Digital Frame


Inspired by an article on Slashdot, I decided to put my oldest and still-operational laptop to a new use--as a digitial picture frame. The hardware used was an old Toshiba Satellite 420CDT, which has a Pentium 100 class processor, 48MB RAM, and a 1.0GB harddrive. The frame runs Windows 98 (used because of the funky drivers for the TFT LCD display and the wifi card), uses ACDSee 4.0 as the slideshow software, and also runs TightVNC for remote access. The frame was a simple 10x13 wall frame from Target, in addition to a cheap plastic frame that I decided to use as the actual case for the computer parts in the back.

Putting It Together

Before I began, I made sure that I had the OS and all the software set up--especially the wifi card. After that, I was able to remove the CD-Rom and start disassembling the laptop. One nice thing about this laptop was that there were very few ports and external connectors to worry about. In fact, the power converter was located inside the laptop, so only a power cord would be needed to connect to the outside of the finished frame.

I didn't bother with any pictures during the strip-down, but here you can see all the main parts laid out after I removed them from the laptop case. The motherboard with integrated CPU and heatsink, video card, sound card with HDD controller/connector, and the PCMCIA cards.

The TFT LCD display was rather thin, which made for a nice fit in the back of the frame. Notice the silver bezel around the display--this needed to be covered. You can also see the huge pile of screws, connectors, metal braces, and other bits that I had to get through to remove all the needed parts.

First thing was to cover the LCD panel edges with pure black electrical tape. Since I'd be dealing with open, high-voltage parts, I wanted to keep anything like that away from the cardboard mat, and any wandering fingers while working on this thing. Next, I cut the mat and lined up the display to sit within the mat without any gaps around the edges. To make sure nothing moved, I put some cardboard wedges around 3/4 of the LCD panel to keep if from sliding or moving about. Any surrounding areas were covered with a layer of electrician's tape--just to be safe.

Finally, I oriented the core laptop components so that I could both easily access the power switch and PCMCIA slots, as well as making sure the heatsink for the CPU was near the edge of the frame. I marked and cut the cheap plastic frame for the actual computer parts, and made plenty of holes for heat dissipation and for mounting the parts with small screws. I did the initial power-up after most of the assembly was completed. I waited as long as possible, making sure that I had all the high-voltage parts were covered with electrician's tape, or at least tucked out of the way. Notice that a PS/2 keyboard can still be connected externally to the frame, if a direct means of input is needed (which was another reason for using Win98, since everything can be done with the keyboard in the absence of a mouse).

The Finished Product

The finished frame, displaying a nice picture of me and my fiance. The finishing touches included putting some rubber feet on the bottom of the frame. This both took some stress off the power cord, as well as keeping the frame from sliding around.

The frame is fitted together with a set of hinges and latches. This allows me to easily open up the 'case' if I need to get inside.

Notice VNC running on my main computer's desktop, accessing the desktop of the frame. Files are uploaded via standard network share.

Software & Scripts

shutdown.bat - Run as an automated task to shutdown the frame at a specific time.
REM Shutdown (and poweroff) the system
Disable APM - Keeps the PCMCIA wifi card from going to sleep.
(Win98 still likes to disable the cards, even if you tell the card to not use power-save mode.)