Thinkpad X201 Disassembly and The Flu

I have to ask myself what is this fascination of tearing apart computers when I have “a cold”.  In this case, The Cold turned out to be The Flu.  It wasn’t fun.  I’m at about day 5 and this is the first day that I’m clear enough to sit down and write.

The back story goes that I was handed a wee little laptop.  Thinkpad X201 if you are following along.  It’s a pocket rocket of a machine, i7 processor, 8GB of memory, 500 GB mechanical hard drive.  All of that was crammed into a 12 inch case.  It predates the whole “Ultrabook” computer thing where people started building machines that were thin, light, and powerful.  The Mac Book Air is a prime example of what they tried to emulate.

I think they got the power right.  I was told “I have data on this that I need recovered, then see what you can do with it, it’s got a heat problem”.

What Thinkpad doesn’t?  Lenovo switched to a heat sink compound a while back that has the consistency of Silly Putty or dried tub caulk.   That is to say that it dries out and flakes away.  I found that out later when I opened the machine and had little grey bits of goo fall out onto the table.

What I did was to recover the data, there wasn’t much because the machine was not trusted, and then reload it.  It came with Windows 7 so I reinstalled that, then I made sure that Windows 10 would never get onto the machine by turning Windows Update to manual only and checked each update on the list to make sure it wasn’t rumored to be either Windows 10 Related or Windows Telemetry.  I don’t like what Microsoft is doing to a once very stable operating system and neither should you.

There is also a registry setting that will help keep that horrible pest off your computer, but if you have that little nag box sitting in your task bar you can be guaranteed that you will be “upgraded” to Windows 10 Home.

No.  Not on your best day.  I am not allowing that.

When I was chatting with someone he suggested I put it on a torture test and recommended Prime 95 which calculates prime numbers.  It also turns any given machine into a furnace.  I was typing in chat that it was playing well when “Black Screen”.  The processor hit 100C and turned off.   Yes, as in Boiling Water Temperature.  Processors these days tend to run 50C or cooler.  100C under load is going to shorten the life of the machine.  It needed help.

I found a series of videos, one that showed how to disassemble the machine so that the motherboard could be removed.  The second one showed the reverse order how to reassemble it.  By the time I had fully tore this little machine apart, I had nothing left in the case and a mother board on the table with the heat sink below it with a few random coins for size comparison.

If you are curious, there’s a game token, a penny, a UK Pound and a UK Two Pound coin.

I ran that video in stop motion, and every time that the author removed a screw, I removed the same.  It took me about 20 minutes to tear it down.  The picture at the top is the result.  The blue squares are the processors and the heat sink compound.  They were cleaned with Rubbing Alcohol, and the lot was reassembled with the second video one screw at a time.

So if it was so straightforward, why am I writing about it?  So I have the info for later.  Complete with the videos.

Oh, make sure you have a little cup to put all those little screws into.  There were two sizes and they have to be put back in the same holes.  Luckily the video went “Large Screw” first, “Small Screw” Second.

Good luck, Future Me if you have to tear it down.  But after a week of beating it up, it’s a great little laptop to go onto its owner if I can convince him to take it back!

And if you are not “Future Me”, the Standard Internet Warranty applies – this is at your own risk, if your following these instructions turn your laptop into a dragon that consumes you or starts a fire, or causes any sort of damage, you are on your own because I can’t take any responsibility for that.

Besides, I still have the flu.

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A Security Camera View On The World

Lately I’ve been preoccupied.

When we’re home, I have video to look at.

What you see here is my view on the world.  I have another three cameras to place, and we already know where they will go.

It started with me getting “A Deal” on a security camera set up.   It came with no hard drive, so once we got one of those, dropped it in the machine with a cable and four screws, we were on our way.  Not too shabby for $150 US.  It came with eight cameras and a bunch of wires, mounts, and power bricks. 

Low price to live on the set of The Truman Show.  No, I will not allow cameras inside the house.  That’s just Beyond The Pale.

The machine is self maintaining, so none of the usual “Operating System Twiddling” that everyone was used to.  There is a whole world of terminology to learn.  I had done all this before.   I “Specified, Procured, and Deployed” two of these same units at the mall that I was the IT Director for.

The hardest part of setting the second one of these up is running wires in uncomfortable places. 

The hardest part of setting up the first is learning all the terminology.

Things like “TVL”, IR, and PTZ become second nature after a while.

You have to know that the more TVL you have, the better the picture.  TVL being TV Lines, which is just how “HD” your HDTV Picture would be.  These cameras are only 640 lines so they’re below HDTV spec, around the same as your old square Standard Def TV used to be.

IR is Infrared.  In this case, each camera has a ring of 28 infrared LEDs around the lens.  They glow red at night, and some may not even be able to see that frequency due to color blindedness.  In my case, they’re quite bright and give me a view on the world of everything that goes on at night.

PTZ is something I truly want simply for the flexibility and the Coolness Factor.  Stands for “Point, Tilt, Zoom” and it’s something you need to be able to do even if you never get a camera that will support it.  It will allow an operator, you or me, to Point or Tilt the camera at something, and then Zoom in on it.

Just like any technology, there is a world of jargon to fool the outsiders. 

Add to it that the Chinese who wrote the manual wrote it in crystal clear “Engrish“.  Which is to say there was a passing acquaintance with the rules of English Grammar.   They passed the rules when they were on the bus in the town center.  They were in the book store they rode past at 50KPH.  They didn’t read the rules, but the book was there.

So you have to step back and read between the lines.  The documentation is there, and you just may be able to figure it all out.  Once you do you can twiddle and I have a stack of settings that I can twiddle with.  Getting all that set just so is the goal.  Motion Detection should be just enough that you’re not looking at 8 hours of uninterrupted video every night.  The IR light should not be reflecting against the eaves of the house so you’re looking at solid grey video.   There is a screen where I can block off certain areas of the screen from Motion Detection at all meaning if something happens in the upper third or the neighbor’s house, I don’t care.  I can tell it not to record during certain hours which I’m trying to figure a reason that would be helpful. 

All that is really quite involved.  Just like anything it’s the sum of the parts.  A lot of little parts make a system.

Unfortunately, the software has limits.  The web interface only runs on Internet Explorer which runs like molasses on my i7 laptop, and like crap everywhere else.  The query function is creaky.  I could write some serious improvements to the system if I had “root access” to the operating system but even that isn’t available.  The help messages are written badly, more of that Engrish. 

That’s one very strong reason why this sort of thing should be open.  Chinese Software is horrid.  Give me a LAMP server and let me write my own PHP code or Java.

But it does work, after a fashion, and it is open enough that third party software will work with it – if you are brave enough to try to get it to.

So if you’re coming down the block, wave hello to the camera.  I’m sure I’ll get to watch it on the DVR.

Replacing the Heatsink Fan in a Thinkpad T60

I have an old workhorse of a laptop that had a fan go bad on the heatsink.  It sounded like someone was rolling a plastic jar down a table with a marble in it.  We replaced the machine, but I didn’t want to throw this one out.  I kept it for “parts” but kept it running.

Finally one day I decided to try one last time to find a cheap heatsink or fan for the old machine.  Instead of throwing out a machine that worked, I was able to replace the fan for $7 from a vendor on Amazon.  It took three weeks to get here from Shenzhen in China, but after about 15 minutes of work, I now have a perfectly good computer. 

The fan works like a champ, and now the computer breathes instead of rattles.

Remember, this is more than a basic repair to your computer.  Your mileage may vary – it is completely possible to have an accident that will render your computer unable to be used.  In otherwords, you can break your computer if you aren’t careful so you are following these instructions at your own risk.  There are guides online at the website at Lenovo that will also help you.   A search for “T60 Repair Manual” found me this guide that I distilled to make these notes.  Please be careful, this is something that pretty much anyone can do it they take their time, but I have seen people kill their computer because they weren’t careful.

To replace the fan, you have to remove the keyboard and loosen the back.  I have had this machine apart a number of times, so I may have misplaced a few screws.  Yes, go ahead, I do have a screw loose.  Why else would I write a blog for four years?

Make certain you have a clean work area and have discharged your static electricity since that could kill your computer.  Remove the laptop battery and power cord from the back of your T60.

The picture below shows the location of the screws circled in Yellow. 
Well, strictly speaking, they are “O”ed since Photoshop wasn’t behaving.  18 point Transport font of a Capital Letter O worked fine.

Look for the icon on the back of your machine that looks like a Keyboard.   There are five screws to remove.   Set them aside for the eventual reassembly of your machine.

This will allow you to flip over the machine and remove the Trackpad mount.   Remember to be gentle since the trackpad is connected to the motherboard with a thin ribbon cable.  The cable will pop off the motherboard with a snap.

Second, remove the keyboard.   It should lift right up, however, there is a thin ribbon cable underneath it connecting it to the motherboard.  As you can see in the next pictures, I simply set it back on top of the computer.  Depending on how brave you are, you can do either.

The seven screws holding down the upper bezel, the heat sink clamp, and the heat sink itself can be removed now.  Set them aside.  Remove the clamp for the heat sink, flip the grey wire out of the clamp that holds down the bezel at the top center of the laptop, and finally you can remove the heat sink itself from its place on the motherboard.

Remember that there will be a wire for the old fan that needs to be removed from the motherboard.  Make a note of where it goes and how the plug goes back onto the motherboard for later.

When all the pieces have been gently removed, your laptop will look like this picture.

At this point, your machine has been disassembled.  You now need to bend vertical the copper clips holding the fan to the heat sink so that the old fan may be removed.  Do so gently, but firmly.  You need the copper clips to be intact to attach the new fan, so don’t break the things! 

The fan will be held in place with a piece of tape, in the case of my machine, Aluminium tape.  It will also have the wire held in place with a clip.  Gently remove the wire from the clip on the heat sink.   Bend the fan out of the way so that the tape is holding the fan.  If the fan does not lift up from the heat sink easily, check to make sure the clips are all bent away from the old fan.  I removed the fan from the tape – you will need that tape so that air flow will be maintained.

To mount your new fan, place it in the same spot as the old fan.  Attach the tape to the fan to hold it in place, then bend the copper clips in place as the picture above shows.

The replacement of the heat sink goes as follows:

I cleaned off the three contact points on the motherboard – The CPU, Video Chip, and the third contact point (what ever the thing was!). 

Then, I reshaped the grey heat sink putty to be more square for when I replace the heat sink.  I placed one drop of heat sink grease on each of the heat sink putty blobs since I had it, but I doubt it is strictly necessary.

I lifted the bezel and connected the wires for the fan to the motherboard.

I slid the heat sink assembly back in place.

Screwed down the heatsink, then the silver clip, then the bezel with the screws that I removed before.

Placing the keyboard ribbon cable in its connector, then the keyboard in place, followed by the Trackpad ribbon connector and the Trackpad mount were next.

Then I flipped the machine over and replaced all the five screws that I removed at the beginning of this exercise.

At this point you may replace the power cord and battery to the computer.

I was able to power on the machine and it came back up.  Allow the machine to come to operating temperature and you will hear the fan the entire time if you place your ear next to the heat sink vents.

If you forgot to connect your fan to the motherboard, the T60 will beep at you and display “FAN ERROR” on the screen, then immediately shut off.

In my case, I was able to use the machine immediately and allow the machine to out and update the operating system while playing a few games and surfing pages.  My old machine was fully functional again!

Harvesting Laptop Batteries for a few 18650 Cells

Ok, First the warnings:

Don’t Try This At Home.
If you do this wrong, you could be exposing yourself to this list and other things that I am not remembering:

  • Explosion
  • Fire
  • Caustic Chemicals – acid or base
  • Poisonous Chemicals
  • Extreme Heat
  • Sharp Edges
  • Delayed Reaction of any of the above
  • Maybe even more, really it can be quite dangerous

If you do this, it is at your own risk, I take no responsibility.  You’re a big person, make your own choices…

Even once you have taken these things apart, you must, MUST charge the batteries in a charger that is specifically designed for the purpose.  If you charge the batteries in an unapproved manner by using too much voltage or too much current you’ll have that list above to contend with. 

As the video at the end of the article shows, they do explode.

Really these are dangerous objects.  Be careful.

On the other hand, if you are using a laptop, chances are you had one sitting on your leg or your belly safely.  You just didn’t try to puncture the thing.

Laptop Batteries are a strange beast.  They come in a couple different types.  I’ve seen “Flat” batteries like the one in your cell phone, and I’ve seen ones that look like a AA battery on steroids.  Those are 18650 batteries.  The laptop I am using uses six of those cells in series to power the machine for 3 hours.

The reason I looked into all this weird danger is that I have a flashlight that I depend on.  It puts out as much light as a 75 watt light bulb in a very tight beam – 1200 Lumens.  With a 18650 instead of the 3 AAA battery pack, it throws more light.  This light is really more than anyone needs to follow a dog at night, but when you live in an area with power pops, blackouts, hurricanes, and other strange events, you need a bright light.

Since the 18650 is rechargeable, I can relax about waste and pollution and so forth.

The battery pack you see in the picture has 7 of those batteries.  One was dead.  They normally do that after around 1 year of regular use so I thought to take it outside and disassemble it.  They were taped together and glued in place.  It all came apart with a little bit of wrangling.

The laptop battery packs will cost you around $90, and with these batteries, I can “refurbish” mine once it finally goes to the land of “15 minutes between charges” by finding the bad cell and replacing it.

After cutting the leads between the wires to separate them, I was able to charge all but one.  With those six, I was able to replace the batteries in a number of appliances and put them back to use.   Since each battery costs between $5 and $25, there was a significant cost savings.

As for charging, the charger was put on a long extension cord out to the cement patio and each battery was charged once to see if they “took a charge”.  They did with a few that were dead..

That flashlight?  Oh it’s much brighter than the little AAA Battery pack could have managed.

Strange weekend project but successful.  Just remember, Don’t Try This At Home, and if you insist, forget you read about it here!

The video below is more proof that this is not quite safe.  Youtube is chock full of videos of people doing stupid things to these batteries like burning them or overcharging them.  This is the result.  That result is why I went to the extremes of doing it outdoors, charging the batteries outdoors and so forth.   You just never know if you get the bad battery and you’re having a bad luck day. 

Be safe and take precautions.

OOBE and Desktop Support

I’m doing something we call “Desktop Support” this week.

It isn’t strictly speaking, Desktop Support since I am working with some 5 year old laptops, but the discipline is the same.

When Kevin came back from Key West, he brought back two computers that needed some help from someone who I do some occasional work for. A friend and in this case a client. He gets these machines about every six months and when I go down there, I set them right. I don’t mind helping him out since we’ve known each other for quite a while.

It was easier this way since he’s due to come up here – or I’m due to go down there soon. I could use a week off my quirky little island, and Key West is a fascinating place, although it’s losing a lot of that wonderful Conch flavor since the locals are being edged out and it’s changing into a combination “1% and day tripper” compound.

The first computer wouldn’t see the internet. I fixed that in five minutes – the little switch that controls Wifi was turned off. After I updated antivirus to Microsoft Security Essentials, and all the software, it’s been set aside. Got to do all this sitting in my comfy chair while watching the TV.

The second one was the trial. It may or may not have a bad hard drive on it. Starting the machine took about a half hour and then it would go “zombie” on me. Meaning it would forget it was a computer and just not do much other than run the clock and make the mouse move very slowly. I was able to grab the personal items from it and put them on the other laptop so the decision was made to completely reload this beast.

See that is where the Desktop Support comes in. It’s a 17 inch monster that will level your tables and hold down papers in a hurricane.

It also needed me to start it on its way for that reload.

5:30AM I was up, clicking on the button saying “Next” to load Windows Vista onto the hard drive before going out for the dog walk.

Yes, Windows Vista. Every Tech Guy’s least favorite current operating system.

Oddly it seems to be taking to that machine fairly well. The load took about the same time as it took me to walk Lettie, feed both her and myself, then sit down with the coffee to click through some buttons.

The problem is that I had the “Oobe Experience”.

I’m not used to home computers. I have never actually gone to a store and bought a computer retail. I’ve always gotten computers meant for the “corporate” market which means the extra software that was installed was a minimum.

This is an HP and apparently HP is well known for putting “crapware” on their computers.

Or at least they did when I started with this HP a year ago.

When you load a computer with a “retail” or “OEM” copy of windows, you get just the operating system. Period.

When you get a computer from the store meant for the home market you get all sorts of icons on the desktop that the manufacturer was paid to put there by the website or software company.

When that computer gets to me, I remove them all. No questions, they’re gone.

Why? Well all that crapware takes up space and slows you down.

When I started the computer the first time this morning, I didn’t expect it to even work, after all I suspect that the hard drive is failing. It took me about 30 minutes to come up to a desktop since all those pieces of software were coming up, demanding attention, begging for my contact information, and generally being a nuisance.

I’ll be removing all of that later. Toolbars on browsers first, since we all seem to live with browsers and the operating system is more of a background thing. I’ll be getting rid of Norton, Ebay, HP Games, MSN, Sling Box, Microsoft Office Trial, and a few others.

After all, it’s Vista. If you want to speed up a Vista computer, here’s a hint – remove it and install Windows XP or Windows 7 depending on how comfortable you are with either. I’d say Windows 7 since I’ve grown to like it but I know of a few folks who still have XP and don’t want to change.

If it becomes mine, it’s getting LinuxCentOS or Ubuntu are excellent choices, and I could use a proper Linux Server here.

One more “helpful hint”. When you are installing new software, always, I mean ALWAYS, take the “expert” or “Advanced” or “Custom” install. You will find out that you have the choice to not have the “Ask Toolbar” or the “Yahoo Toolbar” or the “Google Toolbar” added to your browser. They just slow you down and spy on what ever you are doing anyway – you simply do NOT need them.

Now why the video of the little lamb?

 It’s cute. Enjoy.

What to do with your Old Hard Drive

Simple, put it in a box and use it.

I’ve been doing this for years.  You see, for years I’ve been recycling computers by going through them and setting them back up and passing on to someone who needs them.   Sometimes I hear of a story of someone tossing their old machines and keeping the hard drive in a closet. 

Because it’s safe.

No, not really.   You see data is “forever”.   I’ve dropped memory sticks in the pool and after drying them off (and out thoroughly) they work.  Sometimes.   Sometimes not. 

But that old hard drive on a shelf?   You can still read the data. 

So today I was going through the normal morning digital chaff and found a deal for an external drive case.  It’s a little metal box into which you plug your old hard drive.  Once you assemble the stuff (two screws typically for a laptop, a few more for a desktop drive) you can plug that drive into your new computer and get the data off of it or run a program to “securely delete” the data.

Oh sure, the government and some police agencies know how to recover some of that but for the most part, the yahoo that ends up with that drive next won’t know how. 

Here is one article from an old ZDNet posting from 2007 that goes into all that secure delete deeper.  If you’re really curious and don’t want to fiddle around with weird command line stuff, there are other programs that will do a “Secure Delete”, just search your favorite search engine for the term.

The deal is that you now have what is in essence a big fat floppy drive that runs really fast.   What you do with it then is up to you, but if you’ve gone through and formatted the drive, and have an empty drive, you can treat it as a place to store a copy of your “most important data”. 

You know, things like tax records, receipts, recipes, pictures of the dog, a copy of the check you sent to me because I’m such a good guy… that kind of stuff.

Only kidding about that dog thing.

The deal is that the hard drive in your desktop machine is about the size of a paperback book.  A thick one, but a paperback book.  The hard drive in your laptop is even smaller, thinner than a cigarette pack and probably about 1/4 as thick.   You can store these things with data in them for years in a secure place like a safe deposit box or inside grandma’s mattress and not worry about all of that stuff getting lost or someone getting hold of it by trash picking it out of your bins.

Don’t throw out electronics if you can, after all it will just pollute, but you do get the idea.

What got me thinking was that I have a stack of old laptop drives in the back room, all 40GB or larger.   A memory stick of 32GB is around $32, the case cost me $4 each and I have the drives.   May as well use them.

Just make sure that when you pull the cables off the old drives you look at the connectors.  Pins mean IDE, Slot connectors (typically grey) mean SATA.   Buy the right type and it’s pretty foolproof.

You’ll sleep better knowing that there isn’t some wierdo looking over your old data.  

Spending time with Dad’s Picture

Over the weekend I did the impossible.  I fixed a printer.

Father John of New Divine Mercy Church had a printer that got into a jam.  Literally.  In fact, HP Printers have a nasty habit of doing that. 

If you have an HP Printer be exceedingly careful with clearing a paper jam because even the slightest misalignment can kill the device for you. 

We don’t know if John’s printer was broke because of that, but the flimsy thing was in a permanent jam state and refused to even go past that into “Limp Along Mode”.  In fact many of these devices ended up in the dump because these instructions do not necessarily work.

After cleaning everything with rubbing alcohol, I gave up and let it sit on the coffee table.  Giving myself a week to cool down, I attacked it again.  I got the canned air and sprayed everything liberally to blow out the dust and give myself a nasty headache.  Then I got some dental floss and threaded it in the back of the cartridge mechanism behind the famous metal strip and flossed it clean.   Finally I managed to rethread the metal strip under the guide that is hidden impossible to see behind the printer. 

Through a comedy of errors, around 5 hours of trial and error, and leaving cleaning solution on my coffee table in error, I managed to breathe life into the printer.

Yes, Frankenstein, the printer is alive.  Heroic efforts on my part saved the thing.

At that point, for the first time in years, I was the happy owner of a Scanner/Printer/Fax Machine.  It now sits on my network and I can do all of the above via the network software.

So what to do with the thing.  After all, it’s nice to have something come back to life after it was consigned to the trash bin, make it work.

I had a few pictures that I had liked from the family when I was a wee brat.  The one up at the top of the article is the one I started with.  Dad circa 1940s, back when he was a Sergeant or a Master Sergeant in the US Army.   I don’t have all the details, and dad’s been gone since 1976, so I won’t have them all, but I liked the picture and it has moved with me.

So what to do with it?  After all I can lose the picture if the house gets destroyed.  I did what I called an Archival Scan.  You see that printer will spit out 600 tiny drops of ink per inch.  I thought since that was good, I wanted photographic quality so the original scan was 2400 dots per inch.  An hour and a half to do the first scan. 

The picture is reduced for the web, but the original could be printed out in high fidelity or retouched.  I’ll probably do that some day I have an afternoon to kill, but for now, I’ve got it here in 29.1 megs of JPEG beauty. 

I’m sure it doesn’t mean much to most readers, but for my sister and some of the family, they’ll enjoy seeing him up there with my copyright written across his nose.  If they want an original, or a reduced scan, I’ll send that along.  For now, I’m enjoying being able to do that sort of thing for the first time in a very long time.

There you go, Pat!  Enjoy!