We might be amidst a chip shortage, but if you enjoy reverse-engineering, there’s never a shortage of intriguing old chips to dig into – and the 2513N 5×7 character ROM is one such chip. Amidst a long thread probing a few of these (Twitter, ThreadReader link), [TubeTime] has realized that two address lines were shorted inside of the package. A Twitter dopamine-fueled quest for truth has led him to try his hand at making the chip work anyway. Trying to clear the short with an external PSU led to a bond wire popping instead, as evidenced by the ESD diode connection disappearing.
A dozen minutes of sandpaper work resulted in the bare die exposed, making quick work of the bond wires as a side effect. Apparently, having the bond pads a bit too close has resulted in a factory defect where two of the pads merged together. No wonder the PSU wouldn’t take that on! Some X-acto work later, the short was cleared. But without the bond wires, how would [TubeTime] connect to it? This is where the work pictured comes in. Soldering to the remains of the bond wires has proven to be fruitful, reviving the chip enough to continue investigating, even if, it appears, it was never functional to begin with. The thread continued on with comparing ROMs from a few different chips [TubeTime] had on hand and inferences on what could’ve happened that led to this IC going out in the wild.
It seems only appropriate that hot on the heels of the conclusion of Hackaday’s 555 Timer Contest that [Ken Shirriff] posts a silicon die teardown of an early version of a hacker’s favorite chip, the 555.
Starting with a mystery chip from January 1973, [Eric Schlaepfer] painstakingly sanded down the package to reveal the die, which he deemed to be a 555 timer. Why didn’t they know it was a 555 timer to start? Because the package was not marked with “555” but rather some other marks that you can see in the blog post.
In addition to a great explanation of how the 555 works in general, [Ken] has taken a microscopic look at the 555 die itself. The schematic of a 555 is easily available, and [Ken] identifies not just sections of the die but individual components. He goes further yet by explaining how the PNP and NPN resistors are constructed in silicon. There’s also a nice and juicy bit of insight into the resistors in the IC, but we won’t spoil it here.
This film is another classic of mid-century corporate communications that was typically shown in schools, which the sponsor — in this case Shell Oil — seeks to make a point about the inevitable march of progress, and succeeds mainly in showing children and young adults what lay in store for them as they entered a working world that needed strong backs more than anything.
Despite the narrator’s accent, the factories shown appear to be in England, and the work performed therein is a brutal yet beautiful ballet of carefully coordinated moves. The sheer power of the slabbing mills at the start of the film is staggering, especially when we’re told that the ingots the mill is slinging about effortlessly weigh in at 14 tons apiece. Seeing metal from the same ingots shooting through the last section of a roller mill at high speed before being rolled into coils gives one pause, too; the catastrophe that would result if that razor-sharp and red-hot metal somehow escaped the mill doesn’t bear imagining. Similarly, the wire drawing process that’s shown later even sounds dangerous, with the sound increasing in pitch to a malignant whine as the die diameter steps down and the velocity of the wire increases.
There are the usual charming anachronisms, such as the complete lack of safety gear and the wanton disregard for any of a hundred things that could instantly kill you. One thing that impressed us was the lack of hearing protection, which no doubt led to widespread hearing damage. Those were simpler times, though, and the march of progress couldn’t stop for safety gear. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Drama Of Metal Forming”→
We treat them like black boxes, which they oftentimes are, but what lies beneath the inscrutable packages of electronic components is another world that begs exploration. But the sensitive and fragile silicon guts of these devices can be hard to get to, requiring destructive methods that, in the hands of a novice, more often than not lead to the demise of the good stuff inside.
To help us sort through the process of getting inside components, John McMaster will stop by the Hack Chat. You’ll probably recognize John’s work from Twitter and YouTube, or perhaps from his SiliconPr0n.org website, home to beauty shots of some of the chips he has decapped. John is also big in the reverse engineering community, organizing the Mountain View Reverse Engineering meetup, a group that meets regularly to discuss the secret world of components. Join us as we talk to John about some of the methods and materials used to get a look inside this world.
At least by today’s standards, some of the early chips were really, really big. They may have been revolutionary and they certainly did shrink the size of electronic devices, but integrating a 40-pin DIP into a modern design can be problematic. The solution: cut off all the extra plastic and just work with the die within.
FPGAs are somewhat the IPv6 of integrated circuits — they’ve been around longer than you might think, they let you do awesome things that people are intrigued by initially, but they’ve never really broke out of their niches until rather recently. There’s still a bit of a myth and mystery surrounding them, and as with any technology that has grown vastly in complexity over the years, it’s sometimes best to go back to its very beginning in order to understand it. Well, who’d be better at taking an extra close look at a chip than [Ken Shirriff], so in his latest endeavor, he reverse engineered the very first FPGA known to the world: the Xilinx XC2064.
If you ever wished for a breadboard-friendly FPGA, the XC2064 can scratch that itch, although with its modest 64 configurable logic blocks, there isn’t all that much else it can do — certainly not compared to even the smallest and cheapest of its modern successors. And that’s the beauty of this chip as a reverse engineering target, there’s nothing else than the core essence of an FPGA. After introducing the general concepts of FPGAs, [Ken] (who isn’t known to be too shy to decap a chip in order to look inside) continued in known manner with die pictures in order to map the internal components’ schematics to the actual silicon and to make sense of it all. His ultimate goal: to fully understand and dissect the XC2064’s bitstream.
Roll your negotiation skill, because this d20 is a hefty one. The Tweet is also below. We are charmed by [Greg Davill]’s twenty-sided LED contraption, but what do we call it? Is it a device? A sculpture? A die? Even though “d20” is right on his custom controller PCB, we don’t think this will grace the table at the next elf campaign since it is rather like taking a Rolls Royce to the grocery store. Our builder estimates the price tag at $350 USD and that includes twenty custom PCB light panels with their components, a controller board, one battery pack, and the 3D printed chassis that has to friction-fit the light faces.
Power and communication for all the panels rely on twenty ribbon cables daisy-chained throughout the printed scaffolding, which you can see in the picture above. [Greg] made a six-sided LED cube last year, and there are more details for it, but we suspect he learned his lesson about soldering thousands of lights by hand. There are one-hundred-twenty LEDs per panel, times twenty, that is over two-thousand blinkenlights. We don’t yet have specs on the controller, but last time he used a SAMD51 processor to support over three-thousand lights. We don’t know where he’ll go next, but we’re game if he wants to make a chandelier for Hackaday’s secret underground lair.
(Editor’s Note: If you were at Supercon last year, and you got to play with this thing in the flesh, it’s worth it!)