The LCD being replaced in an old laptop

Hackaday Prize 2022: Repairing A Vintage Laptop With Modern Components

Laptop computers may be ubiquitous today, but there was a time when they were the exclusive preserve of rich businesspeople. Back in the early ’90s, the significant added cost of portability was something that few were willing to pay. As a result, not many laptops from those days survive; for those that do, keeping them running can be quite a challenge due to their compact construction and use of non-standard components.

[Adalbert] ran into these problems when he got his hands on a Toshiba T3200SXC from 1991. As the first laptop ever to feature a color TFT display, it’s very much worth preserving as an historical artifact. Sadly, the original display was no longer working: it only displayed a very faint image and went completely blank soon after. Leaky capacitors then destroyed the power supply board, leaving the laptop completely dead. [Adalbert] then began to ponder his options, which ranged from trying to repair the original components to ripping everything out and turning this into a modern-computer-in-an-old-case project.

In the end he went for an option in between, which we as preservationists can only applaud: he replaced the display with a modern one of the correct size and resolution and built a new custom power supply, keeping the rest of the computer intact as far as possible. [Adalbert] describes the overall process in the video embedded below and goes into lots of detail on his hackaday.io page.

Connecting a modern LCD screen was not as difficult as it might seem: where the old display had an RGB TTL interface with three bits per color, the new one had a very similar system with six bits per color. [Adalbert] made an adapter PCB that simply connected the three bits from the laptop to the highest three bits on the screen. A set of 3D-printed brackets ensured a secure fit of the new screen in the classic case.

The internal power supply module of a laptopFor the power supply [Adalbert] took a similar approach. He designed a PCB with several DC/DC converters that fit easily inside the computer’s case, leaving enough space to add a battery. This made the old Toshiba more portable than it ever was — believe it or not, the original T3200SXC could only be used with a mains connection.

Once the laptop was restored to working order, [Adalbert] added a few finishing touches: a sound card and speakers made it suitable as a gaming platform, and a network card gave it rudimentary online capabilities. The end result is a T3200SXC that looks and feels exactly the way it did when it was new, but with a few added features. That’s a really satisfying result: many classic laptop projects add modern computing hardware, or even completely replace the original contents. You might also want to check out [Adalbert]’s unusual 3D printer based PCB manufacturing technique that he used for the new power supply.

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A wooden picture frame with an e-ink display

Receive Virtual Postcards On This Beautiful E-Ink Photo Frame

Sending postcards to loved ones used to be standard procedure for travelers back when travel was glamorous and communications were slow. While some travelers still keep this tradition alive, many have replaced stamps and post offices with instant messaging and social media — faster and more convenient, but a lot less special than receiving a postcard with a handwritten message from a faraway land.

[Cameron] designed a postcard picture frame that aims to bring back a bit of that magic. It’s a wooden frame that holds an e-ink display, which shows pictures sent to it by your friends. All they need to do is open the unique link that you sent them beforehand and upload an interesting photo; the picture frame will cycle through the submissions based on an adjustable schedule. A web interface allows you to change settings and delete any inappropriate images.

A black PCB with an ESP32 mounted on itThe wooden frame is beautifully made, but the sleek black PCB inside is an true work of art. It holds a battery and a USB-C charging circuit, as well as an ESP32 that connects to WiFi, stores images and downscales them to the 800×480 monochrome format used by the display. [Cameron] has not accurately measured the current consumption, but estimates that it should work for about one year on a single charge thanks to the extremely low power requirements of e-ink displays.

Having your friends decide on the images shown in your house is an interesting idea, if you can trust them to keep it decent. If you like to have more control over your e-ink display, have a look at this solar-powered model or this wall-mounted newspaper display.

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Liberating The ESP8266 From Its Development Board

While the ESP32 is clearly a superior piece of hardware, we think you’ll agree that the ESP8266 is just too useful not to have a dozen or so kicking around the parts bin at any given time. Cheap, easy to use, and just enough capabilities to bring your projects into the wonderful world of IoT. But if you really want to get the most out of it, you’ll eventually have to skip the development board and start working with the bare module itself.

It can be a scary transition, but luckily, [Ray] has collected some notes that should prove helpful for anyone looking use modules like the ESP-12F in their own custom PCBs. From different tips on making sure the power-hungry modules get enough juice, to cost cutting measures that help reduce the ancillary parts needed in your circuit design, it’s a worthwhile read for new and experienced ESP8266 wranglers alike.

An auto-reset circuit with the CH340C

For example, [Ray] talks a bit about using the infamous GPIO10 pin. This pin is on the rear of the ESP8266 module, and on many development boards, it isn’t even connected. That’s because its internally hooked up to the ESP8266’s SPI flash chip, and using it can cause problems if you’re not careful. But as explained in the blog post, as long as you make sure the flash mode is set to “dual IO” (DIO), then GPIO10 can be used just like any other free pin.

We also really liked the tip [Ray] shares at the end for making your boards more easily programmable. Sure you can leave an unpopulated header on the board, or fiddle with some pogo pin setup, but his edge connector approach is quite clever. Just slip the programmer on for the initial burn, and then after that you can update over the air.

There’s no denying how easy it is to throw something together with an ESP8266 development board, but we’ve covered so many incredible projects that have made use of the bare module’s diminutive dimensions that you’ll ultimately be missing out if you don’t cut out the middle-man.

Rows of nixie tubes in clear acrylic

Binary Clock Lets The Nixies Glow

We’re not here to talk about another clock. Okay, we are, but the focus isn’t about whether or not it can tell time, it’s about taking a simple idea to an elegant conclusion. In all those ways, [Marcin Saj] produced a beautiful project. Most of the nixie clocks we see are base-ten, but this uses base-two for lots of warm glow from more than a dozen replaceable units.

There are three rows for hours, minutes, and seconds. The top and bottom rows are labeled with an “H” and “S” respectively displayed on IN-15B tubes, while the middle row shows an “M” from an IN-15A tube. The pluses and minuses light up on IN-12 models so you’ll need eighteen of them for the full light show, but you could skimp and use sixteen in twelve-hour mode since you don’t need to count to twenty-four. We won’t explain how to read time in binary, since you know, you’re here and all. The laser-cut acrylic is gorgeous with clear plastic next to those shiny nixies, but you have to recreate the files or buy the cut parts as we couldn’t find vector files amongst the code and schematics.

Silly rabbit, nixies aren’t just for clocks. You can roll your own, but they’re not child’s play.

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Hacked IKEA Air Quality Sensor Gets Custom PCB

Last month we brought word of the IKEA VINDRIKTNING, a $12 USD air quality sensor that could easily be upgraded to log data over the network with the addition of an ESP8266. It only took a couple of wires soldered to the original PCB, and since there was so much free space inside the enclosure, you didn’t even have to worry about fitting the parasitic microcontroller; just tape it to the inside of the case and button it back up.

Now we’ve got nothing against the quick and dirty method around these parts, but if you’re looking for a slightly more tidy VINDRIKTNING modification, then check out this custom PCB designed by [lond]. This ESP-12F board features a AP2202 voltage regulator, Molex PicoBlade connectors, and a clever design that lets it slip right into a free area inside the sensor’s case. The project description says the finished product looks like it was installed from the factory, and we’re inclined to agree.

Nothing has changed on the software side, in fact, the ESP-12F gets flashed with the same firmware [Sören Beye] wrote for the Wemos D1 Mini used in his original modification. That said [lond] designed the circuit so the MCU can be easily reprogrammed with an FTDI cable, so just because you’re leaving the development board behind doesn’t mean you can’t continue to experiment with different firmware builds.

It’s always gratifying to see this kind of community development, whether or not it was intentionally organized. [lond] saw an interesting idea, found a way to improve its execution, and released the result out into the wild for others to benefit from. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that this is exactly the kind of thing Hackaday is here to promote and facilitate, so if you ever find yourself inspired to take on a project by something you saw on these pages, be sure to drop us a line.

Custom Camera Flash Is Built For Stealth

As [Joshua Bird] began his foray into the world of film photography, he was taken back by the old technology’s sheer hunger for light. Improvised lighting solutions yielded mixed results, and he soon realized he needed a true camera flash. However, all the options he found online were large and bulky; larger than the camera itself in some cases. To borrow his words, “[he] didn’t exactly want to show up to parties looking like the paparazzi”. So, he set about creating his own compact flash.

Impressed by the small size and simple operation of disposable camera flashes, [Joshua] lifted a module out of an old Fuji and based his design around it. An existing schematic allowed him to attach the firing circuitry to his Canon’s hot shoe without the risk of putting the capacitor’s 300 volts through the camera. With that done, he just had to model a 3D-printed case for the whole project and assemble it, using a few more parts from the donor disposable.

Of course, as it came from a camera that was supposed to be thrown in the trash, this flash was only designed for a specific shutter speed, aperture, and film. Bulkier off-the-shelf flashes have more settings available and are more capable in a variety of environments. But [Joshua] built exactly what he needed. He now has a sleek, low-profile external flash that works great in intimate settings. We’re excited to see the photographic results.

This is not the first photography hacker we’ve seen breathe new life into disposable flashes. Some people see far more than a piece of camera equipment in old flashes, though, with aesthetically stunning results.

[via reddit]

The Word Clock You Can Feel

By this point, pretty much everyone has come across a word clock project, if not built one themselves. There’s just an appeal to looking at a clock and seeing the time in a more human form than mere digits on a face. But there are senses beyond sight. Have you ever heard a word clock? Have you ever felt a word clock? These are questions to which Hackaday’s own [Moritz Sivers] can now answer yes, because he’s gone through the extreme learning process involved in designing and building a haptic word clock driven with the power of magnets.

Individual letters of the display are actuated by a matrix of magnetic coils on custom PCBs. These work in a vaguely similar fashion to LED matrices, except they generate magnetic fields that can push or pull on a magnet instead of generating light. As such, there are a variety of different challenges to be tackled: from coil design, to driving the increased power consumption, to even considering how coils interact with their neighbors. Inspired by research on other haptic displays, [Moritz] used ferrous foil to make the magnets latch into place. This way, each letter will stay in its forward or back position without powering the coil to hold it there. Plus the letter remains more stable while nearby coils are activated.

Part of the fun of “ubiquitous” projects like word clocks is seeing how creative hackers can get to make their own creations stand out. Whether it’s a miniaturized version of classic designs or something simple and clean, we  love to see them all. Unsurprisingly, [Moritz] himself has impressed us with his unique take on word clocks in the past. (Editor’s note: that’s nothing compared to his cloud chambers!)

Check out the video below to see this display’s actuation in action. We’re absolutely in love with the satisfying *click* the magnets make as they latch into place.

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