A Series CPU Shadow Box

4 min read

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I am slowly improving at building shadow boxes! The A Series SoC Shadow box is certainly my most ambitious built yet! This post details how I went about building it. I've always been fan on bare CPUs and it's shocking just how small modern SoCs are compared to the "Big Iron" CPUs of yesteryear! I started collecting dead/"practice" boards from scrap sales and built up a collection of logic boards from the iPhone 4 to iPhone 12. None of these boards work, which makes them "cheap" and perfect for display. I've always wanted in leverage transparencies in my builds. Specifically in the text boxes. In previous builds like my PPC G5 shadow box

PowerPC G5 CPU frame

I'd fake it by printing a blurred background onto the text cards themselves. However, this time around, I got a printer that works better with inkjet transparencies. My good epson is no good for this paper media, the ink they use runs/spears. But the second-hand OfficeJet I found works great! Nice and dark prints on the transparencies. But it can't print white ink.... the solution I came up with was back-spraying the pages with white spray paint. I used a stencil of the text outlines and kept the stencil about a quarter inch of the transparency when painting to create a "fade" effect. The effect I was going for overall was "smoky black glass".


Once cut out, another problem presented itself: transparencies are flimsy... how do I mount them to the background above the 'iPhones'...


The solution was foam core borders, sliced to make a track in the foam for the transparency cards to sit in. Normal CA glue was then used to hold them in place. I wanted to make the text cards "float" over the iPhones they were describing. I initially went with pins, but quickly found this was too difficult to level and the cards would deflect and bend. I went with foam core stacks in stead.

The background presented its own challenge. measuring in at ~23x25, I could not print it on a single piece of paper. However, the OfficeJet I found could print large format paper. So a stich job was in order. The background I selected (a photo I took of one of my silicon wafers) was perfect for this because of the repeating pattern. I could cut the overlapping pieces at the pattern to avoid harsh seam lines. Edging the prints in coach sharpie also helped to get rid of the white seam line.


The iPhone board holders were printed and cutouts were made approximately where each logic board is in the actual phone. I wanted this shadowbox to be interactive. Magnets were used to make the boards removable and "finger holes" were cut for easier access to each board.


I was able to get some of the A Series variants like the A5X, A6X and so on. Each "Varient" CPU was displayed on a card. Which was also affixed by a magnet.


Some CPU variants were way too expensive to get... like Apple's new M1 or the later generation X or Z versions. They have printed stand-ins I can replace later when scrap prices come down. These I could use pins to mount!


Some logic boards and CPUs are "stacked". When removing this A5 from the board, the DRAM came off and exposed the raw SoC. likewise, Newer iPhone designed hide the CPU inside a stacked logic board. Though desoldering the PoP for the A5 was a happy accident, I de-soldered the "daughter cards" on the stacked logic boards on purpose to display the SoC package.


Final assembly and layout! The glass cover is also held on by magnets and can be easy removed. Though for the photos, I removed the glass altogether to eliminate the glare.

Overall, this shadow box features 11 real iPhone logic bards and 11 CPU variants (6 real, 5 printed). including the frame, it measures 24x26.5x4"

This project was completed just in the for Apple to announce the A15 in their September 2021 announcement! Maybe I'll make a bolt-on expansion for future additions. :)

Physical version

Digital Verison

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