The Ultimate iPhone Upgrade

While Apple products have their upsides, the major downside with them is their closed environment. Most of the products are difficult to upgrade, to say the least, and this is especially true with the iPhone. While some Android devices still have removable storage and replaceable batteries, this has never been an option for any of Apple’s phones. But that doesn’t mean that upgrading the memory inside the phone is completely impossible.

[Scotty] from [Strange Parts] is no stranger to the iPhone, and had heard that there are some shops that can remove the storage chip in the iPhone and replace it with a larger one so he set out on a journey to try this himself. The first step was to program the new chip, since they must have software on them before they’re put in the phone. The chip programmer ironically doesn’t have support for Mac, so [Scotty] had to go to the store to buy a Windows computer first before he could get the chip programmer working right.

After that hurdle, [Scotty] found a bunch of old logic boards from iPhones to perfect his desoldering and resoldering skills. Since this isn’t through-hole technology a lot of practice was needed to desolder the chip from the logic board without damaging any of the other components, then re-ball the solder on the logic board, and then re-soldering the new larger storage chip to the logic board. After some hiccups and a lot of time practicing, [Scotty] finally had an iPhone that he upgraded from 16 GB to 128 GB.

[Scotty] knows his way around the iPhone and has some other videos about other modifications he’s made to his personal phone. His videos are very informative, in-depth, and professionally done so they’re worth a watch even if you don’t plan on trying this upgrade yourself. Not all upgrades to Apple products are difficult and expensive, though. There is one that costs only a dollar.

We sat down with him after his talk at the Hackaday Superconference last November, and we have to say that he made us think more than twice about tackling the tiny computer that lies hidden inside a cell phone. Check out his talk if you haven’t yet.

48 thoughts on “The Ultimate iPhone Upgrade

    1. There is a whole lot of infrastructure on the PC that allows for this. IMHO, it’s one of the big reasons the PC has not been knocked off its perch.
      Unless you want to customize each OS for the device, you need a standard mechanism for the bootstrap code to hand control to the OS, a way for the OS to determine what hardware is present, where the hardware interfaces are located, and how to perform power management for a start.
      The idea of being able to select my mobile OS separately from the hardware was one reason I was excited for Intel trying to make phones years ago.
      But we as consumers have accepted that the OS is baked into the device for mobile devices :(

  1. “The chip programmer ironically doesn’t have support for Mac, so [Scotty] had to go to the store to buy a Windows computer first before he could get the chip programmer working right.”

    That was quite unnecessary, as Macs run Windows fine with Bootcamp or VirtualBox.

    1. I feel like that part was just kinda virtue-signaling on his part. Or perhaps a joke. Considering how many of the miscellaneous little flash and debug tools we use which only run properly under native Windows or Linux, I find it a little hard to believe he didn’t at least have an external drive with a Win7 or Mint partition sitting around…

      1. Nope, I don’t actually. I don’t even have virtualbox on my machine at the moment, and the machine I was doing a lot of hardware on in the past is back in the states at the moment. I could have messed around with installing bootcamp or tried to get this device running under virtualbox, but honestly, it was much easier to just go to the Xiaomi store, and I thought it would be a fun thing to incorporate into the video. Plus, it’s nice to have a second machine that’s natively running windows, that can be separate from the main machine I use to edit, record microscope footage, and run the rest of my business. But yes, I’ve gotten a lot of flack for it:)

  2. I always thought that the possibility to upgrade storage space is a must for computers and phones. I mean, you can still do the work with a slower computer, but you either have enough space or you don’t for your need.

    To be fair, the 16 gigs that are minimum today are better than when phones came with 8 or even 4 GB of flash.

    1. Sure you are right for most consumers, but it obviously heavily depends on your use-case.
      I, for example, use hardly any space on my phone, because I only use it for messaging (whatsapp, signal) and emails. Nothing more, nothing less (except i just need to check something real quick in the browser). I know that there are not many people like me in case of phone usage, but they do exist and I think 16Gigs is fine.

      Nevertheless: I am definitley pro self-upgrade options!

      1. I also wish phones were more PClike in the sense of being able easily load the ROM of your choice. Would also be nice if more phones came with stock Android with no bloatware installed from either OEMs or Carriers. For Android, there should be an official way to Root out of box. Also want easily replaceable batteries to also be a thing again.

  3. I am curious about the way he’s using the stencil to reapply solder to the BGA chips. Wouldn’t you normally apply the paste, then remove the stencil, THEN use the hot air? It seems like holding the stencil in place while heating is making it much harder – is there some reason for it? Is he just doing that wrong?

    1. When you reball you are supposed to use solder balls. You flux the chip, place the mask over it and drop the balls onto the pads. The balls stick to the flux and you pour off the excess balls, remove the mask, and the reflow them into place. By using solder balls you get a consistent ball height which is pretty critical to getting a good BGA connection with the main board.

      1. I have never seen or heard of anyone here in China using solder balls for reballing. Only this paste method. But yeah, consistency of ball height can definitely be an issue. At some point I might try learning to reball an iPhone CPU, which is a 0.4mm pitch BGA. The repair guys all still just use paste and a stencil though:)

        1. Well, the chinese do like to play fast and loose with a lot of things. I have heard stories about the dpss lasers we were having made over there. They couldn’t get it through their head that you had to build these things in a clean room…

    2. Removing it would stick some paste to the stencil and thus leave less on the chip. The stencil is stainless and the molten solder wouldnt stick to it.

      I would use a clamp to hold the stencil instead of holding it down.

      1. Yep, exactly. I haven’t ever seen anyone use a clamp to hold down the stencil. One of the problems is that the metal buckles when you heat it, so you need to hold the stencil down very close to the pads, but not anywhere else, to let it warp freely.

  4. He’s doing it wrong. He should remove stencil before heating.

    Technically that isn’t a BGA; it’s an LGA. You can do the same thing with just some flux and a good iron – watching carefully to even out the pads.

    Most of his ‘practice’ problems would have been easily cured with an IR pre-heater.

      1. it’s native and also has a MicroSD slot. The n900 was and still is way ahead of its time. Shame it suffered from a hardware manufacturing flaw ( micro USB port became loose over time ) and lack of API for developers.
        The calendar, address book and alarm clock all sucked no way of third-party apps integrating into the system. (no user groups for ringtones )

  5. “Since this isn’t through-hole technology a lot of practice was needed to desolder the chip …”

    I bet it was a lot easier than desoldering a 72-pin through-hole chip from 8+ layer PCB would have been!

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