The Next Do-It-Yourself Mac

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What You'll Need:
Shadow-box frame
Glue gun
Mat board
Hand drill or drill press
Small Phillips screwdriver
#6 and #8 Torx screwdrivers
Needle-nose pliers

Do you ever get tired of looking at the same framed photos every day? If you have an old laptop -- perhaps one with a broken CD drive or one that's too slow to run the latest processor-heavy applications -- you can put it to use around your house as a digital picture frame. You'll get a rotating display of your favorite digital photos, which will be a conversation piece for visitors, but you'll still have a fully functional Mac should you need one in a pinch.

The idea is simple: you strip down an old laptop to its bare essentials, glue the pieces into a frame that fits your home decor, and then activate a screen saver that rotates through a collection of photos. I used a beat-up 14-inch iBook, but any older PowerBook or iBook running OS 9 or OS X will do.

First a word of caution: Although the process of turning your Mac into a framed photo is relatively straightforward, it's not for the faint of heart. It requires that you completely dismantle your laptop -- that means removing dozens of screws, prying apart the case, and detaching and reattaching wires from the logic board. If you're not willing to lose your laptop forever should something go wrong, think twice before attempting this project.

Set Up the Software Before you crack open your laptop, load the photos you want to use onto the computer, set up screen-saver software (either OS X's built-in screen saver or Ambrosia Software's $15 Eclipse for OS 9 []), and adjust your Energy Saver preferences so the computer won't put itself to sleep. When you're done, shut down the computer, unplug the power supply, and take out the battery.

Take Apart Your Mac Dismantling your laptop is the hardest part of the conversion process. Make sure you have a large, level space to work on. From the bottom of the laptop, remove everything but the logic board (including all attached wires and circuits), the hard drive, the fan, and the speakers.

You'll also need to remove the LCD screen from the top of the laptop. Be sure to unthread any cables from the metal hinge and surrounding brackets before removing them. There are step-by-step dismantling instructions for PowerBook G3s and 400MHz PowerBook G4s at For the Titanium PowerBook or a newer iBook, I highly recommend the $10 Take Apart Repair manuals, which you can download at

Assemble the Picture Frame Once you've fully dismantled the laptop, you're ready to assemble your picture frame. For this project, you'll need an extrathick picture frame called a shadow box. Look for one that's slightly larger than your screen -- so there's room to add a decorative mat around it -- and at least 1.5 inches thick. You'll need to drill several holes in the back of the frame: one to provide access to the AC power cord, one to provide access to the USB ports, one below the fan to help blow hot air away from the logic board, and at least two others to encourage air circulation.

Using your glue gun, attach the logic board, speakers, and hard drive onto the inside back panel of the frame (as shown above). Be sure to position the fan over the appropriate hole. Glue the mat -- which should be cut to the exact size of the shadow box -- onto the front of the LCD screen. Finally, plug in your power supply (and a mouse if desired), turn on your computer, assemble the picture frame, and enjoy.

If you'd like more information on creating a digital photo frame, or for more about other interest-ing Mac projects, check out Mac Toys, by John Rizzo and Scott Knaster (John Wiley & Sons, 2004). -- kelly lunsford

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