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.

Performance analysis/review of Kentli PH5 Li-ion 1.5V AA battery

In my previous blog post, I tore down the Kentli PH5 battery – a Li-ion battery that has an internal 1.5-volt regulator that allows for terrific voltage stability… up to a point. In terms of data collection, so far I have collected 55+ runs of data logs (248 MB of text files!) and still do not quite have all the data I want. As for the data that I do have, I will be disseminating them with as much thoroughness as possible.

Voltage vs. load current

As expected, the voltage output of the PH5 remains quite stable, up until roughly 2.1 amps where the voltage sags noticeably until the regulator goes into overcurrent protection mode.

A maximum load capacity of 2.1 amps seems to be a bit… limiting. That said, I have not done tests on the PH5’s transient load capacity, as it would require more automated control than what I currently have available.

Another issue with having such a flat discharge curve is that any device that performs fuel gauging using voltage alone will report 100% capacity, until it suddenly shuts down. This could be a big problem for digital camera users, as they will have no indication that their batteries are running low, until the device abruptly stops working. If the camera was writing an image to its memory card when the battery died, it could cause the image to be corrupted, or worse, damage the file system on the card!

Voltage vs. state-of-charge

Unless you are running the battery at a high discharge rate, the output voltage will be flat at 1.5 volts before abruptly brickwalling and dropping to zero immediately at the end of discharge. At a high load (in the case of the graph below, at 2 amps), the voltage remains flat until the very end of the discharge cycle (99% depth of discharge for my test run), where it quickly tapers off and drops to zero.

Capacity vs. load

This is the big one, and it took a lot of work to get this data, especially at low loads (48+ hours of continuous logging is just asking for Murphy’s Law to come into play). I used almost 50 discharge runs to create the graph below.

This is where things get… interesting. I was expecting the capacity to peak at low currents then taper off as the load current increases. Instead, I noticed a definite ‘hump’ in capacity around the 250 mA mark (reaching a maximum of 1700 mAh), and only after that point did I see the expected downward slope in capacity, reaching 1200 mAh at the 2 amp mark.

This data brings forth some very interesting conclusions. The PH5’s capacity is inferior to its Ni-MH counterparts (even the relatively crappy ones), and at higher discharge rates it has similar capacity to that of an alkaline at the same load, albeit with much better voltage stability than the Ni-MH or alkaline chemistries.

Other findings

Although I won’t go into too much detail for the next few points (I haven’t gotten quite enough data to be presentable), there are some other issues with the battery that I think should still be mentioned.

One issue is the amount of heat the battery gives off at high loads. At 2.1 amps, I had to use a fan to blow cool air onto the DC-DC converter just to prevent it from entering its over-temperature shutdown mode. Although the converter itself can tolerate elevated temperatures, the Li-ion cell inside will not; the uneven heating that the cell will encounter could potentially degrade its lifespan in the long run.

Another problem is efficiency. At 1 amp, the DC-DC converter is about 75% efficient, and is only 65% efficient at 2 amps. I have not tested the converter’s efficiency at lower loads yet, but I doubt it will achieve more than 85-90% efficiency.

A potential issue with this battery is self-discharge. The buck converter remains active all the time, unless the converter or the Li-ion protection circuit enters a protective shutdown state. I have not had a chance to fully charge an unmodified battery in order to perform a long-term self-discharge test, but I will create another blog post for that, if/when the time comes.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m on the fence when it comes to this battery. Its innovative design does provide unparalleled voltage stability, but its low capacity even at moderate discharge rates dampens the fun significantly. Additionally, the 2.1 amp discharge limit could prove to be a bottleneck for some high-drain applications; this, coupled with the cell’s tendency to shut down abruptly when the internal cell runs empty could potentially cause file system corruption for digital cameras that have not been designed to handle such sudden power interruptions.

Also, the batteries are very costly. At about $10 per cell, you may want to think twice about replacing all your current disposable and rechargeable batteries with these newfangled Li-ion ones. Don’t forget the charger either, as a special charger is required to make contact with a recessed terminal on the top of the battery.

Overall, this cell is… interesting. Just don’t expect a miracle in a steel can.

Pros:

  • Excellent voltage stability, even at high loads
  • Li-ion chemistry allows for a very lightweight cell, even with the addition of a DC-DC converter
  • High output voltage could allow some devices to run more efficiently

Cons:

  • Low capacity – provides a mere 1200 mAh @ 2 amps, and up to 1700 mAh @ 250 mA (even alkaline batteries can do better than this)
  • Abrupt shutdown when the battery is overloaded, overheated, or over-discharged
  • Runs hot at high loads (and therefore is fairly inefficient)
  • Expensive! Costs approximately $10/cell
  • Requires proprietary charger

Bottom Line: This is a niche product and should not be considered a universal replacement for alkaline or Ni-MH AA batteries.

Ramble: Fixstars’ 6TB SATA SSD – is it a thing?

If you know me personally, you’ll know that I absolutely love SSDs. Every PC I own has one, and I can’t stand to use a computer that runs off an HDD anymore. Naturally, when I read about a 6 TERABYTE SSD coming out, it piqued my curiosity.

Photo is owned by Fixstars and is not my property. Retrieved from http://www.fixstars.com/en/news/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/SSD-6000M.png

Official SSD-6000M promotional photo, taken from Fixstars’ press release

A Japanese company by the name of Fixstar has recently announced the world’s first 6TB SATA-based SSD. Although 2.5″ SSDs in such a capacity range already exist, they’re SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) based which limits them primarily to server/datacenter usage. According to Fixstars’ press release, their SSD-6000M supports sequential read speeds of 540 MB/s, and sequential write speeds of 520 MB/s, which is on par with most modern SATA III (6 Gbps) SSDs on the market today.

Concerns

However, after reading a bit online, I’m beginning to have some concerns about the drive’s real-world performance. One thing that is rather worrying is that the company has only mentioned sequential I/O speeds and has said nothing on random I/O or read/write latency; although SSDs do have much better sequential speeds than their mechanical spinning counterparts, they really shine when it comes to random I/O (which makes up much of a computer’s typical day-to-day usage). In the early, early days of SSDs, manufacturers cared only about sequential I/O and it resulted in some SSDs that were absolutely terrible when it came to random I/O (fun fact: I once had an early SSD, the Patriot PS-100, and its performance was so bad that it actually turned me off of SSDs for a few years, so I know how bad such unoptimized SSDs can perform).

Construction

The SSD appears to be made up of 52 eMMC (embedded MultiMediaCard) chips in a sort of RAID 0 configuration and an FPGA (field-programmable gate array) as the main controller. In layman’s terms, this SSD is literally made up of a bunch of SD cards “strapped” together with a chip so that it appears as one single drive. In that sense, one can make a similar solution using a board like this, which parallels multiple microSD cards to act as a single ‘SSD’.

Image retrieved from Amazon (http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51y0QqWL5sL.jpg)

The consumer equivalent of the SSD-6000M: SD cards and a controller chip. You can even get them from Amazon.

Conclusion

I’m wary of how well this SSD is going to take off. It could end up being a tremendous success, but it’ll certainly be out of the reach of the consumer market – either by its potentially poor random I/O performance, or its price (apparently it will cost well over $6000 USD).

Quick Review: Littelfuse Smart Glow automotive fuse

2015-05-09 16.29.34It Glows when it Blows! [add obligatory Michael Scott line here]

(I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself.)

Okay, now that the lowbrow humor has been dealt with, I had to replace a car fuse because of a shorted 12-volt power socket. Luckily, I was able to replace the fuse without the circuit blowing again; however, I had used the only spare fuse in the fuse box and needed to buy some more in case the fault was to recur. Browsing my local Canadian Tire, I stumbled upon a pack of fuses that allowed for a visual check for blown fuses by simply turning on the ignition: the Littelfuse Smart Glow fuse. A 36-pack of these fuses cost about $35 Canadian, making them a bit pricier than their non-illuminated counterparts.

Construction

Closeup of fuse, LED and resistor

Closeup of fuse, LED and resistor

The Smart Glow fuse is comprised of three main components: the actual fuse (which is really just a regular automotive fuse), a 360-ohm resistor, and a dual red LED package with the diodes in inverse parallel to allow for the fuse to glow regardless of orientation. The LEDs and resistors are affixed to the fuse body using various epoxies: an opaque red epoxy to glue the components down, a conductive silver-filled epoxy to provide an electrical connection without soldering, and a clear epoxy to protect the components from damage; the fuse amperage is re-printed on top of the protective epoxy coating since the resistor and LED obscure the original fuse’s markings.

Schematic of Littelfuse Smart Glow fuse

Schematic of Littelfuse Smart Glow fuse

Performance

Simply put, this acts like any other automotive fuse would. The only difference is that the LED will illuminate if the fuse is blown, and sufficient load is still present in the circuit to provide enough current for the LED to act as a fault indicator.

Fuse blown and LED indicator lit with 5 volts

Fuse blown and LED indicator lit with 5 volts

When testing the fuse’s brightness, I found it to be quite noticeable at 5 volts and almost blindingly bright when run at 14.4 volts (the approximate charging voltage for a 12-volt car battery).

Simulation of LED indicator

Simulation of LED indicator

Running this circuit through a simulator, the LED has almost 35 mA of current running through it. Given how LEDs are typically rated for a maximum of 20 mA, this LED is not going to last long; that said, it shouldn’t need to run for a long time as the LED’s only purpose is to notify the user that the fuse needs to be replaced (and at that point the fuse and its indicator will be disposed of anyway).

Conclusion

Yes, it glows when it blows; I have nothing more to add.

(The same could be said for Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but he’s a non-electronic entity and is therefore outside the scope of this blog. :P)

Review of SanDisk Extreme CompactFlash 32GB (SDCFXS-032G)

After my previous review of a Silicon Power 8GB CompactFlash memory card, I was looking around for more CF cards to review, in the hopes of finding a higher-performing card with S.M.A.R.T. health reporting and the ability of acting as a “fixed disk” (that is, identifying to the system as a hard drive rather than a removable disk), and decided to purchase this memory card from Amazon.

Advertised specifications

The card’s specifications indicate that the CompactFlash card is capable of 120MB/s sequential read and 60MB/s sequential write speeds, has a lifetime warranty and comes with a license key for a 1-year subscription to their RescuePRO data recovery software. It is advertised to have internal RTV (room-temperature vulcanization) silicone potting, has an operational temperature range of -25 to 85 degrees Celsius (-13 to 185 Fahrenheit), and uses their “ESP (Enhanced Super-Parallel) Technology” which I presume is some sort of proprietary multi-channel controller, and is UDMA 7 (167 MB/s maximum interface speed) capable.

Benchmark – Setup

To connect the card to my computer, I used a CompactFlash-to-IDE converter and a Marvell 88SE9128-based SATA/PATA host bus adapter. This allows me to use up to UDMA 6 (133 MB/s maximum interface speed) as UDMA 7 is basically restricted to cameras as it’s only part of the CompactFlash official specifications.

Benchmark – CrystalDiskMark

For this test, I manually zero-filled the card using Hard Disk Sentinel, formatted it with exFAT, then ran CrystalDiskMark, set to 3 runs with a 500MB file size using random data, all zeros (0x00), and all ones (0xFF).

Data Type Test Read (MB/s) Write (MB/s) IOPS Read IOPS Write
Random Sequential 103.2 52.45
512K Random 99.55 29.57
4K Random (QD1) 11.37 0.916 2775.2 223.6
4K Random (QD32) 17.24 1.413 4208.2 344.9
All 0 (0x00) Sequential 104.3 54.25
512K Random 98.27 31.22
4K Random (QD1) 11.36 1.1 2773.3 268.5
4K Random (QD32) 17.39 1.263 4244.5 308.4
All 1 (0xFF) Sequential 104.5 53.95
512K Random 98.05 25.84
4K Random (QD1) 11.19 1.112 2733 271.4
4K Random (QD32) 17.32 1.437 4229.3 351

It appears that there is no significant difference between the tests depending on what data was used for the benchmark.

Benchmark – AS SSD

As with CrystalDiskMark, I zeroed out the card and formatted it as exFAT before running the test.

Test Read Write
Sequential 99.70 MB/s 46.13 MB/s
4K 11.40 MB/s 0.74 MB/s
4K 64 Thread 12.80 MB/s 1.03 MB/s
Access Time 0.389 ms 5.504 ms
Score 34 6
61

Benchmark – Hard Disk Sentinel

I ran three separate benchmarks with Hard Disk Sentinel’s Surface Test feature, using the read and write (both empty and random data) tests, and used the Random Seek Test to measure the card’s responsiveness after filling it with empty and random data.

Test Speed
Read 0x00 95.20 MB/s
Read Random 97.30 MB/s
Write 0x00 49.81 MB/s
Write Random 49.04 MB/s
Seek Time 0x00 0.35 ms
Seek Time Random 0.37 ms

Once again, there does not appear to be any appreciable difference between an empty (zeroed-out) or full card.

Analysis – HWiNFO64

Now that the benchmarks are out of the way, let’s take a look at the card and what it can (and can’t) do. Let’s take a look at the details of the drive…

The card shows up as a regular IDE drive in HWiNFO, and has information about its CHS (Cylinder-Head-Sector) geometries and supported I/O interface speeds. Here we can see the card supports up to UDMA 7 but is running at UDMA 6 as because it is connected to a PC IDE bus.

Now for the kicker: Does the drive identify itself as a fixed or removable disk? Cross your fingers…

NOPE! The SanDisk Extreme CompactFlash card does NOT identify as a fixed disk, but instead as a removable drive. This means that the hopes of using this as a bootable Windows disk are now out the window. [ba-dum-tssh!]

Analysis – Hard Disk Sentinel

Looking at the Overview tab in HDS, something weird is happening. It states that “the hard disk status is PERFECT” yet it has no health or performance percentages available. If I open the Information tab, I can see that the SanDisk Extreme CompactFlash card does NOT support S.M.A.R.T. health reporting. Bummer. Additionally, it appears that Windows does not like removable IDE drives that lack S.M.A.R.T. and instead report garbage data (or data mirrored from another drive in the system).

Looking further inside the Information tab, we can see the features that the memory card does support. It supports DMA, Ultra DMA, APM (advanced power management), write caching, 48-bit LBA (logical block address) addressing, IORDY (flow control), a NOP (no-operation) command, and has the CFA (CompactFlash Association) feature set.

Since the card reported that it supported APM, I tried to enable it but the card refused to accept the command.

Conclusion

Overall, I like this card quite a bit. It has fast sequential I/O and a respectable random read speed. However, this is soiled by the fact that the card is configured to show up as a removable disk, which renders the card unusable as a Windows boot drive, and the lack of S.M.A.R.T. health and temperature reporting makes me a bit uneasy as I cannot track the card’s program-erase cycle count during use.

Oh well. Looks like the hunt for a fast, fixed-disk CompactFlash card continues…

Mini-Ramble: Blog posting schedule is now running on Valve Time

Ergh, it’s been way too long since I’ve actually put out content on this blog. So many ideas and drafts, but none of them are even close to being publishable material. My apologies for dragging my heels for the past few months. :/

(FYI, the term “Valve Time” refers to a video game company whose release/development timelines are grossly understated, usually several times longer than the anticipated duration.)

Anyway, the Kentli PH5 analysis is still underway, as I’m doing low-load tests that can take over 24 hours to complete a single run (and many of them had glitches near the end, meaning that I had to throw out 72+ hours worth of data!), and I’m probably being too thorough with my analysis as I’ve yet to process efficiency and thermal effects at various load currents. I might just publish the analysis in two parts; the first being the overall capacity and output voltage at various loads; the second being all the efficiency/thermal effects data at different load levels.

I bought a Monster Digital OverDrive 128GB USB external “SSD” a couple months ago (spoiler alert: it’s just a flat USB thumbdrive that doesn’t perform like a ‘real’ SSD at all), and I still have barely started work on that blog post.

Same goes for the newer version of the Charging Essentials Tamper-Resistant USB wall outlet. The raw data is collected but the proper graphs haven’t even been done yet.

But before I get to the USB wall outlet, I still need to get a blog post done of this nifty little USB charger measurement tool I made using a TI fuel gauge chip.

The list goes on. I reeallllly gotta shift into high gear if I want to get any meaningful content out this year…

So, about that Kentli battery…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about the Kentli PH5 battery, which is a Li-ion cell with an integrated 1.5-volt regulator, wrapped up in an AA-sized package. Although I haven’t written much about its performance yet, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing work on it. In fact, I’m sure I have never put so much work into a single blog post before!

The full analysis of the battery’s performance is not fully complete, but I’ll reveal some details of my test setup and what I’m currently working on:

Analysis

I’m doing a much more thorough analysis of this battery than I have done with any other one on this blog. I have created a second bq27541 fuel gauge board, but with the explicit goal of measuring the voltage, current, passed charge (mAh) and temperature of a given DC-DC converter. This way, I can measure the input and output of the DC-DC converter simultaneously, greatly enhancing the data I can collect.

These are the data points/attributes I am currently collecting:

  • Battery voltage sag at high load currents
  • Battery capacity over different load currents (it’s not constant!)
  • DC-DC efficiency, both at different load currents but also over a single discharge cycle
  • Temperature rise of the DC-DC converter at different loads, and also over a single discharge cycle
  • Changes in battery capacity and internal resistance over many charge cycles

I want to be as thorough as possible with my measurements, mostly because nobody else has done a detailed performance review of this rather unusual battery, but also partially because I want to challenge myself and see how much of a “real engineer” I can be (#JustHobbyistThings). :P