Modding the Dell Mini 9

Dell Mini 9

For Christmas this year I received a Dell Mini 9, which is one of the most flexible netbooks around. Searching around on the internet quickly revealed an incredible source of information posted on the forums over at My Dell Mini. As I was looking for a new modding project, the Mini 9 seemed perfect.



First an important message

The information below has all been taken from the My Dell Mini forums, especially the SSD activity LED mod by UnaClocker. I have merely adapted it to suit my own needs. As with all things involving voiding your warranty, I will not (and can not) take any responsibility for any problems that you have trying to do the same. You break it, you pay for it (and if you read on, so do I :))

 

Right, that’s out of the way, let’s get to it! Here’s a quick overview of the things that I have done to my Mini.

Part 1: Disassembling the Mini 9
Part 2: Disassembling an USB hub
Part 3: Disassembling an USB flash drive
Part 4: Putting it all together
 

Part 1: Disassembling the Mini 9

Dell publishes a great online manual which details how to disassemble your precious Mini 9. I used their guide and documented it all on one page. All pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them for additional detail.

I used a selection of tools, but one that I would specifically like to recommend is the plastic wedge. This allows you to pry open the case without damaging it. I got mine when I bought a Brodit phone mount, but I’m sure Ebay will have a selection of these too.

Switch the Mini off if you haven’t already, and turn it over. I placed an old tea towel underneath it to prevent scratches to the mirror finish lid. First we need to remove the battery. On either side of the battery is a latch, which when pushed outwards, allows for the battery to be slide out.

The module cover is next. Two Phillips screws hold it in place and then using your nails, or the wedge tool, lift it up. It may require some force as it is held further into place by small plastic tabs.

With the module cover removed, you have access to the memory, SSD, WLAN card, and if you are lucky/ticked the WWAN option, a WWAN card. As you can see, I have already upgraded my memory to a 2GB SODIMM. To remove the memory, gently push away the latches on either side of the memory, until the module is tilted up. Then just pull it out.

The SSD is held down by two screws. Just unscrew them, and slide the SSD out of its socket.

Remove the two antenna wires from the WLAN card by gently (really gently) pulling them out from the sockets and undo the two screws. Just pull the card out and place it to one side.

My Mini doesn’t come with a WWAN card, so that leaves a nice empty space where we will stuff the USB hub and flash drive. More on that in the last part.

To make life as easy as possible, we need to have access to both sides of the mainboard, so the next item that need to be removed is the keyboard. Locate the two screws marked with a K and undo them. Turn the Mini over again (right side up), open the lid, and lift it up slightly to reveal the keyboard connector at the bottom of the keyboard. Using a small flat screwdriver, push the two locks open and remove the keyboard completely.

With the keyboard removed, the palmrest is next. Place the Mini again on it’s lid and remove the nine screws as indicated in the pictures. Two of them are below some rubber studs, which can be lifted out using a flat screwdriver. They have a sticky bit underneath, so they require a bit of an push to get over the initial resistance.

Flip the Mini over and open the lid again. Remove the seven screws. Disconnect the bluetooth, touchpad and power button connectors and then, using the plastic wedge, pry the case open using some gentle force along the sides. Be patient at this point as the plastic latches inside the case, are fragile and will snap if you exercise too much force.

Now we just need to remove the mainboard. There are two screws to undo, followed by a number of connectors. First route the WLAN antenna wires through the hole in the mainboard and disconnect the speaker connector just below it. Then disconnect the microphone, the two power connectors and the display connector.

Lift the mainboard up at the left side and then pull it out sideways.

That’s it! You’ve successfully made your first step on to the void your warranty ladder :D
 

Part 2: Disassembling an USB hub

Following a recommendation on the My Dell Mini forums for a small USB hub, I found the so called “Octopus” hub to be small enough to fit inside the WWAN space, leaving enough space for additional USB devices. I bought one on Ebay from a seller called 2008_topseller for £3.60 and had to wait about 2 weeks before it arrived. Plan your mods in advance ;)

Remove the plastic cover and it reveals the tiny PCB that will fit neatly in the WWAN slot later. Using a soldering iron remove all the existing wiring and (although not shown in these pictures), move the ceramic resonator from the bottom to the top (take note in which direction it needs to be on). Also make a note what wiring is which pin on the PCB. Fortunately the wiring follows the USB standard, which is Red/White/Green/Black.

Once done, put some electrical tape underneath the PCB to make sure that at no point that side is able to short on the mainboard. I also put a piece of double sided foam tape on it so it will remain in place once put inside the Mini.
 

Part 3: Disassembling an USB flashdrive

I bought a 16GB PNY Attache Premium USB Flash drive from Play.com, as it looked in the pictures small enough once all the plastics were removed and at £16.99 it was cheap enough.

But then things started to go wrong for me. Applying a bit too much force on the USB connector whilst trying to heat up the connector legs up, caused the copper pads to be removed completely from the PCB. Doh!

If anyone has an idea what I can do with it now (other than to bin it), use the contact form :)
 

Part 4: Putting it all together

Fire up the soldering iron, the time to kiss that warranty goodbye has come!

In order to add the SSD activity light, we need to tap into pin 52 on the standard STEC SSD. This is where having a spec sheet from the manufacturer comes in handy. Please note that this mod only works on the STEC SSD’s (as supplied standard by Dell), not any other brand. Pin 52 is marked as “-DSAP” with description “In the True IDE Mode, this input/output is the Disk Active/Slave Present signal in the Master/Slave handshake protocol”. To you and me that translates as disk activity :)

The SSD LED will then be located next to the battery surface mounted LED as shown in the picture.

The LED will also require a +3.3V source, which you can find on pad 52 of the WWAN connector.

In order to add the USB hub, we need to use the WWAN connector which carries the required Data+ (pad 38) and Data- (pad 36) signals. For completeness I also added +5V (found in the copper track that runs through the “L”) and ground (using a screw hole) from underneath the WLAN card.

Now comes the scary bit. Scrape, using a tip of a knife, a small area of the PCB coating (that Blue/Green layer you see) to reveal the copper track underneath. Then using a small dab of solder, attach the Red and Black wires. Protect the wires from stress by sticking some electrical insulated tape on top of it. Using an even smaller amount of solder, attach the White and Green wires to the WWAN pads, making sure the pads do not touch each other. If you can’t manage first time around, heat the pads up and remove the wiring again. Then retry it.

Just two more wires to go. As pin 52 on the SSD connector is miniscule, it is better to solder the Black wire onto the SSD directly. Make sure the wire is as flat and small as possible, and then use the tiniest amount of solder to attach it. Double check that you haven’t connected two pins together. The Red wire needs to be attached to the WWAN connector again on pad 52. By now, this should be easy ;)

Before we continue putting the hub and LED in place, fire up the mini (assembling just enough to get it to boot) to make sure it is still working. If it doesn’t, revisit your soldering and double check they are done properly.

Put the USB hub in it’s place and cut the USB wires to measure. Maintain a small amount of extra length, in case you need to move it around later. Solder the wires back to the USB hub in the correct order, and test the Mini again. It works!

Almost there now. Route the remaining Red and Black wires towards the battery LED and cut them to length. Solder a new LED and a resistor to the wires and test it is working. If it isn’t, then swap the legs of the LED around and try again as LEDs only work one way. You have to use a resistor suitable for the LED too. I used a 3000mcd “Tru-Colour” Blue LED with a forward voltage of 3-3.2V and a 100 ohm resistor. It doesn’t matter on which side of the LED the resistor goes, as long as it is there.

Unfortunately, when it came to assembling everything, I discovered that the way I have mounted the LED did not allow the case to be closed properly. I mounted it therefore slightly different, but I forgot to take pictures of it. I’m sure I will open up the case in the future and then I’ll update this page with the new pictures. In the pictures below it shows the LED in action when the SSD is being accessed, when the battery runs low, and when they both light up. Neat!






Finally, take a last look at the mods, before we close the module cover and call it a day ;)

Update 7.2.2009

I’ve upgraded to a 32GB RunCore SSD, so I have done the LED mod again. Have a look at this post for details

Server moved

Just a quick message to say that I’ve had to move servers (still with the same host), so if you discover some problems, drop me a message please :)

It’s back… somewhere

And only £2,795 more than I part-exchanged it for. It be interesting to see how long it takes for it to sell at this price, cos when I advertised it for £3,500 I got zilch response…

I also note that the mileage has decreased to 57,000 miles. I am pretty sure it was about 350 miles short of 60,000 when I handed over the keys. Oh, and the full service history is a lie too. It hasn’t seen a service since September 2007. Make of it what you will, but I think someone is a bit liberal with the truth ;)

Update 18.12.2008

I casually checked their website again and it is gone :O Whoever bought it, good luck!

Bargain barge

Vauxhall Signum

Make my Christmas, buy my car :)

Update 21.11.2008

We got a great deal at Palmers Citroen in Watford on a p/x against a new car, so you’ll have to find another Signum to indulge in… this one has gone!

Conky

It’s been a while since I’ve done some nerdy stuff, so when Ubuntu 8.10 (also known as Intrepid Ibex) was released last week I installed Conky, the light-weight system monitor as well and had a play with the various configurations spread around on the internet. The beauty (which is also its problem) is that Conky is so configurable that you can tweak for days and days :D

Anyway, here’s the compulsory screen shot and configuration files.

Ubuntu 8.10 and Conky

Take the zip file and unzip it in your home directory. It should create a directory ~/conky, which contains three files:

startconky.sh – script to start Conky after a 20 second delay to alllow the Compiz window manager to finish its stuff, before Conky puts its pseudo transparent window on top of it.
myip.sh – script to retrieve your public IP address.
main – the Conky configuration file.

Add the startconky.sh script to your Startup Programs (System->Preferences->Sessions) and the next time you boot… Conky goodness! ;)

Say Tweet! Say What?!?!

Reading downloadsquad last week, I came across a new Twitter based service, called SayTweet. It immediately caught my imagination and since the US elections are now going into full swing (it’s got nothing to do with me, I can’t even vote here in the UK, even though I pay my taxes and everything), I thought I do one myself :)


Spam, spam, bacon and ham

I’m doing a little experimenting at the moment and I need some help. I need spam. Why? Well, that will be revealed in time, but for now, all you need to do is send your spam (leaving the subject line in tact, this is essential!) to spammers@uijldert.org

Thanks!

Update 26.7.2008

I’ve updated a bit in my script on the receiving side, so that subjects are stripped from their Fwd: (as mail forwarded from Google Mail) tag. This should make it a bit easier to send me the spam… lot’s of it, please :)

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iBlog by iPhone

Two weeks into my iPhone ownership, I am still adapting to a new way of online life. Today they released the WordPress plugin in the App Store, something I was very keen on trying out myself… So here it is, my first entry written on the tiny keyboard of my 3G :)

WordPress on the iPhone

Officially sad… or officially geek?!?

A bit of a last minute decider, but last night I (jokingly) told my wife that I quite fancy queuing up for the new iPhone 3G. To my surprise she turns around and says, why don’t you? So I did :D

At 6am I was first to arrive at my local Carphone Warehouse (the O2 store was closed for a refit, talk about well planned), but I was too embarrassed to stand next to the door, so I sat down on some benches nearby reading a book, keeping a close eye at the shop. At 6.15am person number 2 arrived, and he felt less uncomfortable, so I then sheepishly joined the queue as number 2, promoting him to be number 1. Ah well, as long as they have at least 2 boxes, I will get one ;)

Carphone Warehouse at 6am

As time passed, more people joined the queue, and by the time the store opened at 8.02am (not sure if it was on the dot or not, but it must have been close to it), a queue of at least 16 people had formed. A member of staff came round and asked us what model we wanted and I overheard him say that there had been only 2 16GB versions… exactly the ones number 1 and 2 (me ;)) were after! Thank god I didn’t have a lie in today \o/

The whole buying process was relatively straightforward and normal, and I was out the shop at 8.15am… carrying a nice bag containing one 16GB iPhone 3G. If only this working day didn’t last so damn long ;)

Fckd off?!?

Then get yourself the domain name to go with it ;)

Ebay auction for FCKD.net

Node Zero 33 1/3 – The Final Install

Node Zero… Every respectable technology enthusiast has one, and so do I. It started all the way back in 2001 when I came across The Automated Home website and it’s associated mailing list. I knew nothing about home automation, audio distribution, video sharing, etc but was keen to learn and introduce at home (often with great resistance from SWMBO ;)).

Node Zero 2002So I build my first node zero to accommodate some of my servers in the garage and distributed the network from there into the living room. Due to the fortunate location of the garage being adjacent to the living room it is the ideal place to put stuff without worrying about the illusive WAF :)
You can’t really call the cupboard a node zero though, but if you closed the doors, at least it hid the cat5 wiring from the switch and modem it housed.

Node Zero 2004Flash forward to 2004 and with an ever increasing gadget count it was time to upgrade node zero. My dad is blessed with the carpentry gene and so with my instructions he set off to partition the garage in two parts where I reserved myself a shelf for the 2nd incarnation of my node zero. On the shelf my two TiVo’s and their satellite receivers were placed, followed soon by a Xbox Media Center, a scart switch and a Kat5 transmitter. The result: spaghetti junction all over again :(

So with an increasing demand on convenience and accessibility, I had to make amends. Bring on 2008 where my dad performs yet another masterpiece and creates a purpose build rack for me. The rack houses all my stuff, and with some space left at the bottom I even have room left for more toys! :D

Node Zero 2008

Find some more pictures in the gallery

RecyBling

I am a firm believer in recycling and am of course signed up to my local Freecycle group. Anything to good to throw away ends up there, but for one item I’ll make an exception… Project Bling! I’m still getting loads of visitors on that page, so someone out there can save himself a bit of work by getting the real deal. Just contact me and for the price of shipping it can be yours!

Update 19.5.2008

I’m sorry, but you are too late. The frame has been recycled

Out with the old, in with the new!

Vauxhall Signum 3.2V6 EliteThanks to Lewis at Motoworld Ltd (who made us an p/x offer we couldn’t refuse), we are now the proud owners of another green family fun bus.

Vauxhall Signum 3.2V6 EliteIt’s a Vauxhall Signum 3.2V6 Elite in Bamboo Green with full black leather, cruise control, climate control and memory seats! Or in the words of Jeremy Clarkson, a dadsie car ;)

See some more pictures in the gallery

Carbon footprint

Woohoo! Today I have halved my carbon footprint… The Octavia has been sold!

Buy me too :)

Renault Espace

See the ad on Pistonheads or eBay

Limit R.I.P. 1989 – 2008

Limit

We will miss you lots!

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Ear canal buds… You what?!?

Why would anyone in their right mind buy a set of these? I thought I treat myself to a bit of music on the way into work this morning using my Sony Ericsson W880i and so I used (for the first time) the accompanying in-ear canal buds that came with it. What a disaster! These things kept tickling inside my ear and made me want to cough all the time. I’ll have to find myself a pair of ‘normal’ ear phones…