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How to crack IC 74154

How to crack ic 74154

Introduction to IC 74154

The 74154 is a 4-to-16 line decoder/demultiplexer IC from the 7400 series of TTL logic chips. It takes a 4-bit binary input and activates one of the 16 output lines based on the input code. The 74154 finds wide applications in address decoding and routing data flow in digital systems. Cracking the 74154 refers to techniques used to read the internal structure and extract the logic functionality of the chip. This enables cloning or duplicating the IC using discrete components or programmable logic. Let’s look at some common techniques used for cracking the 74154.

Methods for Cracking 74154

There are several methods hardware hackers use to crack ICs like 74154. The most common ones are:

1. Microprobing

This involves physically probing the chip under a microscope to map out the internal gates and connections. Fine probes are used to tap into metal lines and transistors on the silicon die. This reveals the complete gate-level netlist but requires expensive equipment.

2. Emission Microscopy

The chip is powered up and emissions from individual transistors are observed under a microscope. This helps identify active areas but doesn’t yield the full connectivity.

3. Chemical Etching

The packaging and die layers are chemically etched away layer-by-layer to expose the topology of the IC. This is labor-intensive but provides the most detailed analysis of the chip structure.

4. Software Reverse Engineering

The logic function is determined by testing the chip’s behavior under different input combinations. The results are used to deduce the internal gates and their wiring.

5. Hardware Reverse Engineering

Similar to software reverse engineering but uses additional hardware like logic analyzers to capture the input-output relationships.Allows testing the IC at full speeds.

Cracking the 74154 Using Hardware Reverse Engineering

Hardware reverse engineering using logic analyzers provides a good balance of speed, cost and ease of use for cracking the 74154. Here are the steps involved:

1. Gather Equipment

  • 74154 IC
  • Breadboard for circuit wiring
  • 5V power supply
  • 16 Channel logic analyzer
  • Oscilloscope (optional)
  • Digital input switches/buttons
  • Jumper wires

2. Build Test Circuit

  • Wire up the 74154 on a breadboard with power supply and inputs attached to switches.
  • Connect the 16 outputs to logic analyzer channels.
  • Add LEDs or scope probes to outputs for easy debugging.

3. Apply Input Patterns

  • Run through all 16 input combinations and record the logic levels on each output
  • Activated output goes low for each input code applied
  • Tabulate the input codes and corresponding outputs

4. Analyze Results

  • The tabulated input-output code map reveals the internal gate connections
  • Since only one output is active for each input, a 16-line decoder function is confirmed
  • The logic diagram can be inferred by analyzing the input to output mapping

5. Verify Circuit

  • Draw the logic diagram deduced from the measurements
  • Build the circuit using discrete logic gates (AND, OR, NOT etc)
  • Test with the same input combinations to verify it matches 74154

This cracking process should reveal the internal structure consisting of a 4-to-16 line decoder built from 3-line to 8-line decoders. The logic diagram obtained can be used to build a clone of the 74154 using standard 7400 logic ICs.

Cloning the 74154

The 74154 contains two layers of 3-line to 8-line decoders cascaded to provide the 4-bit to 16-line decoding function. Here is the cloning procedure:

1. Implement the Internal Gates

  • 7404 – Hex inverters
  • 74138 – 3-to-8 line decoder

2. Connect the Gates

  • Use two 74138s for the two decoder stages
  • Invert the MSB bit using 7404 to create the complemented layer
  • Connect the gates as per the logic diagram obtained via reverse engineering

3. Verify the Clone

  • Test the cloned circuit with all input combinations
  • Confirm it matches the outputs of the 74154 for each case
  • Debug and correct any issues found

4. Substitute 74154 with Clone

  • The cloned decoder can directly replace the 74154 in most applications
  • Adjust pinouts or add buffer gates as needed while substituting

This demonstrates how hardware reverse engineering can be used to crack a chip like 74154 and reconstruct it with basic off-the-shelf logic ICs.

Applications of Cracking the 74154

Here are some useful applications and scenarios where cracking the 74154 is highly beneficial:

1. Understand Internal Logic Design

Reverse engineering provides insights into the gate-level implementation and knowledge of IC design techniques. This can help developers and engineers strengthen their digital logic and chip design skills.

2. Repair Rare/Obsolete Chips

When the 74154 ICs are no longer available, a cracked clone allows repairing old systems by reconstructing the ICs needed.

3. Custom Redesign and Optimization

The logic diagram can be modified to create custom variations of the 74154 with features like tri-state outputs, lower propagation delays etc.

4. Teach Digital Logic Design

Cracking real-world chips like 74154 provides students hands-on experience in understanding and designing complex logic circuits.

5. IP Theft Analysis

Reverse engineering can identify instances of intellectual property violations by comparing a suspicious IC’s internals against known diagrams.

Limitations of Cracking ICs

While cracking ICs through reverse engineering is useful in several scenarios, the technique has certain limitations:

  • Requires expert skills and proper tools to accurately determine logic structure.
  • Works well for older simple ICs but very complex for modern ICs with billions of transistors.
  • Destructive to the IC package and die during physical delayering approaches.
  • Legal issues regarding intellectual property rights may apply in some cases.
  • Cloned ICs will often lack the performance and reliability of the original.
  • Manufacturing the cloned IC at scale is difficult compared to mass produced chips.


Reverse engineering provides invaluable insights into the gate-level organization and working of integrated circuits. For the 74154 decoder, hardware techniques using test input patterns and logic analysis allow accurately mapping its internal logic gates and structure. This enables cloning the functionality using basic digital logic gates. While cracking ICs has limitations, it is an important technique for learning chip design intricacies, duplicating rare components, debugging legacy systems and other applications where the original IC is unavailable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. Is cracking an IC illegal?

The legality depends on the purpose and usage of the cracked IC. Reverse engineering for research, repair or personal education is generally legal. However, duplicating an IC for commercial use or sale without the rights holder’s permission may constitute IP infringement.

Q2. How are modern ICs harder to crack than older ones?

Modern ICs use nanometer scale fabrication and integrate billions of transistors, making it almost impossible to physically probe or map the entire chip. They also utilize more complex logic and encryption techniques specifically designed to prevent reverse engineering.

Q3. What equipment is typically used to crack an IC?

Common equipment used are microprobing workstations, emission microscopes, chemical etching setups, logic analyzers, oscilloscopes, digital signal generators, breadboards, etc. Sophisticated software is also used for analyzing the results.

Q4. Can a cracked IC be recreated using a FPGA?

Yes, once the logic diagram of an IC is extracted via reverse engineering, it can be coded into a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) to emulate the same functionality using reconfigurable logic blocks.

Q5. Does reverse engineering damage the original IC?

Invasive techniques like microprobing and decapping involve physically altering the IC and can render it non-functional. Non-invasive techniques using test inputs attempt to avoid damage but can still stress ICs beyond normal operation.

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