Is That Part A Counterfeit? Here Are A Few Pointers

If you order an electronic component, how do you know what it is you are receiving? It has the right package and markings, but have you got the real thing from the original manufacturer or have you got an inferior counterfeit? We hear so much about counterfeit parts, and sometimes the level of effort put in by the fraudsters is so high that from either a visual or electrical standpoint they can be hard to spot.

[Robb Hammond] writes for Aeri, with an extremely interesting guide to some of the cues for spotting a counterfeit semiconductor part. In doing so he gives us something of an insight into the techniques used by the fraudsters.

The first feature of a package to be examined are the indents. Relabeled chips often have their old markings sanded off and a coating applied to simulate the surface of an unmolested chip, and this coating can either obliterate or partially fill any indentations. Using comparison photos we are shown discernable hidden indents, and partially filled indents.

We’re shown textures and paints, and how markings can sometimes be shown as counterfeit by washing with solvent. A Cypress-marked part is found to be a cheaper Altera one under the paint, and other parts are shown with misaligned markings and markings placed over indents. Wildly varying countries of origin are claimed while seemingly retaining the same batch codes, an impossibility confirmed by manufacturers.

If you order your parts from legitimate distributors then it’s likely that what you receive will be the genuine article. However with the popularity of online auction sites and online bazaars the possibility has become ever more likely of being left with a counterfeit. Knowing some of these tips might just make the difference between the success or failure of your work, so it’s an interesting read.

Have you had any dodgy parts on your bench? Tell us about them in the comments. Meanwhile, it’s a subject we’ve covered before.

Via Hacker News.

Fail of the Week: Cheap Chips Cause Chaos

We all know the old saw: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. But nowhere does this rule seem to break down as regularly as when we order parts. Banggood, AliExpress, and eBay are flooded with parts ready to be magically transported across the globe to our doorsteps, all at prices that seem to defy the laws of economics.

Most of these transactions go off without a hitch and we get exactly what we need to complete our Next Cool Thing. But it’s not always so smooth, as [Kerry Wong] recently discovered with an eBay order that resulted in some suspicious chips. [Kerry] ordered the AD633 analog multiplier chips as a follow-up to his recent Lorenz Attractor X-Y recorder project, where he used an Arduino to generate the chaotic butterfly’s data set as a demo for the vintage instrument. Challenged in the comments to do it again in analog, [Kerry] did his homework and found a circuit to make it happen. The needed multipliers were $10 a pop on DigiKey, so he sourced cheaper chips from eBay. The $2 chips seemed legit, with the Analog Devices logo and everything, but the circuit didn’t work. [Kerry]’s diagnosis in the video below is interesting, and it’s clear that the chips are fakes. Caveat emptor.

Here’s hoping that [Kerry] sources good chips soon and regales us with a successful build. Until then, what are your experiences with cheap chips? Have you been burned by overseas or domestic suppliers before? Does any single supplier seem like a better bet to you, or is it all hit or miss? Sound off in the comments below.

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Network Security Theatre

Summer is nearly here, and with that comes the preparations for the largest gathering of security researchers on the planet. In early August, researchers, geeks, nerds, and other extremely cool people will descend upon the high desert of Las Vegas, Nevada to discuss the vulnerabilities of software, the exploits of hardware, and the questionable activities of government entities. This is Black Hat and DEF CON, when taken together it’s the largest security conference on the planet.

These conferences serve a very important purpose. Unlike academia, security professionals don’t make a name for themselves by publishing in journals. The pecking order of the security world is determined at these talks. The best talks, and the best media coverage command higher consultancy fees. It’s an economy, and of course there will always be people ready to game the system.

Like academia, these talks are peer-reviewed. Press releases given before the talks are not, and between the knowledge of security researchers and the tech press is network security theatre. In this network security theatre, you don’t really need an interesting exploit, technique, or device, you just need to convince the right people you have one.

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Scrolling a Message on a Building in a Time Lapse Video

[Saulius Lukse] has a really interesting way of turning a couple of buildings into his own addressable display. The effect is not seen in real life, but is a clever video rendering with stock he pulled from time-lapse cameras. Now if you want to play Tetris using the windows of a building you add wireless lightbulbs to every window. But that’s a lot of work. You can fake playing Tetris (or scrolling messages in this case) if you just show a video of the buildings and swap in your own image manipulation.


[Saulius] starts with a time lapse sequence of a city scape. It needs to be one with a large building or two to provide a good scrolling surface. The building is extracted from the scene with the background transparent. The really time consuming part is creating a distinct image with one window lit for each window that is going to be used. This set of windows are the ‘pixels’ used to create the scrolling images. This is accomplished by masking out one image of the building with every office light turned off, then masking out each window individually with the office illuminated. This masking means everything going on around the building (traffic, weather, people) will be preserved, while the windows can be individually manipulated.

Next the program jinx is used to create the building animation. This program is designed to create scrolling messages on LED panels. [Saulius] provides a Python script that takes the images, the output of jinx, and combines them to create the final set of moving images.

The result is a city wishing you a “Happy New Year!”

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Deuterium Powered Homes and the Return of Cold Fusion Hype

We’ve been sent this press release claiming a new kind of fusion reaction that works at small scales using an incredibly exotic fuel material: ultra-dense deuterium. We looked into it with an open mind, and if we’re being kind we’ll conclude that there’s a ten-year long research project being undertaken by [Leif Holmlid], a single scientist whose claims would win him one or two Nobel prizes if any of it were true.

If we drop the kindness and approach it rationally, this doesn’t smell right and can’t be believed until it has been reliably reproduced by someone not associated with the original research. Let’s delve into the claim of Deuterium powered reactions, and circle around on the cold-fusion hype we found so sadly entertaining back in the ’90s.

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How Cheap Is Cheap?

The Nordic Semiconductor nRF24L01 is the older sibling of the nRF24L01+ and is not recommended for new designs anymore. Sometimes, if you’re looking for a cheaper bargain, the older chip may the way to go. [necromant] recently got hold of a bunch of cheap nrf24l01 modules. How cheap ? Does $0.55 sound cheap enough?

Someone back east worked out how to cost-optimize cheap modules and make them even cheaper. At that price, the modules would have severe performance limitations, if they worked at all. [necromant] decided to take a look under the hood. First off, there’s no QFN package on the modules. Instead they contain a COB (chip on board) embedded in black epoxy. [necromant] guesses it’s most likely one of those fake ASICs under the epoxy with more power consumption and less sensitivity. But there’s a step further you can go in making it cheaper. He compared the modules to the reference schematics, and found several key components missing. A critical current set resistor is missing (unless it’s hiding under the epoxy). And many of the components on the transmit side are missing – which means signal power would be nowhere near close to the original modules.

The big question is if they work or not ? In one test, the radio did not work at all. In a different setup, it worked, albeit with very low signal quality. If you are in Moscow, and have access to 2.4Ghz RF analysis tools, [necromant] would like to hear from you, so he can look at the guts of these modules.

Thanks to [Andrew] for sending in this tip.

Nordic NRF24L01+ – Real vs Fake

[zeptobars], the folks behind all the decapping hard work and amazing die shots are at it again. This time they decided to look under the hood of two identical looking Nordic nRF24L01+ chips.

The nRF24L01+ is a highly integrated, ultra low power (ULP) 2Mbps RF transceiver IC for the 2.4GHz ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) band. Popular, widely used and inexpensive – and the counterfeit foundries are drawn to it like honey bees to nectar. But to replicate and make it cheaper than the original, one needs to cut several corners. In this case, the fakes use 350nm technology, compared to 250nm in the original and have a larger die size too.

These differences mean the fakes likely have higher power usage and lower sensitivities, even though they are functionally identical. The foundry could have marked these devices as Si24R1, which is compatible with the nRF24L01 and no one would have been wiser. But the lure of higher profits was obviously too tempting. A look through Hackaday archives will dig up several posts about the work done by [zeptobars] in identifying fake semiconductors.