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Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

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surplus
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Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#1 Post by surplus » Fri Dec 14, 2018 12:52 pm

Hi all,

Has anyone tried yet to replace the motherboard of an old Thinkpad with a Raspberry pi Zero W? If you don't know, the pi zero-W is a very small computer with Wifi built-in, 512 MB RAM, microSD, HDMI, some general-purpose I/O pins and one USB port.
In the case of a laptop like the 701C it would be a major upgrade in performance, although obviously it won't run Windows as it's got an ARM.
It would also require a video adapter board and some way to interface with the IBM battery.

Cheers-

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#2 Post by BillMorrow » Fri Dec 14, 2018 1:17 pm

hello and welcome to the forum..
your idea is quite interesting..
just off the top of my head, without the schematics and some pretty good skills using a 701 battery or any original battery would be pretty tricky..
i think it might be a better idea to use one of the many Li battery packs inside the 701 case.. maybe modify an original 701 battery case to a Li battery pack along with the associated charging circuitry..
as for interfacing the original 701 display to a pi Zero W would take even more skills..
might be a better thought to just locate a display panel that would fit the 701 case with more compatible electronics to the Raspberry..

all in all a provocative idea for some older thinkpads..
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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#3 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:18 pm

I'm trying this project right now, with a different vintage machine that isn't a TP.

The original screen if it ends up having a 31 pin TTL connector can be driven with an off the shelf eBay driver.

The keyboard is up to you. Depending on the unit you end up using, you will need to get a custom board made with proper ribbon connectors. A teensy/arduino can do the matrix to USB adapation. They can also help find the matrix configuration too.

The battery....well just screw using the original. The original is made up of 9 A NiCD cells(1.2V@1700mah), or about an 18650. At modern specs, so 3.7V @ 3500mah for good cells, so 116wh. That is more than my W700 has. That would run the display and the rpi for probably atleast 24hrs if not more. The pi 3 is like maybe 5w full load or 1w if the pi zero. Screen maybe 10w max brightness but an LED kit could probably bring that down to 6. So worst case scenario full load all the time, maybe 15w. That still pushing 11hrs.

You should just put in a smaller battery than that and charge it with USB or a custom charger.

To do this you will need the following:

Major engineering skills.
Very good soldering skills.
3D modeling skills or some other fabrication method for mounting(for me thats a 3D printer)
PCB cad work, but no more than beginners should be required. The board should be pretty easy to make.
And a little bit of ingenuity and creativity.

Its not an easy project and I want you to know everything you are trying to get yourself into.
Thinkpad4by3's Law of the Universe.

The efficiency of two screens equally sized with equal numbers if pixels are equal. The time spent by a 4:3 user complaining about 16:9 is proportional to the inefficiency working with a 16:9 display, therefore the amount of useful work extracted is equal.

surplus
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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#4 Post by surplus » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm

Thinkpad4by3 wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 3:18 pm
3D modeling skills or some other fabrication method for mounting(for me thats a 3D printer)
PCB cad work, but no more than beginners should be required. The board should be pretty easy to make.
And a little bit of ingenuity and creativity.
Its not an easy project and I want you to know everything you are trying to get yourself into.
Yep yep, I agree it's not easy. In retrospect using an old TP will be harder than using a newer one.

My original idea before this had been to build an entirely new custom laptop but I've never done 3D modeling although I could surely learn, but I do lack a 3D printer so iteration via Shapeways etc would be costly.

This new idea of using an old Thinkpad had appeal because of nostalgia, the nice keyboard and, if the screen has a standard interface then that could work out well. But I do now see that older systems had 40-pin LCD connectors and incompatibilities back then were an issue. I'd need to find a Thinkpad with a standard 30-pin EDP connector.

Info:
https://www.laptopscreen.com/English/se ... 1508175591

I now refine this to a few options for making a laptop:

A. Use a newer Thinkpad that has a 30pin EDP screen connection.
- Rpi Zero W with USB hub or maybe Rpi 3 A.
- Lipo cells.
- Charge controller that can tell Linux the percent remaining.
- LCD driver board known to work with the TP's display-- won't know what display it is for sure until I open it up, after buying it.
- Use Rpi I/O lines to connect to keyboard.
- Write a Linux driver to scan the keyboard?
- Or as you say, code up an Arduino for the keyboard interface.

B. Make a new laptop altogether, something as thick as the TP 380ED most likely with a parts list like this:
- Rpi Zero W with USB hub or Rpi 3 B+.
- LiPo cells.
- Charge controller that can tell Linux the percent remaining.
- Large LCD from banggood, ebay etc.
- LCD driver board
- 60% low profile USB keyboard or a low-profile Bluetooth board e.g. DREVO Joyeuse.
- Wooden enclosure to start, 3D printed later.
- Friction hinges like in a normal laptop.

C. Make a new laptop altogether, but use a large e-ink display instead of LCD but it has to allow for partial update (many don't).
Just have to accept the 1/3 second update speed :(
I'd have to modify PaperTTY driver (on github) for a bigger display.

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#5 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:39 pm

surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
Yep yep, I agree it's not easy. In retrospect using an old TP will be harder than using a newer one.
For me...I'd say thats wrong.

1: The older TPs have ribbon cable keyboards. Way easier to make a custom ribbom cable board than hunt down a SMD connector that is rarer than the elusive BOE Hydis Unicorn. (ajkula66 :wink: )

2: Thicker the machine, the more room for electronics.

3: Thicker display assemblies allow for the retrofit of a new LCD easier. Using the original display is an exercise in masochism.
surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
My original idea before this had been to build an entirely new custom laptop but I've never done 3D modeling although I could surely learn, but I do lack a 3D printer so iteration via Shapeways etc would be costly.
That is a major setback right there.
surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
This new idea of using an old Thinkpad had appeal because of nostalgia, the nice keyboard and, if the screen has a standard interface then that could work out well. But I do now see that older systems had 40-pin LCD connectors and incompatibilities back then were an issue. I'd need to find a Thinkpad with a standard 30-pin EDP connector.
Umm....the first TP to use EDP was the xx40 series from 2013. I don't see the point in putting a pi in a 2013 computer, not to mention they still hold some value. Also good luck hooking an eDP display upto an RPI. That would require an active HDMI to eDP converter which will set you back aabout 100$ right there and they are very power hungry.
surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
Info:
https://www.laptopscreen.com/English/se ... 1508175591

I now refine this to a few options for making a laptop:

A. Use a newer Thinkpad that has a 30pin EDP screen connection.
- Rpi Zero W with USB hub or maybe Rpi 3 A.
- Lipo cells.
- Charge controller that can tell Linux the percent remaining.
- LCD driver board known to work with the TP's display-- won't know what display it is for sure until I open it up, after buying it.
- Use Rpi I/O lines to connect to keyboard.
- Write a Linux driver to scan the keyboard?
- Or as you say, code up an Arduino for the keyboard interface.
Problems:
Machine has no thickness for electronics
Can use the internal battery as the LIPO power
Also why destroy a more powerful computer to shove a weak computer in there. Isn't that counterproductive?
That keyboard will be a nightmare to reverse engineer because the backlight will cause chaos on the matrix detection. And don't even think of doing it by hand.
Linux keyboard driver? No no no. Use an Arduino as an HID device.
surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
B. Make a new laptop altogether, something as thick as the TP 380ED most likely with a parts list like this:
- Rpi Zero W with USB hub or Rpi 3 B+.
- LiPo cells.
- Charge controller that can tell Linux the percent remaining.
- Large LCD from banggood, ebay etc.
- LCD driver board
- 60% low profile USB keyboard or a low-profile Bluetooth board e.g. DREVO Joyeuse.
- Wooden enclosure to start, 3D printed later.
- Friction hinges like in a normal laptop.
You know laptop manufacturers dont just spend millions on R&D for nothing. Not putting you down but that is a very hard project.

At that point, espeically w/o a 3D printer or other rapid prototyping machine, your best bet is this
surplus wrote:
Fri Dec 14, 2018 10:20 pm
C. Make a new laptop altogether, but use a large e-ink display instead of LCD but it has to allow for partial update (many don't).
Just have to accept the 1/3 second update speed :(
I'd have to modify PaperTTY driver (on github) for a bigger display.
At that point, just make an RDP app for the Kindle Paperwhite.

Don't take this as I'm trying to be mean. I've thought about this stuff for years, it all way too complex when you factor in everything you need. I'm trying to save you your time, money and most importantly your sanity.

Just to give you an example, here is the machine I'm making.

Base: Magnavox Metalis 286(mobo died on it)
Screen: was a 8.4" VGA STN display. Will replace it with likely an AT080 series display and route the ribbon cable down to the driver. 3D printed adapter to mount to the original frame.
Keyboard: 22 pin ribbon connector. I will painstakingly solder 30 gauge wire to each of the 22 pins on the 0.5mm flatflex cable connector on the PCB.
Mobo: This is a very thick machine and there will be lots of room for a PI 3 B+ with an active cooling solution. The fan will be from a TP 570E.
Battery: Likely a 3.7V 6600mah with a powerboost from adafruit or a 12V NiMH battery with a standard charge/discharger.
Thinkpad4by3's Law of the Universe.

The efficiency of two screens equally sized with equal numbers if pixels are equal. The time spent by a 4:3 user complaining about 16:9 is proportional to the inefficiency working with a 16:9 display, therefore the amount of useful work extracted is equal.

surplus
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Location: Los Angeles, Calif.

Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#6 Post by surplus » Sat Dec 15, 2018 1:57 am

Interesting. I've heard eDP uses less power than LVDS. Here is an article: http://www.embedded-computing.com/embed ... efficiency

I wasn't really considering transplanting a screen into a TP. Maybe that would work if the size is perfect but if the screen is a couple millimeters too large or small, it would be a waste of money.

FYI I'm aware of the Pi-top, but it has design defects specifically the display makes a high-pitch whine when not at 100% brightness and there's a coil that also produces a whine. People complained that it is unusable because of that. Discussions of the problem has been removed from their online forum.

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#7 Post by Neil » Sat Dec 15, 2018 8:55 am

Never tried it myself, but a couple of years ago, I sold my last 770 ThinkPad to a forum member who was working on just such a project. Here is the story: viewtopic.php?f=21&t=118517
Collection = T430 - T500 - R400 - X300 - T61 (14" WXGA+) - R61 (15" SXGA+) - X40 - T43p - T43 - T42p - A30P

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#8 Post by Thinkpad4by3 » Sat Dec 15, 2018 12:33 pm

Neil wrote:
Sat Dec 15, 2018 8:55 am
Never tried it myself, but a couple of years ago, I sold my last 770 ThinkPad to a forum member who was working on just such a project. Here is the story: viewtopic.php?f=21&t=118517
The 770 is tricky because the keyboard uses a connector on the keyboard that is probably unobtanium w/o salvaging it from the mobo which might be hard w/o serious SMD tools.
Thinkpad4by3's Law of the Universe.

The efficiency of two screens equally sized with equal numbers if pixels are equal. The time spent by a 4:3 user complaining about 16:9 is proportional to the inefficiency working with a 16:9 display, therefore the amount of useful work extracted is equal.

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#9 Post by TankPad » Tue Dec 18, 2018 7:03 am

Why a Pi Zero in particular though? A 3B+ is still tiny relative to an old thinkpad and its more powerful than the Zero W.
You could even fit one of the more powerful LatePanda or O-Droid SBC's in there instead.

Somewhere like Sudomod.com might be a good resource for you. They're not exactly making laptops, but there's a lot of crossover with what you're aiming to do.
| 701c | X220 | T420 | X230 | T430s | W540

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Re: Raspberry pi in an old Thinkpad

#10 Post by tdot » Fri May 17, 2019 12:25 am

Funny, I was also thinking about doing something similar ... but I fully realize the monumental effort it would take. So that's a no.

Has anyone looked at the Intel NUC boards?

https://www.intel.ca/content/www/ca/en/ ... oards.html

Apparently you can get a low voltage i7 in a 4x4 inch package ...

There is also apparently an iPad Pro 10.5 inch 2224x1668 4:3 display, and if you search enough, there's a project called "Oscar" that makes an eDP to iPad screen converter (though I believe it was previous gen).

Couple that with a trackwrite to USB converter (there are a few projects that have successfully converted T60 keyboards to USB with the tiny arduinos) ... the only thing left to worry about is power. Figure out how to stick lithiums inside, build some kind of charging/distribution board, and plug everything together.

Considering how thick the 701c is, I think there's a chance it could all be crammed inside. Imagine a 32gb i7 ssd 2224x1668 4:3 701c ......

I'm not sure what's harder though, the project or finding an excellent condition 701c body - considering the project would easily be $1000+ (assuming testing with the i3 board...) :lol:

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