Introduction: Make Electronic Widget Frames From Old Computers

Picture of Make Electronic Widget Frames From Old Computers

After transforming an old laptop into an MP3 player, I show you how to turn a very (very very) old laptop into a digital clock with multiple "skins"
MP3 Player
The end of the project shows you what you can do with a more recent laptop with a real graphic OS. I am curently working in improving the interface on this laptop.
This is a nice way to recycle old hardware you can found or buy for cheap.

Step 1: Find the Laptop

Picture of Find the Laptop

For this project, I used a very old 286 (80MHz) with a monochrome screen. This is a Compaq LTE 286. The passive matrix screen can only display gray levels...
Remove the screen. I recommend you to keep the plastic enclosure and cut the edge so that you can glue the back and the laptop with the back of the screen without damaging the LCD.
So find a way to reverse the LCD by cutting the screen hinge.

Step 2: Prepare the Frame

Picture of Prepare the Frame

Find a Plexiglas or acrylic plate (I found it in a street of NYC...).
Cut a rectangular hole in it with an electric saw or whatever you want, but I suppose it will be longer with a Swiss knife...
Chose your plexi plate carefully. My plate was too thick. When I tried to go too fast, the saw blade made the plexi melt and was sometime traped into molten plastic. I had to go very slowly, which took forever... Finding a thiner plate cold help.
Paint the back and brush the front face to make a cool effect.
You can add some LED lightings for an even cooler like on the picture frame, but I didn't do that, too complex for me.

Step 3: The Software

Picture of The Software

I use a boot floppy disk to run the computer, because it is the only way to boot the laptop that has no more hard drive. I wrote a small program in QBasic to animate the clock and that starts at boot time.
You can see the result here

To use the provided file, you need to create a boot disk with the format wizard of your floppy drive, remove every file and replace them with the files contained in the zip. Then restart your computer. Check for virus first, you use this software at your own risk. There will be no problem, but I recommend you only use this on a computer with no important files. I will not be responsible for problem you could have with this software. This is for non commercial use only. Feel free to contact me for feedback...

I finally found the sources, on my previous computer... enjoy

Step 4: Do the Same for Pictures and Videos

Picture of Do the Same for Pictures and Videos

You can do the same with video and pictures. I transform a more recent and more powerful laptop that runs windows 98 and a slideshow of picture at startup using exactly the same method and material. The hardware is a pentium at 80 or 100MHz with a color display.

The same computer can smoothly run color videos, uncompressed and without sound.
The following video is from this laptop but the idea is the same as in the instructions and it works the same way to built it. The comptuer is simply a little bit more powerful.

Step 5: Transform Your Old Laptop Into a Widget Dashboards

Picture of Transform Your Old Laptop Into a Widget Dashboards

I am also working on a small Flash startup screen that can display interesting information such as time, date, pictures, number of unread mails and Google Reader RSS news and weather...For this project, I use a laptop with a harddrive and windows 98 installed on it. This provides at least with easy internet and network configuration, graphical interface... I play a small interface designed with Flash under a version of Media Player Classic compatible with the windows version and run it in full screen to make it clean. A good idea in this case is to remove the harddrive and replace it by a flashdrive, easily available now. This could reduce the noise a lot.
I am updating it but it's on the right track.

Step 6: Dashboard New Version

Picture of Dashboard New Version

This is a new version of the widgets dashboard, inspired by... you name it... I manage to make the flash animation a standalone application that can run at statup, in fullscreen. It could even replace the explorer process under win98.
Work continues


kbhasi (author)2013-11-21

Can you reupload your video on another site as google video hosting is no longer online...

WinbookXL3 (author)2011-10-06

Cool!, what program is that can i download it?

setiorion007 (author)2010-08-23 use my files to boot the clock from cd

setiorion007 (author)2010-08-23

It works with a Bootable cd .. follow the steps to boot the clock through cd 1. Download win 98 boot cd from (Win98_bootdisk.iso) 2. Download Ultraiso software (it is a trial version ) 3. Open Win98_bootdisk.iso with Ultraiso 4. In the ultraiso screen you will see all the win 98 boot files----(select all of them and delete them) 5. Dont leave the Ultraiso screen 6.Copy the files from my clock and paste them in the Ultraiso screen from where you deleted Win98 boot files previously 7. Press save in Ultraiso 8.Burn the cd 9.Insert the Cd in a new laptop and select CD as bootable devise and restart the laptop and boot from cd 10.when prompted select option 1. Start computer with cd-rom support 11.enter D:\ 12.enter D:\autoexec U will see the clock now Hope this works for everyone Dont forget tot use my files for the clock as i did some minor mods so it will work with CD

stephenniall (author)2010-03-01

Now all you have to do is program that Easy button to change slides ! using a parallel port it shouldnt be too hard

mattccc (author)2010-01-20

how old is that laptop

emilsegna (author)2009-08-31

Can i boot the "program" from an cd? First download then unpack it then move the folder to the cd? or what... i only have 1cd left and the laptop has no floppy

rensjuuuh (author)2009-07-23

And is it also possible to connect an usb-floppy-disk-drive to an digital photo frame and then run the programm on it??

rensjuuuh (author)2009-07-23

Is this program in English or in French??

lopez8675 (author)2009-06-19

Could you put the flash program up?

ReCreate (author)2009-05-22

Can you Give us the Source .BAS files for all of this?

tonypascal (author)ReCreate2009-05-23

Done, you should be able to download them, right ?

ReCreate (author)tonypascal2009-05-23

Ah Yes,It Worked. Is It that you Have 2+MB of files Compressed on the Floppy On a cabinet and that you extract it to a ram disk? Very clever:)

tonypascal (author)ReCreate2009-05-23

yes, if I remember correctly, this why the trick I used... Pictures have a good compression rate. Did the sources helped ? keep me informed about you updates, for instance, if you translated them. There is a bug I know that I didn't correct. on the matrix clock, at midnight, the white square is not placed correctly... have fun

ReCreate (author)tonypascal2009-05-23

Well You used .bmp They have the worst compression,probably a 600KB BMP Would be like a 1KB PNG. But then again you can't Display Png Images Without Massive Blobs of code to decode the image.

techwreck (author)2009-04-09

hey just wondering where did you find such plexi glass. I have been trying to find one like that for quite some time now. Btw awesome job. but please do let em know.

robots199 (author)2009-01-24

Can you PLEASE distribute the widget dashboard. It would be the best!

justindra (author)2008-12-29

that is awesome..... i'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this to you.... but it would be really cool if you could control it using touch screen.... In that case, i suppose you would need to use a tablet pc or something of the same sort..... Once again, great job...

catpsi (author)2008-11-30

i love this instructable and was able to create a floppy bootdisk from vmware fusion in os x with a file from - but! the ping pong program keeps crashing the whole shebang... error message: "Illegal function call in module PINGPONG at address 07B7:0DC5" - you can recover by hitting any key to "return to system" but it kind of makes this useless. is there a way to get it to not load the pingpong module and just stay on the same one? i'll try to delete just that module and see if there's error checking or something that will keep it running without it...

rotamagic (author)2008-11-27

great job.... is there anyway to change the settings besides BIOS?

drotten (author)2008-11-12

Really nice and inspirational! Because the clock needed MS-DOS and I couldn't play with the source code i wrote a new clock application myself using C++, SDL and OpenGL.

Feel free to visit to download the source code , perhaps it could be useful for someone.

tonypascal (author)drotten2008-11-13

thank you for your update, this is a very nice project that you prepared. I will have a closer look. Bye bye

cotton (author)2008-11-10

sick give me the program i will run it under linux on a destop hooked to a tv or monitor it wont be as goot looking but i want it with net controls

eric.muir (author)2008-10-07

PLEASE provide this flash app :) are you still working on it? just curious because this will make my project awesome!

tonypascal (author)eric.muir2008-10-08

The problem is that it is not working yet. I do not work on it anymore (for the moment). Another proble is that you cannot modify the access code (to facebook, gmail...) without going into the flash code... this is a problem I cannot solve easily. I will try to post the application one day, I just need to make it work first... bye

eric.muir (author)tonypascal2008-10-08

oh, I figured as much bc I played around with it and ran into several problems... Thanks for the help tho!

geekzilla (author)2008-09-25

Great job, i was wondering that when you release the dashboard ui where it will be available

Xellers (author)2008-09-20

For some reason, this isn't working for me. When I try to boot this on my old laptop, it claims that there was an error and that something is missing. Please help. TY

claytontheaggie (author)2008-08-24

This is incredible! I love it! Will you distribute this flash application?

motorman (author)2008-05-28

How complete is the code for the color apple widgets you have in the last step. I've had this same idea but have no idea where to even begin to code something like this. Also is there a way to have the widgets full screen? And could it be set up to display with voice command? Any help would be appreciated as i have already designed mine but am lacking on code and computer components. Would it be better to do this on a mac machine or a pc? Thanks.

awkrin (author)2008-05-18

if the computer was better, u could of make it kind of touchscreen, with a webcam and touchlib, but that needs to run many programs at once, probably making the computer run extremly slow. anyways, I always thought that u can't run videos on old computers because of the viceo card. the first time I ever ran a video on an old computer(486) I was like 9 and didn't exactly know about codecs, compression, decimpression etc. so what u meant in step 4 is that u can really run 800x600 or whatever was the res of that on pentium 1s, right? and why is the autoexec.bat in french?

tonypascal (author)awkrin2008-05-18

Yes, the video runs quick smoothly, but its an uncompressed video. It takes a lot of space but requires less running time. I recall that the first computer woth a black and white display is not the one on which the video runs. The autoexec is in franch because I'am french... and I used a french version of windows to generate the floppy disk, I suppose...

gschoppe (author)2007-11-11

ummm .... how is the MONOCHROME screen from a 286 playing smooth COLOR video?

tonypascal (author)gschoppe2007-11-11

That's an other project and laptop, but the idea is exactly the same. I think that a picture/video frame is not very innovative, so my Instructable does not deal with it. By the way, the specs of the other laptop are not but better, except a color display

ironsmiter (author)tonypascal2007-11-11

"Not much better"? certainly not modern, but anything capable of playing video files at that framerate, with more than 16 colors.... makes a 286 look like a pocket calculator(except for the fitting in a pocket issue :-) I'm guessing a high end 486 or pentium, at least(100Mhz+ with a small wad of ram JUST for mp3 decoding) Sorry to nitpick, but when you begin spouting numbers like 286 that people haven't heard in over a decade, we all get a little nastolgic and excited :-)

Yerboogieman (author)ironsmiter2008-05-07

im sorry but, you said a high end 486 and i cracked up laughing, im pretty sure you mean for this project but its still pretty funny, lol

bmlbytes (author)ironsmiter2008-04-02

If you get excited by hearing 286, I have to know what you think when you hear the word Commodore. I have a Commodore 64 with a few missing keys, and a Commodore 16 that is almost new (I have the box and there are no scratches on it). Now I want to go write a BASIC program and play Atari 2600

ironsmiter (author)bmlbytes2008-04-03

Shame... you better send those Commodores to me, so i can fix them and put them in the collection! :-) Hehe, I'll do you one better I have a TRS-80 model 3, in the basement, just for taking "Oregon trail" breaks while doing stuff! I've been fortunate enough to be able to "retire" my 2600. it's fully functional, but has been replaced by a modded "atari flashback" so the oigional cartridges still get used... but the hardware is saved(it's older than some of my friends!)

thinker (author)ironsmiter2008-05-01

all we have are
an AMSTRAD with colour monitor
a sega megadrive
and sega master system II

Yerboogieman (author)bmlbytes2008-04-07

i like to play Street rod and leisure suit larry

Yerboogieman (author)ironsmiter2008-04-01

i loved my 286 :-)

lol the 486 MP3 Decoding is soo true!! I have a 486DX with 24 mb ram and a 2 gig hard drive. It barely keeps up with playing an MP3. I hate it when people take perfectly working old computers and rip them apart to get something stupid like LEDs or the shiny platters of the hard drive lol.

yeddi (author)2008-05-04

I've taken the HDD out and tried booting up with my floppy but get the error message: Erreur: un gestionnaire de mémoire étundue est déjà installé. Le pilote XMS n'est pas installé. And the computer just sits, I can't seem to do anything. Any Advice? If it matters: I created the disk with Windows XP and it is a Toshiba 1730 notebook. Also: I had Linux installed on the laptop, but since I removed the HDD I can't imagine that's an issue..

yeddi (author)yeddi2008-05-06

Okay, I managed to get it working:
I used the Windows 98 bootdisk from instead of the one that I was creating through my OS (XP) Everything now works. However, is there any way to adjust the time and date or do you have to do that through the BIOS?

tonypascal (author)yeddi2008-05-06

For the moment, the only way I managed to change the time is through the BIOS, yes... I know, this is a pb, especcially when the only way to enter in the BIOS is when their is no more save battery as on my laptopr (I don't know the key...) I tried to write a small program, but, I don't have much time to go back on the project... Happy to see you've made it work withand thanks for the link

kiwi_soccer_maniac (author)2008-04-17

Hi nice job but can someone please explain to me where the keyboard/rest of the computer went? Thanks KSM

Yes, the keyboard is on the back, you can have a look at the picture in step 1. Thanks for the message

On the back on the monitor

OK thanks, now to find an old laptop.....

Istarian (author)2008-04-27

The disk files you put up have a problem. If you try and boot a floppy with those it tells you that and emm386.exe are either missing or corrupted and that there is an error on line 5 of the config.sys

About This Instructable




More by tonypascal:How to build a clock that projects time on the wallHow to build a paper 'kirigami' towerMake electronic widget frames from old computers
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