Hackaday Podcast 026: Tamper-Proof Electronics, Selfie Drones, Rocket Fuel, Wire Benders, And Wizard-Level Soldering

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back after last week’s holiday break to track down all of the hacks you missed. There are some doozies; a selfie-drone controlled by your body position, a Theremin that sings better than you can, how about a BGA hand-soldering project whose creator can’t even believe he pulled it off. Kristina wrote a spectacular article on the life and career of Mary Sherman Morgan, and Tom tears down a payment terminal he picked up in an abandoned Toys R Us, plus much more!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Defeating The Wii Mini As The Internet Watches Over Your Shoulder

Working under the pressure of being watched on a live feed, [DeadlyFoez] pits himself against the so-called unhackable Wii Mini and shows unprecedented results all while recording hours of footage of his process for others to follow along. We dug through that content to find the gems of the process, the links below include timestamps to those moments.

The Wii Mini is a cost-reduced version of Nintendo’s best-selling console, sold near the end of its life with a few features removed such as GameCube backwards compatibility and SD card support. Along with that, in an effort to thwart the jailbreaking that had plagued its big sister Nintendo made it so the NAND memory (where the system is stored) is encrypted and keyed to each device’s Hollywood GPU chip. This defeats methods which modified the storage in order to gain access to the hardware.

That did not stop [DeadlyFoez] from trying anyway, planning out the steps he needed to achieve a hacked Mini unit with the help of a regular Wii donor, already hacked. After dumping both systems’ NANDs and exploring the Wii Mini hardware further, he found a few pleasant surprises. There are test points on the board which allow GameCube controllers to be used with it. There are also SD card connections physically present on the board, but the support was removed from the Mini’s system software.

The most interesting parts come later on however: by simultaneously swapping NAND and GPU chips between original Wii and Wii Mini, [DeadlyFoez] manages to put together two distinct systems. The first is an original Wii board with the Mini’s chips claimed to be “the first Wii Mini running homebrew software”. The second, filling the opposite side of the equation, with both hardware and software to add SD card and GameCube controller ports to a Wii Mini.

This process of BGA rework in order to mod Nintendo hardware into unorthodox versions of themselves has actually been done before a few years ago, when someone made an unofficial US region non-XL new 3DS by piecing together parts from two separate consoles. Continue reading “Defeating The Wii Mini As The Internet Watches Over Your Shoulder”

Liquid Damaged MacBook Saved With A Keen Eye

Even among those of us with a penchant for repairing electronics, there are some failures which are generally considered too severe to come back from. A good example is liquid damage in a laptop; with so many components and complex circuits crammed into such a small area, making heads or tails of it once the corrosion sets in can be a real nightmare. Especially in the case of an older laptop, the conventional wisdom is to try and recover your files and then buy a new one.

But as we’ve come to learn, [Jason Gin] is not a man who often finds himself concerned with conventional wisdom. After finding an older MacBook with suspected liquid damage, he decided to see what it would take to restore it to working order. According to a note on the device, the screen was dead, the USB ports were fried, the battery didn’t take a charge, and it wouldn’t boot. No problem then, should be easy.

Upon opening up the circa-2012 laptop, [Jason] found the machine to be riddled with corrosion. We’re not just talking surface gunk either. After giving everything a good cleaning with isopropyl alcohol, the true extent of the damage became clear. Not only had traces on the PCB rotted away, but there were many components that were either damaged or missing altogether. Whatever spilled inside this poor Mac was clearly some nasty stuff.

[Jason] used OpenBoardView to pull up schematics and diagrams of the motherboard, and started the arduous task of visually comparing them to his damaged unit. In some areas, the corrosion was so bad he still had trouble locating the correct traces and pads. But with time and effort, he was able to start probing around and seeing what components had actually given up the ghost.

For the USB ports it ended up being a bad 10-microfarad ceramic capacitor, but for the LCD, he ended up having to replace the entire backlight driver IC. The prospect of working on this tiny BGA-25 device might have been enough for some to throw in the towel, but compared to the hand-soldered magnet wire repairs required elsewhere on the board, [Jason] says the installation of the new LP8550 chip was one of the easier aspects of the whole operation.

The write-up is a great read if you like a good repair success story, and we especially like the way he documented his diagnosis and resulting work on a per-system basis. It makes it much easier to understand just how many individual fires [Jason] had to put out. But if you’re more interested in feats of steady-handed soldering, check out his recent project to add a PCI-E slot to the Atomic Pi.

BGA Hand Soldering Uses Tombstone Resistor Technique, Demands Surgical Precision

Most Hackaday readers will be a pretty dab hand with a soldering iron. We can assemble surface-mount boards, SOICs and TSSOPs are a doddle, 0402s we take in our stride, and we laugh in the face of 0201s. But a Twitter thread from [Greg Davill] will probably leave all but the most hardcore proponents of the art floundering, as he hand-wires a tiny FPGA in a BGA package to the back of a miniature dot-matrix LED display module.

Resistors soldered on-end, awaiting wires to connect to the BGA microcontroller

As far as we can see the module must once have had its own microcontroller which has been removed. We’d guess it was under an epoxy blob but can’t be sure, meanwhile its pads are left exposed. The Lattice LP1k49 fits neatly into the space, but a web of tiny wires are required to connect it to those pads. First, [Greg] populates the pads with a set of “tombstoned” tiny (we’re guessing 0R) resistors, then wires them to the pads with 30μm wire. He describes a moment of confusion as he attempts to tin a stray hair, which burns rather than accepting the solder.

The result is a working display with a new brain, which surprises even him. We’ve seen more than one BGA wiring over the years, but rarely anything at this scale.

It’s worth mentioning that [Greg] was behind the FLIR frame grabber that was a runner-up in last year’s Hackaday Prize. We admire the photos he’s able to get of all of his projects and aspire to reach this level with our own. Take this as inspiration and then check out the Hackaday contest for Beautiful Hardware images happening right now.

Thanks [Sophi] for the tip.

Roll Your Own 64GB SD Card From An EMMC Chip

It’s well-known that buying Flash storage devices from cheap online retailers is fraught with danger. Stories abound of multi-gigabyte drives that turn out to be multi-megabyte ones engineered to falsely report their capacity. So when [Jason Gin] found a source of 64GB Toshiba eMMC chips for only $6 per device he bought a few, but was prepared for disappointment.

To test them, he decided to use an SD card interface. There are minor differences between eMMC and SD, but the interfaces are electrically the same and in most cases an SD controller will happily do business with an eMMC. It was not however an easy task to connect the two — these eMMCs were in BGA packages, hardly the easiest ones to work with. He resorted to dead-bug soldering the relevant interface wires to SD lines, and connecting up his computer.

His first attempt was something of a failure, wiring the chip to the PCB of a cheap USB-to-SD adaptor. This did not put him off though, he followed it up by cracking open a very old 2GB SD card that contained a PCB instead of being potted, and soldering his eMMC in place of its Flash and controller. This even fit in the original SD housing, and met with success when plugged into more reliable SD card readers. He was thus able to confirm the capacity of his chips.

His blog post is worth a read for more than just the very fine soldering involved. He takes us through some of the intricacies of SD interfacing, as well as talking at length about the decoupling and termination required to make a reliable connection. We particularly like his use of an area of unconnected BGA balls as prototyping space for decouplers.

If you marvel at the exceptional dexterity required for hand BGA work, we’ve a couple of other treats for you. There is this TI infra-red sensor BGA soldered to a piece of stripboard, and this wafer-level chip package soldered to an SOIC prototyping board.

Hackaday Links: September 27, 2015

Many moons ago, [Joe Grand] built an adapter that turns Atari 2600 joysticks to USB controllers. Now it’s open source.

Hackaday Overlord [Matt] is holding an SMT and BGA soldering workshop in San Francisco on October 4th. Teaching BGA soldering? Yes! He made a board where the BGA balls are connected to LEDs. Very, very clever.

Our ‘ol friend [Jeremey Cook] built a strandbeest out of MDF. It’s huge, heavy, about the size of a small car, and it doesn’t work. [Jeremy] has built beests before, but these were relatively small. The big MDF beest is having some problems with friction, and a tendency to shear along the joints. If anyone wants to fix this beest, give [Jeremy] a ring.

Everyone loves the Teensy, and [Paul] has released his latest design iteration. The Teensy 3.2 isn’t that much different from the Teensy 3.1; the bootloader has changed and now USB D+ and D- lines are broken out. Other than that, it’s just the latest iteration of the popular Teensy platform.

The DyIO is a pretty neat robotics controller, a semifinalist for the Hackaday Prize, and now a Kickstarter. The big win of the Kickstarter is an electronics board (with WiFi) that is able to control 24 servos for all your robotics needs.

[pighixxx] does illustrations of pinouts for popular electronics platforms. Everyone needs a hobby, I guess. He recently put together an illustration of the ESP8266. Neat stuff is hidden deep in this site.

You would not believe how much engineering goes into making snake oil. And then you need to do certifications!

[David] identified a problem, created a solution, got a patent, and is now manufacturing a product. The only problem is the name.