ATmega Slugs

SparkFun gets counterfeit parts, buys nitric acid and a microscope, finds lack of silicon.

Favorited Favorite 1

You may or may not be aware, but there was a pretty wicked shortage of ATmega328s back in December of 2009. Both DIP and the surface mount TQFP packages were hard to find. We had a good mix of sources, and had plenty of ICs coming in, but at the same time our volume was increasing at a blistering pace so we quickly saw the brick wall coming towards us. To avoid going out of stock we started looking for any supplier that had stock.

We normally buy buttons, connectors, and passives from our suppliers in Taiwan, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Ningbo. This was our first time with this supplier, and the first time we ordered anything more complex than an LED, so we sort of expected this, but it's a fun lesson all the same.

On the left is an IC from one of our US suppliers (Digikey, Arrow, Future, or Mouser). On the right is what we got from our new supplier.

There's all sorts of weird issues with the ICs that came in from the questionable supplier. We first noticed the date code. On the left we have '1004' meaning this IC was fabbed the 4th week in 2010. The fake on the right reads '0723' or the 23rd week of 2007. But was the ATmega328 even being produced at that time? The oldest post I can dig up is from EMSL dated September 27th of 2008. I think they were some of the first people to actually touch an ATmega328. So it's pretty unlikely these ICs were fabbed in the middle of June 2007, a year and three months before Windell and Lenor (and Jellybean) got a hold of one...

Needless to say, we were suspicious. So before we went on a binge of product building, we built a few units for testing. None worked. We poked, probed, read the datasheet. Maybe the ICs are pulls and came pre-programmed? Maybe the ISP fuse is blown? But alas, nothing worked so we decided to talk to Lindsay, our resident biologist (with friends in chemistry) to get us some access to nitric acid. If Bunnie can acid etch ICs, why can't we?

Chip descapsulation is actually quite nasty requiring hot nitric acid (we had to get our acid bath up to 150C/300F), serious fume extraction and lots of safety gear on hand. Do not try this at home! But find a friend - this is just way too cool...

Under the hood: On the left is the ATmega328. The gold dots around the black border are the remnants of bonding wires that connect the die in the middle to the pins/legs on the outside of the chip. On the right is the 'slug' or counterfeit ATmega328 - there is a lack of bonding wires, and really anything. It looks like a chunk of copper. Better than coal I guess.

The ATmega328 die got damaged a bit with mechanical abrasion. With the 65% nitric acid that Lindsay used, it still took over an hour of bathing and scraping the ICs to get under the hood.

I'm not sure what it is (maybe copper?), but it certainly isn't anything silicon.

The markings on the back of the ICs were a little disconcerting as well. They obviously didn't match, but the counterfeits had 'Taiwan' embossed on the bottom of the IC. Upon closer inspection of the legitimate ATmega328, it says Taiwan (lower right corner) as well so this marking was actually not too bad. The overall thickness of the ICs did not match either.

The reel that the counterfeits came on had pretty good looking labels. We get our regular ATmegas in trays rather than tape and reel so we couldn't compare packaging, but it's obvious someone tried pretty hard to make these look legit.

So what did we learn from this? Trust your gut instinct. From the beginning we knew something wasn't quite right. This is the very first transaction out of over 7,000 where we ended up with the proverbial chunk of coal. Is there anything we can do? Not really. We will certainly never see our money again.

But surely SparkFun has insurance or some protection! From who exactly? While this may sound like it's horrendous, we actually hold great power. With over 7,000 transactions, we have never been burned. Why? Because with most components and suppliers, there is plenty of competition: if any one supplier causes us pain we simply never use them again and reward the suppliers that treat us well. Before these counterfeit ATmegas, we had nothing but very professional transactions. There are far more legitimate businesses that are hungry for our business in this world than there are slight-of-hand professionals. We were in a pinch and didn't vet the supplier like we should have. Live and learn.

We now have a reel of these ATmega328 Slugs, so feel free to pickup your own piece of SparkFun history... For you know, soldering practice, or miniature skeet shooting.

Be sure to read the original post, the follow up report, the discovery of what's inside and the final identification of the IC!

Comments 92 comments

  • cjh08052 / about 14 years ago / 7

    While everyone is lambasting SparkFun for considering reselling these 'slugs', I'll take to time to applaud them for taking the time to test these BEFORE selling them forward. Let's all think, they could have simply received the reel, and started to fill orders - blindly!
    ;-> (cjh)
    Praise and criticize at the same rate!

    • Ben9 / about 14 years ago / 3

      Are you kidding? Quality control is an integral part of the manufacturing process, and you should expect this of any reputable manufacture you buy from. Your standards are way too low if you treat it as some kind of praiseworthy bonus or think of it as Sparkfun's "going that extra mile" for its customers. Given that these parts were from a new and somewhat sketchy supplier, of course Sparkfun was going to test them first; blindly shipping untested units would have cost SFE way more than this bogus reel did (both in terms of parts lost and reputation).
      Applauding Sparkfun for testing these slugs is like applauding a driver for actually looking at the stop light before going through an intersection. I mean, he could have just driven through the red - blindly!

      • cjh08052 / about 14 years ago / 4

        "Quality control is an integral part of the manufacturing process"
        I agree with this statement, but SparkFun is not in the business of manufacturing the chips they sell; they are simply a reseller. They could have shipped out 1500 of these things, 1 to me, 2 to you, 3 to the next guy, and so on; none of us having the ability to dissect them they way they did. We each would have thought that we bricked them ourselves or spent many hours trying to figure out what we're doing wrong! Some of us may have figured out that the chips (the two they had) are bad and reported back to SparkFun (only to have them send out more replacements); and have them eventually concede that something was wrong with the batch.
        They did not have to be proactive, it was nice that they were; and saved us many hours (collectively) of frustration. That's what I'm applauding.
        A better analogy would have been:
        'A driver inadvertently runs a red light because the breaking system was not correctly installed on the brand new bus he's driving!'; Who's at fault? Who should have done the quality control? Should we each not trust SparkFun and do our own testing/verification on our orders? Where is the line drawn?
        ;-> (cjh)

        • Ben9 / about 14 years ago / 2

          "A better analogy would have been:"
          I stand by my original analogy: reserve your praise for something more significant than not doing something stupid/reckless. For example, I think it's good to applaud a kid for getting an A on a test. I think it's stupid to applaud a kid for not getting an F while justifying that praise with "well, he didn't have to try". If you do the latter, you basically devalue your praise to the point that it doesn't mean anything.
          To make your analogy accurate, you would have to add the fact that the brake system was installed by some random guy the driver found on Craig's List and from whom the driver had no basis for assuming quality work, and I'm quite comfortable saying that the driver is at fault for not actually trying the brakes before taking the bus out onto the street. If you contract someone to do work for you on behalf of someone else or buy parts from someone to resell to someone else, you are ultimately accountable for the quality of that work or the integrity of those parts.

        • Ben9 / about 14 years ago / 2

          "they are simply a reseller."
          They use these chips in their products. In the blog post above, Nate wrote: "So before we went on a binge of product building, we built a few units for testing." It sounds like they were slated for production, perhaps with a few set aside for resale, and it sounds like their sluggy nature might have been discovered as a result of testing prior to making products with them.
          And even if SFE was acting as a pure reseller of these parts, I still think your standards are way too low if you think they deserve praise for testing them. They openly state that the parts came from a new and "questionable" supplier (definitely not a well-established distributor of Atmel products). You should expect a reseller to reasonably vet the products he's selling if they don't come from an established, reputable source, because the reseller is the one who is held accountable by his customers. Testing at least a few of these chips in this specific case should be expected as a bare minumum, not applauded as if it's a favor. Failing to test any would be worthy of condemnation in my opinion.

  • schult / about 14 years ago / 4

    Hmm... Solder six of these together into a cube, and mark the faces 1 thru 6. Nerd dice!

    • nagmier / about 14 years ago / 2

      ok now I want to see a whole d20 set made outta these!
      It would qualify for serious geek points

    • Applekid / about 14 years ago / 1

      I bought a bunch of these just for that purpose. Also would make a nice cell phone charm. $3+ and gluing/drilling functional devices is a bit of a waste, but these look close enough for these uses.
      I know I wouldn't be able to recognize it for a fake unless I held it right next to a genuine one.
      While all the cries from people for Sparkfun to mark or deface these in some obvious way to keep these from being fraudulently resold, I really hope it's not so blatant that I can't do any decent art with it.

    • Pokey / about 14 years ago / 1

      I did this once with a pile of known-bad SoCs in TQFP 208. Running a bead of solder down 104 interlaced pins on each edge makes a really strong bond.

  • abey / about 14 years ago / 4

    "Backorder allowed"
    Wtf?? :)

  • powool / about 14 years ago / 3

    It's fine to resell them for practice soldering, but kindly drill or dremel them so they can't be mistaken for legitimate parts.

  • Ah, most excellent. I'll just order the entire stock of these, plus another 20K on "backorder", then sell them on Ebay for $5 each. BTW, Nate, you are now an accessory after the fact to fraud.

  • Philip / about 14 years ago / 3

    Can you be sure they dont work?
    If I buy one and it works,can I return it for a refund? ;)

  • A.LYou / about 14 years ago / 3

    Yeh, it's not just that product from Atmel. It happens all the time - 9 months lead and the price is never the same as the rep. promised in 10K either...after you get it to production. I have seen this twice with Atmel.
    Microchip PIC on all ranges is amazing at supply. I heard a story of a guy who made a product on a very old PIC16C for controlling the airline food carts. The part was very old and out of all the disties. To avoid him re-doing expensive approvals Microchip pulled the old recipe and the masks and ran him a lifetime supply. Now argue all you want about anything technical - but that's as real as it gets. We use PICs a lot now.

  • damm... a whole reel... :'(
    can you guys name the supplier? Did they vanish after the transaction?

    • Sorry, I didn't even think to name the supplier! Shenzhen Henglian Electronics was their name yesterday. It's so easy to change the name and email address of a company that there's no telling what they will be calling themselves tomorrow. And yes, they stopped answering our emails.

      • cfbsoftware / about 14 years ago / 2

        Looks like you're not the only ones to have had your fingers burnt:

        • Ahh! Good to know there is a feedback system for this site/these vendors. Let the market work its magic.

      • rogueb / about 14 years ago / 1

        Nate, you guys better mark/drill those chips (as powool mentioned below). Otherwise you could trigger some nefarious people to buy up your lot of "cheapees" and sell them to someone else, propagating the fraud.
        Drilling, or maybe clipping some pins would be best, because marking the chips with anything could probably be removed.
        Or maybe just limit the number you can buy, say 5 max.
        Did you try a magnet on them? heh... copper is expensive ;)

  • TheMoogle / about 14 years ago / 3

    I bet you Atmel would love to see these and track down who made them

  • TheMoogle / about 14 years ago / 2

    These are more then copper :)

    • GregJ / about 14 years ago / 1

      Interesting find! I ordered a bunch as well. Assuming that I can get lab time (likely cause I goto RIT), I'll be taking them to RIT CEMA (Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Electronic Manufacturing & Assembly) on Monday and will do them up with the X-ray and get a top-down cross-section (I have a bunch of slugs so I'm not worried on failing). I'll also see if I can get one in fuming nitric (unlikely but there is hope) and get any info off the dice.
      I'm going to try an log as much 'forensic' information as I can while I am up here for the week. If all goes well I should be able to bang out a quick but graphical report.

  • Bricsi / about 14 years ago / 2

    If you wish I can take the fake and the original Atmega to X-Ray microscope to see what is really inside?

  • magic smoke / about 14 years ago / 2

    Reselling them is an incredible stupid move!
    Small-scale and large-scale conmen will buy them and sell them. For month to come no one buying a few mega328s on eBay will be safe, thanks to your incredible stupidity. You are aiding and abetting fraud.

    • Exonerd / about 14 years ago / 3

      I would assume SFE would label any "slugs" sold for what they are. Maybe scratch off the printed label?
      It's too bad that low-cost electronics (ok, anything) come with the hidden cost of potential fraud.
      Well, I'm thankful we have guys like the staff of SFE who actually are smart and look out for their customers.

      • Sorry, I didn't think the resale of the ATmegas all the way through. I pulled the stock.
        But let's think this through. The 0723 date code is the fake mark. If you buy anything on Ebay, you should have a picture of it. If we scratch off the label, what does that do really? People of evil will are still going to try to sell the IC as something.
        Now if you see the picture and decide to buy old stock (where ICs are listed with old date codes) on Ebay, you're going to run your own risks (even if the IC is good, errata will bite you).
        Remember, ebay has a feedback system. Who buys anything from a seller with little feedback? Who buys from a seller that has bad feedback? It's buyer beware out there and I believe ebay shoppers are smarter than what you both are alluding to.

        • Ben9 / about 14 years ago / 1

          I think the main point is a simple one: having a realistic-looking counterfeit item makes it easier to scam someone than not having a realistic-looking counterfeit item. Selling these slugs gives the scammers access to a realistic-looking counterfeit item they likely wouldn't otherwise have.
          The company you purchased from could have just stolen your money outright and not shipped you anything, yet they took the time to send you very realistic looking parts that required quite a bit of effort on your part (acid, fume hoods, etc) to completely verify were bogus. I expect most people will buy one or two chips, not a whole reel, and they won't have your resources, so they will just assume they got bad parts (it happens), that their prototype board is faulty, or that they somehow used them wrong and broke them. This lets the scam go on for much longer than it could without counterfeit goods, and even if the scam is discovered, the seller can deny any wrongdoing by claiming to be a victim of the scam as well. If you marked the chips in some way, at least the seller can't claim he had no idea there was something strange going on.

  • Saib30 / about 14 years ago / 2

    Still, I think there is a good way to make use of these fake parts! use them as a training material for the surface soldering lessons ;)

  • saccade / about 14 years ago / 2

    Not only does bunnie acid etch to de-cap the chips, he'll also stick tape on the die and zap it with UV so he can reset the security fuses. Amazing stuff.

  • CY / about 14 years ago / 2

    Do you make the laser mark with the word "Faked" or anything? I do not think it is a good idea to sell them with USD 0.5 again.

    • Other than the telling 0723 date code, we are not marking the ICs.

      • RFsynthesizer / about 14 years ago / 1

        You'll have to remove the Atmel logo off the chip before you resell them or Atmel will sue you guys. I figured you'd know better by now after getting sued by SPARC International. ;)

  • JPNYC / about 14 years ago / 2

    The ATmega328 shortage has been a major problem and I have payed top dollar for the IC's.
    You took a bath on an entire real. please, others. Don't let it happen again, names.
    Who was it.

  • GregJ / about 14 years ago / 2

    Hmm, tempting. Might have to order a couple and throw them in the X-ray on campus and see whats in them.

  • Impressive Machines LLC / about 6 years ago / 1

    I've been sourcing more and more stuff in china, and its good know how much of a wild west (east) it can be. However there's a couple of sensible ways to help prevent this. One is to focus purchases on business over there who really specialize in that area of electronics, don't buy them from some generalist guy who stocks every single thing. Also build a relationship with your suppliers. Because then if something happens they're more likely to apologize and comp you the money if you're doing on going business, and chase up how they ended up getting these fake products. And also get samples and start small. Don't go to a stranger and order 10,000 devices. And if you have good established relationship with a supplier in one area then ask them which other suppliers they consider are reliable.

  • Member #365804 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Today I realized that I bought a fake ATMEGA328P-AU. Be careful, the packaging is exactly like the original. They are doing it looks better.

  • bchar / about 11 years ago / 1

    Hello, I started seeing this with analog IC's as far back 1981-82, The company I worked for, had to told the Taiwanese company that was doing our manufacturing to stop and diss. It was interesting to find out, that we specified a one source dual comparator IC, that was not to be second source due to tolerances at high temperatures. Since our product was conformal coated. It was hard to see that the comparator was double stamped. Then they went too the trouble of washing off the original markings and re-stamping the RCA information and version that was spec-ed out. Wow, I was proud; of figuring it out at such an early technician, what a mess, ten thousand unit piece replacement cost.

  • SomeGuy123 / about 14 years ago * / 1

    May I ask why these were removed? Is there any way I would be able to buy some again? I see tons of uses for them.

  • Ratgod / about 14 years ago / 1

    I was just reading the datasheet you guys made,
    this device is amazing! it has better performance then any nA device could, and the temperature range is just fantastic. Pitty you don't sell them anymore, I could do with some of these in my own project.
    On a serious note though, I had similar problem with defective/counterfeit opamps for a battery monitoring project I was working on, I layed the board design out nicely and we sent them out to be fabricated and populated and the fab/pop company kept telling us there was a short. After a week of (sometimes angry) dialogue they decided to test the chips, low and behold, the "alternate" part they selected (as opposed to the part I specifically stated) turned out to be fake or defective. thankfully it was their fault in ordering a non-specified part so they had to foot the bill.

  • nathan7 / about 14 years ago / 1

    Damnit, I wanted to use those as my first SMD soldering exercise :<
    (not everyone who wants to learn SMD soldering lives in the US or is able to get to SparkFun, y'know)

    • Ratgod / about 14 years ago / 1

      For practice I just strip chips off old discarded boards by means of using a paint-stripping gun as a makeshift hot-air reflow tool. then I clean up the board and chip, and practice different techniques of re-soldering it back on.

  • unebonnevie / about 14 years ago / 1

    Be VERY careful when dealing business with vendors from China. I get ripped of (small things) all the times, e.g., gold pins advertized but sent me as tin pins, etc.

  • NewsparkFunCusty / about 14 years ago / 1

    Next time you want to rip through a chip even nicer, maybe try sandpaper and small telescope polishing grit.
    I know someone who was hired to find where in this chip had fried. He started polishing away all the layers until he found it.
    Clean and pretty. =) AND SAFE!
    No fumes, no caustics. Just Aluminum oxide.

  • haseo / about 14 years ago / 1

    Just drill a hole though the middle of each one. No one is going to try and flog them off as real with a hole right through the core.

  • amando96 / about 14 years ago / 1

    I was actually considering getting some of these, there was someone on ebay selling 4, for 35$...
    HAHAHA i love that datasheet, i'm having it printed, and framed.

  • LouCooper / about 14 years ago / 1

    It's shopped. You can tell by the pixels, and having seen many a shop in my day.

  • Dan40 / about 14 years ago / 1

    To all those saying "Shoulda used PIC"...
    Microchip had a shortage of the PIC24F's about a year ago. Read up on the Hack-a-Day Bus Pirate builds.
    These part shortages are rampant across most companies.

  • mikeselectricstuff / about 14 years ago / 1

    Jassper -
    Wrong date code - my guess is the copier didn't have a real 328 to copy but copied a 168 and changed the part no. without realising the datecode would give it away.
    Why use copper ? - it's a standard IC package, so that's how it comes before the chip gets put in there - too much effort to remanufacture in a cheaper metal. Also means the weight and magnetic properties are right. Although weight is minimal, the difference in weight for a reel would likely be noticeable.
    Why send anything at all & not just take the money and run ? It is entirely possible that the person SF bought these from did not know they were fake, and were themselves duped. It is also possoble that the seller assumed the chips would be sold on or held in stock for a while, so there may have been a chance to make more sales before they were found out.
    As regards payment method - Deals with China are almost always done by bank transfer or Western Union, which are non-reversable and the sender has no comeback. You can be sure the bad guys will have covered their tracks.
    Not buying from China is rarely an option these days.
    Any manufacturer who allows their leadtimes to get out of hand is at risk of this. I bet Microchip are getting more design-ins recently. All the technical advantages in the world are pointless if you can't get the parts.

  • phibreoptic / about 14 years ago / 1

    LOL, unbelievable.
    What you have bought is called $CD;> - (Fuflo) slang for "dysfunctional counterfeit, junk" in Russian language.
    It would be best to destroy this counterfeit stuff because of the marking ATMEL ATmega328.
    You should have mentioned name of the supplier so everyone else would be aware of them.
    Hope you did not loose too much on this transaction.
    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Jassper / about 14 years ago / 1

    I keep coming back to this, just some things don't make sense.
    1. Why the wrong date code? If you are going to counterfeit something - then copy it exact, why use a date code that is obviously not right? Is it possible that these are "demo slugs" or some such that got mixed up either by accident or on purpose?
    2. Why wast money using a copper? Seems odd that they would but anymore money into the copy process than they need to.
    3. How did you pay? Don't you have buyers protections? Dispute the charge and the bank should refund your money. Then it becomes the responsibility of the seller to collect. If they are shady / knowingly selling you bogus chips - you will never hear from them again.
    4. Lastly - why waste money sending you a product at all? if you can't reverse the charge then once they charge your credit card (assuming thats how you paid) why send you a product at all? And if they are really shady they can just keep charging you account.
    5. Basic rule still stands how ever, don't buy from china ;)

  • BB / about 14 years ago / 1

    Newegg sold some counterfeit Core i7 processors in March. Supposedly their suppliers sent out some and Newegg didn't inspect the package. However, rather than just come clean, the supplier gave lies that the counterfeits were actually mistakenly sent out display models, despite the fact that there were spelling errors and other obvious counterfeit marks on the packages. Unfortunately, rather than take the high road, Newegg just regurgitated these excuses and also sent out cease and desist letters to sites reporting the debacle. That is not a good way to reach out to customers.
    So all-in-all, I'm glad you guys are reporting your mistake as is, and explaining the dangerous of purchasing electronics through shady channels. Reputation is hard to regain once lost.

  • ChuckT2 / about 14 years ago / 1

    Why did you use Nitric Acid? It is a little extreme, wasteful and dangerous.
    I read an article years ago that AMD used a razer blade and scraped INTEL's chips and they took photographs of every layer or so to document what was inside and sometimes they did it to more than one chip.

    • phibreoptic / about 14 years ago / 1

      ChickT, these guys love to have fun... cant you already tell by their site? It's like using a dynamite instead of jackhammer, who can refuse that?
      In my days Soviets shaved ZX80 layer by layer to make their analog chip. That was just back a couple years ago.....

    • neurdy / about 14 years ago / 1

      I'm a trained molecular biologist happily working at an electronics company...however, any excuse to go back to the lab and play with chemicals is too hard to resist! It is indeed dangerous (as Nate mentions) but this experiment took place in a fume hood with all possible safety precautions. I did end up using a scalpel blade to get to the core but it would have taken way too long without a little help from the chemical degradation.
      Stay tuned... x-rays of the ATmegas are on the way.

    • "It is a little extreme, wasteful and dangerous."
      Some questions answer themselves.

  • Jassper / about 14 years ago / 1

    If at all possible I never buy from China - or anything "Made in China" on any product, not just chips or other electronics.
    Granted that a lot of electronics are made there, but I only buy from US companies.
    Understandable in your situation, but I think I still would have skipped China.

    • 3amsleep / about 14 years ago / 1

      I've had some bad experiences with Chinese electronics dealers myself.
      the worst part is that it's really a shame that china is getting to be known as a really untrustworthy place to deal electronics directly.
      I've had to tell many friends to skip on any direct dealing with china unless they have a way to check and double check the reputation of the dealer, and even then I would try to get another deal somewhere else. one time a known good rep. dealer actually sold thousands of counterfeit SDHC cards to then declare bankruptcy and disappear.

  • Yanava / about 14 years ago / 1

    I've dealt a lot with chinese suppliers to buy semiconductors like TV Tuners and other complex ICs. There are verification services that help you trading with those guys. They take pictures and some do test the chips for you. Since they charge you quite a lot, I developed a trick. I ask (and pay for the freight) for a few (non-paid) samples. This helps filtering through MOST of the "bad" dealers. The few that remain are those that are professionally misleading people to buy counterfeits. Against those, you gotta start asking questions here and there.
    But that's standard procedure. Dealing in Shenzhen is a filthy business and it only gets worse. I've seen pictures of people loading capacitors in a box with a shovel.

  • PresidentOfAwesomeness / about 14 years ago / 1

    Too bad a facility able to make such realistic looking slugs couldn't just encase the real thing instead of a metal piece. Did they really save much money, and when you add in the fact that they had to change names and hide, and lost their (albeit little) reputation, was it really even saving? I think counterfeiting chips is just a stupid thing to do.

  • 3amsleep / about 14 years ago / 1

    When will the GOOD TFQP be restocked?? i been waiting for those a loooong time ;___________;

  • dlhlabs / about 14 years ago / 1

    All is not lost. You could sell them legally by sanding off the markings off the top. That way they are no longer fake anything. Just inert package samples for soldering training or other use.
    Your parts are most likely inert mechanical pre-production samples intended for Atmel internal use that were obtained via the surplus market and thought to be the real stuff. It costs quite a bit of money for the lead frames, potting, laser etching, packaging, and production line time so there's not much to be gained to counterfeit such a cheap part. More profit to fake AMD or Intel processors - which has happened.
    Because the code dates are earlier than the official parts release date it makes a lot of sense.
    But for you, as long as they don't have the Atmel logo, or part number, there are no legal implications.
    I know it's a pain to sit someone down to sand off the markings, but at least you could get rid of them.

  • nonegatives / about 14 years ago / 1

    I would only be worried about reselling if someone were to purchase the whole reel. What is the difference in selling these vs. anything in the "Dings and Dents" section? Someone could buy those boards and sell them as full working products just as easily.
    I say sell them with limited quantity and make some of your money back. Maybe an "I swear I'm not gonna resell these!" legalese statement from the buyer to keep the lawyers happy.

  • jakkjakk / about 14 years ago / 1

    You could give them away in each order you sell. You could commision someone to do a sculpter or something with them. Kinda sad that this crap needs to go into our dump, but don't feel to bad.

  • clearsky / about 14 years ago / 1

    Is there anyway to tell a supplier is trustworthy? Don't you buy from an Atmel-authorized supplier, just like buying a brand new car from an authorized supplier?
    I wonder why the puny Atmega328 is in shortage. There are plenty better alternatives, even from Atmel.

  • niw / about 14 years ago / 1

    Great work, guys!
    I had a similar experience with some TI op-amps. In my case, the chips sort-of worked but I kept getting strange waveform distortions that I couldn't troubleshoot. These bad IC's have a TAIWAN circle stamp on the bottom while my good IC's do not.

    • JPNYC / about 14 years ago / 1

      No kidding!
      Me too!!
      I thought,..."man,..this is crazy"
      They kinda work,,..I'm thinking it's me.
      We change the op-amp and the product is 100% operational.
      I have a whole reel of them,....
      Thanks for posting that.

  • blak / about 14 years ago / 1

    The slug is probably made from a slurry of melted down discarded electronics boards that we sent back to them for "recycling". Genius!

  • tz / about 14 years ago / 1

    And the large number of defective electrolytics:
    Meanwhile I checked - hyperlog and dcimmer ( both fit into a 168. These are my versions of openlog and jpeg trigger (which saves DCIM compatible so EyeFi will upload the images which it can grab at 0.7 fps ).
    The CLI version doesn't fit, but that is because of all the text for help, prompts, and status.

  • jakkjakk / about 14 years ago / 1

    Thats the problem with all the outsourcing that is going on in china. Yesterday I read about microsofts mice factory working conditions. You really never know what you're going to get and how it was manufactured. If it was manufactured in the states you can pretty much garenteed that someone didn't get worked like a slave to do it and when talking about hardware its going to be pretty certain it came from where it should of. China just needs to change, but they never will.

  • James12 / about 14 years ago / 1

    I'd say make lemonade out of this by having lots of components to practice SMD soldering with.

  • tz / about 14 years ago / 1

    They may be just the base where the chip itself would ordinarily be, but without the chip, and the legs.
    Interesting that somewhere there is capacity to produce a slug - that there is nothing this factory could produce legitimately, but can produce laser-marked slugs.
    They might change names, but Atmel should be interested - it has THEIR trademark and is a counterfeit of their product.
    As far as PIC v.s. Atmel, it is apples and PCs - is an iPad (which I don't plan on getting) the same as an Asus netbook? If they estimate too high and make too many chips, they sit in warehouses costing money but they have to drop the price. If they estimate too low, you get shortages.
    Most of the things I've been writing work on the 168 (my FAT32/SDHC is 10K, and the app doesn't go over). But the pro-mini with the 328 is just a little more than the 168 version.

  • alfmar / about 14 years ago / 1

    $0.50 apiece is a bit too much to buy a whole bunch of them and build some post-modern sculpture... :-)

  • scharkalvin / about 14 years ago / 1

    I noticed that the TQFP ATmega328's came 'back in stock' and then disappeared in a day or two from your website. Guess I know why now! I hope the pdip parts are ok!

  • scharkalvin / about 14 years ago / 1

    A few years ago I ran into a conterfeit part. The company I worked for used a DS1822 1-wire thermal sensor in battery packs. This part comes in a TO92 package. I was given some battery packs that would not charge and after debugging the charger software I determined that the charger was shutting down because of a bad temperature reading. We opened up the battery packs and looked at the DS1822. Instead of having the Dallas/Microchip logo on it, it was just etched with '1822'. We sent some of the 'defective' chips back to Microchip, and they confirmed that the parts were fakes. In this case, I think they were restamped transistors.

  • cb / about 14 years ago / 1

    Nate, when suspecting counterfeit chips, you can test for continuity on the input pins and to some extent to output by setting your dmm to measure diodes and then connect the plus lead to the known Vss pin and the negative to the input pin you will then forward bias the input protect diode and should see .6V on the meter.
    This is the way is done when testing wafers and to make sure that the probes are making contact, as a a matter of fact is the first test of a device test program...
    The other way is to xray the part, I have heard that if you have a dentist friend......

  • nonegatives / about 14 years ago / 1

    Pour some more salt (nitric acid) on these slugs and melt them away! I try to avoid buying things from China, but it is becoming more difficult every day. Sad that someone with the capability of encapsulating chips would burn themselves by doing this.

  • AlanS / about 14 years ago / 1

    The only thing I could see these being useful for is pnp setup, which is actually what i've been looking for. how convenient...

  • Skye / about 14 years ago / 1

    The military contractor I work for has had its share of run ins with counterfeit parts. Many from reputable distributors that got themselves burned. The last problem required a stop shipment order on an entire division of a huge multinational company till investigators could determine the extent of the corruption. It took weeks to sort out and tens of millions to correct, and we took a black eye with our customers. Consider yourselves lucky!

  • LeonHeller / about 14 years ago / 1

    Red fuming nitric acid is the stuff to use. It's very nasty stuff; our chemistry teacher caused an explosion once with it when he got an experiment wrong, and lots of kids got acid burns.

  • jotux / about 14 years ago / 1

    At my last job we had a batch of prototypes built in Shenzhen and sent to use for testing. TI had a shortage of a linear regulator we were using so we told the manufacturing guys to "get them wherever you can" and they went to some local supplier there and bought a reel of regulators. When we got the prototypes only about half worked and we tracked it down to the regulator. We sent the "faulty" regulators to TI and they scanned them and found they were empty packages.

  • SteveNM / about 14 years ago / 1

    on a related topic, how much trust do you put in the hazardous material declarations from suppliers? When stated ROHS compliance, is it really?

  • CY / about 14 years ago / 1

    There are many faked ICs Atmega328p-PU or AU in China. I got 40pcs faked DIP Atmega328p-PU last December. The price is less than USD 3. Even the laser mark is the same with the real one but all of these chips can not work.
    As we know most Chinese people buy the Atmega328p from U.S. not the Chinese electronic market.

  • HungryMaggot / about 14 years ago / 1


  • nice

  • Chris S / about 14 years ago / 1

    Can you guys confirm that there really isn't anything in them? I would guess not, but still curious...

    • I haven't checked them all, but we've given up on testing them. I was actually hoping they would contain cores from 90's era logic chips. But no :( it's just metal.

      • GregJ / about 14 years ago / 3

        Darn, no wirebonds I'm assuming either? There goes my hotplate idea. :P At least I got something to practice cross-sectioning on.

  • Kanji2000 / about 14 years ago / 1

    It's a bussiness of Chinese Maffia.

  • Wow, that is amazing! I still can not find that chip for my SMD projects! That is why I love PIC! :P

  • clothbot / about 14 years ago / 1

    For anyone that's curious to read more on the topic, do a search over at for "counterfeit". You'll find a bunch of recent stories about rising problems with fake parts over the past few years.

Related Posts

Recent Posts


All Tags