Recreating Lord Nikon’s Laptop From Hackers

The outlandish computers from 1995’s Hackers are easily one of the most memorable elements of the iconic cult classic. In the film, each machine is customized to reflect the individual hacker that operates it, and feature everything from spray painted camouflage paint schemes to themed boot animations based on the owner’s personal iconography. But what might not so obvious is that the real-life props took a considerable amount of hardware hacking before they were ready for their big-screen debut.

A group of dedicated Hackers fans have created a website to document, and ideally recreate, all the custom work that went into the various pieces of tech featured in the film. As explained by [Nandemoguy], the group’s latest triumph is a screen-accurate build of Lord Nikon’s laptop. The final product not only looks just like the machine used in the film, but thanks to the internal Raspberry Pi, is far more powerful than the original computer would have been.

Unless you’re on the team over at HackersCurator.com, you might not know that the laptops in the film were handmade chimeras that combined the external cases of various PCs with (usually) the internals of an Apple Powerbook 180c. Why the prop masters of the film would have gone through so much trouble to create the character’s computers is not immediately clear, but if we had to guess, presumably it was due to the requirements of the over-the-top graphical interfaces that are featured so heavily in the film.

At any rate, the replica created by [Nandemoguy] is built in much the same way. At least for the parts you can see on the outside, anyway. He goes through the considerable case modifications required to replace the original keyboard on the Toshiba Satellite T1850 with a Powerbook keyboard, which as you might have guessed, has been converted into a USB HID device with a Teensy microcontroller. He even cuts the ports off the back of the Mac’s motherboard and glues them in place around the backside of the machine. But everything else, including the LCD, is all new hardware. After all, who really wants to go through all that trouble just to have a fancy Powerbook 180c in 2019?

Even if you weren’t a fan of Hackers, the level of detail and effort put into this build it absolutely phenomenal. It’s interesting to see the parallels between this replica and the burgeoning cyberdeck scene; it seems like with a Teensy, a Raspberry Pi, and enough Bondo, anything can be turned into a functional computer.

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A Raspberry Pi Grimoire For The Command Line Wizard

Who says there’s no such thing as magic? Not anyone who knows what a Unix pipe is, that’s for sure. If you do some of your best incantations at a blinking cursor, this scratch-built Raspberry Pi Zero “Spellbook” laptop created by [Calvin] might be just what the apothecary ordered. Lucky for us, he was kind enough to document the design and construction of this penguin-powered tome for anyone else who wishes to dabble in the GNU Dark Arts.

In the series of videos after the break, viewers have the opportunity to watch a project go from idea to final product. The first video was uploaded nearly a month before the project was completed, and goes over some of the design elements of the project as well as different ideas [Calvin] had in terms of things like component placement. Throughout the video, he illustrates his ideas in TinkerCAD, which might not have been our first choice for a project this complex, but it does go to show what’s possible in the free web-based CAD package.

By the second video, [Calvin] has printed some parts and now has the hardware coming together. The general idea is that the outside panels of the “book” are made out of steel cut from the side panel of an old computer, with the 3D printed components taking the form of spacers between the electronic components. These plastic “pages” are not only easier and faster to print than a complete case, but help sell the appearance of the book when viewed from the sides.

[Calvin] has shared his TinkerCAD design so that others can print out the necessary components for the book, though you’ll have to source your own steel plates. He also breaks down all the principle components he used and gives links to where you can buy them, from the display and keyboard down to the screws and standoffs. He went with the Pi Zero and sticks to mainly console work, but if you want something with enough power to throw around a graphical environment, he says there’s room in the case for a Pi 3.

Hackers seem to enjoy hiding hardware inside of books, PLA or otherwise. We’ve recently seen an iPad nestled snugly into a notebook, and of course no house would be complete without a book doubling as a hidden switch.

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Thinkpad T25 Gets Less Retro With Hardware Swap

For many, the Thinkpad T25 was something of a dream come true. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the venerable business-oriented laptop that hackers love so much, it featured a design inspired by “retro” Thinkpads of yore, but with modern hardware inside. Unfortunately, as it was more fan service than a serious revitalization of classic Thinkpad design, the T25 was only ever available in a single hardware configuration.

[kitsunyan] liked the look and feel of the T25, but in 2019 was already feeling a bit let down by the hardware. The screen wasn’t up to snuff, and while the CPU is an i7, it only has dual cores. To make sure the T25 is still viable down the road, it seemed the only option was to try to transplant the hardware from one of the current Thinkpad models into the anniversary chassis. It certainly wasn’t easy, but given the fact that the T25 was more of a redress than a completely new product to begin with, everything came together a lot better than you might expect.

A custom mount installed in the T25

To help put things into perspective, the T25 is basically a modified version of the T470. Last year, Lenovo replaced the T470 with the new T480 that has just the sort of hardware improvements that [kitsunyan] wanted. The T480 was more of a refresh than a complete revamp, so the actual chassis of the machine didn’t change much compared with its predecessor. That being the case, it seemed like it should be possible to transplant the newer T480 components into the T470 derived T25. Got all that straight?

[kitsunyan] was able to put this theory to the test when the opportunity to connect a T25 keyboard to the newer T480 presented itself. Since the 7-row keyboard on the anniversary edition was one of its biggest selling points, seeing if it would work on another machine was kind of a big deal. It didn’t fit physically, and some of the keys didn’t work as expected, but it at least had the same connector and didn’t let out the magic smoke. It represented the first tiny step of a much larger journey.

In the end, it took a lot of trimming, gluing, hacking, and fiddling to get all the new hardware from the T480 to fit into the T25. But if you’re brave enough, the process has been detailed exquisitely by [kitsunyan]. Not only are the part numbers listed for everything you need to order, but there’s plenty of pictures to help illustrate the modifications that need to be made to all the clips, brackets, and assorted widgets that go into a modern laptop.

While we’re very impressed by this project, we can’t say it comes as a complete surprise. We’re well aware of the incredible lengths Thinkpad aficionados will go to keep their machines running into the 21st century. But don’t just take our word for it, you too can join the ranks of the Thinkpad elite.

[Thanks to Pierre for the tip.]

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.

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Laptop Chargers Team Up To Get The Juice Flowing

There’s perhaps nothing harder to throw away than a good power supply. Whether it’s the classic “wall wart” whose mate has long since been misplaced or a beefy ATX you pulled out of a trashed computer, it always seems like there should be something you could do with these little wonders of modern power conversion. So into the parts bin it goes, where it will stay evermore. But not for the [TheRainHarvester], who figured out that the secret to putting a drawer full of old laptop chargers to use was combing them like hacker Voltron.

Using three old IBM laptop chargers, he’s able to produce up to 48 volts DC at a healthy 4.5 amps. His cobbled together power supply even features an variable output, albeit with some mighty coarse adjustment. As each charger is individually rated for 16V, he can unplug one of the adapters to get 32V.

In the video after the break [TheRainHarvester] walks viewers through the construction of his simple adapter, which could easily be made with salvaged parts. Built on a trace-free piece of fiber board, the adapter consists of the three barrel jacks for the chargers and a trio of beefy Schottky diodes.

The nature of the barrel jacks (which short a pin once the plug is removed) along with the diodes allows [TheRainHarvester] to combine the output of the three adapters in series without running the risk of damaging them if for example one is left plugged into the adapter but not the wall. He’s also looking to add some status LEDs to show which chargers are powered on.

Unfortunately, [TheRainHarvester] realized a bit too late that what he thought was an inert piece of board actually had a ground plane, so he’s going to have to come up with a new way to tie the whole thing together on the next version which he says is coming now that he knows the concept seems workable.

In the meantime, if you’re thinking of hacking something together with the wealth of old laptop chargers we know are kicking around the lab, you might want to take a look at our primer for understanding all those hieroglyphs on the back of the thing.

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Gorgeous Bartop Arcade Build Is A Cut Above

At this point we’ve seen a good number of desktop-sized arcade cabinets, and while they’ve naturally all been impressive in their own ways, they do tend to follow a pretty familiar formula. Cut the side panels out of MDF (or just buy a frame kit), stick a Raspberry Pi and an old LCD monitor in there, and then figure out how to control the thing. Maybe a couple strategically placed stickers and blinking LEDs to add a few extra horsepower, but nothing too surprising.

[Andy Riley] had seen plenty of builds like that, and he wasn’t having any of it. With the heart of an old laptop and bones made of IKEA cutting boards, his build is proof positive that there’s always more than one way to approach a problem that most would consider “solved” already. From the start, he set out to design and build a miniature arcade cabinet that didn’t look and feel like all the other ones he’d seen floating around online, and we think you’ll agree he delivered in a big way.

Powering the arcade with an old laptop is really a brilliant idea, especially since you can pick up older models for a song now that they’re considered nearly disposable by many users. As long as it doesn’t have a cracked display, you’ll get a nice sized LCD panel and potentially a rather powerful computer to drive it. Certainly the graphical capabilities of even the crustiest of used laptops will run circles around the Raspberry Pi, and of course it opens the possibility of playing contemporary PC games. As [Andy] shows in his detailed write-up, using a laptop does take more custom work than settling for the Pi, but we think the advantages make a compelling case for putting in the effort.

Of course, that’s only half the equation. Arguably the most impressive aspect of this build is the cabinet itself, which is made out of a couple IKEA bamboo cutting boards. [Andy] used his not inconsiderable woodworking skills, in addition to some pretty serious power tools, to turn the affordable kitchen accessories into a furniture-grade piece that really stands out from the norm. Even if you aren’t normally too keen on working with dead trees, his step-by-step explanations and pictures are a fascinating look at true craftsman at work.

If you’re more concerned with playing Galaga than the finer points of varnish application, you can always just turbocharge the old iCade and be done with it. But we think there’s something to be said for an arcade cabinet that could legitimately pass as a family heirloom.

$99 Pinebook Gets KDE Neon Port

If you’re the kind of person who likes small and cheap Linux devices, you’re definitely alive in the perfect moment in history. It seems as if every few months we’ve got another tiny Linux board competing for our pocket change, all desperate to try to dethrone the Raspberry Pi which has already set the price bar exceptionally high (or low, as the case may be). We’ve even started to see these Linux boards work their way into appropriately cheap laptops, though so far none have really made that great of an impression.

But thanks to the efforts of Blue Systems and Pine64, the situation might be improving: they’ve worked together on a build of KDE Neon for the $99 Pinebook. The fact that they’ve gotten Plasma, KDE’s modern desktop environment, running on the rather mediocre hardware at all is an accomplishment by itself. But they’ve also set out tailor the entire system for the Pinebook, from the kernel and graphics drivers all the way up to Qt and Plasma tweaks.

In a blog post announcing the release candidate of the OS, Neon developer [Jonathan Riddell] says that these top-to-bottom improvements show that you can turn a super cheap Linux laptop into a practical computer if you’re willing to really get in there and optimize it. He also says the project has been something of a two-way street, in that improvements made for the Pinebook build have also been applied to upstream development.

The last time we looked at the Pinebook, we came away cautiously optimistic. It wasn’t great, but it was about as good as you could possibly expect given the price. If more developers are willing to go out on a limb and start optimizing their software for the device, it might become a very promising platform for low-cost mobile hacking.