An Epic Journey in Reverse Engineering Ends with a 6,000 PPI Boardview of the Nintendo Switch Lite

A year's development, three weeks' soldering, and $10,000 went into producing the most detailed Switch Lite boardview outside Nintendo.

Gareth Halfacree
2 months agoHW101 / Debugging

An anonymous reverse engineer has released a high-resolution boardview of Nintendo's Switch Lite circuit board — created by desoldering all the components and soldering flying wires in their place, tracing each pad to its location on 2,444 high-resolution photographs.

"This is the output data for a process I solo-developed for extracting the netlist from an assembled Printed Circuit Board [PCB], in this case, a Nintendo Switch Lite logic board," the anonymous engineer explains. "Electrical components are soldered to exposed mounting pads on the PCB, and layers of copper form connections between these pads creating electrical circuits. The full list of these interconnects is called the netlist, and when combined with the part and pad geometries, constitute a boardview. Couple that boardview with reference images of both sides of the PCB, and you have the output data."

Creating a boardview from a PCB's design files is an automated process, but creating one from an already-manufactured PCB is something entirely different. In the case of this particular PCB, part of that process was spending a year and around $10,000 putting together a process and the necessary software — including a way to capture panoramic 6,000 pixels per inch (PPI) images, assign part and pad data to set locations on the images, and the creation of a custom probe board which can power up any arbitrary number of pins one-by-one and read the resulting change in state.

This latter device is undeniably handy, but you'll need a steady had to use it: the engineer first captured images of the board and manually marked part and pad geometry before desoldering every single component from the board; a digital multimeter was then employed to manually trade each pad's connection to ground; finally, almost 2,000 individual flying leads were soldered from the probe PCB to the device on test to map all connections and how they affect other pads on the board.

"My background is over a decade in Electronics Contract Manufacturing [ECM] serving the medical, aerospace, military, and industrial sectors," the anonymous engineer writes. "More than half of that time is as a SMT Process Technician, with full read/write access to millions of dollars of state-of-the-art equipment. Therein lies the trap: you end up overspecialized, dependent on someone else's unaffordable equipment. Sprinkle in some monthly payments, insurance, ever-moving goalposts, and the mass psychosis of modern corporate dogma; it becomes an elaborate prison."

"Using 100% of my willpower to make no further mention of Sisyphus and The Boulder; this project is an experiment in fusing Work-From-Home internet freelancing with master electrical soldering, while still contributing meaningfully to society," the engineer continues. "I could open a repair shop but that's mostly disassembling and reassembling devices, and troubleshooting electrical circuits. Relatively, very little soldering. Pander to algorithms for ad money? Shill affiliate links? Resell junk tools? Also not soldering."

The full write-up is available on the engineer's website, µSoldering; the boardview can be downloaded via Torrent. "You may have noticed the panoramas are actually at 2,000 PPI," the engineer notes. "That's because the 6,000 PPI versions are half a gigapixel, each. This causes problems. With everything."

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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