Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Maker's Box Kits

I love Tindie, it's like Etsy, but for DIY electronics. I have found so many useful breakout boards, fun kits and interesting gadgets to tinker around with.

I kept on seeing the Maker's Box (Tindie store) kits trending on the main page. Finally I have purchased three fantastic looking kits and at first glance I love seeing the OSHPark Purple PCBs. Yes these kits are completely open hardware and you can view them in shared projects and order your own PCBs to replicate or improve the kits. 

I purchased the Joule Thief, I Can Surface Mount Solder, and the SMD Challenge kit, which I will primarily be focusing on in this post.

Joule Thief Kit

The Easy Joule Thief Soldering Kit, is primarily a through-hole soldering kit targeted toward beginners. For those of you who don't know what a Joule Thief circuit is, it is a clever and simple circuit that can light a LED with a nearly dead battery.
I really like the silkscreen schematic on the PCB

I appreciate that you can configure this kit to take either AAA or AA Batteries

This kit has a really nice Instructables guide. In my opinion this kit is pretty high quality and for only $5, it is quite a great value!

I Can Surface Mount Solder kit

This kit is meant to be a gentle introduction for beginners to surface mount soldering. In the kit you get to solder a surface mount LED, Resistor, Capacitor, Switch, Battery holder, and microcontroller! 

I used solder paste and my hot air to reflow the components. 

It's a pulsating Heart! 

SMD Challenge Kit

I originally intended to only purchase the SMD Challenge, because I really wanted to solder the challenging 0201 package components. On a daily basis I work with parts that are 0402 in size and above, and usually use a X10 microscope. At home I don't have the convenience of microscope, and I decided to assemble this at home to prove my worth and literally wear this bragging rights badge (Yes this kit is a badge that you can pin on your clothes).

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FYI: A grain of sugar is typically 0.7 - 1.5 mm in size

I could solder the 0402 to 1206 packages by hand with my Hakko FX-888D, but I have solder paste and a hot air rework station! 

Solder Paste and Component Placement

Reflowing the Components

Component placement of the 0201 was quite tedious and I had to keep on checking that I had the LED in the right polarity. I was even more worried about the hot air blowing the 0201 components off the board... Fortunately the only issue was that there was a solder bridge (short) on one of the ATTINY pins, but this was easily fixed with some flux and a quick dab of the iron to take some of the excess solder between the two pins.

Testing the LEDs

Making sure that none of the LEDs have fried from the hot air and that there are no shorts underneath the SMD components.

Final Test

WOW IT ACTUALLY WORKS!!!!! I just soldered a component the size of a sugar grain, without a microscope! 

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Maker's Box makes quality and inexpensive soldering kits for beginners to experts. Definitely worth purchasing one of their kits to practice with and have fun. I was very satisfied with the SMD challenge kit and getting to solder the 0201 resistor and LED. I also think it is very fitting that with the two SMD kits that you can literally wear them as a badge of honor.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Review: Analog Discovery 2

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The Analog Discovery 2 by Digilent is the sequel to the popular Analog Discovery. The first Analog Discovery, which Hong's Electronics reviewed in 2013, was released in late 2012; The Analog Discovery 2 made its debut in late 2016. 

*Acryonms to be used: 
  • AD = Analog Discovery 
  • AD2 = Analog Discovery 2

First Impressions

From my usage of the first AD, I was pleased to find that Digilent kept the form factor about the same and that they stuck with the same pin-out in the AD2. For those of you like me who have the BNC adapter board for the original, it will work with the AD2 and the same flywires from the original will work on the AD2.

With the original AD, the advertised performance of the oscilloscope and function generator is 14 bit, 100 MS/s and a bandwidth of 5 MHz. Now Digilent advertises the AD2 with more detailed specifications, and specifies the bandwidth to be 9 MHz with the included flywires, and 30+ MHz with the BNC adapter board. The waveform generator now performs at bandwidths of 9 MHz (flywires) and 12 MHz (BNC adapter). 

Key specifications:

Analog Discovery
Analog Discovery 2
O-Scope BW
5 MHz
30 MHz+ (BNC Adapter) 9 MHz (Flywires)
O-Scope Samples
100 MS/s
100 MS/s
5 MHz
12 MHz (BNC Adapter) 9 MHz (Flywires)
AWG Samples
100 MS/s
100 MS/s
Resolution (both)
Power Supply
+/- 5V @100 mA
Adj. +/- 0.5 to 5 V (500 mW USB, 2.1 W, Aux)


The AD2 uses Waveforms 2015, which also supports the original AD and Electronics Explorer board (Hong's Electronics reviewed the EE Board). The Waveforms software runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

It also runs on the Raspberry Pi! I have ran the software on a Raspberry Pi 3 with the Electronics Explorer board in a project that I documented on Hong's Electronics called Pi Bench.

The Analog Discovery 2 Website has a nice interactive demo videos showcasing the instruments supported by Waveforms 2015.

In action:

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This photo was mostly staged lol...


Overall I think it is worth it to upgrade from the original to Analog Discovery 2, because the performance gains in bandwidth for the scope and AWG are well worth it. The upgrade to an adjustable power supply and the option to add more power via an auxiliary DC power connector is the cherry on top. I am looking forward to adding the AD2 to my hardware travel toolkit. The $279 price tag might be a barrier to some, but to those who can afford it and travels to conferences and hackathons as much as I do, I believe it is well worth the cost. It is one amazing hardware hacking tool!

Monday, November 6, 2017

Atmel/Microchip SAMA5D2 RoadTest Review

Originally posted on: https://www.element14.com/community/roadTestReviews/2538/l/sama5d2-rev-b-xplained-ultra-evaluation-kit-review

Thank you to Element14.com and Randall Scasny for selecting me for my very first RoadTest! 

Initial Impressions:

I was super hyped to get started when I got this package at the beginning of August. I have had some experience in using some of the Atmel/Microchip Xplained boards, especially the 328P, but this was a completely different beast.

On paper (Atmel | SMART SAMA5 ARM Cortex-A5 Based eMPUs ) this board, along with the rest of the SAMA5 family, has a lot going for it. The SAMA5D2 Xplained features an ARM Cortex-A5 processor clocked at 500 MHz, 4 Gb of DDR3L RAM, and 4 Gb eMMC. In addition to some other peripherals on board, this sounds like an embedded platform that you can rapidly prototype on.

What excited me most were the security features:

The SAMA5 family includes features to prevent cloning, ensure the authenticity, and secure the communications and data storage of your application.
  • Secure boot
  • Hardware encryption engines such as Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)/Triple Data Encryption Standard (DES), RSA (Rivest-Shamir-Adleman) and ECC (Elliptic Curves Cryptography), as well as Secure Hash Algorithm (SHA) and True Random Number Generator (TRNG)
  • On the fly encryption/decryption of code from external DDR memories
  • Pin tamper detection to protect the system against physical intrusion
  • Secure storage of keys and data
  • ARM Trust Zone to partition system, peripherals and memory resources to isolate security-critical software from an open environment OS"

As a hardware engineer that conducts penetration testing against Internet of Things (IoT) devices, this board definitely sounds like tough device to crack if configured properly.

Testing and project demo:

Unfortunately getting to tinker with the security features in the SAMA5D2 was not as easy as I thought. Despite my attempts to connect to the board, support and documentation was quite lacking. I pretty much gave up after about a month of various attempts.

I ended up buying the Precision Design Associates Inc.(PDA) TM3401B LCD touch screen (Digi-Key) to try a "cool demo", as it appeared that there weren't any clear ways to get even a basic Arduino shield running on this board.

I downloaded and flashed a SD Card with the Crank Software demo image for the SAMA5D2 and started up the board:
There is a lot of potential for easy creation of IoT devices with the SAMA5D2. I could definitely see HVAC, Security systems, AV Lightning controls, and biomedical applications using it.

Engineers can easily create an interface using Crank Software Inc.'s Story board suite:

If there were some easy way to configure the security settings of the SAMA5D2, this could be easily integrated into a rock solid IoT device that can thwart hackers and pen-testers like myself.

Final thoughts and summary:
For my first RoadTest, this was very tough! I really wanted to evaluate this product with some Arduino Shields, because of the compatible header layout on the board. Microchip claims that the SAMA5D2 Xpalined "is a fast prototyping and evaluation platform", but my first hand experience using it and battle to getting started says otherwise. I was forced to cut my losses and buy a touchscreen that was compatible with this board to get something "cool" to run on this board. I really wanted to like this development board, but from the start the support and documentation to get the board up and running was an uphill battle, that I ended up giving up on. I have a strong hardware background and have significant experience with embedded devices in design and reverse engineering, but this development board single-handedly defeated me, by losing my interest and motivation to continue to work with it more. I gave this board a score of 29/60, because it has fantastic hardware, but very poor documentation for software and getting it started. I really hope that Microchip will add more documentation and example projects for this very capable device.

I want to thank Element14.com and Randall Scansy again for giving me the opportunity to do this review and I hope to participate in more RoadTests!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

TPM 2.0 Module

Trusted Platform Module (TPM) breakout board and module compatible with most modern PC motherboards that have a Low Pin Count (LPC) Bus, usually a 20 pin header.
Why I made it

I recently built a "Gaming" PC and one of the components I noticed not populated on the motherboard was the TPM. Up to this point, every computer (All Laptops) I have purchased have had TPMs pre-packaged. Yes I could have bought this module for $20 - $50, but I found this as an opportunity to play around with Eagle CAD and build another PCB! The total cost of the module ended up being below $15, and it was pretty satisfying to have a Hong's Electronics product in my new PC.


This breakout board is based around the Infineon SLB9665 TPM2.0

NIST Certification

The Infineon SLB9665 is NIST FIPS 140-2 Level 1 compliant, tables 6, 7, and 8 detail approved cryptographic functions supported by the TPM.

Assembled (Prototype) Units:

Example of Installation

Find the TPM Header on your motherboard (Usually labeled):

Installed on my new personal (Gaming) PC:


Additional Resources

A Practical Guide to TPM 2.0: Using the Trusted Platform Module in the New Age of Security by Will Arthur et al. Link: http://a.co/geJLQ1l

Current Developments

A board for security research is currently in development, it will feature test points and pads that can be easily accessed to monitor with an Oscilloscope, Chip Whisperer, or other hardware side channel analysis tools.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Bootleg Electronics: The Good, Bad, & the Ugly

This Article was inevitable

Bootleg Capacitors from China
I have had it with people buying Cheap (Bootleg) Chinese (Hobby) Electronics! From counterfeit parts to illegal RF transmitters, I have to write about this! Ever since I started Hong's Electronics, one of my first posts was about fake and dangerous electrolytic capacitors from China. The disturbing part about all of this is that it is not a relatively new problem, and it is only getting exponentially worse.

Update (4/29/2017): 
IEEE Spectrum: Invasion of the Hardware Snatchers: Cloned Electronics Pollute the Market


The Good

Example of a Genuine vs Fake Arduino
Yes, it is a valid argument to say that not all cheap and bootleg electronics are bad. Sometimes it is a necessary and temporary evil to get your project working. I try to buy as any genuine development boards as I can, but sometimes it is hard to resist the bootleg $5 Arduino Uno boards, especially when you want to test a circuit that you suspect might burn out a few pins or destroy the microcontroller. It is a completely valid point to say that bootleg Chinese electronics have lowered the barrier for entry and there is no better time than ever to learn electronics or become a hobbyist. Also, do not ever say that "a microcontroller is basically rip-off Arduino" that is simply not true and there are many examples of development boards that pre-date the Arduino Uno that we take for granted. 

The Bad

Image result for fake hard drives
And this is why I buy genuine hard drives
From the very beginning I have had my misfortunes with bootleg electronics. Why do I own a $400 Fluke 87 V? Because I know that it will not blow up in my hand, like my misfortunes with a $5, and sometimes free with purchase, Cen-Tech 7 function multimeter. Then there are the many various bootleg Arduino Uno R3 boards that died on me doing simple programs. Red LEDs that not only went bad, but actually exploded (Epoxy Shrapnel!). Hmmm... Why do I buy genuine hard drives? Perhaps because I've personally seen bootleg hard drives that have flash drives in them instead of a disk or genuine solid state memory as advertised.  

The Ugly

In my professional experiences with working in defense and aerospace, even parts from safe and reputable distributors were not immune from their supply chain getting tainted. This problem is well documented as seen in the IEEE spectrum article: The Hidden Dangers of Chop-Shop Electronics

Good luck trying to debug silicon

I like to believe that I am not paranoid when it comes to ordering components and boards, but I have learned in the last 6 years of working with electronics that there is a point where you need to realize that when you buy bootleg electronics, it is probably going to be a lot more trouble than it is worth. If you use bootleg components in your project and it fails, and you proceed to use this method in another project, you learn the same lesson over and over again. My argument is that it is not worth it, you are lucky if it is a passive component, such as a resistor, inductor, or capacitor, but when it is anything that is programmable or silicon, good lucky trying to debug the exact cause! The simple truth is that using bootleg electronics will impede or stop your learning of electronics. 

Sourcing Genuine components

The unfortunate reality today is that even reputable distributors like Digi-Key, Mouser, and Arrow can fall victim to having counterfeit components leak into their supply chain. Digi-key has highlighted this issue in an article back in 2011. The key to sourcing genuine components is not only to buy them from reputable distributors, but from distributors that have counterfeit parts policies (SAE AS5553 and AS6496 compliant). Most of the reputable distributors have return policies in place that will ensure that you get the genuine component you need and may even compensate you for the inconvenience caused. Ebay, alibaba, aliexpress, banggood, Amazon, and even some hobby distributors have very minimal anti-counterfeiting policies or none at all (especially Ebay and some Chinese vendors). Although most notability Adafruit, and Sparkfun do not seem to have these policies in place, they do have a very good return policy and support that can ensure that you get a working part/component. This is the major reason why I insist on people buying from the major distributors, along with Adafruit and Sparkfun. 

Examples of policies:

Arrow points out in their assurance policy that they are factory direct, which is a very effective measure at removing the risk of counterfeit parts.

Some component and parts manufacturers require you to buy their parts directly from them, Mini Circuits most notably. Microchip/Atmel gives you the option to buy their chips and components direct from them. I have personally done this, since I have found that the Atmel 328p evaluation board direct from the factory is a lot cheaper than a Genuine Arduino board and is still compatible with the standard Arduino shields.


Whether it is work or play, I would rather fork over the extra cash to buy genuine hardware and spend less time, blood, sweat, and tears trying to find intermittent problems that are due to counterfeit silicon, and that could have been easily fixed if I had spent a little more money on. 

This is why #HardwareMatters to me, it is not only about top tier electronics, but most importantly GENUINE ELECTRONICS.

How to Spot Fake Electronic Devices

Sunday, April 24, 2016

PiBench (Raspberry Pi 3 + Digilent EE Board)

Less than 2 years ago, I wrote a review on the amazing capabilities and portability of the Digilent Electronics Explorer Board (EE Board). The EE Board features a 4-channel oscilloscope, 2-channel arbitrary waveform generator, 4-channel voltmeter, 2 voltage references, triple output power supply (+/- 9 v & 3.3/5 v), and 32-channel logic pattern generator/logic analyzer. Other functions using the oscilloscope inputs include a network analyzer, and spectrum analyzer.

"Used with WaveForms, the EE board has all of the functionality as the stack of equipment pictured and more!"

     The EE Board has become an integral part of my hardware arsenal. Most of my projects, that I build from scratch, are tested on the EE Board. Since it takes up very little space in my tool box, it has been an amazing tool for hackathons. Even at my current job, I have been using the EE Board to quickly design and test circuits (Digital and Analog) around the Teensy 3.2 and Arduino.

     Interestingly enough, at a hackathon, I came up with the idea for PiBench. As I was building a circuit up and writing code on my computer for the Arduino, I was wishing that I could run the EE Board independently. It was about 2 AM in the morning and I distinctly remembered that there was some Linux support for the EE Board... That got me thinking about the Raspberry Pi... Oh boy, The Pi can run Linux, so this means that the Digilent Waveforms software has a good possibility of running on the Pi. I did not know that Digilent actually released a newer version of the software. I was still running a 2013/2014 version of the software. Researching the new software (Waveforms 2015), I found that there was actually a version that they made for ARM processors, which the Raspberry Pi has!!! 
This was very promising and so I installed the software on the Pi and it ran without any problems. I used the official Raspberry Pi 7" touchscreen in this project. I put everything in the $17 MCM weatherproof enclosure.

And there you have it... 
PiBench. A standalone portable electronics lab bench!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

RF/Laser PCBs

I purchased these nice PCBs from Midwest Surplus Electronics in Fairborn, Ohio. All of them seem to be designed by General Atomics. There are many great examples of RF PCB layout and different PCB shapes. Many of the boards are multi-layer stackups.
I may use these as examples in some RF tutorials in the future, but for now enjoy these images: