PPS For All: Directly charging lithium-ion batteries with a USB-C PD tester

TL;DR – USB-C with PPS (Programmable Power Supply) technology is here, it’s cool, and now it’s usable on more than just the newest smartphones – it works on almost any Li-ion battery with the right USB-C tester. Check out the GitHub repo – it’s open-source!

As seen on Hackaday!

DISCLAIMER: Lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous if mishandled or abused! While much testing and development has resulted in a fairly stable implementation, this application is still an “off-label” use of a USB PD charger and USB-C tester, and therefore there is a risk of property damage, personal injury, or other unforeseen consequences if something goes wrong (and I will NOT be held responsible for that!).

Introduction

The USB PD (Power Delivery) standard has revolutionized how we charge our everyday electronic devices. While many new devices (such as smartphones) emphasize “fast charge” capability, it has required changes to both the device itself, as well as the adapters that power them.

Because power losses in the charging cable (or any other resistance) is directly related to the amount of current flowing through it, one can get more power for the same amount of current by increasing the voltage (this is how the AC power transmission lines that you see on the street and countryside work as well). The USB PD standard allows a device to request the adapter to increase its output voltage from 5 volts to a higher level, such as 9, 15, or 20 (and sometimes 12) volts.

An addition in the third version of the USB PD standard added optional PPS (Programmable Power Supply) support for the power adapter, which allows an adapter to output a wide range of voltages, rather than a fixed “menu” of 5, 9, 15, 20 (and sometimes 12) volts.

What is USB-C PPS charging?

PPS charging is a relatively new variation to the existing PD charging scheme. It allows the device being charged to actively communicate with the adapter and request a precise voltage (and current) level, increasing efficiency since DC-DC conversion efficiency drops when the difference in voltage between the input (the adapter) and output (the battery) is larger. With this bidirectional communication, it allows the adapter to share some of the regulation workload, and therefore move some of the heat-generating power conversion to the adapter, allowing the device’s battery to charge at a cooler temperature which improves its lifespan.

Direct Battery Charging

One step past normal PPS charging is direct charging, which completely offloads the power management to the adapter; the host device controls the charge process purely via software commands to the adapter. This is analogous to the DC fast charging method used in electric vehicles (EVs), which also perform all power regulation outside of the vehicle and its internal charge circuitry. Because the device no longer needs to perform its own DC-DC conversion, this skips a step in the power conversion “chain”, increasing efficiency and reducing the amount of heat dissipated in the host device (you can’t lose power on a conversion step if you never perform that step in the first place!). With this reduction in internally-generated heat, the battery can be charged at even faster rates than it could with previous charging schemes.

One barrier to the widespread adoption of direct charging is that it requires the device to explicitly support it, as it requires significant changes to how the “power path” is designed internally. It also requires the adapter to support the voltage and current levels required by the host.

Diagrams comparing normal versus direct charging schemes.

Diagrams comparing normal versus direct charging schemes. (click here for full-size image)

Thankfully, on the adapter side, PPS support is becoming more and more common, even though most devices on the market (at least at the time of writing) don’t support it. However, because that potential is already present, perhaps there’s a way for the electronics hobbyist to take advantage of direct charging for their own batteries…

Shizuku Platform and its Lua API

The Shizuku USB multimeter by YK-Lab, which is available in a few rebadged forms under names like YK-Lab YK001, AVHzY CT-3, Power-Z KT002, or ATORCH UT18, is a very useful USB charger testing device. It features USB-A and USB-C ports; can measure voltage, current, power; can calculate passed charge (mAh) and energy (mWh) in real time; but unlike most USB testers on the market, it is user-programmable in Lua, a lightweight programming/scripting language.

The Lua API on the tester provides a large amount of extensibility beyond the original tester’s design, and in my case I’m using its ability to “trigger” non-standard voltages from fast-charge capable power adapters as well as its colour LCD screen to act as a highly flexible direct charger – an intermediate between a USB-C PD PPS adapter and an arbitrary (Li-ion) rechargeable battery.

Introducing: DingoCharge!

The idea behind making a battery charging script came about when I looked at using bench-top adjustable power supplies to charge batteries. Since the Shizuku tester (in my case, it was the AVHzy CT-3 variant) allows me to use the PPS protocol to finely adjust the adapter’s output voltage, I tried manually varying the voltage to increase or decrease the current flowing into a battery – and it worked!

That said, constantly checking the battery’s current and voltage levels just to charge a battery gets pretty tiring, and since the Shizuku is Lua-programmable… why not make a script that automates all of this for me? Thus began a programming journey that’s been ongoing for over a year, and I’ve still got ideas to add even more functionality (as long as I don’t crash the tester by running out of memory… don’t ask me how I know).

Charge Regulation Algorithm

All lithium-ion batteries (including less-common ones like lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4) and lithium titanate) use what’s known as CC-CV charging; this stands for constant-voltage/constant-current. A fixed amount of current is fed into the battery until its voltage reaches a certain threshold, then the voltage is held at a fixed value until the current going into the battery drops below another, lower, threshold. Once this is reached, the current is turned off entirely and the charge process is complete.

Although the PPS specification allows a device to set a maximum current level, my own testing revealed that there was too much variation amongst all my different adapters that I could not rely on the hardware to perform the constant-current regulation with enough precision for my liking, and the voltage drop across the USB-C cable resulted in the battery’s charge current tapering off too early as the voltage at the adapter reached its programmed constant-voltage level before the battery’s own voltage had a chance to do so as well. Instead, my charge algorithm increases the requested USB PD charge voltage above the battery’s own voltage until the desired current level is within a certain deadband range.

Once the target constant-voltage level is reached, the charge algorithm switches to constant-voltage regulation, maintaining a preset voltage until the current being drawn by the battery falls below the termination threshold.

If a battery was previously overdischarged, it requires a slower “precharge” current to bring the battery’s voltage up to a level that is safe for its regular charge current.

Charge Safety Tests

Over time, I added more safety checks to ensure that the battery’s state was maintained within a safe margin for voltage, current, temperature, and also time. If a safety violation was detected during charging, the charging algorithm would automatically set its charge current to zero, effectively terminating the charge process. Additionally, if the charge process was finished but a small current flowing into the battery resulted in the battery’s voltage getting too high, the PD request voltage gets adjusted downwards to prevent an overvoltage condition from occurring.

Downstream Resistance Compensation

I also added the ability to compensate for high-resistance connections to the battery. This works by using Ohm’s Law (voltage = current * resistance) to boost the voltage thresholds in proportion to the amount of current flowing into the battery, as determined by a configured downstream (tester-to-battery) resistance. This is usually considered an advanced feature for a charging system, but since all of the charging is handled in software, it is relatively trivial to allow for compensating for lossy cabling and connectors.

Charging Test

As a real-world demonstration of the DingoCharge software, I created a test setup that charged a 600mAh/7.4V nominal battery pack (a rechargeable 9V alternative that’s built from disposable vape batteries – stay tuned for that blog post!) at a 1C (600mA) rate at 8.4V (4.2V per cell) until the current tapered off to C/10 (30mA); note that the pack I was charging was built with high-drain cells that can handle higher currents than normal, and most commercial cells are best charged at a C/5 to C/2 rate. I used a Samsung EP-TA800 USB-C adapter, capable of a maximum of 25W at full power (11V at 2.25A).

Demonstration of DingoCharge charging a 9V Li-ion replacement, using a Samsung 25W USB-C PD adapter.

Demonstration of DingoCharge charging a 9V Li-ion replacement, using a Samsung 25W USB-C PD adapter. (click here for full-size image)

Block diagram describing the DingoCharge hardware setup.

Block diagram describing the DingoCharge hardware setup. All power conversion (and associated power conversion losses) occur only in the power source, with the tester simply issuing commands to control the power going into the battery. (click here for full-size image)

Voltage/current plot of DingoCharge charging a battery at 600mA and 8.4 volts, using a Samsung EP-TA800 USB-C PD adapter.

Voltage/current plot of DingoCharge charging a battery at 600mA and 8.4 volts, using a Samsung EP-TA800 USB-C PD adapter. (click here for full-size image)

The classic CC-CV charge profile is visible when the charging current and voltage is graphed over time. The stepped nature of the current is a consequence of the PPS voltage being limited to 20mV granularity, causing jumps in current draw as each step occurs. The voltage is increased or decreased when the current or voltage being sent to the battery falls out of a certain range (in this case, 600mA and a +/-25mA deadband during constant-current charging, and 8.4V +/- 10mV during constant-voltage charging).

One contribution to the relative flatness of the constant-voltage phase is that the charging algorithm is essentially performing four-wire (also known as Kelvin) sensing from the adapter to the tester, inherently compensating for voltage drop across the USB-C cable. This is also why the current flutters a bit as it tapers off, as the voltage at the battery begins to rise above the deadband, resulting in a small amount of oscillation as the algorithm tries to maintain 4.2 +/- 0.01 volts.

Limitations

Nothing in this world is perfect, and neither is my charger implementation. In fact, trying to shoehorn a battery charger into what’s effectively a multimeter and a “wall wart” required a lot of compromises to be made.

No Power Switching

Charge termination is a bit tricky, as most implementations will just electrically disconnect the battery. However, with the tester, there is no power switching available that can be controlled through software. This is mitigated by setting the constant-current algorithm to 0 amps +/- 10 milliamps, resulting in minimal charge/discharge current as the battery voltage drops while it relaxes from a fully-charged state.

One Name, Many Variations

Another limitation is that the PPS protocol allows adapters to not necessarily support the full voltage range of 3.3 to 21 volts. Instead, there are options to support up to 5.9, 11, 16, and/or 21 volts, and at current level up to 5 amps. The large disparity of supported voltages and currents means that the DingoCharge script needs to check the programmed charge parameters against what the adapter supports; many PPS adapters only support up to 11 volts, so 3S (3 cells in series) and higher cell configurations will not work (and an error message will be displayed if that is the case).

My (Electro)chemical Romance Recharge

I designed DingoCharge only for use with lithium-ion type battery chemistries, but have been experimenting with charging other rechargeable batteries, such as lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride/Ni-MH. There has been promising results with both chemistries, but each one is not fully supported as I have not implemented proper 3-stage charging for lead-acid batteries; Ni-MH charging only works by using a low current (C/10 typical) for a fixed period of time via DingoCharge’s time limit feature, or an external temperature sensor alongside the overtemperature protection feature to stop the charge process (a very crude delta-T/change-in-temperature algorithm). Thankfully, the software-based approach of DingoCharge means I can add this functionality in an official capacity with further research and development work… as long as I get around to it ­čśŤ .

Lua Lunacy?

Additionally, this was my first real foray into Lua programming, so I’m pretty certain I’ve made some poor stylistic and other programming choices along the way. For all I know, it could have inherited some significant syntactic defects from my other programming (language) attempts that make it an “awful” program – but hey, it’s an open-source project so if you have some pointers, feel free to help contribute on GitHub (link is in the Downloads section below)!

Conclusion

The USB PD protocol, and its adjustable PPS functionality that was introduced in the PD 3.0 specification, provides a lot of potential use for directly charging batteries since it skips the usual conversion step in a device. However, this type of charging technology was largely untapped by many devices, with only a few smartphones (as of the time of writing) supporting it.

The scriptability of some USB-C testers like the AVHzY CT-3 or Power-Z KT002 allows for a script to handle all of the intricacies of battery charging, while providing an easy-to-use yet highly flexible interface. Thanks to the DingoCharge script, any USB PD PPS adapter and supported USB tester can be used as a universal battery charger.

Downloads

The DingoCharge script can be found on my GitHub profile (https://github.com/ginbot86/DingoCharge-Shizuku), and is open-source under the MIT License. If you have a suitable USB PD PPS adapter and USB-C tester, I’d love to hear if/how well DingoCharge works for your batteries!

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Resurrecting a dead MacBook Pro (mid-2012 13-inch, model A1278)

As seen on Hackaday!

A couple weeks ago, I picked up a dead MacBook Pro that was on its way to the recycle bin, and was curious as to whether I would be able to fix it. It had a note attached to it citing several issues with the computer: the display doesn’t work, the battery doesn’t charge, one of the USB ports doesn’t work, and it won’t load an operating system. It certainly didn’t look particularly promising, but I felt it would be a good way to test my skills in component-level repair – with a pretty nice prize if I succeeded.

Triage

The computer I picked up is a mid-2012 MacBook Pro by Apple; it is the A1278 model with a logic board number of 820-3115-B, and it comes with an i7-3520M CPU and 8 GB of DDR3 RAM – however, the hard drive was taken out of the computer by the time I received it. As previously noted, the computer had a laundry list of issues that were certainly the reason the original owner decided to discard their computer – a laptop that doesn’t boot nor have a display isn’t a particularly useful one.

Connecting a MagSafe AC adapter to the computer revealed even more issues: even though the unit was already noted that it wouldn’t charge, I noticed there was no LED indicator on the power adapter’s plug, and the computer wouldn’t power on, even with external power connected; the only sign of life was one of the LED level indicators rapidly flashing when I pressed the button. With this functionality test being unsuccessful, I decided to open up the computer to see what else was wrong…

Troubleshooting & Diagnosis

Unscrewing the bottom cover revealed what horrors the computer had experienced. There was clear evidence that it had suffered from liquid damage: rampant corrosion around the LCD connector and some of the power circuitry, and some of the corrosion deposits were even left on the computer’s bottom cover! If you watch Louis Rossmann’s videos, you would know that liquid damage rarely is an easy fix, especially when high-voltage LED backlight circuitry gets involved.

Liberal use of a 70% isopropyl alcohol solution and a brush was able to scrub away all the corrosion on the computer’s logic board, and the results were not pretty:

Many PCB test pads were either corroded or entirely gone, the backlight fuse (and its pads) were nowhere to be found, and some ICs were missing entire pins! Whatever was spilled on this area of the MacBook certainly had some corrosive properties to it, and it looks like nothing was done to stop the initial damage. With a schematic and board-view software in hand, it was time to investigate what particular components had suffered damage.

Power Supply

Before any device can perform any useful functions, it needs power. I reconnected the AC adapter and started to check the voltages around the DC input jack and its surrounding support circuitry. Since I was able to press the MacBook’s battery indicator and get some response when connected to power, I knew that the main input fuse was intact, and that the SMC (System Management Controller) chip was receiving power via the PP3V42_G3H rail and functional; the G3H (G3-Hot) designation means that the power rail is always on, even if the computer is otherwise turned off. I checked the voltage at the DC jack’s ADAPTER_SENSE line, which is normally at approximately 3.3 volts and uses the 1-Wire protocol to communicate with the power adapter and control the LED on the power adapter’s MagSafe plug. To my surprise, it was at a staggering 16 volts, which meant that something was shorting the DC input voltage (about 16.5 volts) onto a low-voltage communication line – no wonder there wasn’t any LED indicator when I plugged it in! A multimeter measurement found about 2 kOhms of resistance from the power line to the communication line. Thankfully the MacBook’s logic board features a MAX9940 1-Wire overvoltage protection chip, which is rated to protect against voltages as high as 30 volts. I scavenged another DC input connector from an older, dead MacBook which shared the same connector and pinout. After connecting this to the logic board, I found that I got a green LED upon connecting the AC adapter, and the CPU fan started spinning; this is a┬ávery good sign as this means the main power circuitry is intact. Measuring the CPU’s Vcore voltage revealed a voltage of about 0.8 volts, which is normal for a modern laptop CPU. With the “heart” of the computer checked out, it was time to focus on the area most affected by the water damage.

LCD & Backlight

Examining the backlight connector and its surrounding circuitry revealed significant damage to many components and the PCB itself. The power supply pins on the LCD connector showed a significant amount of corrosion, and I was concerned that the backlight’s output voltage (up to 52 volts!) could have made its way through all the corrosion residue and damaged critical data lines between the display and the graphics controller. I noticed the backlight fuse (F9700, a 3-amp 0603-size fuse) had gone more than just open-circuit – I couldn’t even find the fuse or its corresponding PCB pads initially! I then probed the LCD connector and found that the display’s 3.3-volt power lines were open-circuit; the corrosion had eaten through the traces between the connector and its decoupling capacitors nearby. Using a diode-mode measurement on the FPD-Link (often called LVDS) lines revealed that the connections were intact; there weren’t any anomalous readings or short-circuits on those lines, the DDC (Display Data Channel) lines, and the 3.3-volt power lines.

Due to the high voltages used to drive LED backlights, I had my suspicions on U9701 (a Texas Instruments LP8550 LED backlight driver). It’s a tiny ball-grid array (BGA) package, and attempts to clean the chip from its edges didn’t seem to do much. Its corrosion looked limited at first – only the feedback line’s probe point was lost – but I was sure the chip was on its last legs (or is it balls?).

Power Management

The LCD connector is in close proximity to the computer’s DC input and its “PPBUS_G3Hot” power rail, which is always on (even if the computer is otherwise turned off), which exacerbates any corrosion due to liquid damage due to its high voltage. Further examination revealed significant corrosion on the outside of the CPU’s high-side current sense resistor (R5400), and the current-measurement pins (pins 4 and 5) on U5400 (a Texas Instruments INA213 current-sense amplifier) were completely gone! Clearly there was no way to salvage that component.

There was significant damage to the SMC’s DC input voltage sense circuitry (“VD0R”), with pins 3 and 4 of Q5490 (an ON Semiconductor┬áNTUD3169CZ complementary pair of N-channel and P-channel MOSFETs) being completely eroded away, much like U5400’s current-sense pins; this part of the circuit uses a P-channel MOSFET to switch on a resistive voltage divider, allowing the SMC to measure what the voltage is on its MagSafe input connector. Also, many of the probe points related to that circuit were also completely eroded, revealing dark pits instead of silver-plated copper pads.

FireWire

The FireWire circuit wasn’t spared from the carnage, either. Pins 3 and 4 on Q4262 (a Diodes Incorporated┬áBSS8042DW┬ácomplementary MOSFET pair) were also severely damaged; these pins are used to quickly disable the FireWire power output transistor (Q4260, an ON Semiconductor FDC638P┬áP-channel MOSFET) in case of a “Late-VG event“. This occurs if the ground pins of the FireWire connector are mated too late when plugging in a device – this creates a dangerous overvoltage condition on the FireWire data lines, as up to 30 volts briefly find a return path through the data lines, risking damage to the device and host controller. I wasn’t as concerned with this circuit, as I don’t have any FireWire peripherals, and the circuit in its current state simply means the FireWire port will be unable to disconnect power if a bad cord is plugged in.

Thunderbolt

The area that had the least liquid damage was C3897, which belonged to U3890 (a Linear Technologies LT3957, a 15-volt boost converter for the MacBook’s T29 chip and Thunderbolt interface). All this area needed was a bit of corrosion cleanup.

USB Port

During the functionality tests, I noticed the metal casings of the USB port were getting very hot to the touch, and I nearly burned myself on U4600 (a Texas Instruments TPS2561, a dual-channel load switch with internal current limiting)! I found a short-to-ground problem on a power line on one of the USB ports, which explains the symptom listed on the note. I desoldered the chip, initially thinking the issue was in the chip itself, but the fault remained. I narrowed the problem down to C4695, a 10-microfarad ceramic capacitor that had short-circuited internally; this caused the TPS2561 to go into current-limiting mode, which turns the chip into a resistor and dissipate copious amounts of heat into the PCB, which made its way to the USB ports (and then my fingers – ouch).

Hard Drive Cable

During the repair process, I was able to install Mac OS X Lion to a SATA SSD, but soon found the MacBook unable to recognize SSDs, despite hard disk drives showing up just fine! As it turns out, the A1278 is notorious for bad HDD cables, with even replacements failing within months of installation. This appeared to be caused by chronic frictional damage, as the cable is sandwiched between the hard drive and the MacBook’s rough aluminum casing – even regular use of the laptop was found to create hairline cracks in the cable. Thankfully replacements are relatively inexpensive, and a little bit of Kapton tape as a barrier against the casing was the “vaccine” against future cable failures.

Repairs

With all of the problems written down, it was time to start fixing up the MacBook. Time to break out the hot air rework station, soldering iron, solder, magnet wire, and plenty of flux!

DC Input Jack

I desoldered the DC input jack, and found there was a lot of corrosion residue bridging the +16.5-volt power line to the ADAPTER_SENSE 1-Wire communication line.

With some isopropyl alcohol and some scrubbing with a small brush, I was able to clean up the corrosion and resoldered the jack into place. A quick multimeter test found that there was no more 2 kOhms of resistance from the power to the data line, and I was able to get an LED indication when I plugged in the AC adapter, including an orange light that indicates the battery is charging.

LCD Connector

I wanted to determine if the display was still functional, so I first focused my attention to the LCD connector, even if I had to eschew the LED backlight for a bit.

I ran a jumper wire from L9004 to pins 2 and 3 of the LCD connector; this belongs to PP3V3_LCDVDD_SW_F, which provides the 3.3-volt power to run the LCD panel except the backlight. After cleaning out the flux and corrosion on the logic board’s connector as well as the LCD cable, I was able to get an image on the display!

USB Port

With the faulty component identified, I replaced C4695 with an identically-rated 10-microfarad 6.3-volt X5R ceramic capacitor in an 0603-sized package. After replacing the capacitor, the USB port was fully functional again!

Current-Sense Amplifier

After ordering both the INA213 and LP8550 from Texas Instruments, it was only a few days before they arrived in the mail. I desoldered the dead chip from the logic board, cleaned up the pads with some flux and desoldering braid, and installed the new chip. Running Apple Service Diagnostic tools showed that the current-sensing circuit was working correctly.

DC Input Voltage Divider Switch

I didn’t want to buy another transistor pair for Q5490, so I replaced the P-channel half with an ON Semiconductor NTK3142P P-channel MOSFET that I salvaged from an older donor MacBook logic board. I scraped away some solder mask on one of the broken traces heading to the SMC’s voltage divider so I could solder the transistor’s drain terminal to it, and used magnet wire to connect the transistor’s gate and source to their corresponding locations across R5491. R5494, leading to PM_SUS_EN, was found to have a 0-ohm resistor that was open-circuit; this was easily bypassed with a wire jumper across the resistor’s original pads. After cleaning off the flux and performing continuity measurements, I measured the voltage at the SMC’s voltage divider resistors and got a valid voltage reading when I plugged in the AC adapter.

LED Backlight Driver

The LP8550 was up next for repair. I took a 2-amp 0603-sized fuse from a dead hard drive, and used some magnet wire to reattach it to the remnants of F9700, which was a 3-amp fuse originally; note that it’s far safer to use a fuse of a smaller rating instead of a larger one, should a circuit fault still exist.

Tracing the other lines to the LP8550 revealed that R9731 (leading to PPBUS_SW_LCDBKLT_PWR) was open-circuit at a via, which was easily bridged with some solder and magnet wire. R9010 (leading to PPBUS_SW_BKL) was open as well.

After reinstalling the fuse, I actually got the backlight working! However, upon a power cycle I heard a snap, saw a puff of smoke, and lost the original backlight chip. Chances are there was indeed some corrosion residue had caused 50-odd volts to end up on a more sensitive pin on the LP8550. I used an Xacto knife to lightly scratch an outline around the chip, then used copious amounts of flux and desoldered the dead chip with my hot air rework station; I also removed the fuse to help in further troubleshooting to ensure that there weren’t any short-circuits to ground on the backlight circuit. I cleaned up the area with leaded solder and some solder wick, and cleaned up the residual flux in anticipation of the new chip’s installation.

The chip was remarkably easy to install – just get the A1 ball lined up according to the board view, and heat the board to the right temperature. After thoroughly cleaning away the flux from the area, I turned on the MacBook… and let there be (back)light! I power-cycled the computer and the LED backlight remained functional! (And for the record, the fuse didn’t even blow during the entire ordeal.)

FireWire Late-VG Protection Circuit

I considered this issue to be a “WONTFIX, as I had no use for FireWire connectivity (nor do I have the correct FireWire 800 cables anyway). If I want to sell this computer, I might install a P-channel MOSFET to replace Q4262 (see the LCD Connector section above) in a similar fashion to the DC input voltage-sensing circuitry.

UPDATE (February 26, 2020): Actually, several months ago I decided to finish things once and for all, so I replaced the damaged P-channel MOSFET circuitry. Do I have much use for FireWire? Not really, but it at least means I can experiment with it or something later on, if desired.

Testing

It takes a little bit of Google-Fu, but with the help of a BitTorrent client, I downloaded the disk images to create an Apple Service Diagnostic (ASD) drive. This is far more sophisticated than the built-in diagnostic when you boot the computer while holding down the D key. With ASD, one has the option to use a stripped-down version of Mac OS X – in a similar vein as WinPE – or a very lightweight UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) environment that looks very much like Mac OS 9 and earlier.

It took over half an hour, but all the tests passed without a problem, since all the sensor readings were valid. My MacBook Pro has been restored to working order! I installed Mac OS X High Sierra to a 1TB SSD, and used Boot Camp to run Windows 10 Pro as the default operating system (what can I say, I like Windows ­čÖé ). The Mac Precision Touchpad driver project makes the touchpad a pleasure to use, as the built-in Boot Camp driver provides a much less-comfortable experience.

Conclusion

Much like solving a puzzle, component-level troubleshooting of modern electronics is possible, but this is only feasible if the relevant documentation exists as a good reference point. One can do without them, but the act of reverse engineering isn’t easy if one only has a non-working device.

With the help of a schematic and board view (including the open-source software OpenBoardView), one can easily find what circuits a component belongs to, and where it goes. By following the connections, one can track down the problem(s) with the board, and hopefully save a device from an untimely end in the landfill or a recycling facility.

Right to Repair

This project is an example of why I believe in the right to repair. If I didn’t have (even unofficial) access to schematics, board views, and diagnostic software, I wouldn’t have been able to bring this dead MacBook Pro back to life. However, with a little bit of electronics troubleshooting knowledge and skill, I was delighted that I diverted a discarded dysfunctional device from a demise in the dumpster. In fact, this blog post was written from the MacBook I just repaired!

Making use of a Schlumberger Reflex USB Smart Card Reader in Windows 7 x64

2013-05-08 01.31.41 2013-05-08 01.34.57For a tutorial on how to install the drivers, click here.

A while back a friend of mine gave me an old smart card reader that was of no use to him; he had no need to use smart cards at home and the reader he gave me, a Schlumberger Reflex USB reader, had no support in 64-bit Windows 7, or so it seemed.

I cracked open the reader (didn’t take any effort, there are no screws nor snap-clips holding the case together) and found the internal part number: an SCM Microsystems SCR301 reader. Forcing Windows to use the SCM Microsystems SCR300 driver was successful in getting the reader to show up in Windows, meaning that I had a free, usable smart card reader to tinker around with. Awesome.

scr300 reflex usbUpdate on June 20, 2013: Added a screenshot of the reader in Device Manager.