Atreus Gets A TrackPoint And Layer LEDs

Fancy, split keyboards are cool and all, and they can really help with repetitive strain injury issues depending on a lot of different factors. But the big, glaring problem is that they often lack nice features that regular keyboards have — things like a number pad, media buttons, or in [discordia]’s case, a ThinkPad-style pointing stick. Fortunately, there’s a perfect spot for one between the two halves of the Keyboardio Atreus.

[discordia] is happy with the Atreus, but the whole layers thing can take some getting used to. Since Atreus only has 44 keys, it utilizes a layering system to change their function to cover all the keys you’d find on a full keyboard. After getting stuck in one rarely-used layer for a while, they decided to remedy the situation with some RGB LEDs to indicate the active layer. If you’ve got an Atreus that could use a few upgrades, check out [discordia]’s step-by-step instructions for adding a trackpoint and one-wire RGB LEDs.

If you have an old enough ThinkPad on your hands, then you may want to liberate the clicky keyboard, too.

Building An Open Source ThinkPad Battery

If you own a laptop that’s got a few years on the clock, you’ve probably contemplated getting a replacement battery for it. Which means you also know how much legitimate OEM packs cost compared to the shady eBay clones. You can often get two or three of the knock-offs for the same price as a single real battery, but they never last as long as the originals. If they even work properly at all.

Which is why [Alexander Parent] decided to take the road less traveled and scratch built a custom battery for his ThinkPad T420. By reverse engineering how the battery pack communicated with the computer, he reasoned he would be able to come up with an open source firmware that worked at least as well as what the the third party ones are running. Which from the sounds of it, wasn’t a very high bar. From a more practical standpoint, it also meant he’d be able to create a higher capacity battery pack than what was commercially available should he chose to.

A logic analyzer wired in between one of the third party batteries and a spare T420 motherboard allowed [Alexander] to capture all the SMBus chatter between the two. From there he wrote some Arduino code that would mimic a battery as a proof of concept. He was slowed down a bit by an undocumented CRC check, but in the end he was able to come up with a fairly mature firmware that even allows you to provide a custom vendor name and model number for your pack.

The code was shifted over to an ATtiny85, with a voltage divider wired up to one of the pins so it can read the pack voltage. [Alexander] says his firmware still doesn’t do a great job of reporting the actual battery capacity remaining, but it’s close enough for his purposes. He came up with a simple PCB design to hold the MCU and support components,¬† which eventually he plans on putting inside of a 3D printed case that actually plugs into the back of his T420.

This project is obviously still in a relatively early stage, but we’re very interested to see [Alexander] take it all the way. The ThinkPad has long been the hacker’s favorite laptop, and we can think of no machine more worthy of a fully open hardware and software battery pack.

USB-C Where It Was Never Intended To Be

The USB-C revolution is well under way, as first your new phone, then your single-board computer, and now your laptop are likely so sport the familiar reversible round-cornered connector. We’re still in the crossover period of requiring to keep micro USB, proprietary laptop, and USB-C power supplies at hand, but the promise of a USB-C-only world is tantalisingly close. For [Purkkaviritys] that’s a little bit closer now, as he’s modified his Thinkpad T440s to take a USB charger instead of its proprietary Lenovo square-plug part. (Video, embedded below.)

At its heart is a USB-PD emulator module that does all the hard work of negotiation with the power supply, giving the laptop the DC voltage it needs. It’s not quite that simple though, because a resistor is required to reassure the laptop that it’s got a genuine power supply. The module is encased in a carefully-designed surround that neatly takes the space vacated by the original connector, and since this laptop has its internal power connector on a short cable it is made very straightforward to fit into the case. If you didn’t know it was a home-made upgrade, you could be forgiven for thinking that this laptop left the factory with a USB-C power socket.

The USB-C module used here is a versatile part. We’ve previously seen it in a soldering iron conversion.

Continue reading “USB-C Where It Was Never Intended To Be”

Hacking A ThinkPad USB-C Adapter

USB-C has brought the world much more powerful charging options in a slimline connector. With laptop chargers and portable battery packs using the standard, many with older hardware are converting their devices over to work with USB-C. [victorc] was trying to do just that, purchasing an adapter cable to charge a ThinkPad. Things didn’t quite work out of the box, so some hacking was required.

The problem was the power rating of the adapter cable, versus the battery pack [victorc] was trying to use. In order to allow the fastest charging rates, the adapter cable features a resistor value which tells the attached Lenovo laptop it can draw up to 90 W. The battery pack in question could only deliver 45 W, so it would quickly shut down when the laptop tried to draw above this limit.

To rectify this, [victorc] looked up the standard, finding the correct resistor value to set the limit lower. Then, hacking open the cable, the original resistor on the Lenovo connector was removed, and replaced with the correct value. With this done, the cable works perfectly, and [victorc] is able to charge their laptop on the go.

For all the benefits USB-C has brought, there’s been plenty of consternation, too. Whether this clears up, only time will tell!

Breathing New Life Into Old School ThinkPad Keyboards

The ThinkPad is generally considered the unofficial laptop of hackerdom, so it’s no surprise that we see plenty of projects focused on repairing and modifying these reliable workhorses. But while we usually see folks working on relatively modern incarnations of this iconic line of computers, this project by [Frank Adams] and [Brian Chan] shows that the hacker’s love affair with the ThinkPad stretches back farther than many might realize.

As explained on the project’s page, the duo have produced an open hardware board that will allow you to take the keyboard and trackpoint from a late ’90s ThinkPad 380ED and use it as a standard USB input device on a modern computer. According to [Frank], the keyboards on these machines are notable for having full-size keys rather than the “chicklet” boards that are so common today.

Now you may be wondering why this is significant. After all, we’ve seen plenty of projects that hook up an old keyboard to a USB-equipped microcontroller to get them speaking the lingua franca. Well, the trick here is that the trackpoint on these older ThinkPads actually required additional circuitry on the motherboard to function. The keyboard features three separate FPC connections for the matrix, the trackpoint buttons, and the analog strain gauges in the trackpoint itself.

After a considerable amount of reverse engineering, [Frank] and [Brian] have developed a board that uses the Teensy 3.2 to turn this plethora of pins into something useful. In the video after the break, you can see the new composite USB device working perfectly on a modern Windows computer.

It will probably come as little surprise to find that [Frank] is no stranger to hacking ThinkPad keyboards. In 2018 we covered a similar adapter he built for the far more modern T61, which was an absolute cakewalk by comparison.

Continue reading “Breathing New Life Into Old School ThinkPad Keyboards”

Smashed Laptop Becomes Stylish All-In-One

Many of us will have broken a laptop at one point or another, destroying the screen or smashing the case. It can be frustrating, as there’s a perfectly usable computer in there, trapped inside a broken husk of a body. [Matthew] saw this not as a problem, but an opportunity – and built a beautiful all-in-one desktop PC. (Video, embedded below.)

With a badly damaged Thinkpad laptop to hand, an ASUS monitor was sourced with a thin body and flat back, perfect for mounting hardware. An MDF base was created, on to which the laptop motherboard was mounted. A USB hub and audio amplifier were then added, along with a USB power isolator and soundcard to avoid problems with groundloops from the onboard headphone output. Speakers were Harman Kardon units salvaged from an old television, providing great quality sound for the build.

There’s plenty of great ideas in the video, from using epoxy for a strong permanent assembly, to a nifty hack to make the power button work. It has us contemplating a build for our own broken laptops in the junkpile. We’ve seen other creative all-in-one builds too, like this one inside a printer.

Continue reading “Smashed Laptop Becomes Stylish All-In-One”

Unlocking Hidden Potential In IvyBridge ThinkPads

Upgrading the BIOS in older computers is a great way to get a few more years of life out of old hardware or improve its performance. ThinkPads are a popular choice around these parts, but often flashing new firmware involves directly programming the chips themselves. Luckily, there’s a new flashing tool for some older Thinkpads that is much simpler.

The ThinkPads involved are the xx30 models with IvyBridge processors built around 2012, and a tool called 1vyrain now allows unlocking the bios without disassembling your computer. This means that there’s support for custom BIOS images such as coreboot, and in certain computers this also allows for overclocking, replacing WLAN hardware, and a number of other customizations. It will also allow you to disable the Intel management engine, which is not something we tire of talking about.

If you have one of these older computers floating around, some new RAM, an SSD, and this update will get you well on your way to a computer that feels brand new at virtually no cost, and the upgrades to the BIOS that you can easily make now only add to that. ThinkPads are a popular choice, especially for their hardware, but you do need to make sure that the software on them is trustworthy too.

Header image: Ashley Pomeroy [CC BY-SA 4.0].