9th 2006f January, 2006

Converted laptop keyboard

by @ 20:20. Filed under

Laptop Keyboard

By Lee Char

laptop keyboard comparison
I think I’ll write about a few hardware (or partially hardware) projects of mine in the upcoming weeks. First off is my notebook keyboard. A few years ago I really wanted a notebook keyboard, the commercial half-height desktop keyboards didn’t really have the same effect or feeling though, so it had to be a notebook keyboard. Luckily an acquaintance of mine received an old Compaq 486 Notebook that was beyond repairs and gave me the keyboard. Seeing how it had two Mylar cables for connection I also asked him to desolder the connectors from the motherboard, and all was well. I had a small apparently useless German QWERTZ notebook keyboard and two connectors.. Going through my junk box I also found an AT keyboard controller with cable, It was time to do some soldering.

keyboard controller pcb
Right at the beginning I noticed that the controller and the keyboard had the same amount of pins for column and row so at first I just did a direct soldering. I knew the keys would be all over the place and that didn’t really matter. I just wanted it to return unique scan codes for all the keys on the notebook keyboard, and for that I needed the controller to at least return something for the whole matrix. And thankfully it did!

wires to keyboard controller
I did have to swap two pins because the controller was returning the same scan code for two different keys, but after swapping it was perfect.

Remapping keys
So now I had a keyboard that returned unique codes for all of it’s keys (although the wrong codes but each key had it’s own code now) what more could I want? OH.. I still need to remap the keys in XP to actually be able to use the keyboard. It took a few hours but I found a freeware application called KeyTweak which allowed the swapping of keys but not quite the comfortable way for a project like this. What I needed was for the software to capture the code of the key I’m pressing then offer me up a list of keys from which I can select the right one. And so I emailed the programmer telling him what I had in mind. About a day later a new version of KeyTweak was released containing the “Half Teach Mode” EXCELLENT!
I went on to reconfigure the keymap and a few minutes later I had a completely functional notebook keyboard. (well okay not completely.. the Fn key and such never really worked all that good.. I used 3 separate applications to get them working and they still had problems so I decided to drop the idea.)

Finished laptop keyboard
Since I never received the original plastic casing of the keyboard I used screws to fasten it on a black plastic plate and screwed the controller on the underside..

Laptop keyboard
UPDATE: Jan. 8

I kept the keyboard disassembled for a while now and decided to finish it. I threw out the small black plastic plate (which was actually a cover plate of an extremely old and big hard drive) and got myself a big white one :-) I screwed the keyboard plate onto it.

Keyboard controller keyboard controller
Here’s another picture of the controller

I screwed the controller on the underside

cables to controller keyboard stand
Reattached the Mylar cables with their connectors

Made some legs (don’t say anything)

Mylar cables
It’s better than it was last time, I started the testing and noticed that some keys were not responding.. Didn’t see any apparent break on the cabling so I chopped a bit off the Mylar’s end which did not help but it did make the part of the Mylar that goes into the connector alarmingly short. Then I finally saw what I didn’t really want to.
SMD Soldering iron
Ah yes, the previous soldering did not hold and some leads got separated from the Mylar’s connector.. GAH.. I made a “head” for my soldering gun from very thin wire specially for soldering small things (SMD components for example) a few years ago, and used that to reattach the cables. Everything worked fine afterwards.
Finished laptop keyboard for stationary computer
And the finished keyboard (and yes I am using it right now to type this)

Some last notes:
Remapping is done by XP, KeyTweak only inserts a registry key so it doesn’t need to stay in memory or anything.
KeyTweak and an old keyboard controller is in some cases a great alternative to expensive custom keyboard controllers.

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31 Responses to “Converted laptop keyboard”

  1. Eviltwin Says:

    Grreat!have a keyboard from a rip-off of your walltop-project laying around… #thinking#

    oh, remember, that project isn’t finished 😐 getting very stuck now when I need to make some custom cables some connectors called kx- (number of contacts) series. (also some other letters to the name, verifying some variables like height, and blah blah)

    but point is, theese connectors aren’t sold in pacages of less than 100 pcs :(

    anyway, what about making an mice working out of laptop- parts?

  2. Leechar Says:

    Got the trackball working :-)

  3. Stankybcn Says:

    Why wouldn’t you put a link to keytweak?

  4. Heero Says:

    Or you could just go to and buy a usb laptop keyboard with touchpad and all…

  5. mordeth Says:

    you could try using Autohotkey ( – a pretty powerful hotkey scripting language – to get the Fn key working. You could have also used it to remap the keyboard but then you would have to keep it in memory.

  6. Chris J. Says:

    Heero: But it’s so much more fun to do it yourself! :)

  7. LostLegend Says:

    Heero, obviously you dont get it. =) Yea going out and buy one would be easier, but you never know what your capible of and you never learn anything new unless you mod it yourself.

    Leechar this is a totally kickass mod, I love it.


  8. Mike Says:

    Now if someone would just come up with a way to hook up a keyboard to my PSP
    Lots of talk so far but nothing that works. The software seems to be the problem.
    Sony is so set on no one making a nickle on that device but themselves that they
    seem to have made it as hack/mod proof as possible. so i gave mine to my grandson.

  9. punchee Says:

    Very cool. Now, do you think you could expand this to create a KVM from an old laptop?

  10. Stefano Says:

    Great and genial project!
    But, does anybody knows how to build an encoder (I need the schematics and PIC code if used)
    for a notebook keyboard matrix ?

    I was planning to use in DOS too… actually was planning in using in my MAME cab PC…

  11. Thomson Says:

    Hai guys, I’m completely new with these things, but I have a problem, the cable that comes out off the laptop keyboard has 2 wires that are broken, I tried to solder them
    but because it is basicaly plastic with a veryt thing metal layer inside it is impossible to solder it just burns. Does any of you guys an idea how to fix this? also if
    I would cut of the piece that is damaged the cable would still be long enough(it is near to the end). but can I just cut that of and put it back in the connector?
    Thanks in advance,


  12. neliö Says:

    Thomson, check this out . It looks tricky, but might work out.

  13. Eleazar Says:

    hey.. can you tell me the steps and wut i need to put my old NEC Laptops keywork working on the PC??
    it doesnt matter if the keys are wrong.. i figure it that my self… but how to do all the electronic
    wireing and soldering.. ??

  14. Darker Says:

    I have a question about the AT keyboard controller pcb. Did u make that from scratch or did u buy one/a kit from a store?

  15. vicnuno Says:

    The controller has to have the same amount of pins??

    That would be a matter of great luck, i already stripped 3 keyboards and none of them has the 24 pins i need :-((

  16. AndaleTheGreat Says:

    I am trying to figure out how to throw my old alienware’s touchpad onto my desktop. I actually like the touchpad and the AW is amazingly dead, but for the life of me I can’t find the connector’s configuration.

  17. Dragono Says:

    Hi, if there is 24 pins, i think there is not included the keyboard LIGHTS wich takes 6 more pins? totally 30 pins in normal keyboard with lights? laptop keyboard 24pins without lights? am i wrong?

  18. dragono Says:

    You can also buy an “adapter” called FFC/FPC connector to transfer flat cable to pins 😉

  19. kureshii Says:

    Very cool, I was just about to embark on my own walltop project (with a twist!), and was thinking about what to do with the touchpad and keyboard… any idea about the feasibility of implementing wireless functionality into this (powered by AAs, possibly)?

  20. sanyo vpc-hd 1000 Says:

    do you think you could expand this to create a KVM from an old laptop?

  21. Jorma Says:

    I have the same looking laptop keyboard than you have(ripped from compaq contura). It is with finnish layout(ä,å,ö) and so is that at-keyboard where i ripped the controller. In that notebook keyboard there is two mylar cables, which have 14 pins in another and 12 pins in another. But in my at-keyboard there is 14 pins in another connector and 8 in another. Did you have the same situation and what should i do? Should i leave 4 pins unplugged from that mylar cable with 12 pins? And what 4 pins should be unplugged?
    Advice is appreciated.
    ps. sorry my bad english.

  22. Rose Says:

    Neat project! But, why a laptop keyboard? What’s so great about them?

  23. shopping Says:

    Wow, this is pretty cool. Would have been great if you could get that FN key to work – it’s a bit of a bugger. If you tried again you may find something new that can help you do that. Would have been cool if you could have put the keyboard into a case and then you would have had a really cool external laptop keyboard. There’s something cool about doing these kinds of things at home – really, well done!

  24. photo oil painting Says:

    Cheers to your resourcefulness and craftsmanship! Who would even think that there’s something else that can be made out of refurbished keyboards? So, what’s next – the monitor?

  25. aaa Says:

    If you’re willing to spend about $40 on a keyboard encoder, you could do a lot worse than the I-Pac:

  26. H B Says:

    Cool Hack. I have a busted Sony Vaio laptop. The keyboard is sealed and has a 24 pin ribbon cable coming out. I was wondering if I could convert it into a USB keyboard using a USB controller, but the problem is that I have no idea how to do it. Could you please point me in the right direction?

  27. llala Says:

    great! for the fn keys…try linux

  28. Erich Says:

    does that program by any chance save onto the keyboard what it is. I want to make a keyboard like this for a project, but owuld need the key board to remember the keys

  29. TCP Says:

    Hi, quite cool hack!

    I had an idea for a related project and it brought me here. Last year came into my hands a 2006 monitor-crashed MacBook and I’ve been using it for spare parts ever since as I own an equal one myself. Yesterday I dissected the last of it and had the idea to use that remarkable keyboard on my desktop, and maybe imbue it on the secretary itself.

    But I’m totally at a loss on how to make the connection. The keyboard is attached to the mouse and they both output a 10-pin cable. If I sever this connection I get a very slim 26 pin ribbon cable.

    Does anyone have any idea that could help me? I could post further info if you’re interested


  30. Asidu Says:

    Interesting findings. Thanks for sharing the work.

  31. KEVIN Says:

    what are the cables in pic 3 page 1 called?

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