Laptop motherboard reborn as a low-wattage server

[Darknezz] sent us a set of photos and some details about his damaged laptop motherboard turned into a server. A client brought him a Dell 1525 on which nothing was showing up on the LCD screen. The HDMI and VGA still worked, and he traced the problem to no signal coming out of the motherboard. He swapped the board out to get the laptop working again, but he client said he could keep the damaged one.

It has a dual-core CPU which meets his needs and since it’s meant to run off of a battery it’s as energy-efficient as possible. [Darknezz] dug through his parts bin and found a PSU that could supply the needed 19.5V at 3.5A. The connector didn’t match but it didn’t take him too long to patch into it using a spare Molex connector. He also needed a power button and ended up soldering a momentary push switch to a couple of pads which he traced out form the original connector. The only thing he actually ended up purchasing were the memory modules. Check out the photos he took of the alterations in the gallery after the break.

Comments

  1. jasonharmon says:

    This is notable? I’ve done this with so many spare laptop boards I’ve lost count. Heck I had a cloud array built out of them with Ubuntu at one point. In hindsight, I guess that’s why I feel an affinity with LifeHacker ;)

    • FuelCell250 says:

      When the hinges on my old PIII died a couple years ago, I pulled the screen and keyboard off and made some nice vertical stands for it. It’s been serving up Minecraft, a printer, and a Samba share with Ubuntu Server ever since. Uptime record is 280 days, when I had to reboot it for a project I was working on.

    • mike says:

      Ehh one of those people. Smugness will not earn credibility. Ya just come off as a ….

  2. COde says:

    Thats some awesome hack… wait, its just re-purposed hardware. Still awesome and I hope to do the same for some old 486 laptops I have. Now pleace ad an lcd telling its IP adress and current temparature :D That would finish this very lowprofile “SBC” :P

    • rob says:

      I’ve done basically this with an old netbook. I use it to run an ssh tunnel, some file serving, and a supersonic server. I used to keep irssi up on it, but the powerjack needs replaced. :( Ordered a new one, will finally break it out of the netbook case and make a small little case with a fan for it.

      It’s not too powerful (1gb ram, 1.6GHz atom) but it does what I need it to.

  3. Jason says:

    I to think this is a great reuse for an old laptop. I really like the the molex connector in place of a power connector. I have been using an acer 3000 laptop board for a router for some time now and it’s been great. I’ve also kept the battery installed as a built-in system ups.

  4. laptop fun says:

    For many years we used a laptop as our co-lo server. It had *years* of uptime. It was a fantastic box for the task. It was finally retired due to age, though not due to any specific issue.

    There have been some recent jokes about putting it back into service because all of the various replacements have not been near as reliable.

  5. Daniel says:

    I have a core2duo laptop motherboard I was going to do this with, except I was going to put it in a case attached to the back of my TV, and it was going to PXE boot to an iSCSI target and run diskless. Then I realized a core2duo (with intel video) doesn’t run Netflix/Win7 MCE as well as I would like. I was shocked at how well the iSCSI connection performed (I used gPXE).

    • ho0d0o says:

      That’s another great idea. A low-profile slim case that looks like it’s part of the LCD TV.

      or…just maybe (if there’s enough room) you could mount it inside the housing of the TV? I know Core2Duos do tend to get pretty hot (I have a Core2Extreme gaming rig) and space would probably be an issue…but I think it would be bad ass.

  6. ho0d0o says:

    I think this would look cool mounted in a nice deep wall picture frame, or even a larger stand-up picture frame!

    Darren Kitchen of Hak5.org is the first person I’ve seen put the wall mounted picture frame server idea to use. I think it would make this project look much more aesthetically pleasing.

    I like the concept because it’s low profile, and (if hung on the wall) out of the way and space saving.

  7. Karl says:

    I am thinking how low the wattage is?
    I have also an old laptop acting as a server. It has damaged housing and a big spider on the screen (fortunately most of the left side is still working)
    Other than that, it has a 1.6GHz dual core processor and 1.5Gb of RAM, so it is a decent machine.
    Anyway, I threw out everything unnecessary like the modem and wifi card. Most of the time the screen is also turned off and not taking any power. The system is running from a 8Gb SD card and HDD is only powered up when needed (most of the time it is offline).
    So while being idle, my server takes only 8W of power (less than my modem/router!). On average work load (HDD on, uploading/downloading files), I get <15W.
    As a bonus it is completely silent when the HDD is offline, as there is not enough heating to power on the fan on that load.
    So I think this idea of using old laptop as a home server is probably best solution, becaouse of it is small, silent, and has low wattage. Of course you could use the Raspberry Pi, as that is even smaller and takes even less power, but a laptop has more powerful processor, meaning you can use it for other things than just as a web- or file server.
    Also, you can get a dual core laptop or it's motherboard, that is in good enough condition for a headless server for a very symbolic price or even for free.

    • kaidenshi says:

      Similar build here. A buddy gave me a cheap Acer laptop with a busted screen in lieu of money he owed me, and I had a choice of replacing the panel for ~$70 and the single core CPU with a dual core, and having an outdated laptop I would never use, or removing the top half entirely and using it as a “desktop” attached to a monitor. I went one step further, removing the WiFi module as well, upgrading the hard drive and setting it up as a headless Plex media server.

      Now my fiancee who lives an hour away can stream via her Roku and has been able to cut out her satellite TV account completely, saving over $50/month. It sits on a lower shelf of my workbench and I just VNC into it if I need to make any adjustments. It’s whisper quiet and uses barely more power than my Mac mini. The built in battery backup has already proven itself useful; the power went out here for 20 minutes while she was watching something last week and it never skipped a beat (I have my modem and router on a UPS as well).

      • fax88 says:

        Headless Plex? on Linux you mean? Just stream your own media and not on line content right? I was going crazy trying to figure out what I was doing wrong, until I learned not supported.

  8. Geebles says:

    I too have done this to a HP laptop running Server 2008. Runs great! Its next to silent (old SSD) and will draw 7watt at idle, and about 11watt under load (using a wall meter so may not be too accurate).
    Its a great repurpose of old hardware, and if you keep it in the laptop case you can hide it behind anything! The battery (altho a bit knackered) acts as a UPS.. A good idea would be to somehow power the Router from the laptop battery (or some internal 12v bus) and so that even if power goes out, you will still have internet!

  9. Mr Obvious says:

    Using a computer as… a computer, you say?

    Why didn’t that ever occur to me?

    BTW, I’ve just hacked my coffee mug by putting tea in it.

    • bert says:

      This made me laugh.

      Furthermore, as a tech I wonder how low his pay must be to justify swapping a laptop MOBO. If you don’t have one on hand it is always cheaper for the client to just upgrade a little bit sooner instead of paying someone for an hour or two plus the hardware, plus voiding the warranty.

      It just isn’t done in the professional world.

    • JB says:

      +1 Mr. Obvious. LOL!

      What happened… did you retire from the military? I thought you were a Captain… :P

  10. zacdee316 says:

    I have a 1525 that still runs. Dell messed up quite a few things with it, but even with a single core celeron, it’s a tank with XP, 7, or Ubuntu.

    But still, this isn’t that impressive of a hack.

  11. Sam says:

    Wow, I didn’t realize this sort of thing was hack worthy. I did something similar with an old ASUS laptop with a cracked screen a couple of years ago. I removed the screen and zip-tied it to the back of an lcd monitor so it was basically an all in one desktop.

  12. UncleJ says:

    Come on guys! We’ve all had to start somewhere, and while it may not be building a Particle Accelerator from a trouser press (and Arduino), it’s still a more than the uninitiated could manage, and I think a fine use for an old laptop that would otherwise be wasted.

  13. Wizzard says:

    Agree with previous commentors- I’ve done this more times than I can count, and right now I have 2 dead laptops (one bad screen/kbd, one defective LVDS) running as servers- They are fantastically low power, with enough grunt and RAM for Minecraft, Blockland, and hosting my USB drive shares. I’ve also set up one at a friends house for hosting his drive for use with Airplay.

  14. Hirudinea says:

    Hey this is a good hack, you take something that would have been thrown out as garbage, did a tiny bit of modding and you have something useful for free, making something out of nothing or lemonade from lemons, isn’t that hacking?

  15. truebassb says:

    One thing i would improve on this project is the cooling.

    The inefficient (insufficient?) heatpipe design doesn’t give me a joy,i would put a few quite large Heavy Duty Northbridge Heatsinks directly to the Chips instead.

    It can run on passive cooling and a lot more compact.

  16. shinjimx80 says:

    I have an old laptop (broken LCD) and I want to do this hack and combine it with the NES computer mod, the only thing I can’t find/can’t figure out is how to add/attach an external power button (in this case, hook the NES power button to the laptop mobo), any help please? thanks!

  17. n_slash_a says:

    Sorry, I’m a little confused here. If the video out is not working, then how did he install server software on the thing?

  18. B Botany says:

    This is totally just a hack, and not a newsworthy invention or anything. Putting up stuff like this and there’s no way you’ll be a tech news site, you’ll become some sort of “Hack-of-the-Day” blog instead.

    Time for me to go read some site that looks more impressive to my coworkers. Maybe something with a *blue* background is better…

    (“Mocking trolls?” Why would you ask?)

  19. Ursus Siara says:

    I’d like to comment on the many replies from the “experts” who got their panties all bunched up over how unworthy this article is. I was directed here form another site (LH) precisely because I was curious as to whether or not I could re-purpose a broken laptop into something to help with an upcoming project. Unlike most of the people here (based on their comments)I am relatively new to electronics and programming, but I recognize that having the necessity of having these “tools” in the current age. I am grateful that those hosting this site posted this article. It opened up some possibilities to me that I had not considered, given my lack of experience. So, if nothing else, I say thank you, for recognizing that were not all God’s gift to the electronics industry. WORD to the elitists who pick their reading material based on the opinions of their peers (vs. their own interests)..Good luck with that skippy. Your a leader! Tonight while your wondering what you should have up on the screen in your cubicle to impress the casual passer by, I’ll be out on a date. With a Woman. Regards, Ursus.

    • Luke says:

      +1 to Ursus Siara

      Also for a case he could use some nylon standoffs onto some clear perspex utilising some L bracket aluminium to another sheet of perspex to create a L shaped stand so that he can show off his Hack.
      (LED HDD status lights lighting up the stand would also be excellent)

      • ursussiara says:

        The layout, with a couple of exceptions looks pretty close to how it was in the case, doesn’t it?
        what about just using the bottom of the original case, using a couple of the holes that are used
        securing it to the top for mounting points. You
        could then use the access covers and even battery
        as is. For additional cooling, cut the appropriate vent openings and add fan(s). If the size of the footprint is critical, use the same idea, but stack the components using long deck screws and rigid plastic or aluminum tubing as spacers. The perimeter of the enclosure could be cut out of decorative aluminum (or even copper)screening they sell at Home D.
        Just a thought , Ursus.

    • Alex Burton says:

      +1 Ursus Siara

      All of us had to start somewhere. I don’t want to ruffle feathers, but he extended the functionality of a salvaged piece of hardware. That sounds like a “hack” to me!

      • ursussiara says:

        Thanks AB.
        To help Illustrate the point I’ll share this.

        I wasn’t even weighing in on whether it was or was not a “Hack”. (I just have natural “b*tch slap”
        reflex when it comes to snobbery, in general.)

        In fact, until you made your comment, I didn’t realize that I didn’t really know what the term “Hack” even means.
        I just saw what looked like a cool idea and followed it here, to “Hack a Day”.

        How funny is that?

        (Head hung in shame, his shoulders slumped, he heads for the entrance mumbling “okay, I guess I’ll go read the FAQ’s”..fade to black.

        Ursus.

  20. Darknezz says:

    Thanks for all the comments fellow enthusiasts, positive and negative. truebassb, I’ll very much take that into consideration as the chips do get hot(65c) with a full load. Have a good weekend everyone.

  21. Johbsonld123 says:

    I did this to a previous laptop but ran into issues add external hdd at a reasonable price. What would be a good solution for add multiple hdd. I’ve tried and priced some external enclosures but not too many to add 4 or more 1tb ech drives. Any suggestions appreciated.

  22. TacticalNinja says:

    Get an old laptop, remove casing, install linux on it. Presto! you have an over-sized raspberry pi.

  23. R says:

    This would have been more impressive if he’d at least made a nice box for it.

  24. L says:

    My question is where do you find a good mobo for cheap/free? I’ve noticed a few on ebay, but that doesn’t seem like the best source.

    • ursussiara says:

      You could put a wanted ad in your local newspaper classified section or online classifieds like craigslist. Could read “Will recycle your old laptop, working or not, for free. Will pick up.
      “You might have to travel a bit, but if it for free hardware, WAH!. (remember to limit the areas
      to those you are actually willing to serve. If you don’t have a car, try having a recycling event at your house. Advertise with flyers in your neighborhood and postings at local businesses. Combine it with a garage sale and make a couple bucks. You can always recycle the leftovers yourself after you’ve picked through them. Might even make a buck or two.
      Ursus’s Rules of Salvage # 1-
      “If something is truly free it’s usually worthless or you, very lucky.” Your going to have to put something in to get something worthwhile out. Time is money and Money is time. If you are short on cash, use your time and talent to get it cheaper. Just beware the salvage bug! It has small teeth, but takes a big bite! I’ve seen better men than myself spend half a day and $50 in gas to claim a $40 prize. Good luck!

  25. ketturi says:

    I had HP ProBook 4515s barebone server about 2 years. I had broken LCD panel, keyboard and battery, and it started to crash with windows just after end of warranty but with linux it served faithfully my old homepage and ssh/ftp/nas/firewall&nat etc services. I calculated that electricity costs for it were like 50€. Now i have 4 broken laptops which could be used as server, but no need for anymore. So if you are looking cheap(materially free) server or embedded computer, get old laptop and give try!

  26. LeHoost3in says:

    Alternatively a really expensive wireless access point/Router.

  27. Anon.coward says:

    Good way to repurpose something that would otherwise end up at the dump!

    Love this stuff…

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