Back in Time (A Serial Thriller)

I complained at the start of the month about how much of a faff it is to put my mini-ITX PC in maintenance mode. Obviously, it’s Linux, so maintenance mode is used very rarely. In fact, power outages and system reconfiguration have caused more restarts in the past year than software crashes. But I digress.

To sort things out following an unscheduled reboot when it encounters problems, I need to unplug from the mini-PC:

  • the power
  • the network cable
  • the USB printer
  • the USB HDD
  • the power to the external HDD itself

I then need to move everything across to the computer desk on the other side of the room, swap the keyboard and power leads over from the main PC, plug in the external HDD again, plus dig out the analog VGA cable from the cupboard so I can connect it to the monitor (normally connected to my PC through DVI cabling). Understandably, that’s a pain in the backside.

So what can I do about this? Normally, everything is remotely administered over the network, but during boot time, the network isn’t available, so I can’t monitor startup messages. The solution lies in technology that literally pre-dates me: an RS-232 serial connection.

My main PC does have a serial port, but it’s hidden away round the back of the tower which is hard to get to. A better solution was to purchase a USB to serial port convertor. This was bought from for the small sum of $7 (about £3.50) delivered. This means I can just plug in the convertor as and when required.

Next up, we need to run a cable, so I bought a 2m null-modem cable and a 5m extension cable (£5 delivered for the pair) which ought to cover the space between my main PC and the mini-ITX. A bit more messing later with Windows Hyperterminal and I managed to get the boot messages scrolling up on my main PC via the serial link.

So there you go, 1960’s technology finds a useful place in the home of a techno-geek some 40 years later. Laughably, the link only runs at 115,200kbps, which isn’t even enough to stream an MP3 track. Some progress.

One comment

  • As for the title—-big groan. I still use Hyperterminal to get into older telecomms switches and also as a back door to Nortel stuff. Most call logging software still uses it as comma-delimited output and they charge hundreds of pounds for it. The guys doing the N3 project during 2006-2007 used it all the time to download router configs. It just works.
    115,200 kpbs—you were lucky, in my day…………..