Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Upgrading my iPhone 6s to 256GB

In this lengthy post, I will share on how I got about upgrading the storage on my iPhone 6s to 256GB, which might be helpful if you're considering doing the same.​

So, why did I want to upgrade the storage myself?

Here my long story begins. TL;DR, my iPhone was slowing down and running out of space.

Last year, I installed an aftermarket high capacity battery from China (its legit, it did help improve battery life) to replace the old failing one. Following that, I heard about the throttling issue on iOS 11 and thought the high capacity the battery is showing might be interfering with iOS, making it confused and in turn throttle the CPU.

However, after the throttle issue was fixed, I still felt that my phone was kind of slow, and thought something else must be causing the slowdown. I did some research and found that larger capacity iPhones had a faster nand, and that the performance of flash storage tends to degrade at about 70% full.
At that point in time, I only had about 10GB of storage left on my 64GB iPhone, which equates to about 84% full. It seems that a larger capacity flash chip was the cure for my slow phone.
I looked around and found a mobile repair shop at Sim Lim Square that offers a service to upgrade the iPhone storage to 256GB, and it costs S$159 at the time of writing. (Fun Fact: iirc, at the time of launch the 6s had a maximum configurable storage of only 128GB.)

As a teenager, that seemed a little too costly for me, and felt it could be cheaper if I did it myslef. I came across a YouTube video by Strange Parts showing how he did it. His video convinced me that it would be possible for someone with little smd rework experience to successfully upgrade the storage on an iPhone. I went to find the tools he used on taobao, a popular e-commerce platform in China, and found the programmer for the nand flash to be prohibitively expensive for it to be viable for me. It costs around 1600 yuan, and that itself was more expensive than the repair shop option.

However, as I was looking through prices of the programmer, I stumbled upon sellers who sell the nand flash alone and they advertised that they are able to program the nand for the buyer. Following that discovery, I did further research and found out that you just need the model number, imei, WiFi and Bluetooth MAC address to be programmed into the nand for it to work, and there isn’t a need for the seller to have access to your device to program the required information.
However, as taobao sellers are mostly in China, you’d need to communicate in Chinese with them if you'd like to do the same. If you're interested to shop on Taobao and do not know how, you can check out my other blog for some tips on how to do so.

With the programmer being an optional item, it is now possible for me to do it myself at a price lower than what is offered at the local repair shop.

The Process

Firstly, I bought a few iCloud locked 6s boards for practice, before buying the actual nand flash for my iPhone. As I already had a hot air station and tweezers, the only tool I bought was a cheap Xacto knife to scape the adhesive away from the perimeter of the nand flash, some flux and a roll of wick. In the end, I practiced on 4 iCloud locked motherboards before moving onto my own iPhone. At that point in time, I intended to buy a second hand 16gb one to try but as I was on a budget I decided to risk it and change the nand on my main phone.

In online guides, they recommend restoring from a new firmware before doing the upgrade but I did not feel it was necessary. I however did deactivate find my iPhone to avoid any activation issues. I'm not sure if it was necessary to disable find my iPhone, but that was what I did and it worked out in the end.

The removal of the nand went smoothly and I did not pull any pads. The chip I bought was pulled from another iPhone so it had some black underfill on it. It was pretty hard to clean it properly and I did not manage to solder it correctly on the first try. When restoring, iTunes gave me error 4013. At that point in time, I was getting worried that I had bricked my phone for good.
Not willing to give up, I tried re soldering it and luckily my anxiety did not make me mess anything up and I managed to get it soldered properly eventually.
During the process, I was a little conflicted on how to solder. In some videos I saw online, they wicked the solder off the pads while others just went through the pads with a soldering iron to tin the pads. I can't exactly remember what worked, but in my opinion it would be safer to try without the wick first as you'd be less likely to tear out the pads.

Then, after restore I faced another problem. Touch ID wouldn't work when during the activation phase. I thought it would resolve after I restored my data, but it didn't. I then thought it might be the issue with the programming and I thought I would need to solder back my old chip for it to work, and my failure on the first attempt gave me some ptsd and I was reluctant to solder the old chip back again. I proceeded to ask the seller and turns out I made a dumb mistake - I did not plug in the home button when restoring. Touch ID finally worked after another restore, but that meant I had to wait for all the apps to reinstall for the second time. Not a significant mistake, but it would've been good to avoid had I known initially.

When restoring my data, the iPhone picture in iTunes became gold (my phone housing is silver). I guess the nand chip seller didn't program it as I forgot to tell them what colour my phone was. I initially thought they were able to find out the colour using my imei, serial or model number. It turns out they won't know unless you tell them, I guess.

After the storage upgrade, I felt that my phone was significantly faster, and a disk speed test I did before and after the upgrade reflected the change.

Old 64GB Speed

After upgrading to 256GB

Amount I spent in total:

iCloud locked practice boards: 240RMB (60 each)
256GB used nand chip: 203RMB (prices have since gone up)
Xacto knife set SGD1.49
Flux SGD3.44
In total i spent less than S$110, mission accomplished! Plus, I get to keep my old flash chip as well!​All in all, I managed to gain experience in hot air soldering and save over S$40 in the process. I'd say it's pretty good.

Should you decide to do the same, here are some things to take note of:

  • You should be comfortable opening an iPhone and removing its motherboard
  • Definitely definitely get a few motherboards to try on, if you go straight on its likely you'll ruin something. I've ruined numerous iPhones in the past and had put off the idea of upgrading the storage for quite a long time as I was really scared I would brick my phone
  • When restoring the firmware remember to plug in the home button to ensure Touch ID gets activated
  • Optimally do it on a spare phone so it doesn’t disrupt your daily usage if it doesn’t go smoothly
  • Shop on Taobao instead of AliExpress if possible, as the prices are usually better
  • Buy a brand new flash chip to make your life easier if your budget permits. You wont face issues with alignment with uncleaned underfill form used ones
  • From what I can tell when communicating with the nand flash sellers, they generally do not like selling to people who do not have any experience(like me), so you'd have to 'act' like you know what you're doing. It is possible they might refuse to sell it to you if you let them know you have little to no experience as they feel it would be more likely that you would accidentally damage the chip and blame it on them and get a refund. I guess it might be because they had numerous experiences of people spoiling the flash chip and blaming it on them. I can't be really sure though, but that was what I could tell based on my experience.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Is your lightning cable a bona fide one?

I’m sure you’ve seen a fake lightning cable before, and differentiating between fake and authentic seem pretty straightforward. Even Apple’s website shows you how to tell. 

But.. I’ve noticed that the fakes are looking increasingly like the authentic ones. So how can you tell?

The easy to tell ones

These are the basic ones. The lightning connector is not in a single metal casing. These are pretty straightforward to differentiate.

These are the basic ones. The lightning connector is not in a single metal casing. These are pretty straightforward to tell. 

Looking at the above picture, it seems pretty easy to tell eh? But nah, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
I’m starting to see some with a single metal piece that almost seems authentic until you look very closely.

Not so easy to tell ones

There was once I bought an ‘authentic’ cable from someone on Carousell. The box looked identical to the ones in Apple stores, with the exception of the blue sticker on the corner, saying it’s original in Chinese. I then became a little skeptical about its authenticity. I then noticed that the connector became slightly warm when charging. The last thing that gave it away was the documentation(photos below). That’s when I knew it definitely wasn’t original. Luckily, I was able to get a refund. Below are some photos for comparison. 

Packaging looks identical with the exception of the blue sticker

See the subtle differences between the fake and the real? The real one is on the right.

USB connector looks pretty much the same. Apple's official guide doesn't seem really useful..

Notice anything odd? Box says 'Lighting to USB Cable', documentation says 'Lightning to 30-pin Adapter'.  Hmm... seems odd, doesn't it?

There are still some differences in this case, mainly the lightning connector. The fake seems to have more jagged edges.

I then started seeing lightning cables that looked identical to the original ones. Out of curiosity I cut open the connector. What I found was not what other people’s teardown of the Lightning connector.

I then chanced upon this picture:

Chinese counterfeit lightning cable types?

On the top left, it seems like the original lightning connector. I was getting convinced that I found the original one. So I started purchasing a few of these to sell, thinking it was original. (which I later found out wasn't)

Looks very convincing.

Looks exactly the same!

Took the connector apart. Doesn't seem original to me. However the connector(area with the 8 pins) look exactly like the original one.

Not long after, I came across this tester on Taobao, a popular Chinese E commerce site. It was pretty expensive, costing almost S$200. 

It claims to be able to tell if a cable is authentic by just plugging it in. Since I wasn’t 100% sure what I got was original, I bought it just to be sure. 

What I found out with that device is shocking. Even though some can look exactly like the real deal, it registered as a fake on the device. 
Copycat means fake btw.

Look at the lightning connector. Looks like what you get from an iPhone box, but its fake

Cable that came in an iPhone box. Wires are showing so I placed a layer of heat shrink over the cable.
Foxconn packaging. Real? No. Fake. They even managed to program the cable serial number into the connector!

So, how can you tell if what you’ve got is authentic?

The conclusion I got from my experience is that you can only tell if you have the device I have. 
I'm sure not many of you reading this would be crazy enough to buy a device costing nearly 10x of a lightning cable in the Apple Store to figure this out. 
However, if you're in Singapore, you can hmu via Carousell and you can pay me a small fee to test some cables. 

After all, I have to recoup some of the costs of this device right? 😅

Else, what you can do, without the device, is to only look at the connector and make sure the corners are smooth and they look exactly like the original one.
To ensure your cable is an original one, purchase it from the Apple store or only buy MFi Certified cables from reputable brands like Targus and Belkin etc. Make sure the packaging has the MFi Certified logo, where it shows 'made for iPod, iPhone, iPad'.

This cable by Ugreen is MFi certified and the device shows it's original.

Lightning connector of the cable for your reference

This would hopefully help prevent you from getting scammed when someone, in a 3rd party repair store for example, tries to sell you a cable that looks exactly like an original one.

Using a fake cable bypasses some protection from the cable and could harm your device. Do check out this video by iPad Rehab I found, for a more detailed explanation.

You may also want to check out this video by mobilereviewseh on the topic of lightning cables.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Differentiating between fake and real Apple Power Adapters

I'm sure you've heard news of those fake apple chargers exploding right? After looking at the news it seems that it is pretty easy to differentiate between the fake and the real right? Well, nope. Those producing the fake power adapters are getting better at imitating the real ones and you have to take a closer look to check if it's real. 

This blog post is going to be a long one so if you're inpatient feel free to skip to the pictures. In this blog post I will talk about the improvements of the fake chargers, and some ways to check if yours is real. 
Ps: if you've got more suggestions or have any points that I've missed out feel free to comment bellow to let everyone know! 


Basically, the best way to ensure yours is original is to purchase from Apple retail stores. But let's say you want to have a few at home and a few at the office, the cost of buying retail adds up really quickly. So you want to buy from someone else who sells it more cheaply and many sellers claim what they are selling is original. The problem is that the fakes are getting so good that even some sellers might not even know if they're really selling the original ones. I myself am selling the power adapters too and to make sure that I'm selling original adapters so I've done some research myself and these below are what I have found out: 

So what has changed?

If you've come across a fake one in the past you'd have realized that the USB port is inverted and that was a good indicator of the authenticity of the adapter. Well, not anymore. All of the fakes have the USB port oriented correctly already so many would assume that a power adapter is authentic if the USB port is oriented correctly. 

They counterfeiters have also become more daring and they copy the exact wordings of an original charger and it would be really hard to tell even if you were scrutinizing it. 

Lastly, weights has also been added to the fake chargers to make them feel like the original ones on the hand, so you can't use weight to determine its authenticity anymore. 

Taking a look at the insides

To know how to differentiate between fake and real, I decided to take apart all different the adapters I could get my hands on. They are divided into different grades: A, AA, 仿(meaning copy) and lastly 原壳(original outer shell). Of course I also took apart an original one for reference. 

This is the 仿(copy) adapter. It has a metal weight on the 3 pin side, where 2 wires connects to the pcb. 

This is the A adapter. Again, a metal weight on the 3 pin side and 2 wires connect to the pcb.

This is the AA adapter. It's weight is under the pcb, in the shell. The 3 pin side connects to the pcb via metal contact when assembled. 

This is the 原壳(original shell) adapter. Did not find any metal weights but the blob of silicone could contribute to the weight. 3 pin side same as the original one but uses spring on the pcb for contact. I guess this is the best out of all the fakes? 

Lastly this is the original adapter. Was so hard to open I had to Dremel it open resulting in the horrible condition of the outer shell. Very sure there isn't any weights on the original one. 3 pin side has an additional white tape. Connects to the pcb with a special connector.

How to differentiate between fake and real?

After examining the adapters in detail I came up with some ways that I think can help you differentiate between the fake and the real.(as of time of writing)

Firstly you can check the sidewalls of the USB port. Original ones all have a little area where u can see white at the back(see the pictures).  Fake ones tend to have either a black background or have a larger visible white background. Hopefully the attached pictures can allow you to understand what I mean. 
Authentic one has a small white part covering about half of the height of the USB port but the original shell one covers about 3/4 of the height

The sidewall of the AA one is black while original one is white

Cutout for sidewalls of USB port in A charger is different from original

Cutout for copy charger is similar to that of the A charger

Basically, just lookout for chargers that have the exact same USB sidewall cutouts as the original one. If its different, its probably a fake.

Secondly, you can check the pins of the 3 pin plug. Most fakes don't have a consistent line between the metal and plastic part. Again, look at the pictures.

Thirdly, you can check for irregularities in the printing at the back. Some fakes have misaligned printings, whereby the printing is off center. If you look closely enough, most fakes have a slightly different font from the original one and the shade of printing is darker. However, the printing for the 原壳(original case) one is exactly the same as the original one so beware. This method is reliable against most fakes. 
Font of words are different 

Apple logo is off centre for A charger

Font is different 

Original shell charger looks exactly as the same but still fails the above 2 tests

Fourthly, you can check the current it can deliver. You can use something like a USB load resistor combined with a USB tester to check the voltage. Original/good fakes will be able to sustain 5V under 1A load. The 仿(copy) version's output voltage dropped to 3+V under 1A. Horrible adapter. I also tried to put 2A load on the adapters (it's only designed for 1A load, do so with caution) and realized that 2/3 original apple adapters stayed on with 3+V output while all the fakes and one of my original one turned off. The original one that was has "Emerson Network Power" written on it(its original, probably came with the iPhone 4)turned off but the one with "Salcomp(Shenzhen) Co.,Ltd" and "Artesyn" written stayed on. Your results may vary and original chargers can also turn off when you put a 2A load so this might not be a very good way to check for its authenticity. 

Lastly, you could also check the charger's weight. Original ones weigh between 42 to 48 grams. However the weight of most of the fakes also fall in that range so you could only be certain yours is fake if it weighs 30 over grams or less(one of my fakes weigh 30+ grams).


I hope you've found this post useful. If you have any suggestions on other ways to differentiate between the fake and original power adapters do comment below :)

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Mac Pro 1,1 Case Mod

Want a Mac Pro but have no budget for it? Well, build a hackintosh and put it in a Mac Pro case.

I bought a faulty Mac Pro some time ago and after being unable to fix it, I decided to modify it to be a PC case with hackintosh installed.

This is how I went about modifying my case and hope it would help someone wanting to do something similar.

My goal is to make this look as much like a Mac Pro as possible and retain its layout when possible. 

Things to take note: 
The case is significantly taller and longer than a regular atx case, do ensure u have enough space if you intend to put it in a shelf. I personally had to modify my shelf a little to make the case fit.
Do make sure you get an mATX or ITX board.

Now onto the mod: 

First, the power supply.

Extended hole for cables
I initially wanted to modify the power supply to 24 pin but realized that the amp rating for the 5v rail and 3.3v rail is too low to be used. So I took out the PCB of the Mac Pro power supply and put the PCB of an atx power supply I had laying around into the case. 
The screw holes did not fit so I used a plier to rip out 4 standoffs in the case and used epoxy to glue to the desired location for the power supply.
Now after that is done, the cables need to pass through to the motherboard. I decided to use the same cable routing route as it originally had. 
But... metal plate was blocking my way. To enlarge the holes, I recommend that you use a dremel but do note that the metal is quite thick. For me, as I did not have a dremel, I removed some 30 over T8 screws and pried open the back of the case to remove the metal plate. Then, I proceeded to drill out the metal and put it back in. The method I did was very time consuming and I recommend that you try to use a dremel or something if possible.

Sadly, in the process of removing the case, I damaged the optical drive slot so I ended up without any optical drives. Should you be tearing the case apart, do be cautious about the optical drive slot/cover. 

Then after installing the power supply, I realize that the cables are too short. The quick way to fix this is to get a extender. However, I went to extend the wires by soldering to keep costs down(very time consuming and tedious).

Connection of SAS-SATA
I then modified the SAS Cable to 4 SATA connectors. I spliced and manually soldered to 2 SATA cables with I cut both into half. If you choose to go this route, do note to NOT connect it like this : SAS-copper wire-SATA cable. Instead connect it using SAS-SATA. This is because it is impossible to solder to the ground of most SATA cables. I'm not going to explain further as it'll make it very confusing. Alternatively, just get a SAS to SATA converter at Taobao or Ebay etc, it doesn't cost really much.

Next, I rewired the front panel for it to work on a PC motherboard. I wired it up using aquamac's wiring diagrams. As of currently I have the power button and USB working. Personally I was initially a little confused with the wiring of the power button. The connectors are supposed to connect to 1 of the power on pins and to the one beside it(MSG pin).

Screw on COM Port
Lastly, onto mounting the motherboard. I recommend doing this step the last as if you want to tear the case down you risk damaging your work.For me as I wanted it to look as original as possible, I used the original standoffs. I used a plier to remove the standoffs, which came off easily. Alternatively a hammer could be used, just knock it gently and it should come right out.
Then I glued the standoffs according to the screw holes on my motherboard. 
For the IO, I used an angle grinder and to cut out a rectangular hole for my IO. To make it fit, the top part of the IO shield was cut and a screw was put in the com port to keep it in place. 
This is not the best method, if you have any ideas of better methods please do comment below :)

To mount on the exhaust fan, I drilled 2 diagonal holes in the fan plate to fit the fan. It is connected directly to my power supply with 5v. It's wiring is different from normal 120mm fans. Do check the useful links below for the one I used. Because the larger fans are thicker, I used the original power supply fan of the Mac Pro instead which is thinner.

SSD mount

Lastly, onto the part on mounting hard drives. I wanted to put an SSD in it but no adapter mounts would fit. I used a small piece of acrylic and drilled holes to fit 2.5 inch drives. Although it would be slightly misaligned, it would still fit. Just push the drive up slightly.

Well that's pretty much it for the case mod! Happy modding!

More pictures of the build:

The end product

Back of the case
The insides


For me, this mod technically costs $0(excluding cost of system)

After disassembling the system there was a lot of parts, of which I sold off in Carousell. After selling some of the parts I had more than what I bought the Mac Pro at, which that extra cash would cover for the acrylic used in the hard drive bay.
Self advertising here-Do check my account out at http://carousell.com/gekjunxu if you're interested!

Functions I might want to add in the future: 
Front panel audio 
Water cooling
Dual power supply 

If anyone has suggestions on how this mod can be improved do comment below :)

Useful links