That Old ThinkPad Needs An Open Source 2.5″ IDE SSD

So you fancy yourself a FOSS devotee, do you? Running GNU/Linux on your old ThinkPad, avoiding devices that need binary blobs? Got LibreBoot installed too? Not bad, not bad. But what about the hard drive? Can you be sure you aren’t leaking some freedoms out of that spinning rust?

Well, worry no more. Thanks to the work of [dosdude1], we now have an open source solid state drive that’s designed to work with any device which originally used a 2.5 inch IDE hard drive. The choice of releasing it under the GPL v3 versus an open hardware license might seem an odd choice at first, but turns out that’s actually what the GNU project recommends currently for circuit designs.

Fair warning: all the chips on the board are BGA.

Which is precisely what we’re talking about here — just a circuit design done up in KiCad. There’s no firmware required, and the PCB features very little beyond the four BGA152/BGA132 NAND flash chips and the SM2236 controller IC. You’ve just got to get the board fabricated, obtain (or salvage) the chips, and suddenly your retro laptop is sporting the latest in mass storage technology.

So how does it work? The SM2236 is actually a CompactFlash (CF) controller, and since IDE and CF interfaces are so similar, the PCB doesn’t have to do much to adapt from one to the other. Sprinkle in a few NANDs, and you’ve got yourself a native SSD suitable for old school machines. [dosdude1] says the board can slot four 64 GB chips, which should be more than enough given the age of the systems this gadget will likely be installed in. There are a few catches though: the NAND chips need to be supported by the SM2236, and they all have to match.

If you need something even smaller, [dosdude1] produced a 1.8 inch SSD using the same techniques back in October of last year.

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What Else Is An M.2 WiFi Slot Good For?

Many mainboards and laptops these days come with a range of M.2 slots, with only a subset capable of NVME SSDs, and often a stubby one keyed for ‘WiFi’ cards. Or that’s what those are generally intended to be used for, but as [Peter Brockie] found out when pilfering sites like AliExpress, is that you can get a lot of alternate expansion cards for those slots that have nothing to do with WiFi.

Why this should be no surprise to anyone who knows about the M.2 interface is because each ‘key’ type specifies one or more electrical interfaces that are available on that particular M.2 slot. For slots intended to be used with NVME SSDs, you see M-keying, that makes 4 lanes of PCIe available. The so-called ‘WiFi slots’ on many mainboards are keyed usually for A/E, which means two lanes of PCIe, USB 2.0, I2C and a few other, rather low-level interfaces. What this means is that you can hook up any PCIe or or USB (2.0) peripheral to these slots, as long as the bandwidth is sufficient.

What [Peter] found includes adapter cards that add Ethernet (1 Gb, 2.5 Gb), USB 2.0 ports, SIM card (wireless adapter?), an SFP fiber-based networking adapter, multiple M.2 to 2+ SATA port adapters, tensor accelerator chips (NPUs) and even a full-blown M.2 to x16 PCIe slot adapter. The nice thing about this is that if you do not care about using WiFi with a system, but you do have one of those ports lounging about uselessly, you could put it to work for Ethernet, SFP, SATA or other purposes, or just for hooking up internal USB devices.

Clearly this isn’t a market that has gone unexploited for very long, with a bright outlook for one’s self-designed M.2 cards. Who doesn’t want an FPGA device snuggled in a PCIe x2 slot to tinker with?

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Q Meter Measures… Q, Of Course

If you’ve ever dealt with RF circuits, you probably have run into Q — a dimensionless number that indicates the ratio of reactance to resistance. If you ever wanted to measure Q, you could do worse than pick up a vintage Boonton 160A Q meter. [Mikrowave1] did just that and shows us how it works in the video below.

Most often, the Q is of interest in an inductor. A perfect inductor would have zero resistance and be all reactance. If you could find one of those, it would have an infinite Q because you divide the reactance by the resistance. Of course, those inductors don’t exist. You can also apply Q to any circuit with reactance and the video talks about how to interpret Q for tuned circuits. You can also think of the Q number as the ratio of frequency to bandwidth or the dampening in an oscillator. A versatile measurement, indeed.

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High-Speed Sled Adds Bicycle Suspension

While you might have bought the best pair of skis in the 90s or 00s, as parts on boots and bindings start to fail and safety standards for ski equipment improve, even the highest-quality skis more than 15 or 20 years old will eventually become unsafe or otherwise obsolete. There are plenty of things that can be done with a pair of old skis, but if you already have a shot ski and an Adirondack chair made of old skis, you can put another pair to use building one of the fastest sleds we’ve ever seen.

[Josh Charles], the creator of this project, took inspiration from his father, who screwed an old pair of skis to the bottom of an traditional runner sled when he was a kid. This dramatically increased the speed of the sled, but eliminated its ability to steer. For this build [Josh] built a completely custom frame rather than re-use an existing sled, which allowed him to not only build a more effective steering mechanism for the skis, but also to use bicycle suspension components to give this sled better control at high speeds.

This build is part of a series that [Josh] did a few years ago, and you can find additional videos about it documenting his design process and his initial prototypes and testing. The amount of work he put into this build is evident when it’s seen finally traversing some roads that had been closed for winter; he easily gets the sled up in the 30 mph range several times. If you’re looking to go uphill in the snow, though, take a look at this powered snowboard instead.

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Domesticating Plasma With A Gorgeous Live Edge Table

If you’ve been reading Hackaday for any length of time, you’ll know we don’t often cover woodworking projects here. It’s not because we aren’t impressed with the skill and effort that folks put into them, and truth be told, we occasionally we even feel a pang of envy when looking at the final result. It’s just that, you know…they’re made of wood.

But when [Jay Bowles] of Plasma Channel sent in this live edge wooden table that features not only a pair of custom-made neon tubes but the burned out transistors and ICs from his previous high-voltage exploits — we knew this wasn’t exactly your grandpa’s idea of woodworking. In fact, he wisely offloaded a lot of the dead tree cutting and shaping to the burly gentlemen at the local sawmill so he could better focus his efforts on the sparky bits.

At its core, he’s created what’s generally known as a “river table” — a surface made of two or more pieces of live edge wood (that is, a piece of lumber that features at least one uncut edge) that are linked via a band of colored epoxy which looks like flowing water. It’s not uncommon to embed stones or even fake fish in the epoxy to really sell the underwater effect, but this is Plasma Channel we’re talking about, so [Jay] had other ideas.

The first step was hitting up a local neon supplier who could fabricate a pair of neon tubes which roughly followed the shape of his epoxy river. While he was waiting for them to be finished, [Jay] played around with a clever experimental rig that let him determine how thick he could pour the epoxy over the tubes before he lost the capacitive coupling effect he was going for. By embedding a short length of neon tube off-center in a block of epoxy, he could see how the thickness impacted his ability to manipulate the plasma with a wave of his hand just by flipping it over.

With the tube placed on clear standoffs, he was able to position it at the ideal depth for the final epoxy pours. It was around this time that he scattered the remains of his previous projects on the “bottom” of the river, so they can spend the rest of their days looking up at his latest technical triumph. We’re not sure if this is to punish the fallen silicon for giving up early or to honor their sacrifice in the name of progress, but in either event, we respect anyone who keeps a jar of blown components laying around for ritualistic applications.

Once the table was assembled, all that was left was to power the thing. Given his previous projects, [Jay] had no shortage of existing HV supplies to try out. But not being satisfied with anything in the back catalog, he ended up building a new supply that manages to pump out the required amount of juice while remaining silent (to human ears, at least). The unit is powered by a battery pack cleverly embedded into the legs of the table, and is easy to fiddle with thanks to a pulse-width modulation (PWM) module wired hooked to the input. All the components were then held in place with a wide array of custom brackets courtesy of his newly arrived 3D printer.

There’s a lot to love about this project, and more than a few lessons learned. Whether you’re interested in recreating the Tron-like effect of the neon tubes, or have been contemplating your own epoxy-pour worktable and want to see how a first-timer tackles it, this video is a great resource.

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Linux Fu: UEFI Booting

Unless your computer is pretty old, it probably uses UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface) to boot. The idea is that a bootloader picks up files from an EFI partition and uses them to start your operating system. If you use Windows, you get Windows. If you use Linux, there’s a good chance you’ll use Grub which may or may not show you a menu. The problem with Grub is you have to do a lot of configuration to get it to do different things. Granted, distros like Ubuntu have tools that go through and do much of the work for you and if you are satisfied with that, there’s no harm in using Grub to boot and manage multiple operating systems.

An alternative would be rEFInd, which is a nice modern UEFI boot manager. If you are still booting through normal (legacy) BIOS, the installation might be a hassle. But, in general, rEFInd, once installed, just automatically picks up most things, including Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems and kernels. The biggest reasons you might change the configuration is if you want to hide some things you don’t care about or change the visual theme.

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Mod, Repair And Maintain Your Cassette Tapes With 3D Printed Parts

The benefit of 3D printers is that they have made it relatively easy to reproduce just about any little plastic thing you might happen to break. If you’re one of the diehards that still has a cassette collection, you might find these 3D prints from Thingiverse useful to repair and maintain any broken tapes you may have.

If you’ve ever stepped on a cassette tape, you’ll know it’s easy to crack the housing and render it unplayable. If you find yourself in this position, you can always 3D print yourself a new cassette tape housing as created by [Ehans_Makes]. The housing design only covers the outer parts of the cassette tape, and doesn’t include the reels, screws, or other components. However, it’s perfect for transplanting the guts of a damaged cassette into a new housing to make it playable once again. The creator recommends using Maxell cassette parts with the design, as it was based on a Maxell cassette shell.

For the modders and musique concrèters out there, [sveltema] designed a simple 3D printed guide for creating tape loops of various lengths. Simply adding a few of these guides to a cassette shell will let you wind a longer continuous loop of tape inside a regular cassette shell. Meanwhile, if you simply want to jazz up your next mixtape gift, consider this cosmetic reel-to-reel mod from [mschiller] that makes your cassettes look altogether more romantic.

Many called the Compact Cassette dead, and yet it continues to live on with enthusiasts. Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about keeping your cassette deck operating at its best, we’ve featured a masterclass on that very topic, too!