Quick hack brings Wi-Fi to an aging laptop

usb_wifi_adapter

[Jarrod] has an older Compaq laptop he is still pretty keen on, but he has one niggling problem – the laptop doesn’t have a built-in wireless card. He recently changed security protocols on his home wireless network to WPA and realized that his old Linksys PC card only supports WEP. He decided it was time to find another way to connect wirelessly, so he started searching around for options.

It turns out that his laptop does have the ability to accept a LCD-mounted add-on wireless card, but it costs about $100 and doesn’t support WPA. He figured that the card slipped into some sort of glorified USB port, and after disassembling the laptop, he found that he was right.

He quickly soldered a few wires and a USB adapter to the Bluetooth board that already occupied the card slot, then plugged in a wireless mouse to see what would happen. The mouse’s radio powered on without issue, and much to [Jarrod’s] delight, the port was USB 2.0 compatible.

Now that he knows the port is live, he plans on finding a small USB 802.11 G or N adapter to cram into the slot – with the deluge of miniature USB Wi-Fi adapters on the market, that shouldn’t be too hard.

V4Z80P: The 8-bit laptop

[Phil] over at Retroleum has cobbled together a clean, well put together laptop based entirely around a Zilog Z80 microprocessor and a pair of Spartan II FPGAs. These FPGAs allow him to reduce the number of devices on his board, and therefore cut his production cost as well as device size. He even managed to integrate a salvaged PSOne screen. The laptop comes complete with [Phil]‘s own Homebrew OS as well as a great graphical vector based demo.

Sure he’s updated the project in recent years to shrink the board, speeding up the Z80, and increasing the peripheral speed and functionality, but we’re suckers here for a total package hack. Seriously though, check out the newest version of the device as well as the backlog that shows the project growing over time.

Thanks to [Steth] for the heads up.

Swiveling arms replace Laptop LCD hinges

This swivel arm LCD screen is [Ben Heck's] latest hack. It replaces the hinges that normally only allow one point of rotation on the screen. You can still use the laptop like normal, but when space is at a premium a second adjustment, both in rotation and linear position, has been added using the slots and screw knobs seen above. Ostensibly this is to use on an airplane, where there may not be enough space to fully open your laptop. We’ll let you decide if it’s wise to try to get your own hacks past airport security. Historically, the TSA hasn’t been impressed with hardware hackers. We like how this came out and could see ourselves using these techniques to make a convertible tablet notebook by reworking the cable routing.

We’ve embedded [Ben's] quick demo of the finished product after the break. If you want to see the whole build process it is the subject of Episode 5 of the Ben Heck Show.

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BIOS password cracking

[Dogbert] took a look at the security that goes into BIOS passwords on many laptops. He starts off with a little background about how the systems work. People are bound to forget their passwords, so when you enter a wrong one three times in a row you get a message similar to the one above that locks you out until all power is removed from the system (then you get three more tries). But check out that five-digit number in the picture. That’s a checksum of the password. Some BIOS versions display it automatically, some require you to hold down a certain key during POST, but it’s the pivotal data needed to crack the password.

[Dogbert's] post doesn’t go into verbose detail about the algorithms he uses to brute force the passwords. But he has posted the Python scripts he uses to do so. Learning how to generate the passwords based on the checksum is as simple as studying the code, which is often the best way to learn.

Making a smaller keyboard

The keyboard on [Marek's] laptop stopped working. He didn’t want to buy a replacement so he decided to start using an external keyboard. But hauling around a full 104-key model is a bit of a pain so he decided to make himself a shorter keyboard. He basically chopped off the 10-key pad on the right side of the board. This had the unexpected consequence of removing the screws that hold the top and bottom of the case together so he ended up adding a few extra screws to shore it up. You may be wondering how the key matrix still works if a portion of it has been cut off. [Marek] used the simple trick of folding the extra part of the membrane over and covering the unused contacts with some tape.

If you try this you should consider getting rid of the directional arrows and editing keys as well. There must be a way to map those keys elsewhere. Perhaps the half-qwerty keyboard hack will give you some inspiration for that.

A desktop made of Air

Deskbook Air Guts

[Bart] managed to get his hands on a Macbook Air for free. The catch was that the monitor hinge was broken and the laptop wasn’t in too great of a condition. Rather than scrapping it or using it as a cake cutter, he decided to turn it into a keyboard PC. By removing the internals he was able to fit all of the components with minimal modification. [Bart] has added a few things to make it a functional desktop, such as integrating a USB hub under the the keyboard and fitted the keyboard with a Magic Trackpad. As with any great hack, the project is still in progress, and we can’t wait to see the final touches as it comes together.

Xbox 360 Laptop more laptop-y than ever

[TheTwoJ] and his friend built a laptop-form-factor Xbox 360. Their extensively documented process was inspired by [Ben Heckendorn's] work. The result is a brick when folded up but a good-looking (albeit loud with 8 fans) gaming rig. There’s everything you would expect; LCD screen, integrated WiFi, camera, optical drive, and a full keyboard. These poor saps seem to have spent a portion of their student loan on the build but we understand how easy it is to let your budget get out of hand. They’re trying to recoup through eBay auction.

Take a look at the walk through after the break.  If you’ve got the spare dough, you can try your hand at this with our three part series on building an Xbox 360 laptop.

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