17mm Single-Cell 20W LED Driver


GXB17 - Programmable Constant Current Boost Driver

Introduction

The GXB17 is an evolution of my previous project, the GXB20 flashlight LED driver, which was my original high power single-cell programmable LED boost driver.

After the success of the GXB20 project, I had a lot of requests from the flashlight hobby community for an even smaller, 17mm version. It turns out that many high performance flashlights (which are driven by common 18650 lithium cells) all use 17mm drivers. In addition, I found that there were in fact many beautiful flashlight host bodies which allow you to assemble your own light, with your choice of LED + heatsink, and a suitable driver (much better than the SK98 host I used in the GXB20 project). These new flashlights would be a perfect host for a new, 17mm driver.

Hence the GXB17 was born. The goal was simple - create the same powerful flashlight like in my GXB20 project, but in an even more compact flashlight body, and using either one of Cree's latest 6/12V XHP50.2 LEDs, or one of Nichia's 6/12V 144M LEDs.

The GXB17 was created by keeping the electrical design essentially identical to the GXB20 V2, but shrinking the PCB space down, improving routing, and having a more careful choice of (smaller) components. For a driver with just 0.35" inch-square in area, it handles 20W of power. The result is an improved version of the driver with just 72.3% of the original footprint.

I will not go into the details of this project too much because much of it is the same as the GXB20 driver, and its background and engineering choices have already been covered in depth. Please feel free to see that page for more information :).

Project Results

I'm happy to say that after some on-and-off work between busy schedules, the GXB17 project culminated in a 18350 Convoy S2+ flashlight build, powering a Cree XHP50B LED at ~6V/3A, via a single 18350 (shorter version of a 18650) lithium cell. The result is ~2000 lumens of bright white LED light in a significantly smaller body than my previous GXB20 flashlights!

GXB17(v1) Feature-List

What is the GXB17?

The GXB17 is a smaller form factor of the GXB20 driver I made for fun prior to this project. The GXB17 is a simple constant-current single-cell, programmable, boost, LED driver. It is designed specifically to drive 6V 3A LEDs like the XHP50 and Nichia 144 LEDs from a single ~4.2V lithium cell, and can also be configured to run in 9V and 12V output, with a nominal maximum power of around 18+W, and higher in boost for shorter durations and ultimately thermally limited. That said, the driver is limited to 13.2V output from the main boost IC, so it may have limited use in some ~12V drive configurations using high V_fwd LEDs.

The GXB17 incorporates all the features of the GXB20, but as its name implies, is only 17mm in diameter. The GXB17 is a true constant current driver which takes drive current feedback and regulates the output voltage to match the desired current. The driver is fully programmable with an on-board ATtiny84A and includes features such as temp-sensing, battery voltage sensing, off-time memory, and runs at >90% efficiency at most output levels. It also has pins for an optional e-switch if desired.

Finally, the GXB17 was designed as a fun hobby project, and definitely not designed to be a commercial driver in mind - i.e. no optimization was made for cost, component count or ease of fabrication! That said, it's a fairly full featured driver and I hope it will be something all hobbyists can enjoy!

Feature List

- Single-cell 1S (e.g. 18650) 2.7 to 4.3VDC input (6V max)
- Boost Driver: True Constant Current drive
- Nominal 18W out (6VDC at 3000mA), (9VDC at 2000mA) or (12VDC at 1500mA)
- Designed primarily for XHP50 CREE or Nichia 144-series LEDs running in 6V configuration
- 17mm Driver Board Size
- Low-Battery-Voltage cut-off
- Programmable with ATtiny84A MCU
  > Configurable modes with EEPROM memory
  > Real-time temperature sensing and cut-off
  > Two extra GPIOs for Mode Select
  > E-Switch capable with firmware
- Over 90% efficiency throughout most output ranges
- 256 levels of true constant current brightness levels
- Off-time Capacitor and mode-memory
- 5/5mil routing on single 2-layer PCB for reduce cost in fabrication

In this page, I'll outline the motivations of this project, how I designed this driver, and how I put them all together. Hopefully this will also be a useful resource for many like-minded hobbyists around the world who are also fascinated by flashlights and power electronics :-). The GXB17 design including schematics, layout, firmware, and architecture are available on this page under the Creative Commons License.

Project Status 

(Feb 2018) - The project is officially completed and fully functioning, and deemed to be successful in achieving its goals, reaching ~2000 lumens while powered from a single 18350 small battery... however, now that I've achieved the goal of making a sensible single-cell flashlight, the question remains - how bright can I really make a single-cell single-LED flashlight?

Here's a preview of a DC current reading to a 6V configured Cree XHP50, and we still have a lot of room to turn things up...

Stay tuned for the next project!


 Jun 2017 

Electrical Design

The heart of this project is to create a suitable boost driver, and we need to do some electrical engineering to get us there. Designing the GXB17 was a little bit more work than my previous GXB20 driver, mostly because of its much smaller size. It only has 72% of the PCB space as the GXB20, or 60% the footprint of competing 22mm drivers! In addition, I wanted to design it to fit common and affordable PCB fabrication requirements, and not go to a 4 layer board.

Furthermore, I wanted to incorporate all the features of the GXB20 with no compromises in power output or features. I know the design can be significantly optimized for less parts etc, but I liked the configurability aspect of the GXB20, so I simply ported over the entire schematic and did a new layout for the GXB17 with only a few component optimizations.

Electrical Overview

The main electrical design for the GXB17 remains essentially the same as the GXB20. In order to keep the size even smaller, some more expensive but smaller passives (e.g. the input and output capacitors) were used instead.

The heart of the GXB17 is the Texas Instruments TPS61088 10A full integrated synchronous boost converter. This boost converter was configured in forced PWM mode to reduce audible switching noise during low power operation. Instead of using regular voltage feedback, the GXB17 implements constant current control. The output current is sensed via a 30mR current high side current shunt, and the current measured and amplified 12x via a TI INA139 high-side current shunt monitor. This voltage is then amplified again via a regular TSV991 op-amp in non-inverting mode, and the gain dynamically adjusted on the fly via a MAX5394 256-tap 50kR digital potentiometer. This output is then fed back to the TPS61088 which compares it against a 1.204V internal reference for output regulation.

Brightness control is determined by setting the wiper position on the digi-pot. This is done over SPI via the main microcontroller, which is an Atmel ATtiny84A. This IC was chosen primarily because it comes in a very small but still home-solderable 3x3 QFN package, and is one of the easiest MCUs to program using the standard hobbyist-familiar Arduino environment. Off-time sensing is done using an off-time capacitor. Power to all peripherals and the MCU, except for the current monitor, is supplied via a 2.5V TLV700 LDO. To handle the low voltage, the digi-pot was chosen for its integrated charge pump. Temperature sensing is done via an NTC soldered to the ground plane (with temperature look-up table pre-computed and programmed). Likewise, the ATtiny84A also handles battery voltage sensing. Programming is done via regular AVR ISP but via 50mil 2x3 pads on the PCB, like the GXB20 V1. Programming then requires a simple home-made 100mil to 50mil adapter to be made, which can then be soldered or press-fit to program via the Atmel ICE or AVR ISP II programmer.

The firmware was written in the Arduino environment due to is extreme ease of use and hobbyist popularity so others can make easy improvements or modifications. The code was compiled using the Arduino IDE and the hex file flashed via AVR ISP II.

Because the GXB17 was primarily designed for 6V 3A output to drive XHP50x or Nichia 144 LEDs, some component values were chosen to optimize for this output configuration. However, the driver can be configured for 9V output or 12V output, though the maximum drive voltage of the TPS61088 is a little limiting at 13.2 - some 12V LEDs require higher voltages at high drive currents which may exceed 13.2V.

A future version of the GXB17 may include the use of the TPS61178 which is a new, smaller, higher voltage (20V) boost converter also by TI, but was just only starting to be available during the development of the version 1 of the GXB17. This may allow a more efficient layout as well as more configurability options for future revisions.

Schematic

The schematic remains very similar to the GXB20 V2 which is what the GXB17 is based upon.

The GXB17 design including schematics, layout, firmware,
 and architecture are available from this website under the Creative Commons License
.

As annotated above, component values can be modified to suit the desired output drive voltages. Hopefully this will be useful for anyone interested in making their own GXB17 V1 driver too!

Layout

With the electrical design done, it was time to do the layout. To increase space further, I opted for the use of a smaller spring, specifically one just 5mm in diameter.

Above is the completed layout of the driver; a little hard to see but the board space is fairly well used up, though I think I could probably optimize it even more with a little more work. Programming is done via a 50mil 6-pin pad array where a 6-pin header can be used via contact-programming. I decided not to go for the molex micro-stack header since I had a poor experience using it in the GXB20 V2 where it would often get stuck in the receptacle and pull itself off the pads.

Above is a render of how the board looks like. Care was taken to optimize power and logic traces so they interfere as little as possible, yet still fit completely on a 17mm 2-layer PCB - and I tried to use no smaller than 0402 components for almost the entire design. Certainly going 0201 and using 4 layers would be even more optimal, as would using stricter PCB rules such as 4/4mil or 3/3mil! But this will increase PCB fabrication costs significantly!

Above shows a quick preliminary to-scale comparison between the GXB20v2 and the GXB17v1 driver. Note that while it looks like the outside ground ring of the GXB17 is not 'closed', it is in fact closed. It looks like there is a a little gap due to the soldermask printing - I had to add the soldermask since I could not avoid a small trace running right along the periphery of the board, so a little soldermask was added for protection.


PCB Assembly and Flashlight Build

Assembling the PCB

With the PCB layout done, I sent the boards for fabrication. To handle the increased power levels, I opted for 2oz copper instead of the usual 1oz.

Due to the very small size of the board, assembly was done with a combination of optical magnification, small soldering iron, tweezers, hot air, as well as a good regular soldering iron for the larger components.

 

 

Fortunately the board came together without too much difficulty - but I suspect for most hobbyists, this will be a very challenging board to assemble! I managed to use all 0402 components, except for two passives which had to be 0201. The ICs were a little more challenging to solder on but everything was assembled in about an hour. The board was then tested and verified to be working! :)

 End 2017 

18350 Flashlight Build

With the GXB17 driver verified to be working as intended, it was time to put it inside a flashlight.

 

For this build, I knew I wanted a flashlight that would be reliable enough for everyday use. I decided to go for a small run of half-thickness but 2oz copper PCBs on OSHpark for better power handling capabilities, lower inductances and better thermal dissipation. This new board was soldered up as shown above.

The flashlight host of choice was the venerable Convoy S2+ which is often available for just about $10 or so. Convoy is one of the most popular brands of fairly high quality flashlights. They are based in China, and over the years, have produced not only excellent flashlights, but have also taken their customer feedback very seriously and keeping quality fairly very high. The S2 line is one of their most popular, and designed around a single 18650-cell, a 17mm driver, and a 16mm LED PCB.

Before putting the driver into the flashlight, I made sure it would fit into the pill. The driver fits perfectly, but I wasn't very comfortable with how close the threaded retaining ring was getting to some of the components (since it presses down on the edges to keep the board in place), so I soldered ring of copper wire around the edge carefully as a little edge 'riser'.

A 5mm gold-plated steel spring was also installed as the battery spring. For wires, 22AWG Teflon wire was used for its high temperature rating. I could probably use a thicker wire gauge but 22 AWG is more than sufficient since the wire lengths will be very short.

 

Once the driver was ready, it was time to put the flashlight together. Here's the Convoy S2+ light taken apart and ready for assembly.

One fun aspect of the Convoy S2+ (and due to its popularity) is that it comes with several modifiable and swappable parts! I thought it would be fun to have a 2000 lumen flashlight in an ultra-small body, so I bought a shorter body tube, as well as a 18350 battery to go along with it. This reduces the overall flashlight length by 30mm, though at the cost of reduced runtime from the smaller battery. But that's ok - that's what the flashlight modes are for!

For the LED, I opted this time for a XHP50B J4-class 5700K 6V LED mounted on a 16mm Noctigon copper-core PCB. This powered with the GXB17 driver and a Windyfire 18350 700mAh lithium cell should give a very bright yet small flashlight! Unfortunately at time of construction (end 2017), I was still unable to get any high-CRI XHP50B LEDs, so instead we'll go for a bright but lower CRI one.

 

 

The driver fits right in comfortably. For the LED PCB, a tiny amount of Arctic Silver Ceramique thermal paste was used for better thermal contact between the MCPCB and the brass pill. The driver wires were then soldered on with a very hot soldering iron. The pill was then assembled into the front assembly, which features a beautiful orange-peel reflector.

 

It's a little odd and surprising to see such a large LED in such a small flashlight, and even more surprising to see how much light it can put out! :)

 

 
Above, the GXB17 in action powered with a single 18350,

The GXB17 project is a success! It took a while to get to this point, starting from the GXB20, the GXB20 revision and now the GXB17, so it was great to finally be able to see the GXB17 used as it was originally designed!  


Results

 End 2017 

18350 Convoy S2+ Build and Comparison

The goal of the GXB17 project was to achieve creating a very compact flashlight capable of producing a very bright, high-quality light, while also being a sensible light which I can use for everyday purposes.

Let's see how it stacks up in real life by comparing our 'shorty' S2+ GXB17 build with some other existing lights I have.

 

Above shows the size comparison of the completed flashlight when compared to some benchmarks.

From left to right: 9V battery, AA battery, GXB17 18350 build in a short Convoy S2+, standard 18650 Convoy S3 flashlight with Cree XM-L2 U2-1A T6 4C 7135x6 driver, Ultrafire SK98 light with GXB20 driver, and finally the same but with the lens zoomed out.

Ass you can see, the GXB17 allows a much smaller build than my SK98 build, but with the potential of even better light output (due to the much more efficient reflector design vs. the zoomy lens design of the SK98).

 
Above shows the 'shorty' Convoy S2+ 18350 build, as compared to a regular-length Convoy S3 18650 flashlight.


Informal test with Lightmeter app on my phone

As a informal test (this is definitely not meant to be scientific in any way) to get some numerical values, I decided to obtain some lux readings in my room using my phone. The test is as follows. I used my phone's Lightmeter app. The phone was placed on the ground near the middle of the room, with the screen facing straight up. The lights in the room were switched off, and the following flashlights/light sources were used to illuminate the room. This was done by pointing the light directly up to the ceiling (featureless), near the phone. Batteries were fully charged before each test, and the test was repeated several times. The values were found to be extremely consistent, all within 1 value of each previous reading!

Illumination Device Description Illuminance (Lux)
9W 3000K Greenlite LED Bulb Rated at 800 lumens, regular light bulb 14 Lux
15W 5000K Cree LED Bulb Rated at 1700 lumens, regular light bulb 38 Lux
Convoy S3 with 6x 7135 driver at max brightness XML2 T6-4C (4300-4500K) LED / Lithium ion 18650 LGDBHE21865 Battery - calculated at 750 lumens from datasheet at 2.1A drive 50 Lux
SK98 Zoomy at widest with GXB20 XHP50A G2-class 90CRI 4000K LED / Lithium ion 18650 LGDBHE21865 Battery - previously calculated at 1700 lumens from datasheet at 22W 102 Lux
Convoy S2+ shorty with GXB17 XHP50.2 J4-class 5700K LED / 700mAh Lithium ion Windyfire 18350 Battery 137 Lux

Obviously with light-bulbs having a large diffuser, we can expect the lux values to be far lower since the bulbs light up the whole room and not just the ceiling, and I only added them in the test above for completeness. Bulbs were on with no lamp shade.

So let's look at the flashlights. The XHP50A and 50B brightness bin values seem to be the same according to the datasheet, so right off the bat even with the same drive power, we expect the J4-class 50.2 LED used in the GXB17 build to be brighter, and the results do show that! This could be further exacerbated by the fact that the SK98 has a more lossy front end with the optics and no reflector, though I don't really have any way to verify this numerically yet. The GXB17 light in this configuration is almost 30% brighter!

So supposing the general reflector properties are the same between the Convoy S3 and S2+, we can then extrapolate the lux values, and conclude that the GXB17 is indeed putting out all the ballpark of ~2055 lumens of light! Again this is in no way a controlled test, but it does give a general idea on the brightness and efficacy of the GXB17 driver in a S2 host.

Beam-shots

Now let's see some beam shots to have a good idea of how they look like in real life.

For this simple comparison test, I set up a GXB20 in a SK98 light, the Convoy S3 light, and the GXB17 in a Convoy S2 at the same location. Photos were taken with my camera on manual, set to a fixed 400 ISO, aperture f6.3, WB set to sunlight mode, and a fixed 1/60s exposure. You can just about make out the blurred outline of the flashlight at the centre bottom of each photo.

Here are the results. What's most interesting to me is the different beam profiles of the Convoy orange-peel reflectors vs. the lens optic on the SK98, as well as what a huge difference high and low CRI lighting results in, with the 90CRI LED putting out a much nicer colour!

For brightness, note the white bear in the center of the photo - the GXB17 is really putting out a massive amount of light! .. though I might have to change that LED out for a >90CRI one soon!

 July 2017 

Firmware, Modes and Real Life Usage

 Since the design is basically the same as the GXB20 V2, the same firmware can also be used on the GXB17. The firmware for the GXB17 was completed in July 2017.

The GXB20 V2 firmware ported over to the GXB17 with minimal modification.

The above flowchart shows the general operating states along with error and fault conditions.

 

Testing and firmware development was done with a bench power supply, and a XHP50A-00-0000-0D0UG20E2 LED configured for 6V operation, mounted on a large heat-sink as shown above. Power output was essentially identical to the GXB20; exactly as expected! :)


Useful Links

References and Links

BudgetLightForums - Thread of this project on BLF as it progressed
Cree XHP50.2 - The next generation Cree XHP50B LEDs
Convoy Flashlights - Official Convoy shop on Aliexpress
TPS61088 - 10A fully integrated synchronous boost converter
TPS61178 - 20V fully integrated synchronous boost converter with load disconnect


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(c) Gao Guangyan 2018
Contact: loneoceans [at] gmail [dot] com

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