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Old Laptop displays on workstation, cheap and fun upgrade

Thought I’d share a small project i did last summer.

Had 4 older laptops gathering dust. Some were broken, others simply too slow to use for anything. So i decided to take them apart, like I do with most things to collect screws, fans, cooling profiles, drives and of course displays.

Only had three displays connected to my workstation, and wanted to have some more desktop space, so decided to see if it wasn’t possible to acquire a controller for them. A normal desktop display is pretty much the same as on a laptop, it just has a controller attached with HDMI and other ports.

I managed to find some on ebay at a reasonable price, think I paid €20-25 a piece with free shipping from China. I ordered those and wondered how I could mount them. Went to my workshop, found some 1mm aluminum plate i got from god knows where, and decided to make a frame so the three displays could hang side by side.

After a day of measuring, cutting, hammering to make bends, sanding and then spray painting. I was done with the mount for it. I attached a vesa mount i bought for €5-10 from some local shop.

Here is the end result.

Sorry for the picture, not really in the mood of pulling it off the wall, but I think you get the idea.

To find the correct controllers for your display, all you have to do, is to take the model number from a sticker on the back. Below you have an example, with a link to an ebay vendor with a controller for that display as example.

The info you need is only the model number, in this case B173RW01 V.3, and if I remember correctly, I had to use H/W: 5A and F/W: 1 in one case, so make sure your specific display is listed for the specific controller. The vendor I bought my controllers from, had decent documentation and supported models listed for each controller, so I suppose it is possible to get from other vendors too.

You will also need to get a power supply for each display, in my case I had them lying around. Expect to need something in the range of 35W for a 15". Again, ebay is a good bet, probably in area of €10-15 from China with free delivery.

Was a pain to get it to work in Linux to begin with, in Windows it was plug and play. I wanted the displays to work as several screens, but on same desktop, so I could drag windows from one to another, but when I maximize one, it had to stay on that display only. I never liked Gnome, too bubbly and generally irritating in my opinion, so only tried that for a day or so. Then I tried KDE, no dice, nouveau driver was acting up and couldn’t get the maximization to work how I wanted using proprietary drivers. So i ended up with XFCE. As soon as I installed proprietary drivers and realized there was something called Xinerama, it worked exactly how I wanted.

It was a royal pain in the arse to setup xorg.conf, so if you are in a similar situation with 5 or more screens on two GPUs, say so, I’ll gladly share my xorg.conf or help you get yours setup.

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Fantastic stuff there @hem!

@hem the creativity and dedication to a project like this had me almost cry a tear here. Not telling a lie. So nice to see people enjoying a hobby that is healthy. Keeping that mind fresh. To keep on learning. Good stuff and keep it up and thanks for sharing.

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Thank you very much, glad you liked it

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Wow, that’s an awesome idea and your execution looks great! Very creative.
Why let these screens sit in some dumpster when they can be used for something?

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Exactly, we buy and throw out too much these days. They aren’t suitable for some things, games mostly, but they are perfect for terminals, and when programming I move resource files and such there, long running tasks and those kind of things.

Been considering for a few years If I shouldn’t get the laptops people don’t want anymore, and make a compute cluster at home, just for the shits and giggles, make something like a ghetto blade server in the garage.

Here it’s illegal to go to the dump and grab things from electronics bin, it’s considered theft and police will come and visit you if you’re seen taking anything. Still to this day I get slightly angry with them for that. One time I was there throwing out some old parts, I found a 17" Alienware laptop, after checking it out, i saw that the fans were completely stuffed with dust. So I thought I’d grab it, refurb and perhaps have a nice computer for a friend of mines kid. Then someone working there came and started shouting at me for holding it, I asked him if it wasn’t ok for me to take it for a kid, who’s parent couldn’t afford a good computer for him. He came towards me, ripped it off my hand, and broke off the display and slammed the computer into a metal container. I took a deep breath, told him he was probably the biggest idiot I had ever met, and left before I’d break him and chuck him in a container.

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Wow that sucks hard. Here it is an ask and see thing. Most of the time it is fine, if it is in a bin its fair game, less work for everyone involved if you take it away before they have to process it. Most everything is left outside so they are probably destroyed anyway butni have seen some PCs and other useful bits.

If I had a day and a purpose it would probably be worth it to sit at the dump for the day and see what comes through. I know for books specifically someone looked at the situation and thought it a shame so now all the books in the dump at on makeshift shelves on the basis that they are being recycled anyway so if you see something interesting take it with you and read it, maybe you will leave yournown books you don’t need for someone else.

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be real neat if you make monitor shells out of hardwood to put the screens in!
I plan on making an atx tower case out of curly maple sometime in the future.

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Sounds really nice. There are metal mounting brackets on the displays when they are in the laptop, would make it easier to fit into a wooden frame. Consider a small fan or two in your design for some active air circulation, because the powerpart of the controller gets very hot. Also the inside of the case should be as smooth as possible, perhaps even coated with epoxy or lacquer to allow for smoother air circulation.

Would really like to see what you come up with.

if you have access to a 3d printer and cad software you can design airflow channels for cooling.
it would be an interesting project for sure