What’s Inside that New Mac Mini Anyway?

It’s been four long years since Apple has refreshed their entry-level desktop line. Those that have been waiting for a redesign of the Mac Mini can now collectively exhale as the Late 2018 edition has officially been released. Thanks to [iFixit] we have a clearer view of what’s changed in the new model as they posted a complete teardown of the Mac Mini over on their website.

Mac Mini Teardown Late 2018 RAM Slots

One of the most welcomed changes is that the DDR4 RAM is actually user upgradeable this time around. Previously RAM was soldered directly to the motherboard, and there were no SO-DIMM slots to speak of. The 2018 Mac Mini’s RAM has also been doubled to 8GB compared to the 4GB in the 2014 model. Storage capacity may have taken a hit in the redesign, but the inclusion of a 128GB PCIe SSD in the base model fairs better than the 500GB HDD of old. The number of ports were flip-flopped between the two model generations with the 2018 Mini featuring four Thunderbolt ports along with two USB 3.0 ports. Though the biggest upgrade lies with the CPU. The base 2018 Mac Mini comes with a 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 as compared to the 2014’s 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5.

Although Apple lacked “the courage” to drop the 3.5mm headphone jack this time around, they did retain the same footprint for Mac Mini redesign. It still provides HDMI as the default display out port, although the additional Thunderbolt ports provide additional options via an adapter. A quick overview of the spec differences between the 2018 and 2014 base Mac Mini models have been summarized below.

Model 2018 Mac Mini 2014 Mac Mini
CPU 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Storage 128GB PCIe SSD 500GB HDD
RAM 8GB DDR4 @ 2666MHz 4GB DDR3 @ 1600MHz
Graphics Intel UHD 630 Intel HD 5000
Ports Thunderbolt 3 (x4), USB 3.0 (x2) Thunderbolt 2 (x2), USB 3.0 (x4)
Card Slot N/A SDXC
WiFi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
Audio 3.5mm Headphone Jack 3.5mm Headphone Jack
Video HDMI HDMI
Price from $799 from $499

Source [MacWorld]

Fixing a Crazy Expensive Spectrum Analyser, With Solder

It used to be a spectrum analyzer was an exotic piece of gear. However, these days it is pretty common for a scope to have some ability to do the job — that is, plot amplitude versus frequency. However, a dedicated commercial product will usually have a lot more bandwidth and other features. [Signal Path] picked up an Anrtitsu 7.1 GHz portable spectrum analyzer. An expensive bit of kit — anywhere from around $4,000 to $8,000 on eBay — if it is working, but this one was not. It needed power, but it was also missing the internal flash card that the device uses to boot.

Being portable, there’s a lot of digital and RF electronics crammed into a very small space. The initial tear down didn’t look very interesting because it was mostly an RF shield. However, many tiny screws later, you can finally see the actual electronics.

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Teardown of a (Relatively) Cheap Thermal Camera

The cost of tools and test equipment has largely been on the downward trend for years, making it now more affordable than ever to get into the hacking and making scene. This is particularly visible with something like the venerable oscilloscope: a piece of equipment that was near unobtainium for the home hacker a decade ago, you can now get digital pocket scope for as little as $20 USD. But there are still pieces of gear which haven’t quite hit the sort of prices we’d like to see.

A perfect example are thermal imaging cameras. The cheap ones are usually so low resolution they might as well just be thermometers, but the higher resolution ones can cost thousands. [Rob Scott] recently wrote in to tell us about a very promising middle ground, the HTI HT-A1. But he didn’t just point it out to us, he also tore it down and laid its internal’s bare for our entertainment. Now that’s our kind of introduction.

[Rob] walks us through the disassembly of the device, which is made unnecessarily difficult due to the fact that half the screws are hidden under a glued on screen bezel. That means a heat gun, a thin tool, and patience are in order if you want to get inside the device. It’s bad enough they use these kinds of construction techniques on modern smartphones, but at least they’re so thin that we can understand the reasoning. Why this chunky thing needs to resort to such measures is beyond us.

Eventually he cracks the HT-A1 open and is greeted with a single double-sided PCB. The top side is pretty much bare except for the buttons and the LCD display, and the flip side is largely just a breakout for a quad-core Allwinner A33 daughterboard. [Rob] theorizes this is to keep costs down by allowing reuse of the modular A33 board on other devices. Given the A33’s use in so many cheap tablets, it’s also possible HTI simply purchased these daughterboards as a drop-in component and designed their own board around it.

There’s not much else inside the HT-A1 beyond the rechargeable battery pack and thermal camera, both attached to the device’s rear panel. [Rob] noticed that the date on the thermal camera PCB is a full two years older than the date on the main PCB, leading one to wonder if HTI might have gotten a good deal on a bunch of these slightly outdated sensors and spun up a whole device around them.

The HT-A1 is high enough resolution that you can actually pick out individual components on a PCB, and at $400 USD is approaching a reasonable price point for the individual hacker. Which is not to say it’s cheap, but at least you get a useful tool for your money. We wouldn’t suggest you buy this device on a whim, but if you do a lot of diagnostic work, it might pay for itself after a couple repairs.

If that’s still a little too rich for your blood, we’ve covered a handful of DIY options which might better fit your budget.

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Lessons in Disposable Design from a Cheap Blinky Ball

Planned obsolescence, as annoying as it is when you’re its victim, still has to be admired. You can’t help but stand in awe of the designer who somehow managed to optimize a product to live one day longer than its warranty period. Seriously, why is it always the next day?

The design of products that are never intended to live long enough to go obsolete must be similarly challenging, and [electronupdate] did a teardown of a cheap LED blinky toy to see what’s involved. You’ve no doubt seen these seizure-triggering silicone balls before, mostly at checkout counters and the like where they’re sold at prices many hundreds of times what it took to make them. This particular device, which seems representative of the species, has two bright LEDs, a small controller chip, a trio of button cells for power, and a springy switch to activate it. All this is mounted to a cheap scrap of phenolic resin PCB, with the controller chip and one of the LEDs covered by a blob of clear epoxy.

This teardown one-ups most others, as [electronupdate] disrobes the chip and points a microscope at the die; the video below shows just how few transistors are employed and proposes a likely circuit. Everything about this ball just oozes cheapness, and it’s likely these things cost essentially nothing to build. Which makes sense for something destined for the landfill within a week or so.

Yes, this annoying blinky-thing is low-end garbage, but there are still design lessons to be learned from it. Anything that’s built for a broad market has to be built to a price point, and understanding those constraints is important to understanding how planned obsolescence works.

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$3 Multimeter Teardown

[Diode Gone Wild] and his cat decided to see how a $3 meter worked inside. The meter was marked as a DT-830B and he already had an older one of the same model, and he wondered how they could afford to sell it — including shipping — for $3. You can see a video of his testing, teardown, and reverse engineering below.

What was odd is that despite having the same model number, the size of the meter was a bit different. When he opened the case to install a battery, he noticed the board didn’t look like it had fuses or components appropriate for the rated voltages. He decided the missing parts might be under the board and tested the meter.

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Teardown: Sony’s New Aibo goes Under the Knife

In a complete surprise, Sony has moved to release the latest version of their robotic dog series, Aibo, in North America. The device is already out in Japan, where there are a number of owner’s clubs that would rival any dedicated kennel club. Thanks to the [Robot Start] team, we now have a glimpse of what goes into making the robotic equivalent of man’s best friend in their teardown of an Aibo ERS-1000.

Sony Aibo Battery Removal

According to Yoshihiro of Robot Start, Aibo looks to be using a proprietary battery reminiscent of the Handycam camcorders. Those three gold contacts are used for charging on the rug shaped power base that Aibo will periodically return to in order to take a”nap”. There are a couple of square OLED screens behind those puppy dog eyes. They are full-color OLEDs somewhere in the one-inch ballpark. Between the screens is a capacitive touch sensor that wraps around to the top of the head that are also pressure sensitive. Sony Aibo Teardown OLED Eyes 2018

According to Sony’s press release, the fish-eye camera housed in Aibo’s snout is used to identify faces as well as navigating spaces.

Laying out all the major parts out together certainly drives home the complexity of the latest Aibo. It’ll be interesting to see the progression of this device as all of them come equipped with 4G LTE and 802.11 b/g/n WiFi that connect to Sony’s servers for deep learning.

Sony Aibo Teardown Complete 2018

New behaviors are supposed to download automatically as long as the device is under the subscription plan. While Sony has no current plans to integrate with any voice-activated virtual assistant, we can still look forward to the possibility of some expanded functionality from the Hackaday community.

 

For the rest of the teardown photos make sure to head over to [Yoshihiro]’s write up on Robot Start. Also just in case anybody cared to see what happens when the first generation Aibo ERS-111 from 1999 meets the 2018 Aibo ERS-1000, you’ll find the answer in the video below:

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Teardown: D50761 Aircraft Quick Access Recorder

Everyone’s heard of the “black box”. Officially known as the Flight Data Recorder (FDR), it’s a mandatory piece of equipment on commercial aircraft. The FDR is instrumental in investigating incidents or crashes, and is specifically designed to survive should the aircraft be destroyed. The search for the so-called “black box” often dominates the news cycle after the loss of a commercial aircraft; as finding it will almost certainly be necessary to determine the true cause of the accident. What you probably haven’t heard of is a Quick Access Recorder (QAR).

While it’s the best known, the FDR is not the only type of recording device used in aviation. The QAR could be thought of as the non-emergency alternative to the FDR. While retrieving data from the FDR usually means the worst has happened, the QAR is specifically designed to facilitate easy and regular access to flight data for research and maintenance purposes. Its data is stored on removable media and since the QAR is not expected to survive the loss of the aircraft it isn’t physically hardened. In fact, modern aircraft often use consumer-grade technology such as Compact Flash cards and USB flash drives as storage media in their QAR.

Through the wonders of eBay, I recently acquired a vintage Penny & Giles D50761 Quick Access Recorder. This was pulled out of an aircraft which had been in service with the now defunct airline, Air Toulouse International. Let’s crack open this relatively obscure piece of equipment and see just what goes into the hardware that airlines trust to help ensure their multi-million dollar aircraft are operating in peak condition.

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