Last updated 20 March 2021
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 1920*1080 13.3″
CABC is present
Review of panel here
|AUO B133QAN02.0||Similar panel as the IdeaPad S540-13|
16:10 2K 2560*1600 13.3″
Webcam is sacrificed
CABC is not present
Review of a similar panel here
|Sharp LQ125T1JW02||16:9 2K 2560*1440 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
Difficult to acquire
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 13.3″ FHD 16:9 panels in terms of color and vividness in my opinion. Click here for more info on CABC. For more information on how to remove CABC, refer to this (requires a donor XPS13 machine).
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 different wattage ratings can actually be adjusted in the unlocked BIOS (i7-3615QE can be limited to 35W). This has a good explanation of the different wattage and how they affect CPUs.
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.
For a comparison of expresscard to USB3.0 adapters, refer to this thread here for more information. I recommend the ASM1042 controller and from personal experience, they exhibit no issues with any BIOSes or operating systems.
Another adapter is the expresscard to M.2 2242 NVMe adapter. Some preliminary benchmarks is available here. In short, sequential reads/writes may not be faster than a good SATA SSD but random 4K reads/writes are significantly faster due to the faster protocol. Even dram-less SSD is marginally faster than SATA. It is also available here if you just want to buy it alone.
Another expresscard adapter is the WiFi mod. As this is inside the chassis, antennas will need to be routed internally for the additional wireless card.
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.
Extra wireless cards
The USB bluetooth slot can be converted to a full USB based WiFi card and can be used in conjunction with the stock mPCIe WiFi card, the expresscard M.2 WiFi adapter and a mSATA to USB WiFi card. This enables a 3 or even 4 wireless card setup. Together with an external antenna, this setup can be perfect for pen-testing or multiple VM. This could even be used as a router/server/NAS with UPS.
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.
The stock barrel port can be replaced with a USB-C 3D printed port and a tiny USB-C adapter. This mod is not recommended as the stock barrel adapter is more robust and stronger than the USB-C port and a barrel to USB-C adapter is much cheaper and is still extremely light-weight. This mod on the X230 does not require any resistors as the laptop does not typically draw more than 60W.
The lid of the X330 can also be reinforced. A broken piece of an X230 lid is cut and trimmed to fit the inside of the X330 and epoxied together. The resulting lid is twice as thick and stronger than the original lid, reducing screen flex.
BIOS & Coreboot
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.
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.