HackMii

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Wii Hardware: a history

August 29th, 2009 by bushing · 13 Comments

Manufacturers of consumer electronics are constantly revising their designs over the lifetime of each product, generally for four reasons:

  1. Yield improvements — fix flaws that caused lots of warranty returns
  2. Cost reduction — use cheaper or fewer parts, so that profit margin increases or the retail cost can be lowered (or both)
  3. Part refresh — sometimes manufacturers stop making parts (for example, 64MB memory chips), so they’ll start using “better” chips because they are the only ones now available
  4. Security — anti-modchip modifications

Most people only think about the last one, but the first three are far more common. I think Sony has most actively revised their designs — aren’t there something like 30+ revs of the PS1, 15+ revs of the PS2, and several of the PSP and PS3? Microsoft had 5 or 6 revs of the Xbox1, and 3 of the Xbox360. Nintendo has had relatively few — perhaps this is because they have never sold their consoles at a loss, so they have less incentive to retool their factories to bring their costs down. (It’s rather expensive to redesign a PCB and then retool your factories to make new ones, and you add some risk of creating new hardware problems and increasing your failure rate.)

Focussing back on our Wii, we can consider the following things as being more or less independent:

  • Updates to the disc drive
  • Updates to the “big chips” (Hollywood, Broadway)
  • Updates to the main PCB

We’ve seen several updates to the disc drive; these are so well-known that people even put up entire websites that track them! Off the top of my head, there was DMS/D2A, D2B (like D2A, but changed mask ROM on one of the chips — probably for reason #1), D2B with cut legs (reason #4), D2C (reason #4), D2C2 (reason #4), D2E (unknown — reason #1?), D2E + epoxy (reason #4), “D2nothing” (perhaps reason #2, but most likely reason #4). Clearly, these were mostly motivated by anti-piracy concerns.

We have also seen a few revisions to the Broadway and Hollywood chips. The oldest photo I can find online of these chips is this one, dated November 17, 2006:

Wii chips

Note that this is the first revision of each chip — called simply “Broadway” and “Hollywood”. Protip: We can tell that the Hollywood chip was made in the 32nd week of 2006 (“0632″) and the Broadway chip was made in the 31st week (“0631″) — so, August or so.

Unfortunately, not many people share my same sick fascination with taking their expensive consoles apart and photographing them, so it’s hard to find photos of a wide range of chips online. On the Korean Wii I bought, it had a “Hollywood AA” (date code 0812) and a “Broadway B” (0744). I assume that there was a “Hollywood A”; if anyone has one of these, please send me a photo or at least give me the date code from the chip so I can build a proper timeline. (I also have a “Hollywood AA” (0801) with a “Broadway A” (0747)), and a “Hollywood” (0636) with a “Broadway A” (0641).

The chip differences aren’t really very meaningful to us. All of the chips have to run the same code. It’s likely that the revisions were done to fix minor glitches; for example, there are a few places in IOS where it checks to see if the Hollywood chip is older than some version, and if so, executes some additional code (redundant memory writes, presumably to work around a bug in the silicon).

Much more interesting to me are the PCB changes. The first couple of years of the Wii saw only one PCB, “C/RVL-CPU-01″; within the past year, there have apparently been two more (-20 and -30, as shown below):

Wii PCB comparison - C/RVL-CPU-01 vs -20 vs -30

Wii PCB comparison - C/RVL-CPU-01 vs -20 vs -30

Note that the major difference between -01 and -20 seems to be that there are a few missing parts. Segher says that this is probably simplified power-supply circuitry; this will be important later. Leaving these parts off may have allowed them to save an extra dollar or so; I can’t think of much other reason for the change. It’s also important to note that neither the Hollywood or Broadway seem to have changed — they are still at Hollywood AA and Broadway B.

The -30 PCB is what has me stumped. This photo came from someone on IRC who bought a new (“unsoftmoddable”) Wii in Australia; he sent it to me as part of our efforts to debug the HackMii Installer. The only difference between those two is … the Broadway chip package is much, much smaller. I’m told that it’s not likely that they actually shrunk the die; rather, they probably just shrunk the metal package, and placed the balls of the BGA package closer together. Unfortunately, I can’t read the writing on the Broadway chip in this photo; if anyone has a Wii with a small chip like that, please take me some pictures of the top and bottom of the PCB!

My theory is that the switch from -01 to -20 coincided with the switch from boot2v3 to boot2v4, and that is when we started seeing reports of “unsoftmoddable Wiis”. I’ll cover the software aspects of this in a separate post.

Tags: Wii

13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 mcorbett26@gmail.com // Aug 29, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    i always love your updates, just wish we saw more dsi! which i guess takes time! thanks for this update guys

  • 2 SquidMan // Aug 29, 2009 at 3:55 pm

    Very interesting. Can’t wait for the software part (it’s what I’m more interested in :])

    Also, huzzah, I’m teh HackMii first poster for life :D

  • 3 Sven // Aug 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm

    OMGZ!!!! I AM SO COOL11!!!11!!!
    I MADE TEH FIRST POST!!!1111!!!!!!!

    …oh wait… :(

  • 4 ifish // Aug 29, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    bushing i tweeted to you and im gonna say it here dont worry abou hoe long it takes it shows and we love the posts lol. and yeah more dsi would be awsome but that takes time and this is a wii blog so you would need to change it

  • 5 bushing // Aug 29, 2009 at 6:53 pm

    @ifish: It’s not that I’m embarrassed by how long it takes me to write them — it’s more that I’m writing about things that are months old because I’ve only just now found the time to sit down and concentrate and write a blog post I can be proud of and have proofread.

    I’ve posted about DSi (and even non-gaming stuff) here in the past, and will continue to do so. There’s not much to report — we demonstrated a savegame exploit for DSi-mode a little while ago (which has since been reimplemented by others), but it requires a game I can’t play on my Japanese DSi (oh, the pain of being an early adopter). loopy continues to be the only one who has been able to poke at the system without using a savegame exploit; I had the good fortune of meeting him at DefCon, but I’m still not privy to any of his secrets. Most of the progress right now is being made by scanlime, but it’s quiet, tedious work.

  • 6 SpyroDragon // Aug 30, 2009 at 4:12 am

    Very interesting and nice post.

    So old Wii’s have better hardware than new ones, actually?

  • 7 justin sheedy // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    whats hackmii and why are wii using it

  • 8 SuperAxel // Aug 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Hi, I have a “Hollywood (not AA) ” (0737) with a “Broadway B” (0737). C/RVL-CPU-01, A-2 SIDE-B, NTSC US, Boot1 whit bug.

  • 9 panzeroceania // Aug 30, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    yes more Wii news! it’s good to hear you guys are really examining things so closely, sadly I don’t have a lot of hardware knowledge so don’t want to crack my wii open but thanks for sharing this info.

    with bootmii and the MIKE kernel I can now run Arch Linux on my Wii with the internal wireless working. woot.

  • 10 senorclean // Aug 30, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Thankyou for another good read Bushing. The motives for revisions is something I had pondered before – and generally had the same conclusions as you.

    There is another DVD-ROM revision floating around, dubbed D3-2. It basically looks identical to a D3(D2Nothing) in terms of hardware, but the serial number starts with an “F” rather than an “E”. When a ‘ribbon’ style mod chip is attached, it will play originals from any region, but not any burnt discs. Whether this means they have removed the DVD video calls, or just changed the way they work – I’m not sure. There is an obvious difference in noise coming from the drive when running an original with one of these chips – so it seems they are smart enough to just let originals run as intended. The nasty cIOS style mods also don’t work with it (apparently)… and I suppose DVDx wouldn’t either.

    There is more info over at wiinewz – http://wiinewz.com/forums/wii-modchips/96030-d3-2-drive-new-unmoddable-drive.html

  • 11 DCX2 // Aug 30, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Why would they shrink the pitch of the BGA balls and not the die? Wouldn’t a smaller pitch increase the risk of errors during reflow soldering?

    I think if they were going to do any major changes like pitch size, they’d probably add some bug fixes, which means extensive testing, so they might as well do a die shrink anyway.

    Perhaps they wanted to make it harder to solder wires into the vias under the balls (i.e. make it harder to install a mod chip)?

    Is there anything on the bottom side of the PCB, or is it just like bypass caps and stuff? I noticed a conspicuous lack of high-frequency bypass caps around those huge Hollywood and Broadway chips.

  • 12 me.yahoo.com/nande_kudas… // Sep 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    hey man, i saw your pics on flickr and i always follow this blog and both are great for me :)

    so, here are some pics i took for ya, i’m not a pro, and haven’t had time, so, here they are, hurry up cuz you can only download it 10 times
    http://rapidshare.com/files/277039803/wiipichars.7z.html

    btw, is a 2008 model, the pcb is CPU02 IIRC, and is the kind that you can’t install bootmii as boot2, and when i run it, it was like frozen, and the front buttons didn’t worked…
    this one baby has a couple of weeks and where fully bricked (as bricked as it can) to the point the wiimotes don¡t sync anymore (so i guess the bluetooth driver doesn’t load up).
    all thanks to the ppl who sold it to me, they made me do a downgrade to 3.2 and it got that way.

    here’s my mail if you want some more details or you can give me a hint on how can i recover my nand.

    lol (at] nande.com.ar

  • 13 andykara2003 // Sep 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Hi, I wonder if you can help me with this Bushing?

    It is well known that the Wii has poor component image quality. Gamecube component is much clearer:

    Example : http://retrorgb.com/gamecubevswii.html

    Apparently, some of the later Wii hardware revisions had slightly better image quality than the earlier ones via component though.

    I’ve been told that these are probably some the later models – RVL-101 – the ones that had no Gamecube ports.

    Do you have any more in depth information as to exactly which hardware revisions have this ‘upgrade’ in image quality?

    Cheers Andy :)

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