First Google TV Teardown

October 25, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Logitech Revue just came into our possession. It’s the first device on the market that uses the Google TV platform, and we were quite excited to take it apart to see what someone gets for a couple hundred dollars over the Apple TV.

In short, not much. The Revue is a plastic box with a motherboard inside. Its specifications are built up just enough to be slightly better than the Apple TV, but everything about it screams “netbook.” It has netbook processing power, netbook plasticky feel, and even a netbook-style keyboard.

We discovered the true specifications for the Revue, which also confirms our “netbook” impressions. Here’s how it stacks up when compared to the Apple TV:

  • CPU: The Revue has a 1.2 GHz Atom processor, compared to Apple’s 1 GHz A4.
  • RAM: The Revue has 1 GB DDR3 vs. 256 MB for the Apple TV.
  • Flash memory: The Revue has a total of 5 GB NAND flash, split amongst a Samsung and a Hynix chip. Apple chose to simply use an 8GB Samsung NAND flash module.

Aside from the RAM, the Revue offers very little (if any) extra performance when compared to the Apple TV, and is on par with netbooks released back in September 2008 (Dell Mini 9, we’re looking at you).

The Revue did score high marks on repairability: 8 out 10, with 10 being easiest to repair. Opening the case is super-simple — only 4 screws and a bunch of clips stand in your way. All the screws are of the Phillips variety, but it would be good to have a plastic opening tool handy if you choose to peek inside your own unit. The fan’s easily accessible and the motherboard connectors are simple to to disconnect.

Revealing the 1.2 GHz Atom processor

Revealing the 1.2 GHz Atom processor

Final layout

Final layout

Out of the box we had high hopes for this little machine. But as we were carefully taking it apart, we started getting scratches (from a towel!) on the top surface. Post-teardown we reassembled it and spent ~20 minutes setting it up, only to find a just-OK user experience. Unfortunately, the Revue let us down.

Perhaps our parents might like it — who knows.

MacBook Air 11″ Teardown

October 21, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — luke

Removing the 64 GB SSD

The new MacBook Air is an exercise of proprietary engineering. While you can easily access everything once you remove the proprietary screws, you can’t really replace any component with an off-the-shelf part, unless you source it from Apple or someone involved in Apple-based repair (*cough*). Most components — RAM included — are soldered to the logic board, preventing them from being replaced. We definitely recommend users to buy the 4GB RAM version of the Air, as the paltry 2GB already borders on obsolete by today’s standards.

The one standout in this proprietary sea is the 64 GB SSD. It’s not locked down like the rest of the components, although it is a very slim and unusual form factor (for a hard drive). It’s attached to the logic board with what appears to be a new mini-SATA (mSATA) connector, which brings hope to super-slim-laptop-hackers all across the globe. This may enable some crafty tinkerers to rig a larger drive inside the Air, provided they can fit everything within the tight confines of the .68″ thick case.

We gave 11″ MacBook Air a not-so-good repairability score of 4 out of 10, with 10 being easiest to repair. Simply put, a plethora of proprietary parts prevents people from painlessly fixing their machines.

Teardown highlights:

  • The flip-open port door has been scrapped and the IR sensor and sleep LED are gone. In exchange, the new model manages to fit an extra USB 2.0 port along its right edge.
  • Apple apparently doesn’t want you inside this thing. They decided to use proprietary 5-point security Torx screws to attach the lower case. Once inside, the Air is held together with more normal 6-point T5 and T8 Torx screws.
  • The battery is comprised of six individual lithium-polymer cells, which combine to form a 35 Watt-hour battery.
  • Although in a different form factor, the new MacBook Air uses the same Broadcom BCM943224 Wi-Fi/Bluetooth chip as the current lineup of MacBook Pros.
  • The back of the trackpad has a Broadcom BCM5976A0K chip on it, likely responsible for the multi-touch capabilities of the the trackpad.
  • The 11.6″ MacBook Air features a resolution of 1366×768. That’s a few more pixels and noticeably more widescreen (16×9 vs 16×10) than the 1280×800 resolution of previous Air models. In a welcome improvement, Apple has substantially enhanced the rigidity of the display assembly.

Nokia N8 Teardown

October 8, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Following on the tepid success of the N97, the N8 is Nokia’s direct competitor to the iPhone 4 and high-end Android smartphones. Betting the farm on the success of the N8, Nokia packed this phone full of features—but we wanted to see how much awesomeness was really inside.

The big hardware news with this phone—aside from being the first modern phone Nokia has released in nearly two years—is the 12MP camera and its massive flash. This is one of the few phones that has a Xenon flashtube (and associated giant capacitor), and we were blinded by its brightness.

This phone is built tough! The N8’s frame uses more metal than most phones, giving it a rugged feel. In fact, this is the beefiest phone we’ve taken apart all year. We awarded it a coveted 8 out of 10 repairability score for three primary reasons: the glass is not fused to the AMOLED screen, the battery is easily-replaceable, and the phone is overall quite easy to disassemble. Once you know how to take it apart properly, even a Finnish caveman could do it (provided they were evolved enough to handle a Torx screwdriver).

Teardown highlights:

  • The 12 MP camera is a honker. In other smartphones, the thickness of the camera drives the thickness of the phone. With this phone, Nokia chose to protrude the camera outside of the back cover. This will either make it easier to grasp the phone to take it out of your pocket or make it a hassle when returning the phone to your pocket.
  • As opposed to many other smartphones that use either a single or double LED flash, the N8 uses a Xenon flash tube—the same kind of flash found in full-size cameras. A large capacitor on the flash module supplies the high voltage necessary to produce such a brilliant flash.
  • Although it requires the removal of two screws, the battery is quite easy to replace. Thumbs up for no soldering required!
  • Thankfully the glass is not fused to the face of the 640 × 360 3.5″ AMOLED display, so you don’t have to replace both if the glass breaks.
  • There’s nothing cutting-edge in the display—it was manufactured all the way back on February 2, 2010. Its touch screen controller is a Synaptics T1201A, the same chip found in the Microsoft Kin Two and RIM Blackberry Torch—not exactly ground-breaking tech.
  • Nokia got pretty creative with their antenna placement, as this device is primarily encased in aluminum. The main antennas are located near the flat plastic plates on the top and bottom of the phone.
  • The design of the steel mid-plane is genius. Rather than using a discrete EMI shield like every other phone we’ve seen, Nokia integrated the large EMI shield into the mid-plane. (Electromagnetic interference shields protect sophisticated chips from outside interference.)
  • The daughterboard at the top of the motherboard has an interesting design, connecting to the main motherboard via a ribbon cable that is sandwiched between the many layers of the motherboard. On most devices, ribbon cables are attached with ZIF connectors or are soldered to the surface of the board, not sandwiched between layers.

Final layout

The N8's massive flash

The N8's massive flash

Apple TV 2nd Generation Teardown

September 29, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The 2nd Generation Apple TV is the least expensive iOS device Apple has ever shipped. The set-top box continues the trend of cost-cutting that we saw in the iPad, even sharing several parts with its tablet cousin.

The big news: we uncovered a Samsung NAND flash chip and found it has a whopping 8 GB of storage! The A4 processor has 256 MB of integrated RAM, the same as the iPad and the 4th Gen iPod Touch.

Apple’s current HD movies generally run less than 4 GB, but Apple needs around 512MB for the OS and likely wants to leave room for video quality improvements over time.

This is the easiest to service new Apple product we’ve seen recently. We awarded it a coveted Repairability Score of 8 / 10. The ease of repairing this device, integrated high-efficiency power supply, low 6-watt power consumption, and efficient stand-by mode lead us to believe this may be the most eco-friendly set-top box of all time.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Apple TV has 256 RAM, just like the 4th Generation iPod Touch and the iPad. The key marking of interest on the A4 processor package is “K4X2G643GE,” which is identical to the marking found on the iPad.
  • We found Samsung K9LCG08U1M 8GB NAND flash chip inside the Apple TV! It’s the same chip we found when taking apart the iPad. This is a pretty remarkable amount of storage for a $99 device.
  • We are pretty sure the flash memory is used to cache your favorite shows while they’re being streamed.
  • There is an empty spot right next to the Samsung NAND flash that looks to be the perfect size for putting another Samsung NAND flash chip. Could Apple be planning a higher capacity Apple TV in the future?
  • Wi-Fi board brought to you courtesy of Panasonic! This is the first time we’ve seen a Wi-Fi board from Panasonic in an Apple device. A different division of Panasonic usually supplies the optical drives for Apple’s laptops.
  • The Panasonic Wi-Fi board contains a Broadcom BCM4329XKUBG 802.11n Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM, exactly the same as the one we found on the iPad.
  • The solder pads near the side of the logic board look to be a *perfect* match for a dock connector! This Apple TV seems to be a couple of features shy of a full-on computer. Perhaps this logic board will be used in future iPads?
  • Apple is continuing its theme of hiding power supplies inside their devices. It’s especially impressive here, considering that the Apple TV is only slightly larger than a 60 watt MacBook AC adapter.
  • The sticker on the power supply has this rating: 3.4V @ 1.75A. We’ll save you the multiplication: that’s just 5.95 watts!
  • Apple brags that when in standby mode, the Apple TV uses less power than a night light. We don’t suggest trying to use the status LED to illuminate your dark hallways, though.

Removing the logic board

Final layout

PlayStation Move Teardown

September 19, 2010 Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Sony’s plan to change gaming forever is a light wand with seven buttons, a compass, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a vibrator motor. Oh, and they threw in a safety strap for good measure. Sony is claiming that the Move “only does everything,” so we took one apart in an effort to see how exactly it could possibly accomplish such a lofty mission.

The PlayStation Eye camera bundled with Move is nothing new: Sony’s been shipping it since October of 2007. So we focused our attention on the Move controller, which ended up being super-easy to take apart.

We awarded it an 8 out of 10 Repairability score (10 being easiest to repair) since all one needs to do is remove a few Phillips screws to pop it open. Inside we found other easily replaceable components: the battery can be removed by unplugging its connector, and the trigger comes out as one unit. It looks like you may not have to toss your $50 controller in the trash if it runs out of juice.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Wii and PlayStation use different methods of locating their controllers. The Wii Remote has an infrared (IR) sensor built into the controller, and uses triangulation from the IR emitters on the sensor bar placed near the TV to locate itself. PlayStation Move, unlike the Wii, can locate the motion controller in 3D space. The PlayStation Eye camera visually recognizes the X/Y position as well as the relative size of the glowing sphere on the motion controller to pinpoint the controller’s location.
  • The Move contains many of components found in today’s smartphones: a processor, accelerometer, gyroscope, Bluetooth transmitter, vibrating motor, and even a MEMS compass. It’s an amazing amount of tech for the money, even though we still think it’s steep to pay $50 for a controller. Compared to a $40 WiiMote, though, it’s quite the bang for the buck.
  • The sphere at the top of the Move lights up via LEDs inside the controller. The LEDs are capable of putting out any color, which makes it easy to differentiate between players. They can also change colors mid-game, creating another source of user feedback. The color of the orb also changes in response to its environment, ensuring optimal visibility and detection by the PlayStation Eye.
  • The internal lithium-ion rechargeable battery lists a minimum capacity of 1320 mAh at 3.7 Volts. The battery gets brownie points for being able to be disconnected from the Move without any soldering. Just unplug the connector and plug the new one in.
  • The vibrator motor lifts off, however it still remains connected to the motherboard. It’s definitely smaller than the two vibrating motors stuffed into a Sony DualShock 3 Controller.
  • The Move motherboard loses points on repairability due to the vibrator motor, LED, charge contacts, and EXT cables being soldered down.
  • We were not able to identify the gyroscope manufacturer from a surface examination, but we suspect that it is the white-labeled part #Y5250H.
  • As LEDs get warmer, their brightness decreases. Having a heat sink in the LED assembly not only keeps the LEDs at the optimal operating temperature, but also increases the longevity of the diodes. The clear plastic lens on the far left helps diffuse the light from the LEDs to light up the orb uniformly.

Taking out the battery

Final layout

iPod Nano 6th Generation Teardown

September 9, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Despite keeping the same price tag as its predecessor, the new Nano is a bundle of trade-offs. Gone are the days of click wheels, cameras, and video playback. Instead, users get a multi-touch screen, a clip, and a device that’s slightly easier to repair.

Judging by the both the internal and external features of the device, we feel the new Nano is more like a Shuffle with a screen than a Nano with true multi-touch.

Apple is seriously reaching by calling the Nano “multi-touch.” 3M defines multi-touch as the “ability to simultaneously detect and resolve a minimum of 3+ touch points.”

The Nano does not support three touch points. In fact, the only gesture the Nano supports that has two touch points is rotation.

We’ve learned from reliable sources that Apple’s internal documentation suggest support for pinch to zoom, which is not present in this version of the iPod Nano’s software. Was this feature cut at the last minute? Could it be added back in with a software update? Only time will tell.

Teardown highlights:

  • This iPod Nano’s battery only has two wires, one red and one black. All the other iPod Nanos we’ve taken apart have included three battery wires. That third battery wire typically ties into a thermistor, a resistor whose value changes with temperature (a poor man’s thermometer). Presumably the iPod Nano’s battery is small enough and the charge rate is slow enough that overheating is not a concern.
  • The 1.54″, 240 x 240 pixel LCD screen is equipped with multi-touch, although how anyone is supposed to comfortably fit more than one finger on the display is a mystery.
  • The Nano has a 220 pixels-per-inch (PPI) screen, the highest pixel density on an Apple device aside from the iPhone 4 / iPod Touch 4th Gen. That’s almost double the iPad’s paltry 132 PPI density!
  • Pure speculation: The front glass on the Nano sticks up about .3 mm from the outer case. Why, you ask? Presumably due to the thickness of the headphone jack. Apple wanted to keep the device as thin as possible, and the curvature of the edges would have forced the case to be thicker for a completely flush glass panel. A thicker case was ditched in favor of the glass sticking out slightly.
  • Like its cousins — the iPhone 4 and the new iPod Touch — the touchscreen, LCD, and front glass are inseparable.
  • The Nano’s battery has a capacity of 105 mAh, compared to the Shuffle’s 51 mAh. We assume the Nano uses the extra juice to power its display (which the Shuffle lacks).
  • The headphone jack, volume buttons, and sleep/wake button are all found on the same ribbon cable that snakes around the inner perimeter of the Nano. Very efficient!
  • There’s a total of eleven screws in the Nano — quite a hefty amount for such a small device.

Removing the battery

Final layout

iPod Touch 4th Generation Teardown

September 8, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

First, an observation: this thing is thin! So thin that there is literally no room for the 5 MP camera in the iPhone 4.

Second, some news: The 4th Generation iPod Touch’s A4 processor package has the same 256 MB Samsung SDRAM markings found on the iPad’s processor. Many developers will be disappointed that it doesn’t have the 512 MB found in the iPhone 4, but Apple had to keep costs down to hit the $229 price point.

We found several notable improvements from the previous Touch, especially a more repair-friendly front panel that can be easily removed with a heat gun and some careful prying. This is by far the easiest Touch to open, although it’s not completely straightforward once you get inside.

Teardown highlights:

  • This is the easiest iPod Touch we’ve ever cracked open — a bit of glue and two tabs hold the front panel in place. We hoped that the insides would continue to be repair-friendly, but then found that the front glass and LCD panel were permanently fused together. This will prevent dust from getting beneath the glass, but unfortunately will also make repair more expensive.
  • Like all other revisions of the iPod Touch, the battery is soldered to the logic board. This isn’t a surprise given the slim form factor of the iPod, but we wish Apple would make battery replacement easier, especially on a Touch that is now easier to open.
  • Apple did add more space between the battery’s three solder points compared to the 3rd Gen Touch. This should make the soldering job a little easier when replacing the battery, as there’s less chance of accidentally bridging the contacts.
  • The EMI shield is surprisingly heavy, weighing in at 11 grams. The entire iPod Touch is only 101 grams, meaning Apple has devoted more than 10% of the iPod’s weight to this metal EMI shield.
  • Unfortunately, the rear-facing camera is only 960×720 resolution. That’s only about .7 megapixels, compared to 5 megapixels on the iPhone 4. Apple was forced to sacrifice still photo resolution in order to squeeze the camera into the Touch’s slim package. Going forward, we expect Apple to adopt improved micro camera technology as better cameras come to market.
  • For those of you who are wondering, there’s no way the iPhone 4’s rear camera can be installed in the Touch.
  • In a first for the iPod Touch line, the headphone jack is not soldered to the logic board. There’s also a liquid damage indicator on the bottom of the headphone jack, so don’t use your Touch to stir the coffee.
  • This primary antenna is situated near the front glass panel. Its new location eliminates the need for the plastic “window” found on the 3rd generation Touch. There also appears to be a secondary antenna located on the headphone jack.
  • Contrary to Apple’s initial claims on their FaceTime marketing page, the iPod Touch does not have a vibrator. Apple’s website has been updated to remove this claim.

Prying out the logic board

Final layout

iPod Shuffle 4th Generation Teardown

September 7, 2010 Answers, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Apple sent a clear message with the updated iPod Shuffle: “We were wrong.” They changed course, admitted that people actually like buttons, and brought them back for this generation. Pshhh! Those of us with 3rd Gen Shuffles just printed out a convenient chart and carried it around for reference.

Having confessed that their lack of buttons was a problem, we wanted to see if Apple improved the repairability of the device. The 3rd Generation had a press-fit back cover and a battery soldered to the logic board, making replacement quite difficult. Unfortunately, the 4th Gen is even harder to open, thanks to the generous application of glue in addition to the press-fit back cover.

Teardown Highlights:

  • iPod Shuffle 4th Generation Repairability: 2 out of 10 (10 is easiest to repair)
    • Good: The click wheel is attached to the logic board via a connector, allowing it to be easily separated.
    • Good: The lack of a screen eliminates a large weak point of other devices, making the Shuffle more resilient to falls. Just don’t flush it down the toilet.
    • Bad: You essentially have to break it to open it.
    • Bad: The battery is soldered to the logic board, making replacement that much more difficult.
    • Bad: Apple keeps shrinking connectors. These super-small cable connectors are increasingly difficult to open without breaking them.
  • The device was extremely difficult to open. Apple press-fit and glued the back cover onto the body, so it took us quite a while to pop the cover off the unit. We definitely had a harder time accessing the internals than in the previous generation Shuffle.
  • Even the seemingly simple task of disconnecting the button pad ribbon cable turns out to be quite a chore when the connector is 1/8″ wide.
  • We have a feeling that as technology advances, we’ll need smaller and smaller tools to take devices apart. You won’t be able to see our hands in pictures, just little pointy tweezers.
  • Apple once again chose to solder the battery to the logic board. This adds another layer of difficulty to replace it (aside from breaking the back cover to open it) if it dies on you in the future.
  • Unsurprisingly, the date codes on the main Apple chip indicate die manufacture dates in late June (1025) and early August 2010 (1031).

Final layout

Size comparison between Shuffle generations

Nintendo Virtual Boy Teardown

September 3, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Our week of game console teardowns is coming to a close, and we have a super-extra-special teardown for today. We partnered with Engadget to bring you a glimpse of one of the most interesting game consoles ever — the Nintendo Virtual Boy!

Direct quote from our guys who created the teardown: “The Virtual Boy is bar none the coolest device we’ve ever taken apart.” Everyone at the office agrees that it’s an awesome console, so much so that there have been arguments over who’s going to play it next.

Nintendo called the Virtual Boy a “32-bit, 3-D experience” that “eliminates all external stimuli, totally immersing players into their own private universe.” Even so, TIME Magazine listed the Virtual Boy as one of the worst inventions of all time, and PC World called it one of “the ugliest products in tech history.” Of course, neither Time nor PC World ever opened one, so what do they know?

Teardown Highlights:

  • The Virtual Boy was only available in North America for seven months — from August 14, 1995 until March 2, 1996 — with only 770,000 units sold. Compare that with the Nintendo 64, which sold 32.93 million units over its lifespan.
  • Virtual Boy tech specs:
    • 20 MHz, 32-bit RISC Processor
    • 128 KB dual-port VRAM
    • 384 x 224 pixel resolution
    • 2-bit monochrome display (black and three shades of red)
    • 16-bit stereo sound
  • The Neoprene eyepiece completely encompassed the player’s field of vision. This not only isolated the player from the rest of the world, but prevented anyone else from seeing what the player was doing. If only the Virtual Boy could play “other” content…
  • Games such as Mario’s Tennis support the use of the Extension port to hook up two Virtual Boys for multiplayer play. Regrettably, Nintendo never got around to releasing an appropriate cable.
  • In order to deliver a full range of motion in a virtual 3-D environment, a method of controlling motion in the z-axis was required. To overcome this hurdle, a second D-pad was added to the controller.
  • The modular construction of the Virtual Boy indicates it was designed with repair in mind. A damaged controller port or audio system could be individually replaced rather than having to replace the whole motherboard.
  • Each 4-color display unit was manufactured by Reflection Technology Inc., and featured a 1×224 pixel resolution with 32 levels of intensity. The “image” produced by the display is merely a row of red LEDs. Used in conjunction with an oscillating mirror, a full image is produced.
  • The mirror oscillates and the LED refreshes with such speed that the human eye perceives a single image across the view plane.
  • To oscillate the mirror, alternating electrical current at high frequency is passed through a copper coil attached to the mirror. A stationary iron core is attached to the display unit, forming a solenoid to produce the motive force needed for oscillation.
  • Because the entire image is produced by a single row of LEDs, the refresh rate is incredibly high. The pattern of LEDs displayed changes 19,277 times every second!

Removing the bottom cover

Final layout

Nintendo Famicom Teardown

September 2, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

It’s day four of our week of game console teardowns. We borrowed a hot tub time machine, went directly to 1983, and acquired a Japanese national treasure: the Famicom!

We partnered with Wired for this teardown to bring you a glimpse of one of the most popular game consoles ever. Check out their story!

For those of you ill-versed in gaming consoles, the Famicom — short for Family Computer — is the name of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Japan. Join us as we delve into the system that revolutionized the gaming world as we know it.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Famicom was the first console to incorporate D-pad controllers to acquire user input. Departing from the era of joysticks, the inclusion of the D-pad allowed for quick and accurate controls.
  • The second controller has a built-in microphone and a volume switch at the expense of the central “select” and “start” buttons. This is the only console we know of that has a microphone on one of its standard controllers.
  • You won’t be able to lose a controller unless you also lose your machine. They’re attached internally via two old-school connectors, so you’ll have to take apart the machine if you want to disconnect a controller.
  • The Famicom’s miniscule 4W power supply won’t be popping fuses anytime soon. That’s about 2.5% of the power that the Xbox 360 devours.
  • Famicom technical specifications:
    • Ricoh 2A03 8-bit 1.79 MHz processor (MOS Technology based on the Motorola 6502 8-bit processor core)
    • Ricoh RP2C02G-0 8-bit, 5.32 MHz PPU (Picture Processing Unit)
    • 2KB (16kb) on-board RAM
    • 2KB (16kb) on-board Video RAM
    • PSG (programmable sound generator) Sound
    • 256 x 240 pixel resolution
  • Unsurprisingly, lead solder abounds on the bottom of the board. RoHS standards weren’t established until 20 years after this puppy was made.
  • Ejecting a game cartridge is accomplished by pushing two inclined planes underneath the cartridge until it pops off the motherboard connector.
  • Opening the game cartridge reveals a 60 pin printed circuit board. This PCB (from a Tennis cartridge) has two ROM packages — totaling 24 KB — soldered to it. A single layer Blu-ray disc has 25,000,000 KB capacity!

Removing the motherboard

Final layout