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e-waste resurrection

Building a homelab on the cheap means using what you have laying around–even if what you have laying around is a dead Dell Inspiron 3521 from a decade ago. This laptop has already lived several lives. It got the wife through college. Before that, it traveled with the mother-in-law for business. It was pretty bad even back then, with a bendy plastic shell, mushy keyboard, and a screen like a gas pump. It does have an ivybridge i3, though! A 17-watt, 2 core, 4 thread behemoth locked at 1.9ghz with no turbo option. It has vt-d support and some usb ports, so it will be perfect as a node in my cluster for light containers and VMs like my NAS and Wireguard tunnels.

The only problem: it doesn’t boot. It doesn’t even beep!

Of course the cmos battery had died after all these years. Changing the battery got it to post! but only once. I accidentally knocked the cmos battery back out while it was running and corrupted the bios. It was SUPER dead this time, the cpu fan would only spin a partial turn before giving up.

But never fear! Fixing a corrupted bios is pretty simple. The only two tools required are another working computer and a ch341a programmer (about $10 on Amazon) like this:

CH341a programmer

I found a dump of the original bios in a 2014 forum post on (thanks siddiq from ghana!).

The ch341a comes with an 8-pin clip that connects directly to the pins on the bios chip. It is a little bit wobbly, and it will not read properly until it is making good contact with all 8 pins. You can make sure its working correctly by dumping the bios to a file, and then verifying the checksum against the file. The flashrom guide here was super easy to follow.

CH341a hooked up to bios chip and thinkpad

Flashrom autodetected the Winbond bios chip, I made a backup dump, and the checksum matched on the first try. I went ahead with flashrom -w on the dump I found online and… tadaaaa!

e-waste resurrected!  ready to begin a proxmox cluster.

It works! Now it is a fully functioning node in my Proxmox cluster. On to rescuing more e-waste for the homelab.