Introduction: Installing a USB Keyboard Into an OLPC XO Laptop, Phase I

Picture of Installing a USB Keyboard Into an OLPC XO Laptop, Phase I

I don't know about you, but I can sure tell silicone from the real thing. Here's how to ditch the jelly and squeeze a normal keycaps-and-springs type USB keyboard into an OLPC XO laptop. This is "phase I" -- getting the keyboard into the lower half of the case, but leaving the USB cable connected to the external USB port (UPDATE: Phase II instructable now posted).

Radical surgery to the lower half of the XO is necessary, so your OLPC will never be the same if you do this. I did it because I had too many Dremel wheels on my hands and my XO was so much more convenient to cut holes in than my neighbor's car. Who wants to mess with an extension cord and the potential for bad weather? Also because my XO's keyboard failed -- the Ctrl key got stuck -- after the 30 day warranty period had already ended.

Things you'll need:

1. A new keyboard (see step 1)
2. Dremel tool or equivalent in sweat and pain
3. A jeweler's large phillips screwdriver, or one of those double-ended freebies they used to give away at IT-related conventions
4. Lots of cellophane tape (or hundreds of tiny helpers who don't mind being sealed inside your XO forever)
5. A desoldering iron (optional)
6. An XO laptop from OLPC, preferably one that has a keyboard problem.

Step 1: Order Your New Keyboard

Picture of Order Your New Keyboard

You kinda hafta order the keyboard first. Otherwise, you'll take apart your XO, and the pile of parts will slowly eat into your subconscious mind with subliminal nagging: "I used to be a laptop," and "You never finish anything," and eventually "" Maybe it's just my projects that say things like that.

The "Super Mini USB Keyboard" at sounded like a match based on the advertised measurements. When the box arrived in the mail, the package declared it to be an "ASK-3100 Series Ultra Mini Keyboard," featuring "the architecture of scissors keycaps."

I'm no architect, but the ASK-3100 Series Ultra Mini is a near perfect fit and a pretty good deal at $32 (plus shipping). I neglected to sign up for the "buyer's club" to get the extra 5% off. Sign up for the extra 5% off!

Here's the URL:

Step 2: Shucking the Keyboard

Picture of Shucking the Keyboard

It's time to take the case off of the ASK-3100 Series Ultra Mini Keyboard. There are eight screws on the bottom of the keyboard, but three of them are hiding from your screwdriver. Two of these cowardly screws are below the rubber feet to the front of the keyboard; peel the feet off with your thumbnail or a pointy stick. The other one is behind a sticker marked "DO NOT REMOVE." You know what to do.

Once you have the shell off, you need to disconnect the ribbon cable between the keyboard and its controller card. But wait! Unless you can design original origami figures in your head, you should take a pen and mark both the cable and the connector with an asymmetrical symbol, like the letter "F," right where they meet up. That will help you later when you have to put them back together the same way they started out. The small circuit board with the caps lock, num lock, and scroll lock LEDs on it is the controller card. The ribbon cable is about to have a bad day, so pull it gently straight back from the connector.

Step 3: No Disassemble? Yes! Disassemble!

Picture of No Disassemble? Yes! Disassemble!

I am going to have to assume some things in order to get to the heart of the project at hand.

1. You can read.
2. You can browse

Assuming 1. and 2., you should be able to go to and read the detailed and complete instructions on taking apart your XO. For Phase I of this project, you don't need to take the top half of your XO apart, just the keyboard part. When you're done getting everything apart, you'll have an XO "head" dangling two cables. The head will still works on AC power, as shown in the first photo, but the bottom part pretty much does nothing at this point.

Here I am making sure that the keyboard works. I forgot to do that before I voided its warranty, but luckily it has no problems.

Step 4: Nothing Irreversible Yet

Picture of Nothing Irreversible Yet

Assuming you didn't break any of your laptop parts trying to get it apart, this next step will be the first real damage to your XO. If you stop now and put your XO back together, your dog will not think less of you, but some of us primates might make hooting noises generally associated with derision. Go pet your dog, you'll feel better.

Make sure the original keyboard's ribbon cable is detached from its circuitboard, and here we go: work your fingernail (or pointy stick) under all three layers of the keyboard, then peel it back. It should come up in a single sheet, leaving only a sticky residue on the otherwise bare steel skeleton of your XO. I did mine while the bodiless head of my XO looked on in horror. Muahaha. Ha ha. Ha.

Place the new keyboard where the old one went. You'll notice the ribbon cable is almost in the right spot to pass through the same slot as the original keyboard's did -- but not quite.

Step 5: Make a Hole

Picture of Make a Hole

Where were we? Oh, right; making a hole for the cable to go through.

Maybe it wasn't the best choice, but I decided to simply widen the existing cable slot by joining it with the neighboring hole. That hole turns out to be where the hook-shaped pegs under the touchpad latch on, so following my example may leave your touchpad area slightly bowed (see last photo).

Out comes the Dremel tool, and at 15k RPM, the cuts are made fast. Did you remember your safety glasses? You might want a face mask, too, if you like your lungs. Either way, keep things like your eyeballs out of the way of the sparks; if the disk breaks or it kicks out something more than pretty lights, you really don't want to risk your sight.

You'll also need to make the ribbon cable a little less bulky; cut away the excess clear plastic behind the bend in the conductors. Don't cut through any of the shiny wires! After you give the cable a better elbow shape, you might want to reinforce the deepest part of the cut with some cellophane tape to keep it from tearing. Even your dog will laugh if you have to buy another $30 keyboard because you tore a few conductors in the ribbon cable.

Finally, switch to your burr bit on your Dremel and nibble away at the post that was supposed to go through that hole where your ribbon cable is now. Otherwise, bad things could happen when you put the case back together. You really don't need to reinvent punched tape as part of this project. You'll also want to get rid of the black plastic loop at the top of the keyboard, to allow the white plastic post above the keyboard to fit into its assigned hole.

Step 6: Keyboard Controller With All the Trimmings

Picture of Keyboard Controller With All the Trimmings

You'll need to trim down the new keyboard controller. I could amuse you for seconds with tales of the myriad ways I sought to fit the controller into the XO's case without doing these things, but while it might gladden your heart, it would surely bring me to tears, so let's skip it.

You'll certainly need to get rid of the LED indicator lights on the controller; they're too tall. I went to the trouble of desoldering them, but you could probably just take a pair of wire cutters and snip through them. You might also be able to de-solder and move the components on the board so they're all on the same side, or shave off some of the extra PC board and connector housing. I also trimmed all the points (sharp ends of wires poking out the bottom side of the board) I could. Finally, slap something non-conductive (here I used some gun tape) over the card to prevent it from short-circuiting.

Step 7: Make a Big Scary Hole

Picture of Make a Big Scary Hole

After you've gotten your new keyboard controller down to size, the really bad stuff starts happening to your XO. The controller card was plenty skinny to fit into the quarter-inch thick keyboard case you threw away in step 2, but the XO's base is amazingly (depressingly!) thin. Don't despair, just make another hole.

This time it's going to be a keyboard-controller-sized hole in the steel plate the keyboard's sitting on. The hole will offset some of the thickness of the controller so the XO's case will actually close again. Yay.

Align the card more or less with the ribbon cable, trace around it, then cut along the dotted line. Add an extra opening for the ribbon cable so it doesn't get crunched up against the card. I used four Dremel wheels cutting mine. Hopefully you can do better. Make sure you de-burr the edges, especially around the extra space you gave the cable, so any contact it has with the steel is nice and smooth. If you want to be extra safe, cap that steel with a piece of cello tape.

Dremel away the "ribs" running along the inside of the case opposite the controller card, so that the card will have a little more room on that side, too.

Run the USB cable up and out of the case, following the trackpad controller cable, and stick everything back into place. I used plenty of cello tape. Isn't it lovely? Luckily nobody will ever see this again.

Your job is done! Call in your closing surgeon to reassemble the XO. Do remind your colleague that the stitches will have to hold extra tight, because the patient has new and bigger guts. I'd recommend feeding the USB cable around the hinge and leaving the hinge cover off for now.

Step 8: Plug It In!

Picture of Plug It In!

Take the USB cable hanging out of the hinge of your XO and plug it into, well, your XO. Of course, you could also plug it into your friend's computer and pretend you don't know anything about the four-letter words appearing on his or her screen, and for crying out loud why can't he/she just let you work on your laptop in peace?

That's it for now. When I get a chance I'll try taking this to the next logical step; phase II will include running the USB cable into the head of the XO and connecting it to one of the USB ports directly.

February 10, 2008 UPDATE: Phase II instructable now posted:


Sandisk1duo (author)2008-03-27

so um, where did you get the computer?

NetReaper (author)Sandisk1duo2008-06-14

A magical land call Google.

Sandisk1duo (author)NetReaper2008-06-15

it's more then just $100 like $235, i would rather get a athlon 64 x2 with motherboard, 80gb hardrive, power supply, case and dvd burner for the same money

NetReaper (author)Sandisk1duo2008-06-15

Than, not then

Sandisk1duo (author)NetReaper2008-06-15

I'm not an English teacher...

NetReaper (author)Sandisk1duo2008-06-15

:) i speak spanish!

CARMINA567 (author)NetReaper2010-11-18

Good morning It is possible to have your opinion in spanish please??? regards

Yerboogieman (author)NetReaper2008-06-15

эта клавиатура даже не освещает, lol

Sandisk1duo (author)NetReaper2008-06-15

well so do i , but i don't teach it

stalledaction (author)NetReaper2008-10-27

You're my hero.

kbhasi (author)2010-11-01

what about the special hotkeys on the keyboard and stuff like that?

labelreader (author)kbhasi2010-11-02

For the most part, the function keys do the same things, they just don't look as pretty!

ReCreate (author)2009-02-22

what kind of laptop is that what are the specs and what os does it run it looks awfully weird

mwarren_us (author)2008-06-16

Has anyone found a white or green alternative keyboard?

terd_ferguson (author)mwarren_us2009-01-23

I would just repaint the XO. I hate the color scheme.

mwarren_us (author)mwarren_us2008-06-30

I still haven't found a green or white keyboard, however, Brando's USB store has a Super Mini USB keyboard for just $22 + $3 S&H.

labelreader (author)mwarren_us2008-06-30

That looks like the same keyboard -- good pricehunting!

Raychaser (author)2009-01-10

Brilliant idea!!! Thanks. I did mine already and finished with a slick black paintjob and it looks great. I managed to get the LED lights for the caps/scroll/num lock in there too so it IS possible but I had to carve away a bit more of the frame to make it fit and drill holes so you can see the 3 lights. Also I got a cheap USB hub soldered into the top half and routed one of the 4 ports back to the USB port I stole from the OLPC so from the outside everything works as it should. I'll post pictures if I think of it later. Now my biggest worry: Airport security. I built this to travel but I'm seriously worried about how they will react when this thing goes through the X-ray. My soldering looks fairly professional and the wires are all neat but ... Does anyone have any opinions or experience with this?

Raychaser (author)Raychaser2009-01-11

Here are some pictures of the final layout and of the internal circuit layout

labelreader (author)Raychaser2009-01-12

Very nice indeed! What sort of paint did you use? Was the trackpad sensitivity affected at all?

labelreader (author)labelreader2009-01-12

BTW, nice keyboard controller board placement!

Raychaser (author)labelreader2009-01-12

yeah, I was worried about the trackpad so I did a little test first and no, it seems to work just fine. The paint is called Krylon Fusion and it was the only thing I could find. It doesn't stick to the rubber at all though and even though it says that it's chip proof it still chips. I might need to remove it all and actually go through the trouble of using vinyl dye. Re: keyboard circuit: thanks. it took quite a while to make everything fit. There's not much room in there so you're dealing with millimeters. First time I closed the case I heard a CRUNCH and the capacitor on the hub was toast and I had to replace it. .... luckily I had a spare.

labelreader (author)Raychaser2009-01-11

Cool! I'd love to see the paint job -- I hope you do find time to post photos! I haven't taken mine through security, so I don't know how they'll react to the modifications (which will definitely look curious on x-ray).

last_decoy (author)2008-07-01

they have been sending these off to 3-world countries en-mass! just cant wait to see osama using one. sweet tutorial dude!

pen_sq (author)2008-05-17

First of all, brilliant project! I tried going the easier route by doing minimum damage to the steel plate, and pushing the keyboard PCB deeper. I probably ended up taking longer than you for it, But if we were ever to joust with our XO's, I believe I'd win. On the plastic side, I made a hole in the case to accommodate the controller on the PCB, and ground away little divots for the capacitor, SMT parts, and taller solder points. Carbon paper would probably help with this, sadly, I didn't have any. Use a strong light to get an idea how thin you've cut into the plastic. I plan on plugging the square hole with Shapelock after assembly. I started out drilling the plate more randomly than through actual scientific measurement, and ended up with an oversized slot for the metal-can crystal to stick out of. I also made a more directed slot for the ribbon connector. The holes are made with a drill press, using dremel abrasion discs and conical grinding stones to smooth them out. At a first test fit, I found the crystal to be a little tall, so I wired it a bit off to the side, the keyboard still seems happy with that. I ground a shallow into the case for it, The stupidly large slot for it is something to be AVOIDED in the future. Finally, I haven't finished mine yet, I hope nobody else beats me to some fatal flaw in my little variant.

pen_sq (author)pen_sq2008-05-19

OK, I have mine together, and found I got the keyboard centered wrong. The top row of keys binds up, so I get to take it all apart again. The top plastic edge is TREACHEROUS - I test fit the top panel many times, but it still went wrong on me. I have the keyboard well glued to the steel plate, so I guess I'll just skim a bit across the top edge with a dremel, and repeat. My drill press (+ XY table) died earlier, so keeping a straight edge will be a hoot. Since I'm on the hook for a re-disassembly, I get another chance to snap some more forgotten pictures of the insides. I found that putting a loop-de-loop in the ribbon is a nice way to shift the end sideways without making a mess of Horrible creases. I sandwiched a double-stick foam pad inside the loop to ease the creasing stress a bit, too.

pen_sq (author)pen_sq2008-05-21

I bet mine was a bit more difficult to get back together - the USB board has to be taped to the back of the plate just right before heaping/hooking/sliding the back panel into place. It was not fun the first two times, and I don't expect it to be better the third. After putting it all together, I found the keyboard to be a flake. Sometimes it would send lots of +++++'s, sometimes the shift key would be mysteriously stuck, and eventually clear. My first suspicion is that the keyboard really needs the ground spring connection to it's board, so I'll open it up and wire that. Another 2 possibilities are that the ribbon connector shifted crooked, or it isn't a full plastic sandwich and is shorting against itself. Aargh!

pen_sq (author)pen_sq2008-05-27

OK, I got around to attaching the ground, and YES, it is that important. I replaced one of the marked short screws with a regular one to hold my ground line, I'm glad they threw in extras! So, now the keyboard works fine. I updated the XO's OS to the latst joyride, and there are still issues with the kernel oopsing on resume from short-term suspends (see this bugreport).

labelreader (author)pen_sq2008-05-19

Cool! Looks like you found a better way to do it! Let me know how your case closes; it would be great if you get a better overall fit out of this technique! A little bit of putty never hurt any project. ;o)

agis68 (author)2008-04-09

where u get the OLPC from? I need one!

crunchykiller (author)agis682008-05-17

when u buy one, you will have to buy two. one donate to someone in africa and on to yourself. i got mine from fry. i saw one in best buy.

fhage (author)agis682008-04-10

Ebay. New, in-box are going for $300-400 + shipping. My XO had the Ctrl key stick. I tried the cleaning the back of the membrane and still had problems so I went for the fix in this article In fact, In fact, I'm using it now. The keyboard is much, much more usable. However,... 1. The new keyboard is still small for big hands, but is much better for touch typing. The action on the keys is excellent and reasonably quiet. 2. The parts don't quite fit in the spaces allowed. The circuit card for the keyboard has parts on both sides including a quartz crystal which won't fit without removing it from the circuit board, adding jumper wires and grinding off part of its metal case. Even then the circuit card is still about 1 mm too thick to actually fit. Thus, one has to be satisfied with a keyboard that bows up slightly under the space bar and touch pad. I can squeeze the extra mm out of the thickness, but it flexes the new circuit card and springs back into shape when released. 3. The keys also are a very tight fit. They stick up about 1 mm higher than the membrane keys and interfere with the case. In standard position, the case closes, but requires extra pressure to close. The pressure collapses the keys in the first two rows an along the sides about .5mm. As far as I can tell, the keys only touch the case, and are just shy of the screen. It's that tight a fit. In e-book configuration, the case hits the keys and causes the head section to naturally rest with about a 1cm gap between the head end and the front of the base of the XO.. It no longer lies flat without squeezing it together. The interference only partially depresses the keys; keystrokes are not registered. My guess is the new keyboard improves the durability of the XO as the keys act as a bunch of little cushions holding the head end tight against the base. Some building tips: I used a drill to make a series of small holes around the perimeter of the cutout for the new circuit card and cable, then used my dremel cutoff wheel to cut the bridges between the holes. Clamp the metal plate in a vise and file to make the edges smooth. This is much easier and produces much cleaner edges than trying to do the whole cut with small cutoff tools. Use a sharp wood chisel to remove the plastic parts on the back of the case that cause interference. The new circuit card fits between two ribs, but is an exact fit, the cross ribs must be trimmed to be precisely flush with the bottom of the case and sides of the ribs. Hold the chisel by hand and rock it back and forth as you apply pressure, the plastic will cut like butter and will finish up exactly flush. (PS. I never would have been able to enter this message on the original keyboard. I find this a dramatic improvement to the usability of the XO.)

agis68 (author)fhage2008-04-11

Thanks , i will try to get one.....and i will be in touch if i have any keyboard troubles

nish2575 (author)2008-05-15

i love the tone. makes me crack up

Aar000n3y (author)2008-02-07

Is that the new laptop for children that they're trying to spread around the world? Did your school sign up to use them or how did you get it? And how does the laptop perform? Sorry, I just haven't heard of anybody having one, so I've wondering about these... Anyways, good instructable. A couple pictures are a bit blurry, but they aren't too bad. I dislike those 'jelly' keyboards too, they feel so weird.

labelreader (author)Aar000n3y2008-02-07

I got mine through the now-ended give-one-get-one program. Here's hoping the production laptops for children in need don't have the same issue!

metasj (author)labelreader2008-05-04

Thanks for this awesome instructable! The only reported keyboard problems were from some of the g1g1 laptops... not the newer keyboards.

labelreader (author)Aar000n3y2008-02-07

BTW, performance is okay. It boots very slowly, and applications launch slowly, but once up and running it's fine. It should be a great machine for composition, basic web use (Flash support is limited) and playing educational games. The really exciting stuff is the collaborative hardware and software that makes it easy to join in activities other kids are doing on the wireless network, but I can't really comment on that since I don't have more than one. =)

Aar000n3y (author)labelreader2008-02-07

Sounds really cool. I'm interested to see how this developes over the next few years

vkoser (author)2008-02-07

You sir are my hero, I love my XO but HATE the keyboard. Such a great laptop made useless by the keyboard for anyone with hands larger than a child. I'm not sure I'm brave enough to try this yet but I may resort to giving it a shot over selling it and getting an eee which was my other choice. Thanks so much for detailing this. Two questions: 1) I missed how the keyboard attaches is it just the sticky tape on the mounting panel? 2) Does the lid close ok without the keys impacting against the screen?

fhage (author)vkoser2008-04-10

1. There is an adhesive applied to the metal backing which holds the membrane in place. The remaining adhesive hold the new keyboard in place. 2. See my comments above.

timdoyle91 (author)vkoser2008-03-30

"made useless by the keyboard for anyone with hands larger than a child." LOL! They are designed for children.

labelreader (author)vkoser2008-02-07

I was really willing to concede the keyboard design to children and use an external keyboard for myself, but apparently there's a manufacturing defect in some (like mine) that causes certain keys to get stuck in their pressed state, which makes the machine useless unless you disable the internal keyboard (or whichever keys have started affecting you so far). I probably should have commented on (1). It's partly the sticky residue from the previous keyboard, but mostly the pressure of being held between the frame and the steel plate. The cello tape I used was mostly to hold things in place until I could shut the case. As for (2), it seems to close okay. I think it would work better if I explored some of the options I mentioned in step six; as it is, there's a slight curve to the keyboard because of the tight fit.

gimmelotsarobots (author)2008-03-30

Same thing. Where do you get an XO laptop. All I could find was how to make a donation.

cmonkey (author)2008-02-17

Amazing. You are certainly brave. My ctrl key is starting to stick, so I may have to do this. Did you consider using a PS/2 keyboard? IIRC, the XO keyboard is PS/2.

labelreader (author)cmonkey2008-02-18

I didn't know too much about how the internal keyboard was designed; do you know where there's documentation on the PS/2 interface used, and where the 'interesting' points are on the keyboard/touchpad controller card? You could definitely spare your XO the loss of one of its USB ports that way. The second phase (connecting to USB) was the easier part, though, I will say. *grin*

The ultimate alternative to cutting up your XO, though, is to map the interface for each matrix (the original keyboard's and the replacement's) and then use a Propeller or PIC chip to transform between them. If you did that, you wouldn't need to hack away quite so much of the machine and you wouldn't need to use a USB port. It would be much more elegant than my hack!

cmonkey (author)labelreader2008-02-18

The datasheet is here:

Looks like its regular old PS/2 going back from the controller card to the motherboard, except it uses 3.3v instead of 5v. Presumably you could reuse the same data lines and pull 5v from elsewhere in the laptop, like one of the USB ports.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-02-07

Pretty cool, I want one of those laptops, those are the new ones that they're trying to help people with and stuff. Do you use that one, or a different one?

About This Instructable




More by labelreader:Cat-Powered Automatic Cat FeederFinishing the Job: Installing a USB Keyboard into an OLPC XO Laptop, Phase IIInstalling a USB Keyboard into an OLPC XO Laptop, Phase I
Add instructable to: