Tiny Prisms Let You See What Lies Beneath A BGA Chip

Compared to through-hole construction, inspecting SMD construction is a whole other game. Things you thought were small before are almost invisible now, and making sure solder got where it’s supposed to go can be a real chore. Add some ball grid array (BGA) chips into the mix, where the solder joints are not visible by design, and inspection is more a leap of faith than objective proof of results.

How it works.

Unless, of course, you put the power of optics to work, as [Petteri Aimonen] does with this clever BGA inspection tool. It relies on a pair of tiny prisms to bounce light under one side of a BGA chip and back up the other. The prisms are made from thin sheets of acrylic; [Petteri] didn’t have any 1-mm acrylic sheet on hand, so he harvested material from a razor blade package. The edge of each piece was ground to a 45-degree angle and polished with successively finer grits until the surfaces were highly reflective. One prism was affixed to a small scrap of PCB with eleven SMD LEDs in a row, forming a light pipe that turns the light through 90 degrees. The light source is held along one edge of a BGA, shining light underneath to the other prism, bouncing light through the forest of solder balls and back toward the observer.

The results aren’t exactly crystal clear, which is understandable given the expedient nature of the materials and construction employed. But it’s certainly more than enough to see any gross problems lying below a BGA, like shorts or insufficiently melted solder. [Petteri] reports that flux can be a problem, too, as excess of the stuff can crystalize between pads under the BGA and obstruct the light. A little extra cleaning should help in such cases.

Haven’t tackled a BGA job yet? You might want to get up to speed on that.

The FPC adapter shown soldered between the BGA chip and the phone's mainboard, with the phone shown to have successfully booted, displaying an unlock prompt on the screen

IPhone 6S NVMe Chip Tapped Using A Flexible PCB

Psst! Hey kid! Want to reverse-engineer some iPhones? Well, did you know that modern iPhones use PCIe, and specifically, NVMe for their storage chips? And if so, have you ever wondered about sniffing those communications? Wonder no more, as this research team shows us how they tapped them with a flexible printed circuit (FPC) BGA interposer on an iPhone 6S, the first iPhone to use NVMe-based storage.

The research was done by [Mohamed Amine Khelif], [Jordane Lorandel], and [Olivier Romain], and it shows us all the nitty-gritty of getting at the NVMe chip — provided you’re comfortable with BGA soldering and perhaps got an X-ray machine handy to check for mistakes. As research progressed, they’ve successfully removed the memory chip dealing with underfill and BGA soldering nuances, and added an 1:1 interposer FR4 board for the first test, that proved to be successful. Then, they made an FPC interposer that also taps into the signal and data pins, soldered the flash chip on top of it, successfully booted the iPhone 6S, and scoped the data lines for us to see.

This is looking like the beginnings of a fun platform for iOS or iPhone hardware reverse-engineering, and we’re waiting for further results with bated breath! This team of researchers in particular is prolific, having already been poking at things like MITM attacks on I2C and PCIe, as well as IoT device and smartphone security research. We haven’t seen any Eagle CAD files for the interposers published, but thankfully, most of the know-how is about the soldering technique, and the paper describes plenty. Want to learn more about these chips? We’ve covered a different hacker taking a stab at reusing them before. Or perhaps, would you like to know NVMe in more depth? If so, we’ve got just the article for you.

We thank [FedX] for sharing this with us on the Hackaday Discord server!

The Tale Of The Final EVGA GPU Overclocking Record

It’s not news that EVGA is getting out of the GPU card game, after a ‘little falling out’ with Nvidia. It’s sad news nonetheless, as this enthusiastic band of hardware hackers has a solid following in certain overclocking and custom PC circles. The Games Nexus gang decided to fly over to meet up with the EVGA team in Zhonghe, Taiwan, and follow them around a bit as they tried for one last overclocking record on the latest (unreleased, GTX4090-based) GPU card. As you will note early on in the video, things didn’t go smoothly, with their hand-lapped GPU burning out the PCB after a small setup error. Continue reading “The Tale Of The Final EVGA GPU Overclocking Record”

The SSD described, a green board with a ZIP connector, a controller chip and two out of four NAND chips populated. There's traces of flux on the chip, as it hasn't been washed after soldering yet.

ZIF HDDs Dying Out? Here’s An Open-Source 1.8″ SSD

A lot of old technology runs on parts no longer produced – HDDs happen to be one such part, with IDE drives specifically being long out of vogue, and going extinct to natural causes. There’s substitutes, but quite a few of them are either wonky or require expensive storage medium. Now, [dosdude1] has turned his attention to 1.8 ZIF IDE SSDs – FFC-connected hard drives that are particularly rare and therefore expensive to replace, found in laptops like the Macbook Air 1,1 2008 model. Unsatisfied with substitutes, he’s designed an entire SSD from the ground up around an IDE SSD controller and NAND chips. Then, he made the design open-source and filmed an assembly video so that we can build our own. Take a look, we’ve put it below the break!

For an open-source design, there’s a respectable amount of work shared with us. He’s reverse-engineered some IDE SSDs based on the SM2236 controller to design the schematic, and put the full KiCad files on GitHub. In the video, he shows us how to assemble this SSD using only a hot air station and a soldering iron, talks about NAND matching and programming software intricacies, and shows the SSD working in the aforementioned Macbook Air. Certainly, assembly would have been faster and easier with a stencil, but the tools used work great for what’s a self-assembly tutorial!

Continue reading “ZIF HDDs Dying Out? Here’s An Open-Source 1.8″ SSD”

Working With BGAs: Design And Layout

The Ball Grid Array, or BGA package is no longer the exclusive preserve of large, complex chips on computer motherboards: today even simple microcontrollers are available with those little solder balls. Still, many hobbyists prefer to stay with QFP and QFN packages because they’re easier to solder. While that is a fair point, BGA packages can offer significant space savings, and are sometimes the only choice: with the ongoing chip shortage, some other package versions might simply be unavailable. Even soldering doesn’t have to be complicated: if you’re already comfortable with solder paste and reflow profiles, adding a BGA or two into the mix is pretty easy.

In this article we’ll show that working with BGA chips is not as difficult as it may seem. The focus will be on printed circuit board design: how to draw proper footprints, how to route lots of signals and what capabilities your PCB manufacturer should have. We’ll cover soldering and rework techniques in a future article, but first let’s take a look at why BGAs are used at all.

Continue reading “Working With BGAs: Design And Layout”

The BGA chip in question flipped onto a piecce of breadboard, all its pins broken out with magnet wire.

Heroic Efforts Give Smallest ARM MCU A Breakout, Open Debugger

In today’s episode of Diminutive Device Technology Overview, [Sprite_TM] is at it again – this time conquering the HC32L110. A few weeks ago, we have highlighted the small ARM Cortex M0+ microcontroller, which is outstanding because of its exceptionally small size. We also pointed out a few hurdles, among them – hard-to-approach SDK and documentation, and difficulties making and assembling a PCB for such a small BGA. Today, we witness how [Sprite_TM] bulldozed through all of these hurdles for all of us, and added a few pictures to our collective “outrageous soldering” galleries while at it.

First, he figured out an example layout for this MCU that’s achievable for us even on a cheapest 2-layer board from JLCPCB, keeping distances within the generic tolerance standards by snubbing out a few pins. As a result, we only lose access to four GPIOs – those will have to be kept as inputs, so that nothing burns out. However, that’s the kind of tradeoff we are okay making if it helps us keep our PCB small and lightweight for projects where these factors matter. After receiving the resulting board, he also recorded a short tutorial on soldering such packages at home with a mere hot air gun and a few bare necessities like flux and tweezers – embedded below.

It doesn’t end there, however, as he decided to work around the GPIO fanout limitation in a non-intended way. Evidently, [Sprite_TM] decided to have some fun, taking a piece of regular 0.1″ spacing protoboard and deadbugging the chip with magnet wire, much to our amusement. The resulting contraption, pictured above, worked – and this is ever something you’d like to be able to achieve yourself in times of dire need, whether you make something work or simply to be entertained by making use of a cursed mounting technique, there’s an one-hour-long livestream recording of how this magnet wire contraption came to be. And, of course, that wasn’t the last thing to be shared.

Continue reading “Heroic Efforts Give Smallest ARM MCU A Breakout, Open Debugger”

How Small Is Too Small?

Not a rhetorical question! This week we consider the most micro microcontroller: the HC32L110. It’s the new title holder of the smallest ARM Cortex M0+ part. But could you actually use it?

MCU is the black thing that’s smaller than the capacitor.

I remember way back, when I first learned to solder surface-mount components. It was fiddly at first, but nowadays I don’t use through-hole components unless someone’s twisting my arm. And I still do my soldering myself — down to 0603 really isn’t all that bad with an iron, and below that, there’s always the heat plate. My heat plate has also gotten me through the two times I’ve actually needed to put down a ball-grid-array part. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared, honestly.

So maybe it’s time for me to take the BGA plunge and design a board or two just to get more familiar with the tech. I probably won’t dive straight into the deep end, like the featured chip here with 0.35 mm ball pitch, but rather stick with something that the cheap PCB services can easily handle. My experience tells me that the best way to learn something is just to test it out.

Now, off to go part shopping in the middle of a chip crisis! Wish me luck.