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.
Love it or hate it, TrackPoint can be a powerful tool. Love it or hate it, the idea of moving the mouse without removing your hands from the keys has an appeal. [Alon Swartz] incorporated one into his custom wired split mechanical keyboard and wrote a helpful guide on how to do it yourself.
The first step was to determine the pinout of the Trackpoint, which he provides a handy repository of various devices with annotations and pictures. The next step is swapping the little rubber nub at the top for something a bit longer. As the PCB sits below the keys, a labret cheek piercing happens to be a perfect candidate. Strong, thin, easily obtainable in different lengths, and threaded on one end. With jewelry in hand, [Alon] created a reset circuit with just a few resistors and a capacitor so the teensy can trigger a reset of the Trackpoint. The keyboard’s TMK firmware also needed a few tweaks to support reading the Trackpoint.
It’s a great guide, and we love the use of the jewelry as a piece of the keyboard. A knitting needle was used in a previous attempt to add a Trackpoint to a mechanical keyboard, and we’re excited to see what other household items end up in keyboards.
“They don’t make them like they used to.” It might be a cliché, it might not even be entirely true, but there’s something special about owning a piece of hardware that was built to a much higher standard than most of its contemporaries, whether it’s that bulletproof Benz from 1992 or that odd fridge from 1987 that just seems to last forever. For laptop aficionados, the Thinkpad series from IBM and Lenovo is the ne plus ultra: beloved for their sturdy construction and rich feature set, they have been used anywhere from the United Nations to the International Space Station. The T60 and T61 (introduced in 2006) are especially famous, being the last generation sporting IBM logos and such classic features as 4:3 displays and infrared ports.
The thing is, even the best hardware eventually becomes obsolete when it can no longer run modern software: with a 2.0 GHz Core Duo and 3 GB of RAM you can still browse the web and do word processing today, but you can forget about 4K video or a 64-bit OS. Luckily, there’s hope for those who are just not ready to part with their trusty Thinkpads: [Xue Yao] has designed a replacement motherboard that fits the T60/T61 range, bringing them firmly into the present day. The T700 motherboard is currently in its prototype phase, with series production expected to start in early 2022, funded through a crowdfunding campaign.
Designing a motherboard for a modern CPU is no mean feat, and making it fit an existing laptop, with all the odd shapes and less-than-standard connections, is even more impressive. The T700 has an Intel Core i7 CPU with four cores running at 2.8 GHz, while two RAM slots allow for up to 64 GB of DDR4-3200 memory. There are modern USB-A and USB-C ports as well as well as a 6 Gbps SATA interface and two m.2 slots for your SSDs.
As for the display, the T700 motherboard will happily connect to the original screens built into the T60/T61, or to any of a range of aftermarket LED based replacements. A Thunderbolt connector is available, but only operates in USB-C mode due to firmware issues; according to the project page, full support for Thunderbolt 4 is expected once the open-source coreboot firmware has been ported to the T700 platform.
We love projects like this that extend the useful life of classic computers to keep them running way past their expected service life. But impressive though this is, it’s not the first time someone has made a replacement motherboard for the Thinkpad line; we covered a project from the nb51 forum back in 2018, which formed the basis for today’s project. We’ve seen lots of other useful Thinkpad hacks over the years, from replacing the display to revitalizing the batteries. Thanks to [René] for the tip.
When learning a new programming language, it’s best to have a goal in mind and work towards it. [Timo] thought it was about time to learn python, and he also had a project in mind: removing the BIOS supervisor password from his old Thinkpad. From there it was just a few keystrokes (and some soldering) and he was able to change the BIOS password of this black box from the outside.
The build utilizes a BeagleBone to communicate with the laptop’s EEPROM via the I2C bus. An oscilloscope also monitors the bus to look for a specific window every four-seconds when the computer is not accessing the bus. During that short period, the EEPROM can be read and written to. Once the window opens, the BeagleBone executes the Python script, which attempts to read the EEPROM and can also perform actions such as removing or changing the BIOS supervisor password.
Of course, tinkering with the EEPROM on a laptop has a high risk of bricking the device, and not all laptops use the same security measures or even memory addresses for things like this, so documentation and precision are key. Also, with Thinkpads of this vintage it’s possible to replace the firmware on these chips entirely with a FOSS version called libreboot, and even though the process is difficult, it’s definitely recommended.
Continue reading “Removing Supervisor Passwords And Learning Python” →
Hackers love their ThinkPads. They’re easy to work on, well documented, and offer plenty of potential for upgrades. For the more daring, there’s also a wide array of community-developed modifications available. For example, [Berry Berry Sneaky] has recently put together a step-by-step guide on swapping the common ThinkPad rectangular charging port (also used on ThinkBooks and other Lenovo machines) for USB-C Power Delivery.
Now to be clear, this is not a new concept. But between freely sharing the STL for the 3D printed adapter, providing a full parts list, and providing clear instructions on how to put it all together, [Berry Berry Sneaky] has done a fantastic job of making this particular modification as approachable as possible. For the cost of a common PDC004 Power Delivery “trigger” module and a bit of PETG filament, you can add yet another device to the list of things that work with your shiny new USB-C charger.
While not strictly necessary, [Berry Berry Sneaky] recommends getting yourself a replacement DC input cable for your particular machine before you crack open the case. That will let you assemble everything ahead of time, making the installation a lot quicker. It will also let you keep the original rectangular power jack intact so you can swap it back in if something goes wrong or you decide this whole unified charging thing isn’t quite what you hoped for.
Not a member of the ThinkPad Army? No worries. We’ve seen a lot of interest in using these configurable USB-C trigger modules to upgrade all manner of devices to the new Power Delivery standard or sometimes put together custom battery chargers for their older mobile gadgets.
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.
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.