iFixit @ Macworld

January 24, 2011 Events — Kyle Wiens

We’ve got a lot going on at Macworld Expo this week. You’ve got four pre-scheduled opportunities to catch up with us—but if you happen to see any of us on the show floor, hugs are appreciated. Here’s the rundown:

Birds-of-a-Feather Meetup

Thursday, January 27th 5:30pm – 6:30pm

Repair! Room 3004, West Hall, Moscone

Our Macworld meetup last year was a hit, and we’re doing it again this year. We’re mixing our user meetup with Macworld’s Birds-of-a-Feather session. Come on by to hang out, meet Luke and I, and compete for the most spectacular Mac repair story. I’ll give a 54 piece bit driver kit to the winner, and we’ll have some t-shirts to pass out.

Feature Presentation

Friday, January 28 9:00 AM – 10:00 AM

iFixit live! The Teardown Experts Show Off Apple’s Hardware – From the Inside Out

I’m going to talk teardowns on the main stage. Tell your friends and let’s pack the house.

User’s Conference

Friday, January 28 1:00 PM – 2:15 PM

Fix It Yourself! iFixit Shows You How to Repair and Upgrade Your Mac, iPhone, and iPad

This is for Users’ Conference attendees only—the cheaper expo badge won’t get you in. (This registration link will get you $25 off a 1-day user pass, but it’s still almost $200.)

Macworld Live Stage

Saturday, January 29th 2:00 PM – 2:55 PM

iFixit Live: “Fix an audience member’s device” challenge

Macworld’s Chris Breen told me he thought it would be funny if he told people to bring their computers to Macworld so I could fix them on stage. He asked me what I thought, and envisioning chaos I sarcastically replied “Yeah, Chris. That would be great.” So he set it up.

Please, please don’t bring in your 27″ iMac. An iPhone would be perfect.

If you haven’t already registered for Macworld, you can still register with this link for $15 ($20 off the current price). Come say hi!

“Yellow Light of Death” Repair Kit

January 24, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Brett

Remember the feeling of starting your favorite video game console for the first time? Yeah, that was a pretty great feeling. Now, take the inverse of that, multiply it by ten, and you will understand how it feels when your favorite game console fails on you. And as game consoles get more and more complex, so do their failures. For Sony’s PlayStation 3 lineup, there is no failure more recognizable nor detrimental than the infamous “Yellow Light of Death.”

The famed "Yellow Light of Death"

The PS3’s Yellow Light of Death (YLOD) takes its name from the very brief, yet distinct  flash of yellow light from the status indicator LED, which heralds the console shutting down involuntarily.

Generally, the status indicator LED is green when the console is running, and red when the console is in stand-by. However, in a console with the YLOD, the status indicator starts green, switches briefly to yellow, and then quickly switches to flashing red. This is accompanied by three loud beeps and the console shutting down. It often occurs right at power up, rendering the console useless.

Usually either the power supply or the motherboard is the culprit responsible for the YLOD; however, it is far more common for PS3s to YLOD due to motherboard failure. To get a solid grasp of how to tell the two apart, check out iFixit’s PlayStation 3 Troubleshooting guide.

The main cause of motherboard failure is overheating; if the motherboard is not properly ventilated, or if the cooling system is not working properly, excess heat builds up inside the processors. This overheating causes the solder joints between the motherboard and the processors to either crack or melt, which, as you may guess, severely hampers the PS3’s ability to operate.

Reflowing the solder can revive a YLODed PS3

The Yellow Light of Death is not necessarily the end of the road for your beloved PS3. Whether it’s the power supply or the motherboard that failed, we can help you resuscitate your lifeless PlayStation 3. A faulty power supply can be remedied by simply replacing the old power supply with a new one. In comparison, repairing the motherboard is a slightly more involved process.

To repair the connection between the motherboard and the processors, the joints must be re-soldered. The trick is to use a heat gun to melt the already existing solder back into place. By simply “reflowing” the solder under each chip, you’ll reconnect the contact points and the motherboard should once again function properly.

The Contents of iFixit’s “Yellow Light of Death” Repair Kit

Our YLOD Fix Kit contains everything you need to repair the YLOD on your PS3:

  • A heat gun for solder re-flow
  • Fresh thermal paste to replace the factory thermal paste
  • Thermal paste spreader card to help you evenly distribute the thermal paste
  • Fresh thermal pads to replace the old PS3 pads.
  • All the tools needed to perform the repair (a 26-piece bit driver kit, a spudger, and a T10 Security Torx screwdriver).

You can purchase the kit right now from our store. Just make sure to follow the YLOD Fix Kit repair guide to properly mend your PS3!

Closing Bell

January 21, 2011 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

CNBC asked me to come on the financial show Closing Bell to talk about screws, of all things. I never imagined that the humble screw would be my ticket to national television. And if you think I was shocked, imagine how CNet’s Natalie Morris felt when she was asked to take counterpoint.

(CNBC’s flash embed is rather slow. Give it a few seconds, or click through to their site.)

On Controversy

January 21, 2011 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

Managing the Internet Controversy
Our screw post has stirred up a hornet’s nest. The folks in the MacRumors forums think we’re Apple haters (never mind our dozens of teardowns showcasing Apple’s hardware in glowing detail) and the commenters at Boing Boing are thrilled that we’ve finally stuck it to the man. Marco Ament, a developer I respect very much, thinks that the existence of our solution validates Apple’s strategy.

I hope you’ll make up your own mind. Peter-O weighed in on our post, and I think his perspective is worth sharing:

MJ, that was excellent. Just excellent.  A clear and concise summary of a perspective I wholeheartedly subscribe to.

To those people who hold a different perspective, it’s all good — no problem-o.  We can agree to disagree, and our respective opinions are no worse for wear.  Together, we remain, after all, totally jazzed with our Mac gear.

I think, however, hurling guff and attitude at iFixit for offering a solution to those people who share in their perspective serves only to erode the joint respect for differing opinions and to undermine the weight of your personal opinion.

From my perspective, iFixit is about a community giving each other the cognitive tools to demystify, understand, and return ownership to our devices that are too often veiled to keep us hostage to the service shop.

That iFixit also sells physical tools and supplies is merely a convenience to those people who need them and a means to offset the cost of running the website.  Last I checked, there are no hopping bunnies, spinning monkeys, weight loss discoveries, nor erectile dysfunction solutions littering the site.  Also, unless I missed something, iFixit’s repair manuals are free, and of far, far greater value than any screwdriver or repair kit they sell.  I see no conflict of interest.  I see liberation.

Apple’s Latest ‘Innovation’ Is Turning Planned Obsolescence Into Planned Failure

January 20, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle Wiens

We’re accustomed to planned obsolescence. New models come out every year—faster, shinier and just plain better. But before the iPhone, cell phones without user-replaceable batteries were almost unheard of. Apple realized that they could sell more phones if they built the phone with an integrated battery, prompting users to upgrade once the battery wore down. A phone isn’t very useful once you can’t take it away from the charger for more than an hour—which is guaranteed to happen with every iPhone. We’ve written extensively about Lithium-Ion batteries in the past—they’re wonderful technology, but they have a finite life of 300 to 500 cycles. If you’re like me and use up your battery completely every day, it’ll only last a year or so. (When I travel, I have to charge my phone at least twice a day.) Once the battery is worn down, it needs to be replaced—just like the light bulb in your refrigerator or the air filter in your car. Until the iPhone, all consumer product designs included a way to replace consumables. Apple’s consumer-hostile approach has turned product design on its head.

Charges are cumulative, and you do not have to completely discharge the battery every cycle.

Imagine if rather than shipping inkjet printers with replaceable ink cartridges, HP forced you to buy a new printer every 400 pages. Or if Ford told you to buy a new car after 40,000 miles rather than replacing the brake pads! We would never tolerate such wasteful engineering—and yet somehow Apple has suckered us all into an involuntary annual upgrade cycle.

Apple defends themselves by claiming that you can always pay them to replace the battery. That’s true—it’s $85.95, takes a week, and Apple will erase your phone’s memory during the procedure. That’s the only way. There are no other officially sanctioned options—Apple refuses to authorize any independent iPhone battery replacement centers. Their onerous replacement procedure is intentionally expensive, because they don’t want you to replace the battery. Apple wants you to buy a new phone—but if you insist on doubling its lifespan by replacing your battery, they want to make some money in the process. Never mind that iPhone batteries retail for just $20, and cost Apple far less than that.

Exploded view of the iPhone 4, battery highlighted in red

Users have two options: buy a new phone every year or so, or pay Apple $85.95 every year or so. Apple wins either way. They’re not selling us phones—they’re leasing them to us!

This isn’t just planned obsolescence—this is planned failure. Apple is making billions by selling us hardware with a built-in death clock. It is designed to fail after 400 cycles, conveniently coordinated with their annual hardware release cycle. Dead, hard to replace battery every year. New iPhone every year.

The current iPod Shuffle is the worst example of this. Replacing the battery is almost impossible—in our teardown last fall, the new Shuffle earned the worst repairability score we’ve ever given . This is the first product Apple has ever shipped where their price for battery replacement ($49 + $6.95 shipping) is higher than the retail price of the product ($49, free shipping)! Apple has clearly given up on replacing batteries and is just shipping people a replacement. The Shuffle’s intended design life is exactly the same as its battery, with no hope for extending it.

While the environmental and human consequences of this business strategy are dire, the financial impact is also substantial. This policy helped Apple make six billion dollars in just the last three months.

Replacing iPhone batteries for fun, profit, and to stick it to the man

Fortunately, there’s a way to opt out of the annual hardware replacement cycle: replace your own battery. We’ve put everything in one place to make it as easy as possible—we have step-by-step replacement guides (original, 3G, 3GS, 4), tools, and batteries. Replacing your own battery saves you money, keeps expensive hardware from going to the landfill prematurely, and sends a message to manufacturers that you will not tolerate design for failure.

Apple sees self-replacement as a threat, and they are working on making it harder to open your own phone. That’s a battle that the iFixit community is prepared to fight.

Apple’s Diabolical Plan to Screw Your iPhone

January 20, 2011 Hardware, Site News — Kyle Wiens

Expecting to be one of the first people in the world to buy the iPhone 4, I was dispatched to Japan for its release last June. Much to the dismay of thousands of Japanese with similar intentions, my mission was thwarted: FedEx delivered hundreds of iPhone 4 boxes in California two days early.

We’re quick to adapt, and the rest of our teardown team got their hands on one of these early units. Rather than waiting in line at the Ginza Apple store, I worked on the teardown virtually from my Tokyo hotel room. The teardown was quite straightforward—the iPhone 4 was electronically complex, but easy to disassemble and work on. Opening the phone entailed removing the two Phillips #00 screws on the bottom and then sliding off the back cover. The ease of disassembly gave me plenty of time to analyze the internals.

Once we finished the teardown, I hit the streets of Tokyo to watch the actual iPhone release and then hang out with the Apple community. I didn’t need to buy a phone for myself, but I wanted to see the new iPhone firsthand.

I immediately noticed something odd about the Japanese phones: they had different screws on the bottom! These new screws looked like very small Torx (I guessed T3 at the time) but were actually something far more insidious.

An Evil Ascending

Apple is switching to a new type of tamper-resistant screw. This is not a standard Torx, and there are no readily available screwdrivers that can remove it. This isn’t the first time they’ve used this type of screw—it first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro to prevent you from replacing the battery—and Apple is using a similar screw on the outer case of the current MacBook Air. This screw is the primary reason the 11″ MacBook Air earned a lousy repairability score of 4 out of 10 in our teardown last October.

Apple chose this fastener specifically because it was new, guaranteeing repair tools would be both rare and expensive. Shame on them.

So what is this screw?

It’s similar to a Torx—except that the points have a rounder shape, and it has five points instead of six. Apple’s service manuals refer to them as “Pentalobular” screws, which is a descriptive enough term. It’s certainly better than what I came up with, which was “Evil Proprietary Tamper Proof Five Point Screw.” It’s best I stay out of the naming business.

Contrary to what has been widely reported elswhere, this is not a security Torx screw. Security Torx have a post in the middle. Apple would never use a real Torx security screw with a post for two reasons: they’re ugly, and the posts break off easily with screw heads this small. To further complicate matters, Apple occasionally refers to these as “Pentalobe security screws.” Please don’t confuse them with security Torx.

This screw head is new to us. In fact, there isn’t a single reputable supplier that sells exactly the same screwdrivers Apple’s technicians use—which is Apple’s point. They picked an obscure head that no one would have. This new screw defeats even our vaunted 54-bit driver kit, which until now we’ve been able to claim that it’s all you need to disassemble just about any consumer electronics. Alas, no more. Thanks a lot, Apple!

Which devices are affected?

Now that we’ve got the background out of the way, what’s Apple doing with these new fasteners?

  • This screw head first appeared in the mid-2009 MacBook Pro as a fastener for the battery.
  • The 2010 MacBook Air uses this screw on the lower case to prevent any access to the internals.
  • Many non-US iPhone 4 units have had smaller versions of these evil screws all along.
  • Apple has switched production, and new U.S. units are shipping with the evil screws.
  • If you take your phone into Apple for any kind of service, they will sabotage it by replacing your screws with the new tamper-resistant screws.

Making things worse, Apple has used three different sizes of this screw head so far. Here’s the rundown:

Mid-2009 MacBook Pro

The largest 5-point Pentalobe screw used thus far was deployed in the Mid-2009 MacBook Pro. Apple calls this a “Torx Plus Tamper 6.” For reasons known only to them, Apple has switched away from these screws and is using Tri-Wing screws on current MacBook Pro models. A compatible Tri-Wing bit is included in our toolkits, so you don’t need to worry about this if you have the latest MacBook Pro.

iPhone 4

The iPhone 4 has one of the smallest screw heads we’ve seen, probably for cosmetic reasons. This 5-point Pentalobe screw is actually slightly smaller than a Torx T1. Yowsers that’s tiny. The shape looks a little rough because this tiny screw is giving Apple’s manufacturing process a run for its money.

Current MacBook Air

The new Air uses a significantly smaller 5-point screw than the MacBook Pro, but it’s still larger than the one in the iPhone 4.

A Solution: Liberate Your Hardware

This screw head clearly has one purpose: to keep you out. Otherwise, Apple would use it throughout each device. Instead, they only use it at the bulwark—on the outside case of your iPhone and MacBook Air, and protecting the battery on the Pro—so they can keep you out of your own hardware.

Fortunately, our always-creative hardware acquisition team has been on this problem for a while. It’s our responsibility to provide you with all the tools you need to work on electronics, and we have a solution for you!

iPhone 4

The real solution is to get rid of these pesky screws so you can use a normal Phillips screwdriver on them. We now have replacement Phillips screws so that you can reverse Apple’s dastardly handywork. We have found a driver that works for the 5-point “Pentalobe” fasteners on the iPhone 4 case. It’s not a true Pentalobe driver — the tip is more star shaped than “flowery,” so there may be some slight play in the fit when using. This screwdriver gets the job done, but we don’t recommend it for repeated use. It’s really just a hack to get the screws out and then replace them with standard screws.

So go ahead, set your iPhone free with our iPhone 4 Liberation Kit! Rid your phone of those terrible Pentalobe screws forever. The $9.95 kit includes a Pentalobe driver, 2 replacement PHILLIPS screws, and a regular #00 Phillips screwdriver.

iPhone 4 Liberation Kit

iPhone 4 Liberation Kit

MacBook Air

We’ve got a 5-point MacBook Air screwdriver in stock that unlocks this machine! Now you’ll be able to do your own repairs or upgrade your SSD.

MacBook Air 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Air 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Pro

Use the MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver if you’d like to remove your laptop’s battery. It’s the best way to ensure you don’t fry any sensitive components on machine while performing a repair.

MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

MacBook Pro 5-Point Torx Screwdriver

HTC Surround Teardown

January 11, 2011 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We started off the new year by doing a “something completely different” teardown — a Windows 7 phone! At least, that’s what we thought initially.

As it turns out, we’ve already seen a lot of this hardware in the Nexus One. In fact, five of the major chip packages on the Surround’s motherboard are identical to the Nexus One, and the sixth (Samsung NAND+SDRAM) appears to be just a revised chip found in Uncle Nexus. Hey if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

We gave the HTC Surround a mid-pack repairability score of 5 out of 10. It’s relatively easy to remove the rear case to replace the battery, but that’s where the fun stops. You’ll have to void your warranty to take anything else out, and it’s very difficult to access the front panel and LCD if you’d like to replace it.

Teardown highlights:

  • A piece of gray EMI shielding tape (next to the SIM card holder) covers the Surround’s “internal storage” — which happens to be a well-hidden MicroSDHC card. And they would’ve gotten away with it too if it weren’t for us meddling kids!
  • Should you decide that 16 GB isn’t enough, it definitely seems possible to swap out the card for a higher capacity MicroSDHC. But you’d have to void your warranty in order to do it, because two VOID stickers attached to the inner case screws ensure that no intrusion attempts go undocumented.
  • The Surround has two Nexus One-esque motherboards that are attached with a large ribbon cable spanning the gap between them. This is not much of a surprise, as HTC is the manufacturer of both the Nexus One and the Surround.
  • Big players on the front of the lower motherboard include:
    • Qualcomm RTR6285 multi-band UMTS/EGPRS transceiver with integrated GPS
    • Qualcomm Snapdragon QSD8250 1GHz RISC microprocessor with embedded DSP
    • Samsung KA100O015E-BJTT 512 MB NAND Flash + 512 MB SDRAM
    • Qualcomm PM7540 power management IC
    • Skyworks SKY77336 power amplifier module
    • Audience A1026 voice processor
  • All six of the chips above are either identical to, or newer versions of, chips found in the Nexus One.
  • The hefty metal slider mechanism should hold up to years of opening and closing the speaker grille.
  • Like the Nexus One, the Surround utilizes dual microphones (working in conjunction with the Audience A1026 voice processor) to cancel background noise during phone conversations.
  • The motherboard interconnect cable is sandwiched between the many layers of the upper motherboard, much like on the Nexus One. This technique eliminates the space requirements for thick connectors and sockets, making the final connection much thinner.
  • Metal plates with strategically placed holes are soldered to the front of the Surround’s two speakers to direct the sound out of the fancy speaker grille, and not into the phone.
Taking off the second motherboard

Taking off the second motherboard

Final layout

Final layout

The Nexus One — err, the HTC Surround — is a very solid, capable phone that will undoubtedly please its users. Still, we’re a bit underwhelmed that HTC chose to put year-old hardware in it, especially since dual-core phones are coming right around the corner.