Introduction: ThinkPad Classic Keyboard Mod

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If you have a Lenovo ThinkPad T430, T430s or X230 and want to swap the stock 6-row chiclet-style keyboard for a classic T410/T420 7-row keyboard, this guide will show you how to do it. This should also work for X230t, T530 and W530.

xx30 series ThinkPads have slightly different keyboard bezel design compared to previous generations so you will have to modify the keyboard itself a little bit in order to make it fit.

The whole process is relatively easy and takes no more than 10-15 minutes. You will only need some basic tools and the keyboard, no additional parts required.

The keyboard in the images have already been modified, so be sure to read the descriptions.

Step 1: Gather the Tools

Picture of Gather the Tools

You will need:

  • small wire cutters
  • pliers
  • file
  • guitar pick or plastic spudger

Step 2: Cut Off the Central Tab

Picture of Cut Off the Central Tab

The xx30 series keyboard has 4 retaining tabs at the bottom that slide inside the bezel and provide additional stability for the keyboard. The xx20 series keyboard however has an additional tab in the center right below the TrackPoint buttons. Simply cut it off with wirecutters so it looks the same as your xx30 keyboard and smooth out sharp edges with file.

Step 3: Modify 4 Remaining Tabs

Picture of Modify 4 Remaining Tabs

The 4 remaining tabs provide additional stability for the keyboard and prevent it from wobbling during use. That's why I don't recommend cutting them off completely, even though it's the quickest way. Instead cut them partially so they resemble the tabs from your xx30 keyboard as closely as possible.

To do this cut the edges of each tab laterally to the bottom of the keyboard, so you could then use pliers to bend out the middle part. Bend it outward so it becomes level with the keyboard base plate and then cut off the excess part while leaving a little slack. This slack is your new tab. Smooth out sharp edges with file.

Step 4: Remove the Top Button Cover

Picture of Remove the Top Button Cover

The shape of the xx30 series bezel is slightly different along the top border of the keyboard. If you install the xx20 keyboard at this point you will see that the bezel bends out right above the mute button. This doesn't look nice and can potentially interfere with opening and closing the lid.

To overcome this you have first remove the decorative plastic strip that covers the buttons. Use guitar pick to carefully pry the plastic upwards at the top. It's held by 3 small hooks. The pick on the photo shows their location as well as the technique.

Step 5: Cut the Excess Plastic

Picture of Cut the Excess Plastic

The bend is caused by two tiny plastic tabs (shown in red) that extend upwards from the plastic base. Carefully cut them off to make the plastic base straight.

Step 6: Isolate Contact Pins

Due to the fact that newer keyboards have backlight, there are minor electrical differences between xx30 and xx20 series keyboards. That's why you need to isolate several contact pins on the keyboard's ribbon cable using electrical, scotch or masking tape. Failure to do so will make several contacts short circuit and burn out when you power the keyboard on for first time. Interestingly, this will result in electrical current not being able to flow through them anymore, thus making the problem resolve itself.

While general consensus seems to be that it's ok to leave the contact pins as they are and let them burn out, there is at least one known case of keyboard circuitry frying as a result. Therefore I recommend spending additional 5-7 minutes to isolate the contact pins just to be on the safe side.

This guide will show you which pins to isolate and how to get to them.

Disclaimer: whether to skip this step is entirely up to you. No matter how you choose to proceed, you are solely responsible for any damage you cause to your laptop, it's parts or yourself.

Step 7: Reassemble and Install the Keyboard

Picture of Reassemble and Install the Keyboard

Now that you have performed all the necessary modifications, you can reattach the plastic cover and then proceed to install the keyboard the regular way. If you did everything right, it should snap in place with ease. If not, put it side by side with your xx30 keyboard and check if the bottom tabs are not too big. If they are, file them down until they fit.

The only thing left to do now is to flash the modified EC firmware so all your top row and Fn+ keys work as they should. Until then, the keyboard functions the same way as the stock xx30 one, but with slight differences:

Delete is Home, PgDn is Insert and PgUp is Delete.
The actual PgUp and PgDn are above the cursor keys where they used on the stock keyboard and the context menu button (between right Ctrl and Alt keys) still functions as PrtSc.

Congratulations, you now have a ThinkPad with one of the best laptop keyboards in the world!

All the files and info needed to flash EC firmware mod can be found on the project's GitHub page.

Comments

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2017-10-28

Nice mod. Thanks for sharing.

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