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

Boxee Box Teardown

November 10, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

The Boxee Box is a cubist deviation from the traditionally rectangular set-top box. The oddly-shaped form factor forced D-Link to make the internals equally odd. But that also made it super fun to take apart!

It’s smaller than it looks in our photos. The Box is roughly thrice the size of an Apple TV, but it certainly won’t dominate your entertainment center. After looking at the overall package — both outside and in — we feel that the Box has build quality that rivals Apple’s, and is much more solid than the Logitech Revue (aka Google TV). The front panel is made of sturdy plastic and displays a neat Boxee logo once you power on the device, just in case you mistake it for a device that should instead have a glowing apple symbol.

We gave the Boxee Box a 7 out of 10 repairability score. The rubber base is a doozy to remove, and will most likely never be same once you’ve taken the plunge. Once you have it off, however, all you need is a Phillips screwdriver to take the Box apart the rest of the way. It has a logical assembly layout, as well as a separate power board that can be replaced independently from the motherboard, should it ever fail.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Boxee Box has an Intel CE4110 processor which is nearly identical to the Logitech Revue’s CE4150. In fact, both devices seem to be running at 1.2 GHz.
  • Other notable specifications of the Boxee are 1 GB of Nanya DDR3 SDRAM and 1 GB of Toshiba NAND flash memory. Realtek is contributing an RTL8201N Ethernet chip, and Broadcom provides the BCM4319XKUBG Wi-Fi chip.
  • The Boxee has a digital to analog audio converter, courtesy of Wolfson Audio! That means you can pump out 1080p video and still use your analog audio equipment. Very convenient for people who may hook up the Boxee Box directly to their computer speakers or retro stereo equipment.
  • In stark contrast with the Apple TV, this media player has a convenient SD card slot.
  • A soft white plate on the status panel disperses the light from a couple LEDs to illuminate the semi-transparent Boxee logo either orange (standby) or green (running).
  • Instead of using thermal paste, the Boxee Box uses a phase-change thermal pad much like the one found on the heat sink of the Logitech Revue.
Unscrewing a screw

Unscrewing a screw

Final layout

Final layout

The Story of Electronics

November 9, 2010 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

You may already be familiar with the Story of Stuff Project—they created a series of popular videos that expose the hidden costs of all the consumer products we buy and toss at alarming rates. The films have done more to increase the volume of discussion about our throw-away culture than anything else in recent memory.

I caught up with Annie Leonard (the star of the films) at Bioneers this year and she told me about a new film she made with our friends at the Electronics Takeback Coalition, the organization responsible for many of the manufacturer-sponsored recycling programs.

They just released The Story of Electronics. It discusses the problem we’ve been talking about for years—how we throw away millions of tons of electronics every year and what that means for the planet. While it’s a little harsh on the manufacturers, it’s well worth your time.

Self-Repair Manifesto

November 9, 2010 Site News — Kyle Wiens

Our relationship with our stuff has spiraled out of control. We buy things, use them for a short while, and then rapidly replace them with the next model. It’s time to take a stand. These are our guiding principles.

If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it

Repair is humanity’s best hope for taking back real ownership of our things.

How long does our stuff last? We need to take a deep breath and look at all of our things. Will we be able to fix them when they break? We have got to put the brakes on our race to become a throw-away society.

It’s not completely our fault. Manufacturers push new models every year with just enough style tweaks to make our last one feel obsolete. They use legal threats to keep repair manuals away from us and deploy so-called ‘security bits’ in new products to prevent us from opening our own things. They have even gone so far as patenting screw heads to keep us out of our stuff.

This must not stand

The manufacturers tout their green credentials by citing take-back programs and recyclable materials, but that’s a a misdirection. Recycling isn’t good enough! Recycling is just efficient urban mining. Recycling destroys the captured energy invested to manufacture things, requiring even more energy to melt it down and make something new. And products made from the resulting material (particularly plastics) are substantially lower quality. We’re much better off using existing things as long as physically possible.

Take action

Hang on to last year’s model! Solve a hardware problemFix an iPod! Teach someone how to fix an XboxContribute to a repair manual! This revolution will not succeed without your help.

Spread the word!

We need to shout this message from the rooftops. Let’s post this manifesto in every coffee house, repair shop, and garage in the world. I’ve posted a page where you can share the Manifesto and download files to print. Put the poster up in your workshop and share a photo!

The revolution will not be televised.

Kinect Teardown Video

November 5, 2010 Site News, Teardowns — Kyle Wiens

We’re thinking about doing video overviews of major teardowns. We’ve created Animoto video slideshows in the past, but I’ll be the first to admit they didn’t add much value to our written teardown. For this video, we tried a completely different take: MJ (one of our technicians) shows you through the entire disassembly process.

This video is not a repair guide. Rather, it’s a quick overview of how to get inside the Kinect. Videos are really good at communicating context and repair difficulty, providing someone who’s never done it before an overview of the process. They’re not nearly as good at teaching repair—it’s incredibly frustrating to follow a repair video, constantly starting and stopping it to keep track of where you’re at. At the same time, the detailed repair manuals that are so useful when you’re doing a repair can be very intimidating when you’re first considering whether or not to fix something. I like to think of videos like this as a gateway drug to repair. We’re going to give you enough of a taste to get you hooked on the exciting possibility that you can fix your own hardware, then give you the best resource available to help you do the actual repair: a step-by-step photo guide.

In this sense, a video like this isn’t any different than our teardowns. We take apart every new gizmo to raise awareness that they can be fixed! The repairability score we give every device is serious business: it’s critically important that we consider how we’ll take care of the things we have before we buy them.

There’s one other problem with videos: they’re not a wiki! Our community has made dozens of improvements to the Kinect teardown since we published it yesterday, and it’s a much better document now. Repair manuals need to be living documents, getting better over time as more people use and improve it. That’s theoretically possible with videos too, but no one has written a video wiki yet! We’re going to continue to invest most of our resources into documentation that acts as a starting point for continual improvement.

In summary: We’ll be posting videos to make repair more accessible to new audiences, but they are not a replacement for step-by-step photo repair guides.

Now that I’ve gotten the background out of the way, MJ and I would love to know what you think of the video! What have you always wanted to know in our teardowns that video could convey effectively? Do you see anything we could do better? We’ll work your feedback into our next video.

Microsoft Kinect Teardown

November 4, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Kyle Wiens

We haven’t been this excited to get our hands on new hardware since the iPad. The way that we interact with computers is (finally) evolving, and Kinect is unlike any hardware we’ve ever taken apart. In fact, the only thing we’ve ever taken apart that has anywhere close to this many sensors is Pleo, the dinosaur robot.

The Kinect isn’t a traditional game controller—it’s a horizontal bar of sensors connected to a small, motorized pivoting base. We love that the world is finally at the point where we’re not upgrading our compute capacity as often. Instead, we’re upgrading sensors so our computers understand more about us.

What’s inside the Kinect?

  • Four microphones. Four! We’ve taken apart binaural devices before, but this is our first quadaural sensor setup!
  • One infrared camera optimized for depth detection.
  • One standard visual-spectrum camera used for visual recognition.
  • An IR transmitter
  • A fan. For a 12-watt device, Microsoft seems very paranoid about heat dissipation. This is understandable considering the Xbox 360’s red-ring-of death problems. This is a good thing for consumers, but we can’t help but wonder if they’ve gone overboard in the cooling department.
  • 64 MB of Hynix DDR2 SDRAM
  • A motor. This motor is nothing to write home about. It’s quite tiny. Diminutive, even. So tiny that you might want to make sure you keep Kinect out of your toddler’s reach, because forcing it to pan could damage the gears.
  • A three-axis accelerometer. We suspect this is used to increase the accuracy of the panning motor.
  • A Prime Sense PS1080-A2. Kinect is based on Prime Sense’s motion detection technology. This chip is the Kinect’s brains—all the sensors are wired into here for processing before transmitting a refined depth map and color image to the Xbox.

And a whole lot more—hit the teardown for the full list!

Most of the Xbox’s processing power is dedicated to gaming, so the Kinect preprocesses the image prior to sending it on to the Xbox. The Prime Sense processor condenses all the information it collects about your living room into two things: a color image and a depth map. These are sent to the Xbox over USB.

The Kinect’s eyes are not tiny cell-phone cameras—they’re closer to the camera you might find in a webcam, with large lenses and autofocus. We can’t independently confirm the resolution of the cameras yet, but we’ve seen reports that the infrared cams are 640×480 and the RGB cam is 1600×1200. There’s also a lot of circuitry packed into the cameras themselves. We’re conducting a full investigation of the cameras, but that analysis will take us a few more days.

Kinect is first generation hardware. As usual for a first revision, it is mechanically quite complex. We were surprised at the number of thermal sensors and large, sturdy power connectors. Kinect was clearly designed by a team accustomed to designing large hardware like the Xbox. It has nothing in common with design aesthetic of the Zune HD, for example.

Repairability score: 6 / 10

Pros: The design is very modular, and replacing individual components (like the motor) when they fail shouldn’t be a problem. No soldering required to disassemble.

Cons: Microsoft used four kinds of screws, including some hated security bits: T6, T10, T10 security, and Phillips #0. Without a service manual, repair will be quite a challenge. Microsoft has not made a service manual available. If we get enough demand, we’ll do their work for them and publish one.