Bypassing the WiFi Hardware Switch on the Lenovo X201
I recently received a ThinkPad X201 to start using as my daily driver. I purchased the X201 to replace my existing X260. Although some might look at this as a "downgrade" in terms of specs and hardware, I would have to disagree.
The X201 is an absolute masterpiece in laptop hardware design and only faulted by some of the constraints set by the motherboard, namely the lack to support more than 8GB of RAM. Other than that, I think it's perfect. Well...almost perfect. There is one small annoyance:
The physical WiFi kill switch.
This thing can become really flaky on these older devices and countless people on the web report connection issues across multiple operating systems. I too ran into this issue not long after getting Alpine setup nicely on my machine.
Some remedies include re-installing hardware drivers, flicking the hardware toggle off and on repeatedly, or even simply logging out of the current user session. All these options seemed like a pain in the ass.
So I listed out my possible options:
- Whitelist my BIOS WiFi settings (requires flashing BIOS) and install a newer wifi card, hoping the problem fixes itself
- Purchase a replacement WiFi card (maybe mine was just buggy??)
- Block PIN20 on the existing Wifi card
- Somehow disconnect the hardware killswitch (requires soldering which I have ZERO experience with)
Out of pure laziness, I chose option three. In case you were unaware, PIN20 on older PCIE WLAN cards is the "wifi disable" and used as an RF killswitch. By "blocking" this PIN, we stop the system from being able to disable the WiFi connection. Losing the ability to disable WiFi on the hardware level didn't bother me much, so I moved forward with this easier approach.
Opening Up the X201
To access the WiFi card, you'll need to remove the keyboard and touchpad palm rest cover. It might sound daunting for newcomers but I assure you it is very simple. These machines were built during a time when Lenovo expected their users to tinker with their devices and built them with modular components in mind. Yet another reason for my decision to swap this laptop for my more "locked down" X260.
Note: I'm not sure how important this is, but I made sure to set my WiFi hardware toggle switch into the "ON" position before doing any of the other steps.
You can follow the very beautiful visual instructions provided by Lenovo below. Just remember to always power off you machine and remove the battery before tinkering.
Electrical Tape Fixes Everything
Now that the WiFi card has been safely removed from its port (you most likely do not need to disconnect the cables though!) it is time to block PIN20.
On the Centrino Advanced-N 6200 card PIN20 is located on the back side, since the front is designated to all odd-set pins. You'll need to cut a ridiculously thin piece of electrical tape to cover this single pin. I found this part to be the most taxing of my patience during the entire process. Just keep thinking happy thoughts and you can do it!
Once it is on PIN20, place your card back into its port, rebuild you X201, pop in your battery and boot up! If things were done properly, your WiFi should now be rock solid.
Best of all, you don't have to worry about accidentally toggling your WiFi toggle switch - it does nothing! Mine is actually set in the "OFF" position all the time now.
Enjoy less flaky WiFi.