Lenovo S400 IdeaPad – Upgrading RAM & Wireless Card + Installing Ubuntu

I bought a Lenovo S400 IdeaPad back in December last year, and well, it wasn’t such a great decision. To begin with, the pros of this laptop distract you so much that it is hard to get away from the idea of owning it. It’s very:

  • lightweight and sleek

That’s about the entire list of its pros. Can’t think of anything better.

So I decided to get rid of the cons. Here they are:

  • 4GB RAM – not enough sometimes
  • wireless card – very slow
  • no linux

Things that I haven’t been able to fix, but are annoyances nevertheless, are:

  • glossy screen – somehow I like a matte screen much better
  • weird touchpad – almost all these “Pads” in the market have this “no button” touchpad now which is hard to get used to

Requirements and Purchases

Things that you will need to upgrade your RAM and Wireless Card:

Now the last thing on that list was the most time consuming of all. In a nutshell, Lenovo has locked down supported wireless cards to only the ones that they would like. So, you have to take a backup of your BIOS, give it to an expert and then download it back with a flash utility and flash your BIOS to whitelist every card. If you don’t do this, after you have changed your Wireless card, you will get a “Unauthorized wireless card; power off and remove it” message from your BIOS.

You may ask, why do you have to backup “your” BIOS and get it altered, isn’t there already a copy on the Internet that you could “just” use. Yes, there are copies but they have customizations that will not go well with your laptop. Hence, you want to keep things simple – flashing a BIOS with someone else’s copy is not to be taken lightly (it may brick your laptop).

 So that I don’t have to keep replacing my Wireless card until I got my BIOS flashed, I also bought a:

..that I used until the wireless card started working. All this time I had to keep my Wireless card disabled in BIOS, so that I don’t get the “Unauthorized..” message.

 

Getting BIOS modified to whitelist Network cards

Now, to get into the BIOS, you have to use the “Fn+F2” key (or just F2 if hotkeys are disabled) on the “Lenovo” screen.

If you are only looking to add RAM to your laptop, you can skip this section.

To get a copy of your BIOS which has wireless cards whitelisted, you will have to use Windows and follow these steps (CAUTION: use the following at your “own” risk, I take no responsibility if you brick your laptop):

    1. go into your BIOS (Fn+F2 key or just F2 key if your hotkey (Fn) is disabled) and note your BIOS version and other details and post it on the forum (in the next step) along with the backup of your BIOS (see third step)
    2. post it on this forum http://forums.mydigitallife.info/threads/5866-LENOVO-(IBM)-Bioses-especially-Thinkpad
    3. post your current BIOS on the forum above by first backing it up using this utility: https://fryol.net/r/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/backup_bios.zip
      1. to use this utility, copy the files into C:\ so that C: has _BACK directory in it and then open a command prompt “Run as Administrator”
      2. go to C: (just type C: and press enter) and then cd C:\_BACK
      3. run backup.bat (just type backup.bat and press enter)
      4. you will get a .bin file in that directory, zip it up and upload it using http://sendspace.com and give the folks in forum a link to it along with other details from your BIOS – also, make sure that you tell them that you need wireless whitelisting plus give them a hint to use the “prr” tool for this
    4. if the forum guys tell you to flash from a pure DOS environment, try the following steps, if not, then you just run that utility from Windows and things should go well. For me, Lenovo had locked the BIOS by disabling flashing and I had to flash it from pure DOS environment.
    5. once you get a link back with the whitelisted BIOS, create a DOS bootable USB drive using this link
    6. you have to now flash your BIOS from a “pure DOS” environment, hence you have to create this disk, copy stuff from the archive you got from the forum, reboot into DOS and then run “flash.bat”
    7. just copy the files from the archive you got the link back as (don’t copy extra drivers utilities as some sites suggests – you will need as much memory as possible and copying CD drivers etc. blocks up all that space and you will get failures)
    8. to boot from the USB disk, make sure you have enabled “legacy” boot in BIOS and have selected USB as the first boot device. If you don’t see boot device order, restart your computer again to see it (InsydeH2O supposedly has a bug)
    9. once you boot up into DOS, all you have to do is run flash.bat (or whatever the forum post instructed you to run) and you should see a rewriting of BIOS

Above was all of the software part to get your Wireless card done. What follows is how to disassemble the laptop and get the Wireless card and RAM installed physically.

Physical Changes (Installing the Wireless Card/RAM)

To upgrade the RAM and Wireless card, you have to open up the laptop. It’s pretty simple though, and here are some photographs of how I did it.

      • Get rid of the battery first:
      • Start by unscrewing the left-most screw below where the battery was:
      • The second screw in the middle:
      • And then the right-most one:
      • The uncover more screws beneath those soft pads (notice the direction in which they open) – you would need a tiny flat screwdriver to pop them open:
      • The one on the right to battery opens towards right:
      • The one on the left of the battery, open towards the left:
      • The front ones both open towards the back (or towards the battery):
      • Make sure ethernet cable is detached (if you have one connected) and then slowly work your way to open this thing up. Don’t exert too much force, but keep applying tact to open it. ;)
      • Now in this photo here, you can see that the RAM is on the lower right hand side. The RAM comes off very easily if you use a flat screwdriver to unlock the holding gate (a shiny one). I forgot to take more photos of that, but you can very easily find something elsewhere on the internets (you don’t have to though, it’s easy to figure).
      • Now the wireless card is beneath a black bus wire that needs to be disconnected by opening up another locking gate (black and plastic in nature) towards you.  Please be very careful.
      • Again, use a flat small screwdriver for this and very gently latch open this thing. Notice how the gate is now facing upwards (v/s it was latched down in the previous photo). It’s hinged to the white bank.
      • Once the gate is open, you can hold the bus and drag it out. Gently, very gently. :) See the next photo.
      • As I hold up the bus wire, you can see the wireless card that is connected by two cables – one black and one white (these are supposedly the “antennae” wire) and it’s again “banked” into a black socket.
      • Unscrew the only screw that’s holding this thing in place:
      • After you’ve unscrewed it, it’s very easy to slide this thing out from the black bank (it kind of pops up a little bit already), gently pull it out:
      • Notice how I disconnect the wires, you don’t need any tools to do so, just gently twist and pull them out. They will come off with just the right amount of pull. The following photo shows the “black” one out already (also notice that the black one goes on the left, the white one on right – although it shouldn’t matter a lot).
      • Now, I keep the old one down and take the new one up (notice that my new card has “three” sockets v/s only “two” on the old one). The new one has an extra socket but you can use the ones on the sides only and you’re good.
      • The black one is now being connected to the left most socket, the white one on to the right most socket.
      • There, it’s all connected (gentle pressure puts them in).
      • Slide the card back into the bank.
      • Push the bus wire back in from the top and latch the black gate in.
      • Covering the laptop up is just as easy you pulled it apart, just drive the screws back in after you’ve latched the cover on.

Installing Ubuntu

My objective of having Ubuntu installed was to make sure that I can dual boot into Windows and Ubutu from the GRUB menu with UEFI enabled. A rough outline to keep things in mind follows

    • Download 64bit Ubuntu from ubuntu.com when you want to burn the image to CD
    • Make sure you disable “Secure Boot” in BIOS under the Boot Options menu (use F2 or Fn+F2 key to get into BIOS)
    • To boot from the CD you will have to enable “Legacy Mode” instead of UEFI Mode – also, reboot and go into BIOS again to select Notebook Bay etc. in boot priority above the hard drive
    • Once you get into Ubuntu installation, make sure that you give Ubuntu it’s own /boot and select “Grub” as boot method
    • Ubuntu will load up GRUB but you will not be able to load up Windows since UEFI has been disabled in BIOS, hence go back into BIOS and enable UEFI boot mode
    • Now get into Windows (and you wouldn’t see Ubuntu boot options by the way) and install something called “EasyBCD” which lets you install an EFI image for Ubuntu (it can auto-detect and do so) – there is documentation online if you search about how to use EasyBCD to enable Ubuntu dual booting with Windows
    • You will have to go back into Ubuntu and modify /boot/grub/menu.lst to fix the Windows UEFI boot image there in case it’s not working

21 Replies to “Lenovo S400 IdeaPad – Upgrading RAM & Wireless Card + Installing Ubuntu”

  1. Hi Rishi,
    You don’t say much about the RAM, but I’d love to know if your 8GB module was recognised! Various sites I’ve visited (including Lenovo’s own forums) suggest the notebook won’t recognize more than 4GB of RAM, but it sounds like that’s not entirely true…
    Cheers!

    1. Hey Bill,

      I didn’t have any problems with adding (and getting that RAM recognized to the entire 8GB). Like I say in the post, I used Crucial’s RAM (and I’ve given the Amazon link to it too) – and it worked perfectly.

      HTH!
      Rishi

  2. Hi Rishi,
    I have the same NB – lenovo s400 and just like you, I want to install a different WiFi card, can you share your bios file with me?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. thank you for this detailed description!

    If you ever find a way to deal with touch pad please also share it,

    Thanks!

    1. Is there a specific step you were looking for an expansion on? I can elaborate on one/more of these if you would like. Thanks for the feedback.
      _
      Rishi

  4. @Carlos: I would have loved to get the BIOS file out there, but unfortunately the version/parameters of the BIOS on my machine will differ from others out there (there might be a 25% chance that it may be ok). I don’t want to risk people freezing their laptop, hence it is best that you use the forum I posted about to get a customized BIOS from/for your own laptop. That is the very reason I put out the link to the board and steps to get the BIOS for you.

    Hope you can understand as I felt the very same frustration when trying to find a BIOS that works – why doesn’t someone just post the darn image? The reasons though are worth the wait of getting it customized yourself.

    Thanks,
    Rishi

  5. Thank you for the description, I also have a s400 and it often doesnt connect to certain networks. Before I go fiddling with the bios, any video you could link that might help?

  6. I want to add a suggestion: (I am a S400 owner, too)

    Replace your 500GB with a SSD of your choice.
    You won’t recognize your S400 again!
    I have chosen a Samsung 840 EVO 120GB and my S400 seems to run at highspeed!
    The whole system works much better and is much more comfortable!

    You are able to see the (replacable) HDD- Drive on the last of the posted pictures.

    1. Thanks John. I was wondering about replacing the disk with an SSD too. I’ve got another laptop with an SSD, and there’s a night and day difference.

  7. Hi
    Most importantly of all is the battery life. It’s too short. Any hints guy how to solve this matter? For other laptop, we can buy beefed up batteries of higher mAH capacities. But I can’t find any for this laptop? Secondly, when putting in the 8GB RAM, can we keep the 4GB so as there’ll be a total of 12GB? I don’t know; just asking. Thanks.

    1. There’s only one slot for RAM, so I took the 4gb stick out and put into an HP I’ve got with 2 slots, and I’m not sure the S400 will even recognise more than 8gb, as nothing above 8gb is listed in the FRU parts manual. Either way, you won’t need it ’cause 8gb is perfect. My machine seems to use about 5-6gb, but never more than 8gb, so there’s no return on the extra investment. Contrary to general American belief, more/bigger is rarely better/ideal, usually just a waste of space/money…

      I also replaced the HDD with a 128GB Sandisk SSD (it won’t accept all brands) and these 2 adjustments have made a tremendous difference. I now boot up and shut down in under 10 seconds, and both upgrades only cost me $100, so a total price of $300 + $100 = $400 for a touchscreen Windows-8 machine with an i3 is great. I don’t hear the fan any more at all & the underside no longer even gets warm, even now in summertime. This also doubled my battery life, now getting 4-5 hours on a full charge at full brightness, twice what I used to get (2-3 hours) though I don’t use this as a mobile machine, just as my at-home laptop, always plugged in.

  8. For people who don’t wanna deal with BIOS and just wanna upgrade by replacing the card and perhaps just updating a driver or 2 from Lenovo website, just use one of the approved network cards, which are cheap anyway and come in N and AC versions, so you get improved speed despite the limited options.

    For example, as long as you get a Lenovo Intel 7260-AC or 2230-N, etc. you can have access to better speeds without all the fuss. Try ebay, maybe Amazon & make sure they’re LEnovo parts (i.e. FRU#20200388, 20200412). There are also Broadcom & Atheros options & most include Bluetooth 4.0:

    Intel 7260BN, Intel 2230 N, BCM94313HMG, Atheros Liteon HB125, BCM943142HM
    , Liteon WB225, Liteon WB335, Intel 135 BGN, Intel 7260 AC

    1. That’s a good tip. Though I don’t remember why I couldn’t find a good supported wireless card back when I wrote this, hopefully no one has to go through this fuss.

      1. I’ve just gone throught it, so I thought I’d share. Bought the machine a couple of years ago but never used it since I”m always on other machines. Decided to upgrade it now, so I’ve done the memory, SDD & am switching out wireless now. Nice machine now, though the touchpad SUCKS. It keeps reverting its settings after I save new ones and there’s a long delay after loading a webpage to when it registers the mouse movement. Driving me crazy, but at least it’s touchscreen. Using a wireless mouse isn’t always convenient. Why does no brand just put glass on their touchpads, like Apple. It can’t be THAT much more expensive. Even if it is, just charge it! People would rather have a cheaper anything else anyway. Maybe I’ll start a new brand & everything will be bog standard but for my glass-covered touchpad. I’ll charge an extra $200 & people (like me) will eat them up! … Even aluminium, like HP was an improvement, but it seems to be cheap cheap cheaper these days with EVERY brand…aarrgghh

  9. Hi Rishi,

    Could you please upload the pictures again. They are not shown anymore. Thanks in advance!

    Best regards,

    Thomas

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