The World’s First Repair API

December 17, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

I’m thrilled to announce that we are releasing an API! The iFixit API provides programmatic access to iFixit — enabling you to write innovative applications and utilities on top of our repair database.

Over the years, we’ve learned that it’s not enough to just write repair guides. We also have to make them accessible to as many people as possible—in a format that’s most convenient for them. Our website has a pretty wide reach, but we can’t possibly envision every way people want to use repair documentation. Most repairs don’t happen in front of a computer—we’re writing manuals that show people how to do things in the real world.

We’ve gotten by with computer-centric web repair manuals this long for a simple reason: most of what we teach people how to fix is electronics. People generally fix electronics on their desk next to their computer, or on a kitchen table with a laptop. It’s easy to use our website when your computer is convenient—but what about when you’re fixing all the other things out there like lawn mowers and mopeds? Dragging your laptop out into the garage works, but it’s a bit of a kludge.

Our solution has been PDF downloads: people who don’t have a spare computer just print out our repair guides. As much as I dislike killing trees, paper is still a pretty darn versatile communication tool. Paper gets the job done.

But we can do so much better! The holy grail of repair is an always-with-you, up-to-date, instant-access repair manual for everything. Modern mobile devices make this possible. iPad and iPhone are teaching us that we can have our cake and eat it, too: they give us the form-factor advantage of paper and all the dynamic advantages of a web connection.

Well we’re writing the repair manual, and now you can re-imagine our information on any platform, in any context.

We need a repair app ecosystem

This is a watershed moment in the history of repair manuals. For the first time, there is a central, open platform for repair documentation. Our data format structures the information with semantic metadata, allowing anyone to innovate around that data.

What can I do with the API?

The world’s largest collection of free photographic repair manuals is at your fingertips. Got an idea for integrating it with your repair shop’s workflow? Awesome! Want to come up with a way to make it easier for bandwidth-limited technicians in developing countries to fix things? Go right ahead.

The API provides access to iFixit’s repair manuals (step-by-step guides and Device namespace pages) and device “area” hierarchy. It does not (yet) provide access to our parts or Answers Q&A database.

The API responds with JSON by default, but you can also request JSONP or XML.

Who can use the API?

Non-commercial API access is free, and commercial access is available for a fee. If you anticipate making a large, sustained number of accesses, or you’re interested in using the API for commercial purposes, please contact us for an API key.

All iFixit content is freely licensed for non-commercial use under Creative Commons provided that you include a link back to us and release any modifications under the same license.

The API is in its v0.1 alpha stage, so it might be subject to some flux — although we’ll try to keep it as stable as possible. Have a question or feature request for the API? Head on over to iFixit meta.

I’ll post some helpful tips on how to use our repair API (including reference code) over the next few weeks.

Nexus S Teardown

December 16, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Nexus S is supposed to be the next flagship Android phone. Yet, having looked at both the outside and inside of this device, we’re just a tad underwhelmed. We feel the phone’s curved glass is more of a gimmick than anything else, although it does feel very nice when pressed up against the user’s face.

Our teardown reveals that only the glass itself is curved, but that the Super AMOLED display and touchscreen are just as flat as any phone’s. Although Google/Samsung technically doesn’t lie on their site — they clearly mention a curved glass panel, not curved Super AMOLED — we still find their “Contour Display” name a bit misleading.

Teardown Highlights:

  • The Super AMOLED does away with the digitizer, and integrates the capacitive touch sensors into the display. You can definitely see that only the front glass panel is curved. The rest of the components are flat as a board, just as any other phone on the market.
  • Inside we found a S5PC110A01 1GHz Cortex A8 Hummingbird Processor stacked together with a Samsung KB100D00WM-A453 memory package. Other notable chips include a SanDisk SDIN4C2 16GB MLC NAND flash module, an Infineon 8824 XG616 X-Gold baseband processor, a Wolfson Microelectronics WM8994 ultra-low power audio codec, and a Skyworks SKY77529 Tx Front-End Module for Dual-Band GSM/GPRS/EDGE.
  • The 1500 mAh, 3.7 V, 5.55 Watt-hour Lithium ion cell provides up to 6.7 hours of talk time on a 3G network, and up to 14 hours on a 2G network. That’s slightly higher than the 1400 mAh and 1420 mAh battery ratings of the Nexus One and iPhone 4, respectively.
  • A warning sign on the battery indicates it should not be fed to babies. We agree.
  • Taking out the motherboard requires removing three Phillips screws and disconnecting a few cables here and there. Nothing a patient user with a screwdriver couldn’t handle.
  • For you AT&T customers out there, just a quick reminder that the Nexus S does not support the 850 MHz and 1900 MHz HSPA frequency bands required for 3G mobile data. If you use this phone on AT&T’s network, you’re stuck in 2G land.
  • Interestingly, the two cameras share the same connector on the motherboard and are removed as a singular unit.
  • The EM-Tech EME1511AFRC module integrates the earpiece speaker, loudspeaker for speakerphone and media use, and a sensor bank all into one unit with a singular shared data connector. This is definitely a win for integration, but at the same time forces users to replace the entire unit if only one component malfunctions.

Lifting off the motherboard

Final layout

The Nexus S is a solid Android phone overall, and we think a lot of people will be happy with it. Samsung’s device is the king of the hill of Android phones — for the next twelve minutes or so, until the new next-best-Android-phone rises up to knock it off its perch.

iFixit’s Repair Guide Widget

December 14, 2010 Hardware, Site News — Miro

Great news! You can now easily display any iFixit repair guide or teardown within your website or blog post.

Just visit any guide of your choice and click on the “Embed” link within the introduction. You’ll be provided HTML code that you can paste on your pages, allowing you to embed iFixit’s widget.

For example, clicking on the Embed link on the Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Fix guide gives you a convenient box with the code and a preview of the widget:

The repair guide widget displays all the pictures and bulleted text that our normal guides contain, but in a smaller format. To see a larger image, just click on any image and it will open up the right step on iFixit.com. There’s also a “Parts and tools” button on the bottom of the embed that will show you any parts and tools required to successfully perform the repair.

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

Parrot AR.Drone Teardown

December 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro
Removing the motherboard

Removing the motherboard

We’ve had the Parrot AR.Drone — an iPhone-controlled, indoor or out, four-propeller rotorcraft — at the iFixit offices for months. We bought it for a teardown, but we just couldn’t stop playing with the flying bugger long enough to take it apart. Until now.

The AR.Drone is earth-shattering. It has blown away every drone expert we’ve talked to. It’s not just a toy: it’s a phenomenal piece of engineering that manages to solve some very difficult software problems in order to take flight. Hidden beneath the foam fascia lies some very sophisticated electronics, all of which makes flying the quadricopter very seamless. We were quite interested in seeing exactly what components Parrot used to make their awesome flying device.

We gave the AR.Drone a 9 out of 10 on our repairability scale. Tons of replacement parts are available directly from Parrot’s website, in addition to videos for common repairs for the device. We’ve never seen another consumer electronics device with this much advance planning for user repair. That’s a good thing too, since just about everyone we’ve let fly our drone has crashed it. Flying is hard, even with an iPhone!

Teardown highlights:

  • Each propeller assembly is made up of the propeller blade, gear, motor and motor controller board. These are not your run-of-the-mill propellers. The design team behind these won a micro drone design contest put on by the French Army. The propellers spin in different directions depending on the side they are mounted on, and are marked either C (clockwise) or A (anti-clockwise).
  • The propeller blade and gear are held in place by a small circlip on a stainless steel shaft. Parrot sells a special circlip removal tool, but we opted for a pick we had laying around the office. We learned very quickly that if you’re not careful, the little circlips are also capable of flight.
  • Each brushless motor runs at 28,000 RPM while the AR.Drone is hovering, and ramp up to a whopping 41,400 RPM during full acceleration! The speed of the motor is managed by the electronic controller, which includes an 8-bit microcontroller and a 10-bit ADC.
  • Much of the AR.Drone’s body is made of expanded polypropylene (EPP), a common substance that is both extremely light and easily manufactured into complex shapes. We like to call it by its scientific name, “foam.”
  • The two large mesh cylinders make up the ultrasound altimeter, which stabilizes the quadricopter within 6 meters of the ground.
  • The navigation board, which attaches to the motherboard via eight pins, contains a Microchip PIC24HJ16GP304 40MHZ 16-bit microprocessor in addition to a MEMS gyroscope (the Invensense IDG 500).
  • The motherboard itself hosts a Parrot 6 ARM9 468 MHz processor, ROCm Atheros AR6102G-BM2D b/g Wi-Fi module, a couple of Micron chips, and a vertical camera.
  • The battery is a 1000mAh, 11.V lithium unit that detaches easily from the quadricopter. It lasts about ten minutes. There’s a second connector on the battery for balance charging, which ensures that each of the three battery cells charges equally, thus optimizing capacity and prolonging battery life. The battery also contains a protection circuit module, which prevents it from discharging too rapidly, over charging, or short circuiting.
  • The 93 degree front-facing wide-angle camera can stream its video and images directly to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch. With a resolution of 640×480 pixels, we doubt anyone will be filming HD movies with the AR.Drone’s camera.
Removing one of the motors

Removing one of the motors

Final layout

Final layout

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.

Cyber Monday Deals

November 28, 2010 Contests, Hardware — Kyle Wiens
There’s no better way to look like you know what you’re doing than having the right tools! We design our tools specifically for repairing electronics, so you can get the job done right the first time. We want to get repair tools in the hands of as many people as possible, so we’re running some killer deals on our most popular tools. We’re pricing these to move fast. Pick up one for yourself and one as a gift.


Pro Tech Base Toolkit

Keep your iPhone going strong

Are you hoping for a new iPhone 4 for Christmas? No, we don’t have a kit to upgrade your iPhone 3G to an iPhone 4. But we do have a way to give your iPhone a new lease on life! A new battery will make it last just as long as it did when you first got it. You can install the new battery yourself in less than an hour.

iPhone 3G Replacement Battery

Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death Fix Kit

If your Xbox 360 has developed the notorious red ring of death, we have good news. You can either spend hundreds of dollars on a new console and trash your broken console, or you can fix it yourself. We’ve been thrilled to hear how many Xbox 360s people have been able to bring back to life!

iFixit’s Red Ring of Death Fix Kit

Remember, you could win a complete set of professional tools!

This holiday season, let’s encourage repair and reuse rather than buying more things we don’t need and won’t last. With our friends at Wired, we’re running a toy repair contest. We’re giving away a ton of awesome tools, so make sure to get started on your entry right away!

Toy Repair Contest

Replacing a MacBook Hard Drive in 15 Seconds!

November 27, 2010 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

This stop-motion installation video is amazing. Stop reading this right now and watch it, it’s only 15 seconds.

Isn’t that cool? Sebastian made the video, and sent it along to us after he followed our installation guide.

He’s not exaggerating. Upgrading your MacBook’s hard drive really is that easy—it’s a no brainer if your laptop is running out of space. It’s a simple upgrade to move up to a whopping 750 GB MacBook hard drive. Or, if performance is more important, I’m absolutely in love with my super-fast hybrid 500 GB hard drive with 4GB of embedded flash cache.

Toy Repair Contest

November 17, 2010 Contests, Site News — Kyle Wiens

As you well know, we’re a fair ways out from being finished with our goal to write a repair manual for everything. We have made some great progress, with Game Consoles virtually complete, iPods complete, and Macs well on their way.

What next? Well, we’re making solid inroads in PCs, cell phones, and digital cameras. But there are lots of things to write manuals for, and the path from here to a manual for everything is a little… open ended.

So let’s make sure we enjoy ourselves while we’re fixing the planet, and take some time out to write repair manuals for some really fun things.

I don’t have kids myself, but I have a lot of friends with them. Getting ready for Christmas, I spent a little time looking around at the holiday toy landscape. I was disappointed, to say the least, when I saw that Squinkies Cupcake Surprize Bake Shop on the Toys ’R’ Us 15 must-have gifts this year. Spoiler: It’s not actually a bake shop, you can’t cook anything with it, and it’s hard to imagine anyone being ‘surprized’ by what’s inside.

But you can make real cupcakes with the Easy-Bake Oven! Did you know Hasbro has manufactured 18 million of them? I had no idea. I wonder how many still work—or could be easily fixed up and made to work again. A cleaned up, repaired, and custom painted Easy-Bake Oven would be an incredible gift.

I haven’t been terribly impressed with any of the new, non-electronic toys I’ve seen. It all seems like cheap plastic junk—probably because it is. But some of the toys I remember from my childhood were really cool! That started me wondering about how many of them still work—or could be make to work again with a little TLC.

Make Old Toys New Again!

What if this year, instead of going out and buying new toys, we rummaged through our attics and hit up thrift stores to find the really cool toys we had as kids?

We could save money, get truly unique gifts for our kids, and reduce the amount of plastic junk we’ll have lying around to throw away next year.

So let’s do it! This Christmas season, let’s show our children a thing or two about reuse. We don’t need to buy new toys every year. In fact, the old toys were pretty dang cool! If only we could make them like new again.

Opening Pleo, a toy robot dinosaur

Toy Repair Contest

Toys are just like gadgets—the best way to get them working again is to teach people how to fix them up!

Our game console repair manual is a great start. We’ve already got you covered if you want to gift a vintage Game Boy, Nintendo GameCube, or Atari 2600—or just about any other console.

But the only toys we have disassembly photos for right now are Pleo, the robot dinosaur, and the Nerf N-Strike Maverick! Christmas is right around the corner, and we clearly need to do something about that.

We’ve partnered with Wired to host a contest, starting today and ending December 12. Write a toy repair manual! We’ll award prizes for the most useful and comprehensive manuals.

What should you write a repair manual for? I brainstormed a list of about 40 classic toys that would be good to get repair manuals going for, and we’ve set up stub device pages for them. Don’t limit yourself to just those—if you have a different toy you want to fix, go right ahead! (Here’s how to add a new device.)

To make sure we know it’s a contest entry, tag your guides with toycontest.

Our goal is to build a useful repair manual for each of these toys. We’d like to avoid duplicate guides, so add a note to the device page once you decide what procedures you’re going to document. Just tell us what guides you think you’ll be working on, and the date you expect to be done by. That way other people can work on different procedures.

We’ll award the prizes to the seven individuals who contribute the most to the toy repair manual overall.

The Rules

  1. Take apart a toy.
  2. Post photos of the repair process using our guide editor.
  3. Add the tag ‘toycontest’ to your guides.
  4. The repair guides will be judged by a panel of iFixit and Wired staff.
  5. Contest ends Sunday, December 12 at 11:59 p.m. Pacific time.

The Prizes

Judging Criteria

  • You must write at least one new repair guide with photos.
  • We will factor in overall contributions to the toy repair manual area in addition to your own guide(s). This includes edits to improve device pages and other folk’s repair guides.
  • This is not a teardown contest—your guide must show someone each step of how to fix the toy.
  • Try to avoid duplication, but we won’t penalize you if there’s an honest mistaken overlap.
  • Also, iFixit provides instructions for how to write a repair guide and how to take photos, and has plenty of examples of manuals for your reference.

Got it? Now go fix up some joy!

Samsung Galaxy Tab Teardown

November 12, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Galaxy Tab’s industrial design shows that Samsung is definitely mimicking Apple. Looking like an unlikely offspring between the iPad and the iPhone 4, the Tab has an iPad-like front fascia as well as a camera-equipped back cover similar to the not-yet-released white iPhone. Even the dock connector very closely mimics Apple’s standard pinout.

But that’s where the similarities stop. Within the Tab lies a Samsung-branded 1 GHz Hummingbird processor instead of Apple’s A4 (although both chips share the same ARM A8 processor architecture). There’s a full gig of RAM, 128 MB of Samsung OneDRAM, and 384 MB of Mobile DDR within the same processor package, in addition to 16GB of SanDisk NAND flash storage. If you’re counting, that’s 1.5 GB of total RAM and RAM-like caches. We expect that with this kind of internal hardware, the Tab should work really well with Android apps. But our twitchy hands took it apart the moment we saw it, so we’ll leave the software side for everyone else to explore.

We gave the Tab a repairability score of 6 out of 10. You have to use some unconventional tools — including a heat gun, guitar picks, and a tri-wing screwdriver — in order to fully disassemble the device. But the battery is replaceable without having to spring for a soldering iron, and other components (such as the headphone jack) disconnect pretty easily once you’re inside.

Teardown highlights:

  • The 3.2 MP rear facing camera with an LED flash is a bit sub-par for a device of this caliber, seeing how much smaller devices (like the original Droid) are packed with 5 MP imagers.
  • Measuring 190.1 x 120.6 x 12.0 mm, the Galaxy Tab is significantly smaller than its competitor (the iPad measures in at 242.8 x 189.7 x 13.4 mm). This allows the Tab to be held in one hand relatively easily, making it a good device for portable commercial applications.
  • Prying off a plastic pad on both sides of the Apple-esque dock connector reveals two tri-wing screws. Tri-wing screws are a pretty low level solution to tamper-proofing a product. We include the bit in our 26 piece and 54 piece bit driver kits.
  • The inner face of the rear case has a heavy strip of EMI shielding where it rests against the processor and memory chips on the motherboard.
  • The rear case’s plastic construction will no doubt aid in wireless reception. Using plastic allowed Samsung to bypass the creative measures used by Apple’s iPad designers to facilitate signal transmission.
  • Nearly half of the Galaxy Tab’s real estate is engulfed by the battery. Weighing in at 81 grams, the battery is about 55% the weight and 60% the capacity of the iPad’s battery. It’s also roughly half the size of the iPad’s battery.
  • The digitizer element was produced by Atmel and is bonded to a Corning Gorilla Glass front panel. Unfortunately, a fair amount of heat gun application is required to remove said front panel.
  • Although the resolution of the Galaxy Tab’s screen (1024×600) is less than the resolution of the iPad (1024 x 768), the Galaxy Tab has a more pixels-per-inch (169 for Galaxy Tab vs 132 for the iPad). 169 ppi is nice, but nowhere near dense enough for us. We vastly prefer the iPhone 4’s 326 ppi retina display.
Removing the battery

Removing the battery

Final layout

Final layout