Holiday Gift Guide

December 13, 2011 Hardware, Tools — Miro

Alright, friends. It’s that time of year again—to reach into the pocketbook, bust out the pepper spray, and face the hordes of maniacal shoppers.

But wait! You may not need pepper spray this year. We want to make it easy for you to get gifts for your loved ones. We’ve drafted a list of top-notch gifts and stocking stuffers for the tech- and repair-folk dear to you.

What’s even better than a list of great stuff to buy? If it were free. Well, how about the fact that it’s all available right here on iFixit? Spare yourself a chaotic trip to the mall and check out our goodies right now. If that’s not reason enough, check out MJ’s assessment of our holiday wares:

 

 

New Pro Tech Base Toolkit

December 13, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Tools — Kyle

Our Pro Tech Base Toolkit has been a hot item ever since we released it last year — repair techs, DIYers, single-parent moms, and even secretive 3-letter agencies have used them to open their devices.

Not content to rest on our laurels, we’ve spent a year asking our teardown specialists, customers, repair shops, and tool geeks worldwide how to make it better. We paid close attention to their advice, and we’re excited to announce our new 54 Bit Driver Kit and Pro Tech Base Toolkit!

So what’s new? First, we’ve substantially improved our 54 Bit Driver Kit. Some highlights include:

  • Pentalobe bits to open and repair popular Apple devices such as the iPhone 4, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro.
  • T7 through T20 security bits to fit Torx security screws with a pin in the center.
  • A full line of metric nut drivers.
  • JIS bits to fit the screws found in digital cameras, R/C helicopters, and other high-end electronics.
  • A custom 1/4″ to 4 mm adapter to allow our 4 mm precision bits to be used in standard 1/4″ screwdrivers with larger handles, ratcheting handles, or torque drivers.
  • A 60 mm extension that doubles as a T-handle, making it easy to get extra torque and remove stubborn screws.

We’ve kept all the great features of our driver kit including the precision machined, magnetized driver and a full complement of flathead, tri-wing, Phillips, Torx, and hex bits.

MJ provides a nice overview of the new 54 Bit Driver Kit here:

While our 54 Bit Driver Kit is the most capable electronics repair screwdriver set on the planet, getting inside many devices requires more than just a screwdriver. That’s where our Pro Tech Base Toolkit comes in. We’ve carefully selected the components to include the most useful tools for releasing tabs, disconnecting connectors, getting into tight spaces, and picking up small parts. To keep everything portable and well-organized, we designed an all-new tool roll to house everything.

Kit contents:

Want to see more? Watch MJ show off the new Pro Tech Base Toolkit:

We’re offering the Pro Tech Base Toolkit at a very affordable $59.95, and we’re also selling the upgraded 54 Bit Driver Kit set for just $24.95. Give the gift of sweet repair success to your loved ones this Christmas.

Thirsty Bags

November 23, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Tools — Miro

If you have ever dropped a phone in a pool or spilled water on your Game Boy, then you know the helplessness of water damaged electronics.

When water comes into contact with an electronic device, it tries to seep into any nook and cranny it can possibly get into. If one of those crannies happens to be near the motherboard, the water may cause a short, rendering parts of the device, or the entire device, useless.

The first step for fixing a wet device is always to immediately turn it off and remove the battery, if possible. As long as no power is flowing through the motherboard, there is no way that the water can cause a short. But how do you get all the water out? That’s where this bag of thirst comes in.

Introducing the Thirsty Bag – the bag that is guaranteed to absorb 100% of the water out of your device and help get it running again. Using the Thirsty Bag directly after an accident can dramatically reduce the chances of a short.

Broken iPhone not included. That's for you to provide.

Broken iPhone not included. That's for you to provide.

We use molecular sieves, the best in desiccant technology, inside the bags to absorb the maximum amount of water from the environment. Molecular sieves work by allowing small molecules (such as water) through their pores while concurrently blocking out larger molecules (the rest of your device). What does that mean for you? Ridding yourself of every drop of liquid in your device.

The Thirsty Bag is big enough to work for PSPs, watches, cameras, calculators, PDAs, and more. It can even dry your larger electronics, like iPads and DSLR cameras, if you use a larger sealable bag. And unlike other home remedies — such as uncooked rice or direct sunlight — these pouches are guaranteed to absorb all of the water out of the device without any risk of damage.

Fair warning: using the Thirsty Bag will ensure that there will be no liquid left inside to cause a short, but it will not guarantee that your device will work afterwards. Think of it as an electronic bandage. You’ll use a bandage if you get shot (and it’ll even extract the bullet for you in this example), but it won’t guarantee that you’ll live. So just as it’s handy to have some bandages around in case you get into a gunfight, it’s handy to have the Thirsty Bag around just in case you drop your iPhone into the toilet while reading this blog post.

ESD is not a venereal disease

July 27, 2011 Answers, Site News, Tools — Jeff

Electrostatic discharge and novice electronics repair

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Take precautions before handling

Beware: a short stroll on your Dacron® carpet can load the surface of your skin and clothes with enough spare electrons to cook that RAM you just took out of its special little pink or silver bag. Recipes for Abbacchio Al Forno aside, cooking your RAM is something to avoid. If you are new to tinkering with electronics, you may not have heard of electrostatic discharge (ESD) safety procedures. ESD is a sudden electric shock that your electronic device may incur if it isn’t handled properly. As a rule of thumb, the smaller the components inside your device get, the more sensitive they are to those crackles and pops you hear on a dry day when you pet the cat.

Electronic components become smaller every year; so just about any electronic device you own has components that require proper care on your part before you start fiddling inside. Be it the innards of your smart phone or the logic board, RAM, or hard drive in your laptop, the free electrons on your skin are just itching to attack all those tiny semiconductors.

By the way, you and all the objects around you are exchanging static charges all the time. Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you don’t see a spark, there is no energy transferred. That visible spark between your finger and a door knob may have contained several thousand volts, but some electronic components are sensitive to static discharge of less than one hundred volts. You are unlikely to see, feel, or hear these smaller (yet still potentially damaging) exchanges of charge. Just scooting your butt around in your chair can load up enough zap juice to cause mayhem.

Just the facts ma’am

So, every time you or other objects move around, making and breaking contact with various surfaces, a static charge may build up. A particular surface may hold or dissipate that charge depending on all sorts of factors, like relative humidity in the air, conductivity of the material, etc. If those details don’t put you to sleep and you want to know more, have a look at the web page of the Electrostatic Discharge Association. It’s loaded with detail mostly intended for folks in manufacturing who really need to keep ESD under control.

For the electronics repair novice, the key tidbit to keep in mind is that bad things happen when your electronic components (with one level of charge) suddenly come in contact with something with a different level of charge. Spare electrons on the surface try to find equilibrium and create havoc. If they rush from one object to another and some tiny electronics are in the way, the semiconductors get cooked. Yet when all components in your device are assembled, they share one big happy charge together. So there’s no problem until  you start taking it all apart — that’s when the potential for different charges rears its ugly head.

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ESD Safe symbol: a triangle/hand under an arc.

The objective of ESD safe procedures and tools is to dissipate or equalize unequal charges before they can flow through delicate electronics, or to slow the exchange of that electrostatic charge enough so it does not cause damage. If your hands, work surface, tools, and electronic parts are all at the same charge or all connected to a decent ground, there will be no exchange of charge between them when they come in contact. This is the purpose of anti-static wrist straps and mats. Those special pink or silver plastic bags containing your new disk drive or RAM chip are designed to dissipate static charge slowly enough to prevent damage. The pink or silver plastic is neither a good conductor, which would dissipate an unequal charge too quickly, nor a good insulator, which would hold a potentially damaging charge for a long time. Likewise, the special plastic grips of ESD safe tools are intended to slowly dissipate an unequal charge. Used together with the right procedures, ESD safe tools and anti-static mats and wrist straps may keep your new RAM fresh and uncooked.

So what’s a novice to do?

A few simple precautions will help keep you from creating inadvertent paperweights:

  • Unplug your electronic device.
  • Remove rings, watches, and bracelets from your fingers and wrists.
  • Ground your work surface. Lay down an anti-static mat and use its wire lead to connect to ground. This can be a water pipe or an unpainted metal part of a grounded appliance like a washing machine, dryer, or refrigerator. You may connect directly to the ground wire of an AC outlet but only if you are certain you know what you’re doing. You may wish to consult an electrician. Can’t get to a good ground? Then clip your mat to something big and conductive like the steel legs of a work bench. This at least gives you a charge reservoir to equalize everything with.
  • Ground yourself. Wear an anti-static wrist strap and use its wire lead to connect to your anti-static mat.
  • Keep your new parts in their pink or silver bags until you are ready to install them.
  • Place all your bagged new parts on the anti-static mat before you work with them.
  • Place your electronic device on the anti-static mat.
  • Place your tools on the anti-static mat.

Everything, including your hands, should now have an equal charge and you can get to work. As you work keep a few things in mind:

  • If your electronic device has a metal case, its charge should be equalized by just sitting on your anti-static mat. If your electronic device has a plastic case, touch a metal internal case component before you disconnect any internal parts. For example, removing the battery from a MacBook exposes its internal metal frame. Touching your grounded hand to these metal parts will equalize the charge of the internal components with you and your work surface. Touch those same internal metal frame parts regularly as you work, particularly just before swapping sensitive components like RAM sticks.
  • Any parts that you may wish to keep should be placed in ESD safe pink or silver bags for storage.
  • Caution: ESD safe procedures will not protect you from high voltage discharge from a CRT display or any other glass tube monitor or television. In addition, power supplies built into desktop CPUs or other devices contain capacitors with similar potential for high voltage discharge.

Once you have your device reassembled and working again, don’t forget to remove that silly-looking strap off your wrist. Then it’s time to shuffle across the carpet and zap the cat on the nose.*

 

* We do not condone the abuse of animals, even if it’s zapping your cat on the nose.

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!

2010 Holiday Gift Guide

December 6, 2010 Site News, Tools — luke

If you’re struggling to find the right gifts for your geek friends, we feel your pain. We also have good news! We love giving gifts that people use throughout the year—the thing that’s always on the top of their toolbox, or that they take with them on every trip. The best gifts are the ones that make people awesome.

Good tools do just that. If you’re shopping for a geek, engineer, tinkerer, or anyone else that delights in making and fixing things, we’ve put together a list of our 10 favorite gifts. Our 2010 Holiday Gift Guide has all sorts of goodies that will surprise and delight even the most well equipped tinkerer.

iFixit 2010 Holiday Gift Guide

A Wrench for Tight Spots

November 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Tools — Miro

We attended SEMA 2010 to see how we could help facilitate vehicle and automotive product repair. We walked the convention floor and met vendors of all shapes and sizes; a few stood out above the rest in their approach (and ethos) to products and customer service. One of them was Chicago Brand.

We never heard of Chicago Brand before SEMA, and we’re quite happy to have made their acquaintance. Chicago Brand sells quality and innovative tools for a reasonable price, all the while offering great customer service. Just like iFixit, if someone calls their customer service line, a live person (from the U.S.!) will answer the phone.

While Chicago Brand sells all sorts of measurement tools — calipers, gauges, micrometers — their pick of the litter is a patented, open-ended ratcheting wrench. We took one home with us and used it around the house. It’s an absolutely wonderful tool for tiny spaces.

Click to enlarge picture

The wrenches combine all the versatility of both an open end and a ratchet mechanism. They’re great for those hard-to-reach places, or for a cramped work environment where you can’t see the nut you’re trying to unscrew. Or, as shown in the picture above, you’re trying to remove a nut that has a hose or something else attached to it; an ice maker hose on the back of a refrigerator is the perfect example. You can’t slip a closed-end wrench onto the nut because of the hose, but it may be quite difficult to turn an open-end wrench if you can’t get behind the fridge.

Chicago Brand sells their products through large retailers like Sears and Amazon. You can pick up three double-sided wrenches (a total of six sizes) for $29.95 from Amazon — definitely not steep for some quality wrenches that carry a lifetime warranty.

Game Console Repair

August 29, 2010 Hardware, Repair Guides, Site News, Tools — Kyle

On Monday, iFixit is changing the game console industry forever.

Repair—for devices of all kinds—is stuck in the 20th century. iFixit is methodically changing one industry at a time: we started with Apple repair guidesreplacement parts, and tools, and now we’re empowering game console owners in the same way.

The bottom line:

  • We are releasing a free, community-authored repair manual—composed of hundreds of step-by-step guides and thousands of photos—for every major game console.
  • Simultaneously, iFixit is launching a repair parts and tools store for game consoles.
  • To celebrate, we are going to publish five retro game console teardowns showcasing the roots of today’s consoles.

The game console industry is hostile to consumers: goliath manufacturers have shipped hundreds of millions of units to consumers with no information on how to maintain or repair them. Console owners are left with few options when their warranty expires, causing many to throw away broken units.

That changes now. We are releasing a free, open source, community-authored repair manual for every major game console.

Console Repair is Go

We have just published repair manuals for 32 game consoles written by over a hundred volunteers. The manuals are available online immediately.

The manuals walk you step-by-step through performing 206 different repairs and upgrades. Each device has a troubleshooting page to help diagnose what’s wrong and what to do to fix it.

These manuals represent thousands of hours of community labor: gamers working to help gamers by sharing what they know. A number of engineering students even pitched in as part of their technical writing courses.

Here is a brief overview of the consoles covered:

There are a massive number of manuals to browse. Here are some particularly interesting guides:

This outpouring of community effort is a clear message to manufacturers: people want to be able to service their own hardware. With these manuals they are going be able to do so, whether Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo like it or not.

New Console Parts Store is Online

But service manuals aren’t the whole story: people also need access to tools and parts. So iFixit is also launching a comprehensive store for modern game console parts and tools. iFixit is now an all-in-one solution for both Apple and game console repair.

We can’t quite keep up with our community, so we don’t have repair parts for everything just yet. We are currently selling over a hundred repair parts and all the tools you need to disassemble consoles. We will be adding dozens more repair parts over the next few weeks.

Here are a few of the game console parts that we’re now selling:

Repair is Finally Moving Into the Future

This game console milestone is a bold step forward. We are working towards a world where every person has access to a service manual for every thing that they own. Far fewer consoles will end up in landfills now that people are able to fix their own hardware.

iFixit started out with a simple, yet successful model: we wrote Apple repair manuals and sold parts alongside them. Millions have used our free information to fix their Macs. But there is far more demand for manuals than we could ever possibly fill. So we gambled on the community: The future of iFixit will require a global community of technicians sharing what they know. And they are definitely sharing! Since we launched our repair wiki in April, the community has doubled the number of repair manuals on iFixit. Doubled!

The future of repair lies in the community. Manufacturers were not willing to share repair information with their customers, so the customers wrote their own manual. These crowdsourced game console manuals represent an uprising of the masses: people are sick of being sold disposable devices with short lifespans and limited repairability. People want to buy quality products that they can repair themselves, and having an open source repair manual enables them to increase the value and useful lifespan of their hardware.

We are ecstatic to watch our community make the world better, one repair manual at a time.

Novelty Tool: Noosy Micro SIM Cutter

July 22, 2010 Hardware, Tools — Andrew

Do you hate scissors? And do you feel the need to buy an application-specific tool for every task? Well you’re in luck, because Noosy’s Micro SIM cutter is there to satiate your primal urge for tool hoarding. Insert a full size SIM card, squeeze the cutter, and bam! Micro SIM without the need for scissors. 

Why would you want this? We don’t really know. (We don’t plan on selling it unless you convince us to.)