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Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Thu Aug 01, 2019 5:33 pm
by zoltan87
I thought I will share my experience what it was like to LED mod a Thinkpad T60 and a T601 Frankenpad. Both of these machines are 15 inch 4:3 variants with LG Philips LP150E05(A2)(K1) SXGA+ screens.

As you know, the screens in these machines originally came with ccfl backlight from the factory. But after all these years and use, they have become significantly dimmer, so much so that the one in my T601 build was barely bright enough to use indoor, let alone trying to take it with me anywhere and use it as a portable computer.

A very long time ago I bought two LED kits from forum member Xiphmont, that were specifically made for these machines. I recommend checking out his website about these LED kits, he specializes in X60, X61 laptops, but have these kits available for T60 machines as well. I think he is also able to tailor these kits for a few more Thinkpads from that era, but the best would be just to contact him and ask. Anyway, the kit I bought was his "Daylight kit", that uses high quality extremely bright LEDs, and a custom inverter/control board, with working brightness adjustment and no PWM flicker. Basically all functionality will continue to work after the modification, all the status LEDs under the screen, everything. This can't be taken granted with many of the chinese LED kits I read about.

The actual process of removing and disassembling the LCD, removing the ccfl tube and inserting in the LED strip is... well let's just say it takes some practice to actually do it properly. I think this is the only downside of this mod. If you don't have experience doing mods on LCD panels, then chances are your results will be somewhat mixed. I tried to be extremely careful, took my time, watched videos on the matter (by the way, there are exactly zero good videos on this subject), I read the disassembly process on Xiphmont's website, but that is written material, and it applies mainly for the X60, X61 panels.

The good news is that I managed to put my screens back together, and they worked. There were two issues though:
On one of them there was a sort of wavy effect, which was more pronounced on light, especially white backgrounds. I am not talking about the tiny rippled light source effect running along the bottom of the screen (more about this in a minute), but a few big darker areas shaped like big waves on the whole screen. It was really bothering me, and I suspected that I accidentally rippled the white reflector sheet (not sure about proper term) at the back of the LCD panel upon disassembly. So I removed the panel again, partially opened up the lcd around the edges, and tried to move around that white sheet at the back of the panel with my hands. Then plugged the LCD in to see the results. Those darker waves almost completely disappeared, but there was still a very faint remnant of them, so I tried it again. I also slightly repositioned the LED strip. There are two extremely tiny screws at to back of the LCD, and I noticed that if I screw them back, the back sheet on the LCD doesn't completely lay flush, probably due to my messing around, the holes just doesn't line up perfectly as they originally did. So I decided to leave the screws out, I used some Kapton tape anyway, so the LCD shouldn't come apart.
And this did the trick, the wavy pattern completely disappeared, the screen was finally uniformly backlit. Apart from one slight problem: now there was a noticeable backlight bleed at the bottom left corner. I am not sure if it happened due to my repeated disassemblies, or because I slightly repositioned the LED strip and also pulled out a small white rubber thingy (I think that held the end of the original ccfl tube in the center of the backlight tube cavity).

Anyway, by this point I had been doing this whole conversion for hours, I was losing my patience, and also I didn't want to further push my luck, and possibly make an other problem appear, or even destroy the LCD, so I decided to leave it like it was. Honestly the backlight bleed only noticeable on dark screens, and even there it doesn't really bother my that much. I would say some laptop screens have the same amount of, or even worse bleed out of the factory. I also felt lucky that I somehow managed to avoid any dust getting into the screen, something that I have read about from a few people, and was very afraid of.

The other problem was with the second screen. I tried to be extremely careful again, but after putting it back together with the LED backlight, I noticed that the right side of the screen is slightly darker than the rest of the screen, running all the way vertically from bottom to top. I disassembled it, tried to mess around with the earlier mentioned white backside sheet, but it didn't help. I might have messed up something/ rippled/ bent/ etc in the backlight cavity, but again I just didn't feel brave enough to completely remove that bottom part of the screen. I think that would pretty much guarantee to introduce dust into the system, which would clearly show up behind the screen then during use. What's interesting that even at the very bottom of the screen, there seems to be a darker spot, almost like if one or two LEDs there were not lighting as bright as the rest. Not sure if it would be a possibly damaged LED, or I just simply damaged something, and the LEDs there are partially being blocked.
I might will have a look at it in the future sometime, but by this point with all the videos and reading, I had been doing this mod many hours, so I just left it as it was. Again perfectly usable, just not as good as it could be.

Now all the good news:
The brightness difference compared to those worn out ccfl tubes is just incredible. I haven't taken them outside yet, but I reckon they will stay perfectly readable even outdoor. I also think that power consumption is greatly reduced, as in normal use I can keep using the screens on a very low setting, because even on that low setting the screen is just as bright as they were on max with the ccfl tube. Also the colours. They are rich and beautiful. This is the part that actually surprised me the most: all the colours are just so rich and beautiful. I am no expert here, but I am certain that colour reproduction is better then it was with factory ccfl backlight, even when they were new. Also the whites are now perfect white, no sign of the yellowish hue that they had before.

As mentioned, there is an extremely faint ripple pattern at the very bottom of the screen running through horizontally from the LEDs. It's almost impossible to notice, so I left it like that, but with Xiphmont's kits there is a small accordian shim, that is meant to completely remove this effect if you put it in.

One interesting thing with the backlight range though: on my T601 Frankenpad (which is basically a T60 15 inch shell with a T61 nVidia motherboard in it) I have 16 separate backlight levels, ranging from very low (0) to very bright (15), correctly displaying the levels on screen when I change it.
On my T60 however, I only have 7 levels. What's even stranger is that upon reaching zero, the windows on-screen brightness level (which is a separate on screen icon form the thinkpad brightness level bar) is still not on zero. I can keep decreasing it, but the actual brightness of the screen won't change. Then when I start increasing the brightness, the first few clicks won't do any actual change only after reaching the thinkpad on-screen level 0 will the actual backlight start increasing. It's really hard to explain this phenomena in written form, point is that the bottom part of the brightness adjustment range is somehow lost on the T60. It is still fine, but on the T61 it works perfectly as you would expect it, with very VERY low first step, then slight increase on every other steps, but on the T60 we have less steps, and part of the low end of the range is lost. Not sure if it's supposed to be like this, or maybe I should change something on the inverter board (something I have read about with X61 machines and Windows 10 if I remember correctly). By the way both of my machines run Windows 8.1, same version and everything (there might be some differences in update status though, I stopped updating them for a while now).

All in all these kits provide a huge improvement on every front, but if you decide doing this mod, be prepared that it's definitely something that will take time and patience. Ideally you would have two machines to mod, starting with the worse one, then you will have more idea for the second one to do it correctly, and avoid a few mistakes. I also want to mention that the work what Xiphmont has done on these kits is nothing short of amazing. The brightness level, the colour accuracy, the method which his modded inverter uses to change brightness level (there is no PWM flickering here, something that many factory screens suffer from to this day), everything just shows that he is definitely a perfectionist. I highly recommend checking out his website (just google "Xiphmont LED mods"), I think it's a shame that his work kind of gets lost in the ocean of cheaper LED kits, as I can honestly say that his kit is leagues above those cheap chinese kits that has a generic inverter, and cheap LEDs with colour reproduction that is far from ideal.

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Thu Aug 01, 2019 9:31 pm
by TPFanatic
Very enlightening writeup. Thanks for sharing. I've thought about LED mods for the T500 back when that was my dd.

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Fri Aug 02, 2019 12:08 am
by RealBlackStuff
I have seen the difference in brightness steps between machines.
AFAIK it's due to the chipset/GPU specs.
The T60 needs 7Watts and uses DirectX 9.0, Shader 2.0, Open GL 1.4
The T61 needs 14W and uses DirectX 10.0, Shader 4.0, Open GL 2.0

If anyone is interested, I already wrote about a CCFL-swap like 9 years ago: viewtopic.php?f=31&t=88991

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Fri Aug 02, 2019 5:40 pm
by TinkerMan
darn it Zoltan, now I want to do it too, you must be a sales guy, you do know how to sell an idea, even a dangerous one.

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Sat Aug 03, 2019 12:35 am
by axur-delmeria
TinkerMan wrote:
Fri Aug 02, 2019 5:40 pm
darn it Zoltan, now I want to do it too, you must be a sales guy, you do know how to sell an idea, even a dangerous one.
It's the honesty, detailed descriptions, and the much-welcome success in the end. TBH I kinda want one for my X61 after reading his post-- I have an otherwise good screen with a busted CCFL, so the excuse already exists. A few things are stopping me though:

* cost: the kit costs more than the last X61 I bought
* practicality: the X61 is over 10 years old, I already have 2 dead system boards to prove it. :lol:
* availability: read a few forum posts about xiphmont taking a long time to reply, if at all. :cry:

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Sat Aug 03, 2019 8:17 am
by zoltan87
TinkerMan wrote:
Fri Aug 02, 2019 5:40 pm
darn it Zoltan, now I want to do it too, you must be a sales guy, you do know how to sell an idea, even a dangerous one.
Haha, I just tried to be as honest as possible, and after the results I wanted to give a shout out to Xiphmont's work. It's clear from his kits and website that he has put some very serious thought, time and work into these LED kits. What is also clear to me though, is that his "marketing game" isn't on top lol. It's already hard to find out what makes his kits so much more expensive compared to Chinese generic LED kits, he has no videos (with a product like this a Youtube video showing how to install the kit, and the final results would speak more than a thousand words), and finally as mentioned by axur-delmeria he is VERY difficult to contact. I personally tried it several times to no avail, I pretty much gave up, then for a lucky accident when I commented on this forum on a thread asking about LED kits, he came across my reply. We started exchanging messages, which finally led to me buying two of his kits for my T60s.

So yeah, he seems to be one of those guys who has an incredible product, but selling it is not his forte. Mind you I don't know the full story, I know there must be a lot of work making these kits individually all by himself, so probably the profit doesn't really justify his time. I wouldn't be surprised if he was mainly making them just because of his passion and love for old Thinkpads. Also I don't know if he even still makes them, or has abandoned the project (I bought my kits almost two years ago).

But I want to reiterate one last time that the whole conversion process without prior knowledge and practice is time consuming, pretty difficult and quite risky. I would be very surprised if a first timer doing it would achieve perfect results (no rippled/ wavy backlight, no backlight bleed, no dust) the very first time. I am sure it's possible, but no matter how careful I was, I couldn't achieve complete perfection.

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Thu Aug 06, 2020 10:31 pm
by ShadeTech
Really good info here for those of us still mucking around with the T60 series. Just got a second one for spares and the screen has a dead inverter. Seeing this has me really interested in attempting such a mod for this one. If anyone knows how to get into contact with Xiphmont or where I should "leave a comment" to mimic OP let me know. I'll be doing a switcharoo with the other T60P I have to make sure the inverter is the problem. In any case, I think I'm doing alright with three T60p' for about $100.

Re: Experience and results of LED modding a T60 and T601 Frankenpad

Posted: Fri Aug 07, 2020 1:59 am
by RealBlackStuff
I still have some exotic spare parts left.
They include two LED-strips and their control-PCBs plus connecting flat cables from broken HV150UX2-100 LCDs.
I experimented with such a set in a 'regular' LCD by replacing the CCFL with these LEDs and taping the PCB on the back of the LCD.
Then I did my LED-mod (only on the inverter) and used an UN-modified LCD-cable.
The result was a beautiful LED-screen with brightness control perfectly working!

If anyone is interested, I'm willing to let these two LED-strips/PCBs go, together with a modified inverter each.
These will ONLY fit in a 15" 4:3 non-widescreen LCD (as used in T60/R60/R61/Frankie).
Both already SOLD to a Forum-member! :D