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This question is inspired by another SU question I came across earlier today: What to do with old hard drives? It made me think about two long-dead laptops I have with perfectly good screens still inside. One is a Dell Inspiron 5100 and the other is an Averatec E1200, but responses need not be geared towards those particular models' screens.

Rules, based heavily on the original question's:

Objectives and suggestions to keep in mind when you post an answer :

  1. Should showcase your geekiness, be plain ol' fun, serve a social purpose or benefit the community.
  2. Your answer need not be limited to only one screen. For a really good answer, I'll go out and buy additional leftover screens.
  3. Your answer need not be limited to one project per screen.
  4. If additional accessories need be purchased, make sure they are common. Don't tell me to get a moon rock or something.
  5. The projects you suggested should serve a useful purpose; art is nice, but functional art is way better.

Thanks in advance, folks.

EDIT: Found another related question. Fun projects to do with an old 17" LCD monitor

EDIT 2: I, for one, am enjoying the new outpouring of creativity here. Best fifty bucks... I mean, rep points... I ever spent.

EDIT 3: That does it. At the end of the week, there was a tie for most votes between the accepted answer and the game platform answer. The game platform answer was cooler, but less reasonable as a project to actually do; in other words, it was more moon rocky. Unfortunately, I think fencepost had the best comment on the topic, which is that displays on their own have no good interface. Thanks for playing, everyone!

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Can you be more specific about how the laptops died? Was it failure of the hard drive, motherboard, etc.? – sblair Dec 9 '09 at 0:23
if you don't want the moon rocks would you send them to me? – quack quixote Dec 9 '09 at 6:08
@sblair: the Dell's mobo shorted out when a screw inside the case came loose; the Averatec still boots, but it powers off at random and without warning, and the mouse/keyboard are losing responsiveness. @quack: they're on backorder, but as soon as they arrive, I'll get right on that. – Pops Dec 9 '09 at 21:39
Also see – Dour High Arch Jan 7 '10 at 3:43
@Dour: My post already links to that post (I referred to it by its title). – Pops Jan 7 '10 at 13:10

15 Answers 15

up vote 14 down vote accepted

Line the underside of a glass coffee table with them and have some button that will cycle them through screensaver/visualizations and rss feeds.

Mount a camera or cameras in your fridge, and some screens on the outside. Peek into your fridge without opening the door. This kind of applies to anything you want to look into without opening.

Set up a geeky 2-way peephole on your front door. Hang a screen on the door and have a second one where you like, incorporate a couple of cameras for two way door greeting.

Edit to add: Virtual window - set up a camera on the outside somewhere and wall mount the screens, possibly in a decorative window frame.

Aquarium background - find a similar size aquarium and have a tropical undersea backdrop for your fishies. Or the surface of the sun, or some other backdrop to fiddle with their little heads.

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"Peek into your fridge without opening the door" You do know that light really does switch off when you close the door? – dbr Jan 12 '10 at 17:28
What!? The light turns off? So much for that idea. – Les Jan 12 '10 at 18:16
An IR or low light camera with an IR emitter or small light source would accommodate the accursed fridge light. – DHayes Jan 12 '10 at 18:22
+1 for the Aquarium background! – Josh Aug 1 '10 at 13:01

If you have the time and money, you could build a portable XBOX 360/Playstation 3, like this guy did.

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iirc, that build was very expensive. Impressive result though! – RJFalconer Jan 6 '10 at 20:51
I don't doubt it. I did say 'if you have the money' :) – th3dude Jan 6 '10 at 20:55
I think "skill" may be a rather large factor too.. I can't imagine forcing a games console into a well-built laptop-sized package is exactly easy.. – dbr Jan 12 '10 at 17:30

Convert it to a stand alone monitor.

  • 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)
  • Low Weight

Can never have too many monitors :D

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I would have recommended converting them into a digital picture frame (make a wooden box to go around the screen, setup VNC on the laptop, put up a rolling slideshow, connect to the the laptop via wifi to change the pictures around), but alas, your lappies no longer work.

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Here's a sample answer to kick it off: Create an overhead projector. I've never done it myself, but know someone who did. It was a bit blurry, but kinda neat.

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I've seen discussion of this kind of thing in the past and it seems that doing anything with the screens themselves can be a pain because you don't have an interface that's particularly usable.

What you can do if the machines are functional is set them up as terminals - take a look at ThinStation for boot images that require minimal RAM but get you rdesktop or VNC.

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Did they have webcams too? Can they somehow be made into Surface-like tables?

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  • Use them as display stands for your moon rock collection. (Moon rocks not included. I got dibs on any moon rocks you don't want.)

  • Hook them up to a Gumstix board for a DIY ebook reader. There are expansion boards available for hooking up to LCD screens.

    • Waterproof one, add WiFi (or an ethernet jack) and keep it by the john for reading material.
    • Add WiFi and a battery to another for the coffee table.

  • Use it with a Gumstix and a USB-to-IDE/SATA converter for a portable, GUI hard drive examining tool.

  • Build an HDMI connector and add an Atom-powered mini PC (like the Fit-PC2) for a car-or-bathroom video player -- or add MAME and a USB controller for an old-school gaming console.

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Keep them as spares! You never know when you will need one!

Apart from that, I think other people have already covered it - the overhead projector is the main project - everything else pretty much requires a whole laptop and just modifying it.

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One could install touchscreen overlays on them and do... something with them. Perhaps put some sort of interactive toy/slideshow/etc. on them?

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Where I work, we recycle by giving our no longer working hardware to the RMA department so that they can use the parts to fix other hardware. Things that are too damaged or old to be of use are sent to the big recycler in the sky.

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buy a touch screen panel and an ssd... since you say it's old, you might want to buy a dual cf-to-ide adapter and 2 16gb 200x cf card... you can increase the ram and that... and make your own tablet.. it costs a bit... maybe some 100 dollars... and you must have some skills to do it... i really wanted to turn my laptop into a tablet but i don't have the money...

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Put them on the ceiling at cool angles and turn them into strobe lights! You'd need to turn them into displays first, I suppose.

You could connect them all to you primary computer and have an awesome DJ rig. :D

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