The Definitive T430 Modding Guide

I’ve been getting requests to create a modification guide for the T430 for over a year now, so this guide is long overdue. I’ve modded and created probably about a dozen T430 ThinkPads in the last 3 years and my mobile powerhouse is currently my fully decked out and customized T430. Every mod possible, my T430 has it, and I’ve opened up, disassembled, and reassembled the T430 so many times it makes my head spin thinking about it. So here we go, the definitive T430 modding guide.

Table of Contents

Why T430?

First, I must confess my love for this machine. It is the perfect laptop in terms of modability and portability. I’ve went on a long rant on why I love the machine here and then again here, but since then I’ve discovered the joys of modding, flashing, and overclocking the T430 and it has become hands down the best laptop on the planet for me (alongside the T530/W530 which is slightly bigger but can be modded just as much and has better thermal overhead for things like the XM, and supports a slightly better GPU).

Nearly all mods here can also be applied to the T530/W530, so if you’re interested in modding those machines feel free to follow this guide.

CPU

The T430 supports any Socket G2 CPU out of the box. Due to the die shrink between Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge, a Generation 3 CPU is highly recommended due to the increased thermal efficiency, but if you have a chip sitting around and want to save money, feel free to use a Sandy Bridge, it will work. There are four “classes” of CPUs here, and we’ll be looking at the top chips for each class.

  • i7–3540M (35W/2C/4T/3.0GH/3.7GHt) is the best in class dual core chip in the Ivy Bridge generation. If you don’t need the performance boost for multi-threaded applications, or if you only core about raw single thread performance on a budget, this chip should serve you just fine.
    Overclockable: No.
  • i7–3632QM (35W/4C/8T/2.2GH/3.2GHt) is the second of two quad core chips at 35 watts. Despite the significant decrease in base speed, this chip vastly outperforms the i7–3540M in most use cases. If you don’t plan to overclock and want to stick with a 35W CPU, this will serve you well. Note that despite the same TDP, you will get more heat and hit the 35W spec more often simply due to having the extra cores to power, but the power usage will still generally average 35W over time with heavy use.
    Overclockable: No.
  • i7–3840QM (45W/4C/8T/2.8GH/3.8GHt) is the highest recommended CPU for the T430, and is the one I run on my workstation. It has a higher TDP and allows you to sustain much higher clock speeds indefinitely without throttling. If you use this chip, pairing it with a non-delta fan and the heatsink mod is highly recommended for heat reasons.
    Overclockable: +4 Multiplier / 4.0GHz All Cores / 4.2GHz Single Core
  • i7–3940XM (55W/4C/8T/3.0GH/3.9GHt) is NOT RECOMMENDED for the T430, but I do recommend it for both the T530 or W530. Unless you are running at stock (in which case why even purchase this chip over something like the 3840QM?), you will throttle after 4.0GHz under load. In the T530/W530, however, a thermally stable 4.6GHz all cores has been reported, and this CPU is highly recommended in the 15 inch ThinkPads.
    Overclockable: Completely Unlocked

The mentioned heatsink, fan, and overclocking details can be found further in this guide.

Heatsink / Fan

If you plan on upgrading to a quad core, replacing your heatsink is highly recommended, and if you have the rarer quiet delta fan, is practically required for 45W CPUs, as the delta has a lower max RPM and is worse at cooling (but is used by those wanting a quieter fan). If your T430 comes with a dedicated GPU, you should have the heatsink pictured installed, which helps slightly with thermals due to the heat dissipating across the GPU pipe when the GPU is not in use. If you do not have the pictured heatsink installed, you can swap it in without having a dedicated GPU in your system. The fans can also be swapped individually, but it requires resealing them to the heatsink and reattaching the thermal sensor wire to the heatsink, and this process is generally not recommended. If you are attempting this, please note that the Delta fans and heatsinks are NOT compatible with the other heatsink/fan combos as the others are all Toshiba branded and will not fit.

Relevant FRUs are as follows:

  • 04W3267 / 04W3268 / 04X3787 are the integrated only Heatsink + Fan assemblies, with the 04W3268 being the coveted quiet Delta fan for those with 35W chips that can take a bit of heat in exchange for quiet.
  • 04W3269 / 0B41088 / 04W3270 are the dedicated GPU assemblies that contain the extra copper pipe for absorbing additional heat from the dedicated GPU. Regardless of whether or not you actually have a dGPU, you want one of these if you plan to go above 35W CPUs, or even then you may want to consider this swap for the additional heat dissipation.

Display

Every single one of the stock T430 displays are complete and utter garbage. They are TN panels, with no IPS option available, with horrible viewing angles, terrible brightness, bad colors, and just an overall unpleasant experience. Luckily, there are multiple solutions.

Note: If you are going from a 1366 x 768 display, you WILL need to upgrade to an HD+ cable (FRUs 04W6867 / 04W6868) along with your display upgrade

  • LP140WD2(TL)(E2) is the first generation X1 Carbon display, which is a much better 1600 x 900 TN screen, and the details for installing that display can be found here. It is rather complicated due to the cable modifications required, though short of an FHD kit this is the only way to get a decent looking matte panel.
  • B140RTN02.1 is the glossy display found in the Dell Alienware M14x R2. Despite being glossy and still a TN, it is by far the best 1600 x 900 display that is compatible (by default) with the T430. The blacks actually look black, and overall the display is so much better than the TN that I was able to completely overlook that it was glossy. It is also significantly brighter and has much better viewing angles despite being a TN. 
    Note: Beware of sellers selling “compatible” displays, especially ones claiming to have a matte version of this display. A matte version does not exist!
  • LP140WD2(TL)(G1) is a similar display found in the Dell Alienware M14x, and also comes highly recommended as a drop in replacement. Also glossy and TN only.

FHD Kits are incredibly rare but nonetheless available for the T430. Kits such as these are clones of the original T420s/T430s kits that were not meant for the non-s models due to the flickering issues present on the non-s models. FHD kits are hit or miss and some people may not experience the flicker issues at all, but they seem to be present more often than not, so regardless of the kit, you are taking a risk upgrading a non-s model to FHD. My personal machine has flicker issues with the FHD kit, but only when charging, and it functions properly when on battery.

Recommended displays to use with the FHD kits:

  • B140HAN01.0 / B140HAN01.1 / B140HAN01.2 / B140HAN01.3
  • LP140WF1-SPB1

Keyboard Swap

The xx30 series was the first to introduce the island style keyboard, and thanks to this first iteration having an identical connector, we can swap in the classic keyboard and get our 7-row layout back. While most guides will point you towards either taking a dremel to the nubs or replacing the palmrest, you can actually place the keyboard under the palmrest, omit the two screws next to the touchpad, and simply drop in the keyboard and palmrest assembly together for a near perfect fit. Be careful that you replace the palmrest with the side facing the screen first, or you will end up with this issue when you inevitably break the clips, which is going to cost you a new palmrest to fix.

After making the physical modification, go ahead and perform the EC flash to get the 7-row functioning properly.

BIOS Flashing

One of the most advanced mods is BIOS flashing the T430. Note that unless you are skilled in assembly, know how to disassemble the T430 BIOS, and can write your own patches to the BIOS, you will need to commission a custom BIOS for your specific machine after extracting it from your motherboard. The user Dudu2002 over at bios-mods is a godsend in this aspect and (for a small donation) will perform mods at lightning speed and you will be ready to flash your new BIOS back to your machine.

This mod also requires an SPI flasher (a raspberry pi will do), and an SOIC8 clip such as this one with jumpers. To see the location of the BIOS chip on the T430 motherboard, check this image.

This is easily one of the riskiest mods to perform, but the good news is that if you properly rip your BIOS off the machine, you cannot brick the device as you can always write your stock BIOS back. I won’t go into full details here, but this guide is specific for the T430, and you can follow it if you’re interested in pursuing this specific mod.

BIOS flashing unlocks the most powerful set of tools for your T430, including:

  • Overclocking capabilities for all overclockable CPUs
  • Advanced Menu settings in the BIOS
  • Disabling Intel ME
  • Removing the WWAN / WLAN Whitelist
  • Unlocking AES-NI capabilities that are locked by default

WWAN / WLAN Card

Unfortunately, the T430 has a an internal whitelist that will not allow the machine to boot unless the installed WLAN card is on the list, and none of the whitelisted cards support 802.11ac. One of the biggest reasons people flash the BIOS other than overclocking is to be able to swap their WLAN card with one that supports 802.11ac. The BIOS flash allows you to remove this whitelist, and allows you to use cards like the coveted Intel 7260 Dual Band AC card, as well as any WWAN card you please (at launch time, 4G LTE was not really a thing so there is no other way to get a 4G LTE card on the T430 as the “best” whitelisted WWAN card was only 3G HSPA+).

Overclocking

After flashing a BIOS with the required MSR bit unlocked, you are able to use programs such as Throttlestop to overclock your machine if you upgraded your CPU to one that supports overclocking. It is a common myth that only Extreme Edition (XM) mobile CPUs can be overclocked along with some Engineering Sample (ES) CPUs, but I’ll let you in on a well kept secret — all 45W Ivy Bridge QM chips can be overclocked slightly after BIOS flashing (+4 to the multipliers). This also applies to Haswell. I personally use the 3840QM and with ThrottleStop get an extra 400MHz across the board thanks to the BIOS modding, and thanks to ThrottleStop I can force 4.0GHz on all cores, at all times with no throttling (other than the CPU’s own thermal limits).

Here is my CPU benchmark. In synthetic performance numbers, my overclocked T430 goes toe to toe with the latest generation Xeon mobile processors. Modding and overclocking goes a long way, and thanks to how weak/dead Moore’s Law has become, you don’t need to upgrade your CPU or overpay to get insane performance. To top it off, the new P series have less than half the battery capacity (T430 with a slice) and discharge far faster.

TPFanControl

This is essential software for anyone with a ThinkPad. If you’re using a quad core CPU, you will definitely want to set a more aggressive curve for your machine to allow your T430 to compensate for the added heat. You can find my personal curve for my overclocked T430 here, which kicks in the fan at 44C and will step up the fan every 4 degrees and completely disengage it at 72C, which will sound like a jet engine but will ensure you don’t thermal throttle immediately under high loads. To enable it, turn on “Smart Mode 1”. With this curve and medium use, the machine settles in the low 50s high 40s.

170W Adapter

A not as well kept secret is that the T430 actually supports the 170W charging adapter, but the physical “teeth” on the adapter do not allow it to fit. If you file down the teeth, the adapter will function normally as it would on any W530, and this will allow you to charge faster, which is particularly helpful if you use one of the higher rated CPUs that did not ship with the T430, because lower wattage adapters will stop working entirely or will only work when the machine is shutdown or totally idle (after upgrading to a quad core, sub 90W adapters may stop working completely, and if you also have a dedicated GPU in your T430 you may only be able to use a 135W or 170W adapter).

SATA Bay

Did you know you could replace the DVD drive in your T430 with an additional SATA bay? Using a product such as this allows you to make a very simple swap and double your storage. The device is fairly self explanatory, and it is entirely plug and play — just remove the drive and swap in the bay.

USB 3.0 Express Card

This is one mod I tried and almost immediately uninstalled, as the hardware is pretty bad, can get physically jammed, just flat out doesn’t work for most people, and seems to be poor quality overall. Nonetheless, if you need additional USB ports and the included four aren’t enough, you can grab a card such as this one and install it — maybe you’ll have better luck than I did.

Touchpad “Replacement”

If your touch pad is getting worn, you can actually replace it quite easily. Unlike other models, the T430’s touchpad is a sticker that can easily be peeled off and replaced. If you dislike the textured surface, you can even remove the sticker and use the smooth surface underneath (though I am not sure how well it holds up to wear as I have not used it this way myself, I only confirmed it functions properly). Replacement stickers can be found online.

Slice Battery

One of the less known things about the xx10 through xx30 lines of ThinkPads is that they shipped with the precursor to the “power bridge” battery technology, in the form of slice batteries. These slice batteries attach to the bottom of your ThinkPad and add a whopping 94Wh to your battery capacity instantly, without needing to shutdown or restart your machine. When they’re discharged, you can swap one out and swap in a new one. I’ve begun carrying two of them with me along with a standard 9-cell so I can use the full power of my T430 with a whopping 188Wh of battery capacity, the highest of any ThinkPad in existence. Insane.

RAM, Battery, Storage

Finally, the run of the mill replacements that most people are familiar with. The T430 has two RAM slots, which support up to 16GB of 2133MHz DDR3L RAM. I recommend DDR3L, as it is 1.35V instead of 1.5V, so it sips 10% less battery and offers identical performance.

For your battery needs, I do not recommend third party batteries at all! Take it from my experiences with a dozen different brands — if you want to get the actual capacity of Lenovo batteries, get Lenovo batteries. Knock off batteries will almost never get you the full 9-cell 94Wh capacity that is advertised (and often come with mid to low 70 watt hours!). I have yet to find a single third party battery that can anywhere near 90Wh of capacity, even when it was advertised directly on the product page! If you still want to use third party batteries, and your T430 refuses to take them, the EC flash will allow you to strip away the battery DRM that ships with the T430.

For storage, it’s pretty basic stuff. No m.2 support, but you can actually use an mSATA drive, at SATA2 speeds, in place of where the WWAN card would be installed. In theory, 3 drives are supported, using a combination of mSATA, the standard bay, and the DVD drive bay being replaced with a SATA bay.

What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

It’s very clear that my infatuation with the T430 is not healthy. I know the machine like the back of my hand, inside and out, and I’m fairly certain I’ve covered every possible modification in existence, including the more obscure accessories and mods. If you spot any errors in my guide, feel free to reach out and let me know so I can fix it. I will attempt to keep this guide updated with fresh working links and information to the best of my ability. If you enjoyed this and it helped you build your dream laptop, make sure to clap and follow!