Commodity electronics manufacturing is a tough game. If you come out with a world-beating product, like WorldSemi did with the WS2812B addressable RGB LED “pixel”, you can be pretty sure that you’re going to be cloned in fairly short order. And we’re all used to horror stories of being sold clones instead of what was ordered. But what if the clones were actually an improvement?
[Gonazar] bought some strips of “WS2812” LEDs and prototyped a project. When stepping up to larger production, he thought he’d go directly to WorldSemi. Long story short, the cheaper LED modules that he’d previously bought weren’t from WorldSemi, but were actually SK6812 clones labelled as WS2812Bs. When he switched to the real thing, he discovered that they had some temperature and pressure sensitivities that the clones didn’t. The clones were better!
They weren’t even straight clones. It turns out that they have a much higher PWM frequency, resulting in less flicker at low brightnesses. The distributor came clean, saying that they swapped them out without note because they spoke the same protocol, but were a strict improvement.
And this isn’t the first time this has happened. [cpldcpu] documented the differences between the SK9822 and its original: the APA102. Again, the SK version clone is superior. In this case, it implements a data-read-and-latch behavior that’s in the APA102’s datasheet, but that somehow didn’t make it into the APA102’s silicon.
We usually assume that clones are of worse quality than the originals, but of course, this doesn’t have to be the case. The clones had the virtue of hindsight — they could see what was wrong with the original and improve on it. It’s an irony of brand loyalty (or lazy parts sourcing) that we continue to insist on a known part number to the point that a distributor would lie to us in order to substitute in an improvement.
So let this serve as a reminder: all that matters is the blink. Keep your eyes open.
Thanks [Jarrett] for the tip!