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.

Every Computer Recycling Project Needs a Dog!

Any time I go out, I know the routine.

Leave the house, tell Rack to “Watch the House”.   It brings good luck and more importantly it lets Rack know that he’s going to have a block of time to be quiet and chill out.

A McNab Dog doesn’t ever completely Chill.  They’re the Business Analysts or Project Managers of the Canine world.  Give them a task, they will perform it flawlessly, and they will perform it until they have been told they are off duty. 

How does your Herding Dog go off duty?  I’m not completely sure, I’ve never seen him off duty.   Even when I’m asleep in bed at night, he’s watching over things making sure all is well.

When I come back, I know that anything I have brought in is going to get a thorough examination.  Sniffed completely for information, your Herding Dog knows what you did, where you went, and what you are bringing into the house whether you like it or not.   He may not understand that that plastic bag is from the supermarket but he sure knows that you’ve just tried to sneak in some Doggie Snacks along with the Peanut Butter, Marshmallows, and Graham Crackers.

Don’t share too much with them, they just get fat and sugar will surely rot their teeth.

A while back my house got filled with a computer recycling project.  There was a stack of laptops that needed to be looked into.  Triage – the act of looking at something, determining whether it is alive, dead, or can be resurrected, is done on all of them.  This time I was lucky.  100 Percent good!  They will all find some new homes and new purposes.

The whole time I was working on this one particular machine, passing it back and forth around the house, setting it up on a table, then my lap, then on Kevin to do some more configuration, Rack was paying attention.

Wet nose would snuffle around the edges.  The one machine kept breathing a mild smell of tobacco smoke.  Why someone would want to smoke is beyond me, the drug of tobacco takes more than it gives, but that is not something I will allow in the house.  I’ll be giving it another cleaning to try to help.  Maybe a wipe down with some products on the way.

Someone will end up with that and I hope I can dampen that smell.

But Rack noticed it.  The entire time the machine was being worked with that wet nose was snuffling along.

Finally the evening wound down like my clock when the weight landed on top of the water jug, it came to a stop.  It was time for me to set that machine aside and prepare to go out into the evening for our final walk.

Wet nose went into action as I walked out of the room.  He tried to log into the computer.

Rack snuffled the machine and started to lick the little finger recognition strip on the computer.  Not once

but eight times.  To its credit, Windows 7 tried to talk to Rack.

Would you like to set up your log in?

No, I’m a dog.

Would you like to set up your log in?

You are tasty but no thanks.

Would you like to set up your log in?

What was this person eating?  I think it was a she, I’m sure.

Would you like to set up your log in?

No, but it kind of tastes like what dad was eating!

Rack!  Stop that, you shouldn’t lick the laptop!

Silly dog, just wants to help but he doesn’t realize that he doesn’t have opposable thumbs. 

Windows 7 is good for a lot of things, and works fairly well, but it is not for dogs.

I’ll get the cleaners out.  I’m sure it needs more help.  The smell will fade but … Aww Rack, leave the laptop alone!

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!

Thinkpad too hot? Here’s what to do

I’ve had a series of Thinkpad laptops over the years.  By the time I get them, they are always “surplus” machines, and I can still get my use out of them.  Usually, I get them at 3 years, and I can get at least another three out of them.

If the Thinkpads have a weak spot in them, they always run hot.   At least the ones I have had do.   When I got this, the first thing I did was to “flea dip” the machine.  It was filthy, and encrusted from the last owner’s … funk.  It also required that I blow out the fans to get the dust and grime out of them.

The problem was that getting to use the machine meant getting it hot.  After using the machine for about an hour, I’d look at my leg and realize that it’s basically turned into something that resembled a lobster.

I’ve had this happen with each of the hand-me-down Thinkpads that I owned.

Luckily there is a solution.  Each time I get a new Thinkpad, I end up “testing” the same piece of software and it’s called “TPFC”.  ThinkPad Fan Control.

I had found this link for the software, and if that does not work, do a search for “Thinkpad Fan Control” and start reading.

The sensors and all the software heavy lifting work has been done for you.  This particular version I am running goes out and takes control of the fans under Windows from the hardware and will keep the speed up.

Sure it is noisier, but you won’t end up with sweaty Lobster Legs.

There are other tricks but this is a good one if you’re using a Thinkpad.

I found the full discussion for the software at this link.   One thing to concern yourself with is that it is also possible that it just won’t work.   They try to keep this up to date, but it is somewhat “experimental”.  The only thing I can say is that it “worked for me but it may not work for you”.  Luckily Lenovo has kept the same hardware controllers that IBM had on the older models – however that is NOT a guarantee.

The software was a download, unzip and double click on the “setup.exe” file inside the zip.  There is a read me file in there too to help you figure out how to configure it, but I just set the thing to run at full on Manual which was how it was set up when I started it.

Once that is done, you will need to do two things.
1) go to the folder C:\tpfancontrol\ in explorer and run the link “Install Service”.
2) TPFanControl from the start menu and drag and drop it into your start up folder.  Now it will run every time you start up the laptop.

You Mileage May Vary – but my legs are not red.

Good luck!  Hope it helps!

Oh one other thing that I found out – if you pop the DVD/CD drive out of the bay and run your machine, airflow is better and it will stay cooler without software.  That *may* be just enough.