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IC Decapping: The Process

As I’ve been posting some photos of decapped ICs lately, I thought I’d share the process I use personally for those that might want to give it a go 😉

The usual method for removing the epoxy package from the silicon is to use hot, concentrated Nitric Acid. Besides the obvious risks of having hot acids around, the decomposition products of the acid, namely NO² (Nitrogen Dioxide) & NO (Nitrogen Oxide), are toxic and corrosive. So until I can get the required fume hood together to make sure I’m not going to corrode the place away, I’ll leave this process to proper labs ;).

The method I use is heat based, using a Propane torch to destroy the epoxy package, without damaging the Silicon die too much.

TMS57002 Audio DSP
TMS57002 Audio DSP

I start off, obviously, with a desoldered IC, the one above an old audio DSP from TI. I usually desolder en-masse for this with a heat gun, stripping the entire board in one go.

FLAMES!
FLAMES!

Next is to apply the torch to the IC. A bit of practice is required here to get the heat level & time exactly right, overheating will cause the die to oxidize & blacken or residual epoxy to stick to the surface.
I usually apply the torch until the package just about stops emitting it’s own yellow flames, meaning the epoxy is almost completely burned away. I also keep the torch flame away from the centre of the IC, where the die is located.
Breathing the fumes from this process isn’t recommended, no doubt besides the obvious soot, the burning plastic will be emitting many compounds not brilliant for Human health!
Once the IC is roasted to taste, it’s quenched in cold water for a few seconds. Sometimes this causes such a high thermal shock that the leadframe cracks off the epoxy around the die perfectly.

All Your Die Belong To Us
All Your Die Belong To Us

Now that the epoxy has been destroyed, it breaks apart easily, and is picked away until I uncover the die itself. (It’s the silver bit in the middle of the left half). The heat from the torch usually destroys the Silver epoxy holding the die to the leadframe, and can be removed easily from the remaining package.

Decapped
Decapped

BGA packages are usually the easiest to decap, flip-chip packages are a total pain due to the solder balls being on the front side of the die, I haven’t managed to get a good result here yet, I’ll probably need to chemically remove the first layer of the die to get at the interesting bits 😉

Slide
Slide

Once the die has been rinsed in clean water & inspected, it’s mounted on a glass microscope slide with a small spot of Cyanoacrylate glue to make handling easier.

Some dies require some cleaning after decapping, for this I use 99% Isopropanol & 99% Acetone, on the end of a cotton bud. Any residual epoxy flakes or oxide stuck to the die can be relatively easily removed with a fingernail – turns out fingernails are hard enough to remove the contamination, but not hard enough to damage the die features.

Once cleaning is complete, the slide is marked with the die identification, and the photographing can begin.

Microscope Mods

I had bought a cheap eBay USB microscope to get started, as I can’t currently afford a proper metallurgical microscope, but I found the resolution of 640×480 very poor. Some modification was required!

Modified Microscope
Modified Microscope

I’ve removed the original sensor board from the back of the optics assembly & attached a Raspberry Pi camera board. The ring that held the original sensor board has been cut down to a minimum, as the Pi camera PCB is slightly too big to fit inside.
The stock ring of LEDs is run direct from the 3.3v power rail on the camera, through a 4.7Ω resistor, for ~80mA. I also added a 1000µF capacitor across the 3.3v supply to compensate a bit for the long cable – when a frame is captured the power draw of the camera increases & causes a bit of voltage drop.

The stock lens was removed from the Pi camera module by careful use of a razor blade – being too rough here *WILL* damage the sensor die or the gold bond wires, which are very close to the edge of the lens housing, so be gentle!

Mounting Base
Mounting Base

The existing mount for the microscope is pretty poor, so I’ve used a couple of surplus ceramic ring magnets as a better base, this also gives me the option of raising or lowering the base by adding or removing magnets.
To get more length between the Pi & the camera, I bought a 1-meter cable extension kit from Pi-Cables over at eBay, cables this long *definitely* require shielding in my space, which is a pretty aggressive RF environment, or interference appears on the display. Not surprising considering the high data rates the cable carries.
The FFC interface is hot-glued to the back of the microscope mount for stability, for handheld use the FFC is pretty flexible & doesn’t apply any force to the scope.

Die Photography

Since I modified the scope with a Raspberry Pi camera module, everything is done through the Pi itself, and the raspistill command.

Pi LCD
Pi LCD

The command I’m currently using to capture the images is:
raspistill -ex auto -awb auto -mm matrix -br 62 -q 100 -vf -hf -f -t 0 -k -v -o CHIPNAME_%03d.jpg

This command waits between each frame for the ENTER key to be pressed, allowing me to position the scope between shots. Pi control & file transfer is done via SSH, while I use the 7″ touch LCD as a viewfinder.

The direct overhead illumination provided by the stock ring of LEDs isn’t ideal for some die shots, so I’m planning on fitting some off-centre LEDs to improve the resulting images.

Image Processing

Obviously I can’t get an ultra-high resolution image with a single shot, due to the focal length, so I have to take many shots (30-180 per die), and stitch them together into a single image.
For this I use Hugin, an open-source panorama photo stitching package.

Hugin
Hugin

Here’s Hugin with the photos loaded in from the Raspberry Pi. To start with I use Hugin’s built in CPFind to process the images for control points. The trick with getting good control points is making sure the images have a high level of overlap, between 50-80%, this way the software doesn’t get confused & stick the images together incorrectly.

Optimiser
Optimiser

After the control points are generated, which for a large number of high resolution images can take some time, I run the optimiser with only Yaw & Pitch selected for all images.

Optimising
Optimising

If all goes well, the resulting optimisation will get the distance between control points to less than 0.3 pixels.

Panorama Preview
Panorama Preview

After the control points & optimisation is done, the resulting image can be previewed before generation.

Texas Instruments TMS67002
Texas Instruments TMS67002

After all the image processing, the resulting die image should look something like the above, with no noticeable gaps.

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Vintage Optical Block

Top
Top

I thought this would be of interest, as it’s from a drive circa 2001, (DVD-CD-RW).

It’s the biggest & most complex optical block I’ve ever seen, with totally separate beam paths for the IR CD beam & the visible DVD beam. It also combines the use of bare laser diodes & combined diode/photodiode array modules for the pickup.

 

 

 

Cover Removed
Cover Removed

Here’s a look at the optics inside the sled, on the left is a bare laser diode & photodiode array, for the CD reading, and the bottom right has the DVD combined LD/PD array module. The beam from the CD diode has to pass though some very complex beam forming optics & a prism to fold it round to the final turning mirror to the objective lens at top center.
There are also two separate photodiodes which are picking up the waste beam from the prisms, most likely for power control.

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Cisco 2G Fibre Channel SFP Module

2G Fibre Tranciever
2G Fibre Transceiver

Here is a 2Gbit Fibre Channel transceiver from Cisco Systems in SFP module format.

Shield Removed
Shield Removed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here the shield has been removed from the bottom of the module (it just clips off). The bottom of the PCB can be seen, with the copper interface on the left & the rubber boots over the photodiode & 850 nm laser on the right.

PCB Bottom
PCB Bottom

Here the PCB has been completely removed from the frame, the fibre ends slide into the rubber tubes on the right.

PCB Top
PCB Top

 

 

 

 

 

Top of the PCB, showing the chipset. There are a pair of adjustment pots under some glue, next to the chipset, presumably for adjusting laser power & receive sensitivity. The laser diode & photodiode are inside the soldered cans on the right hand side of the board, with the optics required to couple the 850nm near-IR light into the fibre.