HexBright Flex Programmable Flashlight

July 13, 2011 Site News, Tools — Miro

Here’s something you don’t see every day: a programmable flashlight!

Through some NASA lunar excavator connections (no joke) we made friends with Christian Carlberg, the creator of absolutely smashing Kickstarter project. Before building moon-dirt-digging robots with us, Christian was a Battle Bots contestant for several years. When we found out about his latest project, we offered to let him work out of our office while he worked to get it off the ground. He’s hanging out with us for last few months, and it’s been exciting to watch his bright little idea grow into one of the top-grossing Kickstarter projects of all time—he has over $172,000 in pre-orders right now, and there’s still 5 days left!

The HexBright Flex is a programmable flashlight that you can program however you’d like. Each HexBright Flex has a microUSB port within its aluminum body. Just twist off the cap and plug in a USB cable; the rest is up to your imagination. You can have simple ON/OFF functionality, ON/ON MAX (max brightness)/OFF, ON/FLASH TWICE/OFF, etc. — basically, whatever you can think of.

The coolest implementation we’ve heard of so far: a pilot has written a program to make the Flex to flash his call sign in Morse code. He’s planning on attaching it to the back of his wing for other pilots to see. There are thousands of possibilities, so feel free to give your best suggestion in the comments below.

The Flex' body is made of a single chunk of flex aluminum.

The Flex' body is made of a single chunk of flex aluminum.

Other neato features of the flashlight include:

  • A USA-made CREE XM-L super bright LED outputting 500 lumens (LM). For reference, a solid $30 flashlight outputs about 100 lumens.
  • A rechargeable lithium-ion battery. No need to buy or replace batteries, just plug your HexBright Flex into any USB port. The battery is easily user-replaceable, which as you well know is an absolute must for iFixit endorsement of any product.
  • An easily programmable Atmel ATmega IC processor. Development tools are available for all platforms (PC/Mac/Linux).
  • A waterproof body constructed of a single chunk of hex-shaped aluminum.
  • A sealed rubber switch on the back of the flashlight that controls the microprocessor — not just a simple disconnect switch.
  • An open-source tool to program the flashlight however you want.

The HexBright Flex comes shipped with default program modes of high (500 LM), medium (350 LM), low (200 LM), and blinky. We’ll be selling it for $119.99 once it’s commercially available. However, if you make a $60 pledge on Kickstarter, you’ll get a Flex in your choice of color (black, red, green, or blue); and if you pledge $75, you’ll even get your name (or a word) etched into the flashlight. The only brighter way to spend $75 would be on bootleg fireworks, but those are a tad more dangerous.

The Flex has a rugged look and very solid feel in one's hands.

The Flex has a rugged look and very solid feel in one's hands.

There’s less than a week left before this Kickstarter project gets funded, so make sure to get your pre-order place in time!

Elster REX2 Smart Meter Teardown

July 12, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The electricity meter is one device that no household connected to the grid can escape, yet the technology utilized by analog meters (the most common type) dates to the late 19th century.

Power engineers have recently developed a solid state electronic meter that sends electricity consumption readings wirelessly. This new meter eliminates human error and allows utility companies to monitor their systems more accurately.

We were always interested in these meters, but had trouble acquiring one for a teardown — it’s not like you can just walk into a Best Buy and pick one off the shelf. Thankfully, the generous folks over at Elster were kind enough to send us one of their REX2 meters for thorough dissection!

Teardown highlights:

  • The REX2 meter provides several enhancements over non-programmable meters:
    • Nonvolatile memory rated for 1,000,000 write cycles
    • Advanced security with full 128-bit AES encryption
    • Remote upgradeability
    • Support for 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz ZigBee communication
    • Optional: flux capacitor add-on???
  • Before gaining access to the interior of the meter, you must first break a security seal. Apparently, electric companies don’t want you tampering with their meters. Go figure!
  • Who would’ve thunk that your power meter would have a LAN ID? A LAN ID is required to connect to the IP-based EnergyAxis Smart Grid network.
  • The true innovation in smart meters is their ability to relay power consumption statistics without direct contact from a meter reader. Our Elster meter accomplishes this by sending encrypted signals on the 900 MHz ISM band.
  • Extremely thick copper wires allow the meter to be wired in series with a household’s main power supply. They’re capable of handling 200 Amps!
  • Interestingly, the meter relies on a black ring-shaped current transformer installed around the copper wires to send power consumption signals to the main board. Current transformers indirectly measure the current flowing through the thick copper conductors and provide an output that can be read by the electronics on the board.
  • Long metal pressure contacts along the inside case of the meter conduct 240V AC electricity to pads that provide power to the main board. No need to plug this unit into the wall outlet.
  • In the whole device there is only one screw, a surprisingly difficult to find Phillips #1.
  • Main ICs located on the front side of the motherboard include:
    • Teridian 71M6531F SoC with an MPU core, RTC, FLASH and LCD driver
    • Texas Instruments LM2904 low power dual operational amplifier
    • RMFD RF2172 medium-power high efficiency amplifier IC
    • Texas Instruments CC1110F32 Sub-1GHz System-on-Chip with MCU and 32kB Flash memory
Removing the motherboard

Removing the motherboard

Final layout

Final layout

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

Unveiled: Audience powers iPhone 4’s impressive noise cancellation

May 17, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle Wiens

When we analyzed the Nexus One last January, the big news was its Audience voice processor. The Audience chip takes advantage of two microphones (if you’re counting, that’s one more than most cell phones) to cancel out ambient noise. This dramatically improves audio quality in noisy environments, and the Nexus One’s impressive microphone performance has been a major selling point. (The Nexus One’s other selling point is regular Android updates, but it’s probably best to leave that sore point for another time.) The Nexus One design win was a major coup for Audience, and landed their A1026 Voice Processor on the world stage. You can see the Nexus One’s Audience part highlighted in yellow in this image:

Fast forward to last summer, when our iPhone 4 teardown revealed that the iPhone also had two microphones! At the time, we rather ambiguously reported that it was “used to cut out ambient noise and improve sound quality.” What we didn’t know was whether Apple had invented their voice processor or was licensing third-party technology.

There was one small, 3mm x 3mm chip that we weren’t able to identify during our teardown. It was white-labelled, meaning Apple asked the manufacturer to remove their branding from the package to make it difficult for folks like us to identify. The markings on the chip ’10C0 01S8 0077′ didn’t match any existing part in our database, and we didn’t pursue it further. This part turned up again this February when we got our hands on the Verizon (CDMA) iPhone 4. You can see it here to the right of the A4:

We like mysteries as much as the next guy, so we decided to dig further. Our friends at Chipworks just decapped the chip, and guess what they found? That’s right, an Audience low power audio signal processor. As conclusive proof, here’s the Audience die marking they found inside the chip:

The package has an embedded digital signal processor with accompanying analog front ends. You can see the innards here, courtesy Chipworks:

The iPhone’s audio cancellation capabilities are very impressive, outperforming every non-Audience powered cell phone we’ve tried. You can hear the cancellation in action in this test by PocketNow:

This is a huge win for Audience. They’re seeing impressive traction in other smartphones. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Apple decides to integrate the technology into the A5 (as they have with other subcomponents) or if this relationship with Audience is long-term. Clearly Audience is betting on the latter—and thus far, they’ve shown impressive execution.

FBI Tracking Device Teardown

May 9, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Disclaimer: We love the FBI. We’ve had the opportunity to help them fight crime on several occasions. We’ve helped them with instructions on gaining entry into certain devices. We have nothing against them, and we hope they don’t come after us for sneaking a peek inside their nifty tracker.

Now that we’re in the clear, it’s teardown time!

We partnered with Wired to bring you a peek inside an FBI car-tracking device. The device was loaned to us by a person who found the device on their car, and is similar to the one Yasir Afifi recently found underneath his own vehicle.

The hand-assembled device is comprised of a GPS unit for receiving the car’s position, an RF transmitter for relaying your location to the interested authority (aka the FBI), and a set of sweet d-cell lithium batteries that power the whole enchilada.

But we didn’t stop there, of course. Read on to find out exactly what components make this device tick.

Opening the transmitter

Opening the transmitter

Final layout

Final layout

iMac 21.5″ (EMC 2428) Teardown

May 4, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We got up this morning to news that the new iMacs were out, so we knew what we had to do: start sharpening our suction cups!

Our suction cup gamble paid off. We found very soon that this model iMac opens in the same way as previous generations. All you have to do is pull off the magnetically-held display glass with two medium-size suction cups, and then remove the screws holding the LCD in place.

But what lies inside? We knew of only one way to find out…

The 21.5″ iMac (EMC 2428) scored a very respectable 7 out of 10 Repairability Score. Most of the disassembly is pretty straightforward and accomplished using a T10 Torx screwdriver and suction cups. A casual user can easily replace the RAM, and it’s moderately difficult to access the hard drive and optical drive.

However, more adventurous users (those wanting to upgrade the CPU/GPU) will have to take out the logic board, which is a tricky process; they will also have to void the warranty if they replace the CPU. It’s also quite difficult to reassemble the LCD and glass without a dust mite getting stuck in between the two.

Teardown highlights:

  • The LED display is manufactured by LG and is denoted by its model number LM215WF3. This is the same display used in the previous generation 21.5″ iMac.
  • Similar (but not exactly the same) to the Thunderbolt IC we found in the latest MacBook Pro 15″, the iMac features the Intel L102IA84 EFL Thunderbolt port IC.
  • The optional SSD appears to reside beneath the optical drive — that’s the only space we could find where something was clearly missing. There’s three mounting points under the optical drive that have nothing attached to them in our machine, since this option is only available on 2.7 GHz 21.5″ iMacs.
  • If you want to remove the logic board, you have to snake it out from the rest of the iMac — a combination of pulling up, as well as away from the casing. After a little bit of jiggling, it comes right out.
  • In usual Apple fashion, one heat sink is reserved for the CPU, while the other oversees the GPU. And, in usual Apple fashion, you have to void the warranty in order to get a peep at the CPU processing power underneath.
  • Of course, we’ll do almost anything in the name of science.
  • After popping off the CPU heat sink, we can get a good look at the Core i5 processor. Our machine is powered by a quad-core 2.5 GHz Core i5-2800S CPU with 6 MB of Intel Smart Cache.
  • With a bit of magic, the GPU heat sink detaches from the logic board, exposing the AMD GPU board. You heard that right, folks — you don’t have to replace the entire logic board if your GPU explodes from too much l33t gaming. You can just swap out the GPU board for another one.
  • The main chips on the GPU board include the AMD Radeon HD 6750M GPU, as well as four Hynix H5GQ1H24AFR T2L 1 Gb GDDR SDRAM chips (totaling a cumulative 512 MB).
  • Thankfully, both the CPU and GPU on this machine have proper amounts of thermal paste applied, a happy departure from the gobs applied to the MacBook Pro we recently took apart.
  • At the heart of the Bluetooth board lies a Broadcom BCM2046 Bluetooth IC, as well as 256 KB of SST 39VF200A CMOS Multi-Purpose Flash (MPF). We found this same Broadcom chip a long time ago in the first MacBook Air. If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
  • Key players on the logic board include:
    • 2.5 GHz quad-core Intel Core i5-2800S CPU with 6 MB of Intel Smart Cache.
    • Intel BD82Z68 Platform Controller Hub
    • Broadcom BCM57765B0KMLG Integrated Gigabit Ethernet and Memory Card Reader Controller
    • Cirrus 4206BCNZ audio controller
    • SMSC USX2061 (we believe this a USB 2.0 Hub Controller Family)
    • Intersil ISL6364 CRZ Single-Phase Synchronous-Buck PWM voltage regulator for GPU core power applications
    • Intel L102IA84 EFL Thunderbolt port IC
Taking off the CPU heat sink

Taking off the CPU heat sink

Final layout

Final layout

Nikon D5100 Teardown

April 26, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

It seems as though all the hot new electronics these days are tablet-this, phone-that. Frankly, our engineers had enough. Their spudgers were getting soft; we needed to do something that would present a *challenge* and get them sharp again.

They were desperate for something more mechanically complex to chew on than the cell phone and tablet fare we’ve been feeding them lately. And we knew exactly where to turn. We’ve already written a Nikon D70 repair manual, so we know first-hand how difficult it is to take apart a professional  SLR camera.

What better way to infuse a bit of fun in our teardowns than taking apart another SLR camera? Enter the just-released Nikon D5100.

Teardown highlights:

  • The D5100 utilizes a 16.2 megapixel DX format CMOS sensor to capture images. This sensor has the same specs of the sensor used by the Nikon D7000.
  • Chipworks reports that each pixel on the sensor is 4.8 µm wide. That’s about half the diameter of a red blood cell.
  • The sensor has a special glass cover that turns red when viewed at an angle, but is completely transparent when viewed head-on. Neat!
  • Unlike other recent teardowns, the battery can be easily replaced by opening the compartment with your thumbnail.
  • The 7.4 V 1030 mAh EN-EL14 Li-ion battery is used by the D5100, D3100, and the COOLPIX P700. Sadly, it’s not compatible with other cameras in the Nikon lineup, such as the D90 and D7000.
  • Definitely make sure to discharge the large-and-in-charge 330µF flash capacitor if you attempt any repairs on the D5100. Otherwise you risk accidentally killing your camera.
  • The camera has roughly 4 billion screws holding it together. We had to skip a lot of the “unscrewing this screw” pictures in order to keep the teardown interesting, since we took out 37 of them to get to the teardown layout shot.
  • You can easily access the motherboard by removing the rear cover. You just need to remove twenty-ish #00 Phillips screws, disconnect 9 ribbon cables, and desolder a few wires…
  • The D5100 contains a lot of the same chips found in the Nikon D7000. Key players include:
    • Nikon EXPEED 2 EI-154 1051 Z05 image processor
    • Samsung K4T1G164QF-BCE7 1Gb DDR2-800 SDRAM (total of 3 Gb = 375 MB)
    • MXIC MX29GL128EHXFI-90G 128 Mb parallel flash memory
    • Toshiba TMP19A44FEXBG low-power microcontroller
    • Nikon EI-155 M4L1BA00 00151044
    • Nikon NHHS-2 049M8
  • There’s a light blue pad wedged between the bottom of the flash capacitor and the bottom camera frame. It conducts heat away from the capacitor to cool it down during flash-intensive shooting.
  • The top cover is a feat of engineering by itself. Within its walls are contained: Main control wheel, shutter/aperture control wheel, live view lever, On/Off switch, “info” button, record button, shutter button, exposure compensation button, IR sensor, AF lamp, flash, flash control circuitry, flash actuator, and the microphone.
  • The flash is actuated by a linear solenoid that pushes on a lever to release the spring-loaded flash — either automatically if the sensor detects a low-light situation, or when the flash button is depressed.
Taking off the D5100 top cover

Taking off the D5100 top cover

Final layout

Final layout

iPhone 4 Transparent Rear Panel

April 25, 2011 Hardware, Site News — scott

Update: We’re quite sorry for the misunderstanding, but an internal miscommunication led us to initially claim these panels were made of plastic. They are in fact glass. We’re apologize for the mixup — we’ll be making the responsible parties walk the plank.


We never judge a book by its cover here at iFixit. In fact, we usually remove the cover and judge it from the inside! Electronic circuit boards can be a work of art, and the complexity of their design is something we marvel at. We hold that sentiment for the iPhone 4, which has a cool battery/logic board layout that’s unfortunately hidden by its opaque rear panel.

We felt that was wrong — why shouldn’t you be able to see the sweet innards that Apple engineers toiled over so meticulously? We had to do something about it, so we put our heads together and came up with a solution: our new transparent iPhone 4 rear panel!

At this time, you can only install this product in the  GSM iPhone 4.  We have nothing against the Verizon users; Apple chose to modify the rear panel layout for the Verizon version, and sadly our panel can only fit GSM iPhone 4 units.

You can even go the extra mile and remove the EMI shielding from your logic board as a means to show off your iPhone 4 even more, although we don’t recommend you do this. It looks pretty dang spiffy without the EMI shielding, but that might cause the phone to operate improperly.

One of the added benefits of using this panel is that it’s made from plastic — meaning it’s less prone to fracture, and far cheaper to replace than the glass original panel. The lens and flash diffuser are already installed on the panel, so all you have to do is pop out the screws, slide the old panel out, and slide the new one in. As usual, we have a guide to help you succeed in your endeavor.

It doesn’t get any easier to modify your phone and make it look extra marvelous. The panels are in stock and ready to ship. Order yours today!

Maker Faire 2011

April 14, 2011 Events, Meet iFixit, Site News — aguenther

Maker Faire 2011Maker Faire is once again invading the San Mateo County Event Center May 21-22, and we need your help to run the iFixit Repair Center!

Maker Faire is the epitome of the do-it-yourself mentality. There is no larger concentration of geeky hobbyists and enthusiastic inventors than at Maker Faire. Sharkmobiles, underwater concerts, robotic giraffes, Tesla coil symphonies and a life-size game of mousetrap are just a few of the awesome exhibits staged outside the main hall.

We have been going to Maker Faire every year to spread our knowledge of how to fix things. This year we are hoping to teach more people than ever. This is where you come in.

Enjoy working on your motorcycle? Have you built your own computer? Replaced components of your roadbike? We need you! Volunteer to teach others what you know. We are looking for people who are passionate about repair and reuse. You don’t have to be an expert – but you do need to be enthusiastic about what you do know and eager to share. Volunteers will draw on their collective repair experience to help Maker Faire attendees fix their broken stuff. In addition, volunteers will receive free admission to Maker Faire as well as an iFixit t-shirt.

To volunteer, fill out our Maker Faire volunteer form.

All volunteers will receive an email confirming their volunteer status within a week. Volunteers will be assigned to one or more shifts depending on their preferences and availability.

We are updating our Maker Faire 2011 page with the latest news, so check back periodically for additional information. You can email us at MakerFaire@ifixit.com with any questions. Volunteer space is limited, so sign up now and help contribute to this awesome event!