Unveiled: Audience powers iPhone 4′s impressive noise cancellation

May 17, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle

When we analyzed the Nexus One last January, the big news was its Audience voice processor. The Audience chip takes advantage of two microphones (if you’re counting, that’s one more than most cell phones) to cancel out ambient noise. This dramatically improves audio quality in noisy environments, and the Nexus One’s impressive microphone performance has been a major selling point. (The Nexus One’s other selling point is regular Android updates, but it’s probably best to leave that sore point for another time.) The Nexus One design win was a major coup for Audience, and landed their A1026 Voice Processor on the world stage. You can see the Nexus One’s Audience part highlighted in yellow in this image:

Fast forward to last summer, when our iPhone 4 teardown revealed that the iPhone also had two microphones! At the time, we rather ambiguously reported that it was “used to cut out ambient noise and improve sound quality.” What we didn’t know was whether Apple had invented their voice processor or was licensing third-party technology.

There was one small, 3mm x 3mm chip that we weren’t able to identify during our teardown. It was white-labelled, meaning Apple asked the manufacturer to remove their branding from the package to make it difficult for folks like us to identify. The markings on the chip ’10C0 01S8 0077′ didn’t match any existing part in our database, and we didn’t pursue it further. This part turned up again this February when we got our hands on the Verizon (CDMA) iPhone 4. You can see it here to the right of the A4:

We like mysteries as much as the next guy, so we decided to dig further. Our friends at Chipworks just decapped the chip, and guess what they found? That’s right, an Audience low power audio signal processor. As conclusive proof, here’s the Audience die marking they found inside the chip:

The package has an embedded digital signal processor with accompanying analog front ends. You can see the innards here, courtesy Chipworks:

The iPhone’s audio cancellation capabilities are very impressive, outperforming every non-Audience powered cell phone we’ve tried. You can hear the cancellation in action in this test by PocketNow:

This is a huge win for Audience. They’re seeing impressive traction in other smartphones. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple decides to integrate the technology into the A5 (as they have with other subcomponents) or if this relationship with Audience is long-term. Clearly Audience is betting on the latter—and thus far, they’ve shown impressive execution.

FBI Tracking Device Teardown

May 9, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Disclaimer: We love the FBI. We’ve had the opportunity to help them fight crime on several occasions. We’ve helped them with instructions on gaining entry into certain devices. We have nothing against them, and we hope they don’t come after us for sneaking a peek inside their nifty tracker.

Now that we’re in the clear, it’s teardown time!

We partnered with Wired to bring you a peek inside an FBI car-tracking device. The device was loaned to us by a person who found the device on their car, and is similar to the one Yasir Afifi recently found underneath his own vehicle.

The hand-assembled device is comprised of a GPS unit for receiving the car’s position, an RF transmitter for relaying your location to the interested authority (aka the FBI), and a set of sweet d-cell lithium batteries that power the whole enchilada.

But we didn’t stop there, of course. Read on to find out exactly what components make this device tick.

Opening the transmitter

Opening the transmitter

Final layout

Final layout

iMac 21.5″ (EMC 2428) Teardown

May 4, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We got up this morning to news that the new iMacs were out, so we knew what we had to do: start sharpening our suction cups!

Our suction cup gamble paid off. We found very soon that this model iMac opens in the same way as previous generations. All you have to do is pull off the magnetically-held display glass with two medium-size suction cups, and then remove the screws holding the LCD in place.

But what lies inside? We knew of only one way to find out…

The 21.5″ iMac (EMC 2428) scored a very respectable 7 out of 10 Repairability Score. Most of the disassembly is pretty straightforward and accomplished using a T10 Torx screwdriver and suction cups. A casual user can easily replace the RAM, and it’s moderately difficult to access the hard drive and optical drive.

However, more adventurous users (those wanting to upgrade the CPU/GPU) will have to take out the logic board, which is a tricky process; they will also have to void the warranty if they replace the CPU. It’s also quite difficult to reassemble the LCD and glass without a dust mite getting stuck in between the two.

Teardown highlights:

  • The LED display is manufactured by LG and is denoted by its model number LM215WF3. This is the same display used in the previous generation 21.5″ iMac.
  • Similar (but not exactly the same) to the Thunderbolt IC we found in the latest MacBook Pro 15″, the iMac features the Intel L102IA84 EFL Thunderbolt port IC.
  • The optional SSD appears to reside beneath the optical drive — that’s the only space we could find where something was clearly missing. There’s three mounting points under the optical drive that have nothing attached to them in our machine, since this option is only available on 2.7 GHz 21.5″ iMacs.
  • If you want to remove the logic board, you have to snake it out from the rest of the iMac — a combination of pulling up, as well as away from the casing. After a little bit of jiggling, it comes right out.
  • In usual Apple fashion, one heat sink is reserved for the CPU, while the other oversees the GPU. And, in usual Apple fashion, you have to void the warranty in order to get a peep at the CPU processing power underneath.
  • Of course, we’ll do almost anything in the name of science.
  • After popping off the CPU heat sink, we can get a good look at the Core i5 processor. Our machine is powered by a quad-core 2.5 GHz Core i5-2800S CPU with 6 MB of Intel Smart Cache.
  • With a bit of magic, the GPU heat sink detaches from the logic board, exposing the AMD GPU board. You heard that right, folks — you don’t have to replace the entire logic board if your GPU explodes from too much l33t gaming. You can just swap out the GPU board for another one.
  • The main chips on the GPU board include the AMD Radeon HD 6750M GPU, as well as four Hynix H5GQ1H24AFR T2L 1 Gb GDDR SDRAM chips (totaling a cumulative 512 MB).
  • Thankfully, both the CPU and GPU on this machine have proper amounts of thermal paste applied, a happy departure from the gobs applied to the MacBook Pro we recently took apart.
  • At the heart of the Bluetooth board lies a Broadcom BCM2046 Bluetooth IC, as well as 256 KB of SST 39VF200A CMOS Multi-Purpose Flash (MPF). We found this same Broadcom chip a long time ago in the first MacBook Air. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
  • Key players on the logic board include:
    • 2.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-2800S CPU with 6 MB of Intel Smart Cache.
    • Intel BD82Z68 Platform Controller Hub
    • Broadcom BCM57765B0KMLG Integrated Gigabit Ethernet and Memory Card Reader Controller
    • Cirrus 4206BCNZ audio controller
    • SMSC USX2061 (we believe this a USB 2.0 Hub Controller Family)
    • Intersil ISL6364 CRZ Single-Phase Synchronous-Buck PWM voltage regulator for GPU core power applications
    • Intel L102IA84 EFL Thunderbolt port IC
Taking off the CPU heat sink

Taking off the CPU heat sink

Final layout

Final layout