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Chopsticks are Critical To The Process of Making USB Drives
February 12, 2013 12:04 PM   Subscribe

Bunnie Huang tours a USB Drive manufacturer.
posted by boo_radley (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bamboo has a great texture to hang on to things but not be too grippy. Bamboo double-pointed knitting needles are easy to slide yarn across but textured enough that I don't slip stitches off the end.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:47 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunnie is pretty awesome, both in his research, and his write-ups. Andrew Shane "Bunnie" Huang previously: posted by filthy light thief at 1:03 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's a cliché, but every so often something like this reminds me that silicon chips are just straight up magic, aren't they? Tiny, apparently inert gems which are somehow imbued with such vast amounts of information and purpose.
posted by lucidium at 1:25 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think 'wizardry' might be a better descriptor, lucidium. Magic just happens, but wizardry has intent and skill behind it.
posted by Malor at 2:21 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


When you get to know them though, it doesn't seem so much like magic anymore, (just really really cool).

They have inputs and outputs like any electronics. They push electrons around in a certain way, according to a set of rules and protocols to give you the results you expect. My experience is with packaged ICs going onto bigger PCBs, but it's a similar process (minus the chopsticks) at a bigger scale.

Memory is one of the easiest arrangements of any silicon device, all they are really are rows and columns of cells holding either a 1 or a 0 (flash cells are a little bit more complicated than DRAM but a flash chip is still basically an array of cells).

The controller is just a bit more complicated again and you can see there are different blocks in the controller carrying out different functions. Most of the space in that chip is actually also memory - SRAM buffers to hold the data before it moves to the flash. There's also an error correction block, the CPU core and a few others.

So the most magical thing about silicon chips really is the scale. The flash chip shown is an L73A chip manufactured by Intel/Micron which is a 25nm geometry. Which means that the etching done to 'carve out' the circuit in the silicon is a mere 25nm wide - impossibly small. Except now that's pretty much out of date (every 12-18 months or so it changes) and we're down to even smaller geometries 19nm, and soon even smaller again.

Smaller geometries mean more chips per wafer, which means less cost. But that comes at a price of reliability, which is why the controller has to take on more and more of the burden of making sure the data put in is the same data that comes out (through error correction etc).

So yeah, maybe Wizardry could be the right term. There's a whole lot going on under the hood, but it's all built on a set of (relatively) simple rules, protocols and architectures that have been developed at larger scales many years ago.
posted by TwoWordReview at 2:49 PM on February 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


It is the size, really. I know how all of the components work, and I can picture what's happening in my head as if it were a room sized computer, but seeing the chips themselves I can't help imagining some post apocalyptic society passing down stories about these iridescent crystals and the wizards that made them. Like that fantasy trope of magic having left the land.
posted by lucidium at 3:37 PM on February 12, 2013


Heh, that could be a cool story/movie. Think Waterworld but instead of searching for dry land, it's a race to rediscover how digital technologies worked and learn what the elders had stored in the magic crystals! :)
posted by TwoWordReview at 3:50 PM on February 12, 2013


I hope he does a kickstarter for his laptop. I almost bit the bullet for the geiger counter, but I couldn't bring myself to buy something with so little utility for me. The laptop however....
posted by zabuni at 3:55 PM on February 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder whether any of those USB flash drives are firmware upgradeable. There was an interesting talk at 29C3 about USB mass storage devices (which are, as it was pointed out, computers communicating with a host over a network interface), and the prospect of creating rigged USB drives (i.e., ones which recognise the OS that's reading them, or the characteristic access patterns of a forensic imaging system, and change their contents, or which are divided into two drives, with some secret switch used to switch between them, which swap the contents of files between reads (this was used to jailbreak a smart TV) or which attempt to attack the host machine with exploits). Alas, the video seems to no longer be up.
posted by acb at 6:28 PM on February 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


acb: The video is available at ftp://ftp.ccc.de/congress/29C3/mp4-h264-HQ/ (torrent or direct download).
posted by mirage pine at 2:07 AM on February 13, 2013


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