iAutopsy: Getting to the bottom of gadgets from the inside out

Chipworks deconstructs iPhones and other gadgets to show how they work

Remember when you were a kid, and you just had to know how a toaster worked? You got out your dad’s screwdriver and went to work. And then when you tried to put it back together before someone wanted toast, there were always a few unidentifiable parts left over. No? Nobody else?

Well, I’m sure that same curiosity lives on in most of us about the gadgets we use every day, even if we all don’t act on it. That explains the popularity of sites such as Chipworks, whose staff actually gets to tear devices apart and report on what is making them tick.

I am so envious of these guys. When we test equipment here in the lab, we tend to stick to the limits of normal use. Since nearly all of the devices are on loan to us, we generally never get to go inside non-user-serviceable areas. The closest we come to that is when GCN Lab Director John Breeden is doing drop testing on mil-spec rugged devices and one fails spectacularly. But, alas, manufacturers have been making their stuff too sturdy these days, and we haven’t had that kind of excitement in quite a while.

The mobile device forensic analysts at Chipworks document every step of the process with photos and text. They go from opening the casing to analyzing the major chips on the mainboard. Everything is splayed out for the world to see, in a manner which no one who owns an iPhone 4 for personal use would ever dare to use. It really is a treat to see the handiwork of the Chipworks analysts.

These types of “autopsies” allow us to see what makes our favorite devices do the things they do, and why they do them so well — or not. Of course, now I have to make an effort to suppress the urge to open up every single product I am testing. My colleague in the GCN Lab, Trudy Walsh, has already hidden all of the screwdrivers for fear I’ll take to her new Droid.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.

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