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 Wiens

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.

iPhone 3GS Wallpaper

February 23, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

When the 27″ iMac wallpaper came out, we got plenty of emails asking us for iPhone wallpapers. We definitely heard your cries, oh iPhonians. So we aligned the stars and got down to work.

These wallpapers were taken from two — yes, two! — iPhone 3GS phones. That was the only way we could incorporate both the blue and green logic board colors, as well as the “looking through the EMI covers” look of the second wallpaper.

Both flavors are rendered in the iPhone’s 320 x 480 resolution and look exactly as if you had X-ray vision and could peer through the iPhone’s LCD.

Oh, and iPhone 2G/3G owners — we won’t tell anyone that the wallpaper’s from a 3GS. You have our blessing to use it.

Red Pill: Logic board chips are fully visible beneath the EMI covers.

Blue Pill: EMI covers are only partially transparent, showing off the logic board chips below.

Which looks better? The choice is up to you. We suggest you download both and then see which one you prefer on the phone. Leave us a comment and let us know — we’re divided almost 50/50 at the iFixit office. I’m partial to the second wallpaper, but what do I know? I own a Droid.

Quick tip on how to load the wallpaper on your iPhone:

  • Visit this page on your iPhone.
  • Hold your finger for three seconds on the image you want to save.
  • Select “Save Image” on the menu that appears.
  • Go to your Camera Roll photo album.
  • Choose the image and set it as your wallpaper.

Flip MinoHD Teardown

February 17, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The second-gen Flip MinoHD hit the market in October, and is currently the best-selling digital MiniDV camcorder on Amazon.

Consumers definitely love it, but we were curious to see what kind of electronics were packed into this simplistic yet customizable half-aluminum, half-plastic device.

Is the Flip MinoHD’s $230 price tag really justified, or is this just a tidy, sleek-looking cash cow for Pure Digital?

There was only one way to find out: teardown time.

Teardown Highlights:

  • Capacitive sensors under each of the control symbols (play, back, etc.) provide the logic board with control data, while small LEDs mounted to the logic board under each “button” project light through the front panel to provide their illumination.
  • The MinoHD sips two hours worth of power from the internal 3.7V, 1150 mAh Li-ion battery. The battery weighs in at 30 grams. Coincidentally, this is the same capacity as the iPhone 3G.
  • Cisco is using 8 GB of Samsung NAND flash.
  • The microphone assembly on the left also houses a small speaker for audio output during video playback. It connects to the board via two spring-loaded pressure contacts.
  • Once the USB axle clears the outer case, the flip-up USB connector may be ejected at high speed. Wear safety glasses if taking apart the MinoHD.
  • The high definition CMOS sensor has .0000022 meter wide pixels to capture clear 720p video.
  • The MinoHD uses a Zoran COACH (camera on a chip) 12 processor featuring real-time lens distortion compensation and noise reduction.

Some cool pictures to whet your appetite:

Removing the back cover
Taking off the display
Separating the camera
Final layout

21.5″ iMac Wallpaper

February 16, 2010 Hardware — Miro

Back in October we had a chance to take apart a brand-new 27″ iMac and show to the world its internal goodies. At the end of the teardown, we reassembled the machine back to its original state, but managed to snap a photo of the internals just before the LCD was put back on. The 27″ iMac wallpaper was born, and people loved it.

We recently got our hands on the new 27″ iMac’s smaller brother, the 21.5″ iMac. We’re in the midst of creating a set of repair guides for it, but we wanted to share a sneak peek of the internals with you.

So here’s the 21.5″ iMac wallpaper!

The 3410 x 1918 wallpaper looks great when scaled down to the 21.5″ iMac’s 1920 x 1080 native resolution, but still preserves as much detail as possible.

To further pique your interest, you can compare the two machines by their wallpapers:

21.5" iMac Internals

27" iMac Internals

We’ll release the new 21.5″ iMac guides very soon. Check them out in a week or two if you are looking to do some upgrades!

Apple A4 Processor Revealed

January 27, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Word around the campfire is that Apple came out with a new device. Well, we just happened to be at the right place at the right time, and managed to sneek a peek at the new Apple A4 processor, which powers the new iPad.

From Apple’s official video we found the following markings: H8MBT00V0MTR-OEM; VTJK00782; 1SB009A 0940

The last four digits indicate the manufacture date. Apparently this particular chip came into existence in Week 40 of 2009, which happens to be end of September / early October. So it’s been around for awhile, that’s for sure.

The rest of the markings are harder to decode. We will be taking apart the iPad as soon as we can get our hands on it.

Device Naming Conventions

January 21, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Engadget recently posted its revised style guide, which piqued my interest in reevaluating our device naming convention. Historically, iFixit tried to be faithful to manufacturers’ wishes with regard to device name capitalization—we capitalized it how they capitalized it.

Most of the time device naming is not an issue, but names with no capital letters (like iPod nano, shuffle, and touch, chumby one), look goofy. Such names make our writing appear ignorant, as if we failed to capitalize the device name letters when creating the titles.

The other aspect of this problem are device names with camel case (iPod, iPhone, BlackBerry, PlayStation), as well as all-caps names (DROID), that manufacturers devised to make the name stand out amidst other text.

We strive to be as readable and consistent as possible, and we have been debating capitalization conventions for some time. After much thought and deliberation, we have finally decided that:

  1. All device names will begin with either the first or second letter capitalized, depending on the manufacturer’s naming convention. An iPod remains iPod, but an iPod touch becomes iPod Touch. Similarly, the chumby one becomes Chumby One.
  2. Device names that are all-caps, such as DROID, will instead have only the first letter capitalized, and the rest lower-case. Hence, we call it the Droid.
  3. We will respect camel case—with a name like iFixit, who are we to judge? BlackBerry stays BlackBerry, and iFixit stays iFixit.

We feel these three simple rules will unify the look of our repair database while still preserving the manufacturer’s intent as much as possible.

MacBook Pro 15″ LCD Guides

January 12, 2010 Hardware, Repair Guides, Site News — Miro

Taking out the MacBook Pro LCD

You no longer have to replace your non-Unibody MacBook Pro display assembly in order to fix a faulty/cracked display. We’ve released a set of guides that show you how to remove the LCD from the rest of the assembly, and switch it out with a new one.

The entire process is relatively straightforward, but not for the faint of heart — it requires the user to separate the bezels from the LCD using a spudger, albeit from an LCD that’s already presumed to be broken.

This procedure can be performed on model A1150, A1211, and A1226/A1260 MacBook Pros; if you’re unsure which laptop you have, feel free to use iFixit’s laptop identification system!

Also make sure to choose the correct LCD type, as the A1150 and A1211 LCD differs from the A1226/A1260 model.

Nexus One Torn Down

January 6, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We heard the Nexus One was developed by HTC under close supervision by Google. We wanted to see what kind of Google magic lay inside the device, so we took it apart and made a video slideshow!

Once we took the fancy wrapper off the phone, the Nexus One revealed itself to be very similar to other smartphones, albeit with stronger hardware. Its thoughtful internal design did impress us, as did its ease of disassembly.

Teardown highlights:

  • The 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor is quite speedy. We had a Motorola Droid on-hand for comparison, and it seemed to us that everything went a bit more smoothly on the Nexus One — at least before we took it apart.
  • The unbelievably easy task of removing the plastic rear cover gives access to the replaceable battery. Hey Apple, take notes!
  • This phone is very nicely put together and has no visible screws. Yet, we were able to remove the battery cover, unscrew three screws, and take off the battery holder frame. Depending on the part, the phone can certainly be user-serviceable.
  • It’s quite a colorful phone on the inside. HTC/Google was nice enough to include greens, yellows, oranges, dark grays, and all sorts of other colors inside the device.
  • Nexus One chip winners include Qualcomm (QCOM), Broadcom (BRCM), Skyworks (SWKS), Texas Instruments (TXN), Samsung, Synaptics (SYNA), Atmel (ATML), and Audience.
  • The 3.7-inch (diagonal) WVGA AMOLED touchscreen is made by Samsung, the same screen supplier as for Microsoft’s Zune HD.
  • Qualcomm is certainly the chip winner for the Nexus One, having three of the largest-profile chips in the device: processor, power management chip, and RF transceiver.
  • The 802.11n capability gives the Nexus an advantage over the iPhone 3GS, which only has 802.11g. The Broadcom BCM4329 chip in the Nexus is the same chip found in Apple’s newest (3rd generation) iPod touch, and also has Bluetooth and FM transceiver functionality.
Taking out the logic board

Taking out the logic board

Complete disassembly

Complete disassembly