Teardown: What makes the Amazon Fire TV Stick tick?

Article By : Brian Dipert

Cracking open the Apple Fire TV Stick is easy, but identifying all the components is a different story...

My nephew moved to nearby Denver, CO a bit more than a year ago, and last fall I learned that to date he’d been relying on a geriatric Apple MacBook Pro tethered to his television in order to access streaming video content. I had a brand new first-generation Amazon Fire TV Stick lying around, which I’d never gotten around to tearing down (we’re a predominantly Roku household), so I gave it to him as a Christmas present.

Alas, he wasn’t able to get it online, and neither Comcast nor Amazon was able to successfully resolve whatever issue he was having with it, so Amazon sent him a replacement unit (which works fine). He gave the original back to me (minus the remote control, which is now in use with the replacement Stick), so I’ve revisited my past teardown plan to see how it compares to the Roku Streaming Stick, whoseteardown EDN published back in January.

Sorry, no unpacking shots this time, but here are some overview shots of the 3.3” × 1” × 0.5” (84.9 × 25.0 × 11.5 mm) unit, accompanied by the obligatory 0.75″ (19.1 mm) diameter US penny for dimension comparison:

Amazon Fire TV Stick with penny

Amazon Fire TV Stick bottom side with penny

And here’s the micro USB power input and HDMI output:

Amazon Fire TV Stick side showing micro USB power input and a penny

Amazon Fire TV Stick HDMI output

Cracking open the case is, as is also noted elsewhere, incredibly easy, requiring only a thin flat head screwdriver:

Amazon Fire TV Stick with the seam cracked open

And here’s what you’ll find inside:

Amazon Fire TV Stick with the plastic enclosure removed

Lifting the PCB assembly out of the remainder of the enclosure is just as simple:

Amazon Fire TV Stick lifting PCB out of bottom enclosure

Here’s that PCB topside again, now free of its plastic sarcophagus:

a view of the top of the Amazon Fire TV Stick PCB with a pink cushioning pad and Faraday cage

And here’s the now-visible PCB underside:

a view of the bottom of the Amazon Fire TV Stick PCB with a pink cushioing pad

Let’s get rid of those pink cushioning pads to see what’s underneath, shall we? Here’s the PCB topside in (sort of) all its glory:

Amazon Fire TV Stick PCB without pink cushioning pads

The PCB-embedded Bluetooth and Wi-Fi antenna structures are clearly visible, but we’re going to have to do something about that Faraday Cage.

Temporarily turning our attention to the PCB underside, the fruits of the pink-stuff removal are more immediately apparent:

Amazon Fire TV Stick PCB bottom without pink cushioning pads

The larger of the two dominant ICs is the system processor, Broadcom’s BCM28155, containing (among other things) a dual-core Arm Cortex-A9 CPU array running at 1 GHz and a VideoCore IV graphics core. Next to it is Broadcom’s (now Cypress Semiconductor’s) BCM43242, which handles dual-band Wi-Fi and Bluetooth duties.

Now back to the topside. The Faraday Cage, as it turns out, is a dual-layer structure:

separating the layers of the PCB Faraday cage

Two layers of the Faraday cage removed from PCB

Underneath it is more pink stuff. Sigh.

Pink cushioning pad underneath Faraday cage

With the pink pad removed, the remaining pieces of the puzzle come into clearer view (although I didn’t bother fully removing the metal shield):

Amazon Fire TV Stick PCB Elpida SDRAM revealed

That large IC dominating the landscape is an Elpida Memory B8164B3PF-1D-F 1 GByte DDR2 SDRAM. Next to it is the real reason for the Faraday Cage, a smattering of wireless power and RF circuitry accompanying the BCM43242, but where the heck is the nonvolatile storage?

Wikipedia tells me it’s 8 GBytes in capacity (so it should be pretty big in size), and these folks even figured out its type (e.MMC) and how to reprogram it (they also have a nice photo of the PCB topside with the metal shield completely removed). But where is it?

Then I remembered: Elpida Memory went bankrupt in 2013, and Micron Technology acquired it. Micron happens to make not only DRAM but also flash memory, including e.MMC flash memory. I bet that if I were to desolder that DRAM, I’d find an 8 GByte e.MMC flash memory module underneath!

By the way, with the teardown complete and no chance of restoring the unit back to fully functional condition (which, as regular readers know, I’m always in favor of doing, then donating it), I stumbled across this discussion thread on iFixit’s site, which has me wondering whether the unit was working fine after all, but just needed to have its settings fully wiped.

When you buy a Wi-Fi-supportive device from Amazon, as I did in this case, and they know your network credentials, as they do in my case, the device comes pre-configured and ready to connect, which is great, as long as you don’t give it to someone else instead! Oh well, sound off with your thoughts in the comments

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