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Modding a Thinkpad Keyboard for External Use?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the just-for-the-fun-of-it dept.

IBM 47

Rinisari asks: "I've recently acquired a working keyboard from a IBM Thinkpad. It has ~87 keys, mousestick with left, right, and rocker buttons, and five other buttons: IBM, volume up/down/mute, and a power button (part number 08K4785). I want to make an interface cable, preferably USB but PS/2 will suffice, to be able to use this on my desktop. Has anyone ever tried something like this?"

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Uhm. (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8461685)


Use SSH (0)

chmouel (51789) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461688)

ssh from your laptop to your server ?

Keyboard controller? (5, Insightful)

df200 (577345) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461721)

Have you checked if this thing has a keyboard controller chip built in? Normal PC keyboards have their own logic but laptop keyboards AFAIK don't, the logic may be somewhere on the laptop's mainboard.

IBM makes things close to this.. (5, Informative)

_hAZE_ (20054) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461727)

Are you aware you can buy keyboards from IBM that are pretty close to what you want? In fact, this is slightly cooler, just because it comes with the number-pad, too.. C= 461017

Or, if you really want the number-pad-less version, try this: C= 170470

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (4, Interesting)

joshmathis (15461) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461906)

Yikes, did you see the specs on that?

Depth 8.7 In
Height 0.9 In
Weight 99.2 Lbs(!!!!!)
Width 15.6 In

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (0, Offtopic)

tigersha (151319) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461915)

For a while last month Apple was selling a game with the ibook on their site in Germany which cost 30000 Euros!

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (5, Funny)

KozmoStevnNaut (630146) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461923)

Must be the Model M version, then...

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (2, Insightful)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462567)

No, the Model M weighs about 5 pounds. BTW, the EnduraPro/104 (and the On The Stick - 104 key version) from Unicomp (who bought Lexmark's keyboard division, who was a spinoff of IBM's keyboard and printer divisions) are essentially Lexmark-era (ugh - fake Model Ms) Model Ms with trackpoints. IBM also made one of these.

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8467881)

Umm... Moderators do you read anything or just skim for words you don't recognise, how the HELL is this a troll! Quit tossing your friends salad and do something right or don't do it at all.

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (2, Interesting)

coldguy (31631) | more than 10 years ago | (#8472291)

I'm also a Model M fan, so I ordered a Customizer 101 (black with buckling spring [] ) from Unicomp's online store [] . I'm really pleased with it -- typing on it feels like the real thing. There's a few differences from the original Model M:

  • The keycaps aren't removable
  • The cord isn't removable
  • It seems somewhat lighter (but still heavier than most keyboards)

I suspect it's lighter because it lacks the metal backplate of the original Model M but I haven't disassembled it to confirm this. Overall, I'd say it's a pretty decent substitute if you can't find a real Model M or want a black one or one that hasn't had someone else's fingers all over it. It's pretty pricey, though, at $50-$60 when used originals can often be found for free in dumpsters.

Unicomp also sells keyboards made in the image of the Model M, but with the inferior rubber dome technology (they bill it as Enhanced Quiet Touch). Perhaps you encountered one of those abominations.

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (1)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 10 years ago | (#8476381)

No, I'm comparing it to the Lexmark Model M, which feels VERY cheap compared to the original model M (the 139 one, not the 42H one).

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (1)

dawnsnow (8077) | more than 10 years ago | (#8465011)

I own a UltraNav Keyboard. I really love trackPoint from thinkpad, that's why I've ordered it.. (even it's little bit pricy). You can enable either trackPoint or trackPad or both at the same time. I only enabled trackPoint, because it is right under your index finger. When the keyboard package arrived, I didn't think there's keyboard inside of the package because it was quite thin. And the weight of keyboard is little lighter than other usual keyboard. It also has 2 USB ports on the back which I use frequently for my USB drive.

Re:IBM makes things close to this.. (3, Informative)

BernManUNC (455335) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462183)

Try this link; it's the same as the CDW link, but for a few bucks less (not sure about shipping $$), and it's straight from IBM:

IBM UltraNav Kbd [] .

Notice that there's no spec for weight. It should be about two, maybe three pounds, just enough to stay firmly anchored to your desk. I use one at my part-time job all the time, and it's absolutely one of the finest keyboard I've ever used. It feels just like the keyboard on T40 and T41. Only a slight variation on the keyboard from my laptop, an old 600x. It feels excellent.

Of course, I imagine you know how good IBM Thinkpad keyboards feel, given that you're trying to mod this one into a desktop kbd.

Expensive (1)

DamienMcKenna (181101) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462549)

Now _That_ is expensive!

I saw something similar in a store in Sacramento for about $15.


Why not just buy it ready to go? (5, Informative)

apocamok (196093) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461734)

Available from IBM:
88-Key Space Saver II Keyboard (Business Black) []

Link is to the danish model.

US version. (2, Informative)

Joseph Vigneau (514) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462917)

Here's the US link [] . It's surprisingly expensive, compared to their other keyboards.. ($155).

Re:US version. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8467605)

It's also suprisingly better built than their standard keyboards. However, I think it's usually sold to server customers for rack usage, so that explains the high price.

(Note - occassionally these will appear on ebay. I picked up an semi-new SpaceSaverII for about $50.)

Why on Earth or Mars not use an Eluminx? (4, Informative)

shadowxtc (561058) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461796)

Granted, you already have a keyboard and thus it's free. But I've got one of these (blue lights, black frame) and it's wonderful. Just like a notebook keyboard - perfect for coding: /5c3f/ []

Re:Why on Earth or Mars not use an Eluminx? (1)

FattMattP (86246) | more than 10 years ago | (#8463812)

Because the Thinkpad keyboards feel fantastic and are a joy to type on.

Re:Why on Earth or Mars not use an Eluminx? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8507623)

Eluminx keyboards are gay

It may not be easy. (5, Informative)

munpfazy (694689) | more than 10 years ago | (#8461840)

I spent some time pondering something similar while putting together a home-made vertical split keyboard.

Didn't come across anything with IBM's name on it, but among the salvage laptop keyboards that I found in parts stores, none were easy to turn into a working keyboard. They not only lacked a controller, but they seemed to have entirely unique path layouts, making the prospect of finding a suitable ready-built controller unlikely. That's based solely on the three I explored - perhaps there are standards among some manufacturers.

The only suitable solution I could see was to cut every single circuit path on the keyboard and then wire them up *by hand* to a keyboard controller ripped out of a desktop keyboard, after carefully tracing out every path from the original desktop keyboard. Needless to say, it didn't seem worth the time required. But, with a DMM, a dozen dremel cutting disks, a half pound of solder, a weekend, and a whole lot of patience you could do it.

If you're willing to spend 100 bucks or more, you can find programmable controllers, and you might get lucky and find one compatible with the existing laptop keyboard. But, for that price, you can probably buy a keyboard to suit your needs right off the shelf.

If by some chance you find a nifty solution, please post it here. I'd love to see it.

I guess the silliest answer would be to attach it to an ibm laptop and write a program to mimic a keyboard on the usb port. (I suspect you'd run into latency problems - but it could be fun just for the shear absurdity of it.)

Re:It may not be easy. (1)

Chris Pimlott (16212) | more than 10 years ago | (#8465403)

Yeah, chopping in half the circuit paths seems like a bad idea. Perhaps if you started with two keyboards, you could cut the faces apart and fold over the circuits, then combine the cables with a PS/2 splitter. Signals for one half of the keyboard would be generated by left keyboards and the other from the right keyboard.

Sell it (4, Insightful)

cybermace5 (446439) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462064)

Just put it up on eBay and let it go. Someone will want it for spare parts. That's all it's really good for; laptop keyboards are very nonstandard and the odds are very good that you won't ever figure it out. This is a project involving large amounts of reverse engineering, development of custom circuitry, and microcontroller programming.

Here.. (4, Funny)

Frequanaut (135988) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462163)

Here kid, here's 5 bucks, go get yourself a real keyboard.

You need a microcontroller (5, Insightful)

mewyn (663989) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462395)

In order to pull this off, you will need to figure out how the keyboard's matrix is set up, then hook it up properly to a microcontroller, and then program said microcontroller to work with PS/2 (forget USB). Simply put no easy task. And then there's the trackpoint. With that, you will have to find a microcontroller with analog inputs, and figure out how the thing behaves electrically. Just give it up and buy a new keyboard. This thing is a task only for someone who knows a lot about EE, and has the time to do it.

Mewyn Dy'ner

Re:You need a microcontroller (2, Informative)

Tiersten (58773) | more than 10 years ago | (#8464682)

Making a USB HID device isn't that complicated. The EZ-USB chips from Cypress would be able to do it easily. It would involve learning how to use the EZ-USB chips though and probably buying the devkit.

As for the trackpoint, yeah that won't be easy to do. You'd have to do a lot of stuff on calibrating it and then detecting how hard you're pushing etc...

Thinkpad-like keyboards (2, Insightful)

Bushcat (615449) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462683)

Check out the 28L3644 [] , but beware of sticker shock. If it's the compact keyboard idea that attracts you, check out any of the Happy Hacker keyboards, which used to be at but now appears to be dead.

Happy Hacking Keyboard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#8464572)

Try this place [] . I have two Lite2's, one at work and one at home.

Re:Thinkpad-like keyboards (1)

The Bungi (221687) | more than 10 years ago | (#8465913)

Hey, that's cool. It looks better than the happy hacker ones. Strangely enough it's cheaper direct from IBM than other places, like here [] .

A similar issue.... (1)

tvh2k (738947) | more than 10 years ago | (#8462892)

I was actually looking for a way to mod a laptop to put on a rack shelf to take inputs (VGA/KBD/Mouse) from a server also in that rack. Essentially I want to make a cheap kbd/mouse/monitor 1u shelf, without spending $2000 on a real one. Is there any easy way to use the monitor/mkb/scrollpad from an old laptop to do this?

Thank for all suggestions...I was gonna "ask slashdot" but after this ques mine will never be accepted. Thx.

Re:A similar issue.... (1)

Computerguy5 (661265) | more than 10 years ago | (#8465681)

One word: VNC [] .

Here is a suggestion (1, Informative)

Doc Squidly (720087) | more than 10 years ago | (#8463838)

Try this one [] , its $50 (might be cheaper elsewhere) and has a touch-pad.
Granted its PS/2. Other than that, it should work fine. Unless, you really have to have the Thinkpad style pointing device.

Hang it on the wall (1)

FePe (720693) | more than 10 years ago | (#8463861)

I once extracted a keyboard from an old labtop, and now I use it as a decoration on the wall. Just an advice, it's pretty neat.

What about the monitor? (0, Offtopic)

_aa_ (63092) | more than 10 years ago | (#8463880)

Is it possible to remove the LCD from a notebook pc and generate a functional monitor?

Re:What about the monitor? (1)

KD5UZZ (726534) | more than 10 years ago | (#8464914)

Good Luck! (2, Interesting)

shepd (155729) | more than 10 years ago | (#8465488)

It's likely wired so that each key generates an X/Y position on the ribbon cable, so it won't be useful by itself.

However, combining it with a project like this [] might be a possibility. I hope you like soldering (I do! :-)

for $3.59 you can get... (2, Funny)

Polo (30659) | more than 10 years ago | (#8466626)

Why not get A keyboard for $3.59 [] instead.

Re:for $3.59 you can get... (1)

returnoftheyeti (678724) | more than 10 years ago | (#8472304)

Damn... I paid $4.99 for one of thoes just the other day.

well... (3, Insightful)

gooru (592512) | more than 10 years ago | (#8466672)

If you're really intent on doing this (and I don't recommend it; just buy one of the previously posted products), then I recommend asking IBM first for specs. You might find a tech or engineer who's willing to release them to you. Then, you'll probably want to learn some stuff about PIC chips. Take a look around at the numerous one-handed keyboards and whatnot for ideas. There are a lot of people who have done similar projects.

Hmm (1)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 10 years ago | (#8466839)

Not exactly the kind of responses I was looking for, but I think I'll start by calling IBM and seeing if I can get specs/pin layout. I'm not afraid of soldering, as I was prepared to do some soldering to make an antenna (I don't remember the need for it, but it was cheap anyways) for my router.

It should be possible... (4, Informative)

cr0sh (43134) | more than 10 years ago | (#8467244)

...but the question is, is it worth your time?

If the answer to that is "yes", then be prepared for a possible long haul. If you have never done this sort of reverse engineer, prepare for a very steep learning curve. Finally, if you have never wielded a soldering iron (though why you would contemplate this sort of project if you haven't is beyond me - it isn't a beginner's project), forget it.

Ok, with that out of the way - take a very good look at the keyboard. If you have to, remove the backplate (if it has one, and you can without damaging or disabling anything - sometimes this is impossible to know before doing it - if in doubt, don't do it). See if anywhere on the keyboard is a controller chip/circuit. If there is, write down all the numbers/info you can about each part, and about the board in general. Find out assembly numbers, revision numbers, part number. Finally, write down the part number/rev/version/assembly numbers for the keyboard itself.

If you didn't see any circuitry (though I would expect maybe some for the trackmouse thingie - maybe not), then you are in luck - it is a keyboard matrix. Now, all you have to do is figure out the matrix.

If it is such a keyboard, the best way is to look up on DigiKey the kind of connector you need for the keyboard ribbon cable (as it is likely to be a simple flexible cable with little or no connector). If you know what the connector looked like on the laptop, it would help. Basically, you are going to need to take some mesurements of the cable/connector and such, and try to find the proper DigiKey part. You may need to take some pics and get in contact with someone at DigiKey for info regarding this.

Regardless of whether it is such a keyboard or not - have you tried contacting IBM and asking them about it? Don't send you email to sales or whatnot - be polite in the email, state you have purchased the item used (or whatever), and are interested in researching the feasibility of using the device in a custom application. State that you are an electronics hobbyist, and that you are looking for pinout information for the keyboard. Ask to be forwarded to an engineer. Go a couple of rounds of email with them (don't be discouraged - but don't get angry, either - you will likely get exasperated easily) - sometimes if you are persistent it pays off. They might actually outsource the keyboards from a foreign manufacturer. It gets tricky if it goes that direction (because of language barriers), but it isn't impossible. Hopefully they can give you an email address.

If they do tell you they outsource from a foreign manufacturer, politely ask if they would refer to you who the manufacturer is - likely it will be an asian source. With that in name in hand, you might try googling on it, or checking out (I think that is right). Basically, you are going to lead yourself down a strange and difficult path, but not an impossible one.

Hopefully, you will get someone on this end that will know what you are trying to do, and won't try to sell you another product.

Once you determine (however) what kind of interface you have (ie, matrix or on-board controller mediated), and once you figure out its layout (the purpose of finding the proper connector from DigiKey is so you can build the interface and hook it up to experiment easily), you can then work on the interface. You can either hook it up to the standard keyboard connector or USB - USB is more difficult, but it has become easier lately for hobbyists (check out recent back issues of Nuts and Volts magazine for info on USB interfacing). Basically, you are going to need a micro-controller of some sort in between the keyboard and the interface, to translate what comes from the keyboard into what your interface is expecting. I would use either a PIC of some sort or if you want easier development, a BASIC Stamp (essentially a PIC with memory and custom software - there are clones available as well). I suppose you could go with an Atmel uController, but it might be overkill. A simple PIC would be the best (there are dev tools based around gcc and such, plus there are free tools for Windows).

As you can see from this writeup - you have a ton of work ahead of you. You will gain a ton of knowledge and experience from the project, though - just the knowledge of how to interact with larger companies to gain access to information about "products" that they usually don't deal with the consumer much about might be worth it alone. Such knowledge will help in the hacking of other projects in the future... (1)

Cryptnotic (154382) | more than 10 years ago | (#8467703)

Unicomp "Mighty Mouse" keyboard []

Order the black one. It's basically a thinkpad laptop keyboard in an external case. It has connectors for both keyboard and mouse (the finger-stick thing and two buttons).

It's expensive though, $99.

Personally, though, I prefer either my Happy Hacking Keyboard (small, original, non-Lite) or my Sun Type 6 USB keyboard.

solidtek-- thirty odd dollars (1)

way2trivial (601132) | more than 10 years ago | (#8468271) 2
for an example
small, touchpad, I've seen them recently in use with some SFF shuttle PC's by the AV guys at a convention

off topic: use second keyboard as macro/launcher? (1)

phildog (650210) | more than 10 years ago | (#8475298)

Now that all the hardware specialists are focused on an input related Ask Slashdot question, I'll pose my somewhat related question :-)

Is it possible to plug in a spare USB keyboard and reprogram ALL the keys to do custom things: launch programs, launch scripts, emulate menu selects for specific programs, etc. I have several spare keyboards lying around and would love to put them to use. (I'm envisioning some sort of multi-keyboard array mounted on various surfaces that make my home desk look like a cockpit.)

I've googled around in the past for fully programmable keyboards and found stuff like this [] . But it is expensive stuff, most over $100 if you have more than 20 programmable keys. (Although certainly there is value in having software to assign the functions and pre-made templates that remind you key #69 is the 'apply drop shadow in photoshop' button.)

Any ideas? Is this possible? Easy? Will it suck up so much time that I am better off biting the bullet and shelling out the dough for a shrink-wrapped solution to this problem?

I'm primarily on Win2K and WinXP for my desktops.

Re:off topic: use second keyboard as macro/launche (1)

sam0ht (46606) | more than 10 years ago | (#8484506)

If you can find a 2nd hand Gateway AnyKey keyboard on eBay, that's fully macro-able (any key can launch a macro). Plug it into the PS/2 slot, your regular keyboard into USB, and you should be set I think.

Sadly, some of the keys on mine have died :(

Re:off topic: use second keyboard as macro/launche (1)

phildog (650210) | more than 10 years ago | (#8499934)

Thanks for the AnyKey recommendation!

I bid on a couple at ebay, but they were going for over $30, which I think is a bit high for a used keyboard.

Today I read a review of the Belkin's Nostromo Game Controller n52 [] . It looks to be programmable and can emulate over 100 keys

It is going for $26 (free ship) at at the moment: here []

I'd report back here on how I like it in a few days, but I fear slashdot will have archived this story by then. I'll post my experience here [] , if anyone is curious how it works out.

Grasp the sides and twist. (1)

itomato (91092) | more than 10 years ago | (#8490802)

Torsion would be a problem on that thing, seems to me. You'd need some kind of backing on it to keep it stable and on your desk. It weighs what, 4-6 oz?

You might do better going back several models. Thinkpads all have pretty similar keyboards, and one or two may have a specced pinout and controller chip.
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