Status Update: Of Phones and Fire

Things might be on a bit of a hiatus for the next little while. My trusty Sony Xperia Z5 Compact literally went up in flames a few hours ago, and I need to find a replacement very soon, as well as recover any data that wasn’t saved to my SD card. Thankfully, apart from a sore throat and burning eyes from battery smoke, I am doing fine (as well as my house).

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My Sony Xperia Z5 Compact… after the lithium-ion battery fire.

Once things settle down, I’ll hopefully have a juicy story about lithium-ion battery fires and (failed) eMMC data recovery.

UPDATE (May 18, 2018): I upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy S9 a couple days ago. The eMMC chip I desoldered from the Z5 Compact is effectively bricked, as it only identifies itself but no data can be read – I suspect that the intense heat must have “baked” the NAND flash and result in too many uncorrectable bit errors that the firmware couldn’t recover from. There goes my progress in Angry Birds 2 (among other data)…

Tutorial: Recovering Cookie Clicker saves from an offline installation/backup of Google Chrome

Update (August 29, 2018): Turns out cleaning out your cookies/cache will erase your Cookie Clicker save. Who would’ve thought…

Cookie Clicker saves: You don’t realize the importance of saving your progress until you lose your save data. A few days ago I opened Chrome to my always-running instances of Cookie Clicker, but found that all of my progress was deleted (and it was showing a “Don’t forget to back up your save” message just to add insult to injury).

My heart sank when I realized that one of my runs, over three years old, had suddenly vanished into thin air. I tried restoring Google Chrome’s data via a Shadow Copy; no dice. I tried using my Windows Home Server 2011 backups, but realized that it would take over an hour to restore my Chrome folder. After much frustration, I decided to retrieve and examine Chrome’s Local Storage folder and see whether I could retrieve my save files that way – and it worked! Here’s how to recover your own Cookie Clicker saves…

Retrieving an older version of Google Chrome’s data folder

If you have Shadow Copy (aka Previous Versions) enabled, you may be in luck if the restore point(s) available have intact game save information. If you have an offline backup solution, that may be usable as well. If you have neither, you could try it on your current Chrome installation but your chances of recovery are much slimmer.

For Windows, Google Chrome’s default Local Storage folder located at: %USERPROFILE%\AppData\Local\Google\Chrome\User Data\Default\Local Storage

There will probably be a large number of files ending in .localstorage and .localstorage-journal – these are unlikely to contain your saves, and if they are present, they will be many months out of date; Google has begun storing websites’ local storage in a LevelDB database. The database in question is stored in a folder called leveldb.

If you are attempting to retrieve the data from a current Chrome installation, close Chrome before continuing.

Copy this “leveldb” folder to another (safe) location as to avoid any accidental overwrite of the database while trying to recover the game saves. Download and install the FastoNoSQL database browser software (it’s a trial, but for our purposes it will do just fine – just follow the registration instructions and you can whip up a temporary email address if you need to).

Browsing the LevelDB database

When FastoNoSQL is opened for the first time, the Connections window will appear. Click the “Add connection” button (it looks like a green button with a + symbol on it); even though we’re just browsing some database files, it’s considered to be a “connection” to the database. Select “LevelDB” and choose the folder that holds the “leveldb” folder that was previously copied.

Once the database is opened, note the number of database keys (in my case it was 1212), right-click the “default” database in the Explorer tree on the left-hand side of the FastoNoSQL window, and select “Load content of database”. Enter the number of keys previously noted into the “Keys count” field, then click OK.

In the “Search…” box, enter this text (select all the text in this box):

\\x5f\\x68\\x74\\x74\\x70\\x3a\\x2f\\x2f\\x6f\\x72\\x74\\x65\\x69\\x6c\\x2e\\x64\\x61\\x73\\x68\\x6e\\x65\\x74\\x2e\\x6f\\x72\\x67\\x00\\x01\\x43\\x6f\\x6f\\x6b\\x69\\x65\\x43\\x6c\\x69\\x63\\x6b\\x65\\x72\\x47\\x61\\x6d\\x65

This cryptic-looking text is a hexadecimal-escaped version of the string _http://orteil.dashnet.org, an SOH (Start of Header) character, and CookieClickerGame.

If your saves are found, you will see one or two entries, depending on whether or not the normal and/or Beta saves are present. The first entry will be the normal version of Cookie Clicker, and the second one, with a slightly longer key (ending in “\x42\x65\x74\x61”) is the for the Beta. Right-click the desired entry and choose “Edit…” to view the game save data. Copy the contents of the “Value” field into a text editor (Notepad, etc.), and delete the very first character before “Mi4w” – this is an SOH (Start of Header) character and we don’t need it to restore the game save. Save this text file so you have a backup of your game save, and import the file into Cookie Clicker (either by copy-pasting the text or using the “Load from file” button).

The game save should look like this (look for the bolded characters to ensure the game save data is intact):
Mi4wMDQ1fHwxNTI [... text omitted ...] OkwoDCgAR8%21END%21

If everything works out, your Cookie Clicker game save should be restored from the brink of destruction!

Completed: Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 6)

Looking for the teardown or how well the Kentli PH5 battery performs under load? Click the links to learn more.

It’s finally happened – the self-discharge test of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery has finally come to an end… and it only took almost 3 years!

 

april 29 2018 stats

Kentli PH5 self-discharge test statistics

Self-Discharge Rate

I never anticipated this test would run for so long; although the PH5 did not have a manufacturer-specified self-discharge rate, marketing materials suggested that the batteries had a storage life that was “3-5 times longer than Ni-MH batteries”. Wikipedia states that after one year, normal Ni-MH batteries lose about 50% of their capacity, and low-self-discharge (LSD) Ni-MH batteries lose 15-30%.

Correlating this with the data collected from the Texas Instruments bq27621-G1 fuel gauge, the battery lost 40% of its charge within one year, placing it in between the standard and LSD Ni-MH chemistries. Using Excel’s SLOPE() function, the self-discharge rate was calculated to be 0.10108%/day.

Experimental Improvements

There is some error in State of Charge measurement when using the bq27621 fuel gauge. As it uses the Impedance Track algorithm, open-circuit voltage is used to determine a battery’s state of charge upon gauge initialization. This OCV curve is chemistry-specific, with slightly different formulations requiring different chemistry ID codes. The bq27621 has a fixed Chemistry ID of 0x1202 (LiCoO2/LCO cathode, carbon anode), but experimental data revealed a better-matched Chemistry ID of 0x3107, 0x1224 or 0x0380; the first two chemistries pointed towards a LiMnO4/LMO cathode chemistry which I was somewhat skeptical of, but did not test further.

Using another gauge with a different, programmable Chemistry ID could have led to a straighter SoC curve. This wouldn’t be too difficult to reproduce, as the battery voltage can be fed to the gauge in order to recompute the state of charge. Additionally, the bq27621 has a Terminate Voltage of 3.2 volts (the gauge considers this voltage to be the point in which it reads 0% SoC), which is higher than the battery’s protection voltage of 2.4 volts (granted, there is very little charge difference in this area of the discharge curve).

My test setup was not temperature-controlled; I live in a house without air conditioning and room temperatures can vary from 15 to 35 degrees C (59 to 95 degrees F), depending on the season. However, I doubt that this would have had too much impact on discharge rate, and this would better represent real-life scenarios where a constant temperature may not necessarily be guaranteed.

Finally, this test was performed on a new, uncycled battery. I suspect the discharge rate would be significantly higher on an aged battery that was subject to a lot of charge cycles and day-to-day wear.

Conclusion

This was the longest-running experiment I’ve ever conducted on this blog. The Kentli PH5’s self-discharge rate lasts longer than a standard Ni-MH battery, but a LSD (low-self-discharge) Ni-MH battery would still last longer, albeit with a lower terminal voltage. The battery, when new, should be expected to last almost 3 years without a charge (although there won’t be any charge left by then); it will hold about 60% of its capacity after 1 year of storage.

To download a copy of the self-discharge test data, click here.

eMMC Adventures, Episode 2: Resurrecting a dead Intel Atom-based tablet by replacing failed eMMC storage

As seen on Hackaday!

Recently, I purchased a cheap Intel Atom-based Windows 8 tablet (the DigiLand DL801W) that was being sold at a very low price ($15 USD, although the shipping to Canada negated much of the savings) because it would not boot into Windows – rather, it would only boot into the UEFI shell and cannot be interacted with without an external USB keyboard/mouse.

The patient, er, tablet

The tablet in question is a DigiLand DL801W (identified as a Lightcomm DL801W in the UEFI/BIOS data). It uses an Intel Atom Z3735F – a 1.33GHz quad-core tablet SoC (system-on-chip), 16GB of eMMC storage and a paltry 1GB of DDR3L-1333 SDRAM. It sports a 4500 mAh single-cell Li-ion battery, an 8″ 800×1200 display, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi using an SDIO chipset, two cameras, one microphone, mono speaker, stereo headphone jack and a single micro-USB port with USB On-The-Go support (this allows the port to act as a USB host port, allowing connections with standard USB devices like keyboards, mice, and USB drives).

Step 1: Triage & troubleshooting

The first step was to power on the tablet to get an initial glimpse into the issues preventing the tablet from booting. I was able to confirm that the eMMC was detected, but did not appear to have any valid MBR or file system; therefore, the UEFI firmware defaulted to entering the UEFI shell (which was of little use on its own as there is no on-screen keyboard available for it).

DSC_2191

DigiLand DL801W with UEFI shell

However, one can immediately notice there is an issue with the shell: how do you enter commands without an on-screen keyboard? The solution was to use a USB OTG (On-The-Go) dongle to convert the micro-USB type B port into a USB type A host port.

Using the shell commands, I tried reading the contents of the boot sector, which should end with an MBR signature of 0x55AA. Instead, the eMMC returned some nonsensical data: the first half of the sector had a repeating byte pattern of 0x10000700,  and the second half was all zeroes (0x00) except the last 16 bytes which were all ones (0xFF). The kicker was that this data was returned for every sector I tried to read. No wonder the eMMC was unbootable – the eMMC had suffered logical damage and the firmware was not functioning correctly.

After creating a 32-bit Windows 10 setup USB drive (these cheap low-RAM PCs often use a 32-bit UEFI despite having a 64-bit capable CPU), I opened Hard Disk Sentinel to take a deeper look at the condition of the onboard eMMC.

DSC_2198

Malfunctioning Foresee 16GB eMMC visible in Hard Disk Sentinel

The eMMC identified itself with a vendor ID of 0x65, and an MMC name of “M”. It reported a capacity of 7.2 GB instead of the normal 16 GB, another sign that the eMMC was corrupted at the firmware level.

DSC_2199

Foresee 16GB eMMC returning corrupted data

Using HDS, I performed a read scan of the entire eMMC despite its failed condition. The read speeds were mostly consistent, staying between 40 to 43 MB/s. A random read test revealed a consistent latency of 0.22 ms.

In order to assess whether the eMMC was writable in its current state, I ran a zero-fill and subsequent read scan. The eMMC appeared to accept writes but did not actually commit them, as HDS threw verification errors for all sectors.

After the tests in HDS, I decided to attempt an installation onto the eMMC to assess its writability. Windows Setup failed to create the disk partition structures, throwing an error message reading “We couldn’t create a new partition or locate an existing one”.

Step 2: Teardown & eMMC replacement

Since the onboard Foresee NCEMBS99-16G eMMC module was conclusively determined to be faulty, there was no point keeping it on the tablet’s motherboard. This also provided an opportunity to upgrade the eMMC to a a larger and faster one. Since this required the tablet to be disassembled, I decided to do a teardown of the tablet before attempting to replace the failed eMMC module (the teardown will be in a separate blog post when the time comes).

After removing the insulating plastic tape on the bottom of the PCB, I masked off the eMMC with some kapton tape to protect the other components and connectors from the heat of my hot-air rework station. With some hot air and patience, the failed Foresee eMMC was gone. This also revealed that the eMMC footprint supported both the 11.5×13 mm and 12×16 mm sizes, but the 12×16 mm footprint did not have the extra 16 solder balls for reinforcement (most eMMC balls are unused so their omission had no negative functional effect).

DSC_2215

Foresee eMMC removed from DL801W’s motherboard

Instead of a barely-usable 16 GB of eMMC storage, I opted to use the Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 – a 32 GB eMMC 5.0 module. This chip boasts more than 2000 IOPS for 4K random I/O, which should be a boon for OS and application responsiveness.

DSC_2219

Replacement Samsung KLMBG4GEND-B031 eMMC installed

A little flux and hot air was all I needed to give the 32 GB eMMC a new home. Time to reassemble the tablet and try installing Windows 10 again.

Step 3: OS reinstallation

After spending a few minutes cleaning the board and reinstalling it in the tablet, it was time to power the tablet back on, confirm the presence of the new eMMC and reattempt installing Windows.

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Installing Windows 10 from USB drive via USB-OTG adapter

The eMMC replacement proved to be successful; within minutes, I was off to the races with a clean installation of Windows 10.

Conclusion

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DL801W restored, running Texas Instruments’ bqSTUDIO software

This was a pretty fun project. With some electronics and computer troubleshooting skills, I had a tablet capable of running desktop Windows programs. Its low power consumption and USB host capabilities made for a great platform to run my Texas Instruments battery hardware and software without being tethered to my desktop.

However, I was not finished with this tablet. The 1 GB of onboard RAM made Windows painfully slow to use, as the CPU was constantly bogged down performing memory compression/decompression. The 32GB of eMMC storage I initially installed began feeling cramped, so I moved to a roomier 64GB (then 128GB) eMMC.

I won’t go into the details of how I upgraded the RAM in this post, as it’s a long story; simply put, soldering the RAM ICs was the easy part.

WordAds Adventures, Episode 3

Another month has passed and that means another round of ad revenue trickling in.

Results for January 2018

This is rather interesting – despite getting more views than December 2017, the pay rate was lower than before!

Curious to see what the dollar-per-impression rate was for each month, I tabulated the results and graphed them:

Period Earnings Visitors Views Ads Served $/Impression
Nov 2017  $     5.03 3833 8538 4648  $ 0.00108219
Dec 2017  $   15.18 4344 9732 17369  $ 0.00087397
Jan 2018  $   11.96 4359 9458 17887  $ 0.00066864

WordAds Rate Nov 2017 to Jan 2018

That is a pretty linear drop in dollar-per-impression rate. Perhaps this is due to ad market fluctuations, or maybe WordPress is “incentivizing” increased viewership to maintain ad revenue. Who knows? Either way, it will be interesting to track this trend as time goes on.

Mini-Ramble: WordAds – I think it’s working!

Over a month has passed since my first post about seeing where the WordAds train will take me and my blog, and the first (meaningful) payout numbers have rolled out.

Current Earnings

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WordAds earnings for 1/3 of November 2017, and all of December 2017.

Not too bad – in 1 1/3 months, I’ve earned $20.20 USD in ad revenue. In December alone I earned $15.18 from 17,369 attempted ad impressions; with 9,732 views in December this equates to an impression-to-view ratio of 1.785.

Assuming that I receive the same number of views per month, $15/month * 12 months = $180 USD/year. With this amount of revenue, my blog can finally run itself!

Blog Budget Breakdown (yay, alliteration!)

Item  Value 
Yearly Ad Revenue ($15 USD * 12 months)  $ 180.00
Domain Name Registration (1 year for 3 domains, assuming CAD-to-USD conversion rate of 0.8x)  $  (76.80)
G Suite (1 year, assuming CAD-to-USD conversion rate of 0.8x)  $  (48.00)
Final Balance (USD)  $   55.20

If I assume that my current view count doesn’t change, this would leave me with a little over $50 USD in pocket change by the end of the year. Perhaps this money could be put to use to buy some more things to make blog posts with – maybe some iPhone batteries or an eMMC module or two…

Once again, thanks to all of my readers – I couldn’t have done any of this without you! 😀

Packing Boxes & Stomachs: Edible foam packing peanuts?!

Earlier today I picked up my replacement fire extinguisher from Kidde (check out the recall here) and noticed the packing peanuts weren’t the pearlescent S-shaped Styrofoam peanuts I was used to seeing – rather, they looked like fluffier versions of Cheetos (cheese puffs). This piqued my curiosity… can you eat these?

To see whether these were at least water-soluble, I poured a small amount of water on one of these peanuts, and it dissolved within seconds. Now that I’ve determined that these packing peanuts are indeed the biodegradable type, it’s time to take the taste test…

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A biodegradable (and edible!) foam packing peanut.

… So, how do they taste?

Perhaps surprisingly, they taste faintly of popcorn; I was expecting them to taste more unpleasant like cardboard, but these had a fairly agreeable yet neutral flavour and I suspect that they can be seasoned with a dry popcorn seasoning with little issue, but they may need a light spray of cooking oil in order to make the seasoning adhere to the peanut.

There are multiple manufacturers of biodegradable packing peanuts (one example is Puffy Stuff), and these are made from some form of starch like corn. However, these packing peanuts are basically devoid of any significant nutritional value, making them less attractive to animals and/or pests. Reference.com says that they are not manufactured under food-safe conditions, and are therefore not recommended for human consumption.

… I’m still going to eat these anyway. 😛 *crunch munch*

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 5)

It’s amazing – 894 days (and counting) have elapsed since the start of my long-term experiment, documenting the real-world self-discharge behavior of the Kentli 1.5V Li-ion AA battery… and it’s still ongoing! How have things fared so far?

Surprisingly, even after spending nearly 30 months on the shelf, there is still 12% capacity left. The voltage has dropped from 4.216 to 3.692 volts according to my bq27621 Li-ion fuel gauge; the State of Charge (SoC) has dropped 50% since my last update.

november 28 2017 stats

The linear end date prediction is holding pretty steady, having changed slightly to an estimated 0% charge date somewhere in February 2018.

On that note, I’m impressed by how much attention this little battery has received, even years after my initial review. Every day I see a handful of views checking out the teardown and performance metrics, and there seems to be hardly any sign that this will change anytime soon. To everyone who stops by to check out my blog posts: thank you! 🙂

Mini-Ramble: So… WordAds!

I’ve finally done it – I took the plunge and tried to find out if I can enable advertisements on my blog (*gasp*) through the WordAds program – and as it turns out, yes!

Given what I’ve seen online, WordPress has always been vague on one of their acceptance criteria: views per month. They state on their own FAQ that they require “thousands of pageviews each month to earn meaningful revenue”. There were no clear answers from other bloggers either. In my case, I’ve had a paltry 8,000 views/month on average ever since I registered my domain, ripitapart.com (I had over 10,000 views/month when I was using the free WordPress domain). Given that I tend to blog about relatively niche topics (who really cares about battery fuel gauges, anyway?), this is not particularly unexpected; this isn’t helped by the fact I haven’t been posting frequently as of late (so far I have dozens of draft posts, with some that probably won’t be completed as they have essentially gone ‘stale’).

Application for WordAds

I submitted an application request for the WordAds program on November 20, 2017. Immediately after filling out the form I was given an automated message that I was initially declined due to insufficient viewership (but they would keep my request open until I had achieved enough page views per month). However, the next morning I awoke to an email that read “Welcome to WordAds!” – a pretty nice way to start the day. I’m guessing that the number of outstanding applicants were low, and that my content is original enough to warrant acceptance into the WordAds program. Perhaps there is a manual component to reviewing these applications?

So, what about earnings?

Given that it hasn’t even been a week since I was accepted into WordAds, it’s far too early to say how much I’ll actually get out of these advertisements; on that note, since I use WordPress’ Free plan/tier, there were always advertisements on my site (I didn’t get any revenue from those ads, however). Given how most people likely use an ad blocker (myself included), this will further reduce the amount of revenue I can generate from this blog. WordAds will only pay out advertisement revenue when earnings accumulate past $100, which means I won’t actually receive anything until that point… and who knows how long that will be.

Unlike other advertisement platforms, I do not get real-time analytics of ad traffic, and statistics for the month are only updated near the end of the next month (in my case, this means I will not see any information on November’s earnings until the end of December). One common complaint about WordAds is the lack of customization for ads that will be shown; on the flip side, the advertisement system does all the back-end work so I don’t need to lift a finger in that regard.

Your thoughts?

This is the first time I’ve ever tried online traffic advertisements and site monetization, so saying I’m inexperienced in this field is a bit of an understatement. However, I’m curious as to where this will go, and how this will affect my reader base.

What’s your experience with ads on my blog? I’d love to hear your comments on it, especially as time goes on.

Ramble: Photobucket & Poor Judgment – How NOT to notify your users of a policy change!

Earlier today, I was searching through my spam inbox and noticed a particular email that appeared to be sent from Photobucket, notifying me that they no longer allow third-party links or embedding of any images on a free account. They offered a link to upgrade to a “Plus 500” account, and even included a section reading “Are my pictures still safe?” which reads much like a ransom note rather than a Terms of Service (ToS) update! What struck me as very odd is that they used the domain name of “PBDeals.com” which looks highly suspicious – especially at first glance. In my opinion, it’s a particularly poor choice for domain name, a few steps away from “GiveUsMoneyOrYourPicturesWillNeverSeeTheLightOfDayAgainLovePhotobucket.com” 😛 .

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Photobucket third-party hosting notification email

Is this for real? Considering that Gmail has already flagged it as a spam email (as with other emails from that domain), I decided to do some investigation.

The verdict? It’s for real, alright. Their cheapest paid plan (Plan 50) costs $6/month or $60/year, but their Plan 500 costs a whopping $40/month or $400/year!

Despite their unprofessional-looking email, I understand where Photobucket is coming from. Hosting is not cheap, and if their statement that 75% of their operational costs comes from free account users is true, I can see why they want to receive recurring payments in order to keep their server drives spinning. (Granted, I can’t exactly say I’m innocent, considering that I’m still on WordPress’ free tier although I am paying for three domain names over two blogs.)

Despite my feelings of sympathy for Photobucket, what I cannot understand is why they would use a domain name that is shared with their online store for esoteric cheap-looking goods. If it weren’t for the Photobucket logo in the top left-hand corner, I’d have assumed this was a spam domain and exited the site immediately; I still did, but not before taking this screenshot:

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PBDeals online front page

Pretend that the Photobucket logo isn’t there. Would you stay on that site? I know I wouldn’t.

In conclusion…

Photobucketplease write your Terms of Service notifications with a little more professionalism next time! Thanks for helping me make my decision – I think I’ll stick with the free plan for now.

--- END OF RANT ---

Domain Get… again!

Another domain? You betcha!

My blog is now also accessible at http://jasongin.com. There isn’t any real different content if you follow the link; it just links to my normal domain at http://ripitapart.com.

But why another domain?

In a nutshell, it’s for the ability to register a more professional email address for work-related use (think resumes and so on). Coupled with WordPress G Suite integration, this allows me to easily create an email address that is truly unique (since a similarly named Gmail address has already been taken 😛 ).

The cost isn’t too high, about $100 CAD for a year’s worth in subscription fees.

Now, for formal communication, I am reachable at jason.gin@jasongin.com but any other conversation should be directed towards my personal email, ginbot86@gmail.com.

eMMC Adventures, Episode 1: Building my own 64GB memory card with a $6 eMMC chip

As seen on Hackaday!

There’s always some electronics topic that I end up focusing all my efforts on (at least for a certain time), and that topic is now eMMC NAND Flash memory.

Overview

eMMC (sometimes shown as e.MMC or e-MMC) stands for Embedded MultiMediaCard; some manufacturers create their own name like SanDisk’s iNAND or Hynix’s e-NAND. It’s a very common form of Flash storage in smartphones and tablets, even lower-end laptops. The newer versions of the eMMC standard (4.5, 5.0 and 5.1) have placed greater emphasis on random small-block I/O (IOPS, or Input/Output operations per second; eMMC devices can now provide SSD-like performance (>10 MB/s 4KB read/write) without the higher cost and power consumption of a full SATA- or PCIe-based SSD.

MMC and eMMC storage is closely related to the SD card standard everyone knows today. In fact, SD hosts will often be able to use MMC devices without modification (electrically, they are the same, but software-wise SD has a slightly different feature set; for example SD cards have CPRM copy protection but lack the MMC’s TRIM and Secure Erase commands. The “e” in eMMC refers to the fact that the memory is a BGA chip directly soldered (embedded) to the motherboard (this also prevents it from being easily upgraded without the proper tools and know-how.

When browsing online for some eMMC chips to test out, I found a seller that had was selling 64 GB eMMC modules for $6 Canadian per pop; this comes out to a very nice 9.375 cents per gigabyte (that’s HDD-level pricing right there!). With that in mind, I decided to buy a couple modules and see what I could do with them. A few days later, they arrived in the mail (and the seller was nice enough to send three modules instead of just two; the third module’s solder balls were flattened for some reason).

Toshiba eMMC Module

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII eMMC 4.41 modules

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII eMMC 4.41 modules

The Flash memory I used is a Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII. According to a Toshiba NAND part number decoder:

  • TH: Toshiba NAND
  • G: Packaged as IC
  • B: Vcc (Flash power supply) = 3.3 V, VccQ (controller/interface power supply) = 1.8 or 3.3 V
  • M: eMMC device
  • 4: Controller revision 4
  • G9: 64 GB
  • D: MLC NAND Flash
  • 8: Eight stacked dice (eight 8 GB chips)
  • G: 24nm A-type Flash (appears to indicate Toggle Mode interface NAND)
  • BA: Lead-free and halogen-free
  • I: Industrial temperature grade (-40 to 85 degrees Celsius)
  • I: 14 x 18 x 1.2 mm BGA package with OSP (Organic Solderability Preservatives)

Given the low, low price of the eMMC chip, I had to make sure that I wasn’t given counterfeit Flash memory (often fake flash would have only 4 or 8 actual GB usable, with most of the address space looping over itself, causing data loss with extended usage). This involved find a way to temporarily connect the eMMC to my computer. I had a USB 2.0 SD/MMC reader on hand as well as a laptop with a native SD host interface, so now all I needed to do was break out the eMMC signals on the BGA package so that I can connect it to the reader.

eMMC Pinout… or is it Ball-Out?

There are plenty of pinouts for eMMC on the Internet, but they all show the pinout for a top view. Since I’m not soldering the eMMC to a PCB, I need to get a bottom view. I took a pinout diagram from a SMART Modular Technologies eMMC datasheet, rotated it to a landscape view, flipped it vertically, then flipped each row’s text in order to make it readable again. I then copy-pasted this into PowerPoint and traced out the package and ball pinouts. This allowed me to colour-code the different signal and power lines I’ll need to implement, including the data, clock, command and power lines. Curiously enough, one of the ground pins (VssQ, or controller/MMC I/O ground) was not a ground pin like the standard required; because of this, I decided to leave that pin open-circuit. Additionally, there were several pins that were not open-circuit, but did not have a known purpose either (these are probably used as test pads for the internal NAND Flash interface – perhaps they could be reused as raw NAND with the right controller, but the exact purpose of these pads will need to be reverse engineered).

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII eMMC pinout (solder balls facing up)

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII eMMC pinout (solder balls facing up)

eMMC Reader: Take 1 (Failed!)

For the first reader, I cut open a microSD-to-SD adapter, exposing the eight pins inside. I soldered a cut-up UDMA IDE cable and glued them in place. Despite my careful work, I still melted a hole through the thin plastic shell of the adapter; thankfully this did not affect the adapter’s ability to be plugged in.

I used double-sided foam adhesive tape and a piece of perfboard to create a small “test bed” for the eMMC module. Using some flux, solder wick, and a larger soldering iron tip, I removed all the (lead-free) solder balls on the center of the IC and replaced them with leaded solder bumps to make soldering the tiny 40-gauge magnet wire easier.

After bringing out the minimum wires required (VCC/VCCQ, GND, CLK, CMD, and DAT0 for 1-bit operation), I soldered the wires of my quick SD adapter, and plugged it into the SD card slot of a (very old) Dell Inspiron 9300.

Calling this board’s operation flaky doesn’t do it justice. It would fail to enumerate 9 out of 10 times, and if I even tried to do anything more than read the device capacity, the reader would hang or the eMMC would drop off the SD/MMC bus and show an empty drive in Windows. It was clear I had to do a full memory card “build” before I could verify the usability of the eMMC Flash memory.

eMMC in an SD Card’s Body: Take 1 (Success… half of the time)

I had a 16 MB (yes, megabyte) SD card lying around somewhere, but as usual, I couldn’t find it among all the clutter around my desk and workspace. Instead, I found an old, slow Kingston 2 GB SD card that I felt would be a worthy “sacrifice” since it was an older type that still had a thin PCB inside (most SD cards nowadays are monolithic, which means it’s one solid chunk with a few pads exposed). After opening up the case carefully with an Exacto knife, I wiggled out the old PCB. I desoldered the orignal 2 GB NAND Flash, and began work on breaking the SD card controller from the PCB as it was a chip-on-board design. It took a while, but I was able to ensure that none of the old SD card hardware would interfere with my rebuild.

I removed the eMMC from the board I made previously, and tested the thickness of it to ensure that it would fit inside the SD card case. It did, although the 0402 surface-mount decoupling capacitors I intended to install would cause a few bumps to be visible through the thin plastic SD card casing.

With my eMMC and SD card pinouts on hand, I used a small bead of epoxy to affix the eMMC to the PCB, balls-side up. I used magnet wire to connect the data lines (4 wires for 4-bit operation which is the maximum that the SD standard supports), and used the unused pads on the eMMC as a kind of prototyping space where I could install ceramic capacitors as close to the module as possible. I used a 0.1 µF 0402 size ceramic capacitor across the VDDi (eMMC internal regulator) and a neighouring GND pad. The rest of the power pads were wired in parallel with a few extra 0.1 µF capacitors added. I made use of the existing three 1 µF capacitors on the PCB as both extra decoupling and connection points for VCC and VCCQ. To prevent shorting of the inner CMD and CLK pins, I only removed the enamel coating from the magnet wire at the very end so I could solder them but avoid the issue of shorting those pins against the other signal and power lines. I then soldered these wires to the terminals on the other side of the PCB.

After spending about ten minutes wriggling the PCB into the SD card casing without damaging the wires, I used a multimeter to ensure all the pins were connected (use a multimeter in diode mode, with the positive lead connected to ground – any valid pins should read ~0.5 volts), and also ensured that there were no polarity reversals or shorts on the power pins.

Now… the moment of truth. At this point my USB 2.0 card reader still wasn’t cooperating with me, so I tried the only other ‘fast’ reader I had at the time – an SD to CompactFlash adapter.

To my relief, I finally got a (mostly) usable card. It appears this particular model has been pre-formatted with FAT32. Viewing the MBR in Hard Disk Sentinel shows nothing notable, apart from the fact that it’s pretty blank and is indicative that it wasn’t formatted for use as a PC boot medium.

Things began to fall apart after I tried running speed tests, as the card would hang if it experienced a lot of write activity at once. I suspected this was a power supply-related issue, so I modified my layout to add more capacitance. For good measure, I added 56 ohm termination resistance for the DAT0-4 data lines, using a small resistor network harvested from an old dead MacBook motherboard.

After these modifications, performance was much, much better. Now that the card was usable, I could finally run some speed tests.

eMMC in an SD Card’s Body – This time, with more feeling decoupling!

After adding several 100 nF and 1uF 0402-size ceramic capacitors on the eMMC package, I was able to get a stable card that could be read by (most) SD card readers. As I was rather anxious to get a decent benchmark from the eMMC, I decided to forego the cheaper Amazon Prime route, and go to my local PC parts store to buy a USB 3.0 card reader – the Kingston FCR-HS4.

After placing the eMMC and SD card PCB back into its plastic casing, I was relieved to see that Windows immediately recognized its presence. All I had to do then was open CrystalDiskMark and run the benchmark. Drum roll please…

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII/064G4A benchmark in CrystalDiskMark

Toshiba THGBM4G9D8GBAII/064G4A benchmark in CrystalDiskMark

Although I was happy to get a usable benchmark score, my belief that all eMMC devices inherently had better 4K random I/O speeds than their SD counterparts was immediately busted. My guess is that random I/O wasn’t considered to be a priority until eMMC 4.5 or 5.0, and my eMMC modules are only version 4.41.

eMMC module listed as version 4.41

eMMC module listed as version 4.41

After the speed test, I ran the card through the popular Flash memory testing tool h2testw to make sure that I was not given a counterfeit device.

H2testw showing flash memory is good

H2testw showing flash memory is good

Excellent – it’s a genuine device. Despite the slower performance than expected, I’m happy that the memory capacity is as it should be.

“eMMC identification and CSD data, please”

As is the case with any USB memory card reader, I cannot access any of the eMMC device information (that is, the CID/Card Information Data and CSD/Card Specific Data registers). I took a spare SSD from my collection and got a quick Windows 10 installation running on one of my laptops that had a native SD host interface.

eMMC identified as Toshiba 064G4A MMC

eMMC identified as Toshiba 064G4A MMC

Interesting. The eMMC identifies itself as a Toshiba 064G4A MMC card. Googling that information brought up literally zero information, so it appears I’m the only one to have found (or published) any information about it. Although eMMCs support some degree of S.M.A.R.T. health reporting like mainstream SSDs and HDDs, no (easily-available) software (for Windows at least) is available to read it.

Linux has the ability to report the CID and CSD data as long as the native SD host interface is used, as opposed to a USB card reader.

CID: 11010030363447344100151344014e00
CSD: d00e00320f5903ffffffffef96400000
date: 04/2011
enhanced_area_offset: 18446744073709551594
erase_size: 8388608
fwrev: 0x0
hwrev: 0x0
manfid: 0x000011
oemid: 0x0100
preferred_erase_size: 8388608
prv: 0x0
raw_rpmb_size_mult: 0x2
rel_sectors: 0x10
serial: 0x15134401

With the help of Gough Lui’s CID and CSD decoders, I was able to gain some more information about the eMMC device, but not too much as the information I was originally interested in was already collected by this point.

Out of the Reader and Back Into the (CF) Adapter

Now that I know what the eMMC is capable of, I decided to try putting it back into my SD-to-CF adapter and doing another benchmark.

eMMC in FC-1307A SD-to-CF adapter. Note the limited performance of this chipset.

eMMC in FC-1307A SD-to-CF adapter. Note the limited performance of this chipset.

This test highlights one of the biggest limitations of the FC1306T/FC1307A chipset that so many adapters use: their performance is limited to a maximum of 25 MB/s per channel. Good thing I purchased that USB 3.0 reader…

Conclusion

This was quite the learning experience. I not only learned that eMMC flash memory does not necessarily have the near-SSD performance that the latest devices offer, but I learned how to “exploit” the unused pads of a BGA device as a sort of “prototype area” for soldering small components onto.

Did I save any money by rolling my own Flash storage device? Absolutely not – given how much time I spent on this, if I paid myself minimum wage ($12 per hour where I live), I could have bought at least three higher-performance 64GB SDXC cards with none of the frustration of trying to adapt an embedded memory device as a removable memory card. But where’s the fun in that? 🙂

Domain Get! – New domain, same great content! RipItApart.com is now live.

It’s about time – I’ve finally registered a proper domain name for my blog. Thanks to everyone’s input, I’ve decided to go with http://ripitapart.com.

Existing links from https://ripitapart.wordpress.com should automatically redirect to the new domain.

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 4)

“It’s been a long time… How have you been?”

It’s been almost a year since I started my discharge test of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery, and the battery has lost almost 40% of its capacity due to self-discharge.

The discharge curve has gotten a lot less… linear since the last time I posted a self-discharge update. The battery is down to 62% state-of-charge, and its voltage has dropped down to 3.89 volts. Still, there’s a lot of time left until this battery reaches empty… but when?

I’m no statistician, but doing a linear extrapolation in Excel gives an approximate end date of January 2018, and the SLOPE() function in Excel gives me an average drop of 0.111%/day. Of course, this can easily change over the course of this test, but only time will tell…

Ramble / Poll: The State of Rip It Apart; Domains & Monetization?

2016 has flown by with considerable speed as of late – it’s already near the end of March the beginning of April, and I haven’t published a single blog post…

“So, what’s up with you?”

I will admit it – much of the radio silence on my blog stems from my own complacency. My desk/work area had accumulated vast amounts of detritus, many of them being half-done projects that never reached completion and years of deprecated audio equipment that wasted a good 1/3 of my entire desktop area – not to mention plenty of dust. All of this resulted in a workspace that made typing for any extended period of time quite uncomfortable; even attempting to play computer games had the risk of me breaking something, or vice versa.

This school year has been going pretty well. I’ve left Electronics Engineering and have started Broadcast Systems Technology; it’s essentially a mix of basic electronics, IT, radio and audio/video equipment. With that sort of fresh start (and extra credits that allowed me to free up considerable amounts of time), I’ve begun to clean up my area – a process that started in January and only recently has progressed to a point where I could “re-format” my desk space to maximize its usability.

Now that I’ve finally cleaned up my workspace, I can finally type in comfort again. I have several draft posts in various stages of completion, and I want to be able to get them finished up and published sometime soon (of course, no hard deadlines are set as I likely wouldn’t meet them anyway).

Domains & Advertisement Monetization

Over the years that I’ve been running this blog, my viewership has increased to levels I would have never anticipated when I first started writing blog posts on here, and I’d like to thank all of my readers for that.

As of late, I’ve averaged around 10,000 views per month, with significant peaks now and then. Because I’m currently running on the WordPress with a non-Premium account, most of my pages have advertisements in them that I have no control over. I can pay a hefty fee to go Premium and remove the advertisements completely, but I would like to at least to be able to get something out of those advertisements.

After looking online about WordAds, I’ve found out that I would need to register a proper domain name for this blog, which makes total sense – why bother putting branding on a .wordpress.com subdomain? Because of this requirement, I need to register my own domain… but what should I choose?

The whole issue of picking a domain for registration was one reason that I’ve been putting it off for so long. I could go with a domain with my name on it (literally!) in a similar vein as Gough Lui’s blog (disclaimer: I have absolutely no affiliation with him; I’m simply using his domain as an example… but on that note, his content is definitely worth checking out!), or perhaps simply remove the .wordpress portion of my blog’s URL.

With that decision in mind, then comes the choice of whom to register with. WordPress has their own service that ties seamlessly with their blogging platform, but incurs a higher cost than other providers. Alternatively, I can choose a lower-cost provider, but then I would need to manually connect that domain with WordPress’ platform. Admittedly, I have little experience when it comes to Web hosting; it’s why I started my blog on WordPress in the first place, and also one of the largest factors in my reluctance to register a domain for it in the first place.

Voice Your Opinion

Either way, domain registration and advertisement controls are decisions that can be put aside until later. On that note, if I were to register a domain, what do you think would be a good choice? Leave your choice in the poll below!

-Jason

Ramble/WordPress auto-post time: 2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 5 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Pick a Card, Any Card: Fast and easy Windows logon using any NFC smart card

UPDATE (September 27, 2018): Fixed a broken link to the article on bypassing MSI installer checks.

After finally reinstalling Windows on my main PC (the smart card components in the old install were trashed), I dusted off the old smart card reader and started looking into smart card-based logon options again.

Windows logon screen using a smart card

Windows logon screen using a smart card

After finding a way to force convince the installer for EIDAuthenticate, a program that lets you use smart cards to log on a Windows computer without the use of domains and Active Directory, to run on Windows 7 Professional (Microsoft DreamSpark only lets me obtain the Professional editions of Windows), I found a program called NFC Connector Light that lets you use any NFC-compatible smart card as a means of authentication.

Virtual smart card with certificate installed

Virtual smart card with certificate installed

NFC Connector Light links the unique identifier in an NFC-based smart card to create a virtual smart card on the local computer (no data is stored in the card itself), and that virtual card can be used like a real smart card within Windows. When paired with EIDAuthenticate, logging on is as simple as placing the smart card on the NFC reader and entering a PIN. This is especially useful when you set the Windows smart card policy to lock the computer when the card is removed (and it feels kind of cool to be able to lock your computer simply by taking your card off the reader).

HDQ Utility version 0.96 now available!

Whew, I’ve been working on this version for quite a while. With the helpful feedback of many people that have tried my software, I’ve made a large number of improvements to the software; of course, there are plenty of features that aren’t implemented yet, but are being worked on.

More information about how this utility works can be found here.

Download HDQ Utility v0.96 here: https://www.dropbox.com/s/pf0vszgfei7s8ly/HDQ%20Utility%200.96.zip?dl=0

Updates

  • (Major improvement!) Improved HDQ logging functionality (logs are now saved to a separate file instead of being overwritten).
    • Example: “HDQ Log (2015-10-26 at 19.02.50) – HDQ Utility v0.96.txt”
  • Improved HDQ communication (HDQ breaks no longer require the serial port to be opened more than once, and HDQ no-response timeouts are decreased from 0.5 to 0.3 seconds.
  • Reworded certain error messages for clarity.
    • Example: “Communication error: Cannot read byte from address 0x02 (No response from device).” 
  • Renamed file ‘config.txt’ to ‘Config – COM Port.txt’ for clarity.
  • Improved state-of-health warnings by making them non-modal (they do not require the user to dismiss the message).
  • Added more notifications for unidentified and uninitialized batteries. (Uninitialized batteries are determined by a FULL ACCESS security state, with Impedance Track disabled.)
  • Fixed invalid device name and maximum load current readings for v5.02/sn27545-A4 based batteries (e.g. iPhone 6, 6+…).
  • Added time-to-full readings (for firmware older than v2.24).
  • Improved error-checking for device identification (it will display a notice that the tool may need to be restarted).
  • Updated DingoLib UI library to auto-resize window to 0.9x display resolution for improved readability on larger monitors.

To-Do

  • Create a dedicated section on my blog for the HDQ Utility.
  • Create a user’s manual describing the parameters displayed by the program (in particular, the Advanced Battery Information section).
  • Improve data logging functionality by saving logs to a subdirectory instead of the program’s root to decrease file clutter.
  • Improve error-checking for commands (retry reads if one or more bytes are not received from the device).
  • Add error statistics indicating how many communication errors occurred during data collection.
  • Improve support for older (older than v1.25) firmware.
  • Improve support for v5.02/sn27545-A4 devices (make use of advanced commands available in this firmware version).
  • Add support for restarting of data collection without having to re-execute the program.
  • Add Data Flash memory functions to allow for readout of advanced configuration, serial number, lifetime/black-box data, etc.
  • Rewrite this program in something that’s not LabWindows/CVI… also, use of a GUI rather than a non-console text UI.

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 3)

Aw what, it’s October already? So much for having another blog post in September…
But anyway, “more months, more data!™”

The voltage of the PH5 has dropped down to 4.093 volts as of today (October 1st, 2015), and its State of Charge is now 93%. There’s just enough data to guess the discharge rate of the PH5: with the currently logged data, the PH5 self discharges at approximately 0.103%/day. At this rate, the cell should last years before finally reaching zero. Looks like this will be a very, very long term test…

(At least that would give me more time to procrastinate write blog posts.)

Self-discharge test of Kentli PH5 1.5V Li-ion AA (Part 2)

After my first self-discharge analysis of the Kentli PH5 Li-ion AA battery, I have collected another month’s worth of data.

The battery’s voltage drop has been surprisingly linear. Although I didn’t get the exact day when the bq27621-G1’s State of Charge readout dropped to 99%, it is quite clear that the state of charge is dropping with a fairly steep curve now. That said, because the battery’s voltage is still far away from the ‘flat region’ of the discharge curve, it is difficult to determine when the battery will discharge itself completely at this time.