Introduction: Live Reverse Engineering

Picture of Live Reverse Engineering

I started in electronics before the advent of the internet and most solid state components, so getting datasheets and schematics was not easy for me. Today with manufactures making custom ICs and LCDs for everything from phones to video games, tinkers that salvage components from old electronics are faced with a new challenge. The schematics and datasheets for custom components are just not available. Even though these components can be obsolete by the time you are salvaging the parts you still can’t get the data sheets. This is where reverse engineering comes to play making schematics and datasheets with pinouts on desired components you can’t get datasheets for.

Now I get a lot of electronics out of the waist bin that work, so when you see a component you like don’t just take the component out of the circuit board and expect to find a datasheet for it, sometimes that works and many times it doesn’t. Find out if it works first.

When I wrote my Instructable Salvaging Liquid Crystal Displays, I was asked about pinouts of LCDs.

Many of my replies to these requests for pinouts were to tell them to follow my Instructable Reverse Engineering.

That Instructable works for displays if you can look up the other components on the circuit board, this Instructable is about finding the pinouts when you can’t look up the key components or can’t find the datasheets.

This Instructable will not teach you the codes that make a component work; nor will it teach you how to get past one time programmable ICs or locked ICs. It will teach you how to find some if not all the functions of a components pinouts.

Step 1: Tools

Picture of Tools

1. Screwdriver to disassemble the housing.

2. Multimeter for checking voltages.

3. Soldering gun for surface mount components you may need two.

4. Oscilloscope for checking signals.

5. PCB holder

6. Safety Glasses

7. Sand Paper

A logic analyzer would be better for analyzing the data inputs as logic circuits function on true current and the signals will look the reverse with an oscilloscope.

Step 2: COG LCD or Chip on Glass Liquid Crystal Display

Picture of COG LCD or Chip on Glass Liquid Crystal Display

You may find yourself with a phone like this one and go, “Oh boy what a nice LCD display.” And take the display out only to discover you can’t get a datasheet for the display. If you had the forethought to keep the circuit board so you could reverse engineer the circuit board and you then discover there are four key components you can’t get datasheets for.

The COG LCD 8 pin 1 custom bar 2 X 14 digit 5 X 7 segment alphanumerical bars.

The Transmitter

The eight pin IC L326U79W

The eighty pin IC SC14431

Of these four components I could only get the datasheet for a SC14408 IC and I was not sure if it had the same pinout.

In my case I had three of the same phones so I did a Live Reverse Engineering.

Step 3: Dissembling for Live Testing

Picture of Dissembling for Live Testing

Start by charging the battery, I had a number of them so I picked one that held a charge for at least one hour, this phone will not work when you push the buttons while it is charging the battery or without a battery, so I needed a working battery.

To live test you need to remove the circuit from the phone housing. Start by removing the battery cover, and take out the battery and the screws holding the back of the phone housing to the front of the phone housing.

Keep the battery.

Next open the phone housing and remove any screws holding the circuit board to the front of the housing.

Remove the circuit board and the key pad buttons you need the key pad buttons for testing.

Pop the speaker off the back of the housing.

Once you have the circuits, battery, and key pad buttons you can toss the housing into your scrap plastic bin.

Since I did not need the speaker or the earpiece for testing I removed them, if you desolder the connections make sure you do not short the connections with solder.

Last I removed the earpiece bracket to expose the COG LCDs terminals.

Step 4: Meter Testing

Picture of Meter Testing

Reattach the battery and mount the circuit board into the PCB holder. Start with a Multimeter measure and record the voltages one pin at a time.

Pin 1. 2.8 Volts negative

Pin 2. 0 volts

Pin 3. 2.3 volts positive

Pin 4. 2.3 volts positive

Pin 5. 2.3 volts positive

Pin 6. 2.3 volts positive

Pin 7. 2.3 volts positive

Pin 8. 2.3 volts positive

Step 5: Logic Analyzer or Oscilloscope

Picture of Logic Analyzer or Oscilloscope

A logic analyzer would be best for analyzing the signal inputs but you can use an oscilloscope and record the results to get the same information. Set your oscilloscope for scan at a speed you can see the data stream when you push one of the buttons.

Pin 1. No signal 2.8 Volts negative

Pin 2. No signal 0 volts

Pin 3. No signal 2.3 volts positive

Pin 4. No signal 2.3 volts positive

Pin 5. Signal 2.3 volts positive

Pin 6. Signal 2.3 volts positive

Pin 7. Signal 2.3 volts positive

Pin 8. Signal 2.3 volts positive

Step 6: Display Response

Picture of Display Response

Next check the display response by changing the signal inputs and recording the response. You don’t need to record everything the display does just if it changes or not and if the display goes out. Since Pin 1 is negative voltage and no signal, and pin two is 0 voltage and no signal we can assume they are Vss. and ground.

Pin 3 and 4 are fixed high so start with Pin 5 checking one pin at a time, fix the voltage too high, or in this case 2.3 volts and observe what happens to the display.

Record the response of pin 5 then move to Pin 6 fixing it to high then observe the response on the display and record it. Continue with this process for pin 7 and pin 8. The changes on the display were funky symbols in the alphanumeric segments and random lighting up of the custom bar. You may notice the response only affects the custom bar or the alphanumeric bars make note of that because the pin data inputs may be bar specific.

Starting with Pin 3 start checking one pin at a time, fix the voltage to low or in this case 0 volts and observe what happens to the display. Pin 3 and 4 when set low shut down the display, pins 5 to 8 when set to low or 0 volts made different symbols in the alphanumeric segments, and different random lighting up of the symbols in the custom bar.

What this did was to corrupt the data inputs set the enable to disable and the Vdd. to 0 volts. At this point I know what 6 of the 8 pins are and what they do.

Pin 1. Vss

Pin 2. Gnd

Pin 3. ???

Pin 4. ???

Pin 5. D0

Pin 6. D1

Pin 7. D2

Pin 8. D3

Pin 3 and 4 I suspect are Enable and Vdd. but to find out which is which I will need to trace the circuits.

Step 7: Tracing the Circuits

Picture of Tracing the Circuits

If you only have one circuit board; take a good photograph of the circuit board before and after you take the components off the circuit board. Since I had three of these phones I had one fully assembled on the charger to keep the battery charged. One phone partially dissembled for reference and one I striped for testing and tracing.

After removing the COG LCD I made notes on the backlight LEDs and removed all the components putting aside the components I wanted.

Remove the ink, paint, and lacquer, covering the circuits so you can see the conductors better. I have tried every compound, stripper, and solvent I could buy in the store, none of them worked at removing the ink or lacquer on these circuit boards. So I sanded the boards clean, photographed both sides and traced the circuits in paint on my computer.

I compared the pinouts of the SC14431 IC with the SC14408 IC datasheet and I was glad I did not rely on the datasheet for my pinouts none of the pinouts from the SC4431 that I knew were Ground, Vss, or data matched with the SC4408 IC datasheet. However I was able to tell which pin on the LCD was Vdd and enable.

Pin 3 went to multiple components denoted by the C in the box until it traced to the positive of the battery.

Pin 4 went to pin 28 of the SC14431 IC only, this told me it had to be enable.

Step 8: Pinouts

Picture of Pinouts

Pin 1. Vss
Pin 2. Gnd

Pin 3. Vdd

Pin 4. Enable

Pin 5. D0

Pin 6. D1

Pin 7. D2

Pin 8. D3

There you have a minimal datasheet for an unknown COG LCD connected to unknown ICs with a basic connection schematic using Live Reverse Engineering.

Step 9: Looks Like a Nokia Graphics LCD

Picture of Looks Like a Nokia Graphics LCD

Although this LCD looks like a Nokia Graphic LCD it is a custom LCD with two 15 digit alphanumeric bars and two custom bars. Even after I live reverse engineered this LCD I could not find the code to make it do what I wanted. I tried the Nokia graphic codes and pinouts on this LCD using Arduino. The Arduino codes and the pinouts did not work on this Nokia look alike LCD. Do not look at a component and assume it is the same as it looks.

Step 10: The Circuit Board

Picture of The Circuit Board

Unlike the first phone in this Instructable the only parts I could not find datasheets for were the transmitter, LCD, and the one resin coated IC.

Step 11: Live Testing With a Meter

Picture of Live Testing With a Meter

Just like the first phone I exposed the LCD terminals and checked the voltages with a multimeter. Recording the voltages I found voltages twice that of the battery.

Pin 1. 3.3 volts when button pushed.

Pin 2. 3.3 volts.

Pin 3. 3.3 volts when button pushed.

Pin 4. 0 volts.

Pin 5. 3.3 volts.

Pin 6. 6.17 volts.

Pin 7. 6.17 volts.

Pin 8. 3.3 volts.

Pin 9. 6.17 volts.

Step 12: Live Testing With an Oscilloscope

Picture of Live Testing With an Oscilloscope

On this circuit board with the oscilloscope I got two intermittent signals and three constant signals.

Pin 1. Signal when the button was pushed 3.3 volts.

Pin 2. Constant square wave 3.3 volts.

Pin 3. Signal when button pushed 3.3 volts.

Pin 4. No signal 0 volts.

Pin 5. No signal 3.3 volts.

Pin 6. No signal 6.17 volts.

Pin 7. Constant square wave 6.17 volts.

Pin 8. Constant square wave 3.3 volts.

Pin 9. No signal 6.17 volts.

Step 13: Tracing the Nokia Look Alike Circuits

Picture of Tracing the Nokia Look Alike Circuits

Just like the first circuit board I took photos removed the parts made notes on the backlight LED and cleaned the circuit board to trace the conductors in paint on my computer. Once I had the circuit feeding the LCD I had all the pinouts but the one to the resin coated IC and it was not hard to deduce it was reset or enable.

Pin 1. Resin coated IC.

Pin 2. Serial clock on IC AMTH 004.

Pin 3. Serial data on IC AMTH 004.

Pin 4. Ground.

Pin 5. Vcc.

Pin 6. High voltage and a capacitor to pin 5.

Pin 7. High voltage square wave and a capacitor to pin 8.

Pin 8. Low voltage square wave.

Pin 9. High voltage.

Step 14: Nokia Look Alike Pinouts

Picture of Nokia Look Alike Pinouts

For the last little bit I disassembled the LCD making notes of its construction and made a simple datasheet with a connection circuit.

Finding the pinouts of a component is not impossible without a datasheet when you use reverse engineering, but datasheets do make life easer.

Last you will find coding a challenge because it is; 10010100 is 42 or the alphanumerical sun of "To Be". The answer to life, the universe, and everything.


SugarCluster (author)2016-10-02

Offline reversing tips:

Manufacturers often put Vcc and GND on the very left or right pins of connector, like pin 1 and 2.

AshishP40 (author)2016-05-12

I like this instructable

but I want to know that I have 10" tablet and the motherboard of tablet is burned but lcd is good now I want to make 10" lcd tv using my tablet lcd

can you help me for that

It can be done, but you need the pin out of the LCD and match it to a flat screen circuits.

Since you can't live reverse engineer the pin outs try these reverse engineering.

Trace the pin outs to the ICs driving the LCD.

You may find these sights good for datasheets.

kroome88 (author)2016-01-22

appreciate your dedication to this very detailed instructables.... :)


kroome88 (author)2016-01-22

appreciate your dedication to this very detailed instructables.... :)

Terranan (author)2016-01-08

It's rare to see an instructable that teaches so concisely. Well done, sir. :)


PranjalM1 (author)2015-08-30


I have a broken mobile color lcd of which i have to extract the backlight panel so as to use it as a usb powered keyboard lighting for my laptop.

I'm wondering that how can i start with the procedure to extract them from the lcd module and use them in my project without burning them out.

Please help me out as soon as possible..

Josehf Murchison made it! (author)PranjalM12015-08-30

East to do, I have done it and made an Instructable.

The first two a CFL back light.

The next two a color changing LEDs.ía-de-los-Muertos-The-Day-of-The-Dead/

And the next Instructable on this exact subject has disappeared, the photos are still in my library but the Instructable is gone, so here are the picks.

Thanx Josehf for an early reply

But that didn't solve my problem..

Let me explain my exact questions:

1. I dont have any specification of the mini led's on the backlight panel so i can't figure out how much voltage should i apply on the individual pins..

2. I'm unable to reverse engineer the circuitry as there is no information about this lcd on the internet. I can't understand the pinout.

3. I an wondering that should i desolder the backlight panel from the lcd module? If so then how should i make a circuit diagram and connect the led's with power source? How much voltage and amperage will they need? How will i be able to adjust their brightness?

These are my confusions about this module. I'll appreciate if you can simplify such things to me or just write an instructable explaining technical specifications of such modules..

Thanks in advance..

Yea unsolder the 5 LED leads and remove the LCD. From your pic I would say 4 are positive and 1 is ground. Ground should be one of the outside leads, take your multi meter and set it to test for resistance. When you find the right leads the LED should light up. If the LEDs do not have a resistor you will need to add a 300 ohm to each of the LED leads. Your USB is only 5 volts so a 300 ohm resistor should do you.

foobear (author)2015-08-22

That is the cutest oscilloscope I have ever seen! There should be a wikipedia for reverse engineering - then as people figure out how a thing works, other people can make use of old electronic using the info. I always wondered how to get past the black epoxy coating on some circuits - your answer makes sense: have two and sand the other one down

Josehf Murchison made it! (author)foobear2015-08-22

That is the DSO nano v2 from Seeed, I love that oscilloscope, I can take it anywhere. It is a little smaller than a cell phone. Seeed has the DSO nano v3 for $89 and the DSO quad for $199 out now they are a little more powerful than mine and the quad is a 4 input.

If you don't have two take good pictures, you can still trace with a Pic. Just live reverse engineer then disassemble and trace.

Perspective Image (author)2015-08-20

This is a really well done Instructable! Great job - thanks for taking the time to list all of the steps.

Your welcome.

Andrewp34 (author)2015-08-19

Hi, great post!!!

Im writing from Argentina, and I would like to know if you can help me identify how to connect this display. its from an old HP printer.

Thanks in advance

Are you sure that is the right LCD AUO024B2GC the specks on that page say it is for a camera or MP3 MP4.

At any rate I do not have the datasheet nor have I had the chance to reverse engineer it.

hi, yes sure. mi issue here, is that it has a lot of pins, more that my 40 years eye can see...

It took a bit of work but 44 by my count.

worm5 (author)2015-08-19

Very good, thanks for taking the time to share all this info. It helped a lot.

Josehf Murchison (author)worm52015-08-19

You are welcome

rafaelnfs (author)2015-08-19

really helpful :D thanks

You are welcome.

tonep (author)2015-08-18

Hi Josehf,

Thanks for the detailed info. You've obviously spent a lot of time and hard work getting this info. I have a few small LCD panels lying around. I never knew how to use them and now I can at least make a start.

Here is my experience for people who are looking for info on 7" LCD colour panels:

I played around a bit with 7" colour LCD panels and found that as long as the cable width is the same they can be interchanged. I found an old digital photo frame with a cracked panel. I changed the panel for a much newer version. The only difference was that the old panel had a CCFL tube backlight while the new one was LED. No problem - I just looked for a 12V source on the board to drive the LEDs. It's still working.

Another encounter was with a 7" tablet. It was a very new model. It must have fallen from a height. The LCD panel was shattered and the battery had a hole in it, but the board was intact. I couldn't wait to check my cable width theory. The LCD panel from my old, dead tablet fit the connector on the board perfectly. When I powered on it did work, full screen, backlight and all, but only 3/4 of the picture was displayed. It seems the resolution of the original panel was much higher. At least, I know that the board is OK and If I get my hands on another dead tablet, I can try to get the panel working on the board.

Josehf Murchison (author)tonep2015-08-18

A lot of them do have a standard pinout, but they will have a different resolution that can be fixed if you can find the programmable LCD IC and reprogram it for the new LCD.

tonep (author)Josehf Murchison2015-08-18

Hi Josehf,
Thanks for the advice. I am not so good at the programming part, but nowadays, everything is available on the internet. I just need to make some time to search. I will get back to you if I find something interesting.

RockeyDA (author)2015-08-17

woh, is that little thing really an oscilloscope? i knew lcd's would of made them smaller but DANG. compare that to mine

Yea I love it, my 4 input Tektronix is like 100 pounds it almost takes 2 people to carry it.

That is a DSO nano v2 now they have the v3 and the Quad you should check them out. The v3 is only $89 from seeed.

my scope is 10mhz... whats yourse?

The DSO v2

Built in signal generator is 10 Hz to 1 Mg Hz.

1 Meg Hz analog

100 Meg Hz digital

One of my Tektronix is 500 Meg Hz, I have 4 of them on top of others.

Lee Wilkerson (author)2015-08-17

I like it, unfortunately, I no longer have a scope nor data tracer. Maybe I should build myself one of each...

Are you sure 00110100 equals 42? It looks like 34 hex to me which would be 3x16 + 4 = 52 decimal.

I did bugger that up, that is 45. I should have typed 10010100 for 42.

Thanks I'll fix that.

DarrenR (author)2015-08-17

That is a very helpful instructable, Thanks.

Josehf Murchison (author)DarrenR2015-08-17

You are welcome.

throbscottle (author)2015-08-17

Cool! I hope I manage to be as clever as you one day :)

JesperK (author)2015-08-17

Hi. Great article. I to love to reverse engineering, you mentioned a logic analyzer, I can recommend a little module called XminiLab from Velleman. It is a little low cost breadboard ready, 2 channel Lcd oscilloscope, protocol sniffer, logic analyzer, adjustable wave-generator, frequency merger, 5v and 3.3v power supply. It fits directly on breadboards. Great for education and hobby. Greatings from Denmark.

Josehf Murchison (author)JesperK2015-08-17

I Googled that, it looks nice.

erisabisu (author)2015-08-16

Hi Josehf,

Great instructables from your hand! Just wonder how you are able to see any displays when you lost eyesight. Do you use additional means such as a screen reader and if so which?


Common misconception blind people can see things. Blind is white and it is less than 600 vision in your good eye or less than 20 degrees field of vision in your good eye.

I have total loss of central vision in my left eye, the part of your eye you use to read, and 10 degrees field of vision in my right. So I use magnifiers and my camera in conjunction with my computer to blow up the picks. Then my brain gets involved and tries to put the two images together. My glasses are designed to block what I see with my left eye so it doesn't interfere with what I see with my right eye. Without them it is like trying to see through a kaleidoscope.

coldblackice (author)2015-08-16

Holy crap -- YES! This is the instructable I've been searching for. Could you do more of these? The WowWee robots (like Elvis) would be fantastic. But regardless, I'm subbed to any other reverse-engineering 'ables you do. Thanks!

I'm glad you like it the next one I am doing is on finding the code to run the LCD. it wont be long and I will have a collection on reverse engineering.

pcarew (author)2015-08-16


May I ask what logic analyzer model you're using?

I'm trying to reverse engineer a 'Wow Wee Robosapien V1' circuit board and a logic analyzer might be useful. My old analog scope only has two traces.

Josehf Murchison (author)pcarew2015-08-16

I use scan mode I on an oscilloscope and auto on a logic analyzer.

I forgot to metion I have a 4 input Tektronix.

gdriver (author)2015-08-16


You have far more patience than I have, however sometimes I do this sort of thing.

I like the sanding idea but generally I am tracing the circuit to repair the item so maybe not. I always start by checking which, if any, pins are connected to the battery, or maybe metalwork which I may assume (for the moment) is ground, using a meter on continuity/buzz and with battery disconnected. Sometimes the positive rail is battery positive, sometimes not so I usually scout around for anything looking like a regulator, and then then check from there as well.

Well done.It is a rare instructable that is worth reading.but this one is well worth it. Certainly gets my vote.

Josehf Murchison (author)gdriver2015-08-16

Yea when you want to repair you must be more gentle I was salvaging parts and the Instructable was about salving parts.

Voltage multipliers can mess you up where the negative voltage goes to the battery the ground goes to the positive of the battery and the positive voltage goes to the circuits.

Then there are center taped voltage multipliers where the negative goes to negative positive goes to positive and it is center taped for ground.

The Electrobot (author)2015-08-13

Great instructable :) thanks a lot for sharing.

You are welcome.

Raphango (author)2015-08-13

Very interesting! =D

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a photographer, a tinker, an electronics technology engineer, and author; I write short stories and poetry for the love of writing. I started ... More »
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