ThinkPad Classic Keyboard Mod




Introduction: ThinkPad Classic Keyboard Mod

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 should take no more than 10-15 minutes. You will only need some basic tools and the keyboard itself. No additional parts are required!

The keyboard shown in the photos have already been modified, so read the descriptions carefully. Most photos also have captions containing additional information and details, so be sure not to miss them too.

Step 1: Gather the Tools

You will need:

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

Step 2: 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

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

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

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. Please, be careful!

Step 7: 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 too big. If they are, file them down more, 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 keys are where they used to be on the stock keyboard — above the arrow keys. Additionally, 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.

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    1 year ago

    I just followed your guide and it turned out well, thanks. I just flattened tabs with vice grips, not ideal but can't see the squashed tabs. Had to flex the palmrest heaps to get the tabs under. What a mission... now I have no backlight, but I can see keys thanks to my new IPS screen. Weeeee. Silly hobby.


    Question 1 year ago

    i have a cuestion, i did these and all works fine,1 one thing:

    i dont know how to get the 3 trackpoints button below de thouchpad working.

    did you have these problem too?


    1 year ago

    Thanks for this instructable.

    It's getting harder to find classic keyboards, though - most of
    the sellers are selling some kind of newer model (the backside looks
    different from the ALPS/Chicony/NMB models) which seems to be a bit
    inferior in quality. It has a sticker "CSD12 Backlit Keyboard" on the back. On that keyboard, the power button LED is not exactly in the center, the ThinkVantage label looks a bit crappy, and the typing feel is a bit mushy. I suspect it's made by some third party factory.
    I got one of these, one new Chicony (which was last one available from that seller, and relatively expensive) and one used Chicony (which needed a lot of cleaning, would have preferred getting another new one). I couldn't find any NMB keyboard, even though that's the one I prefer (most of the keys in my X220 became polished to piano gloss black with usage, but it still works fine).

    I've done the mod to two X230t tablets and one X230 laptop so far.

    Instead of following steps 2 and 3, I used X220t and X220 palmrests which are rather cheap on eBay. Their shape nicely follows the arc of the TrackPoint buttons. I read that this is only possible with X230 model, a T520 or W520 palmrest wouldn't fit a T530 or W530. I can confirm it also works with X230t (which has a different palmrest than the non-tablet version).

    Steps 4 and 5 are easy to do, on X230t they can be skipped if a X220t keyboard bezel is used (it fits). However, the X220 bezel doesn't fit X230. I used the X220t bezel on one of my X230t tablets and modified the keyboard for the other and the X230 laptop.

    For step 6, I used Kapton (polyimide) tape, which is better than insulating tape in this case, because the Kapton tape is thinner, less risk of it's presence reducing the contact for the other pins. I skipped the mod for the "CSD12 Backlit Keyboard" out of curiosity, however the backlight didn't work for me. This keyboard itself works fine without the mod.

    Flashing the EC update was a bit cumbersome, since I don't currently run any Linux.
    First, I had to downgrade the BIOS to "last good" versions, after that I downloaded an Ubuntu image and used UNetbootin to flash it to a USB stick. I booted my daily driver X220 into Ubuntu, which provides a usable system without needing to install it. I then followed the steps to install the required packages, clone the thinkpad-ec GitHub repo, and create images for X220 and X220t, which I then flashed to another USB stick.

    Following the EC update, I flashed unlocked BIOS using 1vyrain. This required first downgrading to even older versions of BIOS, which can be done very conveniently by booting Windows, downloading IVprep and running downgrade.bat. With BIOS downgraded, it's just a matter of flashing the 1vyrain image to a USB stick, booting from it and following the steps.

    Note: If I understand correctly, it has to be done in this order: thinkpad-ec first, 1vyrain later. At least this is how I did it, and it worked. When you flash one of Lenovo's BIOS images, it flashes both BIOS and EC. Booting a thinkpad-ec image requires a not-too-recent BIOS, and it flashes the (patched) EC only. IVprep downgrades to a really old BIOS (requires for 1vyrain to work) but doesn't touch the EC. 1vyrain flashes the most recent BIOS (so I suspect thinkpad-ec might not work if done after this step) but doesn't touch the EC. If done in the order I mentioned, you end up with the unlocked version of the latest BIOS and the patched EC enabling the correct use of the classic keyboard.

    Main benefits of using 1vyrain to install the unlocked BIOS: you get the latest version of the BIOS, which contains some security fixes. The BIOS is unlocked meaning you can use a more modern WiFi card. For my "new" X230 I installed an Intel AX210 using a Fenvi M.2 NGFF to Mini PCI-E adapter (Key E) and can confirm that it works fine with stock antennas (this particular adapter converts the antenna ports as well, AX210 antenna ports - I-PEX4/MHF4 standard - are connected to the adapter with the included super short cables, and the X230 stock antennas - I-PEX/U.fl standard are plugged into the matching ports on the adapter as well)


    1 year ago

    Tip: Despite being the same shape, my classic keyboard was more flexible
    and the back side rattled against the frame a bit when I pressed the
    keys, especially around the "qwe" and "op[" keys. I added some padding
    by cutting out 2 layers of construction paper roughly to shape and
    taping them on my laptop frame which would be behind the keyboard. The
    keys feel much more solid now.


    2 years ago

    Thanks for summing it up, I have x230 sitting here and looking around for parts. Definitely looking to give it a try.