Let Slip The Chips Of War

We’re going to go out on a limb and predict that future history books will note that the decision to invade a sovereign nation straight after a worldwide pandemic wasn’t exactly the best timing. Turns out the global electronics shortage the pandemic helped to catalyze isn’t just affecting those of us with peaceful intentions, as the Russian war machine is having a few supply issues with the parts needed to build modern weapons and their associated control equipment.

As you might expect, many of these parts are electronic in nature, and in some cases they come from the same suppliers folks like us use daily. This article from POLITICO includes an embedded spreadsheet, broken down by urgency, complete with part numbers, manufacturers, and even the price Moscow expects to pay!

Chips from US-based firms such as Texas Instruments are particularly hard for the Kremlin to source.

So what parts are we talking about anyway? The cheapest chip on the top priority list is the Marvell ‘Alaska’ 88E1322 which is a dual Gigabit Ethernet PHY costing a mere $7.10 USD according to Moscow. The most expensive is the 10M04DCF256I7G, which is an Altera (now Intel) Max-10 series FPGA, at $1,101 USD (or 66,815 Rubles, for those keeping score).

But it’s not just chips that are troubling them, mil-spec D-sub connectors by Airborn are unobtainable, as are all classes of basic passive parts, resistors, diodes, discrete transistors. Capacitors are especially problematic (aren’t they always). A whole slew of Analog Devices chips, as well as many from Maxim, Micrel and others. Even tiny logic chips from Nexperia.

Of course, part of this is by design. Tightened sanctions prevent Russia from purchasing many of these parts directly, which is intended to make continued aggression as economically unpleasant as possible. But as the POLITICO article points out, it’s difficult to prevent┬ásome intermediaries from ‘helping out’ without the West knowing. After all, once a part hits the general market, it is next to impossible to guarantee where it will eventually get soldered down.

Thanks to [Kim Tae] for the tip!

Companies Rumored To Harvest Washing Machines For ICs

Wired and SCMP are reporting on interesting trivia from the realm of chip shortages. Apparently, some large conglomerate out there is buying new washing machines and scavenging the chips they can’t obtain otherwise. My imagination pictures skilled engineers in a production room, heavy-duty electric screwdrivers and desoldering toolkits on the floor next to them, and a half-torn-down washing machine about to reveal its control board with an STM32 right in the middle. This might not be the most skilled job, but it’s a change of pace, and hey, as long as the rate stays the same?

Whichever company is doing this, they’re in a conundrum for sure. One of the articles offers an example of a $350,000 spectrometer manufacturing being stalled by lack of a $0.50 part – while this feels exaggerated, it’s within the realm of possibility. For car manufacturers, the difference isn’t as dire, but still severe enough, and not meeting the production targets has ramifications other than the financial ones. It might indeed make sense to buy a $150 washing machine in order to finally be able to move a $30,000 car off the assembly line.
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Hackaday Links: May 16, 2021

With the successful arrival of China’s first Mars lander and rover this week, and the relatively recent addition of NASA’s Perseverance rover and its little helicopter sidekick Ingenuity, Mars has collected a lot of new hardware lately. But while the new kids on the block are getting all the attention, spare a thought for the reliable old warhorse which has been plying Gale Crater for the better part of a decade now — Curiosity. NASA has been driving the compact-car-sized rover around Mars for a long time now, long enough to rack up some pretty severe damage to its six highly engineered wheels, thanks to the brutal Martian rocks. But if you think Curiosity will get sidelined as its wheels degrade, think again — the rover’s operators have a plan to continue surface operations that includes ripping off its own wheels if necessary. It’s a complex operation that would require positioning the wheel over a suitable rock and twisting with the steering motor to peel off the outer section of the wheel, leaving a rim to drive around on. JPL has already practiced it, but they predict it won’t be necessary until 2034 or so. Now that’s thinking ahead.

With all the upheaval caused by the ongoing and worsening semiconductor shortage, it might seem natural to expect that manufacturers are responding to market forces by building new fabs to ramp up production. And while there seems to be at least some movement in that direction, we stumbled across an article that seems to give the lie to the thought that we can build our way out of the crisis. It’s a sobering assessment, to say the least; the essence of the argument is that 20 years ago or so, foundries thought that everyone would switch to the new 300-mm wafers, leaving manufacturing based on 200-mm silicon wafers behind. But the opposite happened, and demand for chips coming from the older 200-mm wafers, including a lot of the chips used in cars and trucks, skyrocketed. So more fabs were built for the 200-mm wafers, leaving relatively fewer fabs capable of building the chips that the current generation of phones, IoT appliances, and 5G gear demand. Add to all that the fact that it takes a long time and a lot of money to build new fabs, and you’ve got the makings of a crisis that won’t be solved anytime soon.

From not enough components to too many: the Adafruit blog has a short item about XScomponent, an online marketplace for listing your excess inventory of electronic components for sale. If you perhaps ordered a reel of caps when you only needed a dozen, or if the project you thought was a done deal got canceled after all the parts were ordered, this might be just the thing for you. Most items offered appear to have a large minimum quantity requirement, so it’s probably not going to be a place to pick up a few odd parts to finish a build, but it’s still an interesting look at where the market is heading.

Speaking of learning from the marketplace, if you’re curious about what brands and models of hard drives hold up best in the long run, you could do worse than to look over real-world results from a known torturer of hard drives. Cloud storage concern Backblaze has published their analysis of the reliability of the over 175,000 drives they have installed in their data centers, and there’s a ton of data to pick through. The overall reliability of these drives, which are thrashing about almost endlessly, is pretty impressive: the annualized failure rate of the whole fleet is only 0.85%. They’ve also got an interesting comparison of HDDs and SSDs; Backblaze only uses solid-state disks for boot drives and for logging and such, so they don’t get quite the same level of thrash as drives containing customer data. But the annualized failure rate of boot SDDs is much lower than that of HDDs used in the same role. They slice and dice their data in a lot of fun and revealing ways, including by specific brand and model of drive, so check it out if you’re looking to buy soon.

And finally, you know that throbbing feeling you get in your head when you’re having one of those days? Well, it turns out that whether you can feel it or not, you’re having one of those days every day. Using a new technique called “3D Amplified Magnetic Resonance Imaging”, or 3D aMRI, researchers have made cool new videos that show the brain pulsating in time to the blood flowing through it. The motion is exaggerated by the imaging process, which is good because it sure looks like the brain swells enough with each pulse to crack your skull open, a feeling which every migraine sufferer can relate to. This reminds us a bit of those techniques that use special algorithms to detects a person’s heartbeat from a video by looking for the slight but periodic skin changes that occurs as blood rushes into the capillaries. It’s also interesting that when we spied this item, we were sitting with crossed legs, watching our upper leg bounce slightly in time with our pulse.

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