Andrew Makes a Thing (Second Monitor)

Back in the olden days when my sister was in college (what was that, like 2008? People have died since then), she had a Dell Inspiron 1501 laptop to do her schoolwork on (and watch Youtube videos and log into Facebook). This is back when Vista was standard on new hardware, so let’s just be honest and admit that it was a terrible laptop. This is not considering things like the the 1.8 GHz processor or the 6+ lb weight that were commonplace for laptops of the era. Maybe we’re just spoiled with today’s technology; even so, it should be noted that the user manual specifically states that this laptop was “built for today. Designed for tomorrow.” Maybe that’s true. But I doubt they meant it in the specific way it ended up being realized.

My sister has been through a couple laptops since college, and this Dell dinosaur sat around collecting dust for several years, despite being “designed for tomorrow.” Eventually it was handed over to me, where it sat around and collected even more dust.

At some point, I happened across this article, and an idea was struck. After all, the old dinosaur laptop did have a 1280×800 display. I would just take the whole thing apart, and like, connect it up or something, and boom! I’d have a free computer monitor.

Hah.

I guess you could call it a learning experience. But first things first.

This is be beast:

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Does it remind you of George Bush, My Chemical Romance, and Pontiac Azteks? It should.

So I ripped it apart.

So. Many. Screws.

Eventually I got rid of the self-destructive plastic casing and set aside the laptop butt:

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About 9000 screws later, and I had the more meaningful parts out of it, such as the 80GB hard drive, the screen, the DVD drive (ooh, fancy), and the T-shaped motherboard, which looked like this.

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On the back was a whole gig of RAM. Woot. We can play all the greatest games with that. I ended up selling the whole thing on eBay for about $20.

I’m in the process of getting rid of the other parts now, but of course, I kept the screen.

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Because I’m the very best at planning things out, it wasn’t until this point that I waited to purchase the controller board, which actually makes the screen usable (see the article linked above for more information). Of course, this board is fabricated in China, which means it arrived in a crushed box about a month after I ordered it.

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Ain’t it purdy? Connected to this board was an LVDS cable, an inverter board, and an input keypad for graphics settings.

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Although delicate, the LVDS cable was easy enough to connect. I was super close to having a whole new monitor!

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As I mentioned before, I am an expert planner, so it wasn’t until this point that I realized I didn’t have a VGA cable to connect to my computer. So I decided to order this from China also (it was cheap, don’t judge me). But wait! What about my trusty DP-to-HDMI cable!? Who knew that the inflexible mess that once connected my computer to my 60 lb TV would come in handy again?

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At this point I knew I had a problem, because the screen only produced some barely-visible shapes when I turned it on.  I chalked this up as a success because there was no smoke. Smoke can’t usually be retracted once it shows up.

Eventually though, my VGA cable showed up from China, and I was able to test it out. Unfortunately, I only achieved the same results as before. It was at this point that I contacted the board manufacturer with my problem and hoped they could read English. A couple days later I got a very legible response that boiled down to “make sure you plug the inverter in.”

Wait, what? That connector on the side of the inverter is supposed to do something? No way! So I looked a little closer at the old screen.

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Oh. Crap.

This is the old inverter board, which obviously can’t be used anymore:

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I am an electrical engineering failure. I will hand back my diploma just as soon as I can find it.

I redirected the inverter cable to the corner of the screen and cut a small hole in the plastic enclosure for it to fit through. With this additional slack in the cable, I reconnected everything and Voila!

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Now all I need is a stand to hold all the loose ends and keep any wires from pulling out.

In the end, I spent about $55 for a ~720p monitor. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Don’t leave pieces of your computer on the floor. People will step on them.
  • Order products from China several weeks in advance because that’s a long way away.
  • PLUG IN THE INVERTER BOARD!
  • The LVDS cable is very short and needs to be accommodated.
  • The controller board has an audio jack and your guess is as good as mine about what that thing is for.

And lastly, if I can do it, so can you! Clearly my degree didn’t help me at all. Take those old dinosaur laptops and make monitors! They’re weird. And ugly. And recycled stuff is cool these days. Besides, once you have a second monitor, you can watch Netflix and browse Facebook at the same time. That’s the real American dream.

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