Introduction: Laptop Converted to 2nd Monitor

Picture of Laptop Converted to 2nd Monitor

The idea is to create more screen real estate in a small package at a low price. Here in 2007, the idea of purchasing a flat screen and plunking it down on my desk as a 2nd monitor was definitely appealing, but I am still unwilling to spend that much on a display device knowing full well that a "better" unit will soon be available within my El Cheapo price range. So I embarked on this project with these things in mind:

- Low Cost (Under $50)
- Simple Interface
- Simple Construction
- Readily Available Components (i.e. no ordering, all locally available)
- Low Build Time ("weekend" or Saturday project)
- Small Footprint
- Low Weight
- Maximum Performance (given the size & complexity restrictions)

I currently run a Quadro FX3000 on my main rig, so a dual monitor setup would entail just that: a second monitor. No extra card or splitter. But then enters the world of personal politics...

See, I am a screen size junkie. Waaay back in the day, I managed to snag a matching pair of Diamond Pro 21TX's from a friend for free, and since then I have had nothing but 21" displays. (Which the womens find utterly disgusting, I might note.)

So, when I begin to look at my "cluttered" 21-inch screen and think "gee, I need more". I look at the girlfriend and smile. She, of course, says "NO!!! Your monitor takes up half the desk as it is! With two of those beasts I wouldn't have room for any of MY stuff!!!"
Keep in mind this is a custom 36x120 (that's three feet by ten feet) desk that I built from scratch with the specific intent of having more room for things like beastly monitors...

I kick it around in my head for a while, and remember that at one time or another, I had wanted to start using laptop TFT LCD's as desktop monitors. And, apparently, so have a bunch of other people. The question has always been the interface. At one time there were a few companies that sold LCD interfaces, and technically there still are.

BUT, with a purchase price between 200 and 500 dollars (see EarthLCD), it would be cheaper and easier to buy a COTS/MOTS LCD instead of an LVDS card for my main rig. What to do, What to do...

Step 1: Laptop Modification

Picture of Laptop Modification

To aid in ease of interfacing (and to be able to sneak a second computer on to my now egalitarian desk) I opted to keep the majority of the computer intact, and deal with it over a network connection.

The unit I am using is a Compaq Presario 700 Series (732US). It has a 14.1" TFT LCD screen in relatively good condition, with a good inverter and backlight. Here's a spec sheet of what it left after the system is stripped down:

Microprocessor - AMD Mobile Athlon 4 - 1.2 GHz
Memory - 256 MB 133 MHz SDRAM
Video Graphics - 4X AGP with VIA Twister K Graphics
Maximum Resolution - 1024 x 768 x 16M (24-bit)
Video Memory - 16 MB shared
Multimedia Drive - DVD/CD-RW Combo Drive
Display - 14.1 inch TFT XGA Display
Card Slots - Type I/II/III PCMCIA w/ 32-bit CardBus
Network Card - Integrated 10/100 Ethernet

A few things to notice: No hard drive listed. No floppy drive listed. No battery life listed.

The HDD, FDD, battery, speakers, keyboard, touchpad and every "non essential" has been removed. This system has effectively been turned into a "Processor-based Panel PC". My only real bitch (as you will see later) with this entire system is that the rear reflector for the backlight is integral to the screen shell, not the screen itself.

I will be skipping the disassembly phase of this project, as each laptop disassembles differently. And besides, UTFSE for your model and you should be able to find something.

I started by hardwiring the power brick into the motherboard on a 6" pigtail, as I intended to mount it inside the "case" with the screen and everything else.

Step 2: Picking Parts

Picture of Picking Parts

What has to fit? Well, the motherboard, power brick, and screen. Also, I decided to add a USB card reader in case I wanted to swap files without the network present. I also opted to install a four port USB 2.0 hub in place of the paltry 2-ports on the motherboard.

At this point the removed laptop components are still in working order, and I have narrowed the component listing down to where I want it. I was still a little sketchy on final unit size, but I really needed some dimensions before I firmed up on those details.

It's time to break out the digital caliper and go to town.

Step 3: Dimensions

Picture of Dimensions

After measuring this assembly, the DVD drive and the screen dimensions, I was able to draw up the following set of DXF's (Courtesy of QCad. Thanks Knoppix!). The main image shows a colored layout of the components. The second image shows the dimensions of the mounting holes and their locations. The final picture shows the plate with holes, free of dimension lines.

Step 4: Construction

Picture of Construction

Materials, Materials, Materials. What a question. Referring back to my original goals, I needed the casing material to be cheap, light and locally available. I needed the same from the fasteners. Part of being a cheap component is the workability of the component, or simply "Do I have the tools to do this, or am I gonna have to buy the part AND the tools..."

For construction ease, I wanted everything mounted to one common backplane. I opted for a 12"x24" 22Ga. Steel sheet. For the fasteners I decided on 4-40 hardware, as the ground donuts on just about everything in this laptop has 4 Ga. holes in it (go figure) and 4-40 hardware was available locally. Let me say for the record that I really, really, really wish I could find 4-40 threaded rod, or a beefy rod with 4-40 tapped ends. Really, really wish. To get the necessary height on the LCD, I ended up threading six 4-40 jackscrews end to end, as you will see here in a minute. This is a far less than ideal situation, and I will probably have to buy some aluminum tubes to go around the screws to reinforce them at some point. For now they work, but they're not quite bulletproof enough for my tastes. (I tend to be extremely hard on things, to the point that I have been known to twist screwdriver handles off their shafts.)

UPDATE: Thanks to Parallax I now have replaced the wobbly stack of screws with a single 4-40 standoff.

Anyway, enough about parts, and on with construction.
First and foremost, I had to get that 12x24 sheet cut down to two 12x10's, and in that there was a choice to be made on how to cut it. Do I use snips? A nibbler? A mechanical shear? Snips bend the metal as they cut, so they're out, and a shear would have taken an extra three days to cut it at the university (weekend project after all...) so I used a manual nibbler. Yes, I know. Stupid.

All in all, I nibbled over five linear feet in two days on this project, BY HAND and I have the bruises to prove it. For the love of <expletive deleted> find someone with a shear (or at least a pneumatic nibbler)!!!

After cutting (argh...) the plates, I measured the bottom one, drilled it and mounted the hardware.

(You'll notice the four large holes at the top for the power unit are missing, and there is a standoff on the right side that was not on the original layout. The new standoff is for a mobo mounting hole that I originally missed, and I did not drill the four holes for the power unit since I found a new way to permanently attach it to the plate without drilling holes. (Kneadatite epoxy putty. Buy some. You'll need it. It's like JB Weld that really does what the label claims it does))

Step 5: Mounting

Picture of Mounting

So far, everything fits. I didn't get a picture of it, but the strain relief on the USB plug connected to the side of the card reader had to be shaved down, as it was in the way of about 1mm of motherboard.

It is also a good thing to take such careful measurements, since laptops tend to have tight tolerances anyway. In the second pic you can see the almost non-existent clearance of the sound I/O board to the DVD and motherboard.

The colored twisted pair wiring has been soldered in place of the original power button, power LED, and card reader activity LED. Again, UTFSE for SMT soldering techniques.

Step 6: Screen Mounting

Picture of Screen Mounting

Hey, it fits! And it's surprisingly square...(Wonder how that happened???)

So far all the pieces fit as planned, so I began to work on the faceplate that would go over the LCD. Nothing too fancy, but I did want it cut as a solid piece. So I HAND NIBBLED (Let me once again state how painful this is and that you should NOT do this unless you really, really, really hate yourself...) the faceplate out so it would fit the LCD, and have a nice surround to mount LED's and such on.

Step 7: Power Button

Picture of Power Button

Still rough, but almost done. The power buttons still need to be mounted. As noted earlier, they have already been wired on to twisted pairs.

You can see my original mount for the power button on the lower right of the screen frame. Yeah, it didn't really fit there. LCD in the way and all. Whoops. Also need room for a 2nd button.

So I decided to rivet a small metal plate into the top to hold the Power and Fan Power buttons. I know no one else will agree with me on this, but frankly, I don't see the point of doing a homebrew electronic project unless it's got a ZARKING GIGANTIC RED BUTTON on it.

That, and this fine lil, delicate LCD computer all fast and pretty in its shiny steel plating, zooming along with an atrocious, junk bin "Panic Button" on top like a satellite antenna just makes me smile. Every time I feel that switch and its positive engagement when I turn the fans on, it reminds me of my corporate surplus 286 with a big red toggle on the side, 2400 baud and Jolt Cola. Ah, youth...

So far so good, everything is in place, let's see if it still works...

The Fan Power button controls an independent +12v linear supply driven off a 7812 with a TIP2955 "laddered" in. Once again, UTFSE...

Step 8: Smoke Test

Picture of Smoke Test

I have a friend who claims computers run on smoke, because "Once you let the smoke out, they don't work anymore." Well, I sure wasn't going to let the smoke out of this one...

What, me worry? It's fine!

Step 9: Completion

Picture of Completion

Well, it works. I'm actually surprised. I fully expected to fry something along the way. The final footprint ended up at 12x10x2 and it weighs in at 4.5 pounds. Not bad for a $40 investment.

So, how did this "re-cased" laptop become a second monitor for my main system? Easy! I cheated!

Once the monitor has booted Knoppix off of its CD, A program called MaxiVistaViewer (running under wine) takes over. The main system picks up the Viewer off the network, and with MaxiVIsta Server, creates the equivalent of a super fast RDP. The main system then stretches its screen onto the 2nd monitor. The second monitor runs well enough over the network that I can watch DVD's on it. Also, with MaxiVIsta I can "chain" up to 4 monitors together into one display, or even utilize it as a "Soft-KVR" using one keyboard and mouse to control all four systems.

Disappointed? Yeah, I was too when I discovered the limitations of laptop screens for desktop use. This just seemed the cheapest and easiest option available to me.

On another note, the screen made its first real appearance as a component of my 3D design final, once it had its "appropriate patina" (i.e. rust) and had been attached to its oh-so-crufty copper pipe mounting system!


rx7pr (author)2014-06-21

I don't know if this is dead or not but i need a controller board for an LG LP173WF2(TP)(A1 used to be on alienware m17xr3 120hz 3d.

wesgir (author)2008-08-31

question: Is there any way to make it so I can plug my Apple PowerBook G4's Titanium Monitor into any computer. I dont want to have to mount it or anything.. I want to use it as is. I disconnected it from my laptop about a year ago when it crashed. I was hoping someone would know how. I don't know enough about hardware to understand if this is possible. and if it is I would love to do that. I have it mounted on my wall and at less than a quarter of an inch it would make a really sweet flat panel. i just dont know if it's possible. Thanks

sephirothx666 (author)wesgir2013-03-09

You might wanna check out a controller similar to this,

AJMansfield (author)wesgir2013-02-20

What type of cables extend from it? Pics would be incredibly informative in this situation.

The_lucky_sniper (author)2012-02-23

My dad has an old laptop and this is a great thing to do with it!

The nerdling (author)2012-02-23

can i do this with just the lcd screen and the video card?
or the small chip connected upto the monitor not in side the monitor, connected to the motherboard?

multiyogibear (author)2012-02-21

can i use this just as a pc display

Computer_Dude (author)2012-01-02

Ill be sure to upload a video and post it in these comments when i stab a hole though the screen, and maybe shoot it...

karan36768 (author)Computer_Dude2012-01-09

hey i am doing with the same problem,
can we use lcd as desktop monitor with out mother board.

Computer_Dude (author)2012-01-02

FTW :(
I got a dinosaur laptop (around the launch of windows 2000), and I thought it would be cut, snip, solder TahhhDahhh!

Well there might be no use for the laptop, but at least I know what to do with my new tactical tanto knife! ;)

Madrias357 (author)2011-05-17

I agree, actually. Everything needs a big red button... Especially homebrew stuff.

jpurkiss (author)2011-04-13

i think what every one is looking for is what this guy did to resolve the problem!

The only catch is you need the right laptop screen and the right motherboard for it to work!

chuzzle44 (author)2010-12-03

Why don't you just connect a VGA cable from your computer to the laptop, then set the computer to project it's screen onto the laptop? Look it up.

xAxrules (author)chuzzle442011-02-06

That doesn't work, the laptop won't accept any inputs on the VGA. It's output only.

xxiiyomommaiixx (author)2010-07-11

can yo make a step by step on how to hardwire it

alextravi (author)2010-05-10

and ....the 2nd  monitor ????????

wamorita (author)2007-07-01

MaxiVista is an interesting program.
FYI there is an open source program that will do the same sort of thing.
Its called Synergy:
If you are going to use knoppix, you might was well use an open source programs for the screen stuff as well.

drew.adc (author)wamorita2007-07-09

From what i can tell synergy is not the same thing. It doesn't not allow you to drag windows from one system to the other does it?

krazy (author)drew.adc2007-07-11

i think most new computers come with duel monitor setup.. i have a toshiba satellite laptop and it has a duel monitor.. you plug in the second monitor and in the control panel you set up where compared to the default screen is the second one located and then you can set them up to work together so you can drag from one screen to another or you can set it up to be either/or monitor.. and a couple other settings that i have not used is there. i love connecting my 47in wide screen tv to my laptop..playing WoW on the tv and still having the laptop screen for the internet. its great. i might take some of my old laptop monitors and doing this!

Hycro (author)krazy2009-11-15

Even the right old Toshiba Satellite Pro Notebooks had the ability to have dual display, all you had to do was plug in a VGA monitor into the VGA socket on the back, and work a couple settings, and voila ...(I think that last word is spelled correctly, the only suggestions I'm given for it are viola, which is a flower, and some voile, whatever that one is.) But I see the point of buddy who replied to your comment before me, it is more fun to do it using software on a second computer to have it behave like a second monitor connected using Ethernet...

robotguy4 (author)Hycro2010-01-04

Just a quick note:
You got the word correct.  Well, close enough...

It is actually voilà.  There is a French accent grave (`) over the "a".
A voile is, apparently, a light semitransparent fabric.

What if you need to connect to the internet via Ethernet?

Hycro (author)robotguy42010-01-06

I know there's supposed to be one there, but I keep forgetting how to insert an "a" with the accent grave over it, but wasn't sure on the

SNiPERSeyes (author)krazy2009-12-05

its a dual screen set up. a duel is a fight to the death or a challenge between two parties please know your english      im not even american and i know that

robotguy4 (author)SNiPERSeyes2010-01-04

"you am not use capping or punctuantions"
-The Grammar Communists

(Also, if the English speak English, shouldn't Americans speak American?)

I think the idea of monitors that fight to the death is a bit amusing.  I think someone should develop a duel screen...  (Or would that be a monitor one can use to fight someone with? Hmmmm...)

drew.adc (author)krazy2007-07-12

yeah, but this isn't making a dual monitor setup using vga. This uses software on a second comp to make it act like another monitor that's hooked up using ethernet.

gilbert2048 (author)drew.adc2010-01-04

In Linux there is a way to use Xinerama over the network, I do not currently know how to do this.  There are a few tutorials that exist but currently I do not know were they are, there was at one point a 32 screen display mad using this I believe.

gilbert2048 (author)gilbert20482010-01-04

It is actually using Xinerama over Xdmx, that allows it to be used over the network.

danlab (author)2009-12-04

At the company I work for, we call it the magic blue smoke; the software guy always lets the magic blue smoke out and has to give the equipment to the electronics guy to have him put more magic blue smoke in.

lucek (author)2009-12-04

I would do this with my old laptop but the screen and ballast are more expensive than a new monitor.

Fred82664 (author)2009-12-04

That is so sweet ! ( I wipe a tier of pride from my eye as I saw the KNOPPIX screen ) in this project. I got a old Gateway 2000 laptop I would like to do this with but it has no CD  or DVD drive . I will look in to it using a floppy drive disrto

Turnip123 (author)2009-12-02

Your friend must be running on smoke to actually think that hahaha

Derin (author)2009-11-27

Is it possible NOT to run maxivista on startup and have a computer  you can still use for something else?

urbanprimate (author)2009-10-13

Great instructable, but like many others that have probably stumbled onto it, I just wanted to used the laptop's lcd, presumably without needing extra software.  I've been using dual monitors on my laptops for awhile, but all my monitors are crts and I'm running out of desk space.  I have 2 matching gateway laptops (one was purchased to replace the fried motherboard on the other) and have wanted to connect the dead machine's screen to the monitor port on the other, mainly just because they match.  How cool would it be to have a second monitor that slides out from behind (or hinged to...whatever!) the built-in screen?  The idea is to take the multiple monitor arrangement on the road without lugging crts or investing in still-overpriced (imho) flatscreens? 
  I keep hearing that it can be done, but nobody seems to know how to do it.

vitruvian8807 (author)2009-03-21

When I get smarter, I'll try this.

Shinta786 (author)2009-01-25

Hi, know how to get a laptop screen working on its own? I mean without the hardware, no cpu, no motherboard, nothing. I wish I could, cuz I have like euhm.....about ...... w8, let me count 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17, yep 17 laptop screens. Don't ask me where I got em. 17 screens without laptop. please help me!!!

punish3r (author)Shinta7862009-01-25

As stated on the introduction page of the Instructable, there are companies that manufacture standalone controllers for LCD screens. You will need to match the model and size of each screen to a compatible controller. Controllers generally run between $200 and $700 depending on features. If this is unacceptable, feel free to research the possibility of constructing your own controller. At a recent EDA Tech Forum, a vendor showed me a version his company had built using nothing more than an FPGA dev board and a power supply. It is entirely possible to do with the right tools.

Shinta786 (author)punish3r2009-01-26

thnx......I won't spend too much money on these, but I also know some one who build his own controller. It didn't look simple.

I guess there is no other way than to follow their steps...

Yerboogieman (author)2008-10-22

essentially a digital picture frame compatible with other things such as another computer as a second monitor, i like it, im going to do thing but mount it on plexiglass

l96470fps (author)Yerboogieman2009-01-24

talking of plexiglass where can u get it ?

Yerboogieman (author)l96470fps2009-01-24

Hardware store.

emmjul (author)2009-01-23

Is there any freeware alternative to Maxivista, something like freevnc...?

punish3r (author)emmjul2009-01-23

The closest I have found is Synergy:

Which allows for KVM-like behavior over the network. It's a slick program.

bruticusmaximus (author)2008-12-04

Yeah, the most important step is left out. How do you plug it into your computer?

punish3r (author)bruticusmaximus2008-12-04

Please see Step 9: "Once the monitor has booted Knoppix off of its CD, A program called MaxiVistaViewer (running under wine) takes over. The main system picks up the Viewer off the network, and with MaxiVIsta Server, creates the equivalent of a super fast RDP. The main system then stretches its screen onto the 2nd monitor."

bruticusmaximus (author)punish3r2008-12-04

Ok, so this isn't really using the flat panel as a second monitor as much as it's using the whole laptop and software to simulate a second monitor?

punish3r (author)bruticusmaximus2008-12-04

As noted in both the Instructable and previous comments, yes.

lsymms (author)2008-10-21

Pretty impressive but you need to introduce yourself to taps and dies. I'm pretty sure you can get them piecemeal (a 4-40 die and some steel rod will make your life easier). Or if you wanted to go the other way you use this opportunity to justify (keep that WAF above 80 son!) a mini lathe/mill and get a threading attachment for it. And yes, you need a pneumatic nibbler. I cut out a grid pattern in a PC case for cooling purposes in about an hour and it looks pretty damn good. Tools are what separate us from animals.

ljohnso16 (author)2007-06-27

wait hold on do i need to have a keyboard to set up MaxiVista ? because according to the specs there is no more keyboard no more mouse or did i miss that?

punish3r (author)ljohnso162007-06-28

Technically, no. I built a "custom" Knoppix CD on my main system that auto-boots MaxiVista, which I then used to boot the 2nd monitor. If you wanted to build the image on the 2nd monitor itself you would need a keyboard/mouse, but only for the setup portion. Once the program is running on the second monitor everything is controlled from the main system.

infraredman21 (author)punish3r2008-08-10

Hey what's up? I'm Chris, I have a laptop and I'm trying to do what you did right now but I don't have a working hard drive in my laptop is ther any way the you could make me a copy of your disk and mail it to me I would love to have my laptop up with my other computer I bolt my laptop for $30.00 dollars from a friend and i've never goting a hard drive for it, i am willing to pay 2 ship the cd i really need it please let me know later Chris....

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