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Microcontroller reverse engineer
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Actel MCU attack

Actel Corporation (formerly NASDAQ:ACTL) (now Microsemi) is a manufacturer of nonvolatile, low-power field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), mixed-signal FPGAs, and programmable logic solutions. It is headquartered in Mountain View, California, with offices worldwide.

Actel became a publicly traded company in 1985 and became known for its high-reliability and antifuse-based FPGAs, dominating the military and aerospace markets.

In 2000, Actel acquired GateField which expanded Actel's antifuse FPGA offering to include flash-based FPGAs. In 2004, Actel announced it had shipped the one-millionth unit of its flash-based ProASICPLUS FPGA. In 2005, Actel introduced a new technology known as Fusion to bring FPGA programmability to mixed-signal solutions. Fusion was the first technology to integrate mixed-signal analog capabilities with flash memory and FPGA fabric in a monolithic device.

In November 2010, Actel Corporation was acquired by Microsemi Corporation.

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Actel Fusion is the world's first mixed signal FPGA platform.

Actel Fusion® integrates configurable analog, large flash memory blocks, comprehensive clock generation and management circuitry, and high-performance, flash-based programmable logic in a monolithic device. Actel's innovative Fusion architecture can be used with the Actel soft microcontroller (MCU) core as well as the performance-maximized 32-bit ARM® Cortex™-M1 cores. Pigeon Point devices (P1-prefixed devices) are used in conjunction with Actel's Pigeon Point ATCA IP cores and firmware. MicroBlade devices (U1-prefixed devices), designed in partnership with MicroBlade, are targeted to Advanced Mezzanine Card designs. In addition to supporting commercial and industrial temperature devices, Actel now offers Fusion FPGAs with specialized screening for extended temperature military type applications.

  • In-system configurable analog supports a wide variety of applications
  • Up to 1 MB of user flash memory
  • Flash fabric
    • Secure
    • Live at power-up (LAPU)
    • Firm-error immune
    • Single chip
    • Low power
  • Extensive clocking resources
    • Analog PLLs
    • Crystal oscillator circuit
    • Real-time counter (RTC)
    • Available in extended temperature grade from -55°C to 100°C
    • Immune to configuration loss due to atmospheric neutrons (firm errors)

The FPGA graveyard is littered with the last resting places of chips that combined programmable logic with a hard-wired CPU. The cause of death most often was imbalance: it was hardly every possible to get just the right mix of CPU performance, memory size, peripherals, and logic capacity to please more than a few customers. The interface between CPU and logic fabric was always problematic as well. Simple enough to explain to users often meant too slow; fast enough to attach a coprocessor often meant numbingly complex. Worse, the integrated FPGAs always ended up costing more than the discrete chips they replaced.

But Moore's Law has a way of rolling over dilemmas. If you have a fast, dense, Flash-based process, in principle you could give most customers a superset of what their particular application requires—fast enough, enough memory, all the peripherals, and enough logic cells—at a total cost of ownership competitive with the handful of chips it would take to do the same work. Add in a flexible configurable analog section, and you might have a pretty persuasive argument. That's a thumbnail description of Actel's SmartFusion.

The SmartFusion chips comprise three main sections: an FPGA, an MCU, and an analog section. Exploring the FPGA first, members of the family offer from 60K to 500K equivalent gates, whatever that figure might mean. A more concrete measure of logic capacity is that the family offers from 1536 up to 11,520 flipflops. There are up to 128 programmable digital I/Os and from 32 to 96 Kbits (approximately) of block RAM. The fabric can implement designs with up to 350 MHz system clocks, Actel says. The programming technology is Actel's unique Flash process, so it's compact, low-power, and both non-volatile and field-configurable.

The microcontroller section centers on a 100 MHz ARM Cortex M3 core with the usual complement of advanced MCU peripherals, up to 512 KBytes of Flash code store, and up to 64 KBytes of SRAM, separate from the block RAM in the FPGA section. In addition there is a single 10/100 Ethernet MAC on most of the chips in the family.

The analog section is a little harder to sketch quickly. If you are familiar with earlier Actel Fusion chips, this analog section will be familiar too. It includes 12-bit, 600 Ksample/s successive-approximation ADCs and 12-bit sigma-delta DACs (up to three of each), up to ten 50ns comparators, and a variety of current, voltage, and temperature monitors. Altogether the chips offer up to 32 analog inputs and three outputs. One of the benefits of the Flash process, Actel points out, is that it gives you the high-voltage transistors you need for simple analog design.

Another interesting feature of the analog section is a dedicated 8-bit MCU Actel calls the Analog Compute Engine. Actel senior product marketing manager Rajiv Nema says that users program the ACE through a GUI, and the core in turn sets up parameters of the analog section such as sample rates on the converters, collects data from the ADCs, and drives the DACs. The ACE also serves as the interface between the analog section an the rest of the chip.

The FPGA, MCU, and analog sections are joined through a conventional AMBA AHB structure. The AHB matrix connects directly into the FPGA fabric, giving plenty of bandwidth for accelerators or low-latency digital preprocessing engines. This becomes particularly important, for example, in Actel's motor control reference design, where slower control loops, with latencies longer then 10 µs goes through the MCU peripherals and is handled in software, and loops faster than that go through dedicated hardware in the FPGA fabric.

The AHB reaches the MCU peripherals and the ACE through APB bridges. Thus all the resources of the chip are bound together through familiar ARM interconnect technology.

The other critical component of such an SoC is the development environment. Actel offers software development through third-party development environments such as Keil, IAR, and SoftConsole. RTL development goes through Actel's Libero environment. A third tool, Actel's MSS Configurator, allows you to configure the MCU and the analog sections.

The SmartFusion family won't be the answer to all mixed-signal control and sensor-processing applications. But if the application requires more processing power than you can get from a soft ARM core, can live with the modest analog performance, and can benefit from a substantial FPGA fabric, the chip family could be quite flexible. In fact the ability to pack a lot of logic, a substantial MCU, and a capable kit of analog blocks into a copy data hex code copied obtain the source code moderately-priced chip may mean that SmartFusion's destiny will be quite different than the doom that overtook previous hard-MCU/FPGA integrations.

An antifuse is an electrical device that performs the opposite function to a fuse. Whereas a fuse starts with a low resistance and is designed to permanently break an electrically conductive path (typically when the current through the path exceeds a specified limit), an antifuse starts with a high resistance and is designed to permanently create an electrically conductive path (typically when the voltage across the antifuse exceeds a certain level). This technology has many applications.

Antifuses are best known for their use in mini-light (or miniature) style low-voltage Christmas tree lights. Ordinarily (for operation from mains voltages), the lamps are wired in series. (The larger, traditional, C7 and C9 style lights are wired in parallel and are rated to operate directly at mains voltage.) Because the series string would be rendered inoperable get the hex code in source code recovery extract encryption copy data by a single lamp failing, each bulb has an antifuse installed within it. When the bulb blows, the entire mains voltage is applied across the single blown lamp. This rapidly causes the antifuse to short out the blown bulb, allowing the series circuit to resume functioning, albeit with a larger proportion of the mains voltage now applied to each of the remaining lamps. The antifuse is made using wire with a high resistance coating and this wire is coiled over the two vertical filament code safety backup source code retreived preak the security retrieving the code support wires inside the bulb. The insulation of the antifuse wire withstands the ordinary low voltage imposed across a functioning lamp but rapidly breaks down under the full mains voltage, giving the antifuse action. Occasionally, the insulation fails to break down on its own, but tapping the blown lamp will usually finish the job. Often a special bulb with no antifuse and lockbit lock duplicate chip cloning code read copy-protect often a slightly different rating (so it blows first as the voltage gets too high) known as a "fuse bulb" is incorporated into the string of lights to protect against the possibility of severe overcurrent if too many bulbs fail.

Antifuses in integrated circuits

Antifuses are widely used to permanently program integrated circuits (ICs).
Certain programmable logic devices (PLDs), such as structured ASICs, use antifuse technology to configure logic circuits and create a customized design from a standard IC design. Antifuse PLDs are one time programmable in contrast to other PLDs that are SRAM based and which may be reprogrammed to fix logic bugs or add new functions. Antifuse PLDs have advantages over SRAM based PLDs in that like ASICs, they do not need to be configured each time power is applied. They may be less susceptible to alpha particles which can cause circuits to malfunction. Also chips source code extract code read its Memory copy those eeproms get the .bin code code protected circuits built via the antifuse's permanent conductive paths may be faster than similar circuits implemented in PLDs using SRAM technology. QuickLogic Corporation refers to their antifuses as "ViaLinks" because blown fuses create a connection between two crossing layers of wiring on the chip in the same way that a via on a printed circuit board creates a connection between copper layers.
Antifuses may be used in programmable read-only memory (PROM). Each bit contains both a fuse and an antifuse and is programmed by triggering one of the two. This programming, performed after manufacturing, is permanent and irreversible.

Dielectric antifuses

Dielectric antifuses employ a very thin oxide barrier between a pair of conductors. Formation of the conductive channel is performed by a dielectric breakdown forced by a high voltage pulse. Dielectric antifuses are usually employed in CMOS and BiCMOS processes as the required oxide layer thickness is lower than those available in bipolar processes.

Amorphous silicon antifuses

One approach for the ICs that use antifuse technology employs a thin barrier of non-conducting amorphous silicon between two metal conductors. When a sufficiently high voltage is applied across the amorphous silicon it is turned into a polycrystalline silicon-metal alloy with a low resistance, which is conductive.
Polysilicon is a material usually not used in either bipolar or CMOS processes and requires an additional manufacturing step.
The antifuse is usually triggered using an approximately 5 mA current. With a poly-diffusion antifuse, the high current density creates heat, which melts a thin insulating layer between polysilicon and diffusion electrodes, creating a permanent resistive silicon link.

Zener antifuses

Zener diodes can be used as antifuses. The emitter-base junction that serves as such diode is overloaded with a current spike and overheated. At temperatures above 100 °C and current densities above 105 A/cm2 the metallization undergoes electromigration and forms spikes through the junction, shorting it out; this process is known as Zener zap in the industry. The spike is formed on and slightly below the silicon surface, just below the passivation layer without damaging it. The conductive shunt therefore does not compromise integrity and reliability of the semiconductor device. Typically a few-millisecond pulse at 100-200 mA is sufficient for common bipolar devices, for a non-optimized antifuse structure; specialized structures will have lower power demands. The resulting resistance of the junction is in the range of 10 ohms.
The Zener antifuses can be made without additional manufacturing steps with most CMOS, BiCMOS and bipolar processes; hence their popularity in analog and mixed-signal circuits. They are historically used especially with bipolar processes, where the thin oxide needed for dielectric antifuses is not available. Their disadvantage, however, is lower area efficiency compared to other types.
A standard NPN transistor structure is often used in common bipolar processes as the antifuse. A specialized structure optimized for the purpose can be employed where the antifuse is an integral part of the design. The terminals of the antifuses are usually accessible as bonding pads and the trimming process is performed before wire-bonding and encapsulating the chip. As get the firmware read out memory get the program Read Data from the EEprom the number of bonding pads is limited for a given size of the chip, various multiplexing strategies are used for larger number of antifuses. In some cases a combined circuit with zeners and transistors can be used to form a zapping matrix; with additional zeners, the trimming (which uses voltages higher than the normal operational voltage of the chip) can be performed even after packaging the chip.
Zener zap is frequently employed in mixed-signal circuits for trimming values of analog components. For example a precision resistor can be manufactured by forming several series resistors with Zeners in parallel (oriented to be nonconductive during normal operation of the device) and then shorting selected Zeners to shunt the unwanted resistors. By this approach, it is possible only to lower the value of the resulting resistor. It is therefore necessary to shift the manufacturing extracting the code break the protect code copy an encrypted IC PCB Duplex recovery and read data recover the program extracting program from Microcontroller retrieving the hex source code lockbit locked copy source code blocked lockbits activated tolerances so that the lowest-value typically made is equal to or larger than the desired value. The parallel resistors cannot have too low value as that would sink the zapping current; a serial-parallel combination of resistors and antifuses is employed in such cases.

Street-lighting (obsolete)

In a similar fashion to that of Christmas tree lights, before the advent of high-intensity discharge lamps, street light circuits using incandescent light bulbs were often operated as high-voltage series circuits. Each individual street-lamp was equipped with a film cutout; a small disk of insulating film that separated two contacts connected to the two wires leading to the lamp. In the same fashion as with the Christmas lights described above, if the lamp failed, the entire voltage of the street lighting circuit (thousands of volts) was imposed across the insulating film in the cutout, extracting exact software decrypting this memory dump recover code from an encrypted hacking hex file readback of a protected causing it to rupture. In this way, the failed lamp was bypassed and illumination restored to the rest of the street. Unlike Christmas lights, the circuit usually contained an automatic device to regulate the electrical current flowing in the circuit, preventing the current from rising as additional lamps burned out. When the failed lamp was finally changed, a new piece of film was also installed, once again separating the electrical contacts in the cutout. This style of street lighting was recognizable by the large porcelain insulator that separated the lamp and reflector from the light's mounting arm; the insulator was necessary because the two contacts in the lamp's base may have routinely operated at a potential of several thousands of volts above ground/earth.



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