the PH5 shuts down.

Since the 18th, the voltage dropped from 4.216 volts down to 4.192 volts as of July 6, 2015; the bq27621’s State of Charge reading remains at 100% for the time being. The voltage drop has been fairly linear so far, but I expect it to taper off as the battery discharges to the Li-ion cell’s “flat region”, and only after that do I expect the cell’s voltage to decline more rapidly.

Looking inside a (fake) iPhone 5S battery

Considering how popular the iPhone is, there’s always going to be some counterfeits out there. I’ve been out buying various iPhone batteries to build a database of each generation’s characteristics, but one model has eluded me so far: the iPhone 5S. The iPhone 5C’s battery that I bought appears to be genuine (but with its own issues), but none of the iPhone 5S batteries I’ve bought so far (4 of them at the time of writing this blog post) were genuine. All of these fakes look like a genuine battery at first glance, but all of them share a few common traits.

Battery teardown

The fake battery sports the usual iPhone battery information, complete with some dot-matrix printed data and a data-matrix barcode. It’s labeled with a capacity of 1560 mAh and 3.8 volts nominal voltage.

Comparison between real and fake iPhone 5S battery

Comparison between real and fake iPhone 5S battery

The connector itself has two points for soldering the connector to provide durability. However, with the fake batteries, they are not soldered down. The two spots on the ends of the connectors are dark with a small point visible inside it (that point is the reinforcement pin on the connector). If this connector is installed in an iPhone, it will probably not come out without either damaging the battery’s connector, or worse, leave the plastic connector piece inside the phone, requiring tweezers to remove.

Connector lifted off with a hobby knife

Connector lifted off with a hobby knife

iPhone 5S and 5C battery pinout

iPhone 5S and 5C battery pinout

Removing the black protective tape reveals an iPhone 4 battery fuel gauge board. The connector is soldered to this board, with four solder points visible.

iPhone 4 battery PCB with soldered-on flat flex connector

iPhone 4 battery PCB with soldered-on flat flex connector

Pulling out the PCB  reveals another characteristic of these fake batteries: the positive terminal is cut short, with another metal section being clumsily spot-welded to the stub on the cell.

Note how the battery tab is poorly welded to the PCB.

Note how the battery tab is poorly welded to the PCB.

Battery fuel gauge data

The battery fuel gauge requires proper programming to accurately indicate the battery’s charge status. Because of this, each iPhone battery generation has its own specific configuration.

The fake iPhone battery retains the programming for the iPhone 4’s battery, which is a designed capacity of 1420 mAh, using a bq27541 fuel gauge running version 1.25 firmware. The data inside it is often that of a used/recycled battery as well.

This data can be (partially) read out directly from the iPhone with a tool such as iBackupBot, but more data can be read if the battery is read with another tool. I have the EV2400 from Texas Instruments to read this out on a PC, but this data can be read out with a USB-to-TTL serial port, a logic gate (a logic inverter) and a small MOSFET transistor.

I created a small tool that uses this circuit to interface with the fuel gauge and read out its data. Check it out here.

Using my tool, this is the report for one of these fake batteries. Note how it is identified as an iPhone 4 battery. Don’t be fooled by the calculated state of health. It’s not accurate for this battery as the fuel gauge still thinks it’s still inside an iPhone 4 battery pack.


**** START OF HDQ BATTERY LOG REPORT ****
HDQ Gas Gauge Readout Tool version 0.9 by Jason Gin
Date: 9/30/2014
Time: 0:52:24
Serial port: COM26

Battery Identification
========================
DEVICE_TYPE = 0x0541, FW_VERSION = 0x0125, DESIGN_CAPACITY = 1420 mAh
Battery's configuration matches that of a standard iPhone 4 battery.

Basic Battery Information
===========================
Device = bq27541 v.1.25, hardware rev. 0x00B5, data-flash rev. 0x0000
Voltage = 3804 mV
Current = 0 mA
Power = 0 mW
State of charge = 45%
Reported state of health = 0%
Calculated state of health = 99.3%
Cycle count = 14 times
Time to empty = N/A (not discharging)
Temperature = 27.9 °C (80.3 °F) (3009 raw)
Designed capacity = 1420 mAh
Heavy load capacity = 628/1410 mAh
Light load capacity = 673/1455 mAh

Advanced Battery Information
==============================
Capacity discharged = 0 mAh
Depth of discharge at last OCV update = ~778 mAh (8768 raw)
Maximum load current = -200 mA
Impedance Track chemistry ID = 0x0163
Reset count = 11 times

Flags = 0x0180
Flag interpretation:
* Fast charging allowed
* Good OCV measurement taken
* Not discharging

Control Status = 0x6219
Control Status interpretation:
* SEALED security state
* SLEEP power mode
* Constant-power gauging
* Qmax update voltage NOT OK (Or in relax mode)
* Impedance Track enabled

Pack Configuration = 0x8931
Pack Configuration interpretation:
* No-load reserve capacity compensation enabled
* IWAKE, RSNS1, RSNS0 = 0x1
* SLEEP mode enabled
* Remaining Capacity is forced to Full Charge Capacity at end of charge
* Temperature sensor: External thermistor

Device name length = 7 bytes
Device name: bq27541

**** END OF HDQ BATTERY LOG REPORT ****

Reading out HDQ-equipped battery fuel gauges with a serial port

Battery fuel gauges are the unsung hero of the battery world. There’s more to it than just measuring the voltage on the battery terminals,. These little chips are microcontrollers (tiny computers, essentially) that sit inside the battery pack and keep tabs on the battery’s performance for the life of that battery pack.

Texas Instruments makes battery fuel gauges that are small enough to fit in the circuitry of a cell phone, and one of the most common ones that uses this technology are iPhone batteries. These batteries use a single-wire interface called HDQ (which stands for High-Speed Data Queue). It may sound similar to Dallas Semiconductors’ 1-Wire protocol, but the two are completely different and incompatible with each other.

Protocol details

The HDQ protocol can be emulated with a serial port and a little bit of external circuitry. The protocol can be emulated with a serial port at 57600 baud with 8 data bits, no parity bit and 2 stop bits. Because this is a bi-directional bus, an open-drain configuration is needed. Most TTL serial ports are not open-drain, so some circuitry is required to do this. TI’s application note suggests using a CMOS inverter and an N-channel MOSFET along with a 1 kOhm pull-up resistor, but this can be cut down with a 74HC07 open-drain buffer and pull-up resistor.

[EDIT: June 13, 2015 – Corrected schematic]

The HDQ protocol uses a short pulse to indicate a logic 1, with a longer pulse to indicate a logic 0. The data is sent LSB (least significant byte) first, with a 7-bit address and an eighth bit to indicate if the operation is a read or write (0 is read, 1 is write). If it is a read operation, the fuel gauge will respond with one byte of data. As you might think, this is a very slow means of communication; the typical bus speed is 5-7 kilobits per second, but the actual usable throughput will be less than this.

The hack in this is that the bit timing can be made by sending a specially crafted UART byte that meets the timing specifications. Each bit takes up one byte of UART buffer memory, with 24 bytes being enough to perform an HDQ read (the first 8 bytes are echoed back to the PC and need to be ignored by the software). TI’s application note goes into this with a bit more detail.

Windows HDQ utility

HDQ utility icon, in all its pixelated glory.

HDQ utility icon, in all its pixelated glory.

I have written a small Windows program that will read out the battery’s main data, identify as a certain iPhone battery model (most iPhone batteries are supported), and save a copy of this data to a text file for safekeeping. This program requires the National Instruments LabWindows/CVI Runtime library to run, since I whipped this program up with the first available IDE on my college PC.

fdd82eef8d

Screenshot of HDQ Utility version 0.96

The source code is not yet available (translation: I’m too ashamed of my programming skills to share it with others); however, a Windows executable is available for download below.

You will need to download the National Instruments LabWindows/CVI Runtime to run this program.

Current version (0.96): https://www.dropbox.com/s/pf0vszgfei7s8ly/HDQ%20Utility%200.96.zip?dl=0

Version 0.95: https://www.dropbox.com/s/7xdurbh9qibdftl/HDQ%20Utility%200.95.zip?dl=0
Version 0.9: https://www.dropbox.com/s/cd3esa5us6elfgr/HDQ%20Utility.zip?dl=0

Contributions are always accepted! Email me if you would like to send in a battery for me to analyze, or you can buy me a coffee through PayPal:


[EDIT – July 28, 2016] Welp, looks like the PayPal button’s broken (or was it never working to begin with…?). If you’d like to send anything to me, just give me a shout at ginbot86@gmail.com!

[EDIT – August 2, 2016] Whoops, looks like I never had the button working in the first place. Hopefully it works this time.

 

So Phone Me Maybe: A list of iPhone/iPad batteries with gas gauge functionality

Looking for my HDQ Utility to read out your own batteries? Click here!

UPDATE: Turns out the iPhone 3G and 3GS do have gas gauges! I will add them to my list as I find out more about them.

Each iPhone generation since the iPhone 4 iPhone 3G uses a TI gas gauge and uses the HDQ bus (iOS refers to this as the SWI [single-wire interface]) to communicate with the outside world. For more information about the HDQ protocol, click here.

I’ve noticed that many of the iPhone 5S and 5C batteries that can be purchased online are reusing iPhone 4 circuits, which will cause a significant decrease in gauge accuracy (proper parameters need to be programmed into the gas gauge, and that information is chemistry dependent), and the protection circuits in the iPhone 4 battery PCB will kick into overvoltage protection mode at 4.25 volts, less than the 4.3 volts that the iPhone 5 (and newer) batteries need to charge fully.

Because I have been unable to find a list of information of each battery generation, I’m making one myself. Because nobody else has dug this deep into the fuel gauges that the iPhone uses, I have to get this information experimentally (that is, by buying various batteries from online shops; the iPhone 5S battery has been very difficult to get, besides the fake ones I mentioned earlier).

So far I’m in need of an iPhone 3G (not the 3GS) battery, as well as all iPad batteries (or, if you have my program on hand, what model the battery is intended for, the fuel gauge device (eg. bq27541, bq27545), firmware version and designed capacity.

Model Gas Gauge Firmware Designed Capacity Default Unseal Key? Comments
iPhone 3G bq27541 ? ? Yes (0x36720414) Need to acquire one of these.
iPhone 3GS bq27541 1.17 1200 mAh Yes (0x36720414) Limited feature set. My utility will throw “No response” errors when reading this battery.
iPhone 4 bq27541 1.25 1420 mAh Yes (0x36720414)
iPhone 4S bq27541 1.35 1430 mAh Yes (0x36720414)
iPhone 5 bq27545 3.10 1430 mAh No (0x52695035) Many thanks to Yann B. for finding the unseal key!
iPhone 5S bq27545 3.10 1550 mAh No (0x84966864)
iPhone 5C bq27545 3.10 1500 mAh No (0x84966864)
iPhone 6 sn27545-A4 (note 4) 5.02 1751 mAh No (0x65441236)
iPhone 6 Plus sn27545-A4 (note 4) 5.02 2855 mAh No (0x18794977)
iPhone 6S sn27546-A5 (note 5) 6.01 1690 mAh No (0x90375994)
iPhone 6S Plus sn27546-A5 (note 5) 6.01 2725 mAh No (0x11022669)
iPhone SE Unrecognized (note 6) (A1141/0x1141) 1.03 1560 mAh No (unknown) (See note 6)
Apple Watch (38mm) sn27545-A4 5.02 235 mAh No (0x09130978)
Apple Watch (42mm) sn27545-A4 5.02 245 mAh No (unknown) If anyone has one that reads “FULL ACCESS” in my program, please send it to me! 🙂
iPad (3rd gen) bq27541 1.35 11560 mAh Yes (0x36720414)

Notes:

  1. All known iPhone battery models use custom firmware, so not all of the features that the mainstream gas gauge models use are available. For example, none of these gauges will calculate the battery’s State of Health percentage (it is basically the percentage of the battery’s full charge capacity (it degrades with use) versus its designed capacity.
  2. The iPhone 5C’s battery label indicates a designed capacity of 1510 mAh, but the battery I’ve received indicates a capacity of 1550 mAh. As I have only been able to get one of these batteries that seem to be genuine, I will need to get more batteries of this type to confirm that this information is correct.
  3. The iPhone 5’s battery label indicates a designed capacity of 1440 mAh, but the fuel gauge reports 1430 mAh. The 5S battery reports 1550 mAh, but is labeled 1560 mAh. The 5C reports 1500 mAh, but is labeled 1510 mAh.
  4. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus use a special firmware that is identified in TI’s battery software (except the very latest releases where such data was removed), and it has a very extensive feature set, and a lot of data logging features.
  5. The iPhone 6S/6S Plus use a firmware version similar to the iPhone 6/6 Plus, but with a newer chip and some features trimmed out. I’m reasonably confident that the chip is an sn27546-A5 but have no idea if it’s the official part designator.
  6. The iPhone SE battery seems to have a unique custom chip, but has gone back to a DFN-based package (similar to bq27541) rather than a BGA like the bq27545/546. It is marked “A1141” and does not respond to my HDQ adapter, only the official TI EV2300/EV2400. I have only one in my possession, so I am not 100% sure whether this is true for this series of batteries.

Tearing down and modifying the Mars RPB60 power bank

A while ago I mentioned purchasing a very cheap battery pack that obviously didn’t live up to expectations. However, I didn’t get a chance to write about a more capable power bank, the Mars RPB60. It was branded as a SoundLogic/XT power bank, and holds 4400 mAh of battery capacity, with two USB ports (one labeled for 1 amp and 2.1 amps) and a micro-USB power input.

The power bank

The power bank from the outside looks pretty nondescript, with two USB ports, a micro-USB input, a button and four blue LEDs. Initially it seemed that there wouldn’t be any easy way to open up the casing without damaging it, so I tried to pry away the plastic covers at the ends. Doing so revealed plastic plates held in with small Phillips screws. Disassembly from that point was a cinch.

Removing covers reveals hidden screws

Removing covers reveals hidden screws

The PCB portion of the pack is of a stacked design. The two halves are connected with a set of small pin headers, with one side being the main DC-DC converter and USB output, and the other being the “gas gauge” and charging circuitry. The reason I put the phrase ‘gas gauge’ in quotes is that it’s only going by pure voltage thresholds, making it inaccurate when under load (like charging a phone and tablet, for example).

2014-01-05 00.25.02The main microcontroller is an unmarked 14-pin SOIC (likely an OTP-based PIC clone) and a TP4056 Li-Ion charging IC. The DC-DC converter is a DFN package that I couldn’t find any data on, but from what I can tell it integrates the DC-DC converter control circuitry and the switching MOSFETs.

2014-01-05 00.26.41

Blurry photo of microcontroller/charger PCB, taken with a potato for a camera. 😛

2014-01-05 00.27.16 Cells

The cells themselves seemed to be of good quality, but the bastards at Mars decided to black out the branding and model number of the cells! However, I was unphased at their attempt to cover up what cells they were using. With a careful cleaning with flux remover and some Kimwipes, I found that this pack uses ATL INR18650 cells with a DW01-based protection circuit. These cells hold 2200 mAh each, and the INR prefix means that these are high-power cells intended to provide heavy output currents. This is desirable as a 10 watt load like an iPad would definitely put heavy strain on the batteries. Considering the good cells they used, I don’t understand why they’d want to hide the markings on the cells (and in a half-assed way too!)…

The initial capacity was at about 4800 mAh (greater than the rated capacity 😀 ) with an average ESR of about 63 milliOhms. However, after a dozen charge-discharge cycles, the capacity has decreased to 4630 mAh and has an average internal resistance of 190 milliOhms. I’ve got a feeling charge cycle endurance may be an issue with this battery pack. Time will tell…

Gas gauge hacking

Since this battery pack didn’t have the gas gauge capabilities I wanted (voltage threshold-based gauging isn’t enough!), I decided to put in my own. I built a small bq27541-V200 gauge board with an external thermistor and current-sense resistor, using the breakout board itself to hold all the SMD passive components required for the gauge to function. The thermistor is taped to the cells to get an accurate temperature reading, and the current-sense resistor is attached in series between the cell’s negative terminal and the negative contact of the protection circuit.

Gas gauge chip added

Gas gauge chip added

This is where the hacking happens. I connected the I2C lines to the left USB port’s data lines. The voltage divider used for Apple devices is very high-resistance and makes for good I2C pullup resistors. The device still appears as a normal device charger but works just fine when the I2C signals are hidden behind the USB lines.

Quirks

However, the design for my gauge is definitely not the best one. I noticed that with heavy use (and not even one full discharge cycle), the gauge had reset 4 times without me knowing. Of course, I’m not expecting great performance from this gauge since it’s extremely susceptible to EMI (long wires looping around are just asking for trouble 🙂 ) in its current state. Given how I basically hacked this together in a matter of a few hours, it works well enough. Next up is to go into Altium Designer and make a proper gas gauge board with good EMI and RFI mitigation (and perhaps sell them on Tindie; the hobbyist community needs better gas gauges and stop being so paranoid about Li-Ion batteries).

Further testing showed that certain phones put pulses on the USB lines which has occasionally caused the bq27541 to crash and reset as well.

Additionally, I’ve noticed that the DC-DC converter circuit is quite inefficient. It has 5-7 mA of quiescent current draw and has about 60-80% efficiency. At a full charge, it will take only one month before all the charge is drained from the cells and the protection circuit disconnects the cells.

Future plans

Since this battery pack has a nicely built casing, I intend to gut the battery pack, design new PCBs inside with good DC-DC conversion, an Impedance Track-based fuel gauge, and an onboard microcontroller with some battery-logging capabilities (perhaps to an EEPROM or an SPI Flash ROM), accessible through the micro-USB port. I also plan to use some higher-capacity cells, like the 3400 mAh Panasonic NCR18650B.

If not, then at least I want to replace the microcontroller with one that will read the bq27541’s state of charge readings and display them on the LED bar graph.

Looking inside an iPhone 4/4S battery

A classmate of mine had a couple broken iPhones that he ‘relieved’ of their batteries and let me take a look at them. Being the curious type I peeled away the outer layers of tape to reveal the protection circuit. I spotted a current sense resistor, and  that got me thinking…

… can it be? Yes, I found a bq27541 fuel gauge chip inside the battery! After fooling around with the battery, I found out that the battery is using the HDQ interface.

iphone battery pinoutThe HDQ bus, which stands for ‘High-speed Data Queue’, is a single-wire communications bus used by TI fuel gauges. It’s similar to Maxim’s 1-Wire protocol but runs with different protocols and timing. It operates at 7 kilobits per second (so much for ‘high speed’ right? 😛 ) and a refresh of the data memory in the TI software can take almost half a minute. However, it’s good enough for occasional polling (like every minute or so) since it’s unlikely that the gauge will be read from every second.

The bq27541(labeled BQ 7541) in the iPhone battery runs an unusual firmware version. It’s running version 1.35 and doesn’t match with any release on TI’s website. The gas gauge is sealed so initially it seems like gaining access to the Data Flash memory would be impossible. However, in non-Apple fashion, the gauge’s passwords are left at the default; 0x36720414 and 0xFFFFFFFF for the unseal and full-access keys, respectively (and it’s not the first time Apple’s done this!). Since the firmware version is unknown, I told bqEVSW to treat the chip as if it were the bq27541-V200. I then saved only the calibration, capacity, resistance and lifetime data.

Updating the firmware over HDQ was a nightmare. It took over a dozen tries for each of the two batteries I had, and the update process took 45 minutes (!) to update the bq27541 to the V200 firmware. At one point, it seemed as if I bricked the chip, but a power-on reset of the chip by shorting the cell very quickly 😀 sent the device into ROM mode (ie. firmware-update mode). From there I used bqCONFIG to update the firmware, and it was successful! Now I could use GaugeStudio to interface with the gauge rather than the unsightly bqEVSW software.

bq27541 updated to version 2.00

bq27541 updated to version 2.00

Given how long it took for me to update the firmware of the gauge, I have doubts that iPhones will update their batteries’ firmware in-system. Hell, the iPhone OS ignores the bq27541’s State of Charge readings and substitutes its own. Nice going, Apple!

Now to start going through cell phone recycling bins to pull out dead iPhone batteries for their gauges…

Tearing down and analyzing a cheap-ass “Xtreme” $3.50 external phone battery

I was shopping around at this electronics liquidation store and stumbled upon a couple cheap buys: A “1900 mAh” external phone battery and another 4400 mAh pack (which will be the subject of another post and teardown). The batteries were originally priced at $7 and $38 respectively, but they were on sale at half price. For $3.50, I was curious enough about the 1900 mAh battery’s real capacity that I bought it anyway, expecting to be disappointed.

The pack itself is roughly half the size of a typical smartphone and about 1.5 times thicker. The casing itself has no screws; the manufacturer decided it was too expensive to use screws so they simply ultrasonic-welded the case shut. After about half an hour with a plastic spudger tool, I was able to crack the case open.

2014-01-05 00.11.26The soldering quality, surprisingly, is pretty good for a sub-$10 device, save for a bunch of hand-soldered components with flux residue left behind. The circuit board is made up of a battery protection circuit (yes, they actually put one in!), an ME2108A-50 boost converter,  something I’d assume to be a charging circuit, and an LM324 op-amp as a “gas gauge” (if you could even call it that!).

2014-01-05 00.11.36The cell appears to be a thicker version of a typical cell phone battery. It’s similar in size to something like a Nokia BL-5C which is a 1020 mAh cell, and is 5.6 mm thick. The cell in the charger is 7.7 mm thick. The charger’s cell is only 37.5% thicker but should have 190% of the capacity… yeah, no. This is not going to be very promising, given how the spot-welded nickel strips literally fell off the cell when I tried to desolder it from the PCB.

After soldering some 20-gauge solid wire to the terminals and hooking it up to a bq27425-G2A fuel gauge chip, I noticed that it reported that the fully-charged voltage is 4.25 volts. This charger tries to squeeze the most out of the cell by overcharging it! Granted, a Li-Ion cell’s maximum terminal voltage is 4.25 volts but it shouldn’t settle down to this voltage after charging!

1900 mah charger overvoltageAfter performing a few learning cycles to determine capacity and resistance, the cell holds merely 1370 mAh. The internal resistance is about 85 milliohms, which tells me that at least they used a relatively fresh cell in this charger and not just some recycled cell (*cough* UltraFire *cough*).

1900 mah charger graphI knew from the get-go that this battery was going to be a let-down, and I was right. But hey, for $3.50 I get a half-decent 1370 mAh cell and a few scrap chips (no way I’m reusing that battery’s PCB as-is!). But my verdict: Avoid this battery pack if you intend to use it to, I dunno, charge your phone. 😛

Convenient chips, inconvenient packages: Making use of the Texas Instruments bq27421-G1 lithium-ion battery fuel gauge chip

As seen on Hack A Day!

I ordered some sample chips from TI a few weeks ago, most of them being lithium-ion battery “fuel gauge” chips. These chips are used in electronic devices to determine exactly how much energy is in the battery, and if the chip’s sophisticated enough, provide a “time until empty” prediction.

The bq27421 from TI is packaged in a tiny 9-ball grid array, packaged as a wafer-level chip scale package (WLCSP). This means there is no epoxy covering like normal ICs, making for a compact design that’s a good thing for space-constrained applications like modern cell phones. I’ll talk about this chip later on in this post.

The tiny BGA package means that prototyping with these chips is difficult if not impossible, depending on how large the chip is that you’re working with. The bq27421 is about 1.6 mm x 1.6 mm, which is less than 1/3 of the size of a grain of rice. No way you’d be able to put that on a breadboard… right?

2013-06-14 15.51.58Well, you can, with a small breakout board, some magnet wire, epoxy (a bigger deal than you might initially think), patience and steady hands. I mounted the chips in what I call a mix between dead-bug (where the contacts face up as if the chip was like a dead bug on the ground) and chip-on-board construction (where the chip is glued directly to a board, wire-bonded and then covered in epoxy). I used some SOIC-to-DIP boards from DipMicro Electronics (link). I often use these boards when doing work on prototyping board since using these surface-mount parts reduce the board’s height compared to using actual DIP packaged chips (which are much less common for modern ICs anyway).

The chip is first affixed to the breakout board using a small amount of epoxy and allowed to cure for several hours. The epoxy, from what I’ve found, is crucial to your success; superglue and other adhesives won’t stand up to the heat of a soldering iron, and if it loosens you can end up ruining your chip and wasting your time spent working on it.

After letting the epoxy cure, I then prepare the bond pads around the chip. I place a liberal amount of solder on each pad to allow easy connection with the iron later; I want to minimize the stress on the tiny 40-gauge magnet wire because once the connection is made, the solder ball that the chip came with won’t be as easy to solder to the second time around.

Next up is the actual soldering process. I created a pinout for the board in PowerPoint to help plan out how I’ll solder the wires. After tinning a long length of 40-gauge magnet wire, I then solder the wire first to the solder ball on the chip, then solder the other end to the pad I previously put solder on. To minimize the stress on the wire afterwards, I use a small utility knife to cut the end of the wire where the pad is. I then complete this for the rest of the contacts. This took me an hour and a half the first try, but took me about 20 minutes the second time around. Also, for my second try, for the BAT and SRX pins, which carry the full current for any loads connected, I used 30-gauge wire-wrapping wire to allow a bit more current-carrying capacity. It probably is overkill since the maximum current rating for the bq27421 is 2 amps continuous, but I felt a bit more at ease connecting the pins this way.

After checking for short and open circuits with a multimeter I then placed headers onto the board and put it into my “evaluation board” that I created just for this chip. Using an EV2400 box from TI, used to connect to their vast range of battery-management chips, I connect the box to my PC and run their GaugeStudio software to verify that the chip works.

… and it does, like a charm! I was able to communicate with the chip and also view its operation in real-time.

One thing that was causing me trouble before was that after removing the battery and putting another one in, I found that the gauge chip sometimes wouldn’t be recognized by the PC. Being unsure why it was doing this, I dug through the reference manual, and found one tiny part in the manual that showed me why it wasn’t working consistently.

gpoutThe GPOUT pin was left floating on my board, and the chip requires a logic high signal before it starts up. This brings back memories of my digital electronics class in college; these floating inputs can cause all sorts of trouble if you’re not careful, and in this case, it was mentioned only once in the reference manual. After using a 1 megohm resistor to pull up the pin, the chip worked flawlessly. Now that I verified that the chip was working, I mixed up some more epoxy and covered the chip, making sure that the bond wires and chip were covered to prevent damage.

After all that, I had a couple working highly-advanced battery gauges that I could fool around with, and also learned a couple things about deadbugging SMT components and also the basics of chip-on-board construction.