Introduction: A USB Power Controled Plug Strip. With Isolation.

The whole point of this Instructable was to allow me to power on all the accessories for my computer without thinking about it. And then not power all the little power vampire wall warts when I am not using the computer. The idea is simple, you power on your CPU, all of the other parts of the system power up (monitor, laser printer, speakers, etc) When you power off your CPU, they follow suit.Now there products out there that will do this for you, and if you do not have the experience working with line voltage electricity, please stop reading and just go buy one. There are several products that do exactly what we are trying to do here, but of all the ones that I have reviewed have disadvantages over the device that we are going to build. They fall into three basic types:

There are cheap usb controlled power strips, but I have seen several that do not offer any isolation, and if you are creating a possible path for line voltage (120v here in the USA) to your mother board, and its many hundred dollars worth of over-clocked goodness. I would like some isolation.

There are current sensing power strips, One of the outlets is set up to sense current flow. When this happens the electronics in the power strip power on the other outlets. Its a good idea, but sometimes they do not sense correctly, and will not turn on the accesories. Also the electronics require yet another little power supply to be on 24/7, this we are trying to avoid.

There are well designed enterprise grade solutions with isolation, that work very well and have a very hefty price tag as well.

This circuit uses no extra power when it is not in use, and offers some hefty isolation from power surges, and does not cost a fortune to build.

Step 1: What You Will Need

First off if you do not feel confident in your ability to work with line voltage power, please stop reading. If you build this project wrong, you have the ability to destroy your motherboard on your PC. I'm not kidding.

The heart of this system is two things really, the actual switching is done by a DC controlled solid state relay, All the isolation is provided by a pair of fuses and some transient voltage surge supressing diodes (TVSS)

All of the other parts are really up to you, I used what I had kicking around. Which was mostly standard electrical fittings, and an old plug strip, and a heatsink from a junk processor, and a USB cable that was miss ordered with usb "A" connectors on both ends. Feel free to use whatever works for you.

All told the parts that I had to order (fuses and holders, TVSS, and Solid State Relay) were less then $30.00 USD from an online supplier.

Step 2: The Schematic!

The concept of this circuit is pretty simple. The 5 volts provided in the USB connector is used to turn on a large Solid State Relay, which turns on the power to the power strip. All of the power control is done by the solid state relay(SSR). If you have never used and SSR for controliing power it could not be any easier, the designers have taken all of the hard engineering out of thier use. And what you get is a box with 4 terminals. Two of the terminals are for the line voltage. The other two are for the control voltage. When you supply control voltage to the control terminals, the line voltage terminals turn on. Thats it. No, really. Its just a little black box. No further engineering needed. Inductive loads, motors, lighting, resistive loads. They don't really care as long as they are within there rated current range.

The relay I chose was a Z240D10 from OPTO22. It has a maximum rated current of 10 amps @ 120VAC. This should be more then enough for my desk. The control input accepts from 3-32 VDC. So the 5 volts from the USB connector is more then enough. It was also chosen for its low cost. If you need more current capacity you can order a larger SSR.

The protection part of the circuit is three fold:

The first line of defense is the actual SSR. It uses an optical isolation between the power and control rated at a 4000 volts.

The second part of the circuit is a pair of 125mA fuses that will blow if over loaded.

The third part of the circuit is a pair of (1.5KE6.8CA) 7.14v transient voltage surge supressing diodes (TVSS) These are similar to a Zeiner diode. When the voltage across the terminals exceeds a limit. They begin conducting. Except unlike the Zeiner diode, they are bidirectional. So if for any reason the voltage in the control parts of the circuit exceeds 7.14v they act like a short and blow the fuses. The power dissapation for these parts is rated at 1500 watts for 1 millisecond. Which is more then enough to blow the fuses and protect the circuit. Circuits like this one are used in various communication devices that are subject to lightning and power surges.

Step 3: Enough Talking Time to Build.

I chose to mount all of the components in a standard electrical box, for low load situations the box itself is probably enough of a heatsink for the SSR. But I had an old processor heatsink that was pretty good fit. So it was added to the box behind where the SSR mounts. Don't forget to add some heatsink compound between the SSR and the box, and some between the box and the heatsink.

The cord for the Plugstrip is cut in half and run through the electrical box. The neutral (white wire) is spliced with a crimp terminal. The grounds (green wire) are spliced and connected to the metal chassis for safety. The hot wire (black) is connected through the SSR with crimp terminals. This concludes the line voltage wiring.

The +5V and Ground from the USB cable (pins1 and 4) are are connected to one end of the fuse block, and one TVSS The TVSS diodes are simply crimped into the connectors for the fuse blocks. Simple, fast, easy. Then two wires are run from the other end of the fuses (with another TVSS) to the control terminals of the SSR. Most SSR's will have one of the control terminals marked for the positive (+) lead. Make sure to get the polarity right.

Make sure to insulate the other two wires in the USB cable from each other and the metal case. If you do not you can short out the USB buss and cause all kinds of other problems.

This concludes the wiring.

I added a small piece of plastic (recycled blister packaging) to form a voltage barrier between the high and low voltage sides of the case, as extra insurance.

Step 4: Close It Up and Test!

So with the wiring completed. and checked. Its time to close it up and test. I recommend starting with things other then your computer and all its toys for testing. Plug a light bulb into the plugstrip. Plug the power strip into the wall. If everything is correct, nothing will happen. Now DO NOT USE YOUR COMPUTER FOR THE NEXT STEP. Find yourself a USB charger from your iWatever, and plug it into the wall. When you plug the USB cable from the unit into the charger the lightbulb should light. This way if you get anything wrong, the most you should be out is the cost of the charger.

Troubleshooting: If it does not work check the switch on the power strip. Then check if you have the polarity from the USB cable to the SSR correct.

Hope you have enjoyed this. Its a fun little project. And has the side benefits of making your life easier, saving you money on electricity, and doing your part to save the planet.

Keep tinkering,