RCA Studio II Teardown

August 31, 2010 Hardware, Teardowns — Miro

In the late 1970s, RCA (the largest TV manufacturer at the time) was seeking ways to increase demand for their TVs. One concept they tried was selling a “Home TV Programmer” — RCA’s marketing phrase for game console — to give people more to do with their TVs. They failed miserably.

The Studio II is regarded by many (including PC World) to be the worst video game system of all time. We know for sure that RCA Studio II didn’t attract much of a fan base during its short two year tenure, and today few people have any idea that it ever existed. Until now.

RCA originally passed on the first game console ever made — the Odyssey — which Magnavox started selling with great success. Consequently, they rushed the Studio II to market, a game console that was already obsolete when introduced in early 1977 (black and white and no controllers in an age where competitors had both). RCA discontinued the system by 1979, and the rest is history.

This console is quite rare given the small production number. In fact, we intercepted this unit on its way to the Computer History Museum! We were kindly allowed to take some photographs of the little guy before we sent it of to its final resting place.

Teardown highlights:

  • A meager five screws are all that hold the two halves of the Studio II together. That’s 500% more screws than in the Odyssey 100, but half the screws required to open the top cover on a PS3 Slim.
  • The on-board mono speaker is the sole source of the Studio II’s sound effects. Want to turn down the sound? Too bad — there’s no volume control.
  • At the heart of the Studio II lies an RCA CDP1802 microprocessor, running at a scorching 1.78 MHz. Coupled with 2K ROM, 512 bytes RAM, and a 64×32 monochrome graphics chip, the Studio II was underwhelming even back in 1977. To put things into perspective, the TI-83 (introduced in 1996) operates at 6 MHz and has 32 KB of RAM.
  • The RCA CDP1802 was a bit of an unusual chip for its day. A version of the 1802 was manufactured by depositing a thin film of silicon on a sapphire wafer. The extremely low electrical conductivity of the sapphire wafer prevented any stray electrical current, caused by radiation bombardment, from spreading to (and possibly damaging) nearby transistors on the chip.
  • Due to their inherent radiation resistance, six silicon-on-sapphire RCA 1802 processors were chosen to control the Galileo spacecraft during its 14 year trek to Jupiter and its moons. They eventually burned up with the rest of Galileo when it was purposely steered into Jupiter’s atmosphere in 2003.
  • It is interesting to note that all the components attached to the circuit board are of the through-hole variety. Although surface-mount technology had existed since the ’60s, it was still more expensive than the commonly available through-hole components of the day.
  • The pattern for the traces connecting components across the board is most definitely hand-drawn. This was very common before computer-aided design programs were used to make very straight, organized traces.
  • There was never an RCA Studio I — they went straight to the sequel.

Opening the RCA Studio II

Traces done by hand on the motherboard

Magnavox Odyssey 100 Teardown

August 30, 2010 Hardware, Teardowns — Miro

Welcome to day one of our week of game console teardowns!

The Magnavox Odyssey was the world’s first home game console. The machine, designed by Ralph Baer (widely considered the father of video games), was released in 1972. Today, we’re taking apart the Odyssey 100 — the immediate successor to that groundbreaking console. Join us as we take a journey back in time to 1975 and peek inside one of the great forefathers of the video game industry.

The Odyssey 100 is the first of five special retro game console teardowns we’re doing to celebrate the completion of our game console repair manuals. Tomorrow we’ll continue our voyage into the past and tear down one more piece of our history!

Teardown Highlights:

  • In 1975, the Magnavox Odyssey 100 was nothing short of awesome. It packed in:
    • Black & White graphics
    • Two games! (tennis AND hockey — that’s 100% more games than Pong)
    • Manual scoring (yes, you read that right: manual sliders)
    • Three control knobs for each player
    • On-board “sound” (a piezo buzzer)
  • Repairability +1: A single flathead screw is all that holds the bottom panel to the Odyssey 100.
  • A piece of cardboard shields the motherboard by being sandwiched between the bottom cover and the PCB. We’d never see this in a modern console; today’s microelectronics require metal shielding to prevent electromagnetic interference.
  • Simplicity is king: It had just three control knobs: X, Y, and ball trajectory. Compare that to today’s DualShock 3 controller, which has two analog sticks, a d-pad, and 13 buttons.
  • The Odyssey 100 had the option of being powered by either an external wall adapter or by six “C” cell batteries. Your Xbox 360/Wii/PS3 isn’t as fortunate.
  • The four ICs in the Odyssey 100 were fabbed by Texas Instruments. These 16 pin DIPs are architecturally somewhat different from the TI’s OMAP 3630 we found in the Droid 2. But the TI logo is still just as retro cool!
  • The motherboard has a single layer of conductive traces connecting all the components. Contrast this to modern circuit boards, which can have eight stacked layers of traces.

Final layout

Game Console Repair

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

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.


August 19, 2010 Events, Site News — Kyle Wiens

Repair is social. It always has been. I learned how to disassemble electronics from my grandfather, and my best friend’s dad helped me with my first RAM upgrade. We’re always teaching each other useful things. We have a lot of community members that are already members of groups — clubs, companies, university classes — in addition to helping out around here. Our new team feature will empower those groups.

Our master plan for fixing the world is simple:

  1. We make awesome tools to help you teach people how to fix things.
  2. You teach people how to fix things.
  3. Goto 1.

Clearly a critical part of this loop is helping people promote what they’re already doing — whether that’s a bike kitchen, a local repair shop, or teaching an IT class at a high school on the Isle of Man.

We just rolled out team support. Each team gets their own wiki page where they can share their mission, work on repair guides together, and show their general location with our brand-new map widget.

We spent quite a while thinking about what to call this. We originally called it “groups,” but that word is overly vague and doesn’t connote any sense of shared purpose. We chose the word “team” because it implies action toward a goal. Teams collaborate together to win, and every successful repair is a victory.

I learned a long time ago not to predict the variety of creative ways our members contribute to teach repair. I have no idea what sorts of teams people will form, but here are a few slightly-informed guesses: bike kitchens, community repair shops, car clubs, and repair businesses.

Team iFixit Members

Creativity works best under constraints, so here they are:

  • You can only belong to one team. ONE. That’s it, that’s all you get. No, I’m not taking bribes to let you into more than one team. (Unless that bribe is a Ducati 1098. Then we can talk.)
  • Anyone can create a team. We’ve got two varieties, open and invite only.
    • Anyone can join an open team. This might be useful if you want to collaborate with some folks to work on a collection of guides for a device, or if you’re an inclusive organization like a bike kitchen.
    • Invite only teams require a code to join. You can pass out this invite code to as many, or as few, folks as you’d like. This makes sense for companies that want all their employees on a team or for clubs that require local participation to join.
  • The team’s reputation is the sum of all its current members’ reputations. When you join a team, your reputation is added to theirs. Conversely, if you leave a team their reputation will drop — just like it would in the real world.

Each team gets their own wiki “about” page. You can write as much as you want, add images and markup to make it look professional, promote your business, write a manifesto, or write an ode to vacuum tubes. It’s up to you—wield this newfound power with wisdom.

Team iFixit's "About" Page

You can also set a location, enabling a little map widget on the right of the team profile. This has been requested a number of times, and we’re happy to oblige.

In case users are feeling left out by the love we’re devoting to the new team profile pages, we’ve also added user profile support. Everyone with a reputation over 200 can now customize their profile page and add their location. Andrew posted some interesting information about some of his recent projects over on his page.

iFixit does reasonably well in Google rankings, so this could be a useful way for you to take control of what’s visible online about you.

So what now? Well, you can view a (rather meager) list of existing teams, or create one yourself. Now get to it!

Dell Streak Teardown

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

We’ve been looking forward to the Streak for a long time. This not-so-little half-tablet, half-phone defies easy categorization, and Dell seriously piqued our interest. So we took it apart.

The Streak’s internals are quite easy to access. Dell designed the device so that a mechanical engineering degree was not required for a successfuldisassembly. We were able to reverse engineer the assembly process within minutes.

Teardown highlights:

  • The LCD is bonded to the front panel glass to increase the strength of the device, as well as the sensitivity of the capacitive touch panel. The front panel’s solid construction should withstand drops from above waist height.
  • Sadly, the Streak’s LCD is permanently adhered to the front panel glass. However, that LCD/glass subassembly is held in the front panel with some very strong adhesive, and could be removed with enough careful prying.
  • The five T5 Torx screws holding the unit together are found right underneath the bezels on the front of the device. It’s super easy to open it and take it apart.
  • The 1530 mAh battery is easily replaceable and is covered with a sheet of steel, rather than plastic, to decrease its overall thickness. We wonder if the Streak can double as body armor, but we find it unlikely.
  • The Streak has a second 2 GB microSD card near the top of the motherboard. This card is used to house system and applications files only, and Dell doesn’t want you to remove it.
  • The “C”-shaped motherboard comes out easily after disconnecting some cables. Rather than using daughterboards like the Droid 2, the Streak has all components attached to this singular motherboard.
  • Big players on the motherboard include:
    • Qualcomm: QSD8250 Snapdragon processor, MXU6219 RF transceiver, PM7540 power management chip
    • Analog Devices ADV7520 Low Power HDMI™/DVI Transmitter
    • Hynix H8BES0UU0MCR NAND-based MCP
    • TriQuint Semiconductor TQS 7M5012 Power Amp (Quad-band GSM)
    • Texas Instruments TPS 65023 integrated Power Management IC

Unplugging the display

Final layout

Motorola Droid 2 Teardown

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

Motorola made significant evolutionary changes to the Droid 2‘s internals (1 GHz processor, 802.11n, etc.) that provide an overall speedier experience for the user. Yet, the phone’s internal layout is so similar to the original Droid that it is difficult to discern which is which once they’re apart. Motorola certainly took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it route” by keeping everything people didn’t complain about exactly the same, and upgrading the bits that mattered. Who wouldn’t like smoother games and faster browsing?

The phones are so similar that you can use our Droid repair guides to fix pretty much anything on the Droid 2! We’re updating the guides to compensate for a couple of small differences — the Droid 2 uses T3 and T5 Torx screws in place of Phillips — but anyone can use the guides right now without much hassle.

Teardown highlights:

  • Unlike the iPhone 4 with its “Authorized Service Provider Only” pull tab, the Droid 2 has a helpful note stating “Battery Removal Here.” Thank you, Motorola.
  • The Droid 2 has a 3.7V, 1390 mAh Li-Ion Polymer battery, identical to the one found in the Droid. Yet, Motorola advertises a 575 minute usage time for the Droid 2, compared to a 385 minute usage time for the Droid. That’s a claimed 49% improvement while still using the same battery!
  • The Droid 2’s 5 MP rear-facing camera with dual-LED flash supports DVD-quality video recording at 6 more FPS than the original Droid – 30 FPS vs. 24 FPS.
  • The Droid 2 uses the same 3.7 inch, Full WVGA, 854×480 TFT LCD as the original Droid.
  • After de-routing the ribbon cable through the slider mechanism, the keyboard can be easily removed from the back of the slider bracket. We believe that you can transplant a Droid 2 keyboard into your old Droid (they look identical on the back side) but haven’t tested it yet.
  • The camera board is actually a separate circuit board that can be easily removed from the motherboard, just like in the original.
  • We suspect the TI OMAP 3630 processor is buried beneath an Elpida K4332C1PD package, which appears to be a DDR mobile RAM chip. We’ll have Chipworks investigate this further.
  • The Droid 2 has a SanDisk SDIN4C2 8 GB NAND flash package that wasn’t included in the original Droid. But it includes a half-as-large micro SD card, so out the box it doesn’t have more capacity than the original.
  • The TI WL1271B WLAN Bluetooth/FM chip gives the Droid 2 802.11n capability.

Lifting off the plastic rim

Final layout