homemade digital picture frame

This is my log of making my own digital picture frame from an old laptop. I was inspired by my friend Calum: check out his homemade frame. Last updated: August 22, 2002
Step 0: the plan

After I saw Calum's frame, I knew I had to have one of my own. Not only that, but it had to be better. It had to be colour, it had to be network connected, it had to be wireless. I had the hardware: my old AST Ascentia J30 laptop was to be transformed, especially since I had my sister's laptop to use while she was travelling for about a year. The AST has the following pertinent specs:

My initial plan was to use a DOS boot disk that would contain all the drivers and image software. That way, we wouldn't need a hard drive so the frame would be almost silent (except during boot).
Step 1: Software

The first step was to get software together that would view images in such a manner, with all of the features that I wanted. This was initially going to be a DOS boot disk that would:

Unfortunately, configuring NDIS drivers for a PCMCIA card in DOS is akin to smashing your head through a plate glass window over and over again: it ain't pretty. I smashed my head against this for a little while, and then gave up. I couldn't get the RangeLAN2 drivers to find the card.

My next idea was to use Linux. Using this would solve all my driver issues instantly, since I had previously set up a Linux box with RangeLAN2 support. And I could use SVGALib for graphics display instead of X Windows, since we only had 16MB of RAM. Genius. I decided to use an older distribution, RedHat Linux 6.2 instead of new stuff because I was most familiar with it and because I didn't need any of the extra fancy crap that the new distribs have. In fact, I intended to strip down the install as much as I could. The steps to setup the Linux system were:

I didn't pay too much attention to the security of this system since it's behind my apartment firewall, although I did disable everything except for sshd, sendmail (RedHat Linux really doesn't want me to remove it...), and linuxconf. If it was on a public network, I'd get rid of the latter two.
Step 2: Tear apart the darn thing

These photos should pretty much speak for themselves.

Screen bezel removed: looks pretty easy to take apart...

Detail of the lower left corner: note how long the screen cable is! We're in luck!

The screen unmounted from the back bezel. In the corners, the speakers were mounted on metal corners which were helping to hold the screen in. I stripped the screws trying to remove them, so I managed to just pry up their other corner and bend them out of the way. I also had to cut the speaker wires.

This little sucker is the power inverter board, that supplies the high voltage for the screen lights. The arrow points to the connector that it was plugged into.

The rear of the screen housing unscrewed. Note the little board with the power switch on it...

Everything laid out, ready for the screen to be taped.

Double-sided tape in place, ready for LCD to be mounted. See that white hole just below one of the strips of tape? There were little plastic bumps there to help the machine align with a docking station. I had to shave off the bumps with my Dremel in order to make the back flat enough.

After all that, it still works! See the power switch temporarially mounted at the bottom with some double-sided tape. The power inverter was taped down on the underside with double-sided tape and then covered with electrical tape - there's 300V going through that thing, and I don't plan on touching it.

Step 3: Make it look purty

I still have to put a nice picture frame around it, matte it, and figure out how to get it to stand up. I'm thinking of looking for one of those tiny easels that people use as photo stands - I think I've seen them in many different sizes before... Oh, and I also have to figure out what to do with the power button. Suspending the laptop doesn't work - the RangeLAN2 driver doesn't like it and the machine always freezes (also happens under Win95). I could extend the power switch wires in order to position it better, but then that would require soldering. Also the video cable has to go under like that, so I'll have to account for it in the stand.