If the media shortcut keys on your keyboard don’t function correctly due to outdated firmware, the manufacturer may recommend you ship it to them for an update. [Alvaro] didn’t care to wait that long, so he cracked it open and taught himself how to mod the EEPROM. The result is a well-documented breakdown of sorting out the keyboard’s guts. Inside he finds a USB hub, which he ignores, and the keyboard controller chip, which he attacks. Two data sheets and a schematic later, [Alvaro] breaks out the logic analyzer to compare physical key presses to the keypad codes they output.
He dumps the entire EEPROM and follows up with a quick flash via I2C to change the “next song” key to instead output the letter “a”. That seems to work, so [Alvaro] combs through an HID USB usage table for some codes and has to guess which ones will properly control Spotify. He converts the media keys from “scan next” and “scan previous” to “rewind” and “fast forward.” Problem solved.
[Alvaro] had zero knowledge of keyboards prior to opening this one up. If you aren’t already taking things apart to see how they function and how to fix them, hopefully his success will persuade you to explore and learn about those “black boxes” in your home. And, if you’ve never used I2C before—or think it might be the name of a boy band—head over to [Kevin’s] tutorial on bitbanging I2C by hand.
Play around with electronics long enough, and eventually you’ll run into I2C devices. These chips – everything from sensors and memory to DACs and ADCs – use a standardized interface that consists of only two wires. Interacting with these devices is usually done with a microcontroller and an I2C library, but [Kevin] wanted to take that one step further. He’s bitbanging I2C devices by hand and getting a great education in the I2C protocol in the process.
Every I2C device is controlled by two connections to a microcontroller, a data line and a clock line. [Kevin] connected these lines to tact switches through a pair of transistors, allowing him to manually key in I2C commands one bit at a time.
[Kevin] is using a 24LC256 EEPROM for this demonstration, and by entering a control byte and two address bytes, he can enter a single byte of data by hand that will be saved for many, many years in this tiny chip.
Of course getting data into a chip is only half of the problem. By altering the control byte at the beginning of an I2C message by one bit, [Kevin] can also read data out of the chip.
This isn’t [Kevin]’s first experimentation in controlling chips solely with buttons. Earlier, we saw him play around with a 595 shift register using five push buttons. It’s a great way to intuit how these chips actually work, and would be an exceptional learning exercise for tinkerers young and old,
Continue reading “Bitbanging I2C by hand”
[Gnif] was doing what any good hacker does… poking around the insides of one of his tools to see how it works. While in there, he discovered that an EEPROM hack could make the Agilent U1241A function like the U1242A.
If you’re into this kind of thing the Rigol 1052e hack should have already popped to mind. That was a firmware crippled device that, when unlocked, made the cheaper model behave the same ways as it’s $400 more expensive sibling. This doesn’t have quite the same impact, as the price difference is somewhere between $20-$100. Still, this stuff is just cool, right?
A few posts down in the thread linked above [Gnif] shares the story of how he found the hack. After shorting the i2c lines of the EEPROM while powering up the meter he was able to see that the device initializes a lot of its values to 0xFF when it can’t find the stored data. The next step was to use an STM32 board to dump the EEPROM contents. With the backup file stored safely he started changing values and reflashing the chip. Through this process he discovered that switching one byte from 0x01 to 0x02 enabled the higher model’s features. It also works for upgrading the U1732C to the U1733C feature set.
[Jacques] thought his doorbell was too loud, so of course the first thing that came to mind was replacing the electronics and playing a WAV file of his choosing every time someone came knocking. What he ended up with is a very neat circuit: he used a six-pin microcontroller with 64 bytes of RAM to play an audio file. (French, Google translation)
The microcontroller in question is a PIC10F322. one of the tiniest PICs around with enough Flash for 512 instructions, 64 bytes of RAM, and a whole bunch of other features that shouldn’t fit into a package as small as a mote of dust. Without the space to store audio data on the microcontroller, [Jacques] turned to a 64 kilobyte I2C EEPROM. The PIC communicates with the EEPROM with just two pins, allowing it to read the audio data and spit it out again via PWM to an amplifier. The code required for this feat is only 253 instructions and uses just a few bytes of RAM; an impressive display of what a very small microcontroller can do.
For the longest time, hardware tinkerers have only been able to play around with two types of memory. RAM, including Static RAM and Dynamic RAM, can be exceedingly fast but is volatile and loses its data when power is removed. Non-volatile memory such as EPROMS, EEPROMS, and Flash memory retains its state after power is removed, but these formats are somewhat slower.
There have always been competing technologies that sought to combine the best traits of these types of memory, but not often have they been available to hobbyists. [Majenko] got his hands on a few MRAM chips – Magneto-Resistive RAM – and decided to see what they could do.
Magneto-Resistive RAM uses tiny pairs of magnetic plates to read and write 1s and 0s. [Majenko] received a sample of four MRAM chips with an SPI bus (it might be this chip, 4 Megabits for $20, although smaller capacity chips are available for about $6). After wiring these chips up on a home-made breakout board, [Majenko] had 16 Megabits of non-volatile memory that was able to run at 40 MHz.
The result was exactly what the datasheet said: very fast write and read times, with the ability to remove power. Unlike EEPROMS that can be destroyed by repeated reading and writing, MRAM has an unlimited number of write cycles.
While MRAM may be a very young technology right now, it’s a wonderful portent of things to come. In 20 (or 30, or 40) years, it’s doubtful any computer from the largest server to the smallest microcontroller will have the artificial separation between disk space and memory. The fact that any hardware hacker is able to play around with this technology today is somewhat amazing, and we look forward to more builds using MRAM in the future.
Webkeys are small, inexpensive USB devices which launch a web browser when plugged into a computer. They’re given out as a promotional item, but they can be fun to hack as well. [Brad Antoniewicz] recently got his hands on one and decided to crack it open to see what he could accomplish.
The majority of the device was packaging but it didn’t take him long to get down to the guts seen here. There are two units shown in the image above so that we can get a look at both sides of the circuit board. As you can see, there’s a chip-on-board processor (that black blob) that handles the USB connectivity. But the data which is pushed to a computer is stored in that EEPROM chip at the top. It’s got legs which are just begging to be probed. [Brad] wasn’t able to find the exact datasheet but he got some clues as to the pinout. Using his Bus Pirate he was able to establish communications and sniff the i2c traffic. With that success he went on to overwrite that data. You can see a quick demonstration of it after the break.
[Brad] hopes to do a bit more with the hardware. He thinks those four pads can be used to reprogram the MCU. We’ll keep our eyes out for updates as he moves along on that mission.
Continue reading “Disassembling and reprogramming Webkeys”
[Dan] has his own Stratasys Dimension SST 768 3D printer. It’s a professional grade machine which does an amazing job. But when it comes time to replace the cartridge he has to pay the piper to the tune of $260. He can buy ABS filament for about $50 per kilogram, so he set out to refill his own P400 cartridges.
Respooling the cartridge must be quite easy because he doesn’t describe the process at all. But the physical act of refilling it doesn’t mean you can keep using it. The cartridge and the printer both store usage information that prevents this type of DIY refill; there’s an EEPROM in the cartridge and a log file on the printer’s hard drive. [Dan] pulled the hard drive out and used a Live CD to make an image. He loaded the image in a virtual machine, made some changes to enable SSH and zap the log file at each boot, then loaded the image back onto the printer’s drive. A script that he wrote is able to backup and rewrite the EEPROM chip, which basically rolls back the ‘odometer’ on how much filament has been used.