Making A Thinkpad Great Again

The Thinkpad X220 is almost a perfect laptop. The X220 is small, light, was the last small Thinkpad to use 35W CPUs, has great Linux support, incredible battery life, and can be found used very inexpensively. For the Thinkpad Mafia, the X220 is a badge of honor, but it does have one glaring drawback: the LCDs in these laptops are capped at 1366×768 resolution.

A few wizards in Japan and China have taken up the X220 and developed an adapter to give this tiny laptop the display it deserves. Mentions of a FHD mod – the Lenovo-speak for a Thinkpad display upgrade – can be found on Taobao, but the anglosphere doesn’t get these cool toys. [Vectro] decided his X220 wasn’t up to snuff and decided to build his own Thinkpad mod to give his trusty companion a bigger and brighter display. He succeeded, and did it in a way that’s much better than any previous attempt.

Stock, the X220 uses an LVDS bus for internal video, and there aren’t enough lanes on this bus for a 1080 display. The usual way of modifying the X220 for a display with higher resolution is tapping into the eDP present on the Thinkpad dock connector. [Vectro]’s solution differs slightly from the usual way of doing things – instead of using an I2C EEPROM to report the resolution, DPI, and model of display, he’s using a microcontroller. This gives him the ability to control the power state and brightness level of the display. It’s a great solution, and is designed to be a relatively easy drop-in mod.

The new display works, and Thinkpadding at 1080 is awesome, but there’s still work to be done. The dock connector is incompatible with this mod, and hopefully scaling this up for small-scale production. Producing a few X220 FHD kits is going to be a problem, as each wire in the eDP cable is individually soldered to the connector. It doesn’t scale well, but there is certainly a demand to make the greatest Thinkpad even better.

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.

Hackaday Links: June 28, 2015

The iBookGuy is using CPU heatsinks to cool microwave dinners. It’s an old Pentium II heatsink and a modern fan, cobbled together into a device that can quickly and effectively cool down a microwave dinner. I have several heatsinks from some old Xeon servers in my kitchen, but I don’t use them to cool food; I use them to defrost food. It’s very effective, and now I need to get some data on how effective it is.

[juangarcia] is working on a 3D printable PipBoy – the one in the upcoming Fallout 4. The extra special edition of Fallout 4 include a PipBoy that works with your cellphone, but if you want one before November, 3D printing is the way to go.

[Collin] over at Adafruit is teaching Oscilloscope Basics. Note the use of the square wave output to teach how to use the controls. Also note the old-school DS1052E; the Rigol 1054Z is now the de facto ‘My First Oscilloscope’

[Donovan] has one of those V212 toy quadcopters. The remote has a switch that controls a bunch of lights on the quad. This switch can be repurposed to control a small camera. All it takes is some wire, an optocoupler, and a bit of solder. Very cool. Video here.

I go to a lot of events where hackers, devs, and engineers spend hours banging away on their laptops. The most popular brand? Apple. The second most popular brand for savvy consumers of electronics? Lenovo, specifically ThinkPad X- and T-series laptops (W-series are too big, and do you really need a workstation graphics card for writing some node app?). They’re great computers, classic works of design, and now there might be a ThinkPad Classic. With a blue Enter key, 7-row keyboard, a multi-color logo, ThinkLights, a bunch of status LEDs, and that weird rubberized paint, it’s a modern realization of what makes a ThinkPad great. Go comment on that Lenovo blog post; the designer is actually listening. Now if we could just get a retina display in a MacBook Air (the one with ports), or get manufacturers to stop shipping displays with worse than 1080 resolution…

Need a fan guard? Know OpenSCAD? Good. Now you have all the fan guards you could ever want. Thanks [fridgefire] for sending this one in.

Thinkpad 701c: Reverse Engineering a Retro Processor Upgrade

[Noq2] has given his butterfly new wings with a CPU upgrade. Few laptops are as iconic as the IBM Thinkpad 701 series and its “butterfly” TrackWrite keyboard. So iconic in fact, that a 701c is part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Being a 1995 vintage laptop, [Noq2’s] 701c understandably was no speed demon by today’s standards. The fastest factory configuration was an Intel 486-DX4 running at 75 MHz. However, there have long been rumors and online auctions referring to a custom model modified to run an AMD AM-5×86 at 133 MHz. The mods were performed by shops like Hantz + Partner in Germany. With this in mind, [Noq2] set about reverse engineering the modification, and equipping his 701c with a new processor.

thinkpad-brainsurgeryThe first step was determining which AMD processor variant to use. It turns out that only a few models of AMD’s chips were pin compatible with the 208 pin Small Quad Flat Pack (SQFP) footprint on the 701c’s motherboard. [Noq2] was able to get one from an old Evergreen 486 upgrade module on everyone’s favorite auction site. He carefully de-soldered the AM-5×86 from the module, and the Intel DX4 from the 701c. A bit of soldering later, and the brain transplant was complete.

Some detailed datasheet research helped [noq2] find the how to increase the bus clock on his 5×86 chip, and enable the write-back cache. All he had to do was move a couple of passive components and short a couple pins on the processor.

The final result is a tricked out IBM 701c Thinkpad running an AMD 5×86 at 133 MHz. Still way too slow for today’s software – but absolutely the coolest retro mod we’ve seen in a long time.

Hackaday Retro Edition: Retro Roundup

retro

We’ve rebooted the Hackaday Retro Edition and again we’re getting a few submissions for retro successes – old computers that somehow managed to load our crappy, pure-HTML, no-javascript edition.


Inspired by the Palm Lifedrive in the previous retro roundup, [Bobby] dug out his Palm TX and loaded up the retro edition with the Blazer browser. Given this device has WiFi and a browser, it’s not much, but [Bobby] did run in to a bit of a problem: Palm never released WPA2 for personal use, and this device’s WPA abilities are buried away in a server somewhere. Interesting that a device that’s relatively young could run into problems so easily.

How about another Palm? [nezb]’s first smartphone, back in 2003, was a Treo 600. He dug it out, got it activated (no WiFi), and was able to load the retro edition. Even the Palm-optimized edition of Slashdot works!

How about some Xenix action? [Lorenzo] had an Olivetti 386 box with 4MB of RAM with Xenix – Microsoft Unix – as the operating system. The connection was over Ethernet using a thinnet card. Here’s a video of it booting.

[Eugenio] sent in a twofer. The first is a Thinkpad 600, a neat little laptop that would make for a great portable DOS gaming rig. It’s running Mandrake Linux 9, his very first Linux. Next up is the venerable Mac SE/30 with a Kinetics Etherport network card. It’s using a telnet client to talk to a Debian box.

Here’s one that was cool enough for its own post: [Hudson] over at NYC Resistor salvaged an old Mac SE with a BeagleBone Black connected to the CRT. This effectively turns the SE into a modern (if low powered) ARM Linux box. Emulators are always an option, though, as is loading our retro edition in xterm.

Links to the pics below, and you’re always welcome to dust off your old boxxen, fire it up, and load up the retro edition. It’s new and improved! Every half hour or so, five classic hacks from the first 10,000 Hackaday posts are converted to pure HTML. Take a pic and send it in.

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Who knew Thinkpad batteries require a jump start?

Lithium battery packs reaching the end of their life usually have a lot of kick left in them. That’s because they’re made up of multiple cells and it only takes the failure of one to bork the entire battery. One of the most interesting examples we’ve heard of this is in the Toyota Prius, but that’s a story for another time. In this case, [Mika] wanted to resurrect the battery from his IBM Thinkpad T40. He identified the offending cell and replaced it, but couldn’t get any juice out of the battery after the repair.

He was measuring 0V on the output, but could measure the cells instead of the control circuitry and was getting over 11V. Clearly, the control circuit wasn’t allowing an output. We completely understand the concept here (think about that really bad press about exploding laptop batteries). It seems there’s a lockout mechanism when the control circuit loses power. [Mika] managed to get past this by shorting voltage into the control circuit, a method he likes in the video after the break to jump starting a car.

We’ve seen similar cell replacement for power tools, like a Dremel or a Makita drill.

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Thinkpad Dock-Picking

Hackers at the “RaumZeitLabor” hackerspace in Mannheim Germany have noticed that the locking mechanism on the thinkpad mini dock is extremely easy to circumvent. Sold as an additional layer of security, the mechanism itself is not really secured in any way. The button that actuates it is locked by a key, but the latch isn’t secured and can be accessed via a vent on the side. They are using a lockpicking tool in the video, but they say that even a long paperclip would suffice.

We know that no security device is perfect, and if someone really really wants it, they’ll take it, but this seems a bit too easy. Maybe the next version will have a little plastic wall protecting the latch from being actuated manually.  Hopefully if security is your main concern you are using something a little more robust that a dock-lock.

[via the RaumZeitLabor hackerspace (google translated)]

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