Broken laptop recovered using an Arduino

We see Arduino boards used in a lot of projects but we’ve never thought of using one as a USB crossover cable. That’s basically what [Jack the Vendicator] did to get his broken laptop running. When his video card stopped working he found himself unable to access the laptop. Newer machines don’t have a serial connector, which could have been used for a serial terminal, so he was at a bit of a loss since neither SSH nor VNC were installed. But he thought he might be able to use the Arduino as a serial terminal connector over USB. He plugged the Arduino into the laptop, and connected a USB serial converter from his desktop computer to the Arduino’s serial pins. In effect he’s just taking advantage of the FTDI chip, translating those signals back into USB on either end. Once he booted the headless laptop it took just a couple of blindly typed commands to get SSH running in order to regain control.

64 thoughts on “Broken laptop recovered using an Arduino

  1. and btw, (for those who suggested the drive removal and use of an adapter)… did you ever think that he might still want to use that laptop as a headless but usefull – secondary – pc?

    yes, you can take out the drive, save your data and what not but then? throw the laptop away? it still has the same computing power.

    think of it as an 24/7 server for small things: file-sharing, whatever. but with a build-in UPS and remote connectivity.

  2. I for one am impressed, I don’t think I’ve ever used getty so even ignoring the hardware I couldn’t have done this.

    For any of you who are afraid of linux come over to ArchLinux, everyone is friendly, there’s a good wiki, and pretty much anything you need is in the repos. Hugs are also available if you need to feel extra at home.

  3. Funny to read to “comments”. I have never had a problem with a headless laptop not taking a external video monitor.. Even one where someone “beheaded” it mechanically. If it boots, it runs.
    There are probably a hundred ways to do what he wanted.

  4. ogmious Has it Right

    If the GPU was not working, the laptop would not POST and there for getting anything off the HD would not work no matter what hack/way he chose (besides taking the HD out)

  5. “and btw, (for those who suggested the drive removal and use of an adapter)… did you ever think that he might still want to use that laptop as a headless but usefull – secondary – pc?”

    you can scrape your data, reinstall setup and put the hard drive back in ya know

    not arguing the point of removing it, he somehow in the year 2011 does not have a pc with a sata port (though the 2ghz X64 sitting under my bench does and that was a 75$ pc in 2007 but “whatever”)

  6. Bios wont let him boot if GPU was damaged, so all he have to do is plug in another monitor like the one on the left side of the photo. another proof of arbdhuino = hammer mentality

  7. The video card is really damaged (short circuit), but since it’s mounted on a removable slot (MXM II), the laptop is built to boot without it. It just reports the error at POST level with beeps (like a normal desktop pc) and goes on with hard-disk initialization.
    Anyway, I didn’t want to replace the card because I didn’t want to spend over 100-130 euros on cards that are so prone to failures.
    I *really* don’t have anything with a SATA port here :-( and BTW I really need the laptop computing power (dual core CPU, awesome when compiling large source code tarballs).

  8. @DarwinSurvivor

    “Brute force the ip” Wut you talkin’ ’bout?
    There’s a thousand more elegant ways of checking if a machine is on a network: nmap, scapy, etc. You’re almost on par with “I’ll create a gooey in visual basic to track the killers IP”. Almost.

  9. @medox.

    Did you realise you can pull the drive, set it up so it automatically logs in + starts vnc server – Then just put it straight back into the computer?

    You dont *have* to keep it outside the comp in an enclosure, you can put it back in the laptop. Would make a great NAS

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