Category Archives: Analysis

20181015_181549s

WhiteCat ESP32 N1

I do not do reviews usually, but I sometimes do exceptions. In this case, it’s worth doing it, due to 4 main reasons:

  • It’s a software & hardware open source project
  • It’s local (local to me, that’s it)
  • It’s led by two good friends
  • It’s related to LoRa and The Things Network
  • It’s awesome!

OK, they were actually 5 reasons, but the last one just slipped in.

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Sonoff S31, a world apart

It’s not that other Sonoff products are not “serious” business, but there are a number of design changes in the Sonoff S31 that make this new product a world apart. For the functional point of view it looks like a S20 with POW-powers, but they have redesigned the product completely. The result is very very interesting.

  • Revamped case, more compact and sturdy
  • Redesigned PCB, actually 2 different PCBs for main and control
  • Different power monitor chip: the CSE7766 (same as in the new POW R2) replaces the HLW8012

The only drawback: it’s only compatible with plug types A & B, tat is central and north-america and few other countries. I’d love to see a S31-EU schuko version!

You can buy the S31 from Itead (see link above) or via the usual marketplaces. Actually the S31 is slightly cheaper [Ebay] on some of them.

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20180130_012920s

Arduino MKR WAN 1300

I’ve been testing quite a few LoRaWan nodes lately for TheThingsNetwork.cat, some based on HopeRF RFM95W (over AVR, ESP8266, ESP32,…) others using Microchip’s RN2483 (an old friend of mine). I have a RAK811 waiting in the INBOX but the last one I’ve been playing with has been the new Arduino MKRWAN 1300 (so new there is no product page yet) and I liked it, quite a lot.

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20171112_185649s

PCB fabs

A few years ago (not many) I used to burn copper plates using acetic acid, a.k.a. vinegar. I was somewhat concerned about using stronger acids so it was OK to use another acid, even if it was soooo sloooow. If you were patient you could get to have decent boards using 50mil traces (or even thinner). But it required keeping a good temperature on the copper bath and regulating the ratio vinegar/hydrogen peroxide continuously, adding a little salt from time to time to speed things up.

The etchant biting the copper

The vinegar biting the copper

One day I saw an article about cheap Chinese PCB fabs (I think it was DirtyPCB by Dangerous Prototypes) and I decided to design my own board and send it to fab. I used Eagle (I still use it although I’m learning KICAD) and the learning process was significant. But at the end I managed to get something. I learned to use copper pours, to correctly label the board, to create my own parts, to avoid auto-route, to use design rules and create gerbers,…

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And over time I have tested different fabs. I’m not an expert by any means but I wanted to write a bit about them here. The basic order I usually do is a 10 units, under 50x50mm board, 1.6mm thick, 1oz copper and HASL Lead Free due to RoHS rules in the EU. The prices and options below are based on these settings.

One more thing. I reckon these suppliers are good enough in most cases for small batches, testing boards or DIY projects. Some EE are concerned about the quality of the boards and they prefer EU-based (or US-based) fabs. I cannot offer a good reason to use these manufacturers here or to not use them in professional/industrial projects.

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20171108_124929s

Yet another WiFi light bulb

Eight months ago I reviewed and hacked the AiLight WiFi light bulb by AiThinker. By the time there was a number of people doing the same because of a key reason: it sports an ESP8266 microcontroller and it is based on the OpenLight by Noduino, that had already provided open source code for the LED driver inside, the MY9291.

Let time pass and I was doing the same with the Sonoff B1 light bulb by Itead Studio. That was two months ago and the conclusion was that the AiLight is brighter the the B1 but the lacks warm white channel the Sonoff bulb has.

And now here I have yet another WiFi light bulb, the Arilux E27 Smart Bulb. It looks pretty much like the other two, same shape, same microcontroller, same driver, but different base again and most important: different LEDs. So how does this one compare to the other ones?

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