Steady Hand Repurposes Cheap SSD Modules

For hackers, cheap (and arguably disposable) consumer hardware makes for a ready supply of free or low-cost components. When you can walk into a big box store and pick up a new low-end laptop for $150, how many are going to spend the money to repair or upgrade the one they have now? So the old ones go to the bin, or get sold online for parts. From an ecological standpoint our disposable society is terrible, but at least we get some tech bargains out of the deal.

Case in point, the dirt cheap 32 GB eMMC SSDs [Jason Gin] recently scored. Used by Hewlett Packard on their line of budget laptops, he was able to snap up some of these custom drives for only $12 each. Only problem was, since they were designed for a very specific market and use case, they aren’t exactly the kind of thing you can just slap in your computer’s drive bay. He had to do some reverse engineering to figure out how to talk to them, and then some impressive fine-pitch soldering to get them plugged in, but in the end he got some very handy drives for an exceptionally low price.

[Jason] starts by figuring out the drive’s pinout using the cornerstone of the hacker’s electronic toolkit: the multimeter. By putting one lead on an obvious ground point such as the PCB’s screw holes, you can work through the pins on the connector and make some educated guesses as to what’s what. Ground pins will read as a short, but the meter should read power and data pins as a forward-biased diode. With a rough idea of the pin’s identities and some luck, he was able to figure out that it was basically a standard SATA connection in a different form factor.

To actually hook it up to his computer, he pulled the PCB off of a dead SATA hard drive, cut it down to size, and was able to use fine magnet wire to attach the conductors in the drive’s ribbon cable to the appropriate pads. He sealed everything up with a healthy dose of hot glue to make sure it didn’t pull loose, and then ran some drive diagnostics on his cobbled together SSD to make sure it was behaving properly. [Jason] reports the drive isn’t exactly a speed demon, but given the low cost and decent performance he still thinks it’s worth the work to use them for testing out different operating systems and the like.

[Jason] seems to have something of an obsession with eMMC hacking. Last time we heard from him, he was bringing a cheap Windows tablet back from the dead by replacing its shot eMMC chip.

Reverse Engineering CMOS

ICs have certainly changed electronics, but how much do you really know about how they are built on the inside? While decapsulating and studying a modern CPU with 14 nanometer geometry is probably not a great first project, a simple 54HC00 logic gate is much larger and much easier to analyze, even at low magnification. [Robert Baruch] took a die image of the chip and worked out what was going on, and shares his analysis in a recent video. You can see that video, below.

The CMOS structures are simple because a MOSFET is so simple to make on an IC die. The single layer of aluminum conductors also makes things simple.

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Listen To A Song Made From Custom Nintendo LABO Waveform Cards

[Hunter Irving] has been busy with the Nintendo LABO’s piano for the Nintendo Switch. In particular he’s been very busy creating his own custom waveform cards, which greatly expands the capabilities of the hackable cardboard contraption. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we covered his original method of creating 3D printed waveform cards that are compatible with the piano, but he’s taken his work further since then. Not only has he created new and more complex cards by sampling instruments from Super Nintendo games, he’s even experimented with cards based on vowel sounds in an effort to see just how far things can go. By layering the right vowel sounds just so, he was able to make the (barely identifiable) phrases I-LIKE-YOU, YOU-LIKE-ME, and LET’S-A-GO.

Those three phrases make up the (vaguely recognizable) lyrics of a song he composed using his custom waveform cards for the Nintendo LABO’s piano, appropriately titled I Like You. The song is at the 6:26 mark in the video embedded below, but the whole video is worth a watch to catch up on [Hunter]’s work. The song is also hosted on soundcloud.

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Ken Shirriff Chats About a Whole World of Chip Decapping

Reverse engineering silicon is a dark art, and when you’re just starting off it’s best to stick to the lesser incantations, curses, and hexes. Hackaday caught up with Ken Shirriff at last year’s Supercon for a chat about the chip decapping and reverse engineering scene. His suggestion is to start with an old friend: the 555 timer.

Ken is well-known for his work photographing the silicon die at the heart of an Integrated Circuit (IC) and mapping out the structures to create a schematic of the circuit. We’re looking forward to Ken’s talk in just a few weeks at the Hackaday Superconference. Get a taste of it in the interview video below.

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Source Of Evil – A Botnet Code Collection

In case you’re looking for a variety of IRC client implementations, or always wondered how botnets and other malware looks on the inside, [maestron] has just the right thing for you. After years of searching and gathering the source code of hundreds of real-world botnets, he’s now published them on GitHub.

With C++ being the dominant language in the collection, you will also find sources in C, PHP, BASIC, Pascal, the occasional assembler, and even Java. And if you want to consider the psychological aspect of it, who knows, seeing their malicious creations in their rawest form might even give you a glimpse into the mind of their authors.

These sources are of course for educational purposes only, and it should go without saying that you probably wouldn’t want to experiment with them outside a controlled environment. But in case you do take a closer look at them and are someone who generally likes to get things in order, [maestron] is actually looking for ideas how to properly sort and organize the collection. And if you’re more into old school viruses, and want to see them run in a safe environment, there’s always the malware museum.

Recreating The Amiga 1200 PCB from Pictures

In the past we’ve talked about one of the major downsides of working with vintage computer hardware, which of course is the fact you’re working with vintage computer hardware. The reality is that these machines were never designed to be up and running 20, 30, or even 40-odd years after they were manufactured. Components degrade and fail, and eventually you’re going to need to either find some way to keep your favorite classic computer up and running or relegate it to becoming a display piece on the shelf.

If you’re like [John Hertell], you take the former option. Knowing that many an Amiga 1200 has gone to that great retrocomputing museum in the sky due to corroded PCBs, he decided to recreate the design from scans of an unpopulated board. While he was at it, he tacked on a few modern fixes and enhancements, earning his new project the moniker: “Re-Amiga 1200”.

To create this updated PCB, [John] took high quality scans of an original board and loaded them up into Sprint Layout, which allows you to freely draw your PCB design over the top of an existing image. While he admits the software isn’t ideal for new designs, the fact that he could literally trace the scan of the original board made it the ideal choice for this particular task.

After the base board was recreated in digital form, the next step was to improve on it. Parts which are now EOL and hard to come by got deleted in place of modern alternatives, power traces were made thicker, extra fan connectors were added, and of course he couldn’t miss the opportunity to add some additional status blinkenlights. [John] has released his Gerber files as well as a complete BOM if you want to make your own Re-Amiga, and says he’ll also be selling PCBs if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting them fabricated.

It seems as if Amiga fans never say never, as this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one brought back from the brink of extinction by way of a modernized motherboard. Whatever it takes to keep the vintage computing dream alive.

[Thanks to Anders for the tip.]

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How The 8087 Coprocessor Got Its Bias

Most of us have been there. You build a device but realize you need two or more voltages. You could hook up multiple power supplies but that can be inconvenient and just not elegant. Alternatively, you can do something in the device itself to create the extra voltages starting with just one. When [Ken Shirriff] decapped an 8087 coprocessor to begin exploring it, he found it had that very problem. It needed: +5 V, a ground, and an additional -5 V.

His exploration starts with a smoking gun. After decapping the chip and counting out all the bond wires going to the various pads, he saw there was one too many. It wasn’t hard to see that the extra wire went to the chip’s substrate itself. This was for providing a negative bias to the substrate, something done in some high-performance chips to get increased speed, a more predictable transistor threshold voltage, and to reduce leakage current. Examining where the bond wire went to in the circuitry he found the two charge pump circuits shown in the banner image. Those worked in alternating fashion to supply a -5 V bias to the substrate, or rather around -3 V when you take into account voltage drops. Of course, he also explains the circuits and dives in deeper, including showing how the oscillations are provided to make the charge pumps work.

If this is anything like [Ken’s] previous explorations, it’ll be the first of a series of posts exploring the 8087. At least that’s what we hope given how he’d previously delighted us with a reverse engineering of the 76477 sound effects chip used in Space Invaders and then went deeper to talk about integrated injection logic (I2L) as used in parts of the chip.