Wii Console Repair and Homebrew Hack

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The Nintendo Wii, in my belief, was the best video game console ever created. It was a very popular family-unifying gaming counsel. Instead of the typical behavior of the gaming system monopolizing a single person’s time, this brought family together much like you would have on family game night. A vehicle of interaction. The Wii moved game night from from the dining room table into the living room.

I have had a Wii since… I think 2009 or 2010 and at some point in time the Optical Drive stopped reading discs. The machine was relegated to streaming Netflix and Amazon Prime videos only, but that changed recently as I wanted to crack open those dusty Wii game cases once again.

After doing some research I found that there are two types of drives that can be used in the Wii; One that is Wii discs only and the other that does Wii and GameCube discs. The latter being more expensive but regardless, I purchased a drive that was GameCube compatible of approximately $20 on eBay.

I have yet to play a GameCube game on the Wii but I plan to give one a spin, eventually.

If you would like to repair your Wii, see this video, it worked very well for me. Lots of little steps but nothing complex. To put it back together, just reverse the steps. My advice on taking it apart is to take a piece of tape, place it sticky side up and use that as a kind of timeline for screws you remove so when you go in reverse you don’t grab the wrong screw.

The only real issues I had with the disassembly / assembly process were screws in precarious places.

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And ensuring that the rubber grommet for the DVD drive was properly assembled onto the chassis. Rubber has a way of doing what it wants which isn’t always what you want.

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Once the machine was back together, it was working just as expected but since Nintendo has abandoned this piece of hardware, it was time to make some improvements to it.

Expanding the Capabilities

Since I do like the Wii very much, it makes me a bit sad about it’s state of abandonment but that is the way of things. I set out to expand the capabilities beyond what Nintendo envisioned so that I can do more with this machine. Very clever people have made it easy to add homebrew software to the Wii through what is call the Homebrew Channel.

The first step was to do a non-hardware modification. Using LetterBomb to enable the Homebrew requires only an SD Card and some way of transferring data to it. In my case, a Linux Laptop. Once you extract the contents and put it on the SD Card as outlined here, put it back in the Wii. There you will have a new message in the Message system on the Wii. Upon opening the LetterBomb in Messages, the system will drop down to a console and run a script that will add the Homebrew capabilities. It’s pretty simple and it sets the system up without any further user intervention.

Wii Media Center

There is no point in having the Homebrew Channel without homebrew software. My first task was to add the capability to Watch DVDs. A feature that Nintendo, irritatingly, decided not to include. To install the Wii Media Center follow this link:

http://www.wiimc.org/documentation/

I chose the New install of the WiiMC and simultaneously installed the WiiMC Channel 2.0. I downloaded the files to my Wii project folder on my computer and extracted the Zips.

Since I am using KDE Plasma, I extracted the zips as such using the Dolphin File Manager:

  • Right-click > Extract > Extract Archive Here, Autodetect Subfolder
  • That created a folder called apps and two subfolders: wiimc and wiimc-channel-installer
  • Copy the extracted folders into the apps folder on the SD Card used for the Wii.

On the Wii, Open the Homebrew Channel run the applications you just copied over. Just that simple.

WiiMC Start Pic

Now, I am able to play DVDs, seemingly without any issues. I have played a few DVDs, yes, I still buy DVDs. So far, I have only noticed one DVD with an issue. When I popped in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, I did get some herky-jerky playback, I am assuming due to the encryption used on the disc.

I can now play media files directly from a USB Drive or SD Card but it has proven itself to be a bit touch-and-go. Some files played very well and others not so well. I will have to investigate further about which files played better than others. At this point, I don’t know if it is the file format or the resolution of the video.

Next Steps

I intend on expanding my Wii’s capabilities into more of a retro gaming console. I have purchased a few games from the Wii Store back in the day but as of today, the selection has become very limited they have already stopped accepting payment for more credits on the Wii Shop Channel. The only solution I see is fit, going forward, is using the Homebrew Application method of adding emulators and games. I have been told that the Wii makes a great retro gaming station and I plan to follow up on that portion of my exploration of the Wii Homebrew Applications.

Final Thoughts

Looking at the dates of many of the Homebrew software titles, it looks like much of it is not being maintained or at least hasn’t been updated in several years. My guess is that the Wii is falling out of popularity, even for the homebrew scene. It is unfortunate because I believe to still be a very capable entertainment platform. I do hope that Netflix continues to support the Wii as a platform for streaming as I know Amazon Prime is planning to discontinue their service sometime in 2018. Very soon all that will be left to use on the Wii will be the original optical media titles and the large array of Homebrew software. As it goes with technology, this too has been superseded by the new and shiny so this fine piece of hardware is slowly being abandoned.

External References

Disassemble Wii YouTube Video

LetterBomb Homebrew Exploit

WiiMC Documentation

Dell Latitude E6440 all on SSDs

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I have wanted to upgrade the 500 GB SSHD hybrid drive in my Dell Latitude E6440 since I purchased it but i just wasn’t prepared to spend the asking dollars for a new SSD. The only adequate solution I determined reasonable was to go with a used SSD and just accept the risk that goes with used.

After much searching and bidding, I purchased a Micron M500 with 960GB SSD which ends up being 894GiB of storage. When it comes to SSDs this is NOT, by any stretch, considered top of the line. Here are the specs that many seem to be fixated.

  • Sequential 128KB READ: Up to 500 MB/s
  • Sequential 128KB WRITE: Up to 400 MB/s
  • Random 4KB READ: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • Random 4KB WRITE: Up to 80,000 IOPS
  • READ/WRITE latency: 5ms/25ms (MAX)

Not the most performant drive but certainly much faster than the SSHD that I was using. If you are interested, here are the full specifications from Micron on this line of drives.

Since I already put the root and swap file system on a 128 GB mSATA SSD with very positive results, I was encouraged about how this upgrade was going to go. I could expect better performance with less power usage.

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In preparation for upgrading, I did what any reasonably prudent, Linux using, data conscious, user would do. I backed up the contents of my home directory, well, another snapshot using Back In Time.

Performing the Modification

The great thing about every Dell Latitude I have ever owned is the ease of serviceability of the machines. No crazy tools are needed or long list of instructions to perform a simple modification. Just a small Phillips screw driver.

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Two screws and the drive can be removed from it’s bay. The drive is held in place by these isolation rubber rails and a caddy cover. I appreciate this design, it is easily assembled, the rails have a nice, snug interference fit, and the caddy cover is held in place with a clip and screw.

SSD drive assembly

Troubles I Had

I am not sure what I did wrong but I couldn’t get the system to not look for the, to-be-replaced SSHD. I tried unmounting the drive before a reboot but still, it would continue to wait for the drive. The system would get stuck looking for the old drive and fsck didn’t correct the issue. I became impatient so I just decided to do a complete re-installation of the openSUSE Tumblweed, because I was too lazy to keep searching for a solution. There is probably a great simple solution that just escaped me.

Restoring the Data

There was a bit of a struggle in understanding how to restore the data from Back In Time into my home directory but once it was done, everything was back to normal. It took a bit longer than I expected but everything restored, all the files and settings. Like it never even happened…

A quick check of the SMART monitoring tools:

smartctl -a /dev/sda

=== START OF INFORMATION SECTION ===
Model Family: Crucial/Micron MX1/2/300, M5/600, 1100 Client SSDs
Device Model: Micron_M500_MTFDDAK960MAV
Firmware Version: MU05
User Capacity: 960,197,124,096 bytes [960 GB]
Sector Sizes: 512 bytes logical, 4096 bytes physical
Rotation Rate: Solid State Device
Form Factor: 2.5 inches
Device is: In smartctl database [for details use: -P show]
ATA Version is: ACS-2, ATA8-ACS T13/1699-D revision 6
SATA Version is: SATA 3.1, 6.0 Gb/s (current: 6.0 Gb/s)
Local Time is: Mon May 21 10:10:56 2018 EDT
SMART support is: Available – device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Enabled

=== START OF READ SMART DATA SECTION ===
SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

My favorite line is the last one that says the test result: “PASSED.”

Experience

I am running openSUSE Tumbleweed with KDE Plasma as my desktop environment. The aAverage energy consumption before the upgrade, using the SSHD plus the mSATA drive was 21 watts; under similar loads with the mSATA and the 2.5″ SSD, I am consuming about 17 watts. These numbers, are of course, just estimates at approximate similar loads. It is not a very well controlled power study. Between the two drives I now have a total of 945 GiB of storage available; the most I have had on a laptop.

Opening up Steam is much quicker than before. Starting a game does indeed load a lot quicker than it did on the SSHD. I didn’t take any before and after benchmarks but there is most certainly the feeling of increased speed in everything. The computer was no slouch before but now there is an increased sharpness in using it.

The computer is oddly quite with only the fan left as a moving part. However, the only time I notice there is a fan is when my hand goes past he vent and I can feel a little warmth coming from it. Logging in isn’t quite instantaneous, I do have to wait a few moments but I blame much of that on the fact I heavily use the Akonadi storage service for personal information management. I have more information than most people likely save but suffice to say, the machine starts very quickly.

I didn’t take any external thermal readings from the computer before the upgrade but it feels like the thing does operate a bit cooler. It is only an impression.

Final Thoughts

This Dell Latitude E6440 seems to have an extra boost of speed, as to be expected. What I didn’t expect was how much I notice the censorial changes of using this laptop now. I have used other solid state only machines before and didn’t think much of them. Perhaps their less than stellar keyboards out weighed the silence of their operation or possible that I use this machine more than most. Regardless, I appreciate the change.

Was the upgrade worth the price I paid for the drive? So far, yes, very much, indeed it was worth it, but as I did buy it used, and although it passed the health self-assessment, I don’t really know how long it is actually going to last. For now, it’s pretty great and I don’t think I would want to go back to “spinning rust” for storage.

External Links

Micron M500 Specs

Back In Time

128 GB mSATA SSD

My Dell Latitude E6440

HP TouchPad in 2018

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I purchased two HP TouchPads a few years ago when they were fairly inexpensive. I wanted a larger tablet that wasn’t built cheaply. They worked great for a while but started to act up. I used them less and less until they just stopped working all together. I put them on a shelf and forgot about the for quite a while.

A buddy of mine who is still seemingly a huge fan of the HP TouchPad diagnosed that one had a main board and battery failure while the other just a battery failure. I put them back on the shelf and that is where they sat, once again. He followed up with me wondering if I bought a battery yet (keeping me accountable) to which I did not. He told me he had an extra battery and dropped it off along with the needed tools to disassemble and make the repair.

HP_TouchPad-01The guide I looked at made it seem like it would be easy to take the tablet apart, just work your way along the sides, as described and carefully separate the two halves. What seemed to be missing from the article was that you have to shim the screen from the backing to keep it from clipping itself back shut again.

Once the tablet was apart, I disconnected the halves and started the process of removing more pieces until I could get the battery out. I only ended up taking out 3 of the internal components.

Upon removing the HP_TouchPad-02.jpgUSB board, I noticed that one of the wires for the little vibrator motor had somehow broken free from the board. A fine explanation for why this unit didn’t have haptic feedback. Thankfully, my soldiering skills were adequate enough to correct the issue.

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There were only 4 screws retained the battery and it should be noted that once the screws have been removed, the battery will not come out easily as it is also adhered to the device. Very careful and slow removal of the battery was warranted as I learned my lesson about removing a lithium polymer battery years ago on another project. I didn’t want to rupture the sells and have a little fire or at least lots of heat and smoke.

Once I freed the battery from the case, I noticed that I could take a shortcut and remove the battery without disassembling all of the components as outlined in the guide. I freed the battery from it’s compartment, set it aside, took the new battery and using a flat tipped screwdriver, was able to insert the connector of the new battery into the board and fasten it to the tablet body.  I effectively skipped the last 15 steps of the guide I used and reassembled it.

Success… but it didn’t turn on.

I figured that the thing needed to be charged so I let it charge overnight. It still didn’t turn on and I felt obligated to let my buddy know that this TouchPad is dead and asked if he wanted the battery back. Then, he asked if I did the hard reboot, hold power and volume down for 30 seconds.

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I did just that and immediately it went to the ClockworkMod boot loader menu. I selected the CyanogenMod image already installed on this TouchPad and I was very pleased to see that it was fully functional.

Since I wasn’t going to leave this with a 2 year old version of Android on it, I began my search for an updated ROM. There are several options out there and some of the newer versions of Android seem to have Bluetooth or camera issues. I didn’t want to have any hardware issues so I ended up going with this version here. Everything works but it is an older version of Android with security patch updates.

 

Another requirement I made is that I wanted to ensure that there were no Google Services on this tablet as I didn’t want to weigh it down with all the data scraping and mining services. All I want from this tablet is to do causal web browsing, reading ebook and PDF documents so there is no need to install the Gapps package. I also wanted to see how useful a simple de-Googled tablet would be.

F-Droid-siteSince I did want to have access to applications on this device, I installed F-Droid. F-Droid is similar to the Play Store, an available catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) Android applications. Most of the applications I want to run are available there and anything else it is possible for me to sideload or install using Yalp.

The applications I installed:

  • KDE Connect
  • Telegram
  • Syncthing
  • Fennec F-Droid, a Mozilla based web browser
  • Barcode Scanner
  • Book Reader
  • Yalp, allows you to download apps directly from Google Play Store as apk files.

Installed Using Yalp:

  • Discord
  • ASTRO File Manager

HP_TouchPad-05-apps

Modifications to improve my usage experience

I turned off the KDE Connect Telegram Notification. Not because I don’t like Telegram but because I don’t want multiple notifications on my Desktop Linux machine for the same message.

To do so, withing the KDE Connect Application on the paired device Menu > Plugin settings > Notification sync configure button, scrolled down to Telegram and uncheck it.

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Next, I made the KDE Connect Keyboard an input option by going into System Settings > Language & Input and checked KDE Connect Remote Keyboard

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I set up a folder on the Tablet called Sync and using Syncthing have it tied to two of my openSUSE desktop Linux machines. It is an easy and efficient drag and drop method of putting files on the tablet instead of using KDE Connect. I figure, more options are better than fewer options for sharing data.

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Using Dolphin in KDE Plasma to drag and drop files right on the HP TouchPad file system is such a fantastic feature. This, combined with having a folder that I can use to sync between all my systems and a shared clipboard gives me the truly practical form of desktop/mobile convergence.

HP_TouchPad-11-file manager

What I like

HP_TouchPad-09The size of this tablet is perfect for how I intend on using it. I can check things, look up things, and use it for accessing references in either PDF, ebook or my favorite resource, the openSUSE Wiki. To copy and paste from the tablet is made super easy, thanks to KDE Conenct. Copy on the tablet, paste on the Desktop. This tablet has such a nice weight and feel about and the protective folio-style case is great. I have all the functions and features I need to do what I set out with this 2011 built tablet. Sure, it is old and well past a tablet end of life but it is fast, very snappy and responsive.

What I Don’t Like

I have an outdated version of Android but with the security patches back-ported though, I do like the dark look of the older Android UI, so lets call this point a wash. The downside is, it doesn’t allow for certain newer KDE Connect features as noted here by one of the developers.

I also may have done something to disconnect the internal speakers as I don’t hear sound unless I plug into the headphone jack or Bluetooth speaker. I am not really using this for multimedia and the workaround is satisfactory.

I am not a fan of the rear facing only camera on the tablet. It also distorts the image during the “live view” but the picture itself has the proper aspect ratio. Unless if I want too take some awkward selfies, I don’t see this as a terrible issue.

Final Thoughts

I am very glad to have a working HP TouchPad once again. Is it indeed limited but I am not using it like a brand new tablet, I am using it closer to how a tablet was used 7 years ago. I am also not using this tablet like I would a proper computer as that would require a keyboard and mouse and once I have added those items, I may as well use a laptop. This fantastic little device does just what I want it to do, superbly.

Using KDE Connect and Syncthing, I can have the proper mobile/desktop convergence with my openSUSE Linux desktops in a highly practical manner anywhere I go, without the need for a third party service.

I am not sure what I will do with the other tablet now. This one is just so great, I might have to get the other one working just to keep in my cubicle. Would I recommend this tablet to someone else? For most people, probably not, unless they like to noodle around with technology.  Was it worth taking the time to fix it? Also, probably not but the satisfaction for me out of making this older yet perfectly usable hardware functional once again makes it more than worth the time and effort.

Further Reading, useful links and such

I Fix It Guide for the HP TouchPad

Tenderloin Android ROM I have installed on my HP Touchpad

openSUSE Wiki

KDE Connect Developer Nico’s Blog Post

KDE Connect Community Site