Consumer computer hardware evolves quickly: new models are replaced by even newer ones, but sometimes the design takes direction that some portion of users just cannot accept; models or entire products get discontinued; companies go out of business.

I sometimes wonder: what if someone designed a 'bespoke' modern replacement mainboard for this or that laptop or gadget?

How hard could it be?

I would like to know: what does it take, in terms of skill level (how skilled and how rare a person does it take), time (man-months?) and/or overall costs required to design, manufacture and install a proper replacement mainboard for an older, non-open-hardware laptop? Such as this one: 'T50' replacement motherboard for IBM ThinkPad T43 laptop.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Top 0.5%. 3 man-years. $400000. Give or take. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2014 at 6:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @IgnacioVazquez-Abrams That might be a reason this is not done often. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2014 at 7:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Making a modern-capability computer motherboard is beyond casual hobbyist capability or finances, however making a board to provide basic terminal / 1980's "home computer" capability shouldn't be too hard. There are micro-controllers with positively comparable resources in surface mount packages you can hand solder onto 1 or 2 layer boards, and an SPI interfaced SD card makes a nice "hard disk". Probably the hardest part is driving the LCD panel. An FPGA might accomplish that, but it requires 3 power supplies which is tricky on 2 layers. And you need external video memory. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 1, 2014 at 15:00

1 Answer 1


http://www.bunniestudios.com/blog/?tag=novena : Bunnie Huang is doing pretty much this, designing his own laptop. He's definitely an extremely skilled hacker, in the 1%. But I don't think that's strictly required for this kind of work, especially if you've got an existing motherboard to copy. Anyone with a proven record of being able to do high-speed digital logic boards should be able to do it. Ignatio's estimate of 3 man-years and $400k seems reasonable for doing it in the West, including a small prototype run. It may be possible to find skilled EEs in China for less money.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Bunnie is great, but let's be realistic -- ARM boards running Linux are very different than bringing up an x86 design. To do that, you'll need a processor, northbridge (if you're doing Intel), a southbridge, and RAM. I'd say 8 layer PCB, absolute minimum. Oh, and you'd have to write a BIOS. \$\endgroup\$ Aug 2, 2014 at 8:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ 8 layer PCB is not an absolute minimum. \$\endgroup\$
    – Yuhong Bao
    Sep 30, 2014 at 7:17

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