iPad 2 To Face Acid Bath, Grinder, Electron Microscope

Posted 5 March 2011 by
Water tortureImage via Wikipedia

Next Friday, it’s safe to say, Kyle Wiens isn’t just going to void the warranty on his new iPad. He’s going to be abuse it in ways that make the events portrayed in 1980’s “Cannibal Holocaust” look like a three-way tickle fight between the Smurfs, the Muppets, and the Wiggles.

Within hours, he’ll know who is supplying the new device’s flash memory, who is building its batteries, suss out the origin of the device’s communications chips, and confirm — for good — a fact thatApple won’t officially disclose: how much random-access memory the new device contains.

This might go easy, or it might go hard. It all depends on how tightly the 1.3-pound waif of a device plans to hold onto its secrets. But give them up it will, Wiens, the Chief Executive of iFixit promises. iFixit is all about helping its customers fix their consumer electronics, and to do that, Wiens has to first find out exactly how they’re put together. And he plans to do that with Apple’s new device within hours of its release March 11.

It might get a little messy though. An Apple employee told me at the company’s launch even that the new device had double the memory of the old iPad, a fact that’s not included on Apple’s spec sheet. Nor is it one Apple’s press people would confirm. So it’s quite possible Wiens won’t be able to discern how much memory the device has by simply looking at the part number on the chip inside the iPad. Apple has blurred them out in the past, Weins says. With a little luck, though, he’ll be able to load up a bit of software onn the machine that will get him an answer.

If that doesn’t work, though, Weins will have to get a little medieval. It could be tricky, since the memory is most likely integrated into Apple’s A5 system-on-a-chip. If so, he’ll have to dip the chip in acid, to remove its ceramic skin. Then he’ll grind his way through the chip, removing tens of thousands of an inch of its body at a time.

And that should reveal more than just how much memory Apple’s little device carries. Wiens will be able to use an electron microscope to look at the characteristics of how the silicon is constructed. Apple relies on contract manufacturers for its processors. Each manufacturer, however, has its own signature. Wiens should be able to determine who built Apple’s chip.

The answer might bring to light a new wrinkle in the dangerous arrangement Apple has with Samsung. In the past, Apple has relied on Samsung to build its processors. There’s a strong chance it is using the Korean conglomerate’s chip fabrication plants once more. Yet Samsung is one of Apple’s biggest competitors, building not just a range of smart phones and computers, but a tablet computer as well.

“There’s a lot at stake here, and I think Samsung is a much more scary competitor to Apple than anyone realizes,” Wiens says. People say Apple is integrated because it designs its own processors, Wiens notes. Well Samsung designs and builds its own processors, its own displays, and its own devices, something Apple doesn’t do.

The only missing piece for Samsung: Apple’s software prowess. “If I were them,” Wiens says. “I would start building a top notch software design team.” Of course, Apple might slip its chips away from Samsung first.

Unfortunately for one little iPad 2 there will be no escape next week from Kyle Wiens.

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