Unlocking Thinkpad Batteries

A few months ago, [Matt] realized he needed another battery for his Thinkpad X230T. The original battery would barely last 10 minutes, and he wanted a battery that would last an entire plane flight. When his new battery arrived, he installed it only to find a disturbing message displayed during startup: “The system does not support batteries that are not genuine Lenovo-made or authorized.” The battery was chipped, and now [Matt] had to figure out a way around this.

Most recent laptop batteries have an integrated controller that implements the Smart Battery Specification (SBS) over the SMBus, an I2C-like protocol with data and clock pins right on the battery connector. After connecting a USBee logic analyser to the relevant pins, [Matt] found the battery didn’t report itself correctly to the Thinkpad’s battery controller.

With the problem clearly defined, [Matt] had a few options open to him. The first was opening both batteries, and replacing the cells in the old (genuine) battery with the cells in the newer (not genuine) battery. If you’ve ever taken apart a laptop battery, you’ll know this is the worst choice. There are fiddly bits of plastic and glue, and if you’re lucky enough to get the battery apart in a reasonably clean matter, you’re not going to get it back together again. The second option was modifying the firmware on the non-genuine battery. [Charlie Miller] has done a bit of research on this, but none of the standard SBS commands would work on the non-genuine battery, meaning [Matt] would need to take the battery apart to see what’s inside. The third option is an embedded controller that taps into the SMBus on the charger connector, but according to [Matt], adding extra electronics to a laptop isn’t ideal. The last option is modifying the Thinkpad’s embedded controller firmware. This last option is the one he went with.

There’s an exceptionally large community dedicated to Thinkpad firmware hacks, reverse engineering, and generally turning Thinkpads into the best machines they can be. With the schematics for his laptop in hand, [Matt] found the embedded controller responsible for battery charging, and after taking a few educated guesses had some success. He ran into problems, though, when he discovered some strangely encrypted code in the software image. A few Russian developers had run into the same problem, and by wiring up a JTAG to the embedded controller chip, this dev had a fully decrypted Flash image of whatever was on this chip.

[Matt]’s next steps are taking the encrypted image and building new firmware for the embedded controller that will allow him to charge is off-brand, and probably every other battery on the planet. As far as interesting mods go, this is right at the top, soon to be overshadowed by a few dozen comments complaining about DRM in batteries.

Building The Novena Laptop

The latest hardware project from [Bunnie] is the Novena, a truly open source laptop where nearly every part has non-NDA’d datasheets. This is the ideal laptop for hardware hacking – it has an FPGA right on the motherboard, a ton of pin headers, and a lot of extras that make interfacing with the outside world easy.

While the crowdfunding campaign for the Novena included a completely custom laptop, it was terribly expensive. That’s okay; it’s an heirloom laptop, and this is a DIY laptop anyway. With the Novena now shipping, it’s time for people to build their laptops. [Ben Heck] is the first person to throw his hat into the ring with his own build of the Novena laptop, and it’s fantastic.

The second video of the build was dedicated to what is arguably the most important part of any laptop: the keyboard. For the keyboard, [Ben Heck] went all out. It’s a completely mechanical keyboard, with backlit LEDs built around the Phantom PCB with Cherry MX switches. Because this is a DIY laptop and something that is meant to be opened, the keyboard is completely removable. Think of something like the original Compaq luggable, but turned into a laptop that looks reasonably modern.

The laptop enclosure was constructed out of a sandwich of an aluminum and laser cut plastic. These layers were glued and screwed together, the parts were carefully mounted into the case. The USB keyboard was attached directly to one of the chips on the motherboard with a few flying wires and hot glue.

The finished build is fantastic, even if it is a bit thick. It’s the ultimate hacker’s laptop, with an FPGA, Linux, open source everything, and even a cute little secret compartment for storing tools and cable adapters. A great build from one of the best builders around.

Continue reading “Building The Novena Laptop”

Laptop’s Aren’t Upgradable? Ha!

[MX372] is a pretty dedicated hardware hacker. Instead of chucking a 10 year old laptop with specs weaker than his latest cellphone — he decided to breath new life into it with a few hardware upgrades, and a switch to Linux of course.

Featuring a 1.1GHz Pentium M processor with a whopping 512mb DDR RAM, a dvd burner, a 40GB HDD, USB 2.0, BlueTooth, 802.11b/g wireless and even a FireWire port, his old Sony Vaio used to command a pretty hefty price tag. In fact, he’s pretty sure he paid $2,100 for it back in ’05. It was called an “ultrabook” before ultrabook actually meant a MacBook-Air sized laptop.

Still running Windows XP, it had gotten slower with age as all good computers do, and since XP is no longer supported, [MX372] thought it was time to switch it over to Linux. He started with Xubuntu 12, but quickly found Lubuntu instead. But, it still wasn’t that great. Continue reading “Laptop’s Aren’t Upgradable? Ha!”

What to Do with Old LCD Screens: Hack Your Own Electrochromatic Glass

There’s something decidedly science fiction-like about electrochromatic glass. A wave of a hand or a voice command and the window goes dark (or goes transparent). You can get glass like this today or you can add (pricey) film to existing glass, if you prefer.

[Artem Litvinovich] thought about using LCDs as window panes twenty years ago, but the cost was, of course, prohibitive. He recently realized that he had easy access to LCDs out of broken laptops and decided to see if it would be useful as a small window.

Continue reading “What to Do with Old LCD Screens: Hack Your Own Electrochromatic Glass”

Don’t Steal This Laptop

As laptops have become smaller and easy to carry around, they have also picked up the most unfortunate property of being easy to steal. We’ve read the stories of how some victims are able to track them down via webcam still images of the thief. [Mastro Gippo] decided to take it one step further and add a remotely operated hardware self destruct to his laptop. The idea is if the laptop becomes unrecoverable, it will become useless and any sensitive data will be destroyed without harming the area around it.

It’s somewhat inception like, as it’s a hack within a hack. It’s based on the Crunchtrack, a CAN bus reverse engineering tool equipped with GPS and a SIM800 GSM module, which was also developed by [Mastro Gippo]. The idea is to tuck the small board somewhere in the laptop and wire it up between the battery and some sensitive parts. Send a single SMS text and ‘poof’, bye-bye laptop.

He wrote all the code in less the 24 hours for the BattleHack Hackathon. He decided to spice up the act with some firecrackers and a detonator, which made his team the crowd favorite and earned a victory.

Continue reading “Don’t Steal This Laptop”

Laptop Broken? Get A Bigger Hammer

The weakest point in a laptop case may be the screen hinges, especially in heavily used machines. The mechanical stresses involved with opening a laptop can often break the thin plastic screw bosses and cause the threaded insert to pop out. What do you do? Get a hammer and some tacks of course!

[mightysinetheta]’s solution involves popping the bezel off the offending screen, then aligning the hinges in preparation for drilling holes though the computer’s plastic lid. Then he placed some short tacks though the holes and the hinges. Pressing the hinge down into the lid to ensure a tight fit, the hammer comes out to peen over the tip of the nail. Course that can be time consuming so just bending the tack over and flattening it down with the hammer works just as well.

With the hinge secured back into place his trusty laptop is back in service. The new additions on the back of the lid add a bit of a custom look that is purely functional.

While you’re in there… might want to replace that charging port that’s been wiggling mysteriously.

Analyzing The Microsoft Surface Touch Keyboard Cover

The Microsoft Surface is an awesome Tablet PC, but it has one problem: there is just one USB port on it. There is an additional port, though: a connector for the Surface Touch Keyboard connector. That’s what [Edward Shin] is looking into, with the long-term intention of creating an adapter that allows him to connect a Thinkpad keyboard to this proprietary connector. His initial work identified the connector as using Microsoft’s own HID over I2C protocol, which sends the standard USB HID protocol over an I2C connection. So far so good, but it seems to get a little odd after that, with a serial connection running at nearly 1 Mbps and sending 9 bits per transfer with 1 stop bit. Presumably this is because Microsoft had planned to release other devices that used this connector, but this hasn’t panned out so far.

Anybody want to help him out? He has posted some captured data from the connection for analysis, and is looking for assistance. We hope he manages to build his converter: a Microsoft Surface with a decent keyboard and an open USB port would be a great portable setup. Bonus: for those teardown fans among you, he has done a great teardown of a Touch Cover keyboard that reveals some interesting stuff, including a lot of well-labelled test points.

Via [Reddit]