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Coroner's Corner: Issue #1 Smok Alien ...the autopsy begins


#1

Greetings ELR family!!

Today begins what I hope will be an ongoing series of glimpses into the hardware side of mods.

Thanks to the kindness and generosity of some fine family members here, who’ve taken the time and effort to send me their broken mods, I’m able to take a better look inside what’s going on with a technician’s eye and perspective.

First, allow me to say that these thoughts and opinions are SOLELY my own, and are not paid for, endorsed by, any entity inside or outside ELR.

These are simply my opinions, which have been shaped by, a lot of years working on electronics. Both professionally, and as a hobby in my off time. Certain aspects of my opinions are being newly formed from having been inside the unit’s I’m presenting here for your reading interests, but with the slant of both an end-user, as well as a tech. But it’s also worth mentioning that I’m new to this industry from a technician’s point of view, SO with that said, please bear in mind, that while I may lean a certain direction, it’s not gospel (nor am I claiming it as such). Rather, some of these aspects being presented are “educated guesses”, and are not meant to be definitive, nor final assessments.

I will however attempt to be as fair as I can, and am striving to maintain an open mind. At the same time, I’ll call a spade a spade. So if you’re a fanboy… You’re likely to be butthurt on occasion!
With that said… On to the meat and potatoes.

.
Today’s casualties


Courtesy of @Laura5: We have two Smok Aliens.

One red (well used, early model), one blue (newer, lightly used).

The red one was obviously an EDC (every day carry) and well loved by it’s user! However, there’s a couple of obvious issues inside the 510 area… aside from the top spinning freely (which seems to be a semi-frequent complaint on it’s own -at least according to a slight bit of googling)

2a 20171025_155712 (gunk 510)

Just a guess, but it looks like there’s possibly been some arcing (on the ground side of the 510). Pardon the cat hair BTW. (These were both "fully inspected by both feline units upon arrival of course…)

Nothing blatantly obvious going on here…though it does appear that the 510 ground material used may be different upon closer inspection).

Same for the bottoms…nothing to write home about. Yet.

BUT WAIT! Here’s the first real glimpse of things starting to diverge:

You’ll notice on the left (red) mod, the battery door has a stamped/embossed segment and a 4-digit number. (What it represents or denotes I have no idea ATM)

You’ll also notice that I’ve drawn your attention to the added “tension” keeper. Now why this is on the blue one, I honestly have no idea. It definitely has not added (nor retained) any long term pressure against the door to keep it from wiggling around too loosely…and there’s no electrical connection internally. So… Why Smok? Why bother if you’re not going to make it stout enough to last the long haul? Surely not aesthetics, as most folks wouldn’t even notice, much less care that it’s there.
Minor Design Fail #1.


Door play:

A sad state, at least in my humble opinion. They could have used a much larger/stiffer tolerance on either the holes in the chassis that the pin sits in, OR a slightly larger pin, to keep movement to a miminum and alignment in check. (Also note: I’m not applying any pressure to the door to move it further, it’s completely loose laterally. I’m just holding it in place long enough to take the picture, and show the distance of travel. Also bear in mind, one mod is well used, and one is like new, so it’s not an issue of being ‘worn out/down’.)

Nothing serious enough to warrant a “fail” comment, but definitely would annoy me from a quality standpoint given they came out around the $100 bracket originally. YMMV


And now things get a bit more…erm…well, let’s just post more pics.

Ok, so the main complaint on the red one was that the 510 spun freely. Which yep. It definitely did. Oddly enough, I did get it to fire (by dumb luck when I spun it to juuuuust the right position and the ground wire that was loose inside the chassis made contact) but, yeah, getting the tank back off after testing the complaint was a bit tricky. I had to apply a slight bit of an angle to the tank (against the threads) so that I could get it to bite. Just in case you should ever have the same issue :wink:

You can also clearly see the ground wire in a VERY sad state of affairs as a result of the difficulties obviously. Not safe. Not in the least. (While this particular situation is not directly Smok’s fault, as the instant that the top began to spin, the ground wire probably broke free while trying to remove the atty that was installed. However, by the same token, I feel Smok’s design -by implementing this 510 design definitely had to have been a contributing factor.)

So. Looking under the top shows:

Now I’m not sure why, but there was a silvery liquid around a small portion of the 510’s ground connection (where it met the chassis’ top). Not even going to hazard a guess as to what it is/was.

Regardless, the 510 definitely spins in place, as does the white insulator that’s merely “resting” inside the upper portion of the “510 assembly”. And I use that phrase in the loosest of terms here. As assembly IN MY WORLD, implies that it’s a complete unit (whether it breaks down to sub-components or not). This is inherently separate components, that are designed to mate up. BIG difference to me. YMMV.


Back to the main issue (“the 510 sub-assembly”):

OK. This is where I go off. (and Smok went completely off …their rocker)

8 20171025_162746 (rivet)

So you can see where the two mate up (when the top affixes to the base unit), and this is BY DESIGN. There’s literally nothing but… no no. Let me show you:

Yeah… About that cutesy little “rivet”.
Is THIS what passes for QUALITY at Smok???

A FUCKING JEANS RIVET???
/floored
/SMH
/complete and utter shock and disbelief

Oh wait! It gets better… that little rivet’s only supported by a spring, and a “travel-limiting-keeper” that’s not actually phsyically secured to anything internally. (Keeper not pictured) /EDIT: There IS NO “travel limiting keeper” as I termed it…see Edit note at bottom!!

(Again, “travel-limiting-keeper” not pictured) /EDIT: Again, this referenced item DOES NOT EXIST. Do not panic if you don’t see it when you open yours up!! /EDIT

The white wire is the positive, and is soldered onto the Jeans rivet. And then that rests on the top of the spring assembly (the spring is seated on plastic), and the keeper goes inside of the rivet before you turn the rivet into position over the spring. Hoping that it stays in place long enough to reassemble everything, AND get the screws in.

Nothing securing it. Just pressure from the positive wire, holding the “lower 510 assembly” (the rivet and the spring) in relative position, until the chassis top (aka the “top 510 assembly” portion) can be re-aligned, pressed into position, and secured with the top four chassis screws.

Now, here’s my gripe why this “510 assembly” is not only CHEAP as shit (providing the customer with far less than ideal product), but a risky way to assemble things.

I’ve talked to someone in our community during the preparations for this “assessment”, and they stated that they’ve had the 510 pin (aka “jeans rivet”) go under the plastic guide, which only reaffirms what my first thought was when I disassembled and removed the top cap!

If someone was to press too hard on the 510 during cleaning, or grabbed a tank/RDA/etc that had an unusually long 510…or the unit was simply dropped “just right” (“wrong” in this scenario)…then that jeans rivet has the potential to lend itself to an unsafe situation.
I make that last statement using /reserved caution in terminology/ But please understand, I believe it’s a statement that deserves your thorough, and thoughtful attention.


The Mod itself:

A semi-healthy disassembly process. But straightforward nonetheless.

But again, things start to come to light on the hardware front. You’d think that since the boards bear the “same revision chip” (Rev,A), that there really wouldn’t be much that’s different between them. (Not that you’d know what Rev. you had as an end-user with a non-working LCD display - the blue one)

Some of the obvious observed difference as noted in the pic. But some things I didn’t comment on, such as the PCB being different colors, and I’m still iffy with commenting on the color of the “outlines” (below), given how a source could be altered without issue/effect under normal circumstances, but given the combination of “issues” noted here…it’s up for your consideration and final decision.

Even the LCD support frame is different. As is the masking around the CPU (circled portion above) where the VIA’s (through holes) appear only surface deep on the bottom (the blue mod) where in the upper portion, the masking spray appears to have run down into the VIA’s.


The CPU area also has it’s interesting tidbits of course. Begging further questions.

Yeah…just SO MANY changes/differences.
Are they really revising things that drastically between runs? Or is the blue one perhaps a clone? But even then, who in their right mind would clone a blue-jeans rivet as part of a 510 assembly??

The “Dot” as I referred to it (in the ARM CPU picture immediately above) is actually the orientation marker for the chip, which denotes where Pin 1 is located. The fact that it’s different (and has obvious relief marks in the central ‘internal area’ of the dot) denotes that either this chip came out of a different fabrication facility, OR that Nuvoton themselves have actually revised the the DIE for this form factor (it’s new, and different from the one originally used). Either way, I found it interesting, and worth noting. As it could be a defective batch of chips? OR it could be a defective batch of LCD’s…and the timing is strictly coincedental (that it occured at the same time the chips were changed). At any rate, not definitive by any means, nor is it intended as such. BUT, you can’t draw a hypothesis over the long haul if you don’t pay attention to the details as they present themselves!

Bottom line though:
I was able to make one working unit out of the two sets of parts easily for her! (and it’s pretty damned gorgeous -just a shame about the construction IMO) :cry:


@Laura5 I again apologise profusely hon for the delay in getting the blue one back to you! But you’ve been brilliantly understanding! And I appreciate it. :hugs:

To be honest, this isn’t where it ends… there’s lots more to share, especially on the firmware aspects, and I’ll comment further on that soon. And that’s a whooooooole 'nother Smok-ing-clusterFECK into, and of it’s own.

But for the moment, I want to get this posted, so I can resume testing between whether or not it’s a chipset problem, an LCD problem, or both. And we haven’t even touched on the whole Rev.A vs Rev. B thing yet. (Though it’s a much smaller kettle of fish to fry by comparison.)


EDIT: 11-22-2017
MY MOST SINCERE APOLOGIES to each and every person who’s read this.

Boy-fucking-GENIUS here (yours truly) missed a glaring point when I wrote this up. And I’m both embarrassed and ashamed that I made this public before having my shit together.

EPIC FAIL #1 on the part of the writer.

I made a pretty notable mistake, when I made the statements above (in reference to the “Travel-limiting-keeper”), and I make no excuse as to how I missed it. (Though I hope you can see how I made the ‘leap’ -as to the purpose of- the part in question.)

But upon a secondary and FINAL disassembly, and subsequent reassembly of the blue one (as I was re-testing LCD/chip voltages on the working unit), I saw my error.

The “travel-limiting-keeper” as I INCORRECTLY referred to it previously:

DOES NOT GO into the Jeans Rivet (as I INCORRECTLY stated earlier.

Even though it fits perfectly, and I could have sworn it fell out of that area…

I was absolutely wrong.

It was actually the bottom “door-pin” for the bottom door assembly, that’s only on the blue one mind you. (as picture below)

I mistakenly assumed that they had at least tried to make sure that the 510 didn’t exceed a set path (distance) of travel. They did not. It’s strictly reliant on the spring (so worse than I thought, on one hand, but is it as bad as my glaring error? /facepalm)

I apologize to both Smok and the community for stating an aspect of construction that was not accurate.

All I can do is make sure that the information is corrected (as was done above) and throw myself at the mercy of everyone here, in hopes of forgiveness of my BONEHEADED moment.
/sigh


PLEASE send your broken mod to me!
Smok Marshal
Any thoughts on ordering from Heaven Gifts?
#2

Firmware.
Oh the joys of firmware. :laughing:

Whether it’s intended to add functionality, or resolve an issue…I typically won’t even consider buying a mod that doesn’t have the option to update the firmware.

Because I know that the manufacturer has already left the impression that:

  • this product isn’t expected to last
  • will be replaced/superseded in short order

and also equally telling:

  • “We have no intention of supporting it” combined with
  • “We don’t want to deal with you.”

yields from me:
“Well, I don’t plan on supporting your company.”

On the plus side, we don’t have that here on the Alien. They did include firmware support (much to their credit!) and they did release updates for it (again to their credit! As sometimes it’s been seen where only a single update came out from a company…and that was IT. Whether it fixed whatever was wrong or not.)

So Smok are trying to make good on a promise, and that’s commendable!

Unfortunately, there is quite a problem on just GETTING the update at this point. As there were (still are at the time of writing) multiple bad/dead links in the course of trying to find certain updates.

On one of the current “main pages” for Smok Alien firmware (There are two pages, one for Rev. A, and one for Rev. B)

The page here:
http://www2.smoktech.com/hotnews/products/alien-osubplus-upgrade-guide has a hyperlink (as titled below) which is supposed to take you to the Rev. A v1.2.11 firmware. (Which is interesting given there’s no mention of Rev. B firmware, or where to get it! :man_facepalming: )

So that renders a full page basically null and void for how/where to get firmware for your Alien.

Fail 1.


Then, there’s a second page here with detailed instructions (and firmware) for flashing your Rev. A device: http://www2.smoktech.com/support/upgrade/toolsandfirmware/ispalienv
(The only distinction between the two links that I notice is a “v” at the end of the second one…)

Anyways, for posterity, and for convenience of those who might seek to update their firmware…here’s the specialized instructions for the Rev. A:

Please note: it includes firmware for the Rev. B. device ON THIS PAGE.

DO NOT use these directions for flashing the Rev B. (Among other things, the Rev. A needs a setting of 13000. While the Rev. B uses a setting of 14400. But more on that shortly…)

The quick, short and dirty of it, is that The firmware for Rev. B should never have been on this page in my opinion.

But at least you have found two versions of the firmware for Rev. A.

Both of these zipped packages currently contain version 1.44 of the NuMicro ISP Programming Tool (aka the “flash tool”).

Which is fine, because it works for that version. But ONLY the Rev. A version.

Where again, Smok have failed (this time, their web-support department) is that, in the bundle located/linked on this page, is that, the firmware zip file linked, here as:

ALSO contains the firmware flash tool v1.44.
(although it displays in the app itself as: v1.44, if you check under the file details, you’ll see that it’s noted as being version: 1.4.3.1)
Which incidentally requires the use of “filename.hex” format for the actual firmware (or a hex file).

And they clearly state that “(Only works for VB version Alien mod)”

The problem in reality is that, the v1.44 flash tool (at least in my experience) did NOT work with a Rev. B device. It won’t ID it, or even see that it’s been connected to the pc, Even though Windows knows it’s there. Even though the zip file contains a special “config.ini” which CLEARLY lists both product versions inside the file:

  • [0x00022000]
    NAME_STRING = NUC220LE3AN
    RAM_SIZE = 16
    FLASH_SIZE = 128

  • [0x00112036]
    NAME_STRING = NANO120LE3BN
    RAM_SIZE = 16
    FLASH_SIZE = 128

As well as all the other Nuvoton product variants being in the config.ini file…

It appears that the tool itself simply doesn’t reference this file, otherwise it should find either product variant by hardware ID code. I mean, after all, it’s included in the ini file right?? /SMH

So another fail.


Now. It’s also worth noting that the Rev. B hardware change, also changed the format required of the firmware file itself. They now use a BIN file (or filename.bin) which is written in entirely different code. And is a different file size (expectedly so).

Anyways, before I get too far ahead of myself…

So, the third page, which deals with the Alien firmware (Rev. B) can be found here:
http://www2.smoktech.com/support/upgrade/toolsandfirmware/ispalienvb
(so now we’ve added a “b” to the previous “v” in the web address. Amazing how things start to clear up and make sense. ONLY AFTER YOU HAVE LEARNED about everything being so screwed up and all over the place…and it’s too late to make that first impression.)

(again, for posterity and users trying to flash convenience):

Now, in that pic, they at least state that it’s intended for use with ONLY the version B mod, and provide a link to the Rev. A firmware:

But, if you click on it, you’ll only be met with another 404. /facepalm

Again, web-support fails.

Moving on…at least they mention there’s a Rev A version of the firmware, so you have an idea that you need to search for it…but still, they do manage to give a working link to the Rev B firmware:

AMAZINGLY, in this case, they got the right flash tool (v2.00) packaged in the zip file, that a Rev. B unit requires. The flash tool has been renamed (and thankfully shortened) to NuvoISP.exe
And although it displays in the app itself as: v2.00 (if you check under the file details, you’ll see that it’s noted as being version: 2.0.0.0)

So…Now you have a slightly different interface, and different options. Again, the key point to remember with a Rev. B, is set the Base Address to 14400.


So… IN ADDITION TO all of the info above (like that wasn’t enough to piss off even the most patient of folks wanting to “do a simple firmware update”…)

.
On the flash tool:

  • v1.44 doesn’t read the newer Rev. B chip. It also expects the firmware to be in a .hex file format (which looks like)
:1014B0002A400C0316D9F613E0151C20E01704127D
:1014C000197A20148A1B0C9AF00C410416D81301C7
:1014D000091517011C9A010101105A0A0409284D27
:1014E000013A141C14011A04041AF8DC1AFC041A38
:1014F000E8041AF0041A0C141A140429140A16E049
:08150000F801DC03111BB70028
:04000005000000C136
:00000001FF
  • v2.00 isn’t backwards compatible. No matter what I tried, I could not get it to ID either of the Rev. A chipped devices that I had on hand. **Also worth noting is that it expects the firmware file to be a BIN file format (which looks like):
aË ðVúÀqAš
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Finally, I have a special little something for those of you who’ve read this far, and it seems to play well with BOTH chipset revisions, and both code types!!!

Direct from Nuvoton:
http://www.nuvoton.com/hq/support/tool-and-software/software

If you scroll all the way to the bottom of the page:

(quick link, until it goes dead anyways…)
And that’s a link to (v2.03) NuMicro ISP Programming Tool!!
http://www.nuvoton.com/opencms/resource-download.jsp?tp_GUID=SW0320101221101703

This one shows up under the file details as being version 2.0.2.0, and while it’s a much larger download (16.1mb) than the single file you actually need out of it (NuvoISP.exe which is 2.9mb)…IT WORKED PERFECTLY with either file type (BIN or HEX) and either revision (A or B) in the testing that I did.

If you own a Smok product, and it’s got a Nuvoton chipset, do yourself a favor. Go get this version of the firmware update tool!! It plays nice, and doesn’t require a silly separate config.ini (which it doesn’t even reference).

Thanks again for reading this far, and more to come “soon” on the Rev B (post 3)


#3

reserved for Rev B notes


#4

Loved it. It does remind you how much of a throw away society we are in that nothing is built to last anymore. As u said they carefully put the “ass-embly” together hoping for the best, never to be touched or breathed on too hard again. I am sure @Laura5 will be extremely happy now to get it back, fixed and famous! Good job bud!


#5

It does…yet it doesn’t. And that’s part of what surprises me about the whole design/pricing aspects of this particular situation.

I’ve seen better 510 assemblies on friekin $20 MODS!!! And they throw THIS into a $100 model???

Pretty blatant and flagrant disregard for their customer’s dollars in my opinion.

Much appreciated!


#6

My father told me years ago that u never buy a model car the first year it comes out since they havent got the kinks worked out yet. I find it hilarious that peps buy preorder devices. You really have to wait out the recalls, improvements, getting the wear and tear to see where problems exists and solutions for them. It is wonderful to be able to research how to fix a faulty 510,batt door, etc but u couldnt if u had to ‘keep up with the joneses’


#7

Nice work👍🏻I jumped on the Alien train as it was my second mod ever after a eleaf Istick TC 100w. Which still works to this day. After a month of using the Alien the ohms were all over the place all the time. Constantly ask if the was a new coil. Lucky I returned it to MFS and they gave me store credit and let me keep the Baby beast as it was a kit. I still use the tank on occasion, but with the RBA section. Never purchased another SMOK produc since. Thank you for showing what lack of build quality went into this mod that was sold to tons and tons of people. Yeah I agree that with the price point it would have been way better constructed and more durable.


#8

No wonder I keep reading these things crap out fast


#9

First off wow.

This really is a very deep insight into the manufacturing of these mods and one that will raise a lot of questions I’m sure.

I’m surprised DJLSB hasn’t picked up on some of the points you have shown here while disassembling.

Good stuff, thanks!


#10

From what i have read, perhaps smok should have released a version 1 and a version 2 of the alien.
I have one more “old style” and one more “new style” here at home.
The old style jumps all over in the OHMS department. The base spins. It works but is unreliable.
The new style does not allow the tank to sit on the mod with out wiggling a ton. (No matter how tight the tank is)
I am so happy you are figuring these crazy mods out. @Sprkslfly
I am blessed you could make the blue one work!! Very happy to get that one back! You rock man!
I feel like my older one should be sent to you as another parts mod as i dont feel that safe using it after what i saw :eyes::skull:
Thanks a million!
*it sucks they started at 100 dollar mods…the last two were 70 each…
My husband and i have had crappy luck with wismec 2/3. (I should have kept all those for you!)
He is rocking a khaos mod now and loves it.
I think im going to get a new shiny toy soon!


#11

Nice job buddy. Loved it. Don’t change a thing with the style of your write ups.


#12

Bravo sir. I think what you are doing here is great for everyone to see just what goes on inside the shell of mods made by companies like Smok. Keep up the good work.


#13

Excellent write up man! I can’t wait to read more. I’m not sure if it’s the lighting in the pictures but it looks to me like some of traces are shoddy and Solder points are extremely sloppy.


#14

Awesome read @Sprkslfly! Fascinating stuff! Thanks for sharing - look forward to your next one!


#15

Nice autopsy @Sprkslfly! I use an alien every day for my “work mod” so I wont be too sad if I break/lose it. I can’t complain (yet) after about 7 months of not-so-nice treatment. The paint is still intact (mostly) except where I’ve worn through it and the 510 and ohms seem fine at this point. I keep expecting it to crap out on me but it just keeps going. I know this is an exception to the norm. When it Does die, I’ll send it your way!


#16

Well done @Sprkslfly nice Alien Autopsy (hope our resident alien is not upset) - have you emailed a link off to smok yet I would like to hear what they have to say.

Cheers mate


#17

Dang now I want to rip apart my alien just to find the rivet. Like the prize in a Cracker Jack box or cereal. Thanks for the autopsy, very interesting stuff.


#18

Great work @Sprkslfly… very interesting!

Thank you! :+1::+1::+1:


#19

Ya, the alien 510 is one of the worst ever. Mine got pushed down and slightly moved off the spring. I took it apart for repair, but it hasn’t been the same since. Now it’s constantly giving the wrong ohm’s.

Btw, nice write-up, OP.


#20

Very cool! I’m not a hardware gal (software ftw!) but this was really fascinating. It’s great to get a glimpse into the inner workings of these things and maybe a clue as to why some are better than others. May you be blessed to continue doing this for all of our sakes. :wink: