What Makes the Thunderbolt Cable Lightning Fast

June 29, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Miro

It’s the chips.

And we’re not talking about the Lay’s variety. We received good word from one of our friends, Ars Technica’s own Chris Foresman, that the $50 Thunderbolt cable may be an active cable. He postulated that the cable may actually have chips containing firmware in it, making it more expensive to produce than your garden-variety HDMI cable — thus justifying the hefty price tag.

There was only one way to find out for sure; we hopped on over to the local Apple Store and donated $50 to the build-Apple-a-new-campus fund. A short while later, the cable was in our hands and ready to go under the knife.

And we knew exactly where to look. The cable contained a sturdy plastic sleeve on each end that looked quite suspicious. Heating up an Exacto knife worked well against the hard plastic, and we managed to remove the casing from the connector after some careful cutting/melting.

Once the casing was gone, we had to perform a significant amount of desoldering and cutting in order remove the metal surrounding the connector. Peeling back the metal (which appears to be plated brass) revealed the hardware underneath.

We found two Gennum GN2033 chips in the connector, one on each side. They were flanked by other, much smaller chips that surely added to the cable’s cost: two chips labeled S6A 1JG on one side, and chips labeled 1102F SS8370 and 131 3S on the other. Of course, there were tons of little resistors (providing impedance as needed) all around the larger chips.

We assumed that the other connector side would be identical, and we were correct. All in all, Apple’s $50 cable contained a total of 12 larger, inscribed chips, and tons of smaller electronic components.

One note: Gennum’s site mentions that their transceiver technology enables “reliable data transfer at cutting-edge speeds over low cost, thin-gauge copper cables.” Perhaps they were thinking of some other low cost cables, as we don’t think Apple’s $50 creation can be considered cheap. But, now you can at least sleep better at night knowing that there’s little chips inside your cable making it go fast. Your move, Monster Cable.

Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook Teardown

June 8, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — walter

Just over six months ago, Google released the Cr-48 prototype Chromebook to developers—promising that production hardware would be forthcoming. They weren’t lying! With today’s release of the first production Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5 3G, Google has officially entered the retail consumer laptop market with a device they promise will change computing forever.

Running Google’s own ChromeOS, the Series 5 Chromebook is Google’s answer to machines running monolithic operating systems, which they regard as overbearing and process intensive. We decided that the screws holding it together rather overbearing. So we removed them.

With the release of the first Chromebook, the Samsung Series 5 3G, Google has officially entered the retail consumer laptop market with a device they promise will change computing forever.

But what’s inside?

Our analysis revealed that the Series 5 is a well-polished version of the rather imperfect Cr-48 prototype Chromebook. We’ve had our Cr-48 for a while, and certain hardware failings—the incredibly horrible, no-good, really quite terrible trackpad and mediocre battery life—prevented us from using it regularly. The Series 5 fixes the major shortfalls of the Cr-48 and adds the polish necessary to strike lust into the heart of a broad consumer base: sleek looks, 8+ hours of battery life, and optimized performance.

The Samsung Series 5 3G Chromebook landed a decent 6 out of 10 Repairability Score. The Series 5 can be disassembled with a mere three tools: a spudger, a plastic opening tool, and a Phillips #1 screwdriver.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Series 5 is significantly more attractive than its ancestor—and a bit slimmer as well.
  • The improved Atom N570 processor sports 512K more L2 cache than the Cr-48′s Atom N455.
  • Samsung’s large integrated lithium-polymer battery is good for 8.1 Amp-hours at 7.4 V!
  • The Atom and NM10 graphics chip produce so little heat that no cooling fins are used at the fan’s exhaust.
  • Located underneath the keyboard, we discovered a Synaptics T1320A – Capacitive Touchscreen Controller.
  • Key players on the motherboard include:
    • 1.66 GHz Intel Atom dual-core N570 processor.
    • Intel NM10 Express Chipset (labeled as CG82NM10)
    • 2GB RAM: Samsung K4B2G0846 HCH9 2 Gb DD3 SDRAM (total of 8 ICs = 2 GB RAM)
    • 16 GB SanDisk SDSA4DH-016G SSD
    • Realtek ALC272 4-Channel High Definition Audio Codec

Lifting the motherboard out of the lower case

Lifting the motherboard out of the lower case

Final layout

Final layout