Dead Computer Reincarnated As Art, Furniture, or Incubator for New Life




About: I am a paper engineer, writer, maker and chemist wannabe. In addition to pop-up cards I design and build furniture, lights, costumes or whatever I happen to need at the time. Lipstick, a mixing studio, all-p...

Once upon a time, my computer died. I pressed the power button, I heard a crackling sound rather than the reassuring Mac sosumi chord, and in the seconds before my reflexes kicked in and my heart started beating again, a dusty burning smell filled the room. I pulled the plug: my beautiful G5 was gone.

I had backups so I didn't loose any data, but I still mourned. My faithful Mac had felt like an extension of my mind. It had paid for itself many times over with video editing jobs, it had helped me design my pop-up cards, stored my photos and memories, I had written instructables, condolence letters and thousands of emails with it. Try as I might I could not bring myself to carry it to some electronic recycling event in exchange for a green conscience and a T-shirt proclaiming that I (recycle symbol) NY.

Instead I slowly pulled it apart, piece by piece.

This instructable will not go into the details of dismantling a computer, because it's simple enough. Unscrew any screw you see, gently wiggle and tug, and eventually the whole thing comes apart. There's no need to use force or break anything.

Making art is a form of therapy: my first instinct was to frame the motherboard.

Step 1: Art Therapy

A motherboard is a beautiful piece of engineering, a work of art in its own right, made with the finest materials and most precious metals. How those little zeros and ones rush through the circuits to create words and pop-up cards is more than I can comprehend. Just on its own the motherboard can be framed -- but I needed a bit more therapy than that.

The cooling elements offered a bold graphic statement, but I also loved the array of capacitors (those little silver cylinders), like so many chemical factories on the NJ turnpike. Unfortunately these elements were on different sides of the motherboard, so I plucked out the capacitors one by one and glued them to the opposite side. I loved the circuits and wires connecting one part of the motherboard to another, so I added some of my own with some electric and copper wire. I stuck a line of pins through some of the hundred of tiny holes creating a shimmering and almost invisible wall, added an outdated green chip I had hanging around for contrast and even a miniature keyhole and handle from my niece's old dollhouse construction supplies. It blends right in. These circuits are an entryway into another world and space: it's only fitting there would be a door knob and a key.

I didn't have a deep frame, so I used two old matching IKEA frames I found in my basement and attached them together. Not the most elegant solution, but it worked. I used some velvet left over from a sound studio curtain to wrap the interior.

I will not go into the detail of "how to" here because the point is not to reproduce this particular piece, it is for you to be inspired to make your own. Plenty of others have done it here on Instructables. Here's an ornament from bauble, bugs by nnygamer and Techgadgets, a wallet by zieak various creatures by knife141 or this wall clock by grybaz. Working with the guts of a beloved computer is the perfect way to mourn its passing.

After gutting the computer almost entirely I was left with a sleek aluminum storage unit and side table.

Step 2: New Life

Fast forward to last Spring. Every year as the days grow longer I feel an irresistible urge to grow things.

I live in an apartment with three southern facing windows, not so bad for New York City, but not enough to satisfy my desire for growing wild strawberries from seed. Seedlings can be finicky little things and I wanted to improve my odds by starting lots of them, more than my windows could contain. Looking around for a solution I happened to glance at my beloved computer frame: hmmmm, aluminum doesn't rust. Also lots of air vents.... Easy to plug in, too....

Time to create some plant life!

Step 3: Color

Plants do not specifically need sunlight. In fact green rays, which are part of the spectrum which make sunlight white, are invisible (and useless) to plants, just like we can't see infra red or ultra violet. What plants need to grow are blue and red rays. Blue light encourages leaf growth, red is good for flowering.

LEDs are by far the most efficient way to light plants. Not only do they have the best lumen per watt ratio (i.e. they produce the most light with the least amount of energy consumed), but they are taylor-made to produce light in specific wave lengths (aka color). To make an incandescent light blue, you put a filter in front of it, which absorbs part of the light spectrum and lets pass only the blue wave lengths: in other words, you're only getting part of the light your bulb is emitting. Colored LEDs on the other hand show all the lumens they produce, there is no filter, no energy is absorbed and wasted.

Of course no one puts filters on the incandescent, fluorescent, or sodium metal halide lights used for growing plants, however they are inefficient because they are producing the green light that plants don't' need, and they might generate more heat than the delicate seedlings can handle.

Step 4: Add Lights

When I had taken the computer apart I had left the top "shelf" because without it the side will not close. This came in handy because all I needed was to cut holes in it, just the right size for my LED bulbs to shine down and illuminate the seedlings below.

I ended up putting three 3 watt bulbs in there, 2 blue and one red. First I marked the spots to cut. I drew (and then cut) a circle slightly smaller than the diameter of the LED Par lights I had bought, so they could just rest on top. I cut the holes with my dremel tool and then filed the edges to get rid of the burrs and avoid getting cut. I wired some old sockets I had lying around with a left-over power cord I hung out of one of the back of the computer. If you don't have any of this around, take a walk on garbage collection day rather than buying it new. So many perfectly good light parts are clogging up landfills, it's not even funny.

Step 5: Enhance

To increase the luminosity I lined the sides of the computer with the silver and gold cardboard from packages of smoked salmon. I also hung a plastic fresnel filter (again, one of those random things I had hanging around) to disperse the light better. If you don't have one, don't worry. When you're watering your seedlings you can swap them around so they take turns in under the light's full blast.

Step 6: Grow

An important thing to remember, when you're growing plants under lights, is that they need to sleep too. I added a timer (standard cheap unit from the hardware store) which turned the lights off for 8 hours a day.

I planted some seedlings in the window as a comparison. Both the ones in the window and those under lights grew, but the window seedling grew faster -- so I set my old computer up as near to the window as possible and opened it up to get sunlight in addition to the grow lights. They all thrived, and when they grew big enough, and the weather became warm enough, I planted them outdoors.... and enjoyed the tiny, flavorful fruits from my old computer all summer long.

Note: strawberry plants will do fine indoors in a sunny spot, but if you want fruit (unless you open your window for the breeze and bugs) you will need to brush the flowers gently to pollinate them manually.

Indoor Gardening Contest

Third Prize in the
Indoor Gardening Contest



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    6 Discussions


    the pins for the screws in the bottom, you can just use a hammer and knock them off :) I have the same G5 tower that I'm building into a beer tap tower :)


    4 years ago

    I ripped the heatsinks, two dual core CPUs, and everything else out of the box, cut out space in the back to slide a PC motherboard tray in, still working out the rest of the details on the PSU, but its going to be waaaay faster than it ever was!

    Mr AbAk

    4 years ago

    Please visit
    Thanks in advance...

    Mr AbAk

    4 years ago

    Nice Art therepy...


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very nice work! I love the motherboard-as-wall-art idea. I've always been fascinated by them, so it totally makes sense to stick one on the wall for people to examine!