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While visiting Pumping Station: One in Chicago, I noticed that member Tomer had a curious device: a soldering iron that plugged into his laptop. I was skeptical about how well it could work, so I asked if I could give it a try. A few minutes later, I had a potentiometer, wire, and solder in hand, and was ready to give it a go.

The iron has connections to use two USB ports to draw lots of power. It heated up quickly on my Thinkpad laptop, though I suspect that results might vary based on how closely the computer manufacturer follows the USB spec. Though quite light, the iron was pretty solid, and maintained a good amount of heat while I soldered some wire leads onto a potentiometer. It apparently doesn’t come with a stand, but Tomer’s solution of using a binder clip worked quite well.

My conclusion? I don’t think I would recommend it as a first iron, and it won’t be replacing my trusty bench-top unit any time soon, however I could see picking one up to keep in my backpack when traveling with prototype hardware.

This particular model is from an apparently no-name company, and is branded as ‘mega-power’. Getlofi sells them for about $25. Have you tried this one or a similar device? Do you hate the co-opting of USB ports for powering things they were never meant to power? Let us know in the comments!


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Comments

  1. Alan Blue says:

    With the sheer number of cell phones that can charge off of USB, their chargers are a pretty standard source of power away from the computer as well.

    At least, there’s no way I’d plug a USB soldering iron into my actual laptop as opposed to one of the stack of chargers.

    I’d rather have most everything plausible ship as a “USB” version instead of sending me yet another crappy wall wart.

  2. Circuit Master says:

    Thanks for doing this review! I’m glad the device caught your eye. I’ve had my original USB iron for over a year & find more benefits of it everyday.

    In a hurry, a quick 30 second warm-up time can’t compare to a 5 minute wait. I also depend on it when in a location without any(or enough) outlets. Did you notice the built-in light? Super handy for seeing in between wires & other components, or late night soldering.

  3. volkemon says:

    Not sure if this falls under similar device, but I have been pleasantly surprised with my Pro’sKit SI-B161.

    4.5V, 9W off three AA batteries. (That works out to 2 amps, or 4 USB ports at spec I think..)

    Not going to be a replacement for my solder station, for sure, but works VERY well in my field kit for those random repairs. I have never done more than 3 joints in a row with it, and I suppose it would eat batteries like I eat Doritos if it was the ‘Daily Driver’. But just like the iron you feature, it can save the day, and often another service call, just by being in the toolkit.

    Just googled it for a current price, and it is 30-35 $USD. Claims 160 solder joints/30 min continious (about 10 sec per joint- MORE than enough time) per battery set (!) and now comes with a white LED to light your work- mine is older and doesnt have that.

    I just timed mine with the used batteries that are ?? old- 20 sec to soldering temp and tinning a 24ga wire with 60/40. YMMV :)

  4. mikeiver says:

    Considering that the thing runs off of a pair of USB ports means that it is likely at best 5 Watts of heat. To be fair, that is likely enough for small surface mount work but the time on component to reach soldering temp makes me really leery. Did it get the job done? Likely. Was there damage to the parts? Maybe.

    Personally I keep a Butane powered unit for the job, in my case a Weller Portasol P2C. It has a rating of 25-75 Watts output and a tip temp of up to 850 Degrees F. They run about $25-35. http://www.cooperhandtools.com/brands/CF_Files/model_detail.cfm?upc=037103169389 I have a selection of tips for it including a hot air tip which is great for heat shrink tubing. It is adjustable for output and heats up in about 10 seconds from Piezo ignite to solder ready. The run time is longer than most laptops and refills are cheap and fast taking less than a couple of seconds.

  5. Chris W says:

    If there was no AC power, and I couldn’t bring my butane iron, then I would bring my trusty iso-tip battery powered iron. This would be a last resort.

    Just because something can be powered by a USB port doesn’t make it more convenient. If it had USB controlled temperature, and a general purpose thermometer, then it would make more sense.

  6. mikeiver says:

    I like the Iso-Tip and have one. The main issues I have with it is that the recharge is not fast, and I have the 1 hour model. I also am not a fan of the tip retention system on it. It is kind of flimsy and prone to loose proper contact with the leads of the tip. This puts more heat into the junction than the tip it seems. LOL The little Portasol has been a great asset in times of need. I have an array of soldering irons from a Whal 7470 micro soldering station to a number of Weller stations, a Pace station and a Metcal. In a pinch I have done fine electronics work with the Portasol. My point is simply, for a few dollars more you can have 10 times the tool and not be tied to a laptop or other USB power source.

  7. Simon says:

    I second having a good butane iron as a backup. I am still using my original Portsol Technic which I got over 20 years ago and it’s still going strong. It’s had a couple of new tips in that time (no new bodies though – let’s not use that old gag)!

    http://www.portasol.com/docs/Technic.pdf

    Simple and pretty much foolproof.

  8. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  9. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  10. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  11. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  12. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  13. Anonymous says:

    While I do hate the co-opting of USB ports for things they were never meant to power, it’s a fool’s battle at this point. I figure since USB totally failed to deliver on the promise of replacing other ports (OTG is still vanishingly rare, so I end up using RS232 and null-modem cables quite a bit, here in 2011), the least we can do to humiliate the USB-IF is perpetrate such power-sucking abominations as this.

  14. Great review !! USB soldering gun will be going to be handy when you don’t have access to AC power or in need of a quick soldering requirement. However, I doubt whether it can sustain temperature for long period of time because as soon as you progress on the solder job, the temperature of the tip is going to drop

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