He owns more than a dozen ThinkPads at any one point in time and, like the literary character Victor Frankenstein, embarks on secret projects to soup up these super machines, which he quite aptly names his ‘FrankenPads’. Meet forum guru ajkula66, or George, whose biggest challenge is to create enough spare time to share between his immediate family and his ThinkPads, as he shares a little about some of the little 'monster machines' he has put together in his romance with the ThinkPad brand.
Serene: Tell us about yourself and what you do.
George: Had someone told me 25 years ago that I'd be living here in the U.S. employed by a telecommunications giant, being married to the woman I am (and yes, I knew her back then, LOL) while calling computers my main hobby, I would've told them to seek immediate psychiatric help. But life happens...
Serene: Heard you have amassed quite a collection of ThinkPads. What sparked this off?
George: ThinkPads are addictive. There are just so many different things to love about them. I treasure the ability of my 15" units to deal with anything I throw at them, but they are not meant to be carried around a lot. That's when the smaller machines - mostly X-series tablets - come into play. The actual number of laptops in this household usually fluctuates between 6 and 10. It used to be a lot more, but I've sent all the ones that were not getting the attention they deserve - including some fairly rare examples - to good homes where they are now being showered with affection.
Serene:Cool! We know you are on secret modification projects to create monster hybrid systems which you lovingly call ‘FrankenPads’. How did this hobby come about?
George: I have always been interested in modding, rebuilding, customizing things. Over time I have gone from guitars and amps 30 years ago into rebuilding classic cars and hi-end audio systems, to ThinkPads. My philosophy? Take a good concept and make it better...
Serene: What were some of your most memorable projects?
George: Before I go any further, do note that in sharing what I have done, all modifications that I'm discussing here were done based on out-of-warranty machines. Community members who wish to do likewise should check the warranty status of their systems before attempting any of the following before proceeding with any work.
Three modifications that we'll discuss here today:
1. LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: EASY - Creating an R60F FlexView FrankenPad
A 'Level 1' Mod of the R60e ThinkPad
Take an R60e unit - one of the least expensive Lenovo products at the time of its announcement - and turn it into a workstation for a family on the budget, for a price that one could fill their gas tank two or three times over. All I needed was a replacement 15" SXGA+ IPS LCD, a Core Duo or Core 2 Duo CPU (all of the above can be had for a song nowadays), an open HMM, one Phillips screwdriver and a couple of hours of spare time. (for comparison shots between two identical R60 e units, one with a TN panel (on the left) and one with an IPS FlexView LCD (pic above) The end result was a desktop replacement with a beautiful screen that's easy on the eyes, perfectly capable of competently running Windows 7 (even today), or almost any flavor of Linux.
2. LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: INTERMEDIATE - Creating a T601 FlexView FrankenPad
This looks like a T60p right? Not quite. Read on...
The following modifications were made based on T60/p 15" frame containing a 15" SXGA+ or UXGA (as seen in pictures) FlexView LCD, while the motherboard was "borrowed" from a 14" T61. This mod can extend the life of T6x range of products for several years to come... I had done plenty of research before trying to build this hybrid and would advise anyone interested to do so to do likewise. Some frame modification is required, and also, the virtue of patience and of course, precision. The machine in the pic above is a T60p, right? Even the label says so, so why are we questioning the obvious? Well, not quite...
The BIOS page reveals specs from a T61 motherboard. Beat that.
3. LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY: ADVANCED- Creating a Monster R52/ T43p
One word of fair warning: do NOT try this at home, unless you have the proper equipment and experience with board-level repair. The chances of you damaging the motherboard while performing the mod in question are fairly high, and it's best left to the professionals. So what's the "big deal" with this particular mod? The original design for R52, T43/p and X41/T models apparently called for (at the time "up and coming") SATA hard disk drives, but a decision was made to revert to PATA/IDE drives, and a converter chip was added to enable the native use of PATA drives on boards that were not initially designed for them. What this particular mod involves is the removal of the converter chip in question, as well as replacing the IDE connector on the motherboard with a SATA one, therefore unleashing the full potential of these machines.
The above pic shows the stock Hitachi 60GB/7200rpm PATA hard drive that the higher-end T43/p normally shipped with: And here's a Crucial SSD from my own, SATA-modded T43p:
A comparison reveals that there's NO comparison ...
Serene: I am amazed. And shocked. What keeps your passion going?
George: I love challenges. Of all sorts. I just relish taking ideas implemented on ThinkPads from different eras and building a machine that encapsulates all of them. I'm currently working on what I deem to be the Ultimate FrankenPad: the frame/housing came from a 15" T60 unit. A very rare QXGA (2048x1536) IPS FlexView LCD from a R50p. The motherboard came from a 14" T61 with nVidia graphics. I'm still debating which processor to use, but it will likely be a X9000 - CPU that no ThinkPad ever shipped with from the factory, rescued from an Alienware laptop with a dying motherboard. It's one very vicious FrankenPad, to say the least. I could've easily bought a well-equipped W530 just for the price of parts that went into this machine - labor and time not being considered for one split second - but this is way more fun...
Serene: Sounds like tough labors of love. Which has been your favorite project to date?
George: That's a very tough call, but if I had to choose just one it would be my personal, SATA-modded T43p. Years have been shaved off the original design when everything was said and done. My T43p is seven-year-old platform that still gets a WEI of 3.8 in Windows 7, which is not bad at all. If I were to make an adjustments or improvements, all I have to do is swap the screen for one with a different resolution. However, personally I think this is as far as the T43p can be further modified as it is a completely finished project that really can't be challenged.
Serene: As you will know, this year marks the 20th birthday of the ThinkPad. What are your thoughts on this?
George: I'd love to see the 701C "butterfly " keyboard re-born with new internals. Or an A31p with a planar from T530. I also wish for a W530 with an IPS screen and a "classic" 7-row keyboard, in traditional ThinkPad finish, which would be highly appreciated by silly old me... (Serene: NO YOU AREN’T!)
Have a penchant for pushing the boundaries of your Lenovo systems further? Share your FrankenPad stories here as well.