People don’t usually go as far as [Wenting Zhang] has – designing a new IDE SSD board for a portable x86 computer made in 2006. That said, it’s been jaw-dropping to witness the astounding amount of reverse-engineering and design effort being handwaved away.
The Benq S6 is a small MID (Miniaturized Internet Device) with an Atom CPU, an x86 machine in all but looks. Its non-standard SSD’s two gigabytes of storage, however, heavily limit the OS choice – Windows XP would hardly fit on there, and while a small Linux distro could manage better, it’s, and we quote, “not as exciting”. A lot of people would stop there and use an external drive, or a stack of adapters necessitating unsightly modifications to the case – [Wenting] went further and broke the “stack of adapters” stereotype into shards with his design journey.
Tracing quite a few complex multi-layer boards into a unified and working schematic is no mean feat, especially with the SSD PCB being a host to two BGA chips, and given the sheer amount of pins in the IDE interface of the laptop’s original drive. Even the requirement for the SSD to be initialized didn’t stop him – a short fight with the manufacturer’s software ensued, but was no match for [Wenting]’s skills. The end result is a drop-in replacement SSD even thinner than the stock one.
This project is well-documented for all of us to learn from! Source code and PCB files are on GitHub, and [Wenting] has covered the journey in three different places at once – on Hackaday.io, in a YouTube video embedded down below, and also on his Twitter in form of regular posts. Now, having seen this happen, we all have one less excuse to take up a project seemingly so complex.
Console launch season is upon us. A time for billion dollar corporations ingratiate themselves with “Johnny Consumer” by promising the future of entertainment is finally available to one-and-all. The focus of this new generation of consoles has been the battle for 4K supremacy between Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. Interestingly, Microsoft also created another iteration of their Xbox Series for those satisfied with games in 1080p, and thanks to [Dimitris] we have been able to see the internals of the Xbox Series S (XSS).
Microsoft’s choice to produce an all-digital console has greatly affected the internal design of the XSS. With the lack of a disc-drive there is only a single cable, the fan cable, tying the components together. The heat sink covering the 197mm² AMD APU takes up nearly 60% of the motherboard surface area. Though the XSS may be diminutive by modern console standards, its cooling fan is huge, somewhere in the 140 mm range. What little space is left by the heat sink and fan assembly is taken up by the internal power supply. As a fun nod, the PSU sports a Master Chief insignia to denote the location of the two-pronged connector beneath.
On the underside of the motherboard lies the biggest surprise of the “little brother” console. The system storage SSD is socketed rather than directly soldered to the board itself. The primary design goal of the XSS was to provide a cheaper alternative for players, but this standard m.2 slot reveals that Microsoft has plans for future expansion. This SSD, while not user-accessible in a traditional sense, will likely provide an alternative method to expanding storage outside of Microsoft’s proprietary external offerings. For a look at the teardown in process, [Dimitris’] video from his Modern Vintage Gamer YouTube channel is below.
It seems like just yesterday (maybe for some of you it was) we were installing Windows 3.1 off floppy drives onto a 256 MB hard drive, but hard drives have since gotten a lot bigger and a lot more complicated, and there are a lot more options than spinning platters.
The explosion of storage options is the result of addressing a variety of niches of use. The typical torrenter downloads a file, which is written once but read many times. For some people a drive is used as a backup that’s stored elsewhere and left unpowered. For others it is a server frequently reading and writing data like logs or swap files. In all cases it’s physics that sets the limits of what storage media can do; if you choose wisely for your use case you’ll get the bet performance.
The jargon in this realm is daunting: superparamagnetic limit, LMR, PMR, CMR, SMR, HAMR, MAMR, EAMR, XAMR, and QLC to name the most common. Let’s take a look at how we got here, and how the past and present of persistent storage have expanded what the word hard drive actually means and what is found under the hood.
Historically, booting a Raspberry Pi required an SD card. However, if you follow [tynick’s] instructions, you can get a Pi 4 to boot from the USB port. Combine it with a small solid state disk drive, and you’ll get great performance, according to his post.
The caveat is this depends on a beta bootloader and, of course, you’ll still have to boot from an SD card at least once to load that bootloader. If you were deploying something serious, you’d probably want to make sure the bootloader is suitable for your needs.
Expiration dates for computer drives? That’s what a line of HP solid-state drives are facing as the variable for their uptime counter is running out. When it does, the drive “expires” and, well, no more data storage for you!
There are a series of stages in the evolution of a software developer as they master their art, and one of those stages comes in understanding that while they may have a handle on the abstracted world presented by their development environment they perhaps haven’t considered the moments in which the real computer that lives behind it intrudes. Think of the first time you saw an SQL injection attack on a website, for example, or the moment you realised that a variable type is linked to the physical constraints of the number of memory locations it has reserved for it. So people who write software surround themselves with an armoury of things they watch out for as they code, and thus endeavour to produce software less likely to break. Firmly in that arena is the size of the variables you use and what will happen when that limit is reached.
Your Drive Is Good For About 3 Years And 9 Months
Sometimes though even developers that should know better get it wrong, and this week has brought an unfortunate example for the enterprise wing of the hardware giant HP. Their manufacturer has notified them that certain models of solid-state disk drives supplied in enterprise storage systems contain an unfortunate bug, in which they stop working after 32,768 hours of uptime. That’s a familiar number to anyone working with base-2 numbers and hints at a 16-bit signed integer in use to log the hours of uptime. When it rolls over the value will then be negative and, rather than the drive believing itself to be in a renewed flush of youth, it will instead stop working.
Egg on the faces of the storage company then, and an urgently-released patch. We suspect that if you own a stack of these drives you will already know about the issue and be nervously pacing the racks of your data centre.
The failed launch of Soyuz MS-10 on October 11th, 2018 was a notable event for a number of reasons: it was the first serious incident on a manned Soyuz rocket in 35 years, it was the first time that particular high-altitude abort had ever been attempted, and most importantly it ended with the rescue of both crew members. To say it was a historic event is something of an understatement. As a counterpoint to the Challenger disaster it will be looked back on for decades as proof that robust launch abort systems and rigorous training for all contingencies can save lives.
But even though the loss of MS-10 went as well as possibly could be expected, there’s still far reaching consequences for a missed flight to the International Space Station. The coming and going of visiting vehicles to the Station is a carefully orchestrated ballet, designed to fully utilize the up and down mass that each flight offers. Not only did the failure of MS-10 deprive the Station of two crew members and the experiments and supplies they were bringing with them, but also of a return trip which was to have brought various materials and hardware back to Earth.
But there’s been at least one positive side effect of the return cargo schedule being pushed back. The “Spaceborne Computer”, developed by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and NASA to test high-performance computing hardware in space, is getting an unexpected extension to its time on the Station. Launched in 2017, the diminutive 32 core supercomputer was only meant to perform self-tests and be brought back down for a full examination. But now that its ticket back home has been delayed for the foreseeable future, NASA is opening up the machine for other researchers to utilize, proving there’s no such thing as a free ride on the International Space Station.
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.