PSA: Spotting Counterfeit IC / Electronic Components

guess-the-real-one

When you are in the process of getting your product into mass production, the last thing on your mind is if parts being used are real or counterfeit.  Especially, relatively cheap commodity parts like a simple voltage regulator.   I’ve always heard to beware of parts from China as they are typically not the same quality, much lower quality or not even the same functionality as the original.

During the component procurement of Myro:Air, I made it a point to purchase components only from U.S.A. based and authorized dealers given all the horror stories I’ve read about (here and here).   I just didn’t want to chance it and compromise the high-quality standards of the product.

I did however purchase two full reels (LP2985AIM5.0 and LP2985AIM3.3) from a Chinese supplier that promised they would be “genuine and original” for another project I am working on (iBeacon related — more to come on that in the future).     I thought I’d give it a try, boy was that a mistake!

THE SUSPICION

The reels came as expected, but they looked a bit odd.  The labels for both parts look identical and seem authentic, lot numbers are the same but with different date codes and part numbers.  I thought why would anyone spend any time to counterfeit such a cheap part in the first place?  I thought they were good.

fake-lp2985AIM5-3.3

fake-lp2985AIM5-5.0

Apparently, there are many different types of descriptors or grades you can use to explain grades like: New, Used, Reclaimed, Refurbished, Old Stock, Defective and completely Fake.

The ones I received seems to be refurbished or reclaimed — perhaps even completely fake — who knows…

THE VISUAL AID

You can see the differences below:

TOP:

mouser-vs-china

 

BOTTOM:

mouser-vs-china-bottom

 

To an untrained eye, both look legit.  Except if you look closely, you can see the size is not quite the same and more noticeably is the “texture” on the IC itself.  It looks rougher, not as smooth as the original.  Almost like it has been sanded or scratched and/or sandblasted and painted?  Hard to really explain the what it looks like to the eye and the photo doesn’t really make it as clear as what I can see with the eye and a magnifying lens.

THE REAL PROBLEM

So you may be saying, so what’s the problem? If they work as expected and produce the voltage you want then you’re good.  Right?

No,  Wrong!

The genuine LP2985-5.0 can accept up to 16V 150mA as it’s rated (I actually can feed it up to 20V before it fails).  The fakes?  Well, at 9V, it seems to provide 5V DC as expected but at 12V, the regulator violently fucking caught on fire!! — pardon the expletive, but it impressively, violently caught fire and burnt the board and traces to bits!  Seriously, I’ve never seen a failure like this before with a 5V regulator — it turned cherry red, flamed and produced a shitload of smoke!!!

pcb-burnt

THE MORAL OF THE STORY?

Easy! NEVER purchase any raw electrical components from unknown or unauthorized dealers/sellers.  If you do and want to risk it, be sure to always test the components separately before you use them on your prototype boards. The little cost savings you think you’re making, actually will cost you a lot more in terms of boards, time and the headaches associated with any faulty component circuits and issues that will almost certainly occur with the counterfeit components.

I learned my lesson and wanted to share it with you guys so you don’t make the same mistake I did.

The more you know…

Do you have a horror story related to purchasing counterfeit components you’d like to share?  Please post in the comments!

 

 


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