Repurposing old hardware.

by debianjoe



Fun little project.

After the huge discussion on how I’m a thinkpad fanatic, one of the guys who I work with brought me a t43 in a cardboard box!  He says “I think something may be wrong with the mobo, but you can have it for spare parts if you need it.”

The first thing I did was slap a HDD in it and try to boot it up.  It posted some beep codes, and then I realized that I could faintly see the outline of some text (ala “out backlight”).  It was complaining about the hard disk, but recognized it and allowed me to bypass the update for firmware and continued to boot to grub.  This HDD had Debian Sid with cwm on it already, and I figured I’d use it for the testing.  I plugged an external monitor into the vga port and I was pleasantly surprised to see getty awaiting a log in.

Okay, no big deal.  I’ve got an extra backlight.  So, I took and swapped monitors totally out, but was presented with the exact same issue.  That ruled out backlight, power invertor, etc.  So I swapped out the power-supply for the monitor.  Nothing changed.  At this point, I tried the external monitor again.  Still worked fine.  So, lacking the knowhow to remove the on-board graphics adapter, I started thinking “What can I do with a working laptop base, hooked up to an external monitor?”  I already have a few desktops.  A have more laptops than is probably normal.  And then it hit me.  My kids would probably really like a SNES, NES, Game boy system that they didn’t have to blow on cartridges from 1988 to make work.

I set up the system, modified a SNES controller with an internal chip to covert it to a USB joystick, and then set up the little t43 base with mednafen and some roms of games that I owned.  After setting up the controller, I played Super Metroid for about 30 minutes before I remembered that I was supposed to be working on a fun project…not playing Super Metroid.  The problem is that mednafen, while being an amazing emulator for multiple systems, is launched from command line with the path to the ROM you want to open.  This is a bit complicated for a 5-year-old.

So, I hacked out a little bash script that simply lets them use the number associated with the game that it will launch via case-switch.  I tested it out, thoroughly with Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, and then turned it over to them to play with.  I modded up the .cwmrc to actually contain menu items so that they could easy launch my script, and let them go nuts.

After all was said and done, I ended up with a pretty cool little system that was a good replacement for some really old hardware that everyone still loves.  Considering that I had all of the parts sitting around except for the base that was given to me, it cost me exactly “nothing” to build other than some time.  Everyone loves it, especially for getting a few of the older game-boy games off of the very sketchy, ancient game-boy that I let them play with and onto something that actually worked well.

I love repurposing old hardware in ways that it can be appreciated once again.  Anytime it ends up with me getting to play Super-Metroid, that’s just a double win.