ThinkPad x301 Restoration Project: Hardware Modifications
As I have to tear at least one ThinkPad down I thought that doing some hardware modifications would be a good idea. Some things I would like to do are:
- A display mod, the stock x301 display is decent but for 2008 standards. As far as I know there are no good options for a display mod, as the x300 and x301 screens were made specifically for these laptops, but maybe a good AFFS screen can be found and substituted.
- USB-C charging, cheap USB-C PD power delivery boards can be used instead of the default charging connector, they signal compatible power supplies to deliver 20V thus charging the laptop. This is very cool because it allows old ThinkPads to be charged via modern chargers, which are among other things, much more efficient and light.
- Cleaning the fan bearing. The old bearing is, well, old and it makes an awful sound. This is not only very unpleasant but also lowers cooling and power efficiency
- Full re-paste, very basic, much needed.
- Changing the default WiFi card to a “freedom respecting” Atheros AR9382 card, from 2010 it has a maximum speed of 300Mb in download and god-knows in upload. Certified under false brands as RYF hardware by the FSF is is very well supported by open-source drivers.
- Use a microSata to MSata converter in order to use faster and more modern SSDs, this will increase the responsitivity of the machine by a lot.
- Upgrade the Bluetooth module from 2.0 to 4.0, this is not only for better speeds but also for better power saving.
- New third party battery, this is also needed on most old laptops
The Easy Stuff
This stuff is rather easy, calling replacing a card a “hardware mod” is a stretch but better put it here than somewhere else. In general a good resource for simple modifications and general information about the ThinkPad x301 is the Mc Donnell Tech website
Let’s begin with the battery, the ThinkPad x301 came with three battery options:
- Battery 49, 3 cells, 27.3 Wh
- Battery 49+, 6 cells, 43.2 Wh
- Bay Battery 50, 3 cells, resides in the UltraBay Thin slot, 23.7 Wh
The best new option is to get some third party battery with 6 cells more or less equivalent to the 49+. As for the UltraBay battery, they don’t make them new, and buying a new old stock costs an eye and a liver. Also having a DVD reader in 2021 is comfy. Buying a new battery can cost you upwards of 50€ and I’m not really sure about the difference between the third parties, I’ll have to do some more research on that.
Moving on to WiFi, the preinstalled one is an Intel 5XXX WiFi link something something. Not bad but not great, some other options are:
- Atheros AR9382, good driver support but average speeds, also this chip is used in freedom respecting hardware
- Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 (FRU 60Y3233), better speeds and power efficiency, unsure about driver support and “freedom respect”
- Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7260 Plus Bluetooth (FRU 04W3814), as the name implies it has Bluetooth builtin and even greater speeds, again tho I’m not sure about drivers and freedom. Also a hardware mod may be required for it to work.
NOTE: all these cards can be installed only after flashing a new BIOS with the device whitelist removed, a good resource on that is once-again Mc Donnell’s website.
Onto Bluetooth, there are a couple of FRUs (cards) that will work out of the box (and for all I know at all), there are:
- The preinstalled BT 2.0 boards
- FRU 60Y3303 Bluetooth 4.0 from Foxconn
- FRU 60Y3305 Bluetooth 4.0 from Liteon
One of the 4.0 cards will serve me nicely, as far as I know there is no real difference between the two so no stress in picking one or the other.
Finally the micro SATA to mSATA converter board. The x301 originally used a micro SATA SSD or HDD, these come in a non-common 1.8” format which to my knowledge manufacturers no longer use. So the idea is to use a commercially available converter board along with a 3D printable caddy (source here) in order to use common mSATA SSDs.
Display Panel Replacement
Easily the hardest mod of all, since no direct swaps are possible the only way to proceed is heavily modifying either the case and/or the eDP cable (which let me tell you is not fun). But after all that trouble you can end up with a really nice AFFS display as shown here:
This image was taken from this forum post