School Surplus Laptop BIOS Hacked To Remove Hardware Restrictions

Why [Hales] it turned out hacking the BIOS of a 10-year-old laptop left over from an Australian education program? When your BIOS starts telling you that you are not allowed to use a particular type of hardware, you don’t have much choice.

Initially [Hales] plans to buy a used Lenovo X260 to replace his dying laptop, but his plans fail. Pandemic-induced jump in demand, which even in the market of used laptops caused a rise in prices. The need for a small and affordable laptop with a built-in Ethernet port led to the purchase of the Lenovo Thinkpad x131e. Although the laptop was older than it liked, [Hales] he was determined to make it work. Little did he know the journey he had to take to repair.

The problems first arose when Broadcom’s WiFi adapter stopped working reliably. He replaced it, but found that the coaxial antenna cable was damaged. Even after replacing the damaged cable, the WiFi adapter still worked very poorly. Recalling past problems with Broadcom’s unstable WiFi adapters, it was decided to replace it with an Intel mPCIe WiFi adapter. When the power was applied again, [Hales] was shocked to find the following message:

Unauthorized network card included – Turn off the power and remove the miniPCI network card

And here things became interesting. With ready brackets SOIC8 and programmer CH340, [Hales] threw the BIOS from the laptop’s flash chip to another computer and started hacking. After countless hours of research, incitement, hacking and reverse engineering, the laptop was again useful with the new Intel WiFi adapter. His site documents in great detail how he managed to reverse engineer the BIOS over several days.

But that’s not all! [Hales] also managed to modify the hardware so that its slightly more modern mPCIe WiFi adapter could be plugged in again after the computer was put into hibernation. This is an elegant hack and remember check [Hales’] site to get the full details. Finally, there’s a nice Easter egg for anyone who’s ever wanted to get their laptop to charge with it own logo.

We applaud [Hales] for his good efforts to keep work equipment out of the landfill. We covered a lot hacks that have had similar purposes in the past. Do you have a hack you want to share? Send it via Advices.