Archives May 2019

Schematics: Power

Capacitor Usage

So far, we already encountered capacitors for many different usages:

Load Capacitors

We have seen load capacitors used with the 2 crystals in the discussion about CPU.

A quartz crystal always provides both series and parallel resonance, the series resonance being a few kilohertz lower than the parallel one.

Crystals below 30 MHz like ours are generally operated between series and parallel resonance, which means that the crystal appears as an inductive reactance in operation, this inductance forming a parallel resonant circuit with externally connected parallel “load” capacitance. Any small additional capacitance added in parallel with the crystal pulls the frequency lower in the range between the series and parallel resonance frequencies, insuring crystal startup and stable operation.

For modern circuits, these load capacitors have a typical small value < 20 pF.

Bulk Capacitors

Bulk capacitors are used to prevent a power supply from dropping too far during the periods when current is not available. At the same time, they help to reduce the power supply voltage ripples by smoothing their output voltage.

Many such capacitors are used at both the input and output of the numerous linear and switched mode power supplies in the PMIC discussion

The main bulk capacitor value is generally high (some µF), but there may be smaller parallel capacitors added for stability.

Coupling Capacitors

As you probably know, capacitors are made of 2 parallel conductive electrodes separated by a (thin) isolating dielectric material (even if these electrodes are rolled or layered to reduce the component size). Thus by construction, no DC (Direct Current) can flow from one electrode to the other, but by influence using the electric field, AC (Alternative Current) still can go through. This is how coupling capacitors are used to link 2 circuits while removing any DC bias voltage on one side or the other of the capacitor.

We use such a coupling capacitor in the Audio schematic description for feeding the audio power amplifier from the CPU audio output.

Filter Capacitors

We have seen many examples where capacitors are used within passive filter circuits along with resistors or inductors, mainly to remove unwanted frequencies from a power supply or a signal.

Decoupling (Bypass) Capacitors

We have already seen some decoupling capacitors when looking at the buttons circuit.

Active components such as transistors and chips are connected to their power supplies through conductors featuring a (small) common impedance made up of complex (resistive, capacitive and inductive) value. Because of these parasitic components, a device that suddenly draws some current in spikes will generate a drop in its voltage power supply. If many devices are sharing the same power supply and impedance, the state of one device will be coupled to the other ones through the common impedance of the power supply conductors and may affect thir operation.

In order to decouple the devices, capacitors placed as close as possible to the device power supply input pins are used, which act as local energy storage. These capacitors are also named “bypass capacitors” as they shunt transient energy from the power supplies past the device to be decoupled, right to the GND return path.

There may be different capacitors values placed on the same power supply pins in order to filter transients at different frequencies: the bigger the capacitor value, the lower the frequency. A typical value is 100 nF, and values from 1 µF to 10 µF are used for lower frequencies and / or higher current draws, while lower values of a few nF are used for filtering higher frequencies.

In essence, decoupling capacitors are not very different in their function from bulk capacitors: the only difference is one of scale, both of current and of transient duration. Bulk capacitors deal with large currents and periods of 10s of ms, whereas decoupling capacitors are used for much lower currents and much briefer periods (typically 10s of ns for TTL or CMOS devices) .

Schematics

The last part of the FunKey schematics merely contains only decoupling capacitors:

One exception is the Allwinner V3s CPU HPR/HPL circuit which features an RC-to-ground circuit between the amplifier and the preamplifier input with the resistor R27 and capacitors C79 and C81, as recommended in the V3s hardware design guide.

The only other remarkable point left in this schematic is the resistor divider R25 / R28 which provides a reference voltage at half the DRAM power supply voltage level, which is used for the integrated DDR2 DRAM merged drivers and dynamic on-chip termination already discussed at the end of the previous CPU schematic description.

Conclusion

This concludes the description of the FunKey gaming console electronic schematics. The full schematics is available in the design Zip file and in PDF format too.

As we have seen, the design is not overwhelmingly complex, but it contains many details that are all important to make sure the device works as expected.

Schematics: SD Card

The FunKey game console uses the SD Card both as its boot device and its only storage device, so a good operation of this interface is absolutely mandatory.

The Allwinner V3s provides 2x 4-bit MMC / SD Card / SDIO interfaces. In the FunKey, only interface #0 is used.

If you look on the Web, you will find many contradictory SD Card interface designs, with a combination of pull-up / pull-down resistors, ESD devices and power supply filtering, with all pins wired or not, such that it is very difficult to know what is really required. To better understand the situation, we need to go back to the specifications.

Specifications

The SD Card physical interface is provided in the “SD specifications, part 1, Physical Layer Specification version 2.00, May 9, 2006”, for which a simplified version is available here.

The MMC phyiscal interface can be found in the “Multi Media Card System Specification version 4.3, JESD84-A43, November 2007”, available here (registration required).

But a good summary of the requirements is given in the “AN10911 SD(HC)-memory card and MMC  Interface conditioning” application note from NXP, from which this schematic is taken:

Note: This schematic does not include details concerning card-supply and typical power-supply decoupling capacitors.

Write Protect (WP)

A write protect mechanical switch is provided in the full-size SD Card, but not in the mini or micro SD Card form factor. As we plan to use a micro SD Card only, it is not used for the FunKey, along with its pull-up resistor and ESD protection.

Card Detection (CD)

As the SD Card is required to boot the FunKey, is always inserted and opening the device is requried for its removal, we don’t need the optional card detect mechanical switch feature (even if the chosen connector provides it) and its related pull-up resistor and ESD protection.

The SD Card specification provides another mean to detect the card using a card built-in pull-up resistor on its DAT3 signal, that can be later disconnected during normal operation using he SET_CLR_CARD_DETECT (ACMD42) command. In order to correctly detect if the card is inserted, a high value external pull-down resistor (> 270 kohms) is required to drive the detect signal low when no card is inserted, while the card built-in 10-50 kohms resistor will drive this signal high when inserted.

However, this feature is not compatible with MMC cards, so its usage should be avoided and the mechanical detection is preferred.

Pull-Up Resistors

Both the SD Card and MMC specifications require not to leave the interface signals floating, except for the CLK signal, where a pull resistor would cause significant signal distortion because of the required high speed and short rise/fall times. OTOH, it is recommended to add a series resistor on this CLK signal as close as possible to the clock source (the CPU) to avoid ringing, as we already discussed it in the log about the CPU.

Hopefully, the Allwinner V3s CPU provides internal pull-up resistors for all these signals, so we don’t have to add external pull-up resistors. These resistors are given with a typical value of 100 kohms (50 min, 150 max). Unfortunately, the CMD signal for MMC card features an open-drain output mode, and its value should be undercut (down to 4.7 kohms) to guarantee a sufficiently short rise time in this mode.

Schematics

The FunKey SD Card interface schematic is the following:

Even if in the FunKey device the SD Card and its connector are not accessible without opening the enclosure, there may be some situations where the user may decide to do so. We thus attach an ESD protection TVS diode (D16, D17, D18, D25, D26, D27, D28) on each signal to avoid any ESD hazard.

As discussed above, a single pull-up resistor R10 is used on the CMD signal for MMC compatibility.

The micro SD Card connector built-in card detection switch is not used, since the card must always be inserted for the FunKey to boot, and the corresponding pins are thus connected to GND.

The SD Card power supply is done through an RC low-pass filter to provide a soft-start operation, as the card built-in large bulk capacitor on its power rail may collapse the supply voltage when initially powered up.

Photo shoot side by side with PocketSprite

If you are on this page you might already know about the PocketSprite. For those who don’t it is the tiniest keychain-sized console, born from a crazy tiny gameboy project introduced in 2016 by SpriteTM. It was this project that inspired our first Keymu gaming console. We encourage you to go on Keymu’s page if you want to know more about how FunKey started.

A few years later SpriteTM eventually launched a successful crowdfunding campaign and from there went to production to build and sell the PocketSprite. As for the PocketSprite’s initial prototype that inspired our first Keymu prototype, it is now PocketSprite’s production success that inspires us to do the same with FunKey.

Keymu’s idea – then forwarded to FunKey – was to build our own version of SpriteTM’s first prototype from scratch while improving where we thought it could be done. As for mechanical design this translates mainly in FunKey’s clamshell design which allows to fit a wider screen, larger buttons to play comfortably, a bigger battery and all this while keeping a very tiny form factor. 

But photos are worth a thousand words so here they are:


3D Printed prototypes before injection molding

Introduction

FunKey’s design has been completely rethought. It is now sturdier, slimmer, with an active hinge that puts no stress on the cables and most importantly thought for production. We have designed every component while thinking about the injection molding process, this means clearance angles, drawers for the mold and other things that will be explained in a dedicated log about the design.

Here instead we would like to take an unconventional path and start talking about the in-between process that is after the design and before the injection. Let’s say your design for injection molding parts is done, how do you test it to assert its validity before investing thousands of dollars in a mold and go into production?

Nowadays, we are lucky to live in a world where 3D printing not only exists but has been vastly democratized to the masses. Just between our three group members we own about five different 3D printers (not all in the best of shapes but they still help making the point). In order to validate our design, then 3D printing is the right solution, but FunKey being what it is – that is to say very tiny – not all 3D printing technologies are adapted to our needs.

The question is, then, which type of 3D printing technology is the most adapted to our needs? We have tested the three principal ones: FDM, SLA and SLS and wanted to report our results in this log so that other makers can use this knowledge.

Brief description of the different 3D printing technologies we used

  • FDM (Fused deposition modeling) which consists in building parts layer-by-layer from the bottom up by heating and extruding plastic filaments. It is by far the most common technology among hobbyists since great quality printers are now available for a few hundred dollards and the filament is relatively cheap (). 
  • SLS (Selective laser sintering) which sinters a powder by using a laser. Thiese printers are still way too expensive to be accessible to the mass market but it is possible to contract 3D printing companies to get prints for an affordable price.
  • SLA (Stereolithography) and/or DLP (Direct Light Processing) which solidifies a liquid resin layer-by-layer by photopolymerisation. Formlabs has democratized this technology which was previously reserved to professionals (even if the printers are still relatively expensive compared to FDM ones as well as the material). 

Comparison of the print results

The mechanical properties to consider for our prototype are the following:

  • resistance
  • precision
  • surface finish

For the FunKey, we need a great precision for all the small details, a good surface finish and a sturdy case to resist the efforts on the hinge.

FDM

For this technology we have tried two prototypes, one printed with a common simple extrusion printer and the other with a double extrusion printer with a water-soluble material. The water-soluble material is used as support material and life-changing during the post processing of prints. You can see below the prints realised with an Ultimaker 2+, nozzle 0.6mm, layer height 0.15mm and PLA filament.

Below are the prints from an Ultimaker 3, nozzle 0.4mm, layer height 0.10 and double extrusion with standard PLA and water-soluble material.

Here are the results after a one hour bath in cold water and some toothbrushing to remove the residues:

This technology (and the PLA used) is sturdy enough for our needs but, even if the printing params might not have been optimal, the surface finish and level of details are far from ideal. It is especially noticeable when we start putting together the different parts. The outer parts are ok but, even with soluble material, the inner parts needing supports material lack precision and surface finish. 

SLS

With this technology we have chosen to go with PP (Polypropylene) among the variety of available materials such as PA12, PA+GF (Glass Filled), PP (Polypropylene), Alumide (Mix between PA powder & aluminum powder), TPU92 (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)…

Here is how the prints turned out with Polypropylene:

This time the inner parts of the casing were the same quality as the outer parts. As you can see this material is too elastic though. But if materials can be swiched for sturdier ones, precision still falls behind our needs. Besides, surface finish is not smooth and the porous material quickly tends to absorb dirt.

SLA

Different types of resin were tested with this technology:

  • Somos® EvoLVe 128 ( white)
  • Accura Xtreme (gray)
  • R11 from Envisiontech (red transparent)
  • ANYCUBIC resin (green transparent).

The biggest drawback with SLA printing would be that it is still very far from being as user friendly as FDM printers. Not only does the resin needs to be handled carefully in the first place but the post-processing treatments require one to not be afraid of a little chemistry. The prints must be cleaned with isopropanol alcohol, and after removal of the supports, they need to be strengthened with UVs. Also, the smell of all these products is not the greatest.

The results however are definitely worth it!

A great exemple of the kind of precision that can be achieved without a sweat by SLA technology would be the tiny plastic rib depicted in the image below.

It needs to be precisely 0.7mm wide and printed over a part that would need support with FDM technology.

As can be seen in the picture below, only SLA achieves this level of precision (gray casing) with a very neat rib while even SLS  (white casing) clearly falls behind. 

Here is another example of the kind of precision achieved with SLA: the FunKey logo is only extruded 0.1mm in the casing. As you can see it is not only clearly visible but also very neet on the SLA print. This is not the case with other technologies that printed the same STL file.

We noticed our SLA prints were quite fragile however, this material is a bit more breakable and one needs to be careful when assembling the parts, espacially with the screws. They need to be put gently not to break the shanks.

Precision: theory vs reality

Theoritically here is the precision that each technology can achive in average:

  • FDM: ± 0,15 % (lower limit with standard nozzle at ± 0,2 mm), layer height: 0.05 to 0.3mm
  • SLS: ± 0,3 % (lower limit ± 0,3 mm) / layer height: 0.12mm
  • SLA: ± 0,2 % (lower limit ± 0,2 mm) / layer height: 0,05 to 0,2 mm

Below can be seen different measurements of the casing’s width (theoritically 44,3mm)

FDM :

SLS :

SLA :

Globally all three technologies are decent, it is the level of details that lacks for SLS and especially FDM compared to SLA.

Conclusion

This log does not pretend to be an extended research on 3D printing technologies but merely an attempt at finding the one best suited for trying out our prototype before production. Keeping this in mind we might not have set the very best parameters for FDM prints and they might be greatly improved, but our conclusion would be that in order to achieve the level of details FunKey needs, SLA technology is simply one step further regarding accuracy and surface finish.

We encourage anyone however to print Funkey with their own setups and tell us about the results. All the files are available here or on thingiverse and grabcad.

Thanks to the SLA prints we were able to validate our design choices regarding the integration of the electronic components, the new screen with its flex and the strength required to open/close the hinge. It also allowed us to see where our design could be improved, for example by decreasing the led brightness, reducing the logo’s size, adding some matter to block the light from the display backlight, … and some other things that we will detail in a dedicated log.

We are now working on fixing these small issues and printing new SLA versions to validate them and then be ready for injection molding (probably in ABS). We intend to show in a future log the design rules that were applied to conceive FunKey’s plastic parts for injection molding (Draft angle, injector pin, injection gate, cavity, core…). 

Schematics: SPI LCD

SPI LCD Screen

One of FunKey’s strong point is certainly its screen: in a chosen form factor of roughly 45x45x15mm (1.75×1.75×0.6″), it has to be comfortable enough to provide a good gaming experience.

If in theory this allows to shoehorn a 2.4″ (diagonal) square screen, in practice, these screens are seldom square and more rectangular in shape.

Unless you are a large manufacturer and selling millions of devices, you are limited to using the screens that are available on the market, which most of the time were designed for a long-forgotten specific devices (think of PDAs, MP3 players, clam-shell phones, pods, etc.) and standard aspect ratio are either 5:3 or 16:10. Thus, for a given pixel technology, this results in rather standard screen sizes.

So the next size down is 1.8″, but these screens tend to be quite thick and based on an old technology, so their typical resolution is rather limited @ 128×160 pixels: too small for gamers.

Still going down in size, you can find 1.5~1.55″ screens with an interesting resolution of 240×240 or even 320 x 320 (“Retina”) pixels, but most of them use a fast and complex MIPI DSi interface requiring a dedicated controller on the host side. These screens were popular as the screen used in 6th-generation iPods, but unfortunately, getting a retail CPU with a MIPI DSi interface is almost impossible.

Fortunately, we found this 1.54″ LCD screen on AliBaba:

What makes this screen remarkable is its standard SPI interface, which like the MIPI DSi one, only requires a few wires and thus a narrow flex cable, easy to roll into a hinge.

This 1.54″ display has 240×240 16/18-bit full color pixels and is an IPS display, so the color looks great up to 80 degrees off-axis in any direction.

Be careful though, as in order to achieve a 30 fps @ 240 x 240 pixel resolution in RGB666 (3 bytes / pixel), this requires a ~40 MHz SPI clock rate. Once again, we were fortunate as both the V3s CPU and the screen built-in controller (a Sitronix ST7789V) support this high clock speed (after checking with the manufacturer and despite the controller datasheet specifies only a serial clock cycle (Write) of 66 ns or 15 MHz!).

We were even luckier as its backlight consists in 3 white LEDs in parallel and not in series, such that no additional step-up DC-DC converter is required, as a standard 3.3V / 60 mA (typical) power supply is sufficient. Of course, we won’t be able to drive this current directly from a CPU GPIO and the backlight will require an additional transistor to interface to the LCD backlight.

Its flex cable requires a mating Hirose 0.4 mm pitch DF37NB-24DS-0.4V dual row SMT connector, out of which only one single row is actually used.

Schematic

The schematic is thus quite simple:

The main component is of course the Hirose screen connector J3, with the following signals:

  • LEDA: the backlight LED Anode connection (+)
  • GND
  • +3V3 power supply
  • /SPI_CS: SPI Chip Select
  • SPI_MOSI: SPI Master Out / Slave In
  • SPI_CLK: SPI Clock
  • RS: LCD-specific Register/Memory Select (or Data/Control Select)
  • /RESET: LCD Reset

All data signals feature an ESD TVS protection diode D19-D20, and except for the power supplies and LEDA + /RESET signals, all signals are directly connected to the V3s CPU’s SPI interface, so there is not much to say about these.

The /RESET signal is currently tied to the PMIC PWR_OK output, but in a future revision, we plan to change this so it is instead controlled from a CPU GPIO pin.

Backlight PWM

The backlight control requires a few more components: a MOSFET-P transistor Q1 and 2 resistors R5 and R7 to provide its polarization, more on this below.

As the backlight LEDs cathode (-) pin are directly tied to GND within the screen, we need to drive these LEDs “from the high-side”, i.e. between the +3V3 power supply and the LEDA pin, so a MOSFET-P transistor is necessary:

As we want the backlight to be on by default, we need to drive it to GND by default: this is the role of R7. The role of R5 is then to make sure that -Vgs is driven below its threshold voltage and turns off the transistor when the CPU drives a GPIO high.

As an ultimate sophistication, we can drive the backlight from the CPU using one of its PWM built-in controllers with a varying duty-cycle, thus controlling the LCD backlight brightness accurately.

Schematics: DRAM Power

The attentive reader may have noticed that the PMIC covered in the previous log only provides 2 out of the 3 required DC-DC…

This is because the AXP20x is originally the PMU (Power Management Unit) used by most Allwinner SoCs (A10, A13 and A20), which do not integrate SDRAM, so the board designer has a wide choice of memory option: DDR2, DDR3, DDR3L, LPDDR3, LPDDR4 with various voltage requirements.

But no specific PMIC was created for the Allwinner V3s used in the FunKey device which however integrates a fixed SIP (System In Package) 512Mbit (64MB) DDR2 SDRAM.

We thus have to design a separate SMPS (DC-DC) power supply for providing the +1.8V 1A required for the DDR2 DRAM power supply.

For this purpose, we followed closely the Allwinner Reference Design which provides the same circuit, based on common pin-compatible SY8088 or LP3220 Chinese Buck DC-DC converter chips. But since these chips are not easy to provision in our place, we replaced it by a performance and pin-compatible AP3418KTR-G1 chip.

Here is the corresponding DRAM Power schematics:

Nothing very fancy here: the SMPS chip U4 has its required input filter capacitor C37 and output capacitors C65 and C73.

The low-profile ferrite-core power inductor L6  (rated with a saturation current of 1.76A and low < 0.1 ohm resistance) provides the DC-DC energy storage element.

The R20 / R23 precision voltage divider provides the required +0.6V feedback voltage from the +1.8V output voltage by having a 1/3 resistor ratio.

The last component is a pull-up resistor R19 which ties the SMPS chip enable input to its active level permanently. The pull-up voltage is +3.0V (just as in the original reference design), probably as it is the next higher voltage available, in order to limit the current in it to its lowest possible value.

OK, all power supplies are now covered!

Schematics: PMIC

From the previous logs, we can summarize the V3s power supply requirements to:

  • SMPS for +3.3V / 1.2A for the I/O power supply
  • LDO for +3.3V_AO / 30 mA for the Always-On power supply (RTC timer)
  • LDO for +3.0V / 200 mA for the analog power supply
  • SMPS for +1.8V / 1A for the DDR2 DRAM power supply
  • SMPS for +1.25V / 1.6 A for the core power supply

On the LicheePi Zero board used in our FunKey Zero prototype, a triple SMPS EA3036 is used for generating these +3.3V, +1.8V  and +1.2V voltages, with an additional XC6206 LDO for the +3.0V (the +3.3V Always On is connected directly to +3.3V). Although compact (the EA3036 is a tiny 3 mm x 3 mm QFN20 package), this solution is not ideal as it does not provide a battery charger and monitoring capability, which is a requirement for the FunKey device.

PMICs

Sophisticated SoC requiring multiple voltages, high current and proper sequencing are common today and hopefully, all major manufacturers generally provide dedicated companion chips called PMICs (Power Management Integrated Circuits), in charge of these tasks. Allwinner is not an exception through its sister company X-Powers.

Their AXP20x products are highly-integrated PMICs that are optimized for applications requiring single-cell Li-battery (Li- Ion/Polymer) and multiple output DC-DC converters.and LDOs. Here is a block diagram:

The AXP20x features:

  • A wide choice of input power source, the best source is chosen as IPSOUT inside the IPS (Intelligent Power Select) block :
    • USB VBUS
    • Battery BAT
    • ACIN wall plug (not used in FunKey)
    • BACKUP battery (not used in FunKey)
  • A 1.8A fast PWM battery charger (also called DC/DC1) with battery voltage / current sense and programmable charge indication LED
  • A soft key power-on/off logic with timer (just as in smartphones!)
  • An I2C interface with interrupt signal to communicate with the CPU
  • An optional battery temperature monitoring if the battery is equipped with an NTC resistor (not used in FunKey)
  • A reference voltage
  • A built-in 12-channel 12 bit ADC that measures various voltage and current data, as well as feeding an internal Coulomb counter and fuel gauge system (more on this later)
  • A power OK output used to generate the global RESET signal in FunKey
  • 5x GPIOs (not used in FunKey), GPIO0 can be programmed as LDO5 output
  • 2x DC/DC SMPS DC-DC2 and DC-DC3
  • 5x LDOs (only 2 are used in FunKey, LDO5 is optionnaly output to GPIO0)

Looking at their datasheets, it is difficult to tell the difference between the AXP202AXP203 and AXP209 (any hint welcome!). In the FunKey design, we use an AXP209 because it is the one that comes along with the V3s when you buy it on AliExpress 😉

AXP20x Application Diagram

For complex dedicated chips like this, the best option is to follow as much as possible the application diagram and reference design given by the manufacturer, as the internals of the chips are seldom fully disclosed, so you need to take their word on some of the external component values to use.

The Allwinner V3s Reference Design contains on page 6 the schematics for using an AXP203 to supply the power to a V3s-based dashboard camera design. It follows closely the reference designs provided in the AXP20x datasheets:

More hints are provided in my self-translated V3s Hardware Design Guide (page 7) too.

FunKey PMIC Design Adaptation

The FunKey device uses all AXP209 integrated SMPS:

  •  the PWM charger DC-DC1
  • the DC-DC2 for providing the +1.25 V / 1.6A for the core
  • the DC-DC3 for providing the +3.3V / 1.2A for I/Os

But compared to the sophisticated reference designs, the FunKey device only uses 2 out of the 5 integrated LDOs:

  • LDO1 supplies the +3.3V / 30 mA Always On for the RTC
  • LDO2 provides the +3.0V / 200 mA for the analog power supply
  • LDO3 / LDO4 / LDO5 are not used by FunKey

Here is the Funkey schematic block for the PMIC:

This schematic may look intimidating and complex, but it is in fact just a collection of simple basic elements, and it is actually very close to the manufacturer-recommended design.

The most noticeable difference is that the FunKey schematics use symbols and placement that are as close as possible to their corresponding physical package and layout, instead of defining symbols that are conveniently arranged by logical properties. Even if this makes schematics more complex at first sight, the benefit of this approach is that the step to go from the schematics to the physical layout become much easier, and so is the debugging of the physical board, which is then very close to the schematics too.

Another habit that is used everywhere in the FunKey schematics is that all signals (except power supplies and GND) are routed using explicit wires, rather than counting on invisible connection by net names and relying of the reader to search these names all over the place. This forces related components to be clustered in compact groups to shorten the wires, and put more focus on inter-cluster signals, with a natural inclination to unravel wire nests in the schematics before laying out the actual board.

And there are some  “PWR_FLAG” symbols added here and there, which is the proper way in KiCAD to declare that a given net has a proper supply and thus prevent the ERC (Electrical Rule Check) to throw an error.

The end of this log details each PMIC function one by one:

Power Inputs (East side)

A wall-plug AC adapter input is not used in the FunKey device, so +VIN is just filtered using C75 on pins 32 and 33.

The USB power input +VUSB on pin 31 is filtered using C70, and the best (between +VUSB and +VBAT) available voltage is output to +VOUT on pins 34 and 35 and filtered using C78.

The BACKUP supply on pin 30 is not used and is left unconnected.

Internal Connections (All sides)

Some AXP20x signals are externally available and should be connected to external components:

  • The +2.5V internal logic voltage VINT on pin 26  is filtered using the recommended value for C67
  • The reference voltage VREF on pin 24 is decoupled with C64, and its BIAS connection on pin 23 is connected to a precision 200k 1% resistor R22, as recommended

Additionally, the AXP20x is actually made up of separate flexible blocks that require external interconnections to set their desired operation:

  • All DC/DC inputs (VIN1 on pin 44, VIN2 on pin 7 and VIN3 on pin 14), as well as LDO3IN input on pin 40 are connected to the best available voltage +VOUT with filter capacitors C59, C23, C30, and C69, respectively
  • LDO1SET on pin 27 is used to set the initial voltage of LDO1, and according to the datasheets, setting it to VINT sets its voltage to the desired +3.3V for the +3.3V Always On power supply
  • OTOH, combined LDO 2 and 4 input LDOIN24 on pin 13 is instead connected to +3.3V in order to minimize the voltage drop for LDO2 to generate the +3.0V. Here too, there is a filter capacitor C34
  • It is not clear what is the exact function of APS on pin 21 (it is described as “Internal Power Input”), but it is to be connected to +VOUT, too

DC-DC1 PWM Battery Charger (North East side)

The battery is connected to J5 (a 2-pin JST 1.0 mm pitch receptacle) and uses R21 as a precision current sense resistor, with C53/C56/C60 filter capacitors and L5 (a low-profile ferrite-core power inductor rated with a saturation current of 1.2A and low < 0.1 ohm resistance).

Please note that the battery is not protected on the board against reversing polarity, as the model used already contains a built-in protection.

R24 is mounted to simulate a battery NTC for measuring temperature, as the chosen LiPo battery does not feature this temperature sensor.

A user-programmable (through the I2C interface) charge LED D30 is provided, with its current-limiting resistor R26 (for which we need to raise the value as the LED is too bright!), as well as an TVS diode to prevent ESD, as the LED body will be accessible to to user.

DC-DC2 +1.25V / 1.6A (West side)

This SMPS is built around the ferrite core power inductor L3 and filter capacitors C26 and C29.

DC-DC3 +3.3V / 1.2A (South side)

This SMPS is built around the ferrite core power inductor L4 and filter capacitors C39 and C43.

LDO1 +3.3V Always On 30mA (South East side)

The LDO output on pin 28 is filtered with capacitor C72.

LDO2 +3.0V / 200mA (South West side)

The LDO output on pin 12 is filtered with capacitor C38.

LDO3 (North side)

This LDO is not used and its output on pin 41 is nevertheless filtered with a capacitor C63.

LDO4 (South West side)

This LDO is not used and its output on pin 11 is nevertheless filtered with a capacitor C38.

Power Key (North West side)

The AXP20x features a soft power key with internal short and long-press detection with user-programmable time settings, which enables turning power ON or OFF much like the way it is done in cellular phones.

Only a few external components are required: the tactile switch S13, its ESD protection TVS D29, and a low-pass filter R18 and C42 for debouncing the switch.

I2C Bus (North West side)

The AXP20x can be externally controlled by the main CPU using the I2C bus on pins 1 and 2. This bus has pull-up resistors to +3.3V R14 and R16, and the IRQ/WAKEUP signal on pin 48 enables warning or waking up the CPU on a selection of AXP20x-generated events, with a pull-up resistor R13 to +3.3V..

GPIOs (South and West sides)

GPIO0-3 on pins 19, 18, 5 and 3 are not used and are left unconnected.

PWROK (South West side)

The PWROK signal on pin 25 is used to generate the global RESET signal for the whole board, with a pull-up resistor R15 to the +3.3V Always On power supply.

Enable Signals (West side)

The global chip enable signal N_OE on pin 4 is always activated through a 2k resistor R17 to to GND.

The USB enable signal N_VBUSEN on pin 6 is directly tied to GND to always enable power from the USB bus.

Monitoring

Through the I2C bus and the numerous internal available registers, the AXP20x provides a very good control of its operation, including many threshold and timing settings, but also many voltage and curent monitoring values.

Coulomb Counters / Fuel Gauge

 It is well known that battery discharge voltage curve over time is very flat, making it very difficult to estimate the real charge/discharge state of the battery. Moreover, these states will vary with temperature, load, and aging.

The only accurate way to monitor the battery status is to actually count the energy that is stored when charging, and the one that is consumed. This particularly important feature is achieved in the AXP20x using a dual Coulomb counter which continuously sums the current intensity over time for monitoring the battery accurate charge and discharge status, with user-defined alert thresholds.

This fuel gauge is providing the ability to precisely report the remaining battery capacity, just like people are used to with cellular phones.

Why so many different Power Supply Voltages?

Looking back at the previous log on the CPU schematics, the FunKey device clearly needs a sophisticated power supply in order to fulfill the CPU power requirements. They are recalled below, along with the maximum current requirements found in the Allwinner V3s reference design (page 3):

  • +3.3V / 1.2A for the I/O power supply
  • +3.3V_AO / 30 mA for the Always-On power supply (RTC timer)
  • +3.0V / 200 mA for the analog power supply
  • +1.8V / 1A for the DDR2 DRAM power supply
  • +1.25V / 1.6 A for the core power supply

But why in the first place are so many different power supply voltages required?

Power Efficiency

A first answer is: for better power efficiency.

As P = U x I (Electrical power is the product of voltage level by current intensity), you can reduce power by decreasing the required current or reducing the operating voltage. Assuming you already do your best to reduce the required current, you can still reduce power by reducing voltage.

Reducing Power Supply Voltage

Voltage Drop

But how far can you go? Over long distance, you have the voltage drop from the conductor linear resistance, but this effect can be neglected for small boards. 

Noise Margin

You have inductive and capacitive coupling between conductive wires and planes too, but within a PCB, these coupling only have a limited direct effect on voltage. However, these coupling play a role in that they will pick up external electromagnetic noise from the surroundings and inject it into the circuit.

And with digital circuits, a critical limit when lowering the operating voltage is the “noise margin” or difference in absolute voltage levels between a logical ‘0’  and logical ‘1’, which determines the maximum amplitude of spurious voltage spikes that a conductor can pick up that will trigger an erroneous logic level change.

This phenomenon mostly depends on the circuit scale: a long-distance circuit between boards will require higher voltages (typically +12V or +24V) to limit this effect, whereas a circuit between boards a few meters apart or using through-hole chips on the same board wile require a lower voltage (typically +5V like the old Arduinos). Using SMT chips will allow even smaller boards and lower voltages (+3.3V is today typical), and with wires running on the same silicon die, it is possible to go down to +1.2V, given the current technological limits.

Voltage Swing

There are other reasons why you should try to minimize voltages: the core CPU for example needs to run as fast as possible, and lowering its operating voltage will shorten the signal rise and fall duration as the voltage swing is reduced.

Other Power Supply Considerations

Besides reducing the operating voltage, there are other considerations that may push to multiply the number of power supplies in a design:

Quiescent Current

As for power supply used for standby operation providing small currents,  a very-low leakage current (“quiescent current”) is required as it can no longer be neglected compared to the current required by the light load and even more importantly because this current consumption is permanent.

Ripple Voltage

For sensitive circuits such as ADCs (Analog to Digital Converters) or PLLs (Phase-Locked Loops) which rely on comparing very small voltage differences, a “clean” power supply featuring very low ripple voltage amplitude is required to achieve a good resolution and/or accuracy. This characteristic is only possible to obtain using LDOs and not SMPS, and the figure to pay attention to is then the PSRR (Power Supply Rejection Ratio) or how much a variation in the input voltage will affect the output voltage: the higher, the better! A value > 50 dB is a good starting point.

Application to the FunKey Design

Based on these considerations, it is now clear that each V3s power supply voltage has a good reason to exist:

  • +3.3V / 1.2A is used for powering the I/Os to connect between chips on the board. Given the required current, a SMPS is required for reaching a good efficiency
  • +3.3V_AO / 30 mA for the Always-On power supply (RTC timer) requires a low quiescent-current, so an LDO is used
  • +3.0V / 200 mA for the analog power supply also requires an LDO, this time to minimize the ripple voltage
  • +1.8V / 1A for the DDR2 DRAM power supply: this strange voltage level is typical for DDR2 DRAM memory chips, and is the result of driving the large memory array inside the chip
  • +1.25V / 1.6 A for powering the CPU core to minimize the voltage swing and increase the possible CPU frequency. Given the required current, a SMPS is required for reaching a good efficiency, too

Regulated DC Power Supply Topologies

Simple DC electronic circuits can be powered by directly connecting a battery.

However, circuits usually require a constant input voltage for proper operation.

This log is a small parenthesis to explain the different regulated DC power supply topologies, before looking at the FunKey power supply schematics in details.

If you are already comfortable with this subject, you can skip this log entirely!

Linear Regulators

The easiest method to achieve this constant load voltage despite a varying source voltage is to linearly control the resistance of the regulator in accordance with the load, resulting in a constant output voltage.

Shunt Regulator

The simplest voltage regulator is the shunt regulator, built around a Zener diode which most interesting characteristic is to maintain a constant voltage across itself when the current through it is sufficient to take it into the Zener breakdown region. A simple shunt regulator looks like this:

Series Regulator

By adding a emitter-follower transistor to the simple shunt regulator, the small base current of the transistor forms a very light load on the Zener, thereby minimizing variation in Zener voltage due to variation in the load, resulting in a better regulation. Here is a schematic for this series regulator:

Integrated Linear Regulator

In integrated voltage regulators, the discrete Zener diode is replaced by a more sophisticated (but easier to integrate) circuit built around a resistor divider feeding an operational amplifier, a voltage reference, and a transistor driving the emitter-follower pass transistor:

Usually, the pass transistor and its driving transistor are combined into a single Darlington transistor plus a controllable current source like this:

LDO (Low Drop-Out) Regulator

The above circuit works well, but its drop-out voltage (the difference between the input and output voltage) is rather high because of this transistor cascade, around 1.5V to 2.5V.

By replacing the emitter-follower Darlington transistor by a PNP transistor in an open collector or open drain topology, the drop-out voltage is reduced to 0.7V or lower:

SMPS (Switched-Mode Power Supply) or DC/DC Converters

A linear regulator provides the desired output voltage by dissipating excess power as heat in the Zener diode or in the pass transistor. Hence its maximum power efficiency is VOUT/ VIN since the volt difference is wasted to heat the birds.

In contrast, a Switched-Mode Power Supply changes output voltage and current by switching non-linear storage elements, such as inductors, transformers and capacitors between different electrical configurations.

These elements are non-linear because the inductor and transformer respond to changes in current by inducing its own voltage to counter the change in current, whereas a capacitor responds to changes in voltage by inducing its own current to counter the change in voltage.

Thus, depending on the way the components are arranged, it is possible to obtain SMPS circuits that either have an output voltage higher than the input voltage (“Boost Converters”), or lower than the input voltage (“Buck Converters”, as is it subtracts or “Bucks” the supply voltage).

Because of technology, power inductors are easier to manufacture, take less space and are more stable over time than their counterpart capacitors. This is why most power DC/DC converters are built using inductors. Capacitor-based SMPS are generally used for lower power applications, such as for generating the +12V and -12V voltages required by true RS232 from a +3.3V or +5V power supply in the ubiquitous MAX232 drivers.

Boost Converter

The most basic circuit for the Boost converter is the following:

If the switch is driven by a square wave, the peak-to-peak voltage of the waveform measured across the switch can exceed the input voltage from the DC source. This is because the non-linear characteristic of the inductor, and this voltage adds to the source voltage while the switch is open.

Please note that in this converter, the output voltage is not isolated from the input voltage.

Buck Converter

The corresponding basic circuit for the Buck converter is the following:

The way this converter works is described in details here. Basically, when the switch is closed, the inductor will produce an opposing voltage across its terminals in response to the changing current, reducing the output voltage, and meanwhile the inductor stores this energy in the form of a magnetic field. When the switch is opened,  the current will decrease and will produce a voltage drop across the inductor, and now the inductor becomes a current source, where the stored energy in the inductor’s magnetic field is restored and fed to the load.

Please note that in this converter too, the output voltage is not isolated from the input voltage.

Isolated SMPS

Isolated Switched-Mode Power Supplies use a transformer to isolate the input voltage from the output voltage, and thus can produce an output of higher or lower voltage than the input by adjusting the turns ratio.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Linear regulators are simpler than SMPS, and their linear behavior produce a very clean output voltage, but their efficiency is directly proportional to the difference between the input and output voltage, which is dissipated as heat.

However, for light loads and/or when the voltage drop-out is low, LDOs are very useful.

OTOH, SMPS are more complex and require more components, but their efficiency is much better (typically 80-90%), resulting in less heat, with the drawback of a switching electrical noise pollution of both the input voltage (that may couple electrical switching noise back onto the mains power line) and the output voltage (with electromagnetic interference (EMI) and a ripple voltage at the switching frequency and all its harmonic frequencies).

SMPS are thus almost exclusively used when heavy loads are used and/or when the voltage drop-out is important.


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