Speeding up a ThinkPad x41 via a SATA SSD conversion

[Marek Walther] uses a ThinkPad x41 tablet for business on a daily basis. Since he’s on the go with the device he figures that hardware failure is eventually going to strike and with that in mind he purchased a second unit – slightly broken – to fix as a backup. He had never been excited about the speed of the tablet so he set out to find improvements. One of the options was to replace the traditional hard drive with a solid state model (translated). But simply dropping in an SSD isn’t going to make things faster. That’s because the stock drive uses a PATA interface. After a bit of snooping [Marek] discovered that the motherboard has a SATA interface that has a bridge connecting to the PATA plug. By removing the bridge and soldering a SATA cable to the board he was able to improve performance while increasing storage capacity at the same time.

Hacking a code-protected hard disk

Our friend [Sprite_TM] took a look at the security of a code-protected hard disk. The iStorage diskGenie is an encrypted USB hard drive that has a keypad for passcode entry. After cracking it open he found that the chip handling the keypad is a PIC 16F883 microcontroller. He poked and prodded at the internals and found some interesting stuff. Like the fact that there is an onboard LED that blinks differently based on the code entered; one way for the right code, another for the wrong code of the right number of digits, and a third for a wrong code with the wrong number of digits. This signal could be patched into for a brute force attacking but there’s a faster way. The microcontroller checks for the correct code one digit at a time. So by measuring the response time of the chip an attacker can determine when the leading digit is correct, and reduce the time needed to crack the code. There is brute force protection that watches for multiple incorrect passwords but [Sprite_TM] even found a way around that. He attached an AVR chip to monitor the PIC response time. If it was taking longer than it should for a correct password the AVR resets the PIC before it can write incorrect attempt data to its EEPROM. This can be a slow process, but he concluded it should work. We had fun watching the Flash_Destroyer hammer away and we’d like to see a setup working to acquire the the code from this device.

Vector plotter with lasers

[Hubert] sent in his experiments using HDDs, CDROMs, speakers, and other components to make an XY laser plotter. Those carefully reading will note, its not all three to make one plotter, but rather three plotters each using a separate system. The setups have their advantages and disadvantages, and [Hubert] is sure to point them out; including circuit diagrams and pictures to help you on your own trials.

There is a little difficulty in reading English not so good, but considering we’ve never seen a single-laser vector plotter done before (spirographs come close, and no one wants to wait 85 seconds) it’s still very impressive.

[Thanks TJ]

HDD power tools: the sander

At first we thought this looked hastily thrown together and quite possible useless. Then we watched the video, embedded after the break, and realized it is quite a handy bench sander. [Mhkabir] opened up an older hard drive, removed the read head, and added a piece of carefully cut sand paper. When you hook it up to your bench supply you’ve got a small sander ready to use.  We can’t wait to try it on some small PCB edges. Now that we’ve seen a sander and a chop saw, we wonder what’s next?

Continue reading “HDD power tools: the sander”

Storage for your hacking needs

Sometimes your project needs a lot of non-volatile ROM, right on cue [Matthew] let us know how to not only connect, interface, read, and write to SD cards with a PIC over serial, but also how to do the above mentioned with an old PATA HDD. For those without a PIC/serial connection don’t fret, [nada] let us know about his Bus Pirate SD card hack, of which our personal favorite part is the creative use of an old 5.25″ floppy connector as the SD card socket.

Pre-spun hard drives

This device is lovingly called the SPINmaster. [Linux-works] built it to spin up multiple hard drives before the motherboard starts up. It detects the power-up from the PSU and uses a relay to hold the motherboard in reset, indicated by the red LED. Each of four relays then spins up a hard drive and illuminates the green LED when ready. Once all green lights come on the reset relay shuts off and the bios starts up. This type of staggered startup takes a lot of the load off of an under-powered PSU. He’s posted firmware and there’s a schematic available too. We took a look at his video but there’s not much to see as it’s just the inside of the machine while it boots up.