MacBook Unibody Mid 2010 Teardown

May 20, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Apple’s MacBook went under the knife last year and received a major makeover. This year, the laptop received much milder internal changes, most notably a better graphics processor and more battery life.

We delved inside the MacBook to find exactly how that additional battery juice was achieved, as well as to see if there were any magical unicorns that Apple chose to keep hidden from public view.

We also made a YouTube video slideshow for those who like moving pictures!

Teardown highlights:

  • The battery is identical in size and shape to the old one, but is rated for 63.5 Wh (compared to 60Wh) and weighs 355 g (compared to 347.5 g).
  • The battery also works in the previous MacBook! You can get an extra 350 mAh of electric charge if you’re willing to add 7.5 grams to your older machine.
  • Of course, Apple continues to use tri-wing screws for the battery, as well as the “Do not remove the battery” warning sticker. We ask: why is it such a big deal to have users replace it themselves?
  • We confirmed the updated NVIDIA GeForce 320M integrated graphics, much to the thrill of lite gamers everywhere.
  • No MacBooks were hurt, in any way, shape, or form, during the teardown process.

Final layout

Removing the heat sink

Microsoft Kin Two Teardown

May 18, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We partnered with Chipworks to bring you a teardown of the all-new Microsoft Kin Two.

Kin Two’s most notable feature is the Nvidia Tegra processor, which Chipworks found buried beneath a Numonyx package that’s visible on the logic board.

Chipworks confirmed that it was indeed the Nvidia Tegra after a morning of taking x-rays and de-potting chips. Don’t worry kids, no animals were harmed in the process.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Kin Two is 19.05 mm thick. That makes for a bigger bulge in the pants, given that the iPhone and Motorola Droid are 12.3 mm and 13.7 mm thick, respectively. (Enter “Is that a Kin Two, or are you happy to see me?” jokes here.)
  • The Kin Two has two very cool-looking (to a mechanical engineer) springs that keep the phone’s halves either fully-open or fully-closed.
  • For being able to shoot all of 8 megapixels, the camera only eats up about .5 cm^3 of space.
  • Samsung’s moviNAND KLM8G4DEDD package supplies the 8GB of storage space for the Kin. It features a very advanced thirty nanometer architecture, and can transfer data at speeds up to 52 MB/s.
  • The camera is the Sony IMX046. The IMX046 is fabricated using a 90 nm CMOS process. The camera’s resolution is 8.11 effective megapixel (8 active megapixel), 1.4 μm sized pixel, 1/3.2″ optical format. Samsung was the first to use this camera in the M8800.
  • Taking a cue from the iPhone and Zune HD, the Kin Two has an accelerometer. It’s an STMicro 331DL 3 Axis nano MEMS (microelectromechanical systems) device.

You can find more information on the Kin Two on Chipworks’ site.

iPad 3G Teardown

April 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We leisurely waltzed into line around 4:40 today and were one of the first of 30 people to get an iPad 3G at our local Apple store!

It’s great not to have to fly across the world and wait overnight in line.

The iPad 3G definitely shows some interesting differences when compared to its Wi-Fi-only sibling, mostly due to its additional 3G / GPS functionality.

Teardown Highlights:

  • The immediate visible difference is the inclusion of a black plastic RF window on top of the iPad for better antenna reception.
  • The black RF window significantly changes the opening procedure. You cannot start separating the display using the notches on the top (à la Wi-Fi version), since that will undoubtedly break the RF window. You have to start from the right side and gingerly proceed to the top and bottom of the iPad.
  • There are actually FIVE antennas in this iPad:
    • Two antennas handle the cell reception — one is in the RF window on top, the other attaches to the LCD frame.
    • There’s a single GPS antenna that is also housed in the RF window on top.
    • Just like the iPad Wi-Fi, there are two antennas that handle Wi-Fi / Bluetooth connectivity, one in the Apple logo and another to the left of the dock connector.
  • Who would’ve thought: Apple uses the same 3G baseband processor in both the iPhone 3GS and the iPad 3G.
  • The baseband processor in question is the Infineon 337S3754 PMB 8878 X-Gold IC. It was actually white-labeled on the production unit, but with enough sleuthing we were able to confirm its true identity.
  • The iPad 3G has a Broadcom BCM4750UBG Single-Chip AGPS Solution, whereas the iPhone 3GS uses an Infineon Hammerhead II package. Big win for Broadcom!

Final layout

The communications board

Copper foil attaching the second antenna

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

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.

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