Modular vs Sealed Portable Electronics : Device repair a worthwhile noble pursuit that reduces e-waste, minimizing pollution, saving end users money & pleasing customers!
Cheated by a 1 Year Warranty with Sealed Electronics
Imagine if you recently purchased a $2200+ laptop & exactly 1 day after the 1 year warranty expires a RAM module fails, the RAM soldered to the mainboard, the failure bricks your machine, creating expensive e-waste while wasting your hard earned money.
Designing expensive electronic devices in a way that makes them disposable (designed obsolescence) by soldering the CPU, RAM, SSD and other devices to the mainboard represents an ethical failure that extends back to a narrow minded focus on next quarter earnings that translate into a "cheaper faster to produce focus" in the design & engineering.
Proper quality analysis & quality control results in products that last longer, perform better & have lower total costs both in terms of total lifetime costs and environmental impacts. E-waste is a difficult recycling stream to deal with, often exported to nations where the harm of cheap e-waste processing reigns toxic pollution on poor uneducated people in China for example, where most of the world's electronic waste is destined to end up.
Modular Battery Ethics
Thin form factor user replaceable battery modules can be achieved, thought user replaceable batteries have become less common as a feature in newer mobile electronics. This is especially sad because wealthy corporations with superlative talent in their design & engineering teams, like Apple, Google & Microsoft could be building modular versions of their thin & light mobile electronics. Their principle design objectives often gives rise to cost saving shortcuts that end up cheating & displeasing customers. Customers who increasingly feel cheated by poorly designed products that fail shortly after the manufacturer's warranty coverage period expires. Almost everyone with consumer electronics knows by experience that lithium ion batteries fade within just a few years of their initial use. If the batteries are sealed into the device, then replacing the battery becomes more difficult, more expensive & that makes a battery swap less likely to occur. More often users of devices with sealed batteries simply get a new device when the battery of their old one is weak, even though the balance of the system still works fine. The perfectly functional mobile electronic devices like my disused Kyocera Brigadier ends up becoming e-waste after a single lithium ion battery decay cycle, in the case of my disused old cell phone about 2 years.
The problem with sealed lithium ion batteries also extends to fire hazards that can harm people directly by burning their skin, clothing, vehicles, homes, and businesses. Many people now understand that lithium ion batteries can catch fire, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 empirically proving this point about consumer electronics with thousands of examples all around the world! This means manufactures should be making lithium ion batteries that a user can easily remove from their device!
In this way a user can remove the battery quickly if thermal runaway heat is noted in order to save their device, improving the users safety and end users data integrity.
Phones with sealed internal batteries are subject to total destruction if the battery undergoes thermal runaway (venting with flame). Laptop battery fire, the Boeing Dreamliner battery debacle, hoverboards that burned peoples houses down, there are many examples demonstrating why we should require manufacturers to make battery modules easily user replaceable. Think of how you can easily pop AA batteries into our out of a Microsoft Xbox One Controller vs the nightmare by comparison difficulty of removing the sealed internal lithium ion batteries in Sony Playstation 4 controller.
Not Just Microsoft
Beyond the latest Surface Laptop, many companies have built sealed consumer electronics that are impractical to upgrade or repair. Apple for example solders the RAM & CPU to the mainboard of the 24inch iMAC's. Knowing this I went with the larger 27 inch iMac with modular RAM that can be easily upgraded. I made a video about it https://youtu.be/jp_8VyNapeE
Cheating Real People with Short Term Greedy Focus
When companies do things that cheat their employees & customers (real people) in order to maximize next quarters earnings (greedy short minded focus), the customers & employees feel cheated and eventually abandon their loyalty to the brand.
Every company that has ever cheated their customers for increased short term profit eventually ended up failing. This is why we have consumer protection agencies in government to protect the public from the blind greed of unregulated corporations only seeking to maximize profit at any externalized expense, pollution, harm to their employees, cheating of their customers, even cheating their shareholders in the long run by driving the company down hill with short sighted greedy blind thinking.
Device repair website extraordinary IFIXIT publishes online guides to help anyone complete a device repair, offering instructions, parts & the tools to make the repairs happen. Part of my job involves professionally repairing consumer electronics, a skill that builds upon a history of PC builds that started way back in 1997. The key concept with a desktop personal computer is modularity.
Some phones are easier to repair like the iPhone 5S, 6 or 6S while others are hard to repair like the Samsung Galaxy S6, S7 or S8.
Cell Phones & Tablets
Lets consider the components of common cell phones & tablet computers.
Fanless chipsets are all integrated into the mainboard, or several smaller boards, often covered in metallic IC RF shields, the mainboard often screwed down to the case, or directly mechanically pressed against the case so that the chipset can dump waste heat into the external case (warming up your phone). SOC chipset integrating the CPU, GPU & RAM into a single IC package soldered to the mainboard.
Battery Powered, typically by a single flat rectangular lithium ion of 3.6-3.8vdc & 1000-4000 mah
Buttons & Antenna often still connected by ribbon & round coaxial cables, integrated into the exterior case, the antenna lets the RF in or our in metal phone designs, while the case protruding buttons & ports allow user IO input for volume, finger print scanning, sleep/ wake, headphone jack, charing port, sim card trey.
Screen usually a module containing a digital color LCD + backlight, or AMOLED, glued to a frame component that typically fuses the front glass & digitizer to the screen using optically clear liquid adhesive, the frame component holding the scene securely to the case. The display, backlight, & touch controller often connect to the mainboard with ZIF connector tipped thin flexible ribbon cables of various kinds.
Case, historically made of plastic polymers, machined aluminum parts have become the dominate norm lately. Plastics are transparent to RF for good wireless performance, impact resistant and intrinsically waterproof, while also being electrically non-conductive, they typically are poor conductors of heat and not as stiff as metal alternatives. Aluminum cases have great thermal performance extracting heat away from the SOC & related board components, but bends & dents easily, blocks RF signals, conducts electricity, and adds stiffness. Obviously choosing the case materials carefully greatly influences the design performance, impact resistant, endurance, RF performance, water resistance, sealing effort required, and many other attributes that I forgot to consider. I am not a phone designer.
Laptops & All in One's
Soldering the CPU, RAM, HDD/SSD/ and GPU to the mainboard, if one component fails the entire computer is bricked. Microsofts latest Surface Laptop is unrepairable, but Apple started soldering the RAM to the mainboards of their MacBook machines a long time ago.
Historically laptops & all in one computers included user replaceable parts like a socketed cpu, external battery cartridge, RAM sticks that can be easily swapped, a hard drive that can be easily swapped, even a GPU cartridge that can be swapped.
The Late 15 iMac 27in included upgradable socketed where you can swap out + upgrade the RAM, Harddrive, and CPU : not that many people are ever going to do it : moreover that you can do it if you want to upgrade your existing machine or replace a defective component. My 2008 MacBook aluminum unibody was used to write much of this posting. I upgraded its original HDD with two different SSD's, increased the RAM with a kit from OWC, and replaced the cartridge battery. Back in the good old days when Steve Jobs was still alive the Macbook was moderately modular.
Average time between failures usually denoted in hours, usually given to a component like an SSD to give a metric to its claimed longevity or durability. Early SSD's were very unreliable under long term use cases when compared with traditional HHD, though the SSD offered substantial performance improvements as the HHD was and remains one of the primary information bottlenecks in computers.
Expected Service Life is a more useful metric for system level longevity analysis. ~1-3 years for a laptop, ~1-2 years for a cell phone, ~2-5 years for a desktop, and ~3-8 years for a server blade.
A year contains a lot of hours, 8760 to be roughly precise. Leaving a computer on 24/7 causes the cooling fans to suck dust into the heat sinks, which eventually clogs the heatsinks reducing their ability to cool off the hot components. Make sure to clean your machines of dust, blow out the fans and heatsinks if you want to keep your components properly cooled to achieve good long term usefulness.
Modular Design Ideals : The PC
The virtue of PC designs allow component upgrades & failure replacements while the balance of the system remains unchanged. If you have a newer PC with a low end GPU for example, you can turn it into a VR machine for HTC Vive or Oculus Rift by simply upgrading the graphics card to a VR gaming model (presuming your power supply has enough wattage & your case is big enough to accommodate these GPU beasts).
Lets take a look at PC system components. Make sure to do user review research before buying your parts. Pick well reviewed parts that have high review scores. Sometimes you will still get a dead on arrival or DOA unit (beware) Make sure to observe anti-static procedures when handling computer components outside of their antistatic bags.
Lots of design choices, sizes, formats, generally rectangular boxes of some kind, small, large, many different form factors. The case contains the computer, protecting the components from impact damage, liquids, shorting, dust, etc : usually cooled by intake and exhaust fans that blow air at the RAM, CPU cooler, hard drives, Graphic Card and other heat producing parts on or plugged into the mainboard. Free from old builds or ranging up to $ hundreds from really exotic models.
Converts the alternating current grid power into direct current to power all the components of the PC. Mostly fan cooled models ranging from 250-1000watts, 400-650 watts typical. Free from old build, cheap from scrap machines ranging up to $200 for high end high wattage enthusiast models. Ok new $35, good ones $80, modular cables $120ish, fanless price premium, liquid cooled even more.
Motherboard which connects all the integrated circuit components, RAM, CPU, GPU card, Hard Drive, Optical Drives, Magnetic Drives, etc with the power supply & acts as the internal buss for information exchange between all the parts, often incorportating networking & audio functions with a north bridge chip, power control, etc. A few standardized sizes to chose from. $50ish up to $350 for high end gaming boards, typically around $125 for a good one.
Central Processing Unit : a socket plug in IC (integrated circuit) usually with hundreds of PIN in Intel or AMD flavors, containing billions of transistors lithographically produced layer by layer using a technique similar to the classical way of printing photographs from a film negative, but with many layers forming a 3D network of transistors connected by a beautifully complex network of interconnections; its not the transistors that matter most but the architecture of how they are connected that makes the real difference. Smaller transistors tend to use less power per cycle & can typically switch faster, an important consideration for power consumption reduction & performance, usually referred to in TDP or thermal watts of dissipated heat energy ranging from 5w to 140w in most PC desktop chips. $100-$1500, typically around $200-350 for modern high performance versions.
A cooler that bolds on top of the CPU with heat transfer compound for good thermal transfer coupling to remove waste heat from the CPU thereby enhancing its life, function & durability, usually made of a brushless fan inside of a metallic copper / aluminum fin heat sink assembly. The CPU usually ships with an OEM cooler heatsink, $30-80 nets a fancy higher performance model for VR/ gaming builds.
Sticks of random access memory that plug into the mainboard slots and give the CPU something to talk too at high speed, usually 4 slots that can accommodate up to 128 GB. Freed from old build $50ish for about 8GB~
Graphics card that handles visual data to pump the screen pixels with complex math solved with many parallel cores. Free from old up to $1200+ for liquid cooled latest high performance VR models like the GTX1080, often with many GB of onboard video ram.
HDD or SSD
Bulk storage drive where all the files live, often the main bottleneck of the system. Traditional spinning magnetic platters give 1TB + of storage for under $100, while individual HDD's can store up to 8TB of data now. The SSD's are affordable in the many hundreds of GB models like 256GB or 512GB but are available in premium formats larger than 1TB. The SSD can read & write data much faster than a traditional hard-drive, enabling faster boot up and speed app launching, though they command a price premium over HDD's per storage unit. Typically $100-$500 gets you a plentiful amount of storage.
Monitor, Keyboard & Mouse for IO or input output, the part of the machine that people interact with, now microphones are digital cameras are often build into the display for additional IO for video conferencing and controlling personal digital assistants like Cortana with natural human voice.
Free from old builds, sky is the limit for budget, typically $200 gets a nice monitory, $80 a nice keyboard, $50 a nice mouse.
Often called Wintel machines in slang because of the Microsoft Windows Intel PC platform popularity in desktop PC's. An OEM building install of Windows 10 costs about $100 or your can install Ubuntu Linux for free. Stick to a Windows builds for VR, one of the remaining compelling build cases for a PC build, aside from the Noble virtues of modularity.
$400-$3000, you can usually build with relatively recent high performance parts for $800-$1400. Bare bones systems on the low cost $400 side with enthusiast liquid cooled VR rigs in the $2500-$8000 range.
Reusing your old case, old power supply, old monitor, old keyboard and old mouse, you can upgrade the performance parts (mainboard, RAM, CPU, GPU)/ Stick to a high quality power supply of at least 400w. 500-700w is a good ideas for a basic VR build & future proofing, while exotic builds should go with 750-1200w models that can support multiple graphics cards running in SLI.
1960's vs Seat Belts
The automakers once opposed "Seat Belts" as a technology because safety engineering made the cars more expensive to develop, raising the difficulty bar for the automakers. Today the safety bar for automotive designs legal to sell in USA are so difficult that it is nearly impossible for a new start up automaker to get going. Tesla was the first successful automotive manufacturing startup in America in more than 90 years, even its first car the original Tesla Roadster was exempted from certain safety testing requires & standards for the 2008 year when it was introduced.
Today regulations require automakers to equip new cars with many airbags, crumple zones to pass the safety impact testing procedures, backup cameras to help drivers not to back over small animals like small children & pets, emissions controls to keep the tail pipe funk to a minimum with multi stage catalytic reduction + EGR + logic controlled fuel injection & timing, etc, to comply with increasingly stringent emissions standards. Today many cars are super ultra low emissions vehicles that burn the gasoline fuel relatively efficiently, with air cleaning emissions controls that minimize air pollution emissions, important for public safety. Breathing of tail pipe emissions linked to many horrid preventable diseases like cancers, neurological damage, kidney & liver diseases, etc.
Much of the advancement in automotive engineering was aimed at making cars safer, larger & more powerful, while a renewed focus on energy efficiency via fuel economy resulted in more than 9 million hybrid vehicle sales from the preeminent developer thereof, Toyota.
You might be wondering why I am talking about cars & vehicle regulation history, so consider the increasing role that computers are playing in new vehicle models. Think Tesla Model S with its gigantic touchscreen android user interface in the dashboard cluster, persistent mobile broadband connection, improving autopilot functionality via increasingly novel driver assist modes via software updates, fleet level machine learning optimization of the autopilot software, and related software improvement integrations that enhance the Model S over time as they become safer & more efficient. One guy was able to drive a Tesla Model S P100D more than 570miles on a single charge using special hypermiling techniques on a closed track going 24mph.
Increasingly information technology integration forms the user facing improvements in more new vehicles, many of which contain greater than 90 fanless embedded computers governing the operation of the engine/ power system, energy recovery, emissions control systems, lighting, heating, cooling, cabin air cleaning, driver assists, safety systems, battery charging, security, telemetry, data recording, wireless key functionality, networking, software updates, autopilot & self driving features. All of these parts are usually replaceable & modular in nature. The battery of most vehicles for example can be relatively easily changed. Noting also that most automotive 12v batteries are of an heavy duty 1859 lead acid design, made of lead plates suspended in a plastic container filled with diluted sulfuric acid.
AI Driving Advantages
Computers will pilot vehicles with greater safety, improved efficiency, lower emissions, less wear & tear, longer useful life, greater range, improved stability & performance. The ongoing innovations will make every aspect of selfdriving cars improve with progressively optimized software updates! Cars that drive themselves will also be able to share machine learning as a fleet, so that any mistake made by any individual vehicle will benefit every other vehicle in the network.
In the future cars will talk to each other & to infrastructure to enable 5x more traffic volume flow on existing roadways enhanced with smart technology. Taking the human part out of the driving equation will save 10's of thousands of lives that would have been taken due to human driver errors in the era before self driving car technology. Today more than 38,000 people are killed annually in car accidents in the USA. We have the technology to end this problem, but as usual government regulations are 15+ years behind the times.
Stupidity & Ignorance Hurts Everyone
People are dying because of a lack of applied existing technologies, senseless and beyond rational defense. Gross stupidity & ignorance causes people to hurt themselves and others in ways that vastly exceed the scope of this posting. Making everything more intelligent will only improve our shared future together. Making everyone more intelligent will only help to build a better future! We are stronger together united, that includes stronger with better technology.
We can hybridize machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the information revolution with real people to improve medicine, healthcare, education, energy, science, research, innovations; with better technology we can solve all diseases of the body & mind, eventually reversing aging and extending human lives. We can engineer ways out of any problem, nothing is impossible!
When people claim that something is impossible they are often missing the bigger picture! Anything is possible if we work together over long periods of time to make it happen. There are countless examples of modern marvels like the internet that exist as a testament to what is possible when people work together as teams to make something previously impossible happen.
There are dreamers among us who want to deliberately build a better future. Why should we continue making the same mistakes over and over again since doing so is emblematic of psychosis : we could share learning & edify one another as an alternative, thats why education is so import for our future!
Extolling the virtues of device reparability comes back to my core passion for making everything better. I want to help other people by encouraging them with edifying information. While this posting has a long wandering style, I share it with the world hopeful that it will inspire positive changes.
Thanks for reading my work if you made it this far, cheers. If you have any suggestions, comments or ideas you want to share go ahead and please leave a comment. Until the next post, I wish you all well and I promise to keep Thinking About It!