Teensy Liberates the ThinkPad Keyboard

[Frank Adams] liked the keyboard on his Lenovo ThinkPad T61 so much that he decided to design an adapter so he could use it over USB with the Teensy microcontroller. He got the Trackpoint working, and along the way managed to add support for a number of other laptop boards as well. Before you know it, he had a full-blown open source project on his hands. Those projects can sneak up on you when you least expect it…

The first step of the process is getting your laptop keyboard of choice connected up to the Teensy, but as you might expect, that’s often easier said than done. They generally use a flexible printed circuit (FPC) “ribbon cable” of some type, but may also be terminated in any number of weirdo connectors. [Frank] goes over the finer points of getting these various keyboards connected to his PCB, from searching the usual suspects such as Aliexpress and Digikey for the proper connector to throwing caution to the wind and cutting off problematic nubs and tabs to make it fit.

You might be on your own for figuring out the best way to connect your liberated keyboard up, but [Frank] has done his part by designing a few PCBs which handle routing the appropriate connections to the Teensy LC or 3.2 microcontroller. He’s such a swell guy he’s even written the firmware for you. As of right now there’s currently a dozen keyboards supported by his software and hardware setup, but he also gives tips on how to get the firmware modified for your own board if you need to.

It should come as no surprise that it was a Thinkpad keyboard that got [Frank] going down this path; as we’ve documented over the years, hackers love their Thinkpads. From fitting them with more modern motherboards to going full on matryoshka and putting a second computer inside of one, it’s truly the laptop that launched a thousand hacks.

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The Best Laptop Gets Even Better

The ThinkPad is the greatest laptop ever created. It doesn’t come in rose gold, it comes in black. It doesn’t have a weird screen instead of an escape key. For less than half the price of a MacBook, you can have a capable laptop that will somehow fit three drives inside. It’s madness, but it’s still not the perfect tool for hacking. To get there, you’re going to need to load that thing up with an independent Linux system, and maybe a solderless breadboard. That’s what [ollie] is doing with his ThinkPad, and the results are the perfect addition to the perfect laptop.

This build is really just a 3D printed drive caddy for the Thinkpad UltraBay, the modular standard that allows you to add a CD drive, SATA drive, or even a serial and parallel port to your laptop. [ollie] is modeling this off the CD drive taken from a ThinkPad T420, so we’re looking at a ‘Serial Ultrabay Enhanced’ version of this standard, which is compatible with a T430, which is still the best laptop you can possibly buy.

Inside this 3D printed drive caddy is a Raspberry Pi Zero W, powered by the ThinkPad through the internal SATA connector. The Pi Zero has right-angle headers attached, giving access to the GPIO pins from the outside. Just to add a little flair, [ollie] added an OLED display to show the IP address, the CPU load, and the memory availability of the Pi.

This is a great project, if only because no one has any use for a CD drive anymore. Since these UltraBay drives are huge, it would be a simple matter to add a much more powerful computer to the drive like the recently announced Raspberry Pi 3 Model A+. There are — or at least there should be — some interesting internal connections on that UltraBay port, and it’s not inconceivable this Raspberry Pi UltraBay could be used as a coprocessor of sorts for its host laptop.

Installing LibreBoot the (Very) Lazy Way

Recently I was given a somewhat crusty looking ThinkPad T400 that seemed like it would make a good knock around machine to have on the bench, if it wasn’t for the fact the person who gave it to me had forgotten (or perhaps never knew) the BIOS password. Cleaning the machine up, putting more RAM in it, and swapping the wheezing hard drive for an SSD would be a relatively cheap way to wring a few more years of life from the machine, but not if I couldn’t change the boot order in BIOS.

Alright, that’s not entirely true. I could have installed an OS on the SSD from my desktop and then put it into the T400, but there was something else at play. The locked BIOS gave me the perfect excuse to install LibreBoot on it, which is one of those projects I’ve had in the back of my mind for years now. Replacing the BIOS with something entirely different would solve the password issue, but there was only one problem: the instructions for flashing LibreBoot onto the T400 are intimidating to say the least.

You’re supposed to take the entire machine apart, down to pulling the CPU cooler off and removing the display. All so you can flip the motherboard over to access a flash chip between the CPU and RAM that’s normally covered by a piece of the laptop’s frame. Oh how I hated that diabolical chunk of magnesium which kept me from my silicon quarry. Flashing the chip would take a few minutes, but YouTube videos and first hand accounts from forums told me it could take hours to disassemble the computer and then put it back together after the fact.

Deep into that darkness I peered, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting. Then a thought came to me: maybe I could just cut the thing. If it was a success, it would save me hours of work. If it failed, well, at least the computer didn’t cost me anything. Time to roll the dice.

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Windows for Workgroups 3.11 in 2018

It’s been 25 years since Microsoft released Windows for Workgroups 3.11. To take a trip back to the end of the 16-bit era of operating system, [Yeo Kheng Meng] got WFW 3.11 running on a modern Thinkpad.

To make things difficult, a few goals were set for the project. Obviously, this wouldn’t be much fun in a virtual machine, so those were banned. A video driver would be needed, since WFW 3.11 only supports resolutions up to 640×480 in software. Some basic support for sound would be desirable. Finally, TCP/IP networking is possible in WFW 3.11, so networking hardware would allow access modern internet.

[Yeo Kheng Meng] accomplished all of these goals on a 2009 Thinkpad T400 and throughly documented the process. Some interesting hacks were required, including the design of a custom parallel port sound card based on the Covox Speech Thing. Accessing HTTPS web servers required a man-in-the-middle attack to strip SSL, since the SSL support on WFW 3.11 is ancient and blocked by most web servers today.

If you want your own WFW 3.11 laptop, the detailed instructions will get you there. [Yeo Kheng Meng] has also provided the hardware design for the sound card. You can watch a talk on the process after the break.

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Biometric Authentication with a Cheap USB Hub

It’s fair to say that fingerprints aren’t necessarily the best idea for device authentication, after all, they’re kind of everywhere. But in some cases, such as a device that never leaves your home, fingerprints are an appealing way to speed up repetitive logins. Unfortunately, fingerprint scanners aren’t exactly ubiquitous pieces of hardware yet. We wouldn’t hold out much hope for seeing a future Raspberry Pi with a fingerprint scanner sitting on top, for example.

Looking for a cheap way to add fingerprint scanning capabilities to his devices, [Nicholas] came up with a clever solution that is not only inexpensive, but multi-functional. By combining a cheap USB hub with a fingerprint scanner that was intended as a replacement part of a Thinkpad laptop, he was able to put together a biometric USB hub for around $5 USD.

After buying the Thinkpad fingerprint scanner, he wanted to make sure it would be detected by his computer as a standard USB device. The connector and pinout on the scanner aren’t standard, so he had to scrape off the plastic coating of the ribbon cable and do some probing with his multimeter to figure out what went where. Luckily, once he found the ground wire, the order of the rest of the connections were unchanged from normal USB.

When connected to up his Ubuntu machine, the Thinkpad scanner came up as a “STMicroelectronics Fingerprint Reader”, and could be configured with libpam-fprintd.

With the pintout and software configuration now known, all that was left was getting it integrated into the USB hub. One of the hub’s ports was removed and filled in with hot glue, and the fingerprint scanner connected in its place. A hole was then cut in the case of the hub for the scanner to peak out of. [Nicholas] mentions his Dremel is on loan to somebody else at the moment, and says he’ll probably try to clean the case and opening up a bit when he gets it back.

[Nicholas] was actually inspired to tackle this project based on a Hackaday post he read awhile back, so this one has truly come full circle. If you’d like to learn more about fingerprint scanning and the techniques being developed to improve it, we’ve got some excellent articles to get you started.

Powering A Laptop With Supercapacitors

What do you do when you find a small horde of supercapacitors? The correct answer is a spectrum of dangerous devices ranging from gauss guns to quarter shrinkers. [Rinoa] had a less destructive idea: she’s replaced the battery in a laptop with a bank of supercapacitors.

The supercaps in question are 2.7 Volt, 500 Farad caps arranged in banks six for a total of about 3 watt-hours in each bank. The laptop used for this experiment is an IBM Thinkpad from around 1998. The stock battery in this laptop is sufficiently less advanced than today’s laptop batteries. Instead of using a microcontroller and SMBus in the battery, the only connections between the battery and laptop are power, ground, and connections for a thermocouple. This is standard for laptops of the mid-90s, and common in low-end laptops of the early 2000s. It also makes hacking these batteries very easy as there’s no associated microprocessors to futz around with.

With all the capacitor banks charged, the laptop works. It should – there isn’t a lot of intelligence in this battery. With one bank of six supercaps, [Rinoa] is getting a few minutes of power on her laptop. With a stack of supercaps that take up about the same volume as this already think Thickpad, [Rinoa] can play a few turns of her favorite late-90s turn-based strategy game. It’s not much, but it does work.

Check out [Rinoa]’s video below.

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A Personal Fight Against The Modern Laptop

If you haven’t gone laptop shopping recently, you’re in for a big shock when you do. While the current generation of MacBook Pros is rightly torn to shreds for being an overpriced machine with a stupid gimmick of a Touch Bar, there are issues with laptops across the industry. No one has figured out how to take a high-res iPad screen and add a keyboard, most laptops with a display smaller than 13 inches are capped at 720 resolution, new features are introduced at the expense of old ones, binary blobs are cast into a web of BIOS whitelists and missing drivers, No, the Microsoft Surface doesn’t count, because while it’s a nice machine it’s a tablet with a keyboard, not a laptop.

After months of searching, [Hamish Coleman] found the closest thing to a perfect laptop. It’s a Thinkpad X230 from the ancient days of yore, or 2012 depending on how you’re counting. It’s close to perfect, though: aside from an old CPU and GPU, the only real show stopper is the keyboard. Replacing that keyboard was [Hamish]’s personal fight against the modern laptop (YouTube, embedded below), and he’s making it easier for us to fight against the current crop of craptops, too.

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