Finishing the Job: Installing a USB Keyboard into an OLPC XO Laptop, Phase II

For a guy who's spent most of his life with his fingers connected to the home row, adding this USB keyboard that I can really touch-type on has made a huge difference in the usability of the XO. This is "phase II" -- putting the cable inside the case and hard-wiring it into one of the XO's USB ports. The instructions for this phase should work for adding any USB device to your XO.

Even though I extirpated it from my OLPC laptop and yeah, I poked a little fun at it in Phase I, I really love the design of the XO's soft green keyboard. There's no Caps Lock key, which is brilliant, it gives you access to all kinds of useful (and fun) extended characters, and the Sugar interface keys simply look cool. I will probably have mine framed, now that I'm not using it.

This part of the project is relatively benign compared with Phase I; there's no dremeling, no squeezing of parts together, just a little solder that should be pretty easy to undo later if you really need to. That said, you have to be very careful in this phase for other reasons: this time, you're working with the heart of your XO laptop. It would be very easy to cause a short circuit with some stray strands of wire or to melt a PC board with the soldering iron if you're not careful. One worry I didn't have going into this was that I might bump the clock backup battery. I should have been worried about it! Turns out that Firmware version q2d06 will never boot again if the clock battery is dislodged while you're poking around in your XO, so upgrade to q2d07 before proceeding! Thanks, eden!

Things you'll need:

1. A jeweler's large phillips screwdriver (hopefully you haven't lost yours since Phase I)
2. The needliest needle-nosed pliers you can find
3. A pair of wire cutters or very small tin snips
4. A wire stripper set one notch below "angel hair"
5. A pair of scissors
6. A multimeter or a battery soldered to two wires and an LED, for continuity testing
7. One piece of cellophane tape (sorry cello fans)
8. A soldering iron
9. Solder (preferably lead-free)
10. Something to block the USB port your new keyboard will now permanently occupy, or a good memory for which port never, ever to use again
11. An OLPC XO laptop, preferably one that has an unsightly USB cable hanging out the back
swmcd5 years ago
It may be easier to just plug stumpy into the USB port and then test continuity directly from the stripped wire ends to the solder pads on the PC board.

Cool job. Is this going to be the last Phase? These laptops are really cool, I could have one in my room on my table, then I could Instructable anytime I want!
you dont have your own computer?
I have 2 computers. No laptop.
why dont you put yours in your room?
Parents won't let me.
lol, i have 2 desktop computers (a MicronPC monster running XP Pro and a Compaq running ubuntu , 1.7Ghz Pentium4, 20 GB HDs in each, neither one plugged in), a G3 tray-loader iMac (333Mhz, runs Jaguar (10.2) excellently, beats my laptop in speed) and my HP laptop that i got for free because it didnt work. I fixed it and it runs perfectly now (2.8Ghz Celeron) :P :D
that sucks, i think i know whats going through their mind, PORNO! PORNO! PORNO! like a siren, not trying to be mean or anything
my parents won't let me for that reason. but then again, theyre right...
na man that's whats going through my mind
Errrr...for GM? thats a little weird..
no lol for me hahaha jk
labelreader (author)  GorillazMiko7 years ago
I guess there could be one more phase, if I really wanted to stretch it; I have been pondering some keyboard remappings...but that's probably not as interesting. =)
dov7 years ago
Great instructions! I wonder if it is necessary to use one of the external USB ports though? I thought I saw somewhere that the OLPC motherboard has 4 USB ports, 3 of which are connected externally. I actually thought of trying to add a bluetooth adapter to the 4th one, if it exists that is...
micronxd dov6 years ago
There IS an unused 4 pin connector on the mobo near the upper right corner of the south bridge. I can't find documentation on it ANYWHERE. I really want to soldier a USB drive to it and lay it over the codec chip if that is in fact a USB port in disguise..
labelreader (author)  dov7 years ago

Yeah, I looked into that before I went ahead with this, and it turns out that the USB host controller in the XO does support four ports, but if I understood correctly, one of those is used by the Wi-Fi interface.

OTOH, it would be pretty easy to fit a small hub into the machine to handle multiple internal peripherals. Bluetooth would be nice for a mouse -- it would be cool to build-in one of those bluetooth fabric keyboards and dispense with routing the keyboard cable altogether. =)
dov labelreader7 years ago
Always using bluetooth for the keyboard sounds would probably drain the battery a bit faster. Are you sure about the fourth port being used for the WiFi interface? Any references? Another question. Are you still able to close the lid of the OLPC with the new keyboard? When you do, are any keys being pressed? If there are keys pressed, it might interfer with the ability to use the OLPC in tablet mode.
labelreader (author)  dov7 years ago
Pretty sure...my reference was a PDF (maybe from laptop.org?), but I can't find it again now...should've del.icio'ed it. In tablet mode, the screen does hit the keyboard. That's because the back of the "head" of the XO is convex, vs. the concave front. So, if you use tablet mode, you're probably better off simply disconnecting your stuck keyboard and always using an external USB model. Of course, one of those fabric bluetooth keyboards would not have this problem, but from playing with one, I don't think the feel of those is as good as the basic XO keyboard. However, the lid does close and latch; not as readily as before, granted. I have noticed that keys are often pressed while closing it, but as far as I can tell, they don't stay pressed while it's closed. Hopefully, the upcoming suspend mode software update will make closing the XO useful. *grin*