Duncan Bayne

When in doubt, dike it out

From the Jargon File:

To remove or disable a portion of something, as a wire from a computer … A standard slogan is “When in doubt, dike it out” … The word ‘dikes’ is widely used to mean ‘diagonal cutters’, a kind of wire cutter.

Recently I ordered myself a ‘new’ dev laptop: a refurbished Lenovo X220 w/ 16Gib RAM. I fitted the 256GiB SSD from my old Lenovo e550 (not recommended), and installed FreeBSD 11.0 (highly recommended). I also ordered a couple of spare power adaptors, and a docking station. Total price came in at around AUD$380 (not counting the SSD).

I specifically chose the X220 for a few characteristics that I value very highly:

  • Robustness.

  • Full chipset support in FreeBSD 11.0.

  • Excellent keyboard (better than any new laptop I’ve tried, including later Lenovo models).

  • Matte screen (albeit 768p).

I ordered mine from an eBay seller I highly recommend (z3r0k00l). It arrived promptly, and in excellent condition. However … it didn’t have a webcam! I’d assumed that all X220 models had them fitted, but some didn’t. When I asked if they stocked webcam modules, z3r0k00l said they didn’t, but offered to pay for a module from another seller. A generous offer extended to someone who simply failed to read an eBay listing :)

Anyhow - I declined their offer, and purchased a module from a different seller for $US6.75. Once it arrived, I went to fit it, and discovered that there are (at least) two different types of Lenovo X220. One has a two-wire WiFi antenna fitted, the other a three-wire antenna. The latter doesn’t fit webcams, because the third antenna sits right in the webcam bay.

I have the three wire model :(

Nothing that can’t be fixed with a pair of diagonal cutters, however.

When in doubt, dike it out

The procedure I used:

  1. Download the maintenance manual (hat-tip to the Lenovo Forums).
  2. Read the procedure for removal of the webcam module on page 92, and assume that installation is the reverse of that.
  3. Remove the LCD bezel. Note that the covers over the screws are flexible, adhesive, plastic squares. They’re not made of the same material as the case.
  4. Find the small webcam plug hanging loosely into the webcam bay.
  5. Plug that into the webcam module, leaving the protective cover on the camera.
  6. Spend the best part of an hour swearing while trying to wrestle the webcam module into the webcam bay.
  7. Do some more Googling, and realise that the aerial in the bay is preventing installation.
  8. Fetch dikes from workshop; cut through cable to aerial and foil stuff holding aerial in place.
  9. Fit webcam module into bay; it now fits snugly.
  10. Remove protective cover from camera.
  11. Replace bezel.
  12. Boot laptop and test webcam.
  13. Stick protective cover that came with the webcam module onto the bezel.
  14. Play success music and drink wine.

Webcam installed

The end result is a functioning webcam, with no appreciable loss in WiFi reception. I have noticed that the ThinkLight has ceased functioning; I’m unsure whether this is by design (i.e. the webcam and the ThinkLight are mutually exclusive), or whether I damaged the power line to the LED while fitting the webcam. Either way I think it’s a reasonable trade-off.

It’s also worth mentioning that the standard X220 webcam isn’t great (see above selfie). I’m still going to buy a FreeBSD-supported USB HD cam to hang off my external monitor, plugged into my docking station. But this will do in a pinch, and when mobile.

If you give this a shot, please email me and let me know how you get on. The usual disclaimer applies, of course: if you wave tools at your laptop and break either it or yourself, you’re on your own :)