Thursday, April 3, 2014

How to remove the BIOS Supervisor Password (SVP) on an IBM ThinkPad T23

Disclaimer: Do this only at your own risk! I am not responsible if you accidentally break your device or worse.
Always take the appropriate safety precautions when working with electrical device to prevent the risk of electrocution.
IBM stands for "International Business Machines" and that's a relatively accurate description of the ThinkPad laptop series originally produced by IBM for 13 years (from 1992 to 2005) and then acquired by the Chinese Lenovo. As IBM's ThinkPad laptops are more business-oriented than your average, run-of-the-mill laptops, they have pretty good security. Namely, a ThinkPad laptop can have up to three different passwords: power-on password (POP), supervisor password (SVP) and a hard disk drive (HDD) password. Whereas the hard disk drive password can be "bypassed" by swapping out the HDD to a different HDD, the other two are much, much more difficult to crack.

In February 2012, I didn't own a single ThinkPad (nowadays I own three, of which one is my main laptop that I use daily). I had heard many good things about ThinkPads and truly, the fact that they're "the only laptop[s] certified for use on the International Space Station" (according to the Wikipedia ThinkPad article) certainly is something. I managed to grab a used IBM ThinkPad T23 for less than 30€ (postal fees included) from a local auction site back in late February 2012. It was relatively fancy, especially given the low price and all; even the battery seemed to work for longer than 5 minutes! The only drawback was the presence of the dreaded supervisor password (SVP).

If you search around the Internet with your favorite search engine for instructions on how to remove the supervisor password on an IBM ThinkPad laptop, you'll most likely encounter one of these three things:
  1. Hypocrites accusing you of being a thief and telling that asking for BIOS password removal instructions is illegal/against the site's rules/both
  2. Idiots telling you that it's not possible
  3.'s overly complicated instructions involving soldering and other scary things

#1 and #2 are obviously bullshit and #3 is pretty complicated and risky if you're not an electrical engineer by training.

Thankfully, there is a simple way to remove the SVP of older ThinkPads. This method has been described by Le Chameau (which, by the way, is French for "the camel") on the comment section of that article. Likewise, there is an entire Blogspot blog dedicated to the same method. This method involves no soldering and the risk of bricking your ThinkPad is considerably smaller; the best part is that you don't need to buy anything!

Let's get started, shall we?

Step #1: Remove the battery and make sure that the AC adapter is not connected.

Step #2: Locate the ATMEL chip; on the ThinkPad T23, you'll need to remove the RAM cover and one RAM module to access that tiny (0,5mm x 0,3mm) chip.

Step #3: Short the two pins on the ATMEL chip, depending on your ThinkPad model, with a metal object (I used the "dull" end of a very small needle).
For the T23, you'll need to short pins 5 and 6, but for some other models using the smaller (the 8-legged) version, the pins you'll want to short out are pins 3 and 4! This is what got me; I desperately tried to short pins 3 and 4 on my T23, and that naturally did nothing. Take a look at this schematic for reference.
Also make sure that you're able to safely remove whatever metal object you're using to short out the two pins, as you'll need to do that with the laptop being powered on.

Step #4: Power on the laptop.

Step #5: Press whatever button you need to press to access BIOS; on T23, the correct button is the F1. There is usually a message like "Press <whatever key> to access Setup" on the IBM logo screen.

Step #6: You'll notice that loading the BIOS takes longer than usually; this is because you're shorting out the two pins. On the T23, an error message ("ERROR 0187: EAIA data access error") is displayed and after that, you need to press F1 once again to access BIOS for real.

Step #7: Now you're on BIOS, still shorting out the two pins. Go to the "Password" section and you'll notice that the supervisor password is [Disabled]. Don't be fooled! To get rid of the supervisor password that you don't know, you'll need to set a new one! Crazy but true.
Use the arrow keys to select the Supervisor Password, then press Enter. Now you're being prompted for a new supervisor password. Give it a password — I used "1" — and then press enter to select the "Re-enter password" field. Re-enter the new supervisor password and before pressing enter to actually save the new supervisor password, remove the metal object that is shorting the two pins on the ATMEL chip!
After you've done that, press Enter and the new supervisor password — the one that you now know — is saved. Then press F10 to save changes and reboot.

Step #8: Now you're done! If you're like me and you want to get rid of the supervisor password for good, boot up the laptop once again (normally, no need to short out anything anymore), press whatever key you need to (F1 on the T23) to enter BIOS, give it the supervisor password that you just set a moment ago, select the "Password" menu and set Supervisor Password to [Disabled] and press Enter. VoilĂ !

Mandatory licensing crap: This blog post is released to the public domain to the extent that it is possible. This blog post has been written in the hopes that it is useful to someone; however, the author accepts no responsibility whatsoever should you brick your laptop, cause physical injury to yourself or another person or being.
If you do, however, find this blog post useful, please consider donating to Uncyclopedia, the content-free encyclopedia, because a lot of good humor is what was needed to make this possible amidst all the frustration caused by numerous failed attempts at cracking the supervisor password.

Did this method work out for you? Did it not? Do you have questions or thoughts regarding this particular ThinkPad model, Lenovo-era ThinkPads or another laptop model by another manufacturer? Check out what the Laptops Wiki knows and share your best BIOS password removal tips and tricks with the community, as well as your laptop knowledge! :-)
You may also want to post a comment on the comment section below.

1 comment:

xsq said...

I can't believe no one has left a thank you post here yet - I just brought my T23 back from the dead thanks to this (CMOS battery had died and the previous owner had set the supervisor password). Awesome. Can't believe how easy that was either.

So: Thank you for making an extra post about this. I hadn't seen it in the comments on and about given up.

Also a big "Thank You" to Le Chameau of course.