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I have an old laptop with a completely working LCD screen, and am wondering if there is any way for me to turn it into an external monitor by converting the flat cable to a VGA or HDMI output.

Anybody know of any way for me to do this, preferably without any extra COTS parts?

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The short answer is no.

LCDs use a protocol called LVDS (Low-Voltage Differential Signaling) which is far from VGA or HDMI, at least to do it without any COTS parts.

You'll need to buy an LCD to HDMI or LCD to VGA adapter. It'll look something like the image below. It'll come with a power inverter board for the LCD panel, the interface board which will connect to the LVDS cable, and a button board to turn the monitor off and such.

enter image description here

Since you know what model laptop it came from, you should be able to find a suitable adapter for it. Otherwise you should look for a model number for the LCD.

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