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I have bought a used LSI iBBU07 for my LSI 3ware SAS 9750-8i RAID card. And now the card cannot detect the BBU even though I have seemingly installed it correctly.

I would like to know that:

  1. Is there any hope to troubleshoot this BBU?
  2. The BBU came with an IBM part number sticker attached on it. Does this indicate possible firmware incompatibilities between LSI 3ware, LSI and IBM RAID card and BBU firmwares? If so how can I, if I can, force reflash the BBU firmware with something that is compatible with 9750-8i?
  3. The seller says that the battery on the BBU may be flat, and a BBU with flat battery may not be detected. If that is the case how can I force charge the battery? I have a generic Li-ion battery charger module with battery protection circuitry built in. Can I use that on the battery? If so how to wire the BBU to my charger module?
  4. On a similar note, if the battery is really dead (as in no longer capable of holding a charge) can I replace just the Li-po cell with some spare Li-po cells I have in storage? If so how do I perform this operation? I have some mastery of the delicate art of soldering tiny electronic components.
  5. If such troubleshooting steps are not available, is there any possibilities for me to recover the BBU, or do I have to write it up as a loss?
  • I'd send it back. If the seller won't take it back, issue a chargeback for selling broken equipment, then purchase a card from a reputable company. – EEAA Feb 1 '16 at 12:27
  • @EEAA Send which of the two back? The BBU or the RAID card itself? They come from two different places. – Maxthon Chan Feb 1 '16 at 14:23
  • @EEAA The BBU's seller won't take it back as it is sold "as-is" but buying a new one will cost me 10x the money. So I hacked it. – Maxthon Chan Feb 2 '16 at 17:17
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Clarification

This is a hack, not a proper fix which would be buying a new BBU.

I pulled this hack due to cost restraints (a new BBU costs more than 10x the cost of a used one,) resource restraints (an impending holiday already brought the economy of the country to a halt so no purchasing is possible at the time,) and the fact that I am the go-to guy for troubleshooting virtually anything, hardware or software, in my team. I was also the chief engineer in a few of the team's projects and have soldered prototype boards and even previously fixed a colleague's graphics card, so the team trust me with my soldering skills which is involved in this hack.

Also, since this is handling Li-po cells which may catch fire if mistreated, you have to be extremely careful when dealing them. I am a professional on this, being a trained engineer in both electronics engineering and computer engineering; and the hacker's kit Li-po edition is a custom purpose-built tool for troubleshooting Li-po and Li-ion batteries.

If you are not a multitalented engineer and troubleshooter, if you are not willing to take the risk, if you are not willing to stomach any loss if the hack fell apart, and/or if your team don't trust you in those (most of the time,) do not pull hacks like this.

Original answer

I have managed to rescue this BBU after hacking it. The seller tells me that the used BBU is sold as-is without any warranty, and this gave me the license to hack.

The battery controller chip by Linear Technology requires a minimum cell voltage of 3V to operate according to its datasheet, but my battery cell measures only 2.4V. No wonder why it won't work, the chip is in its low cell voltage protection mode.

I took the battery pack itself apart to find out what the remaining three out of five wires from the pack are connected to, but that proved not relevant. After I peeled off the paper top of the battery I am greeted with two solder blobs for the cell itself. A quick confirmation with a multimeter, the cell measures 2.4V, flat dead. Time to break out my hacker's kit, Li-po edition.

Since I already have two nice big solder blobs for terminals of the cell, I soldered wires to it attaching the cell directly to my TP4056-based Li-po charger module with integrated DW01A cell protection unit, bypassing the onboard protection unit and charging unit. DW01A have a cutoff voltage of 1.8V and TP4056 can charge cells with a starting voltage of 2V. After a nice night of 1A fast charging with TP4056, the cell is fully charged at 4.3V.

Sealing the battery pack back with a few strips of sticky tape, the BBU is properly detected and working again.

To answer my own questions:

  1. The BBU is fixed.
  2. There is no firmware incompatibility. The cause of the issue is just a flat battery.
  3. The cell can be force charged with appropriate charger, bypassing the onboard protection unit.
  4. The cell is a standard size and can be replaced if it is dead.
  5. It is fixed, no need of writing it off.

Possible future experiments:

  • Replace the Li-po cell with another, brand new cell (since I bought this one used and battery cells wear out eventually,) maybe physically larger thanks to the form factor, or some remotely mounted high capacity 18650 Li-ion cells.
  • Clever fix, and fun project, no doubt, but I want to leave a note for future visitors that this is not something that is acceptable in 99.9% of environments. When your datacenter burns down and your insurance company finds out that it was due to a hacked LiON cell, you'll be SOL. – EEAA Feb 2 '16 at 17:19
  • @EEAA Well when you run on a super tight budget and Spring Festival is within a week (some Chinese holiday that brings the entire economy to a weeks-long halt and the Internet traffic to some unimaginable peak, so you can not buy anything or touch the server in any way but have to handle some serious traffic) you have to hack something and leave a to-do sticker on the server. I can buy a proper new BBU after the Spring Festival but this hack should work for a few weeks. And I don't really mind stomaching the cost of a Big Mac since I can take this hacked BBU back for my home server. – Maxthon Chan Feb 2 '16 at 17:26
  • We did similar things in an old job. I always kept silent about it on Server Fault though. (Same-ish reasons: Must be up NOW. No backups. 24H till replacement arrived). – Hennes Feb 2 '16 at 18:09
  • @Hennes Since that server in question was put together mostly using used parts already (did I mention tight budget? Common startup issue here.) my deal with the team is that if the hack can't keep up until the server is replaced with a proper one I buy a new one with my own salary for the team and take the hacked one back myself. (And with the proper server will come a proper BBU if the hack worked so I take the hacked one home too for free) And hey the team expect me to pull hacks like this. – Maxthon Chan Feb 2 '16 at 18:18

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