Articles on Hardware

Last updated: 2023/01/17

Top deep-dives on Hardware

How do Routers Work, Really?

So you might not know, but I have a background in electrical engineering. Therefore, articles that get down and dirty into the details of electronics have a special place in my heart. As the title implies, in this article, Kamila Součková gets the elbow grease on in this deep dive into how routers truly work. From a high level overview that focuses on the life of a packet in the data plane to routing, ARP, and MAC tables, Kamila gives you an informative overview of what that dust covered box with blinking lights does and how.

Always-on Processor magic: How Find My works while iPhone is powered off

With the release of iOS 15, iPhone owners will be able to find their phone even when it's powered off. I don't mean searching for it like a needle in the haystack, only to realize it slipped out of your pocket and fell in between your couch cushions (at least you found some coins though); I mean using the app. In this article, Jiska explains how Apple did it, and some of its security implications.

You (Probably) Shouldn't use a Lookup Table

Nima Badizadegan explains how CPU caches affect the performance of lookup tables of different sizes, then demonstrates it practically with examples.

The RISC-V experience

Drew DeVault discusses some of the challenges of getting a RISC-V CPU system function like a "regular", useful computer.

PlayStation 3 Architecture

This article is definitely much more hardware oriented. In it, Rodrigo Copetti breaks down a PS3, looking at the CPU, graphics, audio, I/O backwards compatibility, OS, games, and anti-piracy measures. "This writing encompasses ~6 years of research and development carried out by countless engineers", so be prepared for an education marathon.

Xbox 360 Architecture

Rodrigo Copetti presents anything and everything you'd ever want to know about the Xbox 360 (from a technical perspective).

RouterPi - A Compute Module 4 Router

Zak Kemble goes into the nitty-gritty of setting up a Raspberry Pi as a home router. Based on the comments, you could spin up a couple of these bad boys into a business.

Reed-Solomon Error Correcting Codes from the Bottom Up

Tom Verbeure gives a digestible introduction to a technique used to make data storage or data transmission resilient against corruption.
Some highlights:

  • Lots of math, but mostly integer math and not crazy new academic math
  • "the Voyager spacecrafts used Reed-Solomon coding to transmit images when it was between Saturn and Uranus, and CDs can recover from scratches that corrupt up to 4000 bits thanks to the clever use of not one but two Reed-Solomon codes"
  • To correct up to s symbol errors, you need at least 2s redundant symbols

Upgrading a motherboard’s BIOS/UEFI (the hard way)

Fiddling with hardware is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’ve ever considered building your own computer, I’d highly recommend it. In this article, Doug Brown takes it one step further, by setting himself the challenge of upgrading a montherboard’s BIOS without using any of the conventional approaches for his specific motherboard.

The Evolution of the PCI Express Specification: On its Sixth Generation, Third Decade and Still Going Strong

I first came across PCIe when building my computer. Dr. Debendra Das Sharma's article explores its development and evolution since its inception in 2003.

The RISC Deprogrammer

Robert Graham discusses how RISC is a set of creative tradeoffs that were meaningful in the early 1980s but became less so by the late 1990s. Robert also discusses how modern CPU architectures aren't really that different.
Some highlights:

  • If you are looking for the one thing that defines RISC, it's the thing that nobody talks about: horizontal microcode
  • We've reached the point in tech where the instruction-set doesn't matter. It's not simply that code is written in high-level language. It's mostly that micro-architectural details have converged
  • Old ideas take a long time to die

interactive analog LED wave array

Chris Lu demonstrates a wave wall made with mostly active electronic components and hardly any digital hardware.

Building a Panel out of e-ink Electronic Shelf Labels

Raphael repurposes some electronic shelf labels (ESL) to build a cool little panel.
Some highlights:

  • An individual ESL has a similar brain to a fitness tracker
  • They are controlled with a purpose-built device that talks to them via RF or NFC
  • The main trick these chips use is to spend most of the time in a very low-power state, known as deep sleep
  • To wake up the CPU back to life, usual choices are a timer or a change in the logic state on one of its input pins
  • Low-power BLE devices have an extra power usage concern of broadcasting their existence

How do you guys feel about these building-type articles?

Reverse-engineering the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer's sound chip from die photos

"The Yamaha DX7 digital synthesizer was released in 1983" and has been touted as "one of the most important advances in the history of modern popular music". In this informative article, Ken Shirriff literally picks the chip apart, covering what it does and how it does it.

Bringing up a new piece of hardware -- what can go wrong?

Dan Gisselquist takes us through the process of testing out prototype concepts for a SONAR system using a FPGA.

Pine fun - Telephony (Roger, Roger?)

Sebastian Sumpf "describe[s] how [they] enabled basic telephony support on the Pinephone" (the open source smart phone looks pretty cool from what I've seen).

Setting Up a CI System Part 1: Preparing Your Test Machines

The article is part of a series on how to set up a bare-metal CI system for Linux driver development. In this first article, Martin Roukala sets up a machine for testing by implementing a number of useful features.
Some highlights:

  • Ability to select which hardware is needed for testing
  • Deploy the test environment quickly and automatically
  • full isolation between testing jobs and caching resources to speed up the test machines' set-up/boot time

An Open Source Vibrotactile Haptics Platform for On-Body Applications.

I'm guessing how we interface with technology is going to change a lot in the next 50 years. In this article, Artem Dementyev presents a "low-power miniature electronics board" that might be one of the first steps in having extensive tactile sensation with technology (this is how I can imagine it being used). Artem dives into the inner workings of board and describes all of its functionality.

Circuit Scaling for Analog Computing

"A differential equation-solving analog device is a reconfigurable computing platform that leverages the physics of the underlying substrate to implement dynamical system computations". Sara Achour's extensive article goes into the details on behavior of such a device and its functionality.

Meet your new two-factor authenticator: your Commodore 64

Multi-factor authentication is a method of confirming a user's identity by utilizing a combination of two or more independent credentials. In this article, ClassicHasClass generates 2FA keys using a Commodore 64.
Some highlights:

  • A Time-Based One-Time Password Algorithm (TOTP) requires a SHA-1 hasher, an HMAC generator, and UNIX time
  • "When you're writing code for a constrained platform that requires heavyweight computation, what's at least as important as using good algorithms is finding good shortcuts. You simply want to do the minimum amount of work possible."
  • Dealing with time, as always, is a big pain in the ass

Reverse-engineering the LM185 voltage reference chip and its bandgap reference

Ken Shirriff is back at it again with reverse engineering hardware. This time Ken dives into the circuit of a chip that is used to keep a reference voltage constant across different environments.

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