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Chip Replacement

Tips & Techniques By Craig Anderton
Published May 1994

A chip update is an easy way to gain new features for your studio gear — but if you don't install the replacement correctly, you could end up with anything from temporary frustration to a massive repair bill. Craig Anderton provides a step‑by‑step guide.

Updating a chip, or set of chips, is hopelessly intimidating to some people and trivial to others. The truth lies somewhere in between: there's no need to be intimidated, but you can't exactly be casual about the process either. If you want a successful chip transplant, it's good practice to follow these 10 steps.

1. BE PREPARED: save all memory contents of the unit being updated, as after updating, it's often necessary to re‑initialise. Then unplug the unit, find a well‑lit work space, and gather your tools. (See box for list of the equipment you'll need).

2. LOCATE THE CHIP TO BE REPLACED: this may or may not be easy. Some units have a 'trap door' that escorts you right to the machine's innards, where you can easily replace the chip. With other devices, you may have to disassemble the case, remove circuit boards, and unbundle cables to get at the chip.

Remember that you're dealing with a fragile piece of gear where one mistake can cause serious problems. If the chip's location is not obvious, you're probably better off having an authorised service centre do the update for you.

3. WRITE DOWN THE CHIP ORIENTATION: a chip will have a notch or dot at one end (see Figure 1), and it is vital that the replacement chip be oriented in the same way. Failure to do this will probably fry the chip, and may damage the power supply too. Also, sometimes two or more chips will need to be replaced. Write down their locations and any distinctive markings or part numbers. Do not trust your memory! If the phone rings in the middle of a chip change and you have to run off to a session, you may not remember which chip went where when you return.

4. DISCHARGE YOURSELF: calm down, we're talking static electricity here. Touching circuitry after you've accumulated a static charge (from walking across a rug on a day with low humidity, for example) could destroy sensitive silicon parts. Worse yet, sometimes static damage weakens the chip instead of outright killing it, causing intermittent problems (a repair person's nightmare) or a complete failure when you least expect it.

The best approach is to wear a conductive ground strap (Tandy do an inexpensive one); one end goes around your wrist, and the other end clips to the device's chassis ground through a resistor. If you don't use a ground strap, at least touch a metal ground to discharge any static electricity from yourself before handling any chips, and don't do anything that could accumulate a charge while you're replacing the chip. Having said all that, modern chips are remarkably resistant to static damage — but there's no need to tempt fate.

5. REMOVE THE OLD CHIP(S): if the chip is soldered in, forget it. Close the unit back up and go to a service centre. Otherwise, use the IC puller to remove the chip. Pull straight up and out of the socket; you may need to rock back and forth very slightly to loosen the grip of the socket on the chip, but avoid bending the chip's pins as you pull the chip out. Place the chip on the piece of aluminum foil so that the pins are contacting metal.

Since you're replacing the old chip(s), why worry about treating them with care? Simple: the new chips may be defective, or there may be bugs in the new software that make you want to go back to the original chips.

6. INSERT THE NEW CHIP(S): de‑static yourself and remove the new chips from their protective foam, foil, or plastic IC carrier. If the IC pins aren't straight, use an IC pin aligner or needlenose pliers; unstraightened pins can bend under the chip when inserted, or worse yet, break off. Insert the chip in the IC insertion tool, and plug the chip into its accompanying socket. Remember to double‑check the orientation of the notch or dot!

Incidentally, you don't absolutely need an IC insertion tool; you can always line up one row of pins in the socket, then push gently against the opposite side of the chip until the other row of pins lines up with the other side of the socket. But the proper tool can cost a lot less than a botched IC insertion, and besides, it's always a good idea to use the right tool for the job.

7. PUSDOWN GENTLY ON THE CHIP: apply even pressure at both ends to make sure the chip is well seated in the socket. Usually there will be a little resistance as the chip seats firmly in the socket, but be careful not to push too hard if the motherboard isn't well supported under the chip — bending the board could break a trace or solder connection, leading to a big‑time repair bill.

8. DOUBLE‑CHECK the chip orientation against your original drawing. Once you're sure it's OK, close up the unit.

9. RE‑INITIALISE THE DEVICE: this may not be required, but is good practice anyway. If you do re‑initialise, you'll probably want to reload the memory contents you saved back in step 1. Congratulations! You're updated.

10. RETURN THE OLD CHIP: After you're sure that everything checks out OK and you're satisfied with the new software, return the old chips to the manufacturer so that they can be re‑used. Who knows, the service people may be so impressed by your level of consideration that they'll give you special treatment next time you need a quick repair job.

The eleventh step, of course, is to make some fabulous sounds with your updated unit. Good luck!

The Right Tools For The Job

  • Screwdrivers (for disassembling the case to get to the chip).
  • IC inserter/extractor.
  • Needlenose pliers or IC pin aligner.
  • Small piece of aluminum foil.
  • Paper and pencil.