Nexus S Teardown

December 16, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Nexus S is supposed to be the next flagship Android phone. Yet, having looked at both the outside and inside of this device, we’re just a tad underwhelmed. We feel the phone’s curved glass is more of a gimmick than anything else, although it does feel very nice when pressed up against the user’s face.

Our teardown reveals that only the glass itself is curved, but that the Super AMOLED display and touchscreen are just as flat as any phone’s. Although Google/Samsung technically doesn’t lie on their site — they clearly mention a curved glass panel, not curved Super AMOLED — we still find their “Contour Display” name a bit misleading.

Teardown Highlights:

  • The Super AMOLED does away with the digitizer, and integrates the capacitive touch sensors into the display. You can definitely see that only the front glass panel is curved. The rest of the components are flat as a board, just as any other phone on the market.
  • Inside we found a S5PC110A01 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Processor stacked together with a Samsung KB100D00WM-A453 memory package. Other notable chips include a SanDisk SDIN4C2 16GB MLC NAND flash module, an Infineon 8824 XG616 X-Gold baseband processor, a Wolfson Microelectronics WM8994 ultra-low power audio codec, and a Skyworks SKY77529 Tx Front-End Module for Dual-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE.
  • The 1500 mAh, 3.7 V, 5.55 Watt-hour Lithium ion cell provides up to 6.7 hours of talk time on a 3G network, and up to 14 hours on a 2G network. That’s slightly higher than the 1400 mAh and 1420 mAh battery ratings of the Nexus One and iPhone 4, respectively.
  • A warning sign on the battery indicates it should not be fed to babies. We agree.
  • Taking out the motherboard requires removing three Phillips screws and disconnecting a few cables here and there. Nothing a patient user with a screwdriver couldn’t handle.
  • For you AT&T customers out there, just a quick reminder that the Nexus S does not support the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz HSPA frequency bands required for 3G mobile data. If you use this phone on AT&T’s network, you’re stuck in 2G land.
  • Interestingly, the two cameras share the same connector on the motherboard and are removed as a singular unit.
  • The EM-Tech EME1511AFRC module integrates the earpiece speaker, loudspeaker for speakerphone and media use, and a sensor bank all into one unit with a singular shared data connector. This is definitely a win for integration, but at the same time forces users to replace the entire unit if only one component malfunctions.

Lifting off the motherboard

Final layout

The Nexus S is a solid Android phone overall, and we think a lot of people will be happy with it. Samsung’s device is the king of the hill of Android phones — for the next twelve minutes or so, until the new next-best-Android-phone rises up to knock it off its perch.

iFixit’s Repair Guide Widget

December 14, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Great news! You can now easily display any iFixit repair guide or teardown within your website or blog post.

Just visit any guide of your choice and click on the “Embed” link within the introduction. You’ll be provided HTML code that you can paste on your pages, allowing you to embed iFixit’s widget.

For example, clicking on the Embed link on the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Fix guide gives you a convenient box with the code and a preview of the widget:

The repair guide widget displays all the pictures and bulleted text that our normal guides contain, but in a smaller format. To see a larger image, just click on any image and it will open up the right step on iFixit.com. There’s also a “Parts and tools” button on the bottom of the embed that will show you any parts and tools required to successfully perform the repair.

Parrot AR.Drone Teardown

December 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro
Removing the motherboard

Removing the motherboard

We’ve had the Parrot AR.Drone — an iPhone-controlled, indoor or out, four-propeller rotorcraft — at the iFixit offices for months. We bought it for a teardown, but we just couldn’t stop playing with the flying bugger long enough to take it apart. Until now.

The AR.Drone is earth-shattering. It has blown away every drone expert we’ve talked to. It’s not just a toy: it’s a phenomenal piece of engineering that manages to solve some very difficult software problems in order to take flight. Hidden beneath the foam fascia lies some very sophisticated electronics, all of which makes flying the quadricopter very seamless. We were quite interested in seeing exactly what components Parrot used to make their awesome flying device.

We gave the AR.Drone a 9 out of 10 on our repairability scale. Tons of replacement parts are available directly from Parrot’s website, in addition to videos for common repairs for the device. We’ve never seen another consumer electronics device with this much advance planning for user repair. That’s a good thing too, since just about everyone we’ve let fly our drone has crashed it. Flying is hard, even with an iPhone!

Teardown highlights:

  • Each propeller assembly is made up of the propeller blade, gear, motor and motor controller board. These are not your run-of-the-mill propellers. The design team behind these won a micro drone design contest put on by the French Army. The propellers spin in different directions depending on the side they are mounted on, and are marked either C (clockwise) or A (anti-clockwise).
  • The propeller blade and gear are held in place by a small circlip on a stainless steel shaft. Parrot sells a special circlip removal tool, but we opted for a pick we had laying around the office. We learned very quickly that if you’re not careful, the little circlips are also capable of flight.
  • Each brushless motor runs at 28,000 RPM while the AR.Drone is hovering, and ramp up to a whopping 41,400 RPM during full acceleration! The speed of the motor is managed by the electronic controller, which includes an 8-bit microcontroller and a 10-bit ADC.
  • Much of the AR.Drone’s body is made of expanded polypropylene (EPP), a common substance that is both extremely light and easily manufactured into complex shapes. We like to call it by its scientific name, “foam.”
  • The two large mesh cylinders make up the ultrasound altimeter, which stabilizes the quadricopter within 6 meters of the ground.
  • The navigation board, which attaches to the motherboard via eight pins, contains a Microchip PIC24HJ16GP304 40MHZ 16-bit microprocessor in addition to a MEMS gyroscope (the Invensense IDG 500).
  • The motherboard itself hosts a Parrot 6 ARM9 468 MHz processor, ROCm Atheros AR6102G-BM2D b/g Wi-Fi module, a couple of Micron chips, and a vertical camera.
  • The battery is a 1000mAh, 11.V lithium unit that detaches easily from the quadricopter. It lasts about ten minutes. There’s a second connector on the battery for balance charging, which ensures that each of the three battery cells charges equally, thus optimizing capacity and prolonging battery life. The battery also contains a protection circuit module, which prevents it from discharging too rapidly, over charging, or short circuiting.
  • The 93 degree front-facing wide-angle camera can stream its video and images directly to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. With a resolution of 640×480 pixels, we doubt anyone will be filming HD movies with the AR.Drone’s camera.
Removing one of the motors

Removing one of the motors

Final layout

Final layout

A Wrench for Tight Spots

November 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Tools — Miro

We attended SEMA 2010 to see how we could help facilitate vehicle and automotive product repair. We walked the convention floor and met vendors of all shapes and sizes; a few stood out above the rest in their approach (and ethos) to products and customer service. One of them was Chicago Brand.

We never heard of Chicago Brand before SEMA, and we’re quite happy to have made their acquaintance. Chicago Brand sells quality and innovative tools for a reasonable price, all the while offering great customer service. Just like iFixit, if someone calls their customer service line, a live person (from the U.S.!) will answer the phone.

While Chicago Brand sells all sorts of measurement tools — calipers, gauges, micrometers — their pick of the litter is a patented, open-ended ratcheting wrench. We took one home with us and used it around the house. It’s an absolutely wonderful tool for tiny spaces.

Click to enlarge picture

The wrenches combine all the versatility of both an open end and a ratchet mechanism. They’re great for those hard-to-reach places, or for a cramped work environment where you can’t see the nut you’re trying to unscrew. Or, as shown in the picture above, you’re trying to remove a nut that has a hose or something else attached to it; an ice maker hose on the back of a refrigerator is the perfect example. You can’t slip a closed-end wrench onto the nut because of the hose, but it may be quite difficult to turn an open-end wrench if you can’t get behind the fridge.

Chicago Brand sells their products through large retailers like Sears and Amazon. You can pick up three double-sided wrenches (a total of six sizes) for $29.95 from Amazon — definitely not steep for some quality wrenches that carry a lifetime warranty.

Cyber Monday Deals

November 28, 2010 Contests, Hardware — Kyle Wiens
There’s no better way to look like you know what you’re doing than having the right tools! We design our tools specifically for repairing electronics, so you can get the job done right the first time. We want to get repair tools in the hands of as many people as possible, so we’re running some killer deals on our most popular tools. We’re pricing these to move fast. Pick up one for yourself and one as a gift.


Pro Tech Base Toolkit

Keep your iPhone going strong

Are you hoping for a new iPhone 4 for Christmas? No, we don’t have a kit to upgrade your iPhone 3G to an iPhone 4. But we do have a way to give your iPhone a new lease on life! A new battery will make it last just as long as it did when you first got it. You can install the new battery yourself in less than an hour.

iPhone 3G Replacement Battery

Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Fix Kit

If your Xbox 360 has developed the notorious red ring of death, we have good news. You can either spend hundreds of dollars on a new console and trash your broken console, or you can fix it yourself. We’ve been thrilled to hear how many Xbox 360s people have been able to bring back to life!

iFixit’s Red Ring of Death Fix Kit

Remember, you could win a complete set of professional tools!

This holiday season, let’s encourage repair and reuse rather than buying more things we don’t need and won’t last. With our friends at Wired, we’re running a toy repair contest. We’re giving away a ton of awesome tools, so make sure to get started on your entry right away!

Toy Repair Contest

Replacing a MacBook Hard Drive in 15 Seconds!

November 27, 2010 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

This stop-motion installation video is amazing. Stop reading this right now and watch it, it’s only 15 seconds.

Isn’t that cool? Sebastian made the video, and sent it along to us after he followed our installation guide.

He’s not exaggerating. Upgrading your MacBook’s hard drive really is that easy—it’s a no brainer if your laptop is running out of space. It’s a simple upgrade to move up to a whopping 750 GB MacBook hard drive. Or, if performance is more important, I’m absolutely in love with my super-fast hybrid 500 GB hard drive with 4GB of embedded flash cache.

Samsung Galaxy Tab Teardown

November 12, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Galaxy Tab’s industrial design shows that Samsung is definitely mimicking Apple. Looking like an unlikely offspring between the iPad and the iPhone 4, the Tab has an iPad-like front fascia as well as a camera-equipped back cover similar to the not-yet-released white iPhone. Even the dock connector very closely mimics Apple’s standard pinout.

But that’s where the similarities stop. Within the Tab lies a Samsung-branded 1 GHz Hummingbird processor instead of Apple’s A4 (although both chips share the same ARM A8 processor architecture). There’s a full gig of RAM, 128 MB of Samsung OneDRAM, and 384 MB of Mobile DDR within the same processor package, in addition to 16GB of SanDisk NAND flash storage. If you’re counting, that’s 1.5 GB of total RAM and RAM-like caches. We expect that with this kind of internal hardware, the Tab should work really well with Android apps. But our twitchy hands took it apart the moment we saw it, so we’ll leave the software side for everyone else to explore.

We gave the Tab a repairability score of 6 out of 10. You have to use some unconventional tools — including a heat gun, guitar picks, and a tri-wing screwdriver — in order to fully disassemble the device. But the battery is replaceable without having to spring for a soldering iron, and other components (such as the headphone jack) disconnect pretty easily once you’re inside.

Teardown highlights:

  • The 3.2 MP rear facing camera with an LED flash is a bit sub-par for a device of this caliber, seeing how much smaller devices (like the original Droid) are packed with 5 MP imagers.
  • Measuring 190.1 x 120.6 x 12.0 mm, the Galaxy Tab is significantly smaller than its competitor (the iPad measures in at 242.8 x 189.7 x 13.4 mm). This allows the Tab to be held in one hand relatively easily, making it a good device for portable commercial applications.
  • Prying off a plastic pad on both sides of the Apple-esque dock connector reveals two tri-wing screws. Tri-wing screws are a pretty low level solution to tamper-proofing a product. We include the bit in our 26 piece and 54 piece bit driver kits.
  • The inner face of the rear case has a heavy strip of EMI shielding where it rests against the processor and memory chips on the motherboard.
  • The rear case’s plastic construction will no doubt aid in wireless reception. Using plastic allowed Samsung to bypass the creative measures used by Apple’s iPad designers to facilitate signal transmission.
  • Nearly half of the Galaxy Tab’s real estate is engulfed by the battery. Weighing in at 81 grams, the battery is about 55% the weight and 60% the capacity of the iPad’s battery. It’s also roughly half the size of the iPad’s battery.
  • The digitizer element was produced by Atmel and is bonded to a Corning Gorilla Glass front panel. Unfortunately, a fair amount of heat gun application is required to remove said front panel.
  • Although the resolution of the Galaxy Tab’s screen (1024×600) is less than the resolution of the iPad (1024 x 768), the Galaxy Tab has a more pixels-per-inch (169 for Galaxy Tab vs 132 for the iPad). 169 ppi is nice, but nowhere near dense enough for us. We vastly prefer the iPhone 4’s 326 ppi retina display.
Removing the battery

Removing the battery

Final layout

Final layout

Boxee Box Teardown

November 10, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Boxee Box is a cubist deviation from the traditionally rectangular set-top box. The oddly-shaped form factor forced D-Link to make the internals equally odd. But that also made it super fun to take apart!

It’s smaller than it looks in our photos. The Box is roughly thrice the size of an Apple TV, but it certainly won’t dominate your entertainment center. After looking at the overall package — both outside and in — we feel that the Box has build quality that rivals Apple’s, and is much more solid than the Logitech Revue (aka Google TV). The front panel is made of sturdy plastic and displays a neat Boxee logo once you power on the device, just in case you mistake it for a device that should instead have a glowing apple symbol.

We gave the Boxee Box a 7 out of 10 repairability score. The rubber base is a doozy to remove, and will most likely never be same once you’ve taken the plunge. Once you have it off, however, all you need is a Phillips screwdriver to take the Box apart the rest of the way. It has a logical assembly layout, as well as a separate power board that can be replaced independently from the motherboard, should it ever fail.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Boxee Box has an Intel CE4110 processor which is nearly identical to the Logitech Revue’s CE4150. In fact, both devices seem to be running at 1.2 GHz.
  • Other notable specifications of the Boxee are 1 GB of Nanya DDR3 SDRAM and 1 GB of Toshiba NAND flash memory. Realtek is contributing an RTL8201N Ethernet chip, and Broadcom provides the BCM4319XKUBG Wi-Fi chip.
  • The Boxee has a digital to analog audio converter, courtesy of Wolfson Audio! That means you can pump out 1080p video and still use your analog audio equipment. Very convenient for people who may hook up the Boxee Box directly to their computer speakers or retro stereo equipment.
  • In stark contrast with the Apple TV, this media player has a convenient SD card slot.
  • A soft white plate on the status panel disperses the light from a couple LEDs to illuminate the semi-transparent Boxee logo either orange (standby) or green (running).
  • Instead of using thermal paste, the Boxee Box uses a phase-change thermal pad much like the one found on the heat sink of the Logitech Revue.
Unscrewing a screw

Unscrewing a screw

Final layout

Final layout

The Story of Electronics

November 9, 2010 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

You may already be familiar with the Story of Stuff Project—they created a series of popular videos that expose the hidden costs of all the consumer products we buy and toss at alarming rates. The films have done more to increase the volume of discussion about our throw-away culture than anything else in recent memory.

I caught up with Annie Leonard (the star of the films) at Bioneers this year and she told me about a new film she made with our friends at the Electronics Takeback Coalition, the organization responsible for many of the manufacturer-sponsored recycling programs.

They just released The Story of Electronics. It discusses the problem we’ve been talking about for years—how we throw away millions of tons of electronics every year and what that means for the planet. While it’s a little harsh on the manufacturers, it’s well worth your time.

Microsoft Kinect Teardown

November 4, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Kyle Wiens

We haven’t been this excited to get our hands on new hardware since the iPad. The way that we interact with computers is (finally) evolving, and Kinect is unlike any hardware we’ve ever taken apart. In fact, the only thing we’ve ever taken apart that has anywhere close to this many sensors is Pleo, the dinosaur robot.

The Kinect isn’t a traditional game controller—it’s a horizontal bar of sensors connected to a small, motorized pivoting base. We love that the world is finally at the point where we’re not upgrading our compute capacity as often. Instead, we’re upgrading sensors so our computers understand more about us.

What’s inside the Kinect?

  • Four microphones. Four! We’ve taken apart binaural devices before, but this is our first quadaural sensor setup!
  • One infrared camera optimized for depth detection.
  • One standard visual-spectrum camera used for visual recognition.
  • An IR transmitter
  • A fan. For a 12-watt device, Microsoft seems very paranoid about heat dissipation. This is understandable considering the Xbox 360’s red-ring-of death problems. This is a good thing for consumers, but we can’t help but wonder if they’ve gone overboard in the cooling department.
  • 64 MB of Hynix DDR2 SDRAM
  • A motor. This motor is nothing to write home about. It’s quite tiny. Diminutive, even. So tiny that you might want to make sure you keep Kinect out of your toddler’s reach, because forcing it to pan could damage the gears.
  • A three-axis accelerometer. We suspect this is used to increase the accuracy of the panning motor.
  • A Prime Sense PS1080-A2. Kinect is based on Prime Sense’s motion detection technology. This chip is the Kinect’s brains—all the sensors are wired into here for processing before transmitting a refined depth map and color image to the Xbox.

And a whole lot more—hit the teardown for the full list!

Most of the Xbox’s processing power is dedicated to gaming, so the Kinect preprocesses the image prior to sending it on to the Xbox. The Prime Sense processor condenses all the information it collects about your living room into two things: a color image and a depth map. These are sent to the Xbox over USB.

The Kinect’s eyes are not tiny cell-phone cameras—they’re closer to the camera you might find in a webcam, with large lenses and autofocus. We can’t independently confirm the resolution of the cameras yet, but we’ve seen reports that the infrared cams are 640×480 and the RGB cam is 1600×1200. There’s also a lot of circuitry packed into the cameras themselves. We’re conducting a full investigation of the cameras, but that analysis will take us a few more days.

Kinect is first generation hardware. As usual for a first revision, it is mechanically quite complex. We were surprised at the number of thermal sensors and large, sturdy power connectors. Kinect was clearly designed by a team accustomed to designing large hardware like the Xbox. It has nothing in common with design aesthetic of the Zune HD, for example.

Repairability score: 6 / 10

Pros: The design is very modular, and replacing individual components (like the motor) when they fail shouldn’t be a problem. No soldering required to disassemble.

Cons: Microsoft used four kinds of screws, including some hated security bits: T6, T10, T10 security, and Phillips #0. Without a service manual, repair will be quite a challenge. Microsoft has not made a service manual available. If we get enough demand, we’ll do their work for them and publish one.