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Converting a broken laptop into a home media server

My wife had an old Compaq 610 laptop during her college days which was lying around and had not been switched on for past 2 years. Its battery was dead and the screen hadn't survived a fall from a desk during its heydays. One afternoon during this long weekend in Hyderabad (8 April-10 April), when I didn't have anything better to do, I pulled out the dusty laptop bag from the cupboard where it had been laid to rest. Remarkably all the paperwork and receipts were well preserved in the bag along with the laptop. The receipt said that it was bought in 2010, was sporting a Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 3 GB DDR2 RAM and 1 TB HDD. It didn't have a HDMI port just a VGA one. It certainly is not a beast according to current standards but not completely useless too. Obviously I embarked on the salvage mission like any self-respecting engineer would do.

I pulled out the dead battery, plugged in the charger cable directly and switched on the laptop. A blue LED flickered and the laptop showed signs of life. Amidst the cracks, the screen displayed a rainbow of colors proving that it was completely useless. I had no VGA cables or external monitor lying around that I could use as a screen. Suddenly the famous Windows 7 boot sound chimed in followed by Skype app launch sound. No better music had ever played in my ears. It proved two things - the speakers were okay and more importantly there was no password on the laptop and it was booting into the Windows Desktop. All I had to do now was Remote Desktop (RDP) into it. Sounds easy, right? Wrong!

I fished out an old Ethernet cable and paired the laptop with my home wireless router. DHCP worked and the laptop was assigned an IP which I could see in the router clients list. Joyfully I opened up Remote Desktop session and encountered this - 


A quick search revealed that the remote desktop feature might have been disabled on the laptop. How do I enable that when there is no screen! Enter Command Prompt (CMD) to the rescue.

When you press the Windows key and type in 'cmd', followed by Ctrl+Shift+Enter, it launches CMD in Administrator mode. Of course the UAC prompt comes up before that which by default is on "No" button. Press of Left arrow key followed by Enter and I was hopefully on the command prompt. To make sure that I was indeed positioned correctly, I typed "start foo" and Enter. The error sound confirmed my suspicion.

To enable RDP, I typed the following command (blindly)
reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Terminal Server" /v fDenyTSConnections /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

Still no luck! Some other article on the web suggested that Remote Desktop might be disabled at firewall level.
netsh firewall set service type=remotedesktop mode=enable

This time it worked! A prompt came up asking me to enter username and password. I knew the password as blank (no password) but didn't know the username too. My wife had no clue as she never bothered with these "user accounts nonsense". So close yet so far!

Thing is even if I knew the username, Windows won't allow a blank password to RDP. To enable it to accept blank password,
reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Lsa" /v LimitBlankPasswordUse /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

All Windows machines have an Administrator account by default. Since I didn't have the current username, I tried to RDP with Administrator account and blank password. A message popped up saying this account was disabled. No problem!
net user administrator /active:yes

Finally I was able to RDP into the dead laptop with the administrator account! I checked the username of the other user. It was "Compaq" (duh!). I uninstalled all the crapware from the laptop and started the upgrade process to Windows 10. I left it running overnight and in the morning I booted into a brand new Windows 10 desktop!

Next step was installing Plex Media Server on to it. I plugged in all my external drives containing media to the laptop and let Plex do its job. This 6-year old laptop is now running 24x7 inside the TV cabinet streaming entertainment and joy all over the house!

What old electronics components have you salvaged and made something interesting/useful from it? Let me know in the comments.

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