Electronic Design
What Electronics Gear Have You Repaired Lately?

What Electronics Gear Have You Repaired Lately?

Bill Baumann, publisher of this magazine and the entire Penton Electronics Group, told me a fascinating story recently. On one of his business trips to China, a colleague of his brought along a bunch of broken gadgets like MP3 players, portable game players, and cell phones.

Bill wondered what his colleague was going to do with them. He found out when the guy brought the devices to a repair shop in Shenzhen—and all of the gadgets were fixed in a matter of hours at a very reasonable price.


If Bill B.’s story isn’t funny enough, I was reading through Bill Wong’s article on the teardown of the new Apple iPad (see “Inside The Apple iPad”). In the article, he comments on an iPad teardown from a company called Chipworks (www.chipworks.com). But the article also contains a link to another iPad teardown by a company called iFixit (http://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/iPad-Teardown/2183/1).

Wong says that Chipworks collaborated with iFixit on the teardown. At first glance, the iFixit teardown as presented on the company’s Web site seems to be just another teardown. But as I read through the article, I found a reference to an iPad repair manual and saw a few repair-type icons. What’s going on here? Is iFixit telling people how to repair a device as complex as an iPad?

That certainly is the case. In fact, when I looked at the iFixit home page, a statement said that on April 22, iFixit will change repair forever. Sitting right over those words was a picture of the iPad. I think you get the picture.

I’m no stranger to electronics repair. In a former job, I was editor-in-chief of a product called the Electronics Repair Manual. That led to a book deal for four books on the repair of VCRs, computer monitors, camcorders, and projection TVs. I wrote these books with a colleague of mine who owned a TV repair shop in the late 1990s. But even with that background, I don’t think I would attempt to pop open an iPad that was on the fritz.

Although electronics engineering is a creative profession, there’s also the drive to know what went wrong. At the highest level, engineers are debugging their own or another engineer’s design with sophisticated test equipment to find out why the prototype isn’t working as expected. But there’s also the engineer who pokes around a TV, DVD player, or other such electronics with a digital multimeter (DMM) to find out why the finished product that once worked is no longer working.

That type of poking and prying seemed to me to be from a bygone era, though. Yes, you could still try to repair older equipment, but not modern electronics, and especially not devices like cell phones and iPads. Obviously, I’m wrong. The drive to fix something that was once working fine still seems to be alive and well in today’s engineers, technicians, and electronics enthusiasts.


When Bill Wong wrote his article, he mainly referenced the Chipworks and iFixit teardowns. Since that time, iSuppli has announced its own iPad teardown and Chipworks has announced more details about the Apple A4 chip from the iPad.

iSuppli commented that with almost 44% of its bill-of-materials (BOM) ($109.50) dedicated to the display, touchscreen, and other user interface components, the iPad represents a radical departure in electronic design compared to conventional products. The complete report is at www.isuppli.com/Pages/The-Complete-Analysis-Apple-iPad-Teardown.aspx.

Chipworks confirms the A4 is manufactured by Samsung in its 45-nm process. “The A4 chip is 7.3 by 7.3 mm, giving a die area of 53.3 mm2, which is almost 23% bigger than the iPod 3G processor,” says Dick James, senior technology analyst for Chipworks.

“There is clearly more processing power in the A4. Some of this is likely taken up by the 64-bit memory path that the A4 uses to speed up the response time of the system. But until we get a detailed floor plan, we will not be able to say for sure what else is in there,” James continues. The full report on the A4 is at www.chipworks.com/A4_is_Samsung_45nm.aspx.

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