Replacing the worn-out CCFL display in my Thinkpad x200

So I was in the following situation: I bought a used x200 from a friend a few years ago which seems to be virtually indestructable. Yet it had one major issue: The display had severe signs of age already, namely a yellow tint and insufficient brightness even at 100% backlight. It was still usable indoors, but not under daylight or even in a train. Also the high voltage inverter necessary to drive the display made a constant hum, which was subtle yet nasty.

This led to me buying an x201 which already had LED backlight, and also one can hardly own enough compact Thinkpads, right? I would be using the x201 until this day, if it hadn’t broken down – some day, it made weird fan noises, before switching off and refusing to boot ever again. (It shows something about a fan error, but as far as I could find out it seems to be a common mainboard problem with this model, not the actual fan being broken.)

I was glad to have a backup, but also wanted a newer model (hoping it will last me longer) and went with an x230. So far so good, but having an x200 with a broken display and an x201 where everything but the display was broken kept me thinking whether it was exchangable or everything would blow up due to the inverter.

Yet the internet didn’t really deliver useful information on whether this would work and so I never dared to touch it – until yesterday. I had removed the display panel from the x201 to look for its FRU, which turned out to be 42T0711. And exactly this display was also available in the x200! Should work, shouldn’t it?

Now I just needed to take the risk and try transplanting the display. Luckily the disassembly of older x-series Thinkpads is rather easy and I had done it before. I won’t go into largely boring details here, but two things should be mentioned: It turned out that the cable between mainboard and display was incompatible, so I needed to change that too. And also the LED board within the display bezel which – in case of CCFL displays – carries the inverter. So, if you wanna do the same, make sure you have the cable and LED board, although the latter is not necessary to use the computer, so it’s somewhat optional. Remember to re-connect the bluetooth and camera modules in case your Thinkpad has those (both are optional components).

TL;DR: Are displays interchangeable between Thinkpad models x200 and x201? Yes, they are – check the FRU of the actual component in question!

x200 with the new display already built in, but still lacking the LED board beneath it. Sorry for the crappy photo, it’s the only one I took during this procedure.

Old LED board with the inverter on the right side. For non-CCFL-displays, the right half of the board is just empty. The connector on the left however is incompatible, so you need to change the whole board and can’t just un-solder the now useless inverter.

An unorthodox method to keep Dropbox from autostarting

Whether you like them or not, cloud storage solutions are a useful thing. Despite having a self-hosted ownCloud, I also still use Dropbox for various reasons.

Now on my desktop computer the Dropbox client is running all the time, so the default setting for an automatic startup is perfectly fine with me. On my notebook however I don’t want anything data-hungry to start automatically when I log in, because I don’t always have a good wireless connection – sometimes I need to tether using my phone, or I might just have a poor connection to some public network.

No problem you’d think, just disable the automated startup in the client settings and you’re fine. In the past this worked for me too, but on my current installation (running Linux Mint Cinnamon 18.2 at the moment) it didn’t. No matter how I configured it, the client would always start at login. Even when I deleted the autostart file, which is located in ~/.config/autostart, it was simply rewritten every time I manually started the client.

I figured that it might just look whether the autostart file exists, not check its contents, so instead of the command starting the Dropbox client I entered something that wouldn’t do anything meaningful at all (a blank file might work as well, but I didn’t try that). I used echo, but something like pwd or ping -c 1 127.0.0.1 would be just as fine. However, the client still overwrote that file every time, so I decided to get brutal to set the access rights to 444, making it read only for everybody. That finally worked!

I have no clue why the setting doesn’t work as it should and, to be honest, didn’t bother debugging it. My solution (or rather: workaround) works well enough for me.

One way to fix the „panel not clickable“-issue in Cinnamon.

When it comes to operating systems, my preferred choice is the popular Linux Mint with either MATE or Cinnamon as the desktop environment. Recently, Mint 18 has been released, so I already upgraded two of my machines running Mint. Everything went fine with the first one (using MATE) – something I was not used to when I still ran stock Ubuntu, which seemed to always break something with an upgrade.

However, the second machine (using Cinnamon) had one small but very nasty bug after the upgrade: The panel wasn’t clickable anymore. It seemed to work just fine (as in „not crashing“), but didn’t respond to any mouse clicks. A quick search around the web showed that this bug apparently has ocurred in the past already – and should long be fixed. I suppose that there are several possible errors which lead to this behaviour. Since I could neither find any current posts about this topic nor a fix like mine, here’s what I did:

First I tried to log in with a different user (with an empty home directory) – the panel worked just fine, so it was clear that *something* in the config files in my home directory must have been messed up. After trying a lot of different things I could isolate the error to ~/.config/dconf. This directory contains (at least in my case) one binary file, which is roughly similar to the registry on MS Windows. At this point, I can’t restrain myself from asking why the f*** someone would want to take one of the biggest flaws from one operating system and implement it into another. Argh!

Anyway, to edit that binary file you need to install the package dconf-editor. I assume you know how to do that. Since you need to at least launch a terminal although your panel is dysfunctional, I should add that – at least in my case – the applications menu still worked when opened using the Super key (the one that usually has a Windows logo on it). If that doesn’t work for you, using ssh -X might be an option. Or you could somehow create a launcher on your desktop.

In the dconf-editor, you need to find the value desktop.ibus.panel.show. On my computer, it was set to 2 – setting it to 0 immediately solved the problem. There is probably also a fancy command-line only way to do this.

I must admit that I do not completely understand what went wrong in the first place, yet the fact that it seems – in my case – to be related to IBus explains why there aren’t more people with the same issue right now, which could be expected on a popular Linux distribution with a popular desktop environment: As far as I know, IBus isn’t installed by default. The reason I have it installed is probably related to the input method for Japanese. (Don’t ask…)

Figuring this out took me some time, so I wanted to share my solution, hoping I can save other people some time. 🙂