Steampunk Computer

Steampunk Computer

The idea behind this project is to build a wall mountable touchscreen computer with a 15″ screen in a steampunk style.

It is made out of an upgraded Acer Travelmate 2413 laptop, a Microtouch Touchscreen, a modified wooden jewelery display case, and various other bits and bobs.

Known as “The Captain’s Writing Desk”, it is the portable writing desk of Captain Nemo, from Vernes “20,000 Leagues Under The Sea”.

  • 15″ Capacitive Touchscreen
  • 1.5ghz Celeron M Processor
  • 1GB RAM
  • Dual Boot Ubuntu 11.10 + Windows XP
  • 40GB Hard Drive
  • 3 x USB Ports
  • Wifi

  • Microtouch Serial Touchscreen Working with Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot)

    Touchscreen with Ubuntu & Gnome 3

    Finally got the touchscreen working on the laptop. It worked fine on the desktop, though I think the pcmcia card I’m using in the laptop was giving me problems.

    Not sure what got it working in the end (couldn’t get an xorg.conf file to work at all… kept crashing on boot) but among the things I did that may have got it working was install the default microtouch drivers :

    sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg-input-mutouch (turns out this is not necessary.)

    and set the serial port as the input with

    sudo inputattach -mtouch /dev/ttyS4

    ttyS4 will vary depending on your port.  I found mine by unplugging the pcmcia card then replugging it and entering dmesg in the terminal which showed the port number it was assigned among other things.

    Didn’t work the first few times, then it just suddenly started working, so not sure if I did something different :/

    Anyway, here is Ubuntu 11.10 running Gnome 3 (I love Gnome 3 so much… I want its babies) with a working 15″ touchscreen.

    UPDATE :  Once I restarted the computer I found the touchscreen didn’t work automatically though when I entered

    sudo inputattach -mtouch /dev/ttyS4

    into the terminal it started up again.

    It needs to start automatically since I won’t have a keyboard on this computer.

    To get it working automatically the following should work.

    You need to edit the rc.local file by entering this into the terminal :

    gksudo gedit /etc/rc.local

    and then add the following lines at the bottom :

    inputattach -mtouch /dev/ttyS4 &

    above exit 0 and save it.

    Then in theory it should start automatically next time you reboot. Mine is a bit funny. For some reason it will only start if I am touching the screen during boot. Basically from the grub screen onwards I have to touch the screen or my pcmcia serial card won’t start… which is annoying, but put-up-with-able.

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    January 1st, 2012 by sephiroth

    Steampunking the Case

    Began work on steampunking the case. :D

    First thing I had to do was whittle down the display case’s lid so that if better fit the LCD touchscreen.

    Then whittled a bit more around the front to give it a slope towards the screen, both for aesthetics and for easy of use with the touchscreen.

    Then dyed the pine wood to a nice rich mahogany.

    And finally added the brass corners.

    Coming along nicely. :)


    Steampunk Computer Case

    Steampunk Computer Case

    Steampunking the Case

    Steampunking the Case

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    December 31st, 2011 by sephiroth

    Using the laptop’s inverter to power the external monitor’s backlight.

    As mentioned in previous posts, the touchscreen and lcd monitor I’m using for the steampunk computer work fine, though the inverter powering the backlight had fried so the screen was black.

    I have a new inverter ordered, though since it is coming from Hong Kong it may take some time to arrive. Possibly up to two weeks and I’m far too impatient to wait for that part before continuing the build! I may even convert it to an LED backlight if it takes too long, but for now I have a fix.

    I wasn’t going to be using the laptop’s built in screen and was planning on removing it, so decided to use the laptop’s inverter to power the monitor’s CCFL backlight bulb. The monitor actually has two of these bulbs though the laptop’s inverter can only power one of them, so it wouldn’t be full brightness, but shoudl be bright enough to work with until I get the replacement.

    So first thing I did was take the bezel off the laptop’s screen.


    Laptop Inverter

    Laptop Inverter


    The inverter is normally at the bottom of the LCD screen under the bezel and easily accessible.


    Close up of backlight inverter from Acer Travelmate 2413 laptop

    Close up of backlight inverter from Acer Travelmate 2413 laptop

    Wires to the Backlight Bulb

    Wires to the Backlight Bulb


    WARNING : The inverter produces HIGH VOLTAGE.  Try this at your own risk!  I take no responsibility for your actions.

    I then simply unplugged the wires going to the CCFL bulb from the inverter and plugged in the bulb from the external monitor.  Then I powered up the computer and sure enough the bulb lit up.

    Testing the Backlight Bulb with the Laptop's Inverter

    Testing the Backlight Bulb with the Laptop's Inverter

    Then I put the bulb back into the external monitor and sure enough I had a working screen!

    Working Backlight

    Working Backlight

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    December 30th, 2011 by sephiroth

    New Touchscreen Works! But…..

    Good news… the new Microtouch touchscreen seems to work just fine on Ubuntu 11.10. I tested it on the desktop and got it working by creating and xorg.conf file by running the code below through the terminal. (This technique should work for most serial touchscreens, don’t try this for USB touchscreens)

    sudo pico /etc/X11/xorg.conf

    In modern versions of Ubuntu, this should bring up a blank xorg.conf file in your terminal (unless you’ve already created one of course). Then copy and paste the following into it.

    Section "InputDevice"
    Identifier "TouchScreen"
    Driver "mutouch"
    Option "Type" "finger"
    Option "Device" "/dev/ttyS0"
    Option "ScreenNo" "0"
    Option "MinX" "0"
    Option "MaxX" "16383"
    Option "MinY" "0"
    Option "MaxY" "16383"
    Option "SendCoreEvents" "yes"

    Section “ServerLayout”
    Identifier “ Configured”
    InputDevice “touchscreen”

    The press Ctrl+O and hit enter to save it. You can then press CTRL+X to exit.

    The part I’ve highlighted in red may vary depending on your system. ttyS0 refers to the serial port on my computer that the touchscreen controller is attached to. Your’s may be different, perhaps ttyS01.

    One way to easily find the port number you need is to run this through the terminal while the touchscreen is connected :

    cat /dev/ttyS0

    Then touch the touchscreen. If it is the correct port, the terminal should output a load of garbage every time you touch the screen. If nothing happens then you have the wrong port. Try ttyS1 next, then ttyS2 etc…

    On my laptop, because of the pcmicia serial port, my port number is actually ttyWCH0. The only way I know that is from the instructions for the pcmcia card.

    After I rebooted, the touchscreen worked straight away.

    Only problem is the touchscreen is firmly attached to the LCD screen and it would be quite difficult to remove it. But I quite like the screen. It is slightly bigger than the screen on the laptop and has a better resolution, so I think I’ll try to use it instead of the laptop’s LCD for the 15″ tablet project.

    Now, there IS a problem with the LCD screen. The backlight is dead! I’ve tested it and it is definitely the inverter and not the CCFL bulbs in the screen. This is a pain, since I don’t know where to find a replacement inverter, so it looks like I’m in for another hack!

    New Hack : Convert LCD Screen from CFL Backlight to LED Backlight.

    I’ve ordered 50 ultra bright LEDs which should hopefully be bright enough. They should arrive before the end of the week and I’ll let you guys know how it works out, and I’ll post a How To as well if it’s successful.



    I’ve taken out the old CCFL bulbs for the Microtouch monitor’s backlight, but there is only about 5mm x 5mm space to work with.  Ideally I was hoping for a bit more since this tiny space is going to make it very difficult to install a powerful LED array.

    I’ve managed to find another cheap inverter (£5.99) which should be able to replace the old busted one, but it’s going to take a while to get here.  In the mean time I thought I could probably steal the inverter and CCFL bulb from the laptop’s monitor and retrofit it to the Microtouch monitor.  This could actually be an ideal solution if it weren’t for the fact that the Microtouch monitor uses two CCFL bulbs and the laptop only uses one, so not sure how bright it is going to be.  Will give it a go this weekend.


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    December 29th, 2011 by sephiroth

    No luck with this touchscreen so ordered a new one

    Pretty sure either the touchscreen or the controller are knackered. Got it working fine on the laptop on Windows XP but the cursor kept jumping all over the place. No joy getting it working on the laptop with Ubuntu though I’m certain that’s because I haven’t installed the drivers for the PCMCIA serial adapter properly.

    Tried it with Ubuntu 11.10 on my desktop which has an on board serial port and it was behaving the same as it was on the laptop with XP and calibration wouldn’t help, so I’m going to have to give up on it.

    Well that’s £25 down the drain. I’ve ordered another touchscreen. This time a complete unit with the LCD monitor.

    15" Microtouch Touchscreen LCD Monitor

    15" Microtouch Touchscreen LCD Monitor

    This one also has a serial connection, so I’ll have to either get this serial adapter working, find one that does work, or use (*spit*) Windows.

    Serial and VGA Ports

    Serial and VGA Ports

    The LCD monitor needs a 12v 5a power supply so if I wanted to used the monitor itself in the tablet I would have to add another power supply which will add to the bulk and the weight of the tablet, so hopefully I will be able to remove the touch panel and controller from the unit so I can still use the laptop’s much slimmer, lighter, and lower powered screen.

    This is a Microtouch touchscreen by the way (another SAW type screen), which I’ve seen working on Ubuntu so fingers crossed it works since it is also untested!

    Cost of the new screen = £26

    This pretty much takes me up to the £100 mark in total costs, though if we write off the cost of the original touchscreen I still have £25 left to play with. ;) Cheating?

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    December 28th, 2011 by sephiroth

    Some Success with the 4001S Cable

    Had some success this morning.  The manufacturers got back to me a wiring diagram of the 4001S cable so I could wire up the controller directly to the serial port on the laptop.

    Couldn’t get any life out of the touchscreen at all with Ubuntu, but there is some response in Windows XP.  Think there might be something wrong with the way I have the serial port set up in Ubuntu so will have a look at that tonight.

    So at least I know it is wired up right. :) Now to get it working!

    EDIT : Just thought… these drivers may not be compatible with Ubuntu 11.10. The most up to date version they are designed for is 10.10 which could be a pain since Gnome 3 + Ubuntu 10.10 aren’t the best of friends, and I really want to use Gnome 3 on this build.

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    December 27th, 2011 by sephiroth

    Building a 15″ Touchscreen Tablet for £100?

    My next project is a wall mountable 15″ touchscreen tablet and I’m pretty sure I can do it for around £100!

    For this I’m using an Acer Travelmate 2413 laptop I picked up for just £10 on ebay.  The laptop works absolutely fine, though I got it cheap because both the hinges on the lid are broken so the screen is dangling off the base unit.

    Acer Travelmate 2413 with Broken Hinges

    Acer Travelmate 2413 with Broken Hinges

    I wanted to find a laptop that had at least the same spec as my Dell Mini 9.  This one didn’t but for a tenner I thought it would be worth it!  The basic spec of the laptop is :

    1.5ghz Celeron M Processor

    256mb RAM

    60GB Hard Drive

    15″ XVGA Screen (1024 x 768)

    It came with Windows XP (urg) so first thing I did was install Ubuntu 11.10 on it with Gnome 3 and tint2.  It was so painfully slow!  I was worried the hard drive may have been the problem, but fortunately I had a spare 1gb of RAM lying around and swapped out the 256mg RAM card and that fixed the speed.

    It is actually surprisingly snappy!  Though it only has a 1.5ghz processor compared to the 1.6ghz on the Dell Mini, I think it actually runs alot  better. In fact, the speed seems to be on par with my desktop computer so I think it’s going to work great!

    I have it set up for dual boot in case I need to use XP for anything.

    One feature it lacked that I needed was WiFi.  The Travelmate 2413 has a PCMCIA slot which I could have used to install a WiFi card but I needed that slot for something else so I got a handy USB Wifi Dongle for £12.50.  Works out of the box in Ubuntu, though needed to install the drivers for it on XP.

    USB Wifi Dongle and Serial Port

    USB Wifi Dongle and Serial Port

    Next up was the touchscreen.  There are 15″ touchscreen kits out there.  On ebay there are easy peasy resistive touchscreen kits from Hong Kong for about £60 but I don’t think I could live with a resistive touchscreen.  An alternative was to find a capacitive touchscreen kit but all the ones I could find were around $200!  Wasn’t willing to pay that much.  Luckily I found an IT recycling company near me that has about 25 touchscreens salvaged from the touchscreen game machines you find in pubs.  The one I am using is a 15″ General Touch SAW (Standing Acoustic Wave) touchscreen which are very responsive.  I got it for only £25 pounds (including the controller) since it was untested.  The guys there had no idea how to test it since it didn’t come with the cable that attaches the touchscreen controller to a PC.  I was pretty sure I could get it working so went home and investigated the controller.

    General Touch 4001 Touchscreen Controller

    General Touch 4001 Touchscreen Controller

    It was labelled as a General Touch 4001 controller, which is confusing since online I can find a 4001u (the USB version) and the 4001s (the serial version) and so I had no idea whether or not this is the USB or the Serial version, or anything else about the controller for that matter. After investigating the pins on the controller with an oscilloscope I had lying around, I was pretty sure this was a serial version.

    Sadly, the Travelmate 2413 doesn’t have a serial port.  I could have possibly used a  serial to usb adapter, but have had trouble with those in the past so took the more reliable root of getting a Serial Port that fits into the PCMCIA port.  Found one for £5 and installed it and it looks to be recognized in both Ubuntu and XP.

    Though I still had no idea how to wire the controller to the serial port.  I experimented with a few configurations, and although the indicator light on the controller showed that the touchscreen was communication fine with the controller, I couldn’t get the controller to communicate with the serial port.  I found a pin out drawing of the controller but still couldn’t figure out how it should be wired.

    I emailed General Touch and today replied saying they can provide replacement cables for just $3!  Good news!  No idea how much the postage is going to be but will let you know.

    Oh, one issue with the controller I forgot to mention is that it runs on 12 volts. I have it running on a 12v power supply at the moment, but I’m going to have to find a 12v source on the laptop to tap into in the final build.  I’m guessing I can find one around the battery terminal.

    Now, how to turn all this into a tablet?  It would need a new case so I found this 16″ x 12″ display box on ebay for £22.

    Display Box

    Display Box

    This should be big enough to hold all the laptop components after I dismantle it.

    I’ve already begun swapping out the glass panel that came with it, and replaced it with the touchscreen panel.  Fits nicely.

    Display Box with Touchscreen Panel

    Display Box with Touchscreen Panel


    So far I’ve spent £10 on the laptop, £25 on the touchscreen, £22 on the display box, £5 on the serial port, and £12.50 on the Wifi Dongle.

    Total so far = £74.50

    So that’s where I am at the moment.

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    December 26th, 2011 by sephiroth