Unusual build from some old laptop spare parts

  • I had some spare parts laying around from an old Thinkpad x230 and this was the result:

    I still need to fix everything inside of a case and maybe find a better power source for the disks, but most of the work is done.

    Tricky part was connecting the two 3.5" HDDs to it, but sorted out with the help of a dock station with eSATA and some unusual SATA cables.

    Setup / Parts used:

    • (bottom-half of a) Lenovo Thinkpad x230 laptop
    • Dock station (with eSATA connector) + laptop power brick (not in picture)
    • WD Red 4TB connected with SATA-to-eSATA cable to the dock station
    • WD Red 4TB connected with male-to-female SATA cable to internal SATA
    • Old HDD IDE-USB enclosure with external power supply (PSU not in picture) used to power both HDDs (with power splitter)
    • OMV installed on 120GB mSATA SSD (internal mSATA connector)
    • Gigabit Ethernet connection
    • RAID1 setup on the HDDs, some VMs on the SSD (the main reason why I didn't use an USB pen for the OS)

    Total power consumption from the wall:

    • cpu idle and HDDs sleeping: 13W
    • cpu idle and HDDs spinning but idle: 18.5W
    • cpu low load and HDDs busy: 21-29W
    • cpu heavy load and HDDs busy: 39-44W

    I might be able to lower those numbers 2-3W with a more efficient power source for the HDDs.

  • Meanwhile I've put everything inside of an old full tower PC case:

    I had to replace the power supply for the disks. The one on the previous pic was struggling to power both disks. I'm temporarily using an old ATX PSU (not very power efficient at all).

    TODO (short-term)

    - replace the PSU for the HDDs with one from my old NAS (has 12V and 5V direct outputs and enough juice to power 2 HDD's)

    - add 1 or 2 fans to the case (USB powered) and close it

    TODO (long-term)

    - somehow use the 20V from the Thinkpad's PSU to power the disks, either through a Pico-PSU (expensive) or making my own regulator for 12V and 5V (cheaper, but more work)

  • Nice project.

    Did you face any issues related to the laptop complaining about missing display and keyboard? Or is that why you used the docking station?

    The main reason I got the docking station was to get the eSATA port, so I can connect two disks (actually three if we count the SSD on the internal mSATA which runs the OS).

    Other options would be running the OS from USB and using an mSATA->SATA adapter, connecting one of the disks on USB or through the ExpressCard slot, but I didn't like much any of those options.

    Funny fact: the SATA controller on the x230 motherboard actually supports up to 6 disks, unfortunately there are only 2 connections available: the internal SATA and another one on the dock port (which connects to eSATA port on some docking stations), both are SATA 3.

    The mSATA is SATA 2, but that's fine, I can still get good speed on the SSD.

    The power button on the dock also comes in handy to turn it on, otherwise I'd have to use wake-on-lan.

    Apart from that it works fine without display or keyboard, no complains.

    With an USB keyboard and mouse and external monitor (either on the VGA port or the mini-DP port) it can work as a low power desktop PC.

    Only thing missing is the power button, but if you have it connected to ethernet, you can use wake-on-lan.

    Some keyboards have a power button, which might work as well, but I don't have any usb keyboard with that key, so I haven't tested that.

    Tricky part is when you first install a system on it or try to run a linux live-usb for example... On a graphical environment it usually sets the internal display as the main display (ie. where the menu/task bar goes). Depending on the desktop environment, sometimes it can be a bit tricky to disable the internal display and/or move the menus to the external display. Usually solved with tricks like Alt-F2 and entering the name of the display-properties program.

    When running on the console it usually mirrors the internal display, so installing OMV isn't a problem.

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