Atari 2600 Teardown

September 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Welcome to day three of our week of game console teardowns. So far we’ve taken apart the Magnavox Odyssey 100 and the RCA Studio II; the Atari 2600 is next! We partnered with PC World for this teardown to bring you a peek into another staple of game console history.

Originally labeled as the Video Computer System (VCS), the Atari 2600 was released in 1977. By that time, microprocessor-based hardware had been popularized with the Fairchild Channel F, and the VCS was Atari’s first foray into that technology.

The system was originally released with all six switches on the front of the console, however, the console was redesigned in 1980 with only four of the switches on the front, and the other two on the back. The console featured here is a post-1980 model.

Teardown highlights:

  • The Atari 2600 sold for $199 in 1977. In today’s coin, that’s $696. In comparison, the launch model of PlayStation 3 cost only $599. Prices are coming down!
  • Initially the public did not know that the Atari 2600 could play games other than Pong. It took a couple of years for the console to became massively successful — Atari went from selling 250,000 units in 1977 to 1 million units in 1979.
  • The case design team must have wanted to give lots of breathing room to the motherboard team. The case of the 2600 is 2.6 times larger than the motherboard!
  • Jay Miner was able to integrate the display and sound chip into a single IC, thereby reducing the footprint of the motherboard. Yet the case size still seems rather excessive.
  • With a design that is unseen in just about any other electronic device, the motherboard is propped up and sits at an angle of 30 degrees inside the Atari.
  • The motherboard easily lifts out, as there are no additional screws or clips holding it in place. The only thing securing it down were two angled screws we removed from the outer case.
  • Atari gets a +1 on repairability for not soldering the EMI shield to the motherboard, as some recent manufacturers (Apple, Palm, Motorla) have done.
  • The Atari 2600 boasts:
    • 1.19MHz 8-bit processor
    • 128 bytes RAM
    • 192 x 160 pixel resolution
    • 16 colors (but only 4 on screen at once)
    • 2 channel sound
  • Unlike most earlier consoles — where games were stored on internal ICs — the Atari 2600 stored games on Read Only Memory (ROM) chips housed in external cartridges. This allowed for a potentially infinite number of playable games for the console.
  • Because memory was so expensive during the 2600’s design, the video processor has no external RAM. This means that the 2600 never generates an entire frame. Each line of the picture is generated individually and output to the TV sequentially to form a complete image.
  • We give the Atari 2600 a big plus for repairability. Every component is attached via through-hole solder, so replacing a burnt out resistor or IC is quite feasible.

The tiny motherboard in the large housing

The final layout

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

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

Magic Trackpad Teardown

July 29, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We’ve noticed an interesting trend after having dismantled so many Apple products: “thin and pretty” does not translate well to “user serviceable.” The Magic Trackpad is no exception to this trend, having few parts that can be replaced without potentially destroying the whole device.

There were no magical unicorns inside, but we did uncover a plethora of components within the Trackpad’s very thin profile. Even though repairing the components might be infeasible, we’re still impressed by everything Apple’s engineers managed to stuff into the Trackpad.

We also created a Vimeo video slideshow for an alternate teardown viewing experience!

Teardown highlights:

  • This is one of the few Apple products where the battery is user serviceable.
  • The battery screw has square threads! While square threads have the highest mechanical efficiency of all lead screws, their difficulty of manufacturing makes them prohibitive for most applications. Kudos, Apple, for sweating the details.
  • After a good amount of quasi-non-destructive prying, the inner spacer can be removed from the trackpad. This spacer prevents the highly unlikely event of squeezing the lower panel against the logic board hard enough to damage it.
  • The ribbon cables are ridiculously thin and are stuck to the underside of the touch pad. If you plan on servicing your Trackpad, proceed with caution.
  • After using a heat gun to warm up the adhesive, the touch pad can be carefully pried off the aluminum chassis. This step is not for the faint of heart. A copious amount of heat, guitar picks, and plastic opening tools were required to make the touch pad budge.
  • The Magic Trackpad has a unique way of triggering the mouse button. As you press down on the top surface of the pad, the two rubber feet near its front edge push on a plate attached to the chassis. The plate squeezes the electronic mouse button switch, producing the characteristic “click.”
  • At the heart of the Magic Trackpad’s logic board lies a Broadcom BCM2042 for Bluetooth connectivity — the same chip used by the Magic Mouse.
  • We also found a Broadcom BCM5974 touch screen controller chip that provides multi-touch functionality. This is the same chip you’ll find in the iPhone, iPod Touch, and MacBook Air.

Disconnecting the touch pad ribbon cable

Final layout

iPhone 4 Gyroscope Teardown

June 30, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

Apple first announced the iPhone 4’s gyroscope at WWDC 2010, but it was largely overshadowed by other big players inside the phone — the A4 processor, Retina display, and external antennas. A lot of technology gets stuffed into vibrational gyroscopes (the type found in the iPhone 4), yet a casual observer may barely notice the chip itself, let alone the phenomenal contents within it. We’ve partnered with Chipworks to show you exactly what’s inside these little gems.

GK10A MEMS die, found in the iPhone 4's gyroscope

Vibrational gyroscopes have a ton of practical uses, including automotive yaw sensors, game controllers, and image stabilization in cameras. Now, iPhone 4 applications and games can also benefit from their superb accuracy. The teardown covers not only the iPhone 4’s gyroscope, but vibrational gyroscopes in general. We tried our best to explain how vibrational gyroscopes function and have documented their internals at a microscopic level.

ST LYPR540AH Tri-axis MEMS gyroscope, shot by a scanning electron microscope.

iPhone 4 Teardown

June 24, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We had a blast taking apart the new iPhone 4. Apple definitely spent time giving the phone a thorough makeover, meticulously changing every little facet.

We are happy to splay the fruits of their labor for your enjoyment!

You can view the teardown, or head to YouTube to check out our video slideshow.

Teardown highlights:

  • Like the iPhone 3G and 3GS, there are two silver Phillips screws at the bottom of the phone. But removing these screws releases the rear case instead of the front glass, giving you immediate access to the battery.
  • Unfortunately, the LCD panel is very securely glued to the glass and digitizer. If you break the glass, you’ll have to replace the glass, digitizer, and LCD as a single assembly.
  • The 3.7V, 1420 mAh Li-Polymer battery is not soldered in place, and is very easy to remove.
  • In what can only be described as a work of genius, Apple has integrated the UMTS, GSM, GPS, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth antennas into the stainless steel inner frame.
  • The iPhone 4 sports two cameras — a VGA front-facer, and a 5 MP beauty on the back. Both are located on their own independent boards, making it possible to physically remove the cameras without damaging the phone.
  • The phone uses the 1 GHz ARM Cortex A8 core, much like its bigger sibling, the iPad.
  • Unlike the iPhone 3GS and iPad — which are both equipped with 256 MB of RAM — the iPhone 4 has a whopping 512 MB.
  • The AGD1 is the new 3 axis gyroscope that we believe is designed and manufactured by ST Micro for Apple. The package marks on this device do not appear to be the currently available commercial part, L3G4200D.
  • Broadcom provides both a BCM4329FKUBG 802.11n with Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and FM receiver and a BCM4750IUB8 single-chip GPS receiver.
  • We’ve identified chips from Broadcom, Cirrus Logic, Numonyx, Samsung, ST Micro, Skyworks, Texas Instruments, and TriQuint.

Removing the camera

The iPhone 4 splayed out

Mac Mini Mid 2010 Teardown

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

We were finally able to acquire a Mini after some patient loitering outside our local Apple store. We were the only people in line, but we’re a committed bunch.

The 2010 Mini has been heavily revised. The main external difference is the new “pancaked” look — it’s wider than the previous Mini, but significantly thinner.

The power brick is gone (the power supply is now internal), and Apple has finally included an all-important HDMI port. However, Apple’s engineers didn’t stop there, and we found some very cool internal improvements!

You can check out the teardown, or alternately, view our YouTube video slideshow (for those who like moving pictures).

Teardown highlights:

  • With a simple counter-clockwise twist, we were able to gain access into the Mini’s internals. Gone are the days of the putty knife. You will be missed, old friend!
  • Removing the RAM is very simple this time around, requiring only the simple prying of two clips.
  • The fan doesn’t have too much work to do, since the new Mac Mini is the most energy-efficient desktop, running on less than 10 watts at idle!
  • There are two blind holes in the case of the Mini that are meant for the ends of Apple’s custom U-shaped logic board removal tool. We just used two Torx screwdrivers. We call them the “Mac Mini logic board removal tool.”
  • In keeping with its space saving design, the fins directing air toward the vent hole are slanted to allow for better fan placement.
  • The new Mini’s power supply churns out a minuscule 7 Amps at 12V. Compare that to the 25.8 Amps at 12V cranked out by the iMac Intel 27″, and you can understand how they fit the power supply inside the Mini.
  • The Mini’s 3/8″ woofer dome won’t be popping ear drums anytime soon.
  • Apple had to get creative with the antenna placement because they switched to unibody construction for this Mac Mini.

Removing the logic board

Mac Mini in pieces

HTC Evo 4G Teardown

June 1, 2010 Hardware, Site News, Teardowns — Miro

We managed to snag an HTC Evo 4G before it went on sale to the general public. In true teardown fashion, we turned it on, played with the gorgeous screen for 5 minutes, and immediately relegated it to the carving table. Our friends at Wired were nice enough to record our disassembly for the world to see:

The Evo 4G was wonderfully easy to take apart, which should make servicing/repairing the phone very easy. Even so, HTC managed to avoid “ghastly” visible screws by using a removable back panel. Once the panel was removed, we were able to access the six T5 Torx screws and underlying components using a bit of care and precision.

Teardown highlights:

  • Removing the glass is not terribly difficult. This is great news for those unfortunate enough to drop their shiny phone and crack the glass.
  • Like most reasonable phones, changing the Evo’s battery is a snap. All you have to do is remove the back cover and unplug the battery.
  • The 3.7 V, 1500 mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery contains 23% more capacity than an iPhone 3GS, 15% more than a Droid Incredible, and 7% more than a Nexus One.
  • Look out! There’s a liquid damage indicator on the battery’s top edge — a first that we’ve seen. Of course, you can just replace the battery if you douse the Evo in water. There are other liquid damage indicators on the phone, however, so you can’t fool the manufacturer that easily.
  • The Evo’s internal frame houses the stand, antennas, LED flashes, and speaker, and connects to the logic board via several ribbon cables.
  • The dual LED flash assembly consists of no more than two LEDs soldered to a small interconnect board.