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Jensen2000

Hardware Review: Intelligent DC-DC converter with USB interface by Mini-Box

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by , 11-10-2009 at 07:47 AM (12534 Views)
I was looking for an alternative to power my brand new Zotac A-U board. Mp3car.com gladly sent me the device in exchange for a review. so here it is.
The device: The Intelligent DC-DC converter with USB interface by mini-box.com is a buck/boost converter/regulator that can be used for a wide variety of application, it can be used to power any device that needs 6-24VDC, and the input range can be anything from 6VDC to 34VDC. The device can also send ON/OFF signals to motherboards based on IGN or ACC voltages.

See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

The box: UPS brought me a box that weight a little more than air itself, i was wondering if there is actually anything inside. before filing the claim that somebody stole the device out of the box i decided to open it anyway (; there it was, a small green board with a few short cables and a little bag with a few tiny jumpers. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and test the &*%$ out of it, but to my surprise there was no manual, no CD, no USB cable. i found a very basic manual on the mini-box.com site and the journey began.

The work: Without the availability of the USB cable and lack of software, i went ahead configuring the device to my needs with a basic manual and a few jumpers. I need 19VDC to power my Zotac A-U mobo, the device CAN produce this voltage but with the USB software, i set the device to output the nearest voltage that can be set with jumpers which is 18VDC, the multimeter shows 18.24VDC i then set the device to operate as a regular converter/inverter and connected it to my mobo. pushed the power button, the fan started to spin, and the mobo seems to run just fine. +/-1VDC inst crucial for this mobo. i then tested the output voltage range of this device and the device does what it is suppose to do. no matter of the input (as long as its within range) the output voltage will be what it is set to be. then i set it to automotive mode which adds timing options along with ON/OFF pulses to the mobo. i set the timing to send off pulse to the mobo as soon as ACC is off and completely turn off the device after a minute - it did just that. my Zotac now powers on and off automatically. because of the wide input range the device has absolutely no problems surviving engine crank. however once the device starts the timer, it cannot be interrupted, meaning that if i shut off ACC the timer will start and will count a minute, in this time frame if i turn the ACC back on the device will not power up the mobo, nor send on/off signals. but if i leave the ACC on until the timer finished it will power up the board and send ON signal. temperature wise this device does just well, it get a bit warm when powered for a long time, but absolutely nothing to worry about and nothing that will require additional cooling. in my setup the device does exactly what it is described to do.



The good: The device can be used for a wide variety of applications, it is very accurate, small profile, easy to setup,survives engine crank, appears to be reliable (i used it a few days already and it powers up and shuts down every time without problems) and the price is right.

The bad: I am not sure how it is shipped from mini-box.com but the device should most defiantly come with advanced documentation or at least some documentation. even though most of us SHOULD have the proper USB cabe, it should be included in the package, the configuration software should also come with the device or at least be available for easy download. otherwise more configuration options should be available on the device itself. mini-box.com use jumpers that are smaller then the regular computer jumpers, i don't see a reason for this, should just use regular jumpers.

The truth: All in all the device is great, does what you configure it to do and does it well. for this price ($59+shipping) you cant go wrong with it. though with more documentation, software and USB cable the package would be complete.

The rest: (from mini-box.com) - Applications: powering motherboard with single rail power from any voltage to any voltage, laptops, custom electronics. This module can be used to convert any voltage ranging 6-34V to any output from 5-24V. The DCDC-USB has 4 models of operation: - Dumb mode: Acts as a regular DC-DC converter with wide input (6-34V) and produces a fixed 12V output (or any output from 6-24V) - Automotive mode: Acts as an intelligent PSU, ignition aware, will send ON/OFF pulse to the motherboard to turn ON/OFF. Standby power consumption is well under 1mA. - UPS mode: The unit will act as an intelligent UPS unit, will shut down at prescribed battery voltages. - Script mode: Unit can be programmed to wake up, sleep, based on pre-programmed scripts. Additional features of DCDC-USB: - Remote ON/OFF switch capable of switching up to 6A, 8A peak. - Can control motherboard ON/OFF pins - Fused input, TVS protected - USB mini, type B - All Solid Polymer Capacitors, SVPD series, Sanyo, Japan.

See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

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Has anyone here ever got tech support from Mini-box.com?
I did year ago with no issues, but so far I haven't heard a work back from them since the 6th. I have e-mailed them twice since then with no reply.

I ordered a cheap Arduino mini to make a programmable circuit and bypass the DCDC-USB but I still feel sort of ripped off at the lack of support other then an automated acknowledgement.

FYI, I plan on making the Arduino an in-between on the ignition signal to the DCDC-USB. Such that I can tell the DCDC-USB to power off 5 seconds after the Arduino tells it, using the ignition signal for control. That way I can have my 24-hours of windows standby time, but still prevent a total battery drain.
Yes, that is a problem. I was thinking of writing a monitor app that changes parameters depending on shutdown/sleep but it seems the firmware wouldn't pulse the PSW when IGN turns on if Vout is already on. The only way so far that I've found is to bypass IGN and pulse the switch with my own PIC.
So the DCDC-USB is design only for PCs to go into hibernate mode, with no support for sleep mode, that is a big limitation in my book. And why make it script-able if the device kills the script when the ignition signal goes off (only supporting a "on" script). It also kills USB monitoring of the device while the ignition is off.

I built my entire car PC setup so that it can remain in sleep mode and consume less then 500mA. That way I could leave the PC in sleep mode and have almost instant on the next time I start the car, rather then 30 seconds to a minute to come out of hibernate mode.

Even the M1-ATX supported sleep mode, I have two of these lying around but the Acer Revo isn't ATX.

This seems like a obvious programming oversight, and not a hardware limitation. They released the source code for their windows software, but not for the actual PIC, too bad otherwise I could alter it myself.

If their support doesn't get back to me: my current solution is to make my own circuit to turn the PC on and off automatically and just run the DCDC-USB in UPS mode. Plus if I build my own circuit I can program it to be switch-able such that I can gas the car up without turning the PC off.