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Prying Eyes: Amazon's Echo virtual assistant

19 Feb 2016  | Brian Dipert

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Getting a look inside
At this point, I was able to slide the Echo's outsides off:

revealing the guts underneath (remember, again, that the "top" of this photo is actually the bottom of the device when in operation).

Underneath the thin black fabric layer surrounding the chassis is the woofer, along with its corresponding bass reflex port. To see them in detail, check out iFixit's website; the electronics aspects of the design were my primary focus. The fabric's purpose may be at least in part to diffuse the speakers' outputs, thereby delivering the 360ยบ sound that Amazon promotes. It may also dampen vibration at high volume.

Next, let's take a closer look at that PCB at the bottom of the photo above:

In the middle, toward the top is Texas Instruments' DM3725CUS100 "digital media processor" SoC. It's fairly diminutive in processing chops, compared to the application processors in modern smartphones and tablets (businesses that TI stepped away from nearly three years ago), containing only a single-core 1 GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU. My best guess, therefore, is that it primarily handles the Echo's speech recognition features, with "heavier lifting" redirected to Amazon's servers via the device's Wi-Fi connection. Speaking of which, the shiny-packaged IC below the DM3725CUS100 is a Qualcomm Atheros QCA6234X-AM2D Wi-Fi and Bluetooth module, also found in Amazon's Fire TV and Fire HD tablet. The corresponding antennas are etched into the PCB, on either side.

Volatile and nonvolatile memory are a necessity, of course, and in this case they respectively take the form of a Samsung K4X2G323PD-8GD8 1 Gbit 200 MHz x32 mobile DDR SRAM (in the upper left corner) and Sandisk SDIN7DP2-4G 4 GByte iNAND embedded flash memory drive (below it). A standalone power management IC is also pretty much a guarantee in a product like this, and the Echo doesn't disappoint; on the right edge of the PCB is a Texas Instruments TPS65910A1. I didn't bother showing you the underside of this PCB, by the way, because there's nothing really to see ... unless you're into a bunch of additional passives, that is.

Off the right side of the above photo, underneath the edge of the black fabric, is the connector at the other end of the already-seen ribbon cable that travels to the bottom of the Echo:

Another connector, visible on the left side of the previous PCB shot, mates with a ribbon cable that heads to the Echo's top. Before we go there, though, take a look at what's taped to one side of the device:

When I first saw it, I thought "antenna," and it is ... but not Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, as I initially presumed. It actually doesn't connect to anything else in the system, so I'm guessing it's a RFID tag (yes, I wrote that article more than a decade ago), used for inventory tracking purposes.

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