Friday, July 6, 2012

What's Inside the New Google Nexus Q

Splayed out on an operating table with its innards on full display, Nexus Q loses all of it pop-art panache. But who can resist cracking open the ball to see what makes it tick? Surely the destruction of one specimen was worth the sacrifice, right? We think so, and we thank Google for providing this exploded view as part of Wired's exclusive access to the Nexus Q project, which was announced Wednesday at Google I/O.

Like the exterior of the streaming media orb, the interior was engineered and crafted with exacting attention to detail. So follow along, slide by slide, as we describe exactly what's powering Google bid to bring audio back into the living room, and resurrect the lost art of real-time music sharing.

Bearing Ring
The upper dome of Nexus Q is a volume controller -- and an earlier version of this essential design element was just a bit too easy to turn. It didn't have enough inertial mass, and felt too flighty to the touch. So Google ditched plastic bearings for the stainless steel ones shown here in the final product. Google adds,"To achieve the best feel, a special damping grease is also loaded into the bearing."

VoilĂ , and She's Done
Nexus Q's LEDs can be set to five different color themes. Here we see the ball fully assembled, and shining in Android blue.

Light Pipe
If you read the previous slide, you may be wondering how 32 discrete LEDs can create the seamless lighting effect that crackles around Nexus Q's equator. It's all optical sleight of hand. This "light pipe" teases the individual LEDs into a single ring of light. As Google tells us, "Its geometry and a layer of white paint reflect the light 90 degrees so it goes straight out around the equator. The textured visible surface helps to diffuse the light so that it appears evenly blended."

LED Board
If not for the 32 LEDs mounted on this circuit board, Nexus Q wouldn't be able to display its dance of lights. Each diode can shine in full RGB, allowing the hardware to project any color of the rainbow. The LEDs are "top-firing," but the unit's light guide (see next slide) steers the light by 90 degrees, ensuring the lighting effect shines around the equator of the sphere.The cutouts on the board allow for the mounting of mechanical parts.

Power Supply
This is the Nexus Q's power source -- an integrated, 35-watt switching power supply. There's an automatic shutdown for the audio amp when the system isn't being used.

Main PCB
This is the core of the system -- the part that makes Nexus Q functionally very similar to a Galaxy Nexus smartphone. Hidden on the flipside of this PCB, you would find the CPU, SDRAM and flash memory, a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth module, and an Ethernet controller. "This is where the magic happens," Google says. And, yes, Nexus Q uses the same processor as the Galaxy Nexus -- a TI OMAP 4460 (dual-core ARM Cortex-A9 CPU and SGX540 GPU).

Audio Amplifier
This is the PCB for Nexus Q's 25-watt amp. This board takes digital audio from the main PCB, and converts it into speaker-level outputs on the four wires that connect on the upper right.

Mezzanine PCB
Attached to the inner dome of Nexus Q, Google calls this piece the "Mezzanine PCB." Among other hosting duties, this board includes the hardware's NFC controller. Yes, NFC, or near-field communication. Google uses NFC during initial device set-up -- hold your phone up to the Q's dome, and your two Android devices will find each other quickly. The mezzanine board also includes a micro-controller for the unit's capacitive touch sensor, which is used for volume muting.

Nexus Q Base
Like most of Nexus Q's non-silicon parts, the base was made in America. In fact, this die-cast zinc base was cast by a company in Wisconsin that also makes rifles. Here we see it after it's been painted and silk-screened.

Rubber Base
"This part is an injection-molded thermoplastic elastomer that displays branding and agency approvals," says Google. "On production devices, the serial number is laser-engraved into the part just below the certification marks."

Basement Board
This PCB hosts the Ethernet and Optical Digital Audio Out connectors. Google says, "These are taller than the USB and micro-HDMI connectors, so they need to be mounted lower. To achieve this, they're on a board that sits slightly lower than the main board." Thus it's called the "basement board." Makes perfect sense.

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