Put your hand under you chin as here comes a 6 months long jaw-dropping reverse engineering work: getting the data back from a (not so) broken SD card. As you can guess from the picture above, [Joshua]’s first step was to desolder the card’s Flash chip as the tear-down revealed that only the integrated SD-to-NAND Flash controller was damaged. The flash was then soldered on a breadboard so it could be connected to a Digilent Nexys-2 FPGA board. [Joshua] managed to find a similar Flash datasheet, checked that his wire-made bus was reliable and generated two 12GiB dump files on his computer.
In order to extract meaningful data from the dumps he first had to understand how SD-to-NAND controllers work. In his great write-up he provides us with a background of the Flash technology, so our readers can better understand the challenges we face with today’s chips. As flash memories integrate more storage space while keeping the same size, they become less reliable and have nifty problems that should be taken care of. Controllers therefore have to perform data whitening (so neighboring blocks of data don’t have similar content), spread data writes uniformly around the flash (so physical blocks have the same life expectancy) and finally support error correcting codes (so damaged bits can still be recovered). We’ll let our users imagine how complex reverse engineering the implementation of such techniques is when you don’t know anything about the controller. [Joshua] therefore had to do a lot of research, perform a lot of statistical analysis on the data he extracted and when nothing else was possible, use bruteforce…
One of the field trips that we set up as part of our Detroit tour was a trip to The Henry Ford Museum. After a rather disappointing first half hour wandering around the static exhibits of nicely polished cars we latched onto the part of the museum that’s starts the serotonin pump for anyone who is engineering-minded. There are amazing displays of early industrialization, including steam engines for factories, early power generators, and examples of early assembly line machinery. We’re going to cover that stuff in depth but editing it all together will take some time.
For now we wanted to give you a quick glimpse at a delightful exhibit of a Model T. You don’t just look at it; every morning the museum staff takes apart the entire vehicle and throughout the day helps museum-goers walk through the process of putting it back together.
Why isn’t this the model to supplant amusement parks? This hands-on work with real equipment — not just a model made to stand up to the masses — is pure gold for occupying curious people of all ages. The interaction with museum staff adds a tangible human element to the institution, and you just might learn something more than history in the process!
[Full Disclosure: The Henry Ford provided Hackaday with free admission — Thank You!]
Who didn’t get in trouble for taking things apart as a kid? The TakeItApart booth at the 2014 Maker Faire was among my favorite. It let anyone (especially the kids) grab a piece of electronics headed for recycling and crack it open just to see what is inside. The good news being that you didn’t need to be able to put it back together again since it’s just going to be ground up for its constituent materials anyway.
There’s something cathartic about watching a 7-year-old stabbing at a Walkman radio with a slotted screwdriver (those plastic cases are more robust than you might think). I asked if anyone had managed to slice open their hand back-to-the-future style in the process and thankfully the answer was no. But there was at least one instance of “free daycare” where the parents wandered off — there are plenty of distractions at MF — much to the chagrin of their progeny.
Seeing this made me think of this recent interview with [Bunnie Huang] in which he mentions taking chips out of their sockets on an Apple II when he was a kid. He would pull them and replace them backwards to see what effect it would have. Ha! If you have a similar childhood experience to share we’d love to hear about it in the comments. If you just want to see the guts of a bunch of stuff head of to TakeItApart.
In this acid powered teardown, [Lindsay] decapped a USB isolator to take a look at how the isolation worked. The decapped part is an Analog Devices ADUM4160. Analog Devices explains that the device uses their iCoupler technology, which consists of on chip transformers.
[Lindsay] followed [Ben Krasnow]’s video tutorial on how to decap chips, but replaced the nitric acid with concentrated sulphuric acid, which is a bit easier to obtain. The process involves heating the chip while applying an acid. Over time, the packaging material is dissolved leaving just the silicon. Sure enough, one of the three dies consisted of five coils that make up the isolation transformers. Each transformer has 15 windings, and the traces are only 4μm thick.
After the break, you can watch a time lapse video of the chip being eaten by hot acid. For further reading, Analog Devices has a paper on how iCoupler works [PDF warning].
[Thanks to Chris for the tip!]
Continue reading “What’s Inside a USB Isolator?”
The gang at Bolt.io realized that the walls in their office deserved some special attention, and they got it by mounting exploded hardware throughout the space. They sourced the used devices from eBay, then carefully broken them down into their components and mounted each on its own sheet of PETG. The result: exploded views of some of their favorite hardware, including a MacBook Pro, a Roomba, a Dyson Air Multiplier, and more.
Is it a hack? Eh, maybe. This is the first example we’ve seen of a collection of devices on display in this fashion. Regardless, it’s worth a mention considering what happened in the office as a result of the installation. Though the original purpose was simply to decorate the walls, it seems employees have been staring at them regularly, learning more about the designs, the plastics, and the component choices. Think of it as still life—depicting that moment you cracked open a device to inspect its guts—frozen in permanence and on display for both inspiration and convenience.
[via reddit | Thanks Buddy]
[Fran] has been researching the Saturn V Launch Vehicle Digital Computer – the computer that flew all the Apollo flights into orbit and onwards towards the moon – for a while now. Even though she’s prodded parts of the LVDC with x-rays and multimeters, this is the first time she’s committed to a little destructive testing.
After [Fran] took a flight-ready LVDC spare to the dentist’s office for x-raying and did an amazing amount of research on this artifact from the digital past, there was only so much she could learn without prying apart a few of these small, strange chip packages. Not wanting to destroy her vintage LVDC board, she somehow found another LVDC board for destructive reverse engineering.
This new circuit board was a bit different from the piece in her collection. Instead of the chip leads being soldered, these were welded on, much to the chagrin of [Fran] and her desoldering attempts. After removing one of these chips from the board, she discovered they were potted making any visual inspection a little difficult.
While [Fran]’s attempts at reverse engineering the computer for a Saturn V were a bit unsuccessful, we’ve got to hand it to her for getting this far; it’s very, very likely the tech behind the LVDC was descended from ICBMs and would thus be classified. Documenting the other computer used in every Apollo launch is an impressive feat on its own, and reverse engineering it from actual hardware, well, we can’t think of anything cooler.
[Ben Krasnow] is back, and this time he’s tearing down a kilowatt hour meter (kWh). While not as exciting as making aerogel at home, or a DIY scanning electron microscope, [Ben’s] usual understated style of explaining things makes a complex topic simple to digest.
These old mechanical meters have been a staple on the sides of houses and businesses since the dawn of commercial power. We always thought the meters were a basic electric motor. Based upon [Ben’s] explanation though, these meters are a complex dance of electromagnetic fields. Three coils create magnetic fields near an aluminum disk. This creates eddy currents in the disk resulting in a net torque. The disk spins, turning a clockwork and advancing the dials.
Why three coils? One is a high turn high gauge voltage coil, and the other two are low turn low gauge current coils. The voltage coil has to be phase shifted 90 degrees to create the proper torque on the disk. Confused yet? Watch the video! [Ben] does a much better job explaining the field interactions than we could ever do in text.
Continue reading “[Ben Krasnow] Explains Kilowatt Hour Meters”