Recycling an old laptop into a Command Centre: Part 1

I have, for some time had a plan to build a portable 'command centre' prop which has a generic PC inside but has that industrial look often seen in action movies. A friend asked me to dispose of an old dead laptop so I stripped it down and made it work.

This laptop was a good candidate for this as it was one of those bulky OEMed machines that use a generic motherboard with various components on little daughterboards. It was dead because the PSU socket had been smashed but as this was a discrete socket clipped into the case, fixing it up was easy.

It's too old to be much use with modern software but a stripped down Linux install works just fine.

Over a lazy afternoon I carefully stripped out all the modules, including taking the webcam and microphone out of the screen surround and it's now ready for when I get the time to build the physical enclosure. I'm particularly pleased with how bright and clear the screen is after a careful clean, initially it looked dismal.

My plan is to use this ridiculous stainless steel waterproof keyboard/trackball combo I bought some years back as part of the prop.

I'd also like to use this set of rackmount monitors, but they take a composite input.

It seems reasonable that a USB to composite out peripheral might exist but if it doesn't I can run them with some microcontrollers and maybe do a Serial to composite display that shows text you send it, a bit like a dumb terminal. throw in support for some basic ANSI control characters and I'm creating the other half of my terminal UI library.

I've seen products on Tindie that turn a VGA monitor into a proper VT100 compatible terminal but nothing for composite and I'd need it to connect over USB anyway. I have a small stash of composite displays I've picked up over the years and creating something to drive them would be good. It could be easily argued that a Raspberry Pi Zero is a better way to do this but then you've got three computers to look after and I'm a fan of using microcontrollers instead.

The laptop can also drive a VGA screen for yet another display but I think that would make the prop physically too big.

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