A remote-controlled digital picture frame

Or: How I spent my Winter Break

By Nathan True (frame@nospam.co.uk@natnonspammingetrue.com)

Also check out our choose-your-own-adventure DVD, Make My Day!

Side view

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Front view

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From behind

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Jump to: Introduction | Slideshow software | Remote control module

The Premise: Spoils of an old laptop (find old laptops on eBay)

A friend of mine recently gave me a defunct old Micron Transport XKE, a beautiful laptop with a top-of-the-line Pentium 200MHz processor with MMX, a roaring 32 megabytes of RAM, and a whole 2 gigabyte hard drive.

Needless to say, it was broken. This laptop wouldn't accept AC power even from its docking station, and refused to charge its own battery. I came up with a runaround solution involving charging the battery in the docking station itself and then putting it in the laptop. This bought me about 2 hours of life at a time, enough to install an operating system to check out the rest of the laptop's hardware. Everything checked out - if I could just solve the little power issue, this laptop would be good as new.

So I ripped it apart. As I peeled each circuit layer away, I examined each for signs of a blown fuse or exploded capacitor, something to let me know how this power problem came to be.

Instead I found nothing. Not a single thing out of place, nothing burnt out, no smells other than new circuit board smell. The thing didn't even have any dust in it for such an old thing. Seemed pretty sad that a laptop in such good condition had to be in such bad condition.

The denuded battery cells

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Eventually I came to a realization. If I wanted to power this laptop continuously, I would have to go in through the battery.

The final battery connection

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Of course, we all know that messing with Lithium-Ion batteries is just asking for a chemical acid explosion. Armed with that knowledge, I took my knife and started hacking away at the battery case, desperate to wrench the batteries from the case and replace them with a 12 volt, 3-amp adapter, for continuous power.

And it worked. The laptop had power. Granted, it always thought it had 0% power, but disabling the power alarms kept this from being an issue.

So I had an old laptop that could be powered continuously.

The Question: What to do with it?

All the while I was figuring out how to power it, I was also considering what to do with this piece of technology. I considered creating an in-car computer that performs auto-wardriving, receives traffic reports, and provides in-car maps updated with GPS, but I really don't drive my car much, so that was out.

It being the Christmas season, however, I thought what I could do with it that I could give as a gift to someone else. Then it hit me.

The Project: A digital picture frame

Look! Pictures!

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My sister loves looking at photos. I'd seen do-it-yourself picture frames on Slashdot before, and you can buy digital picture frames here and there, but it's really something else to design and perform this laptop-into-picture-frame mod yourself. So it was decided. I would build a digital picture frame.

The Design: A free-standing form

I figured that the best form for the picture frame would to have the laptop's body sitting keyboard-down, with the frame in front, at a comfortable viewing angle. I was glad to see that the video cables on the laptop were long enough to position the screen where I wanted it.

Shopping at Cost Plus World Market, I found a frame of the perfect size (8x10) that I thought matches my sister's African decor in her home. A couple screws (I'm bad, I used sheet metal screws as wood screws) held the LCD fast in place.

The brass frame

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The mounting screws

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I also created a simple clamping frame out of 1/8" brass brazing rod. I love that stuff - I use it for as many things as I can. I decided on two individual pieces which clamp onto the plastic instead of trying to secure them to the laptop's frame. I knew the strength of the clamp wouldn't be an issue, because the 1/8" brass rod is very strong. The rods are held to the picture frame by a set of three screws which clamp the rod in place.

So that's the physical form. Shall we move on?

Read about The slideshow software
Read about The remote control module

Copyright © by Nathan True. All rights reserved.