Help me reverse engineer an LED light bulb

hack LED bulb

I went to the last monthly meeting of Sector 67, a hackerspace in Madison, WI. One of the things shown off was a color changing LED light bulb that Menards was clearing out for $1.99. Inside there’s two RGB LEDs controlled by an ATtiny13 and powered by an AC/DC buck converter. An ATtiny13 will run you around $1.25 by itself so this price is quite amazing. I grabbed a couple of these bulbs and set to work on them. Join me after the break to see what I’ve got so far.

Update: read a follow-up to this post.

These bulbs use a candelabra base so I grabbed an adapter and tried it out in a lamp. Here’s the result, you can see it stepping through color levels a few times a second:

We’ve seen this in a lot of mood light hacks, I want to get at the hardware and make it do my bidding. First thing’s first, time to crack it open. For some reason I thought that carefully drilling some holes around the base would help me figure out where best to use the Dremel cutting wheel. Unfortunately I immediately drilled through one of the inductor coils. Drat.

hack sylvania light bulb

Well, no stopping now. I’m not too worried as I also bought a solid red version of this bulb. I want to see what’s inside, whether it’s the same design with unpopulated components, or the full shebang with different hardware. I assume there’s no microcontroller inside so I’ll steal the inductor from that one later.

I cut off the diffuser and got to the circuit board. Here’s some images (click for hi-res) as well as a cursory list of hardware.


  • R2 – 1004
  • R3 – 1004
  • R4 – 3001
  • R5 – 1302
  • R10 – 1003
  • D4 – Looks like a zener… perhaps to set down votage for the tiny13
  • D5 – RGB LED
  • D6 – RGB LED
  • D7 – JF S1J
  • IC5 – ATtiny13
  • C1 – smd without label
  • C7- smd without label


  • R1 – inline with center conductor of light socket
  • P1 & P2 – Labels for incoming AC power?
  • L1 – 102J CEC
  • L2 – 102J CEC
  • C2 – 50V 22 uF electrolytic
  • C3 – 400V 4.7 uF electrolytic
  • C4 – 400V 4.7 uF electrolytic
  • C5 – 25V 100 uF electrolytic
  • C6 – smd without label
  • D3 – R106 TF
  • R6 – 1201
  • R7 – 1Bx
  • R8 – 270
  • R9 – 270
  • IC1 – NGS (transistor for driving LEDs?)
  • IC2 – NGS (transistor for driving LEDs?)
  • IC3 – NGS (transistor for driving LEDs?)
  • IC4 – LNK304GN AC/DC switching converter

I wanted to see if I could talk to the ATtiny13 so I soldered wires onto the pins and hooked it up to my AVR Dragon programmer. ISP was a no go so I soldered more wire to the remaining connection and gave high voltage programming a shot. That was also a failure. But since I already hosed that inductor I have no issue popping the microprocessor off of the board. Here it is soldered onto some perfboard and inserted in a breadboard:

hack LED

I tried ISP again and that was a no-go. But this time around High Voltage Serial Programming worked. I talked to the chip with AVRdude using this command:

avrdude -P usb -p t13 -c dragon_hvsp -v

That polls the chip and reads back the fuse settings. Currently the lfuse is 0x6A which is the factory default but the hfuse is 0xFA. After checking the datasheet I see that they’ve disabled the reset function (that’s why ISP doesn’t work) and enabled brownout detection. I dumped the firmware and the eeprom and that’s where I’m at. Now I need your help.

I haven’t done much reverse engineering before this so I’m not sure what to do next. I disassembled the firmware using ‘ndisasm’ but I have no idea what I can learn from it, or even how to read it. I’d love some help answering two questions:

1) Why couldn’t I talk to the chip when it was on the circuit board?

2) What can I learn from the disassembled code. Update: after running the code through an AVR disassembler it looks like this is just an ascending list of numbers. [Tiago] pointed out in the comments that this is the behavior when the lock bits have been set. It should be possible to reuse the chip by erasing it but I won’t be able to dump the firmware first. Now I’ll focus on figuring out how the board is routed.

Let me know in the comments.

Read Part Two

101 thoughts on “Help me reverse engineer an LED light bulb

  1. I’m just a normal boy doing a google search and got to this page. My jaw is dropped knowing there are people in the world computer hacking a light bulb. An effing LIGHT BULB! I don’t understand a sentence of how you explained it, but I’m glad to know there are brains in this world. Thank you for giving me hope for the human race.

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