Magic Smoke





Computers are made from parts like integrated circuits, transistors, and capacitors. Some of these parts have pretty colors on the outside. They have Magic Smoke on the inside. The Magic Smoke is what makes them work. Wizards that work at companies like Intel and Texas Instruments put the Magic Smoke into the chips.

Mortals must be very careful with their chips. Sometimes, in spite of great care, the Magic Smoke inside the chips comes out. If you ever see a computer with Magic Smoke coming out of it, you know that it will not work any more, because the magic smoke inside the chips is gone. (The same principle applies to car engines).

Never let the Magic Smoke out.

Tantalum capacitors have lots of magic smoke in them. They also whistle and go "Bang" when you solder them in backwards. It's probably not a good idea to breath Magic Smoke.

I once worked on a team of engineers that were trying to become Wizards, and make our own chips. We saw the Magic Smoke come out of many, many chips before we became Wizards.

Our prototype was made from something like 40 Xilinx 3090 FPGAs. These were PLCC's with wide flat tops. We stored the incantations for these FPGA's in serial ROMS. If you didn't say the incantation just so as you turned on power, the Magic Smoke would come out of many FPGAs at once. Sometimes they would blow a small crater or a crack in the top of the chips. These were easy to find and replace. Other times, the Magic Smoke did not escape, but would cause the top of the chip to bulge very, very slightly. For some reason, I was the only one that could feel this bulge. Maybe it was because I believed in Magic Smoke. When a board did not work, I would come over and run my finger tips lightly over the tops of all the chips on the board, then I would point to the ones that were bad. When these were replaced, the board would work again.


Last modified: December 31, 2009