Last time, I’ve shared my experience on why you might want to consider a laptop motherboard for a project of yours, and noted some things you might want to keep in mind if buying one for a project. Now, let’s go through the practical considerations!
Making It Boot
Usually, when you plug some RAM and a charger into a board, then press the power button, your board should boot up and eventually show the BIOS on the screen. However, there will be some caveats – it’s very firmware-dependent. Let me walk you through some confusing situations you might encounter.
If the board was unpowered for a while, first boot might take longer – or it might power on immediately after a charger has been plugged in, and then, possibly, power off. A bit of erratic behaviour is okay, since boards might need to do memory training, or recover after having lost some CMOS settings. Speaking of those, some boards will not boot without a CMOS battery attached, and some will go through the usual ‘settings lost’ sequence. Sometimes, the battery will be on a daughterboard, other times, especially with new boards, there will be no CR2032 in sight and the board will rely on the main battery to provide CMOS settings saving functions – in such case, if you don’t use the battery, expect the first boot to take longer, at least. Overall, however, pressing the power switch will cause the board to boot. Continue reading “Laptop Motherboard? Let’s Boot And Tinker” →
[Jason Winfield] had a nemesis: the Defender arcade machine. Having put quite a number of coins into one during his childhood, he’s since found himself as a seasoned maker, and decided to hold a rematch on his own terms. For this, he’s recreated the machine from scratch, building it around the guts of a Dell laptop, and he tells us the story what it took to build a new Defender in this day and age.
Defender was a peculiar machine — it was in cocktail table format, unlike many other arcade machines of that period. From pictures, he’s redesigned the whole thing in Fusion 360, in a way more desk-friendly format, but just as fancy looking as before.
As for the laptop, gutting it for its mainboard, screen, and speakers was a surprisingly painless procedure — everything booted up first try. A few board-fitted brackets and a swap from a HDD to a USB flashdrive for the OS later, the electronics were ready. As he was redesigning the entire arcade machine anyway, the new design control panel was also trimmed down for ease of use, while preserving the original colorful look.
All in all, an impressive build from [Jason]. After all was set and done, we don’t doubt that he went on to, let’s say, settle some old scores. It’s not the first time we see a desktop-sized arcade cabinet, and you gotta admire the skills making such a machine smaller while sticking to the old-timey aesthetic! Or, perhaps, would you like a cabinet that’s more subtle?
Continue reading “Defender Arcade Rebuilt To Settle A Childhood Memory” →
Sometimes a Raspberry Pi will not cut it – especially nowadays, when the prices are high and the in-stock amounts are low. But if you look in your closet, you might find a decently-specced laptop with a broken screen or faulty hinges. Or perhaps someone you know is looking to get rid of a decent laptop with a shattered case. Electronics recycling or eBay, chances are you can score a laptop with at least some life left in it.
Let’s hack! I’d like to show you how a used laptop motherboard could be the heart of your project, and walk you through some specifics you will want to know.
And what a great deal it could be for your next project! Laptop motherboards can help bring a wide variety of your Linux- and Windows-powered projects to life, in a way that even NUCs and specialized SBCs often can’t do. They’re way cheaper, way more diverse, and basically omnipresent. The CPU can pack a punch, and as a rule PCIe, USB3, and SATA ports are easily accessible with no nonsense like USB-throttled Ethernet ports.
Continue reading “Laptop Motherboard? No, X86 Single-Board Computer!” →
A long time ago, a laptop was a basic thing, and you could pretty much run one just by hooking up a power supply to the battery contacts. A modern MacBook is altogether fussier. However, when [Christophe] was stuck in the midst of a 2020 lockdown with no parts available, he found a way to get his damaged MacBook up and running without a battery.
The problem was brought about by a failing battery in the MacBook Pro 13″ from mid-2018, which swelled up and deformed the laptop’s case. Parts were unavailable, and the MacBook wouldn’t run at full speed without a battery fitted. That’s because with no battery present, the MacBook would send a BD_PROCHOT signal to the Intel CPU, telling it to slow down due to overheating, even when the chip was cool.
To get around the problem, [Christophe] used a tool called CPUTune. It allows fiddling with the various CPU settings of a MacBook. He deactivated the BD_PROCHOT signal, and also the CPU’s Turbo Boost feature. This ended the worst of the thermal throttling, and enabled semi-normal use of the machine.
It’s unclear why Apple would throttle the CPU with the battery disconnected. [Christophe]’s workaround got him back up and working again in the midst of a difficult period, regardless. We’ve seen some other great Macbook hacks before too, like this amazing save from serious water damage!
Thanks to [donaldcuckman] for the tip!]
The Framework laptop prides itself on having reusable parts, and hackers all around routinely challenge the claims by building projects reusing them. Yet again, [whatthefilament] puts the Framework hardware to the test, by taking all the laptop internals and building an AiO (All-in-One) desktop computer with it. Hot on the heels of his Framework tablet project we covered a few months ago, this desktop reuses as much as possible – the mainboard, the display and the expansion cards in particular, and even one of the hinges is reused for adjusting the monitor’s angle.
Of course, this build required a custom case – and [whatthefilament]’s design is fully 3D-printed, with STLs and assembly instructions available for anyone interested. Parts of the desktop are held by magnets for ease of assembly and maintenance, with a few parts requiring screws held in by heat-set inserts. Complete with a webcam, speakers and even a WiFi card, all it needs for completeness is an external keyboard&mouse combo, making for a sleek desktop that anyone in possession of a few Framework parts can build.
Laptop-to-desktop builds are nice – take the X-PC project, starting with a pile of school laptops and rebuilding them into colourful and sturdy desktops for classroom use. We’ve seen quite a few fancy Framework projects already, and that’s because they provided motherboards to hackers for specifically project purposes, kickstarting a fair few creations to grace our pages. Other hacker-friendly laptops didn’t lag behind, either – for instance, here’s the hacker favourite, Novena, getting the desktop treatment.
Last time, I’ve explained everything you could want to know if you wanted to put an M.2 socket onto your board. Today, let’s build M.2 cards! There’s a myriad of M.2 sockets out there that are just asking for a special card to be inserted into it, and perhaps, it’s going to be your creation that fits.
Why Build Cards?
Laptops and other x86 mainboards often come with M.2 slots. Do you have a free B-key slot? You can put a RP2040 and bunch of sensors on a B-key PCB as an experimental platform carried safely inside your laptop. Would you like to do some more advanced FPGA experiments? Here’s a miniscule FPGA board that fits inside your laptop and lets you play with PCIe on this same laptop – the entire setup having a super low footprint. Are you looking for an extra PCIe link because you’re reusing your laptop as a home server? Again, your WiFi slot will provide you with that. Want to get some PCIe out of a SteamDeck? Building a M-key 2230 card seems to be your only hope! Continue reading “M.2 For Hackers – Cards” →
In the first M.2 article, I’ve described real-world types and usecases of M.2 devices, so that you don’t get confused when dealing with various cards and ports available out there. I’ve also designed quite a few M.2 cards and card-accepting adapters myself. And today, I’d like to tell you everything you need to know in order to build M.2 tech on your own.
There’s two sides to building with M.2 – adding M.2 sockets onto your PCBs, and building the PCBs that are M.2 cards. I’ll cover both of these, starting with the former, and knowing how to deal with M.2 sockets might be the only thing you ever need. Apart from what I’ll be describing, there’s some decent guides you can learn bits and pieces from, like the Sparkfun MicroMod design guide, most of which is MicroMod-specific but includes quite a few M.2 tips and tricks too.
First, Let’s Talk About The Y-Key
What could you do with a M.2 socket on your PCB? For a start, many tasty hobbyist-friendly SoMs and CPUs now have a PCIe interface accessible, and if you’re building a development board or a simple breakout, an M.2 socket will let you connect an NVMe SSD for all your high-speed low-power storage needs – many Raspberry Pi Compute Module mainboards have M.2 M-key sockets specifically for that, and there’s NVMe support in the RPi firmware to boot. Plus, you can always plug a full-sized PCIe adapter or an extender into such a socket and connect a PCIe network card or other much-needed device – even perhaps, an external GPU! However, as much as PCIe-equipped SoMs are tasty, they’re far from the only reason to use M.2 sockets.
Continue reading “M.2 For Hackers – Connectors” →