Mini PCs are incredibly powerful computing devices that offer smartphone performance in a tiny dongle. However, although the usual way to power these devices is through the USB port, there are plenty of other options.
We’ve already looked at how to power your mini PC or TV stick using low-cost USB emergency chargers on eBay, this time we’re looking at another option you can incorporate into your own design. And it’s basically what you’ll find inside those emergency chargers, namely, a tiny device called a DC-DC step-up converter. As you can see, it’s just a tiny circuit board with a type-A USB socket on one end. On the other end (obscured) are two PCB pads – Vcc and GND. You apply your battery voltage here and you get 5VDC up to 1A on the USB port – enough to power a dual-core mini PC or a Raspberry Pi.
The benefit here is that you can build this board into your own power projects – so instead of using just two AA batteries, you could use a series of solar cells or D-size cells instead.
The trick is to keep the input voltage below 5VDC to ensure you don’t get more than that on the USB port.
I don’t want to bore you with the details on how this little board works but in short, it uses a diode charge pump circuit where an inductor (the little wire coil thing) is switched on and off at 1MHz. The switching causes the coil to increase its voltage, which is dumped through a fast-recovery blocking diode into a storage capacity. The circuit monitors the voltage level on the cap to ensure it remains locked at 5VDC – exactly what the USB standard requires.
You can pick these up on eBay for under $4 including shipping – just search for ‘USB step-up converter’ and set the search to list cheaper options first.
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