Monday, January 27, 2014

Teardown highlights from iFixit

Part of the homework this weekend is to read some teardowns at iFixit (each student was assigned 12 to read) and send me an email with a link to your favorite one, with a short explanation of why it's your favorite. Here are the replies that I've received so far:
  • Nvidia Shield and iPod Touch 5th Generation 16 GB
  • No one is going to buy the Nvidia Shield. But, the teardown is interesting as an example of the intersection of mechanical and electrical design. (The joystick potentiometers are surprisingly cool.) It's also a fairly complicated teardown, and an example of taking things apart in a reasonably reversible way. Also it has fire.

    Very few people are going to buy the 16GB iPod Touch. But, there are some fairly clever techniques used in the teardown. It also shows the power of teardowns as an analysis tool, finding the changes between this and the previous iPod model.
  • AirPort Extreme A1521
  • Apple products are well-designed in a way which allows you to easily forget that there are even insides, so it was kind of nifty to break into this aesthetically beautiful fortress. In particular, any engineer reading this is likely floored at how much empty space they left – why would they bother leaving several inches between the ports and the fan? It’s a nice lesson in aesthetic design: not everything has to be built for efficiency, and it’s okay to let the non-engineers make things pretty.
  • 2012 MacBook Air
  • Very impressive device. A neat feature is the "asymmetrical fan" that has different fan blade lengths in order to disperse sounds over a wide range of frequencies, reducing fan noise. Visually, the interior was very clean and crisp; most components, including the battery and PCB's were black. However, in classic Apple fashion, the 2012 MacBook Air was riddled with proprietary components, including pentalobe screws on the case in order to keep the casual observer's curiosity at bay.
  • Nikon D600
  • I had never previously thought about the complexity of such an opto-electronic device and could not have imagined how complex and densely packed the device is. Step 15 reveals the absurd number of EMI shields and other busses that are crammed into the case. You wonder what all those bits of metal could possibly be for until you see in steps 19 and 22 how boards and different ICs are carefully scattered across every surface of the exposed camera frame. It was neat to see the 24MP image sensor exposed, and Chipworks has some more details and SEM images of its design.
  • Pebble
  • The teardown of the Pebble E-Paper watch was pretty fascinating. The watch does not have any exterior screws, so the needed to pry the screen off of the front of the watch. They were actually unable to get the screen off without breaking it due to the amount of adhesive used in the design, which makes me wonder if this was an intentional decision to keep tinkerers out, or if it is just a result of being the first design they were able to come up with via their Kickstarter funds/timeline. Other than that, it was just a very thorough analysis which showed how compact of a design it is and identified all of the major ICs.
  • Xbox One Kinect
  • The Xbox Kinect is a really interesting piece of technology. Of course, it has a lot of neat signal processing going on, but the really interesting part is the sensor suite. This particular teardown actually focuses more on the IR blaster and camera assemblies since these are the functions that make the Kinect function. As the teardown points out, these assemblies are very sensitive and taking them apart was about "like a game of Operation." I find this to be a pretty bold move by Microsoft, considering that the purpose of this product is for people to jump around and swing their arms every which way. Not just do they need to worry about damage due to customer abuse, but I would imagine they also needed to develop a very specific and accurate assembly procedure to forego any damage during production.
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1
  • I though the Galaxy Note 10.1 teardown was very interesting from both a mechanical and hardware standpoint. By reading the teardown, it is very apparent that the Samsung engineers designed the Note so that parts can be easily removed and taken apart. Unlike most electronics that are held together mainly by adhesives and press fits, the engineers at Samsung took the time to design the Note around screws and snaps. Similar the LCD screen can actually be removed from the glass unlike most devices. Therefore if the screen cracks, instead of replacing both the screen and the LCD display, just the screen has to be replaced. A cool feature about the hardware was that the EMI shielding (which are easily removed by screws) also serve as the Note’s heat sinks.
  • Keithley 199 Scanner Multimeter
  • I like it because, unlike the variety of modern phones or simple devices included in my section, this teardown really goes into details on components and what can be fixed. Additionally, it has some real depth that the modern devices just can't match which makes the actual dissembly much more interesting.
  • Orange
  • Just kidding.
  • HTC One
  • A few years ago I ended up repairing a few iPhone 3G's and 3GS and remember the difficulties with doing it. I thought it was interesting to see how much more difficult it's become since then to repair these things, to the point where the HTC One essentially has to be broken to even get inside of it. Beyond the continuing of this accessibility trend, it's always fascinating to see how much the cram into so little space and techniques I didn't know about to help with that, like copper shielding on almost all of the components for heat dissipation and grounding.
  • Nexus Q
  • My favorite teardown was of the Nexus Q, a strange failed hardware project of Google's. The guide was well written with a healthy dose of humor. The writer took the time to identify ICs and speculate on their significance. There were small interesting factoids included along the way, such as the country of origin of various parts. I also thought the geometry of the device itself was interesting. The casing is a sphere. The board layout had to be done in a way such that big components jutting out perpendicularly (like capacitors) were placed in the center, so that the whole thing could be sandwiched together between two shells.
  • Apple A7
  • At the very heart of the iPhone5 is its A7 processor, and this teardown stripped away another black box to see the silicon itself. The nature of the teardown for a teeny-tiny chip meant that all the heavy lifting had to be done with in lab rather than a work bench. The nanometer scale that the transistors had to be measured on gave a new gravity to this impressive device. The ability to cram so many functions into such a tiny space is truly astounding.
  • Macintosh 128K
  • The engineering of the Macintosh 128k is interesting because most of the pieces are slid together and held together with screws, so taking it apart is not very difficult. It is also an interesting tear down because it shows how technology has progressed in 30 years. The logic board is cool because there are no surface mounts, there are only through holes making it look very different than the boards we see today. I thought that the fact that the buttons of the keyboard were soldered directly to the board is funny because in current keyboards, the keys just pop off, and I think it’s just an advancement that I don’t really think about but is pretty important.
  • Compaq iPaq Pocket PC 3765
  • The Compaq iPaq Pocket PC 3765 is interesting to me because it was one of the few popular hand-held personal assistants that existed before smart phones combined their capability with cell phone service. I surprised by how easy the device was to take apart. Just a few screws in back and some snapping mechanisms hold the casing in place. They point out that though the company responsible for the product is Compac, both the processor and the control board are branded with HTC. I think that's particularly interesting since HTC makes so many smart phones now.
  • iPad mini Wi-Fi
  • The iPad mini teardown is interesting as Apple products are notorious for being designed to make it hard to open. The number of hidden screws and screws smaller than those in an iPhone 5It still surprises me how extensively glue is used to hold products together. Steve Jobs himself has mentioned that we "don't like to think of our products as glued together". The commentary on the choices for certain parts also make for an interesting read. The commentary on the design decisions like soldering the Lightning connector, or having the front glass and LCD assemblies separate, and how these decisions affect reparability gives me insights on to the implications of such decisions when building electronics. It is also cool to see that touchscreen still function after being taken off. Kind of like the electronic equivalent of a limb still moving after being detached.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Gear teardowns

Assignment for Monday:
  1. Get a toolkit (if you don't already have one).
  2. Read Chapters 1 and 2 in "Troubleshooting Analog Circuits" by Bob Pease.
  3. Discuss the autopsy/teardown candidates with your lab partner (see exhibits A through Z in the administrative handout).
  4. Review the assigned teardowns at iFixit and send me an email with a link to your favorite one, with a short explanation of why it's your favorite. For example explanations, see last year's favorites.
  5. Watch the following video (a teardown of an Anritsu spectrum analyzer from Mike's Electric Stuff; see his YouTube channel for more videos).

Good stuff.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014