Here’s a chap eBay USB-To-Ethernet dongle I obtained for use with the Raspberry Pi Zero. This one is getting torn down permanently, as it’s rather unreliable. It seems to like having random fits where it’ll not enumerate on the USB bus. The silicon in the ICs will eventually make it here once I manage to get a new microscope 😉
This is quite a heavily packed PCB, with the main Asix AX88178 on the left. This IC contains all of the logic for implementing the Ethernet link over USB, except the PHY. It’s clock crystal is in the top left corner.
Not much on the reverse side, there’s a 3.3v linear regulator at top left, the SOIC is an Atmel AT93C66A 4KB EEPROM for configuration data.
The final IC in the chain is the Vitesse VSC8211 Gigabit PHY, with it’s clock crystal below. This interfaces the Ethernet MAC in the Asix IC to the magjack on the right.
Everyone at some stage must have seen these EAS security tags in shops, usually attached to clothing with a steel pin. As some of this year’s presents had been left with the tags attached, I had to forcibly remove them before wrapping could commence.
These are just a plastic disc about 50mm in diameter, with an internal locking mechanism & RF tag inside.
After some careful attack with a saw around the glue seam, the tag comes apart into it’s halves. The RF coil & it’s ceramic capacitor can be seen wrapped around the outside of the tag. The capacitor in this case isn’t even epoxy dipped to save that extra 0.0001p on the manufacturing price. In the top centre is the pin locking mechanism, enclosed in a small plastic pill.
Popping off the back cap of the lock shows it’s internals.
The lock itself is very simple. The centre section, held in place by a spring, carries 3 small ball bearings. The outer metal frame of the lock is conical in shape.
When the pin is pushed into the tag, the conical shape of the lock chamber causes the ball bearings to grab onto it, helped by the action of the spring that pushes the ball bearing carrier further into the cone.
This also means that any attempt to force the mechanism causes it to lock tighter onto the pin.
In normal operation, removal is achieved by a strong magnet that pulls the ball bearing carrier back slightly against it’s spring, allowing the pin to disengage & be pulled out.
This design is incredibly simple & cheap to make, and gains it’s locking strength from friction alone.
I would consider the RF coil being around the outer edge of the device a bit of a security risk – a quick chop with a sharp pair of wire cutters would disable the tag’s alarm functionality instantly. Making the coil slightly smaller & keeping it out of reach of the edge of the tag would help in this regard.