Making a Digital Sign out of a Decommissioned Laptop

25Feb, 2010

We often find ourselves the new owners of our customer’s old computers. Some cheerfully donate them for parts, some just don’t want to ever look at their old laptop again (this stems from the same bitterness that caused them to get a new one in the first place).

This post will show you how to put a nearly dead laptop to good use: Make it a digital sign! You will need the following:

  • A dying, old, or otherwise neglected laptop.
  • A spare LCD display.
  • Display cable, power cables, network cables.

First, we gut the laptop.  The screen was failing, the case was cracked, and it’s lugging around a dead battery, CD drive, and other parts we won’t need anymore.  We carefully remove the motherboard and discard the pile of screws, connectors, and plastic that’s leftover.

Next, re-seat the memory, the hard drive, and keyboard (normally we wouldn’t need a keyboard, but in this situation the power button is integrated into the keyboard).  Connect it to power and an external VGA display, and see if it boots.

Now we want to “wipe” the computer, or perform a clean installation of the operating system. This is a measure to make sure that the system doesn’t have any lingering junk from the previous user, and makes sure their data is GONE.

Once the new OS is up and running with all updates, assign the computer a static IP address, and make sure it can receive remote connections.  This computer has a licensed copy of Windows XP home, which does not support incoming remote desktop connections, so we went with RealVNC instead.

This Laptop also had wireless capabilities through a PC card, which eliminated the need for a network cable at the installation location.

After securing the LCD in our front window, we hooked everything up, powered on the computer, and VNC into it!  Now we can run a powerpoint slideshow, show a website , or cycle through images.


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