Chimæra X230

This is my pet notebook. I call it the "Chimæra X230", and you will see why: it came to me as a incomplete Thinkpad x230 with a broken display. Then it got the display panel from a Thinkpad x250, keyboard and ram from aThinkpad t520, webcam from a Thinkpad E530, Speakers from a MacBook A1278, wifi module from a Latitude E7440 (probably) and two SSDs (one SATA and one MSATA) from a genuine pile of parts. Instant Chimæra, there you have it.
For a given value of "instant". Obviously, the new display panel utilizes an incompatible connection scheme (eDP vs LVDS). There are some DP lanes in the docking port connector, and as it is, of course someone had managed to design a little something, Nitrocaster's mod PCB, to connect eDP based panels to two of those DP lanes. -And he even $file sells it!- SOLD OUT
Oh, the older keyboaord has to be modified a bit to (mostly) work. And of course Lenovo whitelists Wifi modules, because why not, and my very nice 7260 would not work. Except there is $file coreboot, a open source firmware which obviously does nothing as stupendously stupid as whitelisting.

System

  • Lenovo Thinkpad X230, 2012 12.5" Sub-Notebook, 1340g - 1670g # weight depends on battery installed
    • Coreboot Boot
    • ACPI events , ACPI keys
    • S2R , S2D
    • power consumption 8.2W # I would consider that bad nowadays, but this thing ist old enough for it to be fine
  • Intel QM77 Express
    • Fan control # By default pretty noisy. I will replace the fan, but fan control is still good to have
  • Intel Core i5-3320M (2 Cores, 2.6GHz, 35W TDP)
    • cpufreq # via pstates
  • 2 DDR3-1600 slots # up to 16GB
  • Intel HD 4000 Graphics
  • 2 mPCIe Slots
    • PCI Express
    • SATA
    • USB
  • 1 Cardbus Slot
    • Beast EXP GDC (ExpressCard) # Needs to be inserted after boot
      • Gigabyte Windforce GTX 750 Ti
    • Gemaltec Cardreader (ExpressCard) # Only one card slot, so one has to decide...
  • Intel 82579LM Gigabit Ethernet
  • LITEONIT LMT-256 MSATA, TOSHIBA THNSFJ25 SATA
  • 2 USB 3.0 Type A Ports
  • 1 USB 2.0 Type A Ports # probably has some sort of always power feature
  • Mini-DP 1.? / VGA ?
  • Intel Wireless 7260
    • Managed Mode ?
    • Bluetooth
  • Realtek ALC3202 audio codec
    • Headset connector
    • MacBook Pro 13" A1278 Speakers # Sound is still terrible :D
    • Microphone ? # Bottom side of screen
  • 12.5" matte FHD IPS (nitrocaster mod, panel from X250)
    • Brightness control
  • SD card reader
  • Webcam 720p (from Thinkpad E530) # pretty poor quality
  • Touchpad , Trackpoint
  • Thinkpad T520 Keyboard # Needs a physical mod and a BIOS mod to work properly
  • Battery ~48Wh # 3rd party Green Cell 73Wh (same size as the original 90Wh)

But why?

The **30 series as a whole (x230, t430, t530, ...) marked the end of an era for Thinkpads. The following **40 series brought a change in design and philosophy to the Thinkpad lineup. With this change, thinkpads became much slicker, smaller and lighter. More modern overall.
Before this change, ThinkPads usually although had strangely poor display despite their hefty price tags. Especially the X series. The X201s was the only one (before the X240) with a resulution better than 1280x720. It still had a rather poor TN panel. The X230 at least had an IPS option, but it also only had 1280x720. Only with the X240 Lenovo finally provied decent displays for the X series.
And there is another perk to the new line: Two batteries. One internal, one external. That really is awesome, as one can hotswap the battery. Thats awesome. But on the downside, the new design was rather flimsy, especially compared to the older design.
And then there is the keyboard. Thinkpads where always known for their exceptional good keyboards. The xx30 Series already had changed from the classic island keystyle to the more modern chicklet style. They where among the better chicklet Keyboards, but still. If one likes island keys better, even good chicklets are not perfect.
I actually owned a X250. It was ok. The second battery is nice, but for me it simply was not as useful as i had expected. The keyboard was ok, but just that. The build quality was still ok, but everything was flimsy, especially the display. I did not really liked it. I felt like i had to be careful with it. And thats not a thing i like on a device i carry around all the time. I know how a notebook should look. And feel. I still used a T520 daily. I had a X200 before. And before that an T60 and a X40. Those where great.
So. The newest Thinkpad which still had the great Keyboard was the X220. Only the rare and expensive i7 variant had USB 3. The X230 was the newest with the classic case style. It had USB 3 but chicklet keys. And it was not available with a decent display. Except...
You see, people had found out the xx20 series keyboard could be modified to fit and work in the xx30 series. And then there was this dude, nitrocaster, who had developed (and sold) a mod kit which allowed one to install (probably) any fitting modern eDP panel (as long as it only needed 2 display port lanes). And finally, the great people at coreboot wizarded very good support for the X230. Some nother neat hacks and mods where floating around, too.

An icky start


I had bought nitrocaster's mod kit in mid to late 2019. I did not even had an X230 at that time, but i thought i better get it before it vanishes. Its still available (fall 2022), but eh, better save than sorry. Then, in late 2020 i finally bought my X230. As intended, it had a broken display. Makes it cheaper and i intended to replace it anyways.
It had some more issues, though. Issues the seller had somehow forgotten to tell me. Some sticky corrosive liquid had seeped into it. The Trackpoint was broken off, some Keycaps where missing and everything was covered in some strangely horrible, sticky grime. And it absolutely reeked.
Of curse the seller did not reply to my complaint. And rather than grinding my mental health on that guy, i decided to take it as a challange. I had to dismantle the thing anyway. So, some ferociously cleaning every single plastic part took care of the grime and sticky residue. I binned the keyboard which was to be replaced anyway.
Only then i noticed that the sticky black liquid that had gotten into it had partly corroded the mainboard. Or so it seemed. After some cleaning with isopropyl alcohol it became clear that only the solder mask was gone in some areas, mostly around the SD card slot. That and the USB port besides it had black corrosion on the contacts, but with some contact cleaner very light abrisave got rid of that.
After a quick check to see if everything was working fine i soldered on the little extra PCB from nitrocaster's modkit. I pilfered the display from my X250, a really nice 1920x1080 IPS panel. It lacked the necessary mounting brackets, but with some padding and metal scraps i could improvised something. A new display for the X250 is ordered as i want to sell it.
Then i scrounged my T520's keyboard (they are the same over each series for all models), modified it (and ordered a new one for the T520) and slapped it on my Chimæra. A firmware patch is needed for all keys to work, but its actually quite simple to apply.
I had a 2.5" SSD and a MSATA one (both 256GB) lie about to replace the mechanical harddrive it came with. This model came with a single 4GB SODIMM, so i pinched a second one from my T520 (and replaced it with a 2GB one i had around). As my model lacked the webcam i bought a used one from some E-Series thinkpad (this webcam module is used in many models).
Then i compiled a installed coreboot. Thats a bit tricky as one needs to directly flash to the two SPI flash chips. There plenty of good guides, though.
Lenovos firmware prohibits the use of arbitrary wifi modules. Thus, afte corebooting my Chimæra i could finally replace the shitty fatory one with nice one i had at hand.
Then i gutted the original speaker bar and replaced the exquistely bad stock speackers with spare one for an iPad. The sound is still not even decent. But enough to watch a video.
Finally i bought some spare parts: a sticker set (as i retrofitted a webcam i had a fully opaque webcam cover), new rubber feet, a new touchpad surface and a new fan.

Modern 12.5" FHD IPS display panel

This is Mod Kit as send from Nitrocaster's shop. The PCB is to be soldered onto the mainbaord and connected via the FFC to the old display connector. The cable connects the display to the PCB.

See the seven through-holes on the top left? Those have to be aligned with seven of the vias from the original docking connector on the mainboard. And then soldered _through_ and onto the aforementioned vias. Thats finicky. Use a fine tip, tin the vias and through holes, add some flux and solder from above. Worked for me ;)
There are some instructions from Nitrocaster too. Even the spacing is not too bad. Its really not too bad if you have some soldering experience. Might be quite hard if its your first try, though.
After soldering it can, and should, be tested on the fly (see image on the right). The displays mentioned in the documentation are now near unobtanium. I actually robbed mine from my X250. Fitting replacements for that where still available, but none of the recommended brands.

Island-style x220 Keyboard


Thinkwiki has good instructions on that. Its really pretty easy, just isolate one contact and flash a patched firmware on the embedded controller. If i aint mistaken this has to be done before flashing coreboot.

Dem Bob seine Bits


I have a metric butload of Dell Chargers. And my main machine is a Dell too. Thus i crossgraded my Chimæra to a Dell connector too. They are available as spare parts on Ebay.
Also Stickers! Have a planning shot :D

eGPU EXP GDC


Back in 2017 oder '16 i bought a Beast EXP GDC for ExpressCard. Thats a then very cheap eGPU solution which still can be found on Ebay or AliExpress or such.
These things are basically a PEG slot and a little bit of power electronics in a plastic box plus a cable to connect it to a single PCIe lane, which in turn is usually extracted from a Mini Card slot or a ExpressCard slot (or an actual PCI Slot). As the Chimæra has a nice and obviously very accessible ExpressCard slot i use it. The two Mini Card Slots are in use anyways.
Power can come from any 12V source or an ATX PSU or a Dell DA-220 Power Brick (which was originally intended for god knows what a boring mundane thing). I originally had one of those DA-220 because. When i bought the stuff i intended to use it as my main gaming rig with a powerfull GPU. Never did that, and now for this i have a frugal GTX 750 Ti with a TDP of just 60W.
I also printed a really neat $file case for it. The original was a bit to big for my printer, but as my card is very short also i could just shorten the case by 25mm. Its printed in silk black PLA and this incredible translucent green PLA i got from friends for birthday.
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