Last updated 17 December 2020
The X230 is Lenovo’s last line of laptop that is considered ‘classic ThinkPad’. It’s classis design remains a fan favourite, with a plethora of mods available. This article aims to describe the mods that I offer for the X230, which is known as the X330 for the 13.3″ modded FHD display.
The display mod described in the next section, along with the additional mSATA are all enabled by soldering an adapter board onto the motherboard. One of the dock displayport signal is routed to enable a modern, eDP display to be installed. This also routes the SATA 3 to the extra mSATA underneath the palmrest. There are several variations of this mod, including the famous nitrocaster. The one I employ is designed by a.gain（阿甘）, a Chinese modder.
Left: 13.3″ FHD 16:9 display, middle: 12.5″ display, right: new 16:10 2K display
The stock sized 12.5″ display looks dated compared to modern laptops. 2 new types of display could be retrofitted into the old chassis, a FHD 16:9 13.3″ and a 2K 16:10 13.3″ panel. These 2 types of panels have significantly thinner bezels and a modern high-resolution panel from the XPS13 (FHD) and the IdeaPad S540-13 (2K). There is also another modded panel with the same size as the stock panel but at 2K resolution.
Between the 16:10 and the 16:9 13.3″ panels, the 16:10 looks slightly better due to the taller aspect ratio and the higher resolution. There is also no CABC which improves viewing experience.
The new display uses one of the displayport signal from the dock and change it to eDP for the new internal display. The following are the displays compatible with this mod.
|Sharp SHP1420, LQ133M1JW21||Same panel as the XPS13|
16:9 FHD 13.3″
CABC is present
Review of panel here
|AUO B133QAN02.0||Similar panel as the IdeaPad S540-13|
16:10 2560*1600 13.3″
Webcam is sacrificed
CABC is not present
Review of a similar panel here
|Sharp LQ125T1JW02||16:9 2K 12.5″|
CABC is not present
|Samsung LTN133HL10-201||16:9 FHD 13.3″|
CABC is not present
Difficult to acquire
|AUO B133HAN04.6||16:9 FHD 13.3″|
CABC is not present
CABC (content adaptive brightness control) is a software feature that automatically dims the display when the displayed image is dark. It might be annoying to some users, but the Sharp display remains the superior display compared to the other panels in terms of color and vividness in my opinion. Click here for more info on CABC.
Even though the motherboard has a soldered on CPU, it can be desoldered and resoldered with another different CPU. This is due to a lack of Intel Bootguard which only affects Haswell (4th gen) CPU and later. The following CPUs are available from me.
|Custom BGA CPU||i7-3615QE||i7-3612QE|
|CPU (C=core, T=thread)||Description|
|i7-3615QE (45w, 4C8T)||Fastest multi-threaded CPU, might get hot|
|i7-3612QE (35w, 4C8T)||Fastest multi-threaded CPU at 35w|
|i7-3540m (35w, 2C4T)||Fastest single-threaded CPU|
|i7-3687u (17w, 2C4T)||Fastest 17w CPU, good balance between performance and battery|
|i7-3689y (13w, 2C4T)||Fastest 13w CPU, good for battery only|
|i5-3360m (2C4T) |
|Stock i5 CPU, faster than the i5-3320m|
Technically, any CPUs that’s BGA1023 (ivy bridge) from this list can be used. If you want a custom order, I can get the CPU BGAed for you but the above CPUs are the best-in-class for their TDP.
The keyboard has been replaced with an X220 classic keyboard. The palmrest has also been replaced with the X220 palmrest for maximum compatibility. The EC (embedded controller) has been flashed with a modified EC enabling the X220 FN keys to work with the X230 motherboard. Scroll down for more info on the EC patches and keyboard patch.
WiFi and bluetooth
The WiFi of the X230 is upgraded to an Intel AX200 WiFi 6 compliant wireless card (fastest in the market now) and the antenna is also swapped out for an MHF4 antenna which is the M.2 WiFi antenna standard. The WiFi is converted from an M.2 key A/E to a miniPCIe port via a passive adapter. The original bluetooth is removed and adapted to an internal female USB for small peripherals such as wireless mouse receivers.
An additional mSATA 3 (6gbps) is installed onto either the palmrest or the expresscard slot. It is faster than the stock mSATA 2 (3gbps) but I do not recommend running an OS on it since it’s not battle-tested to be 100% stable. The additional board is connected to the FHD/2K adapter via an FFC cable.
There are plenty of expresscard adapters available. A few examples include USB3.0 adapters and eSATA adapters. For a comparison of adapters, refer to this thread here for more information. I personally recommend the ASM1042 controller and from personal experience, they exhibit no issues with any BIOSes or operating systems. Another adapter that you might want to consider is the expresscard to M.2 2242 NVMe adapter. Check it out here. I personally don’t think it’s a very useful option since most 2242 NVMe operates close to SATA 6gbps speed and the EC is also bottlenecked but this enables the laptop to hold an official 4 drives at the same time, probably breaking a record for the most storage options on a 12.5″ laptop.
Sidenote: the EC has PCIe lanes enabling it to be turned into anything that interfaces with PCIe, including WiFi (yes 2 WiFi cards on a single machine is possible) along with any other PCIe devices.
The stock speakers aren’t the greatest. With a SH1.0mm JST 4pin male connector, any viable speaker can be soldered and installed onto the machine. For now, I’ve been trying out iPad Mini speakers but honestly they’re not a huge upgrade compared to the stock speakers.
External wireless antenna
This mod adds an external antenna next to the kensington lock slot enabling superior wireless connectivity. The female SMA plug also enables bigger, powered dish antennas for pen-testing etc. As most/if not all mPCIe/M.2 PC wireless cards has at least 2 antennas, only 1 is used. The other header is still connected to the internal wireless antenna allowing a usable wireless connection even if the external antenna is detached. Pictured here is the Intel AX200 WiFi 6 with an external antenna.
P.S. The extra USB (and mSATA) header enables more USB-based wireless antennas to be fitted into the chassis enabling virtualised OS to have its own wireless interface, great for those who wanna tinker with pen-testing in a familiar Windows environment.
The lid of the X330 can also be reinforced. A broken piece of an X230 lid was cut and trimmed to fit the inside of the X330 and they’re epoxied together. The resulting lid is thus twice as thick and stronger than the original lid.
The stock BIOS can be patched for additional functionalities either by using the CH341a or 1vyrain (see below).
- Patches I offer
- Unlock advanced menu (1866MHz/2133MHz RAM accepted)
- Remove WiFi/LTE modem whitelist
- Remove internal LVDS interface and reassign the new eDP display as the internal display (working on Windows. Might not work properly on other OS)
- Other patches available
- 16GB eGPU patch (Stock BIOS will cause 100% CPU with 16GB RAM and eGPU in Windows)
- Unblocked AES MSR 0xE2
- Unblocked AES MSR 0x194
The BIOS patcher can be downloaded free from the software section.
There’s also a new BIOS patcher in town called 1vyrain. It’s able to patch the BIOS WITHOUT an external flasher such as the CH341a. However, it’s unable to remove Intel ME for now meaning the CH341a external clip is still your best bet.
The EC is a microcontroller that controls many key aspects of the laptop. The keyboard is also controlled via the EC. As such, making the X220 keyboard work on the X230 can be done via software, which is just what the patch is for. The Github repo contains the project to patch the EC. 2 patches are available for the X230: 1 to change the keyboard to either the X220 or the X230 layout, and another for the battery whitelist to be removed, enabling the laptop to use any batteries. Refer to this for more info on the keyboard modification and patch.
The X330 is capable of supporting coreboot even with the new display. Coreboot is an open-sourced aftermarket BIOS replacement that aims to deliver faster boot and customisability beyond the manufacturer’s support.
To support the FHD panel, a custom patch has been pushed to coreboot repo and waiting for merger. The stock LVDS display interface is disabled and the DP-3 dock interface, which is the displayport that the new display connects to, is moved to the first entry of the connector list and changed to internally connected. This enables the new display to be seen as a native panel and behave exactly like a stock panel. This also enables mods such as nitrocaster’s and KK’s mod to perform native FN brightness adjustment.
Unfortunately, the mod I chose does not enable native FN brightness adjustment for reasons which will be explained in the next paragraph.
Check out the software section on how to install Coreboot.
Display and brightness
Brightness can be cycled by light-pressing the power button. There is also software control which aims to restore FN brightness adjustment. The operation is simple: a USB controller is also soldered alongside the DP and SATA lanes. Commands are issued directly to the USB controller which will adjust brightness. This enables any 3rd party software to be written to control brightness on any OS. The downside is that the native FN brightness adjustment cannot be handled on the BIOS level and can only be handled by the kernel and above. The “official” software is Windows only but it’s completely open-sourced and both Linux (native Linux programme) and hackintosh variants have been written. Alternatively, you’re welcomed to write your own script to control brightness 🙂
All the downloads can be found in the software section.