FTDI Screws Up, Backs Down

A few days ago we learned chip maker FTDI was doing some rather shady things with a new driver released on Windows Update. The new driver worked perfectly for real FTDI chips, but for counterfeit chips – and there are a lot of them – the USB PID was set to 0, rendering them inoperable with any computer. Now, a few days later, we know exactly what happened, and FTDI is backing down; the driver has been removed from Windows Update, and an updated driver will be released next week. A PC won’t be able to communicate with a counterfeit chip with the new driver, but at least it won’t soft-brick the chip.

Microsoft has since released a statement and rolled back two versions of the FTDI driver to prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. The affected versions of the FTDI driver are 2.11.0 and 2.12.0, released on August 26, 2014. The latest version of the driver that does not have this chip bricking functionality is 2.10.0.0, released on January 27th. If you’re affected by the latest driver, rolling back the driver through the Device Manager to 2.10.0.0 will prevent counterfeit chips from being bricked. You might want to find a copy of the 2.10.0 driver; this will likely be the last version of the FTDI driver to work with counterfeit chips.

Thanks to the efforts of [marcan] over on the EEVblog forums, we know exactly how the earlier FTDI driver worked to brick counterfeit devices:

ftdi_evil

[marcan] disassembled the FTDI driver and found the source of the brick and some clever coding. The coding exploits  differences found in the silicon of counterfeit chips compared to the legit ones. In the small snippet of code decompiled by [marcan], the FTDI driver does nothing for legit chips, but writes 0 and value to make the EEPROM checksum match to counterfeit chips. It’s an extremely clever bit of code, but also clear evidence FTDI is intentionally bricking counterfeit devices.

A new FTDI driver, presumably one that will tell you a chip is fake without bricking it, will be released next week. While not an ideal outcome for everyone, at least the problem of drivers intentionally bricking devices is behind us.

Watch That Windows Update: FTDI Drivers Are Killing Fake Chips

The FTDI FT232 chip is found in thousands of electronic baubles, from Arduinos to test equipment, and more than a few bits of consumer electronics. It’s a simple chip, converting USB to a serial port, but very useful and probably one of the most cloned pieces of silicon on Earth. Thanks to a recent Windows update, all those fake FTDI chips are at risk of being bricked. This isn’t a case where fake FTDI chips won’t work if plugged into a machine running the newest FTDI driver; the latest driver bricks the fake chips, rendering them inoperable with any computer.

Reports of problems with FTDI chips surfaced early this month, with an explanation of the behavior showing up in an EEVblog forum thread. The new driver for these chips from FTDI, delivered through a recent Windows update, reprograms the USB PID to 0, something Windows, Linux, and OS X don’t like. This renders the chip inaccessible from any OS, effectively bricking any device that happens to have one of these fake FTDI serial chips.

Because the FTDI USB to UART chip is so incredibly common,  the market is flooded with clones and counterfeits. it’s very hard to tell the difference between the real and fake versions by looking at the package, but a look at the silicon reveals vast differences. The new driver for the FT232 exploits these differences, reprogramming it so it won’t work with existing drivers. It’s a bold strategy to cut down on silicon counterfeiters on the part of FTDI. A reasonable company would go after the manufacturers of fake chips, not the consumers who are most likely unaware they have a fake chip.

The workaround for this driver update is to download the FT232 config tool from the FTDI website on a WinXP or Linux box, change the PID of the fake chip, and never using the new driver on a modern Windows system. There will surely be an automated tool to fix these chips automatically, but until then, take a good look at what Windows Update is installing – it’s very hard to tell if your devices have a fake FTDI chip by just looking at them.

FT232RL: Real Or Fake?

Above are two FTDI FT232RL chips, an extremely common chip used to add a USB serial port to projects, builds, and products. The one on the left is a genuine part, while the chip on the right was purchased from a shady supplier and won’t work with the current FTDI drivers. Can you tell the difference?

[Zeptobars], the folks behind those great die shots of various ICs took a look at both versions of the FT232 and the differences are staggering. Compared to the real chip, the fake chip has two types of SRAM etched in the silicon – evidence this chip was pieced together from different layouts.

The conclusion [Zeptobars] reached indicated the fake chip is really just a microcontroller made protocol compatable with the addition of a mask ROM. If you’re wondering if the FTDI chips in your part drawers are genuine, the real chips have laser engraved markings, while the clone markings are usually printed.

Fubarino Contest: Serial Data Transmission

fubarino-contest-serial-data

[Jesus] is helping his cousin learn about microcontrollers. Right now they’re on the subject of serial communications, which turned into a nice way to add a Hackaday Easter Egg.

Using and FTDI chip in conjunction with the PIC 18F4550 (it’s a little soon for them to tackle implementing USB directly) the serial data is shown in a terminal window. At the same time the binary value of each byte is flashed on the PORTD LEDs. When the chip receives the characters “hack” it immediately echos back the recommendation to check out the awesomeness that is Hackaday. He posted the code used in this example as a Gist.


This is an entry in the Fubarino Contest for a chance at one of the 20 Fubarino SD boards which Microchip has put up as prizes!

Continue reading “Fubarino Contest: Serial Data Transmission”

FT230X Brings USB Charging Detection to the Serial IC Game

FT230XS-breadboard

Here’s a new chip from FTDI which brings a nice little feature to the USB-to-serial converter family: charging detection. That means that it is capable of detecting when a battery charger is connected. What does that actually mean? The top of the datasheet gives you the short version, but let’s look at the investigation [Baoshi] undertook to test the full extent of this particular feature. We agree with him that the listed capability leaves those in the know with a lot of questions:

USB Battery Charger Detection. Allows for USB peripheral devices to detect the presence of a higher power source to enable improved charging.

Obviously the chip will be able to tell when a charger is connected, alerting the device when it’s time to start lapping up the extra milliamps. But what type of chargers will actually trigger the detection circuit? After rigging up the test circuit shown above he ran through several scenarios: connected directly to the PC USB port, via externally powered and non-powered USB hubs, and with multiple wall wart chargers. Full results of the tests are included in the post linked above.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

ContactKey: A portable, battery-powered phonebook

contactKey

Although it’s still a prototype, [Russell] tipped us off to his battery-powered device for storing your contacts list: ContactKey. (Warning: Loud sound @ beginning). Sure, paper can back up your contact information, but paper isn’t nearly as cool to show off, nor can it receive updates directly from your Android. The ContactKey displays a contact’s information on an OLED screen, which you can pluck through by pressing a few buttons: either ‘Up,’ ‘Down,’ or ‘Reset’. Although the up/down button can advance one contact at a time, holding one down will fly through the list at lightning speed. A few seconds of inactivity causes a timeout and puts the ContactKey to sleep to conserve battery life.

This build uses an ATMega328 microcontroller and an external EEPROM to store the actual list. [Russell] wrote an Android app that will sync your contact list to the ContactKey over USB via an FTDI chip. The microcontroller uses I2C to talk to the EEPROM, while an OLED display interfaces to the ATMega through SPI. We’re looking forward to seeing how compact [Russell] can make the ContactKey once it’s off the breadboard; the battery life for most smartphones isn’t particularly stellar. Phones of the future will eventually live longer, but we bet it won’t be this one.

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Rolling your own minimal USB to serial Arduino programmer

usb-to-serial-programmer

[Hans Peter] wanted to move away from using full Arduino boards in his projects. One of the components he rarely used after the development stage is the USB hardware. Once the firmware is flashed to the chip he didn’t need it any longer. So he tried his hand with some really small SMD parts by building this USB to serial Arduino programmer.

The chip he went with isn’t the FTDI part we’re used to. Instead of using an FT232RL, he opted for its smaller cousin the FT230x. This chip doesn’t fully implement the communications protocol of the 232, but it does work with AVRdude and that’s all that really matters. Above you can see [Hans'] creation next to the official Arduino USB-to-serial programmer. He used the same connection scheme, but went with an edge connector for the USB instead of using a mini-B jack.

It’s pretty impressive to see his prototyping work with the 16-pin QFN package. He soldered it dead-bug style to a couple of SIL pin headers in order to test it on a breadboard. The first board he assembled was too loose in the USB port, but he added some tape to the back to make it thicker, and coated the edge connector traces with a bit of solder and that did the trick.