Monday, November 10, 2014

Lenovo IdeaCentre A600 Restoration - Intro

This was a pretty lengthy project so I won't post it all in one go, this is just the beginning.

Some background info:
I've been using the same Core2Duo workstation (actually a ThinkPad on a docking station) with dual monitors for quite a while.
I managed to buy another 19" 4:3 Benq a while back that was the same model (and had the same fault) as the one I repaired back in 2009.
That one was probably close to 10 years old at this point and the CCFLs were beginning to show their age especially when sitting next to the "new" one.

What time does to CCFL tubes

I also sort-of wanted a widescreen monitor and more ram since the ThinkPad topped out at 4 gigs and I was constantly running out of ram while doing work (several browsers, IDEs and a VM running) which was driving me crazy.

One day while browsing an auction site, I found this thing.




A beat-up mangled all-in-one from Lenovo. It kind of piqued my interest because it was in such a pitiful state but could potentially be repaired/modded if everything the seller said about it was true.


So here's a quick initial rundown:
  • Powers on and stays on but doesn't do much else
  • Heatsinks forcefully removed with what I would imagine were bolt-cutters (Not a clue why someone would do this.)
  • Front protective glass chipped but display behind it intact
  • Two LVDS connector pads on the motherboard labeled "ONBOARD" and "MXM" with only MXM being populated (swappable?)
  • Supports Core2 mobile CPUs and DDR3-SODIMM (but only up to 8 gigs as I later found out) 

What a mess...



The seller tried adding some pins to the unpopulated pads but I won't hold it against him


I did some research and found the motherboard schematics online. According to those this board came in MXM and LVDS editions and it did in fact seem like one could be converted into the other with some (considerable) effort so if the MXM video card turned out to be toast like the seller predicted I could still do that.

Since I never heard anything good about MXM cards I assumed I'd end up doing that from the get-go if the motherboard was salvageable at all.
If not I would've just turned the thing into a monitor with an LVDS/DVI interface board off eBay so it seemed like I could get something out of it one way or another (assuming the display itself was fine)

Haggled a bit but still ended up buying it for more than I wanted to pay. Around $50-ish shipped.

By the time it arrived the chipped front protective glass had cracked lengthwise which I wasn't particularly happy about especially since it did so because of the lack of padding in the package *grumble*.

Thankfully the display seemed to have survived even that ordeal, or at least it wasn't visibly broken.
I did spend several hours removing broken fragments of glass from the plastic frame afterwards which wasn't really that much fun.

Hardware-wise to begin with I wanted to test whether the motherboard was functional at all. The fact that the SuperIO chip's pins were a big mangled on one side didn't bode well... Straightened them just a tiny bit and cleaned up the general area with solderwick.


Don't worry they're not really touching

A few resistors and capacitors were also destroyed presumably by the same incident that damaged the pins so I replaced those as well.
Then I made a bootable Linux thumbdrive, stuck it in, hooked up a keyboard and tried to get the thing to boot off  it by blindly guessing at key combinations for the boot source selection menu and watching the activity led on the drive.

At one point I started getting activity so I hooked it up to my LAN, fired up Wireshark on the home server listening for DHCP packets and tried again.
Sure enough the board was successfully booting into Linux and setting up the network, nice!
I SSHed in to check things out.

The board didn't seem to detect the MXM card at all and was trying to fall back to the on-board Intel GPU but had issues initializing it. I don't have the exact dmesg output anymore but it wasn't a terribly friendly error message.

Ran some more tests to make sure everything else was working at least and it seemed like it was.

Decided against trying to fix or replace the MXM card. I just don't trust the things and the onboard Intel GPU is more than enough for a coding workstation anyway.

In order to avoid any potential trouble I'm not going to post any links to or outtakes from the schematics since I'm pretty sure it was never meant to be public. You can find it online if you're interested. Certain parts/components are tagged with abbreviations for the two versions of the board, UMA (Unified Memory Architecture) referring to the system memory sharing Intel GPU and MXM for the obvious.
(For those who don't know: MXM is basically PCI Express x16 in a mobile form factor.)

Printed out all the pages (around 6?) where these appeared and got to work on the conversion.
I'll show you what I did in the next post.

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