Hack A ThinkPad Display

Hackers really like their tools. This leads to holy wars over languages, editors, keyboards, and even laptops. The problem with laptops is that they age, and not always gracefully. [Syonyk] likes his ThinkPad T430S, except for one thing, its TN display wasn’t really very good. These flat screens use an older technology and show color changes with different viewing angles among other problems. So he managed to upgrade the device’s screen to IPS with the help of a replacement screen and an adapter (see right). Apparently, many similar ThinkPads can take the same sort of upgrade.

The problem is that the laptop uses LVDS to talk to the TN screen, while newer screens are likely to use Embedded DisplayPort (eDP) which is a different protocol entirely. However, there’s now a converter that [Syonyk] found on eBay (from China, of course). For about $70, the motherboard’s LVDS output can transform to eDP. Of course, you also need an IPS display panel.

With the news full of cybersecurity stories, [Syonyk] thought about the risk of putting a board of questionable origin in his laptop. However, the board doesn’t interface at all with the CPU, so it seems unlikely that it could do anything more than scrape the screen and it would not have an easy way to send the data away.

Being a veteran of many laptop teardowns, he had no trouble opening this one — the ThinkPad is known to be relatively easy to work on. He does pass along some good tips about making sure you don’t accidentally blow fuses.

It looked like a lot of work, but none of it was difficult. In addition to having a better display, the laptop also now has a higher resolution. A pretty good upgrade if you plan on keeping the machine going.

A lot of people like to hack ThinkPads. You can upgrade practically all of one, if you have a mind to do so.

40 thoughts on “Hack A ThinkPad Display

  1. My question is – is the reverse possible? Let me elaborate. Something I’ve never seen for sale, but would pick up in a heartbeat, is a laptop-format portable crash cart. Something that looks like a laptop but is actually just a monitor, USB Keyboard, USB Mouse, couple of USB ports – perfect for working on servers in a closet without having to drag around all the pieces. Ideally has a USB connector for the kb/mouse/ports and a variety of VGA, DP etc inputs for the video (seriously, Lenovo, why do you have DisplayPort only on your rackmount servers, with all the ports including USB in the back of the server?). Seems like something that could get hacked together pretty easily, but I’ve never done tiny laptop-scale hardware hacking before.

    1. You’re better off building your own crash cart from a projector cart, lightweight LCD, UPS and USB KVM and USB serial adapter. The UPS really helps when you don’t want to source power.

        1. Possible? Absolutely. Not trivial though. Depending on what laptop you use as a ‘Donor’, the keyboard and mouse may both be USB. Otherwise, they’ll be matrix and PS/2 respectively – a single atmega with USB HID mode should be enough to give you a USB composite keyboard and mouse device. Add a hub, and you have your extra ports.

          The display, desktop-connector to LVDS converters have been a thing since *I* was a kid, so finding one should be a non-problem. Your two problems, are cleanly installing that LVDS converter (unless you build your own) into the case, and building some kind of power management system to charge the battery, then power the display and hub from it.

          None of these are desperately difficult either, but there’s a fair amount of fine soldering and coding needed.

          1. As I understand, that should be used around stationary servers. They consume loads of power, so the availability of power should not be an issue and battery charging not necessary – because there is no battery anymore.

        2. The Motorola Lapdock 100, MOTLPDK100 comes to mind. Basically it was a Screen, Keyboard, touchpad, Battery, and USB add on for phones. Basically a laptop without a motherboard. It connected to your phone or Raspberry Pi By a mini HDMI and micro USB connector. Using a few breakout connectors and a HDMI to VGA, a USB to Serial adapter, and maybe an extra battery pack, it can become a portable crash cart.

    2. The empty shell of a laptop would have enough space for a controller for the screen and a usb hub plus an adapter to use the notebook keyboard Glue some ports/extension cables in the adequate/desired positions, and you are in business.

    3. The lazy bastard in me would use a generic “stationary” lcd screen with vga in and where the logic board and power supply are separate units as a donor screen.
      Then it’s only a matter of having some cheap “X”-to-vga adapters.
      VGA is a lowest common denominator, and it’s also good at it.

        1. Why kill something that works. How long of an HDMI cable can you run without boost. I have seen some epic long vga cables. Every long HDMI run I have seen has been over power Ethernet.

    4. Not cheap. But they do sell “USB crash carts”. The plug-in to your laptop, connect HDMI (or VGA) and USB to the server and launch an app on your laptop to get something close to a remote console / ipmi / iLO.

      1. Not sure if I can post links. But just Google for “USB crash cart”… ATEN and Startech both make ones (VGA only as far as I can see). Worse case you can always buy an HDMI USB capture card for the HDMI / DP / digital types.

    5. There are LCD controller boards available on ebay, but I’ve yet to see one with Displayport input. You could use an eDP LCD panel, but the cable length must be short (can’t remember exactly how long). IIRC someone managed to connect a bare iPad 3/4 Retina screen to a Thinkpad’s Displayport. Since the Retina screen is eDP, it only needed a physical adapter as well as a power source for the backlight.

      For the keyboard, there’s this: https://github.com/thedalles77/USB_Laptop_Keyboard_Controller

    6. Look at any of the Rpi ‘laptops’. They do exactly that. There are a few non Rpi setup designed for phones that will do this too. Haven’t seen one yet for over $500… Plus I have a USB crash cart that plugs into your laptop and then to the server’s vga/USB/ps2 ports… So you aren’t the only one needing this sort of connectivity

  2. A common thing but …

    LVDS is an acronym for Low Voltage Differential Signalling and relates to the hardware layer and not the information transfer protocol.

    Embedded DisplayPort also uses a modified LVDS – Capacitively coupled Low Voltage Differential Signalling.

    Laptop panels and LCD monitors (internally) use the information transfer protocol FPD-Link (Flat Panel Display Link)

  3. I’m working on something similar, actually. I’m starting with a Motorola Lapdock. It is almost what we want already, but the HDMI input is really annoying. I found an LVDS adapter for it, and am hoping to squish it all in somehow. It already has a keyboard and touchpad USB hubbed with an extra port, and a battery.

  4. Love my T440p.. Upgraded memory from 4 to 16 gigs.. and the cpu from i5 to i7-4900MQ.. And from the crappy 1360X768 TN screen to a 1920 x 1080 IPS screen and of course also and an 250gb ssd.. Its fantastic now.. love them..

  5. I got an RMSMajestic/Javi-Jie WQHD upgrade board, and an LG 1920×1080 IPS display for my T430S last summer, which was an awesome improvement over the literal garbage 1600×900 TN display Lenovo put in my $1,500 (in 2013) laptop. >:(

    The panel itself is held in place with 3M double sided trim tape now, since the old panel had screw flanges and the new one does not. Made no difference the flimsy nature of the laptop screen. :)

    If you’re comfortable taking your T420/T430/T420S/T430S apart that far, the upgrade is really worth it.

    Also, pretty sure what’s showing up on eBay now are all clones of the original adapter Javi-Jie designed, which itself is just an off the shelf LVDS to eDP bridge chip afaict.

  6. In my ThinkPad edge e440 swap from TN 1600×900 to IPS fullHD from T series was a plug-and-play 10 minutes job. Same with N to AC WiFi, HDD to SSD, 8 to 16 GB RAM, i5 to i7 CPU :D long live the ThinkPad!

  7. I also did that already 2 years ago on my T420s using an adapter from RMSMajestic/Javi-Jie … it was sold on the Thinkpad forum (for around $50, if i remember correctly), compatible with T420s or T430s… The HD IPS Display is awesome compared to the 1600×900 TN before.

  8. This is some serious issue, that is how i was hacked by some junks spying on my accts on my computer. Thanks to joshpagesolution gmail com,used him couple of times to handle act and get password. Don’t hesitate to contact joshpagesolution gmail com on any havkrelated issue

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