Bricked Intel Tablet Lives Again

We’ve probably all taken a look at the rash of cheap Intel-Atom-based tablet computers and wondered whether therein lies an inexpensive route to a portable PC. Such limited hardware laden down with a full-fat Windows installation fails to shine, but maybe if we could get a higher-performance OS on there it could be a useful piece of kit.

[donothingloop] has an Intel tablet, a TrekStore Wintron 7, bought for the princely sum of $60. Windows 10 didn’t excite him, so he decided to put Ubuntu on it, or more specifically to put Ubuntu on an SD card to try it on the Wintron before overwriting the Windows installation. His problem with that was a bug in the Baytrail Atom chipset which limits the speed of SD card access and made Ubuntu very slow, and in trying to fix the speed issue he managed to disable a setting in the BIOS which had the effect of bricking the machine. A show-stopper when the BIOS is in a tiny SPI Flash chip and can’t be wiped or restored.

What followed was an epic of desoldering the BIOS chip and reflashing it, though that description makes the process sound deceptively easy. The specification says it is a 1.8V device, so after attempts to flash it using an ESP8266 and then a home-made level-shifter failed, he was stumped. With nothing but a cheap tablet to lose, he tried the chip in a 3.3V programmer, and to his amazement despite the significant overvoltage, it survived. Resoldering the chip to the motherboard presented him with a working tablet that would live to fight another day.

We’d have said that this work might reside in the “Don’t try this at home” category, but since Hackaday readers are exactly the kind of people who do try this kind of thing at home it’s interesting and reassuring to see that it can be done, and to see how someone else did it. A tablet that can be bricked through a mere BIOS setting though is something a manufacturer should be ashamed of.

We like unbricking stories here at Hackaday, something about winning against the odds appeals to us. In the past we’ve covered Blu-ray drives crippled by dodgy DRM and routers rescued with a Raspberry Pi, but the crown has to be taken by the phone rescued with a resistor made using paperclips and pencil lead.

Broken Android Tablet Mini-MAME Cabinet

Everyone’s got an unused or even quasi-broken tablet lying around these days. [sairuk] has three kids, and somehow ended up with three broken tablets in short order. We’re not saying that correlation implies causality…

The digitizers were shattered, and since they were relatively cheap tablets to begin with, [sairuk] started thinking what could be done with a tablet that doesn’t have touch sensing anymore. He tried making an e-book reader for his kids, but somehow the idea of a MAME “cablet” (get it?) won out in the end. We’re not surprised: simple woodworking, gaming, and electronic hacking. What’s not to love?

This writeup goes into a lot more detail, so check that out too. He and his sons built up cardboard prototypes first (we love cardboard!) and then transferred their plans over to wood for the final “rough cut”. A PS1 controller reads out the joystick and buttons, and a PS1 -> USB adapter plus a USB-OTG cable connects that to the tablet. They also removed the batteries and built in a permanent power supply. Everything is simple and cheap, but the results are still impressive. Although they claim their build isn’t finished to the utmost, it looks pretty darn good to us.

We’re all frackers, so it’s satisfying to see a “junk” tablet put to good use. We’re wondering what [sairuk] is going to do with his other two tablets — we’ve got a suggestion for what he should do if he had twenty kids.

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Fail of the Week: Dave Jones and the Case of the Terrible Tablet

Nothing spices up a quiet afternoon like the righteous indignance of an upset engineer, especially if that engineer is none other than [Dave Jones], on his EEVblog YouTube Channel. This week [Dave] has good reason to be upset. A viewer sent him what looked to be a nondescript 2010 era tablet from a company called Esinomed. From the outside it looked like a standard issue medical device. Opening up the back panel tells a completely different story though. This thing is quite possibly the worst hack job [Dave] (and we) have ever seen. This is obviously some kind of sales demo or trade show model. Even with that in mind, this thing is a fail.

wtf-solderThe tablet is based upon an off-the-shelf embedded PC motherboard and touchscreen controller. [Dave] took some offense at the hacked up USB connector on the touchscreen. We have to disagree with [Dave] a bit here, as the video seems to show that a standard mini-b connector wouldn’t have fit inside the tablet’s case. There’s no excuse for the USB cable shield draped over the bare touch controller board though. Things go downhill from there. The tablet’s power supply is best described as a bizarre mess. Rather than use a premade DC to DC converter, whoever built this spun their own switch mode power supply on a home etched board. The etching job looks good, but everything else, including the solder job, is beyond terrible. All the jumps and oddly placed components make it look like a random board from the junk bin was used to build this supply.

The story gets even worse with the batteries. The tablet has horribly hand soldered NiMH cells shoved here, there and everywhere. Most of the cells show split shrink wrap – a sure sign they have been overheated. It’s hard to tell from the video, but it appears as if a few cells have their top mounted vent holes covered with solder. That’s a great way to turn a simple rechargeable battery into a pipe bomb. Batteries can be safely hand soldered – Radio Controlled modelers did it for decades before LiPo cells took over.

We’ve all hacked projects together at the last minute; that’s one of the things we celebrate here on Hackaday. However, since this is a commercial medical device (with serial number 11 no less) we have to stamp this one as a fail.

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Ditch the iPad; Build a Commodore 64 Tablet

The classic Commodore 64 has had its share of modernizing in the OS department. From its roots starting up a basic prompt, to full high resolution GUI packages like GEOS, to today where [Jim_64] added a tablet like launcher complete with a touch screen interface.

The GUI itself takes advantage of the high resolution graphics of the C-64 that looks similar to iOS, Icons are selected via cursor keys or joystick (what? no light pen?) and launch the various functions they represent. To add to the tablet-like feel of the OS, an off the shelf 3m touch screen panel and its corresponding RS232 interface board were obtained from digikey.

With the panel securely attached to the monitor, XY data from the various finger pokes are sent via serial at a blazing 1200 bps where the program interprets the position. Using the available demo (download sideA and sideB) and off the shelf parts, this should be easy for anyone with a classic C-64 to set up in their own home and have some fun.

Join us after the break for a few demo videos!

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Upgrading A Microsoft Surface To A 1 TB SSD

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a neat little tablet, and with an i7 processor, a decent-resolution display, and running a full Windows 8.1 Pro, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a desktop in tablet format. Upgrading the Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, is nigh impossible. iFixit destroyed the display in their teardown, as did CNET. [Jorge] wanted to upgrade his Surface Pro 3 with a 1 TB SSD, and where there’s a will there’s a way. In this case, a very precise application of advanced Dremel technology.

Taking a Surface Pro 3 apart the traditional way with heat guns, spudgers, and a vast array of screwdrivers obviously wasn’t going to work. Instead, [Jorge] thought laterally; the mSSD is tucked away behind some plastic that is normally hidden by the small kickstand integrated into the Surface. If [Jorge] could cut a hole in the case to reveal the mSSD, the resulting patch hole would be completely invisible most of the time. And so enters the Dremel.

By taking some teardown pictures of the Surface Pro 3, printing them out to scale, and aligning them to the device he had in his hand, [Jorge] had a very, very good idea of where to make the incision. A Dremel with a carbide bit was brought out to cut into the metal, and after a few nerve-wracking minutes the SSD was exposed.

The only remaining task was to clone the old drive onto the new one, stuff it back in the Surface, and patch everything up. [Jorge] is using some cardboard and foam, but a sticker would do just as well. Remember, this mod is only visible when the Surface kickstand is deployed, so it doesn’t have to look spectacular.

Thanks [fridgefire] and [Neolker] for sending this in.

Custom Double-Din Mount for Nexus 7 Carputer

Many new vehicles come with computers built into the dashboard. They can be very handy with features like GPS navigation, Bluetooth connectivity, and more. Installing a computer into an older car can sometimes be an expensive process, but [Florian] found a way to do it somewhat inexpensively using a Nexus 7 tablet.

The size of the Nexus 7 is roughly the same as a standard vehicle double-din stereo slot. It’s not perfect, but pretty close. [Florian] began by building a proof of concept mounting bracket. This model was built from sections of MDF hot glued and taped together. Plastic double-din mounting brackets were attached the sides of this new rig, allowing it to be installed into the dashboard.

Once [Florian] knew that the mounting bracket was feasible, it was time to think about power. Most in-vehicle devices are powered from the cigarette lighter adapter. [Florian] went a different direction with this build. He started with a cigarette lighter to USB power adapter, but he cut off the actual cigarette lighter plug. He ended up wiring this directly into the 12V line from the stereo’s wiring harness. This meant that the power cord could stay neatly tucked away inside of the dashboard and also leave the cigarette lighter unused.

[Florian] then wanted to replace the MDF frame with something stronger and nicer. He modeled up his idea in Solidworks to make sure the measurements would be perfect. Then the pieces were all laser cut at his local Techshop. Once assembled, the plastic mounting brackets were placed on the sides and the whole unit fit perfectly inside of the double-din slot.

When it comes to features, this van now has it all. The USB hub allows for multiple USB devices to be plugged in, meaning that Nexus only has a single wire for both power and all of the peripherals. Among these peripherals are a USB audio interface, an SD card reader, and a backup camera. There is also a Bluetooth enabled OBD2 reader that can monitor and track the car’s vitals. If this project seems familiar to you, it’s probably because we’ve seen a remarkably similar project in the past.

Android Tablet Finds New Home In Car Dash

[Matt]’s 2008 Subaru’s stereo wasn’t really cutting the mustard for him anymore. He wanted to do something, something a little more custom than just an aftermarket stereo. After giving it some thought he decided he would try to mount an Android tablet in his car’s dash to act as a media player.

The HTC Evo View tablet appeared to be a great size to fit in the space left over from the stock radio, and it did fit nicely but there was a problem, the AC vent was in the way of the headphone and USB jacks! This was only a minor inconvenience for [Matt]. Instead of butchering the AC vents he decided to disassemble the tablet and see what the other options were. Luckily for him, both the USB and headphone jacks were on their own PCB boards. A quick slot cut in the rear tablet case allowed both connectors to now face towards the front of the car into the gaping crevasse the stock stereo once filled. Since the manipulated tablet case was facing inside the dash it wouldn’t create any unsightliness for the passengers.

With those connections out of the way it was time to focus on mounting the tablet in the dash. The stock trim panel that housed the old radio and two AC vents was modified with a hand-made fiberglass bezel to fit the tablet screen and make it look like the car came that way. The bezel was sanded smooth and painted to match the rest of the interior.

Originally,  [Matt] had to turn the tablet both on and off when starting and stopping the car. He then stumbled upon a product called the IOIO. The IOIO allows an Android device to interact with the inputs and outputs; both digital and analog, I2C, SPI and UART. It even has a voltage regulator that can take the car’s 12v supply and knock it down to 5 for the tablet. [Matt] also connected the IOIO to the car’s ‘ignition on’ circuit to turn the unit on and off with the car.

[Matt] plans on doing more with the IOIO’s capabilities in the future, but until then, he still has a pretty nice looking and unique car stereo.