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.

Technical Documentation Services

February 17, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

How to actually disassemble a clamshell iBook

I’ve been writing service manuals for Apple products for so long that it’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t think of myself as a technical writer. The source of my passion for communicating clearly is my never-ending frustration at poor writing in the world. I almost destroyed my iBook G3 Clamshell the first time I disassembled it because I couldn’t find a decent service manual for the machine.

Like me, everyone here at iFixit is passionate about explaining how to fix things—but our documentation team is absolutely rabid. They get worked up over a misplaced comma, and nothing upsets them more than an ambiguous procedural instruction. Don’t even get them started on IKEA’s so-called ‘assembly instructions.’

Our repair manuals attract a lot of attention, and we’ve always received requests from companies that want us to write instructions for them. Sometimes they want manuals for installing a new hardware add-on into a computer, and we frequently hear from people that want us to write a teardown for a product that falls outside our normal operational perview.

Historically, we haven’t had the resources to write contract documentation in addition to the service manuals we provide to the community. But our core business has been going so well that we’ve beefed up our technical documentation team, and they’re looking for more things to show the world how to take apart.

Today, I’m proud to announce iFixit Services. We are now offering world-class technical documentation to manufacturers, service providers, and semiconductor companies. Documentation services include showcasing the inner workings of a device through a public teardown, creating service manuals and technical documentation for consumer electronics, and converting legacy technical documentation.

Want to learn more? Know someone that would benefit from documentation like ours? We just put up lots more information about iFixit’s technical documentation services.

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

Help make iFixit better

February 7, 2010 Answers, Site News — Kyle Wiens

Our goal for iFixit Answers is to create a knowledge base of troubleshooting information for every device. Now that’s a lofty goal, but we’re already making tremendous progress towards it! We just hit 2500 questions, and over 95% of them have received at least one answer! I’m seeing some very interesting questions, and they’re getting phenomenal answers from the community.

The best (and most common) questions for a device create an impressively useful troubleshooting FAQ for the device. Some great examples of this are the community pages for iPod Video support and MacBook Unibody support. These community support pages are rapidly becoming an important part of our device repair manuals.

As a community, we need to focus on cultivating quality answers. Our repair information will rapidly get more useful if we all work together to organize and curate questions. Here are five easy things you can do to help:

#1: Vote on questions!

Each vote has a big impact. Questions don’t show up on the most helpful page unless it has at least one upvote.

#2: Vote on answers!

Questions stay on the unresolved tab until there is at least one upvote on an answer. Of the 968 questions currently on the list of unresolved questions, almost all of them have at least one answer. Pick a few older questions and upvote the answer if it’s accurate and informative. (There are actually only 115 questions that haven’t been answered at all– less than 5%!)

#3: Link to existing answers.

When people ask a question that’s been answered before, link them to the canonical answer. We need a catalog that is useful long-term, and this helps focus our efforts on increasing quality.

#4: Organize devices.

New users often misname the device they’re asking about, and people are constantly asking questions about new devices. There are currently 168 devices that are either misnamed or need a device page. Help us out by properly naming these devices or by making a device page stub!

#5: Cultivate device pages.

The core organizational page around here is the device repair manual page (we just call them device pages). This page automatically links in step-by-step guides, parts, teardowns, and answered questions. (Example pages: Nintendo Wii, iPhone 3G) We’re slowly building a catalogue of devices, and we need help adding to it. Every new device needs a consistent name, a photo, and an identification summary. I like to think of the device page as the table of contents and first chapter of a service manual.

With your help, we can help people fix their own things and keep hardware working as long as possible!

OpenID Support

February 7, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

Are you one of those people that can never remember your password? Well, so are we. Keeping track of passwords on every different site is a hassle, and we feel your pain. We just added support for OpenID login! OpenID is an increasingly popular way to log in to sites like iFixit without having to create a new account. Instead, you log in using an account that you already have somewhere else— like Google. You don’t even have to give us a password! Just hit the ‘Sign in with Google’ link instead of creating an account.

If you’re already logged in with Gmail, you won’t have enter any login information. The first time you click our ‘Sign in with Google’ link, Google will ask you if we’re legit. From then on, clicking the link will automatically log you in.

OpenID confirmation (please don't email Jim Bob)

We’re testing the waters with Google, but we’re planning on expanding to support more login options. What OpenID providers would you like us to support? Here’s the shortlist of providers that we’re considering:

Leave a comment and let us know what your vote is. Note: Facebook uses a proprietary, non-OpenID-compatible login mechanism, so we don’t have plans to support them.

Already have an account with us, but want to switch to using OpenID to log in? It’s easy if you use Gmail. Go to your profile and change your email address to your Gmail address, then log out. The next time you log in, use OpenID. We’ll automatically associate your old account for you. Easy!

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.

iFixit Donates $1,000 for Haiti Earthquake Relief

January 13, 2010 Site News — Miro

A 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit right outside the city of Port-au-Prince, decimating most of the structures in its path. Several aftershocks followed suit, further damaging the surrounding area.

The people of Haiti need our help, however large or small, at this catastrophic time. iFixit has just donated $1,000 to the Doctors Without Borders foundation to help those unfortunate enough to have been near the epicenter.

Our hearts go out to the lives and families of those who had to endure this tragedy. If you have the means, please donate any which way you can.