Apple Tablet Teardown

March 31, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We had to resort to some subversive techniques involving a cop from Ottawa, a donkey, and three uncouth janitors to obtain this pre-release Apple Tablet (don’t ask, because we won’t tell). We felt we compromised our morals at first, but we quickly got over it and began tearing this sucker apart.

Apple has completely changed directions since their original press announcement, but the new hardware we got is actually much improved in a number of ways.

Apple definitely snuck away some interesting tidbits inside — things they didn’t want people to know prior to release. Initially we thought the battery was going to be difficult to take out, but boy were we wrong!

You can also check out the video slideshow of our teardown!

Teardown highlights:

  • The tablet has a user-replaceable battery! You can use Apple’s proprietary battery pack, or you can just buy four AA alkaline batteries if you’re on the go.
  • Contrary to Apple’s published specification, the tablet we got measures in at 1.1 x 4.7 x 8.3 inches, and weighs a svelte 1.4 lbs. It’s a bit smaller and lighter than Apple is advertising, but definitely thicker.
  • After much (careful) wiggling and prying, the rear case lifts right off the tablet. Apple has made a complete about-face, making their new tablet the most user-serviceable device they’ve released in over a decade.
  • This machine is much more expandable than anticipated. It has TWO Type II PC Card slots!
  • The single 8 Ohm, .3 W speaker provides only mono sound. You can’t really expect stereo, especially with this kind of economy.
  • Major players on the board include big wins for Sharp, DEC, and Cirrus Logic.
  • Each chip has 4 MB of mask ROM, for a grand total of 8 MB of mask ROM! Shocking!
  • The reverse of the mask ROM board looks to have space for four more chips. Looks like Apple’s planning to roll out incremental upgrades yet again.
  • There is a spot on the front of the unit where a camera could be implemented perfectly. We wonder why it wasn’t included, as well as what Apple has in store for next decade.

Opening the back cover

Removing the logic board

Final layout

Nintendo DSi XL Teardown

March 28, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro


Nintendo used a shrink ray on the “reverse” setting to develop the XL from a stock DSi.

The obvious changes are readily visible on the exterior — larger size, larger screens, even a larger stylus — but we also found several internal updates once we opened our burgundy unit.

You can also check out our YouTube video slideshow of the teardown!

Teardown highlights:

  • Nintendo is again using a custom ARM CPU, manufactured in December of 2009. This chip is marked identically to the DSi, and definitely not the Tegra chip that had been rumored.
  • The logic board grew proportionally to its casing. We’re sure Nintendo’s engineers were happy with not having to pack as much electronics as possible in a smaller design. In this instance, Nintendo’s going against the normal trend in electronics
  • Battery capacity is significantly greater than the DSi.  The DSi uses an 840 mAh battery compared to the DSi XL’s 1050 mAh battery. Given the internal similarity of the XL to the original DSi, we assume the extra juice helps power the larger-sized screens.
  • The DSi XL weighs in at 314 grams, about 45% more than its smaller DSi cousin (only 217 grams). A significant portion of the heft comes from the larger screens, and 4 grams comes from the added battery juice. The XL is really on the outer limits of what people consider to be portable — especially for a hand-held game console.
  • Nintendo redesigned the battery connector to eliminate a long ribbon cable spanning the width of the old DSi.
  • The lower display is held in place solely by the pressure of the logic board secured over it — no screws!
  • Although the screen size has been enlarged, the resolution still remains the same at 256 x 192 pixels per screen.
  • Reassembling the triggers is quite difficult. Take them apart if only you dare (or need to).
  • Power management is now relegated to a TI 72071B0 charging circuit. This used to me a Mitsumi component in the smaller DSi.
  • No “Supersize Me” inscriptions were found anywhere on the internals.

Removing the top display

Final layout

Recognizing the World’s Repair Experts

March 26, 2010 Answers, Site News — Kyle

When I decided that iFixit was going to show people how to fix anything, I realized that we couldn’t accomplish that mission without enlisting the help of the world’s repair experts. But, since everyone starts out as an amateur, I also knew that we needed a path for people to gain credibility and become recognized as an expert.

The obvious metric to use is industry-specific accreditation certifications. Some expert accreditations work very well, others do not. I wouldn’t trust a surgeon that didn’t have an MD, or a lawyer that hadn’t passed the bar exam. However, many other so-called expert certifications (A+ and MCSE, I’m looking at you!) have such a low barrier to entry that they approach meaninglessness.

We are serious about expertise

Professionals in each industry know which standards to trust and which to ignore, but the immensely varying quality level often makes these certifications opaque to the rest of us.

We plan to recognize the good certifications and supplant the bad. First, let’s talk about the good.

Recognition

Reliable reputation standards streamline trust. I’m probably going to be pretty skeptical of medical advice from a random person on the street—unless that person happens to have earned an MD. In that case, I am willing to extend them a great deal of credibility, even without any other knowledge of the individual. The world is rapidly becoming too complex to function without external certification entities to help us streamline case-by-case trust decisions.

Apple actually has one of the better computer service certification programs out there. I know this firsthand, because I learned most of my Mac repair skills at my first job, working under incredibly skilled certified Apple service technicians. They taught me a tremendous amount, most of which came from hundreds of hours of direct hands-on experience, but their baseline skill set came from Apple’s excellent training and certification programs.

Starting today, anyone who holds a current Apple Certified Macintosh Technician certification can send us their certificate via a handy upload form on their profile page. We will update their profile accordingly with an Apple Certified Macintosh Technician badge and 100 reputation points!

Our Certification Uploader in action.

We don’t intend to stop with Apple certifications. We plan to support any industry-specific certification program that our community deems popular and credible. We won’t support them all initially, of course, but we plan on gradually rolling out new certifications.

A note of caution: Just because you have a certification doesn’t mean you are the final arbiter of truth and can steamroll over people who don’t. Yes, independent training and testing is a good start, but what we really care about is what others in our community think of you.

Expert certifications that matter

I don’t think very many computer technicians think that the A+ certification means much. (Even Geek Squad has replaced it with their own internal “DATA” certification.) But anyone would agree that a couple years of boots-on-the-ground experience successfully fixing things for people is worth a lot. You build up a track record of all the people that you’ve helped, people you can point back to as references.

So while we are eager to recognize the certifications that do mean something, we want to provide an alternative way to recognize the expertise of those who are out there actively helping people every day. That’s our goal for our reputation system—to provide a way for people to recognize expertise.

We’re very humble about this. We have devised a point system that surely needs lots of work before it reflects reality in any reasonable way. But every point that you earn in the system comes from a real person who thought the information that you provided was useful. And isn’t sharing specialized knowledge the essence of expertise?

Nexus One Infographic

March 24, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

The Nexus One deserves more attention. Its hardware is really quite impressive, and yet no one seems to be buying it! Very few people outside the tech world even know that it exists.

To give Google a little boost, we made this lovely infographic: a direct comparison between the Nexus One and the iPhone. Our biggest beef with the Nexus One? There isn’t a parts supply chain for it yet, meaning all repairs have to go through HTC’s overpriced mail-in service. Boo! Hopefully we’ll be able to fix that soon.

Click on the graphic for a much, much larger version!

Achieving Technical Writing Excellence

March 23, 2010 Hardware, Meet iFixit, Site News — Miro

Taking apart a Mac Mini for a repair guide

We strive to provide iFixit users with the best technical documentation possible. Each guide we create is evaluated by a number of staff members. The final product is published on our site only after all i’s were dotted, t’s crossed, and spells checked.

I asked one of our technical writers, Walter Galan, to share some of his methods for creating awesome iFixit repair guides and teardowns.

-Miro

1. Writing is a working process with many steps in between. Your first draft is more likely to be just that — your first draft. Don’t expect to write words of wisdom on your first attempt.  Take the time to read what you’ve written; many times you will notice that your writing may not match your train of thought.

2. Make sure to edit your work multiple times. Editing your work is at least half of the equation, and proofreading is just as important as editing. Careless grammatical errors can easily ruin an excellent piece of writing. Always proofread what you write with the utmost care. Use a dictionary if you’re unsure of a word’s spelling, and use a thesaurus to avoid repetition of one word throughout the text.

3. When developing technical documentation, you must first and foremost consider your audience. Ask yourself, who will be reading this document? What level of technical understanding do they have? You always have to be conscious of your audience, for they are the ones who will be gaining the most from your words. Write for them — not yourself.

4. Appreciate criticism. Learn from criticism. People are naturally prone to despising others’ opinions, so this takes practice and a positive mental outlook. As a writer, learn to interpret the suggestions of others into your writing. Great technical documentation is a work of many thoughts and suggestions blended into an all-in-one product.

There is always something that can be improved upon. By taking the time to evaluate your work and not being afraid to enlist the help of others, you virtually guarantee that you will become a better writer.

Thanks a bunch Walter!

Chipworks Dissects Nexus One Processor

March 2, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Kyle

We’ve made a lot of friends in the electronics manufacturing and semiconductor industries over the years as we’ve taken apart cutting-edge hardware. One of those friends is a Canadian semiconductor reverse engineering company that has made a name for itself deconstructing silicon packages and analyzing the circuitry inside. In essence, they do the same thing that we do—tear products apart to find out what’s inside—but with much, much smaller devices. Chipworks is based in Ottawa, Ontario– where they tell me it gets cold enough in the winter that the rubber in your car tires can crack.

The engineers at Chipworks were especially intrigued by our Nexus One teardown, so much so that they decided to pick up where we left off by dissecting the circuit board!

What you may not know about the black ceramic ‘chips’ that we uncover is that they are actually packages that contain one or more super-thin silicon dies. In fact, Apple’s Samsung-manufactured iPhone processors have three stacked dies: the processor itself, and two layers of DRAM. This technology is called Package on Package, or PoP, and we are starting to see it in more and more devices. In fact, one company is working on technology to stack up to 32 dies in a single package.

So it was no great surprise to us when Chipworks discovered that the Nexus One’s 1Ghz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is also a PoP. What does this look like?

Three layers of silicon:

2 GB Samsung DDR SDRAM

Qualcomm QSD8250 Chipset

Qualcomm Snapdragon Processor

Each of these layers is just 40 micrometers, or 0.040 mm thick. That’s just about the thickness of a human hair.

The Audience A1026 audio processor was another interesting part that caught people by surprise in the Nexus One. This processor does the heavy lifting required to actively cancel out background noise using input from the phone’s unique binaural microphones. Audience is a new company to us, and Chipworks was so intrigued that they decided to take a close-up look at their silicon.

Audience A1026 Voice Processor

Chipworks found that most of the silicon in the Nexus One was manufactured in October of 2009, which is quite late considering that we took delivery of the phone in mid January. In fact, these manufacture dates are after the week 40 manufacture time of the A4 processor in Apple’s photo of the iPad (granted, that photo was likely of a preproduction part).  HTC is running clearly running a tight shop.

Chipworks pays for their labs full of high-end electron microscopes, X-ray photography equipment, and vats of semiconductor ceramic-eating acid by selling high-resolution photos like these to semiconductor companies. If you’re the kind of person who needs photos like this, you don’t need us to tell you that you can buy them from Chipworks. What we can tell you is that their engineers are quite good at what they do. Canadian gold, even.

iPhone 3G Glass Repair Kit Special

March 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

For a limited time only, we’re including our 26 Piece Bit Driver Kit free with our iPhone 3G Front Panel Kit! This kit includes not only the necessary #00 Phillips bit, but also contains 25 other specialty electronics bits.

The kit includes everything you need to fix your iPhone 3G’s broken glass: adhesive stripsmetal spudgerspudger26 piece Bit Driver Kitsuction cuptouchscreen glass and integrated digitizer. Installation requires a heat gun or hair dryer, which is not included.

This kit is only for the iPhone 3G. Although visually identical, this front panel will not work in the iPhone 3GS. If you happen to own a 3GS, don’t despair — we’ll have a special kit just for you by the end of the week. If you can’t wait that long, you can use this front panel for the iPhone 3GS.

This combo deal is just $5 more than our standalone iPhone 3G front panel! Now go make someone’s day and repair their broken iPhone glass.