A recent post on HackADay on what to do with an old laptop got me thinking. I have an old laptop (a Sony VAIO FX804) which was pretty much sat on a shelf doing nothing and turning it into a digital picture frame to display some of my photos seemed like a good use for it. I’m by no means an electronics whiz, but this seemed like something I was capable. The steps involved are pretty straightforward – get the laptop set up to function as you would like (some sort of slideshow, configured to either run off a hard drive or via an Internet connection) and nothing much else. Then dismantle the laptop so that the screen is frontmost and then somehow jig the rest of the machine behind it, perhaps in some sort of softbox. I’m good at dismantling stuff, although perhaps not so great at undismantling stuff, but what the heck – I had nothing to lose.
I’d previously had problems with the laptop – random BSODs – which I had attributed to a faulty hard drive. At that time, I had investigated a fix but when a rainy Saturday came around and I’d decided to have a bash at this, I’d forgotten what sort of shape the laptop was really in. I plugged it in and booted up, and I found that it was freshly installed with XP Home (from the Sony recovery disks) on what was obviously a different hard drive that I must have acquired from somewhere. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so pleased to see Windows actually boot up. So far so good, I thought, and set about tweaking it a bit (chiefly by removing all unwanted programs, cleaning the hard drive, defragmenting and such. But after a good hour, the laptop was still running fine with no BSOD in sight. At this point, I decided it seemed a shame to potentially destroy what seemed moreorless to be a perfectly functioning laptop and had a rethink. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I had a stash of 3 TFT monitors (2 x 15″ and 1 x 17″), that I had always been tripping over as they waited to be stuffed in the loft, or recycled, and one of the 15″ monitors seemed like a perfect candidate for this “hack.”
The process was straightforward – the Phillips 15″ monitor was very easy to dismantle – around 20 small Phillips head screws. I stripped it down as far as it would go, and carefully removed the 3 circuit boards (main board, additional board and the button / power controls). I had originally planned to use an old kitchen door as the frame, but surveying my lounge, I had an existing Habitat frame with a badly faded photo in, and decided to re-use that instead, since it was considerably better looking than the door. It also had a sturdy chipboard backing to it, which would easily take the weight of the screen bits. I’d hope the fit all the components sporadically around the frame, but they wouldn’t fit, so ended up gluing them to the back of the monitor (using trusty old Araldite – I really wanted to use this project as an excuse to buy a hot glue gun, but the pissing rain and beer full of fridge precluded a trip to my local B&Q). I found some random bit of rubber lying about to attach some of the boards (so as to not glue directly on the boards themselves) and converted two of the VGA plug screws in to makeshift board riser, so that the back of the boards weren’t sitting flush on the back of the screen. I then measured a hole in the chipboard and laboriously cut it out with a Stanley knife. Once that was done, it was a case of mounting the screen on the chipboard, achieved with some short but flatted headed screws. Once reassembled, it was just a case of plugging in the power and a video source and seeing what happened. Luckily, everything worked fine and I now have a rather spangly digital photo frame. Total cost of the project? £0 / $0. (OK, so you need an old TFT monitor, but these are easily picked up out your local paper / community dump / refuse site for peanuts and some sort of frame, which needn’t cost more than a tenner.
I barely even call this a hack (more of a “mod”, I suppose) and it’s by no means a perfect bit of kit, since it requires both a power cable and video signal to be routed to it and I haven’t done anything much with the power controls (I had wanted to front mount them in the frame so they were accessible, but this would have been more work, and probably looked quite ugly, so for now they dangle round the back) but for my first effort at something like this, I’m pretty happy with it.
I’ve also got the two remaining monitors and the laptop which I’m thinking about other things I can do with. If you’re interested in doing something similar, then this guy has got lots of information about his own build not to mention some excellent links to useful software for this sort of project.