Decapsulation Reveals Fake Chips

A while back, [heypete] needed to get a GPS timing receiver talking to a Raspberry Pi. The receiver only spoke RS-232, and the Pi is TTL level serial. [Pete] picked up a few RS-232 to TTL conversion boards from an online vendor in China. These boards were supposedly based on the Max3232, a wonderchip that converts the TTL serial to the positive and negative voltages of RS-232 serial. The converters worked fine for a few weeks, before failing, passing a bunch of current, and overheating.

On Mouser and Digikey, the Max3232 costs about $1.80 in quantity one, and shipping is extra. You can pick up a ‘Max3232 converter board’ from the usual online marketplaces for seventy five cents with free shipping. Of course the Chinese version is fake. [Pete] had some nitric acid, and decided to compare the die of the real and fake Max3232s.

After desoldering two fake chips from their respective converter boards, and acquiring a legitimate chip straight from Maxim, [Pete] took a look at the chips under the microscope. The laser markings on the fakes are inconsistent, but there was something interesting to be found in the date code markings. It took two to four weeks for the fake chips to be etched with a date code, assembled into a converter board, shipped across the planet, put into [Pete]’s project, run for a little bit, and fail spectacularly. That’s an astonishing display of manufacturing, logistics, and shipping times. Update: The date codes on the fakes had 2013 laser etched on the plastic package, and 2009 on the die. The real chips had a date code just a few weeks before [Pete] decapped them — a remarkably short life but they gave in to a good cause.

Following the Zeptobars and CCC (PDF) guides to dropping acid, [Pete] turned his problem into solution and took a look at the dies under a microscope. The legitimate die was significantly larger, and the fake dies were identical. The official die used gold bond wires, but the fake ones didn’t.

Unfortunately, [Pete] isn’t an expert in VLSI, chip design, failure analysis, or making semiconductors out of sand. Anything that should be obvious to the layman is not, and [Pete] has no idea why these chips would work for a week, then overheat and fail. If anyone has an idea, hit [Pete] up and drop a note in the comments.

Mergers and Acquisitions: TI Looks to Snatch Up Maxim

BloombergBusiness is reporting rumors that Texas Instruments is in talks to acquire Maxim Integrated. Both companies have declined to respond to this leaked information. Earlier this year there were rumors that the two companies had been in talks in 2014 that didn’t result with an agreement.

We find it interesting that the article mentions Maxim doesn’t need to scale — yet we often find Maxim parts in short supply. If TI were to acquire the company this could change for some Maxium parts. Still, this move looks a lot like TI trying to bolster its hold on the portions of the analog chip market which both companies currently occupy.

Already this year we’ve seen Dialog acquire Atmel, Avago acquire Broadcom, and the merger agreement between Freescale and NXP. We probably missed a few, and this has us wonder who is next. Let us know what you think in the comments below.

[Thanks Kumar]

Maxim App Note Reuses Lithium Ion Cells — Plus Extras

Now we don’t sit around reading application notes for fun. But if hard pressed we would have to admit that we do read quite a few of them even if the concepts aren’t currently on our project list. That’s because they’re a great way to learn stuff and for the most part the information within is trustworthy.

The latest one that we looked at is this Maxim app note 5681 on recycling Lithium-ion batteries. It’s more a reuse than a recycle but you get the point. If you have some Lithium-Ion cells left over from older equipment this resource delivers a lot of good information on how to use them to power something else.

Obviously they’re showing off their own hardware here, but that’s okay. The MAX8677A chips has a ton of features and can be had for $3-5 depending on your vendor. It automatically switches between powering your device from the battery, or from the charging source if connected. This allows you to source up to 500mA when connected to USB or 2A when charging from an external DC supply. There is also all of the protection you would normally want with a Li-ion setup, including temperature monitoring.

The catch is the not-so-hand-solderable QFN package. They’ve got a solution to this as well. The diagram on the right shows how to hand solder the chip — albeit with a hot air pencil — by drilling through the board to get at the ground pad from the underside of the PCB.

[Thanks Jaded and Amos]

How to design your own LED driver

If you find yourself in need of a driver for a high power string of LEDs this is a must read. [Limpkin] just designed this driver as a contract job. He can’t show us the schematic, but he did share some tips on how to build an LED driver around a MAX16834 chip.

As you move to higher power designs the barriers to success pile up rather quickly. Using a chip like the MAX16834 really helps to simplify the task as it can be used as a boost or buck converter, it includes functionality that allows for dimming, and it’s a constant currents solution. There are board design issues that need to be accounted for in these designs. [Limkin] included links to a few calculators that will help you determine trace width based power levels used with the driver. He also recommends using copper pours on both sides of the board connected with vias to help dissipate heat. To that end he used an IR thermometer for feedback during testing.

It’s too bad he doesn’t have any photos of the device at work. If you build something similar please take some pictures and tip us off about it.

Hacking an iButton

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Maxim’s iButtons, which are small ICs in button-sized disks, are starting to show up in more and more places. They have a range of uses, from temperature loggers to identification, and all use the 1-wire protocol to communicate. Over a furrtek, they hacked an iButton used for buying things from vending machines and created an infinite money cheat. They built a small rig based on the ATmega8 to read and write data to the chip. The data was encrypted, so it wasn’t feasible to put an arbitrary amount on the card. Instead, they used a similar technique to the Boston subway hack and restored a previous state to the iButton after something was bought. They also created a hand-held device to backup and restore the contents of a button for portable hacking.

[Thanks furrtek]

Parts: 1-Wire temperature sensor (DS1822)

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Download: buspirate.v0d.zip

Dallas/Maxim’s 1-Wire protocol is the most requested addition to the Bus Pirate.  We finally got some 1-Wire parts, and today we’ll demonstrate the DS1822 1-Wire digital thermometer. Grab the datasheet (PDF) and follow along.

This post is accompanied by release v.0d of the Bus Pirate firmware for hardware version 0. This includes the new 1-Wire protocol library, more configuration options, and other improvements.

Continue reading “Parts: 1-Wire temperature sensor (DS1822)”

Parts: 133MHz-16.2kHz programmable oscillator (DS1077)

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The DS1077 is a 5volt, 133MHz to 16kHz programmable clock source. The internal frequency divider is configured over a simple I2C interface, and the chip requires no external parts. Not bad for under $2. We used the Bus Pirate to test this chip before using it in a project. Grab the datasheet (PDF) and follow along. Continue reading “Parts: 133MHz-16.2kHz programmable oscillator (DS1077)”