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My friend's laptop went through a car crash recently. Everything still works as far as I can tell, except the display, which is cracked beyond recognition. I've tried external monitors, including the Fn+VGA/LCD key, but it seems the VGA port also got messed up. I've taken it apart to look for trivial circuit board damage, which I didn't notice.

I managed to gain control with a USB autorun VNC install, but I'd still love to gain enough control to do a format and fresh install of Windows. Any ideas?

EDIT: I had no problem backing up the files through the network. I'd like to use the PC as a node in a render farm, so it normally won't be necessary to have it attached to a display. And it's bogged down with crapware, so a reinstall seemed like the natural thing to do.

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If you aren't going to fix the display, I would install a server operating system. They are usually designed to work "headless". – Brad Gilbert Jul 16 '09 at 2:53
up vote 2 down vote accepted

You can do an unattended Windows install. To get remote access after the install, you can either do the same VNC trick or turn on Remote Desktop as part of the install.

Installing Windows XP unattended using nLite

Installing Windows Vista unattended using vLite

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remove the hard drive, put it in a hard drive enclosure - IcyDock is a good one and use the usb connection to access the files from another computer

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When you put the hard drive back in the laptop, the Windows install may not work because of the different hardware environment (different motherboard, CPU, chipset, etc.) – Stephen Jennings Jul 15 '09 at 18:20

If you gained control with VNC, did you try changing the display settings from within windows (right-click the desktop, go to properties...)? It could be the Fn+VGA/LCD thing just isn't working right.

To be honest, I'm not really sure the point of formatting and doing a fresh install if you can't actually get at the system to begin with. If you're determined though, I'd just recommend pulling the hard drive, putting it in another laptop (or a desktop using a USB enclosure or a 2.5" -> 3.5" adapter), and just reinstalling from another system. Then use your VNC to complete the install and load drivers once you put the drive back.

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He may not have realized that on some computers you have to press that key combination to turn on the VGA output. – Brad Gilbert Jul 16 '09 at 2:55
@Brad Gilbert: If you're referring to the OP, I'm pretty sure he did realize such and it didn't work: "I've tried external monitors, including the Fn+VGA/LCD key..." – lc. Jul 16 '09 at 17:40

Really old fashioned way to do it but you COULD install onto two PC's simulataneously (such as onto a VM as well) and use keyboard shortcuts to control the install on the PC you can't see - with the one you can as a guide for what to press and when.

Use Hard Drive activity as an indication of when it wants another prompt.

Please note I'm not recommending this - an unattended install is a much better idea but this is another option if you get stuck!

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+1 for creativity :) – zildjohn01 Aug 24 '09 at 22:19

You could try a USB to VGA adapter like one of these.

I expect they can't be used straight from the BIOS, but there's little point in reinstalling windows on a machine with a dead display...

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if you want to try to actually access everything from the machine you can try something like this: assuming the machine still boots, but you just don't have a screen.
Please note I am not pushing this site to buy, I just wanted to show a USB to VGA display device.

My other recommendation is that if you just want the hard drive then you can get a good USB external hard-drive extender from most online computer stores.

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