How to Contribute

April 25, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

There’s a big task ahead of us: writing a repair manual for every device in the world. We’ve divided the task into lots of smaller parts to simplify contributing to the site, even if you have only a couple of minutes to spare. Here is some helpful information to get you started!

The easiest thing you can do is start adding device photos to new repair manuals. It only takes a few minutes, and encourages other people to add more content.

Getting Started

Photography

Writing

Examples

I learn best by watching other people do great work, and then immediately jumping in feet-first and trying it out myself. The community has posted some great repair guides in the last few days that are worth learning from. The photos on this LG VX9200 LCD repair guide could use some improvement, but the writing is superb. Some of our simpler repair guides are also worth learning from.

If you’re working on instructions for a device that already has some step-by-step guides, it’s important not to duplicate content. We allow you to build on top of existing instructions by using prerequisites. I’ll talk more about how prerequisites work in another post, but there is a brief description here and you can see examples in our repair manuals.

Welcome to Repair 2.0

April 22, 2010 Events, Site News — luke

Today iFixit is changing repair forever. Today — Earth Day, 2010 — we are launching a global repair community. Our goal? To teach every person on Earth how to fix every thing they own.

You know us as the folks who take apart new hardware and show people how to fix Apple products. We’re not going to stop doing any of that, but starting today we are going to massively expand our scope: We are relaunching iFixit as the free repair manual that anyone can edit.

Repair is stuck in the 20th century. Service manuals are almost never available online, and the few troubleshooting forums that exist are rife with spam and ad-baiting. Reliable parts suppliers that understand e-commerce are few and far between.

Making repair accessible to everyone is the best shot we’ve got at reducing e-waste and starting to make our high-tech lives sustainable. We can’t keep throwing away cell phones every 18 months! We need to get every last bit of functionality from the things we own before we toss them aside.

What if everyone had free access to a repair manual for everything they owned? How much longer would our things last? Our mission is to give people the information, parts, and tools they need to make their things work as long as possible.

We showed our vision to officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, and they were ecstatic. Andrew Fanara, Product Development Team Leader for the ENERGY STAR Program, commented that “the EPA would like to see more done about the growing e-waste problem, and iFixit has a novel, community-driven approach to make electronics work longer. We are encouraged by their solution, and are looking forward to observing the environmental impact of iFixit’s platform.”

Join us, and together we’ll fix the world!

MacBook Pro 15″ Core i5 Teardown

April 15, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The new MacBook Pro doesn’t look any different than its predecessor, but Apple has made quite a few subtle tweaks within their latest professional laptop.

We dove inside to find out exactly what a year’s worth of tweaks and improvements looks like.

Highlights:

  • As usual, there’s a sticker warning against removing the battery. Por qué, Apple? The battery is just three screws and a connector away from being able to be replaced.
  • For some odd reason, Apple has stopped using five-point Torx screws found on other MBP 15″ Unibodies in favor of Tri-Wing screws. Perhaps the sound of a thousand technicians crying out in unison made them change their mind?
  • The battery is now rated at 77.5 Wh. That’s just a tad bit bigger (6%) than the 73 Wh battery we found in last year’s 15″ model, but not enough to explain the 2 hour battery life (22%) improvement Apple is claiming for this machine. Apple has dramatically reduced this machine’s power consumption, and we expect it to run quite a bit cooler than the previous model.
  • Apple moved the WiFi/Bluetooth board. This redesign no longer requires that the wireless connections be integrated into the camera cable, greatly decreasing the size of the connector.
  • Since the WiFi/Bluetooth board is now mounted inside the all-metal case, Apple added an antenna that is mounted on the frame for the optical drive opening. Pretty clever! Time will tell what impact this move has on wireless performance.
  • Apple changed the design of this speaker assembly slightly, moving from a single plastic enclosure to separate plastic enclosures for the speaker & subwoofer that are connected by the speaker leads.
  • Apple announced that they are not using NVidia’s Optimus technology as had been widely rumored. Instead, the OS switches to the NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M graphics as needed for higher demand applications like Chess, and uses the integrated Intel Core i5 graphics for Solitaire.
  • Apple is using Intel’s HM55 Express Chipset. Apple has clearly tweaked Intel’s chipset to enable the seamless switching between the Intel and NVIDIA graphics. Interestingly enough, the chipset hub (BD82HM55) is not connected to the heat sink.

Taking out the battery

Removing the fan

Final layout

A Peek Inside Apple’s A4 Processor

April 5, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Deconstructing processors like the A4 usually happens behind the closed doors of only a handful of companies. These global reverse engineering firms are the investigative arm of the electronics marketplace, gumshoes who do research for the people who need to find out who is making what circuitry, as well as what manufacturing process they’re using to do it.

They’re the ones who delve deep into processors, audio controllers, and every other part you’d find inside a cell phone or iPad, figuring out layer by layer the exact composition of each package.

We partnered with the best company in the semiconductor reverse engineering trade, Chipworks, to bring you a closer look at how semiconductor teardowns are conducted, as well as a peek inside the iPad’s chips.

Chipworks has X-rayed, cross-sectioned, and ground through the A4 processor. In addition to showing you what’s inside, we’re also going to show you how they did it.

Apple A4 Teardown

What did we find?

  • The A4 package has three layers: two layers of RAM (Samsung K4X1G323PE), and one layer containing the actual microprocessor.
  • This Package-on-Package construction gives Apple the flexibility to source the RAM from any manufacturer they want—they’re not locked into Samsung.
  • It’s clear from both hardware and software that this is a single core processor, so it must be the ARM Cortex A8, and NOT the rumored multicore A9.
  • We don’t expect to find any markings from PA Semi, Apple’s recent acquisition, but it’s safe to assume they played a major role in designing this package.
  • Every iPhone processor that we have dissected has had a Samsung part number on the processor die. We have not found any such Samsung markings on the A4 (outside of the DRAM), perhaps the clearest sign to date that Apple is now in firm control of their semiconductor design.
  • There’s nothing revolutionary here. In fact, the A4 is quite similar to the Samsung processor Apple uses in the iPhone. The primary focus of this design was minimizing power consumption and cost.
  • Software benchmarks indicate that the A4 has the same PowerVR SGX 535 GPU as the iPhone 3GS, but verifying this via hardware is quite difficult. If this is true, and it likely is, graphic performance on the iPad is fairly poor relative to the screen size.

The A4's internals

Grinding down a package

Utilizing an SEM (Scanning Electron Microscope) to scan a package

iPad FCC Teardown

April 2, 2010 Site News, Teardowns — Kyle Wiens

The FCC was kind enough to show the internals of the WiFi iPad before it was released! The photos that they put up had the interesting bits hidden behind grey squares, but we were able to extract the raw files! We have analyzed the images in detail and posted a pre-teardown teardown.

One word of caution: This is likely a preproduction board, and Apple very well may have changed some suppliers since they gave the FCC a sample unit. Take this data with a grain of salt until we are able to analyze a production model tomorrow.

We’re very happy to report that Apple didn’t solder the battery! The iPad uses the same battery attachment system as the iPhone 3G and 3GS.

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 Wiens

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!