If you were unable to ping or ssh into the Pi Zero then you need to trouble shoot what's going on. This is where the USB Console Cable comes in handy.

There is already an excellent guide that goes over the basics of using a USB console cable with instructions on requirements for the various major operating systems. Read this first and then come back.

This guide will use screen on Linux for the examples, but since pretty much everything is command line based and just a bunch of text, it should look the same on all OS's.

Interfacing To Pi Zero

The Pi Zero leaves the GPIO header pins unpopulated. This is actually a great feature as it allows you to solder on whatever style makes most sense for your project.

In the image above there's (A) a Pi Zero with no header attached, (B) a Pi Zero W with male headers, (C) a Pi Zero with right angle female headers, and (D) a custom topper with serial pins indicated.

If you have male headers, you can connect the console cable directly. If you have female headers, just use some short lengths of prototyping wire.

Power Options

There are a couple of different ways to power the Pi Zero when using a console cable. Both options are shown below.

You should be able to power the Pi Zero directly from the USB cable (A). However, if you have other items attached to the Pi Zero that require more power, you may need to provide power through the micro-USB connector (B). In that case, do not connect the red power lead.

Booting With A Console Cable

Proper wiring is critical, esp. for the red power cable. Carefully examine the images below to insure you have the correct cable connections.

OK. Let's bring it up. Do things in this order:

  1. Insert SD card into Pi Zero.
  2. Connect the green, white, and black cable leads to the GPIO header. Leave red disconnected for now.
  3. Insert USB console cable into host computer.
  4. Launch whatever terminal program you use.
  5. Make 110% sure you know where the 5V pins are on the GPIO header.
  6. Swiftly and carefully attach the red cable lead to one of the 5V pins on the header. THIS IS THE SPARK OF LIFE! (or death if you chose the wrong pin)

You should now see some signs of life on the green ACT LED.

And in your terminal window, you should see boot messages scrolling by.

Eventually you should get to a login prompt.

Use the following user name and password to login:

  • pi
  • raspberry

And you're in.

What's next depends on what the problem is. We can't cover them all here. But now you have access to the Pi Zero and can navigate the system and edit things as needed based on whatever guidance you receive.

Some common basic commands are:

  • dmesg to check the kernel log for anything odd
  • ifconfig to see network status and settings
  • lsusb to see what's connected to USB port
  • lsmod to check for kernel modules

This guide was first published on May 17, 2017. It was last updated on Mar 08, 2024.

This page (Using A Console Cable to Troubleshoot) was last updated on Apr 21, 2017.

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