Wifi blues

April 20, 2016

Yesterday, with the guidance of my dear friend jer0me, I unscrewed most of my trusty X220. We proceeded to blow the dust out of it, and change the CPU and GPU’s thermal paste so that they would cool better, and be less noisy as these things tend to be. I bought the machine 5 years ago, so it was a welcome cleanup.

I should have taken a few pictures of the process because you don’t get to gut your laptop so often (well, I don’t). I am sure you can find videos on youtube with better explanations, and a less approximative English anyway.

The cool thing (see what I did here?) is that it is now a lot less noisy: the heat is better dissipated, which means that the fan does not need to run so often, nor so fast. I’m really happy about this.

Fat paws

The part I’m a lot less happy about is breaking a pin of the mini-PCI Express slot where you normally plug the WLAN card. It means that I have a silent laptop, with no wifi: back to Ethernet! Well, not entirely, since I have one of those cheap USB dongles that has poor reception and slow transmission speeds. Meh.

Actually, the X220 has a really nice hardware design, and has a second mini-PCI slot. It remained unused because I did not buy the 3G-card option at the time. “Problem solved!” we thought, but merely changing the WLAN card from one slot to another does not work. The card is apparently not detected.

After a little reading around ThinkWiki, and BIOS-Mods, it could very well be due to a software design. Lenovo limits the cards that can be plugged in one or the other slot with a white-list: this way, they can recommend third-party vendors (and charge them).

Flashing what?

Luckily, the list of allowed hardware is saved inside the BIOS, and BIOS-es can be flashed.

I will probably end up doing just that during my holidays in May. I spotted patched BIOS images running wild on the Interwebs, without that annoying white-list bug (thanks again Lenovo).

This could be just what I need if the BIOS is the only thing that prevents the laptop from running a WLAN card on the second slot.

On the other hand, it seems that the Coreboot project also supports the X220 laptops nicely. Being a geeky creature, the idea of running a free BIOS, to boot a free OS makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.

I want need to run a WLAN card on the slot dedicated to WAN cards, so it will involve some hacks anyway. I will try to write more about this soon-ish. Meanwhile, I’ll be using USB adapters. :p