Reading Analog Values With A MagSafe Port

The MagSafe adapter in MacBooks and MacBook Pros is probably the greatest single advancement in laptop technology in the last 10 years. Interestingly, the MagSafe port is also a an analog volt meter that can be read by the OS, and it’s not just limited to monitoring battery voltage; with the right software, you can turn a MagSafe port into a terrible and expensive analog sensor, letting scripts on the computer run based on analog values.

[Peter] created a voltmeter application for his mac after realizing the System Management Controller – the chip responsible for charging the battery – was accessible through low-level kernel calls. If you care enough to chop an Apple power adapter in half, the MagSafe port can read other analog inputs.

The SMC Voltmeter app [Peter] wrote samples the voltage every second and displays values on a graph. This app also allows you to run scripts. While you won’t be able to do much with an extremely expensive, very slow, one-channel data logger (the battery is going to run down eventually), we’re sure we’ll see something that’s held together with duct tape and prayer that uses this weird tool.

Using LVDS Laptop Displays

No doubt anyone reading this has access to a few ancient laptops and the displays contained within. While those laptops are probably still stuck with a Gig of RAM and Windows ME, the display panels are probably still good. They don’t have HDMI, DVI, or VGA, though, which means those panels will need a converter.

[Jared] had a different idea. Instead of reusing laptop displays with a converter, why not connect them to an LVDS connector on some modern hardware? He had a RIoT board with a native LVDS connector, and with some clever reverse engineering and PCB fabrication he can put those old displays to work.

[Jared] had a very cool sunlight-readable ‘transflective’ LCD from on old Portege R500 laptop. If he was going to take apart one laptop to use with modern hardware, this was the one. Opening up the display he found a tiny connector but no obvious markings of what pins did what. The datasheet was also not to be found. By shorting two pins together, he could figure out what the pins were: shorting the clock freezes the screen, shorting the HSYNC and VSYNC means the screen loses sync. Blues, reds, and greens can be found the same way.

With the pins identified, a breakout board was in order. This is just a small board to break out the very small wires to solderable pads and a driver for the backlight. With that, and the RIoT with an LVDS output, [Jared] was able to use new hardware with this old but still serviceable display.

A Laptop with an External Graphics Card?

It used to be that desktop computers reigned king in the world of powerful computing, and to some extent, they still do. But laptops are pretty powerful these days, and in our experience, a lot of engineering companies have actually swapped over to them for resource hungry 3D CAD applications — But what if you still need a bit more power?

Well, [Kamueone] wasn’t satisfied with the performance of his Razer Blade GTX870m laptop, so he decided to hack it and give it its own external graphics card.

Now unfortunately this really isn’t quite a simple as running some PCIE extender cables — nope. You’ll have to modify the BIOS first, which according to [Kamueone], isn’t that bad. But after that’s done you’ll also need a way to mount your graphics card outside of the laptop. He’s using an EXP GDC Beast V6 which uses a mini PCIE cable that can be connected directly to the laptop motherboard. You’re also going to need an external power supply.

[Kamueone] ran some benchmarks and upgrading from the stock onboard GTX870m to an external GTX 780ti resulted in over three times the frame rate capability — 40fps stock, 130fps upgraded!

Lenovo Shipped PC’s with Spyware that Breaks HTTPS

If you’ve ever purchased a new computer then you are probably familiar with the barrage of bloatware that comes pre-installed. Usually there are system tools, antivirus software trials, and a whole bunch of other things that most of us never wanted in the first place. Well now we can add Superfish spyware to the list.

You may wonder what makes this case so special. A lot of PC’s come with software pre-installed that collect usage statistics for the manufacturer. Superfish is a somewhat extreme case of this. The software actually installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate. Then, the software uses its own certificates for every single HTTPS session the user opens. If you visit your online banking portal for example, you won’t actually get the certificate from your bank. Instead, you’ll receive a certificate signed by Superfish. Your PC will trust it, because it already has the root certificate installed. This is essentially a man in the middle attack performed by software installed by Lenovo. Superfish uses this ability to do things to your encrypted connection including collecting data, and injecting ads.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, their certificate is actually using a deprecated SHA-1 certificate that uses 1024-bit RSA encryption. This level of encryption is weak and susceptible to attack. In fact, it was reported that [Rob Graham], CEO of Errata Security has already cracked the certificate and revealed the private key. With the private key known to the public, an attacker can easily spoof any HTTPS certificate and systems that are infected with Superfish will just trust it. The user will have no idea that they are visiting a fake phishing website.

Since this discovery was made, Lenovo has released a statement saying that Superfish was installed on some systems that shipped between September and December of 2014. They claim that server-side interactions have been disabled since January, which disables Superfish. They have no plans to pre-load Superfish on any new systems.

Fixing Faulty But Genuine Apple Power Adapters

apple The standard power adapter for Apple laptops is a work of art. The Magsafe connector has saved more than one laptop owned by the Hackaday crew, and the power brick with interchangeable plugs for different countries is a work of genius. Being a miracle of modern manufacturing doesn’t mean Apple gets it right all the time; the UK adapter doesn’t use the ground plug, leading to the power supplies singing at 50 Hz when plugged in. [Gareth] had had enough of the poor design of his charger and decided to fix it.

The Apple power adapter has two obvious connections, and another shiny metal disk meant for a connection to Earth. In most of the Apple charger ‘extension cords’, this earth connection is provided by the cord. In the smaller plug adapters – even ones where space is not an issue, like the UK plug – this connection is absent.

To fix this glaring oversight, [Gareth] shoved some aluminum foil where the earth terminal on the plug should go. A hole was drilled through the plug to connect this foil to the Earth socket terminal, and everything was covered up with kneadable epoxy.

No, aluminum foil probably won’t do its actual job of preventing horribleness in the event of an insulation failure or short. It will, however, silence the 50 cycle hum emanating from the power adapter, and that’s good enough for [Gareth].

From Broken Laptop Screen to Portable Light Table

Light table from broken LCD

If you’re like most of us here at Hack a Day, you probably shudder at the amount of e-waste that gets thrown out — here’s a clever way to make some good use out of a broken laptop screen!

[Victor] recently received a broken laptop from a friend, and as it turned out, only the LCD was broken. It’s old though so he didn’t want to buy a new screen for it. Instead he chopped it in half and used the functioning half as a media HTPC for his TV. He was about to trash the screen when he had an idea — the LCD was busted, but the back light wasn’t!

He carefully took apart the screen and removed the LCD portion, making sure to leave the back-light and various filters in place. The tricky part is getting the back light to work, and even that’s not too difficult. Depending on your donor laptop it may be an LED or CCFL back light — if it’s LED, it’s pretty simple, if it’s CCFL, you’ll have to figure out how to power the inverter board to get it to work. [Victor] reverse-engineered his and found a schematic for the inverter online, throwing together a little circuit to give it power — he even added a potentiometer to have variable brightness!

Continue reading “From Broken Laptop Screen to Portable Light Table”

Wooden Case Sega Saturn Laptop

CNC'ed Wooden Case for Sega Saturn

Remember the Sega Saturn? You know, that short-lived game system of the mid 90’s. Well, [c_mon] is still a fan and decided to make a portable version with a built in screen.

As you can see from the photos, the main case is made from wood, plywood to be exact. Several pieces of the plywood were cut out using a CNC Router and laminated together to achieve the full height needed to enclose the internal electronics. The finished case takes up a little less real estate than the original, however it is slightly taller.

You may recognize the screen as an old PSOne unit. The screen was taken part and housed in it’s own wooden enclosure which is hinged to the main case. The video is supplied to the screen by a composite output from the Saturn. There is no unique CD lid either, the screen functions as one when it is folded down. For sound there are a couple built in powered speakers that tap into the stock audio output.

To ad a little pizzazz, [c_mon] routed in a groove in the top to accept some EL wire. There are also some cool engravings in the wooden case, including the Saturn Automobile Manufacturer logo on the top of the screen lid…. whoops!

CNC'ed Wooden Case for Sega Saturn