Duo Digital Frame

James sent this story to me on August 7, 2002. I believe it was one of the first digital picture frame projects on the internet. - Tom

by James Roos

Building a digital picture frame from a PowerBook Duo 270c/280c

If you own a digital camera, you've no doubt noticed that digital picture frames have hit the market. These frame typically feature a small color LCD screen and display a slide show of your digital images. At this time, there are only three such frames on the market, and each is seriously flawed. Consider the Poloroid/Ceiva frame. This relatively attractive digital frame is selling for around $100. Sounds like a steal, but the frame provides no mechanism for moving your images onto the frame without a subcription to the proprietary Ceiva network. Ultimately, you'd end up paying a pretty penny for a frame that also suffers from a serious technical flaw, it has a passive matrix display. Another thing to consider is the financial stability of both Ceiva and Polaroid. Both are in trouble, and the Ceiva service could be closed down any day, leaving you with a rather expensive paper weight. Perhaps the most popular digital frames are made by DigiFrame. These frames retail for around $300 and feature active matrix displays. Unfortunately, they are hideously ugly (IMHO). The third frame on the market is the equally ugly Sony model that currently retails for $900. Frankly, for that money, I'd rather have an iBook.

Since an attractive and inexpensive digital picture frame has yet to hit the market, I decided to build my own using a PowerBook Duo 280c and the frame of my choosing. Not a new idea, but the 270c and 280c are the ideal platform for a digital picture frame. Consider the following:

  • Active matrix display featuring 1000s of colors
  • Ultra compact design can easily be mounted into a picture frame
  • Relatively small display is the perfect size. Others have mounted 12" laptop displays into picture frames. Frankly, the results are disappointing. These "frame" look more like laptops on a stick. The LCD on the 270c and 280c is about the same size as a 5x7" print. Larger than all of the commercially available digital frames, but not so large as to look goofy.
  • Easy to find and inexpensive. 280c's are always up for auction on eBay and regularly sell for less than $100.

Before I describe the process I used to create my digital picture frame, let me caution you: Tearing apart any electronic product and mounting it in a new case is frought with perils. Like a CRT, the LCD display operates and very high voltages and there is risk of injury during the construction process. Furthermore, the resulting product is not UL approved and could pose serious risk of fire. Perform these steps at your own risk.

If you've never seen the 280c before (or if it's been awhile) well, it's small. Really small. Here's a picture of the 280c next to my Compaq Presario 700. As you can see, the Presario laptop dwarfs the 280c. Notice that the 280c has black bars at the top and bottom of the display. The LCD in this laptop is capable of generating a 640x480 display at 256 colors. For thousands of colors, the display size drops down to 640x400 and these black bars appear. You could always use software to modify the 256 color palette to produce a very pleasing image. I decided to run the frame at thousands of colors at the cost of a little resolution. The choice is yours.


The first step is setting up the software. All this work must be completed before you begin dissassembling the laptop because the resulting frame will no longer have a trackball or keyboard. Note that the 280c does not have an ADB port, so you can't use an external keyboard either. I recommend JPEGView, it has a highly configurable slideshow mode. Setup your JPEGView preferences so that it generates a slideshow from a specific folder. You'll want this slide show to begin on startup, so make sure JPEGView is set to start in slideshow mode and drop an alias to JPEGView in the startup folder. Once you've completed the frame, the only way to add photos to the slideshow will be through AppleTalk, so be sure AppleTalk and file sharing are enabled.

Another thing to consider are the power saving options. Obviously, you don't want the display to go black five minutes after the frame starts up. It's probably a good idea to have the hard drive spin down after some very short interval. I recommend that you set a RAM drive and write an AppleScript to copy your images to the RAM drive at startup. This way, the hard drive will only be used when the picture frame is first booted.

Next you'll need a Torx (T-10) screwdriver to unscrew all of the screws on the bottom of the computer. Once you've completed this work, the keyboard should pull right out.


The keyboard is connected to the motherboard in two places. Push back the tabs to release the ribbon cables and remove the keyboard.


The motherboard is further mounted to the case using several screw under the keyboard. Remove the screws and the top of the casing to fully reveal the motherboard and hard drive.


The LCD panel connects to the motherboard via a gold ribbon cable. Gently pull on this connection to free it.

ribbonduodigitalframe removedduodigitalframe

The motherboard is just slightly larger than my 8x10 inch frame.


Remove the two screws (covered by small patched of gray tape) at the bottom of the LCD. Once removed, the LCD casing can be pulled apart. The LCD assembly is a perfect fit for an 8x10" frame. Since I'd decided to operate the frame at 640x400, I used black electrical tape to mask of the black bars on the top and bottom of the LCD to ensure these regions are not visible through the matting. Since the LCD will be turned off when you mount it on the matting, it may be difficult to discern where these black bars are. The electrical tape ensures you'll know exactly where the image appears on the LCD, and where it doesn't.

lcdduodigitalframe tapedduodigitalframe

I used a high temp glue gun to glue the LCD assembly to the back of the matting.

gluelcdduodigitalframe frontduodigitalframe

Once the LCD is glued to the matting, you'll need a way to affix the matting to the frame. I placed a plastic keycard inside the grooves that run along the inside edge of the frame and glued them in place. This proved sufficiant to hold to LCD assembly, matting, and glass in place.


The motherboard will be mounted behind the LCD. I decided to retain the original plastic case of the 280c to insulate the motherboard from the back of the LCD. I used a box cutter to score the plastic and create a place to mount the motherboard.

cutduodigitalframe mobomountduodigitalframe

Again, I used the high temp hot glue gun to glue the motherboard assembly to the back of the LCD. At this point, I cut and glued some small balsa wood blocks to provide additional support for the motherboard. The resulting assembly is surprisingly strong.

mobogluedduodigitalframe strengthtestduodigitalframe

The hard drive is glued above the memory expansion slot.


The next step was to create an enclosure for the back of the frame. I used some balsa wood to build a small frame for the rear components. I cut holes in the frame for the power cable, LocalTalk cable, and a hole at the top to promote convection. Balsa wood is available at most craft stores (e.g. Michael's, MJDesigns) and is very easy to work with.

backframeduodigitalframe backmountduodigitalframe

I painted the frame with a flat black spray paint and affixed it to the back of the frame. I decided to retain the original frame backing with the tie-shaped flap used to hold the frame up. This piece was glued to the back of the box I created.

backpaintedduodigitalframe backcompleteduodigitalframe

The resulting digital picture frame was cheaper than any of those available and matches my taste perfectly.


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I've just been finishing up doing this with my old 540c, fit it in a smaller frame but had to make major mods to the board and lcd

Hi, i'm really interested in getting hold of a 270c/280c and doing this project, but i've only got a PC to transfer the files onto it.

I've seen PC MacLAN which i wouldn't mind purchasing, but how can i then link this to the PowerBook? Can i get some kind of serial cable? I expect that adding an ethernet port to the 270c/280c would be quite expensive, does anyone have any suggestions?

Do I have to worry about the Mac booting up and stopping on a "no keyboard" or "no mouse" error? (sad mac?)

Also, there are a few wireless routers that can pass AppleTalk, is there a wireless card that can be plugged into a Duo 270c or 280c?


This is great Smile I've decided that I'm going to approach this idea but using a G3 powerbook.
I have some really good hi-res digital iages so don't want to be confined by the screensize.
Also, based on laterst os9 (or even OSX) and with the better hardware it should be easier to use usb to attach an external keyboard/mouse and HD for updating and toubleshooting.

you could use DAVE for the pc/mac connection but be sure to set it all up correctly first.
A better idea might be to use a later mac such as an older powerbook. If you're on a budget the 1998 'Wall St' G3's (233/250/292Mhz) are going at reasonable prices on ebay and still have an ethernet port. The other benefits of an older 'book are bigger HD size so you can have more pics in your frame and a later OS for easier troubleshooting.

It won't care about the fact that there's no keyboard or mouse. You could get a Sad Mac if there's some sort of hardware failure

As far as I know there is not. There is an ethernet microdock.

There are localtalk ISA cards available for PCs but I don't know how compatible they are with newer MS Operating Systems.

You can add ethernet to a duo via a microdock. If you remove the microdock's housing it should be possible to fit it all in the frame.
The microdocks with ethernet aren't that easy to find though.

I was recently given a 230 & a 270. I'm a PC guy so I don't have any experience loading images on one of these. Can you point me in the right direction? I'll need to purchase a cable or make one. The only way I'll have to load data is from a PC. Is it possible?


You can purchase or make a cable that will connect the serial port on your PC to the serial port on the DUO.

There are various software solutions that will let you transfer data over the serial port that will work both on ancient Macs and newer PCs. Kermit is one of them. It's not particularly fast.

One of the the best ways to do what you want is to find an ethernet "microdock". If you take off the plastic shell, you can fit this into a picture frame along with the duo guts. I run a free ftp server on the duo called "netpresenz" and then just use any old ftp client to transfer images.

You can find them once in a while on ebay. You can also ask on the lowend mac mailing list http://lowendmac.com/

if you are not technically inclined like i am not. Edge has a digital picture frame that has dropped in price and not horribly ugly.

There's a range of the products available here too, starting from around US$64 for a Desktop DigiFrame & Clock.
DigiVista Digital Photo Frames

DrBunsen's picture

Another thought: The motherboard from a Duo 2300 has both SCSI and IDE hard drive support, and is compatible with the 280c screen. You could use a small SCSI drive from an old (68k era) Powerbook as your boot drive, and add a 2.5" IDE to CF converter board to the IDE bus. Make a slot in the rear of the housing, position the CF board behind it, and load your photos to and from this card.

Alternatively, partition the CF card with a small Mac OS boot partition and a larger cross-platform data partition.

All the Digital picture frame do it yourself projects will be interesting only till the digital photo frames are expensive. Already there are plenty which are cheaper and have a high specification.

edit by eeun: When your post is edited by a moderator, DO NOT edit it again to put your spam link back in

DrBunsen's picture

I disagree. The interesting thing about a laptop based picture frame is that you still have a full computer in there. So apart from displaying pictures there are many other uses.

Did this mod myself a few years ago. It's been running non-stop for over 2 years now.

Great job!
But the price of link removed, and spelling corrected by eeun digital photo frame has really dropped down, the cheapest 7" only about $60.

It has been four years since this post was created and in my opinion in 2004 would had been a good idea to try to make a digital frame but now I think there is no DIY to make a wireless digital photo frame and I definitely think would be a lot of work to do this.

I have the following:

- Macintosh PowerBook Duo 230
- Macintosh PowerBook Duo 270c
- Macintosh PowerBook Duo 3400c

I have nothing in them so best offer & pay for shipping and it's yours.

I still have the following which can be used for this project:

- Macintosh PowerBook Duo 230

Macintosh PowerBook Duo 270c

Macintosh PowerBook Duo 3400c

I have nothing in them so best offer & pay for shipping and it's yours. I simply don't want them to end up in landfill.