eMate Display Cable

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This page reviews an item that eMate owners have been waiting for for ages: A replacement for the eMate's display ribbon cable. Unless the proper precautions are performed in time, the eMate's hinge spring will eventually puncture this cable.

Congratulations! If you have no idea what I am talking about, your eMate's cable is most likely still intact.

You're still here! You must be interested in the review after all, so let's get started!

Back in the days when no replacement cables were available, if your trusty green friend was afflicted with the infamous ribbon cable problem you basically had two options. Either you tried to get a spare eMate to cannibalize parts, or you tried your hand at fixing your eMate's cable.
Although fixing a display cable is not impossible, it requires both the skill of a surgeon as well as the equipment necessary to solder very small traces of copper under a microscope. The ribbon cable's plastic happily melts away and the traces disintegrate if the soldering tip touches it for a second too long.

Unless you have access to a soldering station that allows setting the temperature to the melting point of solder, you might just as well forget about attempting such a fix. Even if you are lucky enough to have both the tools and the skill to use them professionally, your efforts might not be crowned with success. Your cable might be so damaged that your fix turns out to be temporary.

The worst cable I've ever had on my workbench had nine punctured traces. I didn't even attempt to fix that one.

Small wonder that I was fairly excited when I found a brand new replacement cable on eBay. I got in touch with the seller, and they kindly sent me a sample for the cost of shipping.

People who have been on this page before might remember that the seller used to offer two discounts: 3.00 USD per cable if you mentioned that you found the cable through this web site and an additional 9.00 USD if you donated at least 5.00 USD to the NewtonTalk mailing list http://www.newtontalk.net. Unfortunately, neither discount is offered any longer.
When the seller notified me of this, they also ordered me to remove their name from the page you are currently reading and, when I did not have a chance to comply as promptly as they expected, threatened to notify "the relevant authorities", whoever these might be. I found this rather surprising, since their name had been on this page for almost five years with their full consent.

Well, to me, obedience (sorry to those who came here through a search engine while looking for something completely different) comes second nature. Moreover, my childhood fear of relevant authorities keeps me awake night after night, so I did my very best to comply as soon as I had a chance. Although I'm trembling with fear that I might accidentally let some of their personal information slip out, I'm at least composed enough to state that to the best of my knowledge this cable is currently (August 2010) 25.00 USD, which includes worldwide shipping and handling.

If you do feel the need to get in touch with them, some of the 2500 list members of NewtonTalk will certainly let you know their name and web site address. Please refrain from asking yours truly. I have a family dependent on me, and I cannot risk agitating the relevant authorities.

Thank God I noticed just in time that you, my esteemed reader, might be attempting to derive the seller's personal information from the envelope shown below, so to keep the relevant authorities off my back, I took the liberty of removing the return address. Hopefully, you've never heard of what http://www.archive.org is and what it can do, and would never take the time to investigate it anyway.

The sample arrived via air mail a couple of days later in a plain padded envelope. Since you would have a very hard time breaking such a cable, this packaging is sufficient.
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Inside the envelope the cable was wrapped in a paper sheet. I am aware that some are about to think "what a paranoid nit-picker", but I would have preferred some kind of waterproof bag instead. Like me, if you have ever seen a plain padded envelope that has spent ten days lying out in the rain because the postman has't dropped it properly into your mailbox while you were on a business trip, you know what I mean. A ziploc bag would have added a lot of additional protection with next to no additional cost.
Being the picky pedant I am, I did of course point this out to the seller, and they assured me that they would ship with better protection in the future.
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Fortunately, my fear that this cable might be some home-grown hardware hack turned out to be unfounded. As you can see, it (the top one in the picture) is professionally manufactured. At first glance you would not be able to distinguish it from the original cable.
Both cables are 0.37 mm (0.014'') thick at their ends (where the connectors are) and 0.13 mm (0.005'') elsewhere.
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There is one area where the thickness of the replacement cable is different from that of the original: Close to where the hinge spring usually hits. Here it has an extra transparent protection layer that brings the total thickness to 0.51 mm (0.02'') as opposed to the 0.37 mm (0.014'') of the original cable.
Unfortunately, this excellent idea needs improvement, as I'm about to explain. The top cable in this picture is one where I fixed the fourth and fifth trace from the left. This is the spot where the spring leg almost always hits. Unfortunately, this is also where the additional protection layer ends. Extending this layer a couple of millimeters to the right would have been a significant improvement.
Although helpful, this certainly won't guarantee that the cable would never be destroyed again; depending on how fast you open your eMate, the spring leg can snap through the cable with amazing force. However, if the critical area was fully covered with the additional layer, this might well be the difference between catching the problem in time and noticing it too late.
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In the area we are currently talking about, the cable is folded over on itself. In other words, there are two cable layers on top of each other. What you see here are another three traces that the spring leg has punctured. By the time it reached the layer shown here, it had already worked its way through the opposite layer (which accounts for the two broken traces shown in the image above).
The fact that the black layer extends to the left is probably not meant as an additional protection against puncture. The spring leg will come from the opposite side and puncture both layers before it arrives at the black layer.
It would have been a good idea to add an additional protective layer between the cable's two layers. This is what I do when I fix a cable. You can see the yellow edge of the additional inner layer peeking out at the bottom right-hand side. That way at least one side of the cable is better protected.
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The replacement cable's contacts (bottom) are gold-plated as they should be. There is no visible difference compared to the original cable's contacts apart from a seemingly insignificant one: The replacement cable is ever so slightly narrower than the original one.
At the time this picture was taken, I didn't think such a small width difference would be of any importance. I was soon to find out how wrong my assumption was.
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So far, so good. Since display ribbon cables are generally of no use whatsoever lying on one's table and smiling into one's camera, I intended this particular cable to serve its excellent purpose soon. I was going to install it in my own eMate, which (shame on me) had never been opened. What an excellent opportunity to re-grease the hinges and add the washers...
Hypocrite that I am, for years I have been tirelessly preaching to everyone who asked (and to a fair number of people who didn't ask) the importance of taking care of the hinge spring problem sooner rather than later. Somehow, I've never found the time to do this to my own eMate!
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When I powered my eMate on after replacing the cable, it presented me with the usual pen alignment routine. Imagine my surprise when it showed no reaction whatsoever to pen input. The digitizer seemed to be as dead as a doornail.
Fearing that my senility had advanced far more than expected in the recent past, I checked that I hadn't accidentally put in one of my punctured cables. Thank God this was not the case. Since I assumed that the cable had been tested before it was sent, I considered it fairly unlikely that it might suffer from any shorts or broken traces. The most likely cause was a connector problem.
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As I mentioned above, both ends of the replacement cable are narrower than those of the original cable. This is why the replacement cable's contacts can get misaligned with the connector's contacts, resulting in connections becoming unreliable or open. This problem is more pronounced at the display unit connector side. It is difficult to make out in the pictures shown here. In their high resolution counterparts the critical areas are marked with arrows.
This image shows the cable in the bottom-most possible position...
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...and this one shows it in the topmost possible position.
Of course I pointed this problem out to the seller, and they assured me that it would be taken care of in the next production run.
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In my case it was sufficient to slide the cable end slightly to one side, realigning it ever so slightly in the connector. My eMate has been working fine ever since.
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That's it. In the unlikely case that you have given up all hope of doing the repair on your own because you consider all this way beyond your skill level, you might want to drop me a line so we can discuss how your problem can be resolved.
Please do the same if you encounter any grammatical errors on my pages. Yes, really! Politeness is a wonderful thing, but for my purposes, in lieu of politeness, please be accurate and helpful. I'd much rather you were helpful than tactful. If you aren't critiquing this, how is this page ever going to improve!

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