Deep Dive Into A Prison Laptop

The phenomenon of prison electronics is by now relatively well-documented, with striking transparent radios, televisions, and kin easy to recognize. Yet what about prison laptops? As it turns out, these are a thing as well, and [Zephray Wenting] got one from eBay to investigate, as documented over at Twitter (ThreadReader single page). Much like their audiovisual brethren, these laptops lack basic features in the name of prison security, which in the case of this laptop means for example no USB ports. Even the spacebar stabilizer rod is missing. Weaponized keyboards are apparently a thing in corrections facilities.

The Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5. (Credit: Zephray Wenting)
The Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5. (Credit: Zephray Wenting)

Called the Justice Tech Solutions Securebook 5, it has been superseded by the Securebook 6. Inside this earlier unit, you’ll find an Intel N3450 with 4 GB LPDDR3, with SATA for storage and a special dock connector. Some laptops come with WiFi hardware installed, others are unpopulated. It appears that these Securebooks by default have a BIOS password that cannot be erased, even by removing it from the NVRAM (‘CMOS’), as it’ll return on the next boot due to an automatic BIOS reset. This was temporarily bypassed through a hacky external SPI Flash adapter, but the reward for all this trouble was a BIOS setup screen with just the ‘Security’ tab.

It’s now been sleuthed out that the default password is N%(dU32p as reported by Hackaday’s own [Adam Fabio] on Twitter. It turns out the password was available on a (now private) YouTube video. [Techknight] on Twitter has delved into EFI BIOS hacking. He has an alternate BIOS image that does provide access to the full BIOS setup utility. With BIOS access not being necessary to boot the system, the question that [Zephray] went ahead with was how to boot it into an OS since the original HDD or SSD had been removed prior to being sold. The bad news here is that it turned out that the system has a HDD whitelist (which [Sark] found a way to bypass). The good news is that someone has probed the system before, with the storage device being reported as ‘China SATA3 240GB SSD’.

Rather than mess with this, it was attempted to boot from USB, by tapping into the USB lines for the touchpad, which turned out to allow booting into a live image of Ubuntu without fuss. As an ongoing project, it’ll be interesting to see what more functionality can be wrung out of this piece of prison kit, all hopefully from the right side of the prison bars.

Thanks to [livelaughliang] for the tip.

Laptop Memory Upgradable Again

For some computing components, the bottleneck to improved speed and performance hasn’t been power consumption or clock speed but physical space. But a new memory standard may provide all of the power and space-saving benefits of soldered memory modules without losing any upgradability.

The standard is called compression attached memory modules (CAMM) and provides a way for small form factor computers to have upgradable memory without needing dual in-line memory module (DIMM) slots. Unlike DIMM, though, CAMM modules allow for modern high-speed low-power memory to be used and can take advantage of dual-channel properties even if only one memory module is installed. CAMM modules are held in place with small screws, similar to modern M.2 drives, and don’t have the massive footprint of a DIMM slot. This allows laptop manufacturers to save nearly as much space as having soldered memory.

While this won’t solve the problem of computer manufacturers offering only soldered memory as a cash-grab, hopefully, some take the new standard under their wing for those of us who value the upgradability of our hardware. There are of course some problems with newer standards, but right now it seems like the only other viable option is soldered modules or slower, heavier computers. Some may argue that these soldered-on modules can be upgraded in theory, but not without considerable effort.

Thinkpad IBM Laptop Case

Once upon a time, laptops and other computer hardware often came with a fancy leather case for protection. That’s not really the case anymore, but it was in the golden era of the IBM ThinkPad. [polymatt] found a rare example, but wanted another one, so he decided to try and replicate it from scratch.

Leathercraft was a new discipline for [polymatt], and so the whole build was a learning experience. He started out by measuring the existing design and creating a diagram to guide his own work. He then traced the design on to a large piece of quality leather, carefully rounding the edges and adding a plastic stiffening plates to support the laptop where needed. Additional layers of leather were added to seal these in, and the leather was formed over guides to take the right shape. A slight misstep resulted in the case being too long, but a cut-and-shut job rectified the problem.

The finished result is a clean, impressive thing. Throughout the build, [polymatt] showed a certain mastery of the leatherworking tools that belied his lack of experience, too. The project should serve as a great inspiration to any other aspiring crafters who have contemplated creating their own custom leather goods for protecting their electronics. Video after the break.

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An ESP32 Dev Board As A Framework Laptop Module

The Framework laptop will no doubt already have caught the eye of more than one Hackaday reader, as a machine designed for upgrade and expansion by its users. One of its key features is a system of expansion modules. The modules are USB-C devices in a form factor that slides into the expansion bays on the Framework Laptop. Framework encourages the development of new modules, which is something [Spacehuhn] has taken on with an ESP32-S3 development board.

The board itself is what you’d expect, the ESP is joined by a multicolor LED and one of those Stemma/Quiik connectors for expansion. The case is handily provided by Framework themselves, and all the files for the ESP32 module can be found in a GitHub repository. We’re guessing it will find application in experimenting with WiFi networks rather than as a standalone microcontroller. Either way, it shows the route for any Framework owners into making their own add-ons. Take a look, we’ve placed the video below the break.

As you might expect we’ve given a lot of coverage to the Framework laptop since its launch, in particular, our colleague [Arya Voronova] is a fan and has shown us many alternative uses for the parts.

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An Almost Invisible Desktop

When you’re putting together a computer workstation, what would you say is the cleanest setup? Wireless mouse and keyboard? Super-discrete cable management? How about no visible keeb, no visible mouse, and no obvious display?

That’s what [Basically Homeless] was going for. Utilizing a Flexispot E7 electronically raisable standing desk, an ASUS laptop, and some other off-the-shelf parts, this project is taking the idea of decluttering to the extreme, with no visible peripherals and no visible wires.

There was clearly a lot of learning and much painful experimentation involved, and the guy kind of glazed over how a keyboard was embedded in the desk surface. By forming a thin layer of resin in-plane with the desk surface, and mounting the keyboard just below, followed by lots of careful fettling of the openings meant the keys could be depressed. By not standing proud of the surface, the keys were practically invisible when painted. After all, you need that tactile feedback, and a projection keeb just isn’t right.

ChatGPT-inspired machine learning mouse emulator

Moving on, never mind an ultralight gaming mouse, how about a zero-gram mouse? Well, this is a bit of a cheat, as they mounted a depth-sensing camera inside a light fitting above the desk, and built a ChatGPT-designed machine-learning model to act as a hand-tracking HID device. Nice idea, but we don’t see the code.

The laptop chassis had its display removed and was embedded into the bottom of the desk, along with the supporting power supplies, a couple of fans, and a projector. To create a ‘floating’ display, a piece of transparent plastic was treated to a coating of Lux labs “ClearBright” transparent display film, which allows the image from the projector to be scattered and observed with sufficient clarity to be usable as a PC display. We have to admit, it looks a bit gimmicky, but playing Minecraft on this setup looks a whole lotta fun.

Many of the floating displays we’ve covered tend to be for clocks (after all timepieces are important) like this sweet HUD hack.

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Getting The Most From Fading ThinkPads

The ThinkPad line of laptops has been widely prized not only by businesses but also by those who appreciate a high standard of hardware quality and repairability. But some think the cracks are starting to form in their reputation, as it seems that new ThinkPads are sacrificing quality for aesthetics and cost. As a result a huge modding scene has popped up around models that are a few years old like [Cal] found out when working on this X230.

At first he only made some cosmetic improvements to the laptop like replacing the worn palm rest, but quickly found himself in a rabbit hole with other upgrades like swapping out the keyboard and battery. The new keyboard is a 7-row X220 keyboard, which required modification of the connector and flashing the embedded controller with a hacked image to change the keyboard map without needing to make changes at the OS level. From there, he decided to replace the lackluster screen with a 1920×1080 matte IPS panel using an adapter board from Nitrocaster, and finished off his upgrades with a customized Coreboot BIOS for improved performance and security.

While Coreboot doesn’t remove all of the binary blobs that a bootloader like libreboot does, the latter is not compatible with more modern machines like this X230. Still, you’ll get many benefits from using Coreboot instead of the stock bootloader. For running Linux on a daily driver laptop, we appreciate all of these updates and expect that [Cal] will get plenty of years of use out of his machine. We’ve definitely seen an active modding scene for ThinkPads that were (at the time) seven years old and still going strong, so we’d expect nothing less for this one.

A Miniature MNT For Every Pocket

Last time Hackaday went hands on with a product from German company MNT, it was the Reform laptop; a full size computer with a full feature set and fully open source design. Now they’re back with the same value proposition and feature set crammed into a much more adorable (and colorful!) package with the MNT Pocket Reform. If you want the big Reform’s open source philosophy in a body fit for a coat pocket, this might be the computing device for you.

To refresh your memory, MNT is a company that specializes in open source hardware and the software to support it. They are probably best known for the Reform, their first laptop. Its marquis feature is a fully open design, from the mechanical components (designed with OSS tools) to the PCBAs (designed with KiCad) to the software (designed with, uh, software). When originally shipped that product packed a DIMM-style System On Module (SOM) with a default configuration containing a quad core NXP i.MX8M Quad and 4GB of RAM, as well as mini PCIe Card and M key m.2 2280 slots on the motherboard for storage and connectivity. That computer was designed to be easily serviceable and included a plethora of full sized ports along with easy to source cylindrical battery cells. The Pocket Reform takes the same intent and channels it into a much smaller package.

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