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Need ideas on how to re-zombify a laptop

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It's gonna be a fairly long one, so tl;dr for the lazy: old water-damaged long ago laptop suddenly won't boot from SATA, boots fine from USB, have ideas but need more :)

Years ago I received this old Acer Aspire AS 1410 as non-working gift with supposed water damage - owner couldn't recall precisely. Specs for spec's sake:
11.6" 1366x768 screen, Celeron 743 single core @ 1.30GHz, 2x2GB DDR2, 250GB HDD.

If I can remember correctly (it was a good while ago) in the beginning it didn't work for me either. I bought a replacement motherboard, but that also was no good. I put the original motherboard back in and left it sitting for a while. Then when I randomly decided to try it out, it worked fine. I played around with it a lot, it was stable - booted fine and ran fine. I replaced the damaged keyboard, reinstalled a fresh OS copy and gave it to my dad as a present.

My dad used it for a long time, however felt it was slow, so decided to upgrade it a bit. He bought some more RAM (2+1GB became 2+2GB) and a SSD. The guys at some PC shop handled the replacement. My dad says the laptop worked fine for a week when suddenly it refused to start booting from the SSD. He gave up on it, bought another laptop, took out the SSD and put it there, and returned the HDD to the faulty Acer.

What I found out after testing it:

- Starting the laptop results in either a message that no boot device is found or a hard lock of the whole machine after a brief HDD activity flash
- HDD is fine - SMART is good, tested and boots fine on another machine
- HDD ribbon cable looks fine
- HDD visible and listed in BIOS
- IDE/AHCI setting in BIOS makes no difference
- BIOS is updated to most recent version (not me)
- Replacing HDD with known good SSD and attempting to install Windows results in hangs and/or no device visible when it's time to specify install path
- Booting Ubuntu from USB works fine, HDD is visible, can read/write to it
- Booting same HDD from external USB adapter almost works, hangs at Windows logo (not a problem, I know it's not made to boot from USB anyway)

What I'm planning to do:

- My first thought was to remove the Mini PCIe WiFi module, install a small SSD there and boot from it. However, the BIOS boot list doesn't include the Mini PCIe slot, so this is probably a dead end. Correct me if I'm wrong.
- Plan B was to use an external HDD and install Ubuntu or Windows on it, but carrying the HDD everywhere would be a chore and the cables are a mess...
- Plan C was to just install Ubuntu on a USB flash drive and call it a day, but it would be a tad slow, and what's worse - I will always fear breaking the drive or the USB port if I hit it by accident
- Plan D, my current one, is to sacrifice one USB port: I could fill the port with something non-conductive in order to block it, solder some wires on its internal side, run the wires to the empty HDD space inside and solder the wires to a M.2 to USB adapter and install it there with some small SSD inside - I think I have just about enough space to cram it in there.

Why am I even doing this?

Apart from the SATA boot issues, the little guy seems to work absolutely fine -- I'm even typing this post on it right now! The other day I used it to go online shopping and browsing for hours upon hours. It's comfortable, the battery can still last for ~1.5-2 hours, the keyboard isn't bad for what it is, it's got an HDMI port for multimedia and it's cool & quiet. It deserves to get the zombie treatment and live a good after-life! :D It could be used as a non-critical backup machine or given to some non-demanding family member.

Crazy ideas are welcome.

P.S. Just noticed it doesn't want to properly wake up after being suspended -- might be a temporary thing or related to opening it to remove the HDD today. Powers up with no display or activity. Either way, no big deal right now.
 
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qubit

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Clearly it's got significant hardware issues. For something so old and low spec I wouldn't waste any more time on it.

Bin it or eBay it as half working.

I'm curious, how much did you pay for that replacement mobo and was it new or used?
 
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Clearly it's got significant hardware issues. For something so old and low spec I wouldn't waste any more time on it.

Bin it or eBay it as half working.

I'm curious, how much did you pay for that replacement mobo and was it new or used?

Paid about $40 in today's exchange rates, used, which was borderline egregious in my book, but still less than the whole thing cost used then. I shopped on my local used market, didn't want to deal with ebay.

As far as selling or binning - I could theoretically part it, list it locally (for my country) and pray someone even crazier than me needs parts someday. I'm just not that type. I'd rather try to save it until it's proper dead and then drop it off for recycling or give it away to someone on the local tech forums. I absolutely do know that to most sane people it's totally not worth dealing with it beyond what I've done so far.
 
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If the drive is picked up by UEFi but can't boot, I'd gander there's a secure boot issue. Anyone ever totally reset the CMOS before? It's probably hard to get to, but I'd pull the CMOS batt, power drain it w/ the battery disconnected, then reconnect everything and make sure CMOS actually reset.
If there's an option for CSM/Legacy boot, might be worth playing with too.
Alternatively:
-Livedisk OS, network-attached, 'jukebox'/music server.
-Doomseeker server
-network appliance of some sort
edit: oh, and a memory test seems in order. Bad RAM will corrupt the bootloader/OS install.
 

qubit

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Paid about $40 in today's exchange rates, used, which was borderline egregious in my book, but still less than the whole thing cost used then. I shopped on my local used market, didn't want to deal with ebay.

As far as selling or binning - I could theoretically part it, list it locally (for my country) and pray someone even crazier than me needs parts someday. I'm just not that type. I'd rather try to save it until it's proper dead and then drop it off for recycling or give it away to someone on the local tech forums. I absolutely do know that to most sane people it's totally not worth dealing with it beyond what I've done so far.
Sounds like enthusiast logic there. The qubit approvez! :cool: :cool:
 
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If the drive is picked up by UEFi but can't boot, I'd gander there's a secure boot issue. Anyone ever totally reset the CMOS before? It's probably hard to get to, but I'd pull the CMOS batt, power drain it w/ the battery disconnected, then reconnect everything and make sure CMOS actually reset.
If there's an option for CSM/Legacy boot, might be worth playing with too.
Alternatively:
-Livedisk OS, network-attached, 'jukebox'/music server.
-Doomseeker server
-network appliance of some sort
edit: oh, and a memory test seems in order. Bad RAM will corrupt the bootloader/OS install.
I'm pretty sure this old thing is running on ye olde BIOS. The battery part was interesting though, as I just noticed after taking out the battery and running off mains power and putting it back in that the settings have reset. That might be worth looking into.

As for memory, I recall running memtest at some point in the past, but sure, wouldn't hurt shuffling sticks and running some tests.
 
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Personally, I just gonna put it down since single core celeron is just too slow nowadays but if you insist to fix it up then just use the easy way plan C.
Use something like this for the drive if you worry about it. It's quite small and only sticks out a bit from the port, reducing the risk of getting hit accidentally.
1647995342700.png
 
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Personally, I just gonna put it down since single core celeron is just too slow nowadays but if you insist to fix it up then just use the easy way plan C.
Use something like this for the drive if you worry about it. It's quite small and only sticks out a bit from the port, reducing the risk of getting hit accidentally.
View attachment 240923
If booting off SATA is a problem, but BIOS detects it, a bootable live USB drive might be able to see the HDD and use it for mass media storage.
 
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Personally, I just gonna put it down since single core celeron is just too slow nowadays but if you insist to fix it up then just use the easy way plan C.
Use something like this for the drive if you worry about it. It's quite small and only sticks out a bit from the port, reducing the risk of getting hit accidentally.
View attachment 240923
Yeah, I ordered a similar one before even making the thread just to be on the safe side :)
If booting off SATA is a problem, but BIOS detects it, a bootable live USB drive might be able to see the HDD and use it for mass media storage.
Indeed. Booting from Ubuntu and handling the HDD from there works fine, from what I could tell. Not like I was planning on taking out the HDD, anyway, if I were to permaboot off USB.

However, thinking about this the other day made me think outside the box. I wondered if I can copy the HDD's system reserved partition to USB and edit the boot loader to make it point to the HDD, so initial boot takes off from USB but continues from HDD. Haven't ever tried that, so I might have to do a bit of research. Fun times :)
 
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I would sell it as is for parts on eBay and buy a different one, there's no sense in being attached to something that doesn't work correctly. It sounds like you got a lot out of it as it is. I've parted out laptops before on eBay and earned more from the separate parts than from the intact laptop.
 
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