PowerBook 540c Digital Picture Frame   


I was inspired by this article by James Roos about converting an Old PowerBook Duo into a digital picture frame. Unfortunately I didn't have a Powerbook Duo just sitting around so I turned to everyone's favorite place to get old equipment, eBay. Well it looks like old color Duos still go for around $100 each. Way more than I wanted to spend, so I looked around for something else to convert. I thought about a 1400 or 3400 but those where going for even more money. Belive it or not the defect plagued 5300's still demand a premium. That pretty much left something in the 500 series. Since an active matrix screen was a requirement for this project that left the 540c or 550c. I suppose I could have used a 180c but I couldn't bring myself to use 68030 technology. 040 was bad enough.

I ended up with a PowerBook 540c with a Japanese keyboard and the AC adapter. The eBay listing said it worked but that the batteries wouldn't hold a charge. I knew this was a problem with the 500 series but thought I could fix it and if I couldn't I didn't really need the batteries anyway. For $32 and $7 shipping it was mine.

Apon arrival the first thing I did was disasemble it. This brought back a lot of memories when I used to install memory into 10 or 15 of these a day years ago. Anyway, after my trip down memory lane I set to work on the batteries. As indicated in the eBay listing they didn't hold a charge, the system wouldn't even recognise them. I went to Google and started searching. Dead Powerbook 500 series batteries was a very common issue back when these machines were popular, now there is almost nothing on the web about this problem any more and the solutions are even harder to find. After about two hours of following dead links I finnally came up with the following software. With it I was able to resuect one of the batteries, the other one is beyond help.



Intelligent Battery Update 1.0.3 - From Apple

Battery Amnesia 1.52 - Automatically bypasses low battery warnings to drain batteries completely. Helps to prevent memory effect.

Emmpathy 2.1 - From VST Technologies helps resuerect a dead EMM

Lind BU 500 Deluxe 2.01 - From Lind Technology

PowerBook 500 Series Battery EMM Fix


  One of the first things I had to do was fix the dead clock battery. The clock or PRAM battery holds the date, time, screen settings and other items in memory when the unit shuts off. Since the screen setting I need to use is not the default (640x400) I needed to have a working battery. I went to eBay where I found them for sale for $25! That seemed to be a little steep. My next stop was Radio Shack, while they didn't have the exact same battery they had what I thought was close enough.  


It is hard to see in these pictures but I carefully pried the leads off the old batteries and placed them on the new batteries. Don't bother trying to solder the leads to the new batteries, you won't be able to. Instead just wrap them up tight with electrical tape as shown below.

Don't use to much tape or it won't fit back into the its spot above the left battery bay.


The next step was to disconnect the screen and figure out how to mount it. This is where I realized why James Roos chose a PowerBook Duo. The PowerBook 500 is a HUGE laptop. Anyway I ended up removing the front bezel from the screen and mounting it on the back of the laptop. Now the problem was how to get the video cable to reach around so that it could be attached to the screen. A little work with an Exacto Knife and I had an extra hole in the case.

I did have to cut the ferrate bead off the cable so that I could extend it to its full length. Doing so gave me about an inch of extra cable to work with. Exactly what was needed.

You can faintly make out the MacOS startup screen in the picture. I was very happy to see that as I thought I had torn the video cable.

  The next step was to mount the whole thing inside a frame. This was the next big challenge. I took measurements of the laptop and made a trip to the local MegaloMart. Evidently frames comes in only two sizes 8X6 and 11X17. One was two small and the other two large. The smaller one would have fit a Duo perfectly! After searching though the piles of frames I found one smaller than 11X17 that I figured would work. While I was there I also picked up some construction paper to fashion up some matting.  

Ahhhh, the wonders of Hot Glue! How such a simple thing can be so versatile. I rediscover this wonderful substance every couple of years and marvel at how great it is and wonder why I don't use it more often and then completely forget about it. I totally hot glued everything together. I hot glued the screen to the back of the PowerBook. Then the frame to the screen. Then I fashioned a cage out of some old Balsa Wood and Hot Glued that to the back. I am surprised at how sturdy it is. (I told you hot glue was great!)

Notice the cutout on the left to access the floppy drive and the one at the bottom to access the I/O and power ports.


MacOS 7.5, an old copy of JpegView and Viola Digital Picture slide show.

  All in all not bad for a weekend project. The above pictures really do not do the final product justice. I very much wanted to add this machine to my network. Doing so would make updating the pictures so much easier. However I didn't really want to run network cable through my living room and the only way to get wireless into this old machine is through a very rare and buggy PCMCIA card cage. Sneaker net isn't all that bad.  


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