Best Of Both Worlds: The MacPad

Despite a growing demand for laptop-tablet hybrid computers from producers like Lenovo, HP, and Microsoft, Apple has been stubbornly withdrawn this arena despite having arguably the best hardware and user experiences within the separate domains of laptop and tablet. Charitably one could speculate that this is because Apple’s design philosophy mandates keeping the user experiences of each separate, although a more cynical take might be that they can sell more products if they don’t put all the features their users want into a single device. Either way, for now it seems that if you want a touchscreen MacBook you’ll have to build one yourself like the MacPad from [Federico].

This project started as simply providing a high-quality keyboard and mouse for an Apple Vision Pro, whose internal augmented reality keyboard is really only up to the task of occasionally inputting a password or short string. For more regular computing, [Federico] grabbed a headless MacBook which had its screen removed. This worked well enough that it triggered another line of thought that if it worked for the Vision Pro it might just work for an iPad Pro as well. Using Apple tools like Sidecar makes this almost trivially easy from a software perspective, although setting up the iPad as the only screen, rather than an auxiliary screen, on the MacBook did take a little more customization than normal.

The build goes beyond the software side of setting this up, though. It also includes a custom magnetic mount so that the iPad can be removed at will from the MacBook, freeing both the iPad for times when a tablet is the better tool and the MacBook for when it needs to pull keyboard duty for the Vision Pro. Perhaps the only downsides are that this only works seamlessly when both devices are connected to the same wireless network and that setting up a headless MacBook without a built-in screen takes a bit of extra effort. But with everything online and working it’s nearly the perfect Apple 2-in-1 that users keep asking for. If you’re concerned about the cost of paying for an iPad Pro and a Macbook just to get a touchscreen, though, take a look at this device which adds a touchscreen for only about a dollar.

Thanks to [Stuart] for the tip!

Hack Lets Intel MacBook Run Without A Battery

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 bottom half of a MacBook Air on a purple and pink background has severed wires drawn out of its back to indicate its lack of a screen.

Are Slabtops The Future Of Computing?

The most popular computer ever was the Commodore 64 with its computer-in-a-keyboard form factor. If you have a longing for a keyboard computer with more modern internals, one of the easiest solutions today is to pull the screen off a laptop.

[Umar Shakir] wanted to see what the fuss was about regarding a recent Apple patent and took the top lid off of his M1 Macbook Air and turned it into a “slabtop.” The computer works great wired to a monitor but can also be used wirelessly via AirPlay. The approach doesn’t come without its downsides, of course. Newer MacBooks can’t access recovery mode without the built-in screen, and some older models had their WiFi antennas in the top lid, so making one into a slabtop will leave you desk-bound.

While [Shakir] focuses on MacBooks, this approach should work with any laptop. Apparently, it’s a cottage industry in China already. Back in the day, my own daily driver was a Pentium-powered laptop with its broken LCD (and lid) removed. It worked great with whatever CRT was nearby.

If you’re looking for an off-the-shelf keyboard computer of your own, you might want to check out the Raspberry Pi 400.

On the left, the Thunderbolt chip as mounted on the motherboard originally. On the right, the shim installed in place of a Thunderbolt BGA chip, with the IPEX connector soldered on

Macbook Gets NVMe SSD With Help Of A BGA-Imitating PCB

Recently, we stumbled upon a video by [iBoff], adding an M.2 NVMe port to a 2011-2013 MacBook. Apple laptops never came with proper M.2 ports, especially the A1278 – so what’s up? The trick is – desoldering a PCIe-connected Thunderbolt controller, then soldering a BGA-like interposer PCB in place of where the chip was, and pulling a cable assembly from there to the drive bay, where a custom adapter PCB awaits. That adapter even lets you expose the PCIe link as a full-sized PCIe 4x slot, in case you want to connect an external GPU instead of the NVMe SSD!

The process is well-documented in the video, serving as an instruction manual for anyone attempting to install this specific mod, but also a collection of insights and ideas for anyone interested in imitating it. The interposer board ships with solder balls reballed onto it, so that it can be installed in the same way that a BGA chip would be – but the cable assembly connector isn’t installed onto the interposer, since it has to be soldered onto the mainboard with hot air, which would then melt the connector. The PCB that replaces the optical drive makes no compromises, either, tapping into the SATA connector pins and letting you add an extra 2.5mm SATA SSD.

Adding an NVMe drive is an underappreciated way to speed up your old laptop, and since they’re all PCIe under the hood, you can really get creative with the specific way you add it. You aren’t even limited to substituting obscure parts like Thunderbolt controllers – given a laptop with a discrete GPU and a CPU-integrated one, you could get rid of the discrete GPU and replace it with an adapter for one, or maybe even two NVMe drives, and all you need is a PCB that has the same footprint as your GPU. Sadly, the PCB files for this adapter don’t seem to be open-source, but developing a replacement for your own needs would be best started from scratch, either way.

We’ve seen such an adapter made for a Raspberry Pi 4 before, solderable in place of a QFN USB 3.0 controller chip and exposing the PCIe signals onto the USB 3 connector pins. However, this one takes it up a notch! Typically, without such an adapter, we have to carefully solder a properly shielded cable if we want to get a PCIe link from a board that never intended to expose one. What’s up with PCIe and why is it cool? We’ve talked about that in depth!

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3D Printed Mini MacBook With A Raspberry Pi Heart

Do you like the sleek look of Apple’s laptops? Are you a fan of the Raspberry Pi? Have a particular affinity for hot glue and 3D printed plastic? Then you’re in luck, because this tiny “MacBook” built by serial miniaturizer [Michael Pick] features all of the above (and a good bit more) in one palm-sized package. (Video link, embedded below.)

Getting the LCD panel and Raspberry Pi 4 to fit into the slim 3D printed case took considerable coaxing. In the video after the break, you can see [Michael] strip off any unnecessary components that would stand in his way. The LCD panel had to lose its speakers and buttons, and the Pi has had its Ethernet and USB ports removed. While space was limited, he did manage to squeeze an illuminated resin-printed Apple logo into the lid of the laptop to help sell the overall look.

The bottom half of the machine has a number of really nice details, like the fan grill cut from metal hardware cloth and a functional “MagSafe” connector made from a magnetic USB cable. The keyboard PCB and membrane was liberated from a commercially available unit, all [Michael] needed to do was model in the openings for the keys. Since the keyboard already came with its own little trackpad, the lower one is just there for looks.

Speaking of which, to really drive home the Apple aesthetic, [Michael] made the bold move of covering up all the screws with body filler after assembly. It’s not a technique we’d necessarily recommend, but gluing it shut would probably have made it even harder to get back into down the line.

We’ve previously seen [Michael] create a miniature rendition of the iMac and an RGB LED equipped “gaming” computer using many of the same parts and techniques. He’ll have to start branching off into less common machines to replicate soon, which reminds us that we’re about due for another tiny Cray X-MP.

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Hackaday Podcast 074: Stuttering Swashplate, Bending Mirrors, Chasing Curves, And Farewell To Segway

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week of hacks. A telescope mirror that can change shape and a helicopter without a swashplate lead the charge for fascinating engineering. These are closely followed by a vibratory wind generator that has no blades to spin. The Open Source Hardware Association announced a new spec this week to remove “Master” and “Slave” terminology from SPI pin names. The Segway is no more. And a bit of bravery and rock solid soldering skills can resurrect that Macbook that has one dead GPU.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (60 MB or so.)

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Ditching X86, Apple Starts An ARM Race

At its annual World Wide Developer Conference, Apple dropped many jaws when announcing that their Mac line will be switching away from Intel processors before the year is out. Intel’s x86 architecture is the third to grace Apple’s desktop computer products, succeeding PowerPC and the Motorola 68000 family before it.

In its place will be Apple’s own custom silicon, based on 64-bit ARM architecture. Apple are by no means the first to try and bring ARM chips to bear for general purpose computing, but can they succeed where others have failed?

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