Quick hack brings Wi-Fi to an aging laptop

usb_wifi_adapter

[Jarrod] has an older Compaq laptop he is still pretty keen on, but he has one niggling problem – the laptop doesn’t have a built-in wireless card. He recently changed security protocols on his home wireless network to WPA and realized that his old Linksys PC card only supports WEP. He decided it was time to find another way to connect wirelessly, so he started searching around for options.

It turns out that his laptop does have the ability to accept a LCD-mounted add-on wireless card, but it costs about $100 and doesn’t support WPA. He figured that the card slipped into some sort of glorified USB port, and after disassembling the laptop, he found that he was right.

He quickly soldered a few wires and a USB adapter to the Bluetooth board that already occupied the card slot, then plugged in a wireless mouse to see what would happen. The mouse’s radio powered on without issue, and much to [Jarrod’s] delight, the port was USB 2.0 compatible.

Now that he knows the port is live, he plans on finding a small USB 802.11 G or N adapter to cram into the slot – with the deluge of miniature USB Wi-Fi adapters on the market, that shouldn’t be too hard.

32 thoughts on “Quick hack brings Wi-Fi to an aging laptop

  1. I applaud your effort! But you should seriously invest in a nice fine point temperature controlled soldering iron. Hakko makes the nicest stuff in my opinion. I actually have one of those Compaq EVO’s too. It wasn’t bad, back in the day.

  2. I have two N610c laptops and there’s a considerably simpler solution that I implemented for those that might work for the N410 as well.

    1) Remove the mini-pci modem and replace it with an Intel 2200 B/G card.

    2) Install this type of wifi antenna: http://ds5.org/3306

    3) Install drivers if necessary.

    In my case I actually took the notebooks apart and installed dual antennas in the LCD lid but that’s actually not necessary for a usable signal.

    Oh and if he cracks the case on most USB network adapters the circuit board will easily fit behind the plastic cover.

  3. FYI signal quality will seriously degrade with this hack.

    I removed USB connector and casing from small USB 802.11g adapter, soldered wires to connector on N610c screen and put original plastic cover back. It all fitted nicely under it.

    You’ll get around 5 meters worth of wireless coverage when LCD screen is facing AP. A lot more with back of screen facing AP. I think it’s because unlike modern laptops with all plastic construction Evo’s had metal alloy frame and back of screen.

  4. I have a “brick” of an old laptop a Dell insperion 7000, 8lbs light!lol that has a whole lot of room in it and was able to fit a Belkin usb dongle into it and add an antenna conection to it’s board. it now runs WattOS very nicely .
    oh and both of the battery’s still work like new for being made in 1999 :P

  5. @Jake, Strider…

    Actually, the words Niggle, Niggling, Niggardly likely have nothing to do with the other “N” word. It’s quite probable that they originate from a word that appears in scandinavian languages — “Nigla” — which means “To busy oneself with insignificant matters”.

    Still — using them probably isn’t a good way to make friends.

  6. From Dictionary.com:

    niggling: adjective

    2) demanding too much care, attention, time, etc.: niggling chores about the house.

    Sounds about right.

    Funny enough, the primary definition is:

    1) petty; trivial; inconsequential: to quibble about a niggling difference in terminology.

    Quite appropriate a definition given the previous comments, is it not?

    Seriously though, if words like that bother you, it might be time you broaden your horizons. It has nothing to do with race or racism, never has.

    It seems that perhaps problem is you, seeing as your first reaction was, “…the race troll in me”.

    In order to look like less of an idiot in the future, it might be wise to invest a few dollars in one of these:

  7. I did almost this same exact hack several years ago on my old evo. I would still be using it if I didnt have a bad habit of dropping laptops off my 2nd story patio ;)

    Anyhow what I did is took a a zyxel 1211 and mounted it inside the shell behind the display. I soldered the usb connection onto the contacts on the clip and it came right up.

    I got the idea after looking at the device manager on an evo that had the wifi brick attached, it showed up as a usb device. From there it was all gravy.

  8. @FightCube.com – I have a decemt iron, but it lacks a fine point solder bit, which I intend to buy soon.

    @nimitzbrood – I considered this option, but I was looking for something cheep, and since I can pickup a wireless USB adapter for less that $20, and I had everything else I needed I decided to go this route.

  9. @nimitzbrood
    I Too have NC610, i like the expandability of this machine, multibays and ports everywhere, i removed the mini pci modem and replaced it with wifi card, works well but the wire antenna is crap, so i ripped out the modem socket and fitted a 2.4ghz external antenna, it extended the range 3x

  10. @nimitzbrood

    It’s great that it worked for you but I wouldn’t recommend a mini-PCI solution. Not unless you have tried it with that make, model of laptop. The problem is that many laptops have code in the BIOS which refuses to turn the mini-PCI port on if it detects anything but the specific overpriced card that the manufacturer wants to sell.

  11. Cool and all – but I just picked up a wifi usb stick that is 2mm longer than the USB insert part — that is to say, you stick it in the laptop and it juts out a total of 2mm. I paid $6 for it on Amazon. Cool work, and I’m all about hacking things for the hell of it — but there are some other options.

  12. I’m confused on this one.

    First, if the board has those nice big pads on the back, why not solder to those instead of tearing the hell out of the back of the connector? Just seems like picking the hard way for no reason.

    Second, if the Bluetooth adapter is still active, how can he connect another device to the same USB line? Won’t they conflict? Seems like you would need a USB hub in there to have both the Bluetooth and WiFi work at the same time.

  13. @MS3FGX

    There are probably two USB ports in that connector. They did sell a WiFi device to plug into it too and I doubt they made the customer chose either WiFi or USB but not both.

  14. @FirefighterGeek – There are only 2 other USB ports on the laptop, I did mot want to sacrifice them for a USB wifi dongle, plus I could not find a 802.11g adapter with such a small profile, only blue tooth.

    @MS3FGX – You are correct, it is only on port, and if I wanted to add blue tooth I would need to hack in a small hub, but since I don’t want blue tooth it works out just fine. I decided not to solder onto the large pads because initially I was going to remove the connector and use it, but I quickly decided that would not work out. If I were to do it again I would use the large pads instead.

  15. i did this “hack” back in 2005 with my Compaq Presario 906, simple soldering job. The usb dongle i used was standard size and it still fit under that little cover after i striped it from its case.

  16. @Leif – KC8RWR – There is only one USB connector as near as I can tell. HP sells the WS200 which is both blue tooth and 802.11b. I can only assume that it is some sort of composite USB device.

  17. The TP-link 722N… USB adapter is extremely good it only works on newer versions of Linux though so that might be a consideration…

  18. I did this back in 2006 on an Evo N620c (great laptop!), and yes, there are 2 USB ports in there. I used one of them to fit a bluetooth dongle, and a miniPCI wifi plus older BIOS version (that version would still work with my upgraded Dothan CPU without blocking unauthorized miniPCI cards). I used the large pads to solder btw, and filed the original cover from inside to make more room.

  19. If you have the WLAN W200 from HP http://i.imgur.com/Xbdkh.jpg, that cover gives you more space.

    You can then cannibalize the W200’s SIM card connector–it also does WEP only but causes blue screens if it scans the wrong type of AP–and create a custom circuit board with a USB receptacle so you can mount different devices there. There may be clearance problems if you use a port replicator so I agree using an otherwise unused USB port is a good choice.

    A TP-Link TL-WN620G fits after you take off the plastic enclosure. This device also has a connector for an external antenna should the need arise and it’s an Atheros-based chip.

  20. Why did he not buy a mini pci wifi card on ebay for near nothing?

    I got a ABGN card for an evo for $29.0 shipped. I guess if you are dirt poor…..

  21. Sorry if someones already mentioned it but there is only 1 usb port in the hood of the NC6xx multiport bay, the extra pads are for fn+2 to switch the device on or off, they dont efect the usb port just provide a switch for the official wifi/gsm card

  22. so good, i’ve just searched for it last week and now here’s the answer

    i’ll try this on a Compaq Presario 920

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