If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. While the current generation of MacBook Pros is rightly torn to shreds for being an overpriced machine with a stupid gimmick of a Touch Bar, there are issues with laptops across the industry. No one has figured out how to take a high-res iPad screen and add a keyboard, most laptops with a display smaller than 13 inches are capped at 720 resolution, new features are introduced at the expense of old ones, binary blobs are cast into a web of BIOS whitelists and missing drivers, No, the Microsoft Surface doesn’t count, because while it’s a nice machine it’s a tablet with a keyboard, not a laptop.
After months of searching, [Hamish Coleman] found the closest thing to a perfect laptop. It’s a Thinkpad X230 from the ancient days of yore, or 2012 depending on how you’re counting. It’s close to perfect, though: aside from an old CPU and GPU, the only real show stopper is the keyboard. Replacing that keyboard was [Hamish]’s personal fight against the modern laptop (YouTube, embedded below), and he’s making it easier for us to fight against the current crop of craptops, too.
Since the introduction of the first Thinkpad, the keyboards for these machines remained relatively unchanged until 2011. For the consummate Thinkpad-sporting professional, that’s two decades of muscle memory, replaced with weird keys, deleted keys, and Page Up and Page Down buttons in the completely wrong spot. The keyboard for the X220 fits into a Thinkpad X230, making for an easy mechanical replacement, but the firmware simply doesn’t work.
After some reverse engineering, [Hamish] managed to get this older keyboard working. Of course, this isn’t new; Zmatt unlocked the controller for his Thinkpad keyboard around this time last year. [Hamish] is taking this one step further by building his own tools to unlock laptops more recent than the Thinkpad X230. The GitHub repo, now unlocks the entire Thinkpad xx30 series, and some work is being done with the xx50 and xx60 series.
Over the past year, we’ve seen a lot of hacks involving the Thinkpad X220 and X230 laptops. The chipped batteries are now unchipped, the standard 1366×768 resolution can be bumped up to 1080, and we can get rid of the dreaded Intel Management engine on these machines. For a six-year-old laptop, these old Thinkpads are shaping up to be the perfect machines for anyone who cares about free hardware. That’s free as in beer and speech – you can pick one of these machines up very cheaply.