A Macbook Air and a Thunderbolt GPU

When Intel and Apple released Thunderbolt, hallelujahs from the Apple choir were heard. Since very little in any of Apple’s hardware lineup is upgradeable, an external video card is the best of all possible world. Unfortunately, Intel doesn’t seem to be taking kindly to the idea of external GPUs. That hasn’t stopped a few creative people like [Larry Gadea] from figuring it out on their own. Right now he’s running a GTX 570 through the Thunderbolt port of his MacBook Air, and displaying everything on the internal LCD. A dream come true.

[Larry] is doing this with a few fairly specialized bits of hardware. The first is a Thunderbolt to ExpressCard/34 adapter, after that an ExpressCard to PCI-E adapter. Couple that with a power supply, GPU, and a whole lot of software configuration, and [Larry] had a real Thunderbolt GPU on his hands.

There are, of course, a few downsides to running a GPU through a Thunderbolt port. The current Thunderbolt spec is equivalent to a PCI-E 4X slot, a quarter of what is needed to get all the horsepower out of high-end GPUs. That being said, it is an elegant-yet-kludgy way for better graphics performance on the MBA,

Demo video below.

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The trials of repairing a MacBook


As a favor to a friend, [Phil] traded a unibody MacBook logic board for one with a broken headphone jack, a busted keyboard controller, and a nonfunctional fan. Not one to let bad hardware go to waste, he set off to repair this now-broken laptop by scavenging parts wherever he could. The whole thing ended up working, and became a very impressive display of soldering skill in the process.

The first step for the keyboard transplant was to cut a properly sized hole in the newer unibody MacBook for an older, pre-unibody MacBook Pro 17″ keyboard. This was done by cutting out the keyboard pan of the pre-unibody case and very carefully epoxying it into the unibody chassis. The MBP had a separate keyboard and trackpad controller, so of course [Paul] needed to find some space inside the chassis for these new electronics. This space was found next to the internal hard drive, and a liberal application of hot glue held everything together.

In the future, [Phil] plans on adding more LEDs, a 3.5 mm jack, and a USB to TTL converter – a necessity for any true ‘hacker’ laptop. It’s still a wonderful piece of work, and an incredible amount of effort and skill to get it where it is today.

Hackaday Links: Sunday, May 5th, 2013


Let’s start off this weekend’s links post with some advertising. We like targeted ads (mostly because we don’t have pooping problems and are tired of hearing about Activia). So we applaud IBM for finding our number with this commercial which produces a stop-motion animation using single atoms as pixels. Wow! [via Reddit and Internet Evolution]

Speaking of commercials, here’s some snake-oil which lets you touch a boob without being in the same room with the person [Thanks Michael].

Moving right along we’ve got a trio of trackpad hacks. There’s one that lets you use the keyboard and trackpad of a MacBook as a standalone USB input device [via Reddit]. Or you could take a Toshiba laptop to the tablesaw to turn it into a USB trackpad. But maybe your Acer C7 Trackpad doesn’t work very well and you just need better grounding.

[Nick McGill] is a member of the team developing an upper body exoskeleton as an assistive technology. This made the rounds on tech websites but the lack of in-depth build info on the project site kept it from getting its own feature here.

If you have a router capable of running DD-WRT here’s a method of setting up a PPTP VPN for free.

And finally, you may remember hearing about the original Prince of Persia source code being discovered and released about a year ago. Well [Adam Green] figured out how to compile it into the original Apple II floppy disks. [Thanks Arthur]

Hacked together Mac isn’t a hackintosh


Check out this 20″ iMac. Notice anything peculiar? Look closely at the branding above the Apple logo. The only thing that tips you off that this iMac is a hacked together unit is that Acer logo on the replacement screen.

As we’ve so often been caught doing, [Flippy] was browsing eBay for deals. It’s a dangerous activity because you end up falling into purchases like an Aluminum iMac for $35. That led to the purchase of a very slim LED LCD monitor to use as the display. It fits perfectly behind the iMac’s glass bezel, which has a tiny chip in the upper right corner that doesn’t bother [Flippy]. It’s thin enough that this actually left room for him to add in the guts of a MacBook Pro which he had sitting in his unused parts pile. With all of the main components accounted for the rest is really just logistics like routing all of the cable connectors and adding openings for USB ports. What he ended up with is a high-end computer for a low-end price.

Mac EFI PIN lock brute force attack (unsuccessful)

[Oliver] wiped the hard drive from a Macbook Pro using the ‘dd’ command on another machine. This does a great job of getting everything off the drive, but he was still faced with the EFI PIN lock protection when he tried to put it back into the Mac. You used to be able to clear the NVRAM to get around this issue, but that exploit has now been patched. So [Oliver] set out to use a microcontroller to brute-force the EFI PIN.

You can read his back story at the link above. He had the chance to enter a 4-digit pin before the format process. Now that he’s wiped the drive the code is at least 6 characters long, which is a lot more possibilities (at least it’s numeric characters only!). To automate the process he programmed this Teensy board to try every possible combination. It worked great on a text editor but sometimes the characters, or the enter command wouldn’t register. He guesses this was some type of protection against automated attackers. To get around the issue he added different delays between the key presses, and between entering each code. This fixed the issue, as you can see in the clip after the break. Unfortunately after two 48-hour runs that tried every code he still hasn’t gained access!

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Dye Mac Dye!

Fabric dye is one of those products where it keeps popping up for unintended uses, we have seen it coloring printed circuit boards, and now a Macintosh computer? [The Brain]’s project to add a little color to his Macbook has been done before, but he chooses to do it in a different way, which comes down to a little bit of sandpaper.

You could go ahead and dye the Macbook plastics as is, but that thick layer of glossy plastic is going to take much more time to penetrate and its going to resist taking the color, so it might end up splotchy. The simple solution to this is to just sand off the gloss, that way the color has much less of a barrier to dye the plastic. Once the protective gloss shell is sanded away and cleaned throughly, Rit brand fabric dye is added to a pan of water and set on the stove to boil.

While most of the case plastics are thick and tough enough to withstand some heat, care does need to be taken when dealing with thin soft parts like the display bezel. After about 45 min the parts are dyed and popping with super bright orange color in record time.

Apple laptop batteries vulnerable to firmware hack


When you think about hacking laptops, it’s highly unlikely that you would ever consider the battery as a viable attack vector. Security researcher [Charlie Miller] however, has been hard at work showing just how big a vulnerability they can be.

As we have been discussing recently, the care and feeding of many batteries, big and small, is handled by some sort of microcontroller. [Charlie] found that a 2009 update issued by Apple to fix some lingering MacBook power issues used one of two passwords to write data to the battery controllers. From what he has seen, it seems these same passwords have been used on all batteries manufactured since that time as well. Using this data, he was subsequently able to gain access to the chips, allowing him to remotely brick the batteries, falsify data sent to the OS, and completely replace the stock firmware with that of his own.

He says that it would be possible for an attacker to inject malware into the battery itself, which would covertly re-infect the machine, despite all traditional removal attempts. Of course, replacing the battery would rectify the issue in these situations, but he says that it would likely be the last thing anyone would suspect as the source of infection. While using the battery to proliferate malware or cause irreversible damage to the computer would take quite a bit of work, [Charlie] claims that either scenario is completely plausible.

He plans on presenting his research at this year’s Black Hat security conference in August, but in the meantime he has created a utility that generates a completely random password for your Mac’s battery. He says that he has already contacted Apple to in order to help them construct a permanent fix for the issue, so an official patch may be available in the near future.

[Thanks, Sergio]