Recycled and Cloned Chips

Schol-R-LEA

New Member
Sep 20, 2019
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The Facebook group mentioned a few recent videos on the topic of cloned ICs, rebadged ICs (i.e., ones which were re-marked so as to look like a completely different chip), and - more significantly - recycled and re-marked ICs passed off as new stock or new-old stock (i.e., stock from the original production runs which were warehoused and haven't been used before). I know several of the regulars here don't go on FB, so I thought I would bring them up here.

Apparently, this has been a problem in the IC supply chain for a while now, but it is only just becoming clear - even to experts - how widespread it really is. The plgDavid video even shows an instance where David got fooled by one (though TBF David was somewhat skeptical about the source, and later videos show that he's been made more aware of the problem since 2017). I think plg was sincere when he said that he wasn't deliberately shaming David (or Clint, who is shown reviewing the same AdLib-over-parallel device David was - again, he's now more aware of this than he was at the time, and he made one of the videos on this topic just this week), since as he said the problem is only just coming to the attention of most retro hardware enthusiasts; he was just showing how pervasive it had become.

Now, the recycling itself isn't the main problem; that should be a good thing in principle, though it does cause other problems with hazardous waste pollution in the areas where the recycling is done, which the Chinese government claims to be trying to reduce (there are similar recycling operations in India, Brazil, Thailand, the Philippines, and elsewhere, but they are dwarfed by those in the Guiyu region of mainland China).

The problem is that a significant percentage of the recycled ICs - probably a majority of them - are being misrepresented as new or new-old stock, which means the buyers are often getting defective ICs, or at least ones whose life expectancy is considerably shorter than they would expect.

While they are often referred to as 'fake', they are technically the original chips - they just aren't new chips. The problem lies in the re-marking, which makes them seem to be recently fabricated, and allows them to be re-sold as new. If you know they are older ICs, you'll realize the potential problems involved, but since they are re-marked the suppliers can misrepresent them.

Actually fake ICs also exist, as do ones which have been rebadged as something different from what they actually contain, but these aren't as common, and it tends to come up most often with SLI TTL units - individual transistors, capacitors, or resistors. For larger ICs, the main problem is with old ones being sold as new.

Now, as the plgDavid video shows, one can find some new-old stock ICs for many common chips, and also recycled chips which haven't been re-marked, so it isn't entirely a dire situation. It does mean that one needs to look very closely at any stock they purchase, and determine if they really are what the seller said they are, and consider whether to go ahead in using them if they aren't.

If you are cognizant of the potential problems which can come up when using refurb ICs and willing to put up with a higher possible failure rate, there is no reason not to use the recycled chips, and even the re-marked ones (though you might want to add some sort of identifying mark of your own so you can tell which ones were re-marked). It is only a problem if you think an old chip is new and treat it as such because you were misled by shady suppliers.

As the TexElec video states, one needs to use their discretion when buying anything in the IC grey market. Caveat emptor.

This was brought up on the FB group specifically regarding the Yamaha sound chips. As David mentions in the second CX16 video, no one is currently producing FM Synth chips, as all modern sound generation is done primarily from the CPU (and even then, FM synth has mostly been supplanted by sound sampling). This has presented a supply problem for neo-retro projects like the CX16, and the issue of fraudulent 'new' ICs does get mentioned in that video (EDIT: oops, no he didn't, he only mentioned the lack of new stock for the YM-2151, and the possibility of having to use the FPGA soft-core implementation as a substitute; in the video, the discussion on sound chips starts at 40m 02s).

plgDavid - "Fake Chips?"

LGR Blerbs - "Are these Yamaha sound chips legit?" (note that he mentions the plgDavid video)

TexElec - "Always Test Your Grey-Market Chips before Talking to Grey Aliens" (again, this seemed to be a response to plgDavid's video)

The 8-Bit Guy video referenced in the plgDavid video was:
while the LGR video was:
 
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Markeno

Member
Jul 19, 2019
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I take this as a public service announcement. It isn't a bad one. I have received fake remarked R6522 chips that I had ordered for my 1541. I have had some standard logic chips that aren't great, I don't know if it is a general quality issue, factory seconds or what. They can pass a basic test, but not function as expected.