Custom BIOS

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Some ThinkPad fans have created Custom BIOSes to remove whitelists, disable annoying errors, do Fn-Ctrl keyswaps, and add more functionality. With the exception of the Hardware Flashing section, the only thing you need to install these BIOSes is Windows.

  • X200, X60, T60, Macbook 2,1 - Libreboot - Based on Coreboot, this BIOS (approved by the FSF) removes all proprietary blobs to create Free Libre Open Source Laptops, where everything from the motherboard to the computer can use Open Source Software. Richard Stallman famously uses a Libreboot X60.
  • T61, R61, X61/X61s/X61T, X300 - Middleton's BIOS - Enables SATAII, removes whitelist, thermal fixes, Fn-Ctrl swap.
  • T43/T43p, R52, X41/X41T - TTav134's BIOS - Removes Error 2010 for aftermarket hard drives, and the BIOS whitelist.

Middleton's BIOS

A user on NotebookReview named 'Middleton' made these alternative BIOSes to enable SATA2 on certain Thinkpad models (X61/T61/R61/X300). These ThinkPads are limited to SATA1 in their BIOS even though the hardware is SATA2. This is a huge drawback for anyone wanting to use SSDs, because it is so much slower.

Also, it is not possible to install some wireless cards, because only certain models are whitelisted by IBM/Lenovo. Middleton's BIOS removes this limitation as well.

See the wikipage Middleton's BIOS for installation instructions, downloads, and more description.

Note: If your BIOS-Update tool says that no update is needed, then simply downgrade the Bios first: On Lenovo's drivers download page, the old Bios files are listed at the very bottom of the page.

Hardware Flashing (xx30 and up)

The xx30 Series of ThinkPads (X230/T430/W530) and up introduced new Intel security features that make it impossible to flash the BIOS using software. You must use hardware flashing methods to modify these laptop BIOSes.

It's actually easier than it seems, all you need is a BIOS mod from the table below, an SPI Flasher (Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, Bus Pirate) and a Pomona 5250 Solderless SOIC-8 Clip. More documentation on Hardware BIOS Flashing coming soon, but here's a preliminary one.

Model Author Date of Creation Version Download Notes
T430 BIOS-mods: BDMaster, ucupsz 2013 N/A Uses SPI Flasher (RPi, BeagleBone Black, Bus Pirate) + Pomona 5250 solderless clip.
X230 BIOS-Mods: BDMaster, JimmyZ 2015-04-19 G2UJ20US (2.63) ROM Uses SPI Flasher (Raspberry Pi in this example) + Pomona 5250 solderless clip.
X230 Tablet BIOS-Mods: kemod, sovem 2014-03-12 (2.57) N/A Although this author desolders the chip to flash from an external programmer, you can actually just use a solderless Pomona 5250 Clip with an SPI Flasher (RPi, Bus Pirate). See the X230 flashing thread for more info.

BIOS-Mods user BDMaster attempted to unlock the chip using software (provides the possibility of no more hardware flashing), but it was a failure. Sorry. (Maybe the tester just did it wrong?)

Possible Mods

If you have the skills, please research these proposed BIOS mods to solve long unsolved issues in the ThinkPad xx30 Series.

  • Install Classic Keyboard on xx30 Series ThinkPads - Forum Thread - You can actually insert the 7-row keyboard into a T430, and it will work: except for the 7th row. However, given that the T430 Japanese Keyboard has 4 extra keys vs the US English 6-row, and it gets auto-detected perfectly, so there must be a way to add the 7-row keyboard as a new layout.
    • A great feasibility study for this mod is to do the mod in reverse: modify the T420 BIOS to allow a T430's 6-row keyboard to work. That way, we can learn to add a new keyboard layout without hardware flashing (or at least sacrifice the Japanese layout).
  • Fix 16GB + eGPU instability in the X230 - The X230/X230T has suffered from a crippling bug that causes 100% CPU usage when an eGPU and 16GB of RAM are installed simultaneously. Oleh solved this on the X220, but to make it work on the X230, it takes hardware flashing, and Oleh's assistance to make another BIOS mod for it.

Oleh's eGPU + 16GB Instability Fix

The ThinkPad X220 and other xx20 laptops have long suffered from a crippling bug that causes 100% CPU usage when an eGPU and 16GB of RAM are installed simultaneously. This most likely stems from a lack of support in BIOS for 1600 and 1866 MHz memory modules.

Lenovo has never bothered to release a patch, but recently in August 2015, a BIOS-Mods user named Oleh has fixed the issue. Note that, due to the amount of work needed for these nifty bonus features, Oleh's mods may cost a premium of 1500 Rubles (~USD 25). For the password-protected ones, you should ask him directly in the BIOS-Mods forums.

Model Author Date of Creation Version Download Notes
X220/X220 Tablet BIOS-Mods: Oleh 2015-08-06 8DUJ26US (1.40) Oleh Removes mPCI Whitelist. Oleh's mod also unlocks higher memory speeds, AES, and Intel vbios.
W520 BIOS-Mods: Oleh 2015-08-11 (1.42) Oleh Removes mPCI Whitelist. Oleh's mod also unlocks higher memory speeds, AES, and Intel vbios.
T520 BIOS-Mods: Oleh 2015-08-04 (1.45) Oleh Removes mPCI Whitelist. Oleh's mod also unlocks higher memory speeds, AES, and Intel vbios.
T420 BIOS-Mods: Oleh 2015-08-10 (1.46) Oleh Removes mPCI Whitelist. Oleh's mod also unlocks higher memory speeds, AES, and Intel vbios.

Whitelist Removed BIOSes

All known ThinkPads implement a BIOS mPCI Whitelist, which only allow certain Lenovo-approved mPCI Wifi cards to work. This makes it difficult to upgrade the wireless card to newer standards such as Wireless-N (Although it apparently allows all mSATA drives)

At bios-mods.com, there are a few skilled users who are able to remove mPCI whitelists upon request, such as Sovem. If you like their work, please donate a few dollars to help them continue their efforts.

Here is a list of mods, with installation files archived at the Internet Archive:

Model Author Date of Creation Version Download Notes
W520 BIOS-Mods: Sovem 2014-04-04 (1.42) EXE
T520 BIOS-Mods: Sovem 2013-07-27 (1.43) EXE - ISO
T420 BIOS-Mods: Sovem 2013-09-24 83ET76WW (1.46) EXE Also works on T420i (i3 edition)
T420s BIOS-Mods: Sovem 2015-08-06 8CET59WW (1.39) EXE Adds "Advanced Menu".
X220/X220 Tablet BIOS-Mods: Various 2015-08-06 8DUJ26US (1.40) EXE Adds "Advanced Menu".
X301 BIOS-Mods: Sovem 2013-09-25 6EET56WW (3.16) EXE
X300 Middleton 2015 - 2010 (1.10) EXE Includes SATA II Mod and other goodies.

Note that if the updater states that your BIOS is already "up-to-date", simply downgrade to a lower BIOS version from Lenovo's site (e.g. 1.41 for custom 1.42), and then try the custom BIOS installer again.

DIY Whitelist Removal

The wikipage Problem with unauthorized MiniPCI network card gives deeper technical details about how the whitelist works and how to remove it. There is a section on that page that also provides information about successful/unsuccessful attempts.

These methods may be necessary for older and more obscure ThinkPads. They do not work on modern ThinkPads, over T43. Maybe a table of compatible ones should be made here?