> iTab (last updated 12 August 2008)



I always wanted a tablet screen, but wacom cintiq is too pricey for underpaid Malaysian designer like me. My google pointed me to a DIYer who made a tablet screen combining a LCD screen with wacom intuos. His build log and the forum is my great source for inspiration and details information.

I've actually tried to build one last year (early 2007), but things doesn't went well as the LCD causing too much interference to the tablet. This is what I get as a result:

Mouse pointer jumping and random left & right click (will refer this as "jittering" on the rest of my log). I abandoned the project, sold the intuos. But I never gave up. Here's my second attempt to build a DIY cintiq. This page will be my personal build-log. I hope to share this if there's anyone else planning to build one as well.

May 08'
Bought my 2nd intuos3 9x12 from a lady, excellent condition. Good buy I would say. Nothing else was done besides of planning.

My plan for this round will be using laptop LCD panel. My research show me that:
• Take less power (might not bother much for now, but when I convert it to a tablet mac it does)
• Slimmer (also easier to break, ouch)
• Using single CCFL (yeah, less cable, less things to shield)
• No need FCC extension (funny that I only see a horizontal circuit sticking out of the LCD, no vertical one)
• External power ready
• Cables are already long enough
• No need for take apart (component come in individual parts, ie driver board, panel, lcd control buttons, power supply)

I've tested with a 12" LCD from an iBook, it works nicely with very minor/ close to no jittering, without any extra shielding. Best thing of it, the video cable and circuit was on top of the tablet when I did the test. A good start indeed. Further study show that the laptop panel are usually using good quality LVDS cable which are already shielded. Where by normal LCD monitor uses PVC/rubber protected cable.

But 12" is rather small, since I already got the intuos, my goal will be a 15" LCD like most of us. I have a choice of what type of LCD panel to use. Dell website have a nice explanation on this.

I've decided to go with UXGA LCD panel, which come with DVI, VGA & RCA video-in driver board. Good enough. I've also specifically not to pick Samsung panel, due to the last failure. But this is still a gamble, it was proven that at higher resolution, the greater the interference.

I'm planning to split this project into few stages:

Stage1 - the cintiq
- I will try to keep the Intuos3 casing as it is, I think it's good enough.
- The LCD driver board, will have to stick at the back of the intuos. To protect it, I plan to use aluminium sheet (more on this later).
Here's a rough idea, sizes are not to scale:

Stage2 - the mac tablet
I might be able to pick up a 1st gen MacBook with a dead screen. Planning to integrate on to the back of the Cintiq. Might also want to power the LCD driver board with the MacBook (will go in details later, if I'm able to get the macbook).

Stage3 - the cosmetic
The last part should be tidy up here and there, spray paint. While waiting for stage1 & 2 take place, I've come up with some draft logo (please don't sue me, this is just a hobby).

29 May
Made up my mine and ordered the UXGA panel with DVI + VGA driver board. Now waiting for salary to pay for it. Item should arrive in 2 weeks. That should be sometme mid June.

Meanwhile have engage a company in US that provide metal furnishing about getting the customise Aluminium panel. Will see how it goes and hope it won't cost me my arm & leg.

I have to go for alternative if that doesn't go well.

30 May
The helpful seller Mr Chen sent me a photo of the LCD panel and driver board. Looks exactly what I wish it will be. BOE HV150UX1-101 UXGA panel no need for FCC extension. DVI + VGA LVDS board that's in small form factor. External power. All cables are long enough for the project!



3 June
Found a fabricator for aluminium sheets, been lias with them for pass 3 days to get the drawing done correctly. The aluminium sheet will be my back cover where the LCD driver board located.


5 June
The LCD panel kit arrived yesterday. Done initial test, still get a bit jittering. But considering very good as I done no shielding. Just overlap the LCD on top of the Intuos.


7 June
Screen test very successful, I get close to no jump. But when the pointer get too close to the CCFL & LVDS random click appear. I can still improve the shielding. Already cut a hole on the inner plastic of the Intuos. Next is to cut a hole for the Intuos faceplate. The thickness of the LCD panel dit just nice! Here's some shots of LCD test.



9 June
Success!

Manage to done almost everything today. But still alot to tidy up. But very happy with the result. The bottom temporary setup, where the LVDS driver board located.

I'm re-using the Intuos clear case. Use thinner to wipe away the silver/gray paint coat and I get a strong solid and nice "window" for the LCD. No need for cutting a hole nor headache for protection sheet.

Here's another shot:

Next should be tidy things up when the aluminium back cover arrive.

11 June
Further test was done with various Mac with different configurations:
- Mac Pro, Full res 1600x1200 give fast random mouse jumping in 0.5cm radius, not very usable. Acceptable at 1280x1024. Still some slow and small jumping.
- iBook G4, only support VGA at 1024x768, but very good result, but no screen rotation, I need 180 degree rotation. Close to non mouse jumping.
- MacBook, similar result as Mac Pro but better result. I can still use it with full 1600x1200 resolution.

Next, I've decided to call this project iTab (Wei DIY Tablet).

Planning ahead for the stand.

15 June
Repainted the cover today after the failed attemp to wipe the wacom logo:

Here's how it looks like when all paint are clean off:

Spray painted to black. done a lousy hand-drawn logo (the paint job was done at the underside like the original):

And lastly, preparing the MacBook:

16 June
Stage one are more or less complete. Stage two involve planning to house the MacBook together. Here's what to be done:
- Holding the MacBook, facing the keyboard side to the aluminium plate (better heat transfer?), but I wont be able to access to the keyboard & trackpad (which I don't need). But I still need the power button...
- Power botton relocation, this is a bit tricky. Anyone with a powerbook scrap wanna donate the power button?
- Extending the ports. I will allow the CD-ROM slot facing out. Where all the ports facing inside, which I need to extend to allow access to them (network jack, firewire, USB). Might need to DIY, but no worry.
- Infra port, this is a hell of pain. Anyone know if I can reflect the infra red signal? Let say I use a clear tube to redirect the infra signal to the hidden receptor? Else I might live without it.
- iSight camera & microphone. Have already tested this, need to reroute to the front side. And drill a hole on the clear case.

18 June
Just done my shopping for some final parts. Adapters, cables, grille for the last part of the project. Hopefully will received them in 2-3 weeks. I've also decided to remove the combodrive and replace with a 2nd internal harddrive.

19 June
Aluminium back casing arrived at airport today 11am according to USPS tracking system. Hope to received it this week. Else it will be next week.

20 June
Wow, this is really fast, the item was cleared from airport custom should be on its way to my house. High hope to get it today or tmmr.

With some adjustment to Wacom driver, I manage to reduce to jitter to very minor. Only obvious when pointer near the bottom & side of the screen.

21 June
Here's roughly how my current jittering at 1280x1024 resolution:

Also a hole was made for the iSight camera. I have no choice to drill a hole because without it the camera capture blurry images.

25 June
The aluminium plate arrive on Monday, done a very rough tape test. I'll let the photos tell the story.

Front view:

Back view:

The air vent holes is off. I'm not sure what went wrong during the production, the holes should be in equal size. I've notify the fabricator. Waiting for their reply.

The stand:

Supposed to be a vertical wall vase hanger from ikea. It's cheap and hey it's aluminium I've bend it a bit to make it fit my iTab.

Using the stand:

This stand is not really portable, should stay on my desk. Have an idea to fit in another stand at the back of iTab.

The logo:

Brush the logo on with masking film + sand paper.



The MacBook:

Temporary held with masking tapes. Will re-position it later. If I keep the ports part facing out like this, I will get the Mini-DVI to DVI adapter & firewire exposed, not very nice. Will have to go back to initial idea where the CD-ROM slot face out, ports face in. When facing in, I will have to extend some of other ports that's not connected internally, like the ethernet, sound, mic, USB & firewire. (note, I'm stealing 12V from the FireWire port, have to do some modding there).

27 June
OSX updates & apps installation.


7 July
Aluminium grille sheet arrived today.

8 July
Finally it's done.



Optical drive bay facing out.


The ports side, All port you see here are extended or repositioned. I've extended the FireWire and stealing the +12V from it to power the LCD panel. One USB port connected to the intuos internally and another one was extended. Yet to do the headphone jack and ethernet port. Will live without them at the moment.


The back, clearly showing the grille in place. The tape you see at the upper right and lower left are the power-on button for both MacBook and LCD. Will tidy them up once I get the idea what to put as button.


OSX and iSight in action.


And one last photo to conclude this project!

25 July
Some minor update:
- I've relocated the bluetooth & airport antenna. Getting the signal what I should expect from a MacBook (but still not as good as the old iBook).
- I've also added rubber shiled to cover the rough & sharp edge of the grille. Especially optical drive slot.
- I've done the power-on button by reusing one from a faulty powerbook.


- I've made another detachable stand to rise the iTab in a vertical mode. The stand are made from the x-bar of ikea.



- Recycle the magnets of the MacBook faulty display, where the MacBook close up firmly without a latch. There're 2 of them, few CM away from the iSight camera. I;ve use one of them to fool the MacBook thinking the display is close, therefore turning off the internal display. THe second one was use to hold the Apple Remote like those iMac.



Remarks
- I still get jittering when the iTab run hot. Air-conditioned room FTW.
- I get 2 horizontal black line on top of the screen where OSX menu bar located because I accidentally presured the LCD circuit, have to live with that.
- In order to get constant 12V from firewire I need to keep the magsafe adapter connected and powering the macbook.
- Won't do battery power at the moment but if I have the need, I can. I just need to add a regulator chip to get steady 12V.
- Airport get weaker signal due to covered by the aluminium plate.
*I've fixed this by relocating the antenna.
- There's some dirt & minor scratches inside the front cover. Visible on bright background.

FAQs
Q: Why build a tablet when there're many ready made for sale?
A: Firstly the level of sensitivity those tablet offer have nothing close to a Wacom tablet. You can use those pen to replace mouse for some simple input. But you can't really do a painting or re-touch a photo nicely with it. Secondly, they don't come with Mac OSX.

Q: How much you've spend for iTab?
A: Minus my time & labor, total still come less then a brand new low end MacBook.

Q: What's the spec of your MacBook?
A: Fisrt gen 1.83GHz CoreDuo, stock spec except I've change the internal HDD to 200GB 7200RPM drive. Wanted to upgrade the RAM, but need funding.

Q: What tools do you use?
A: Good question, I use no power tools. Here's what I've used:

1. Solder gun & solder
2. Hot glue gun
3. Screwdriver
4. A soft rubber with tape. They call it window strip. I use it to pad the gap of Intuos casing. After install the LCD, there should be extra 5mm gap
5. Tapes, loads of them, masking tape, double side tape, strong double side foam tape you name it
6. Hacksaw blade (can't afford the saw handle...lol)
7. Hand drill. Wanted to get a power drill, but over budget on buying other parts.
8. Not sure what they call this, it's a tool with grid line use to sand off rough edges on metal/wood.
9. Plier
10. Metal sheet cutter
11. Skid stopper (use it for the stand)
12. Sand paper (for sanding rough edges & making the skull logo)
13. Lastly and most important, a pair of hand that not afraid of getting cut, burn & electric shock.

Q: Where you get your parts?
A: Check below under the Parts Supply.

Q: How much time you've spend? Is it really full of May-July?
A: No. I work during daytime on weekdays. I only have couple of hours to work on this project after works. Being a designer in Malaysia meaning I usually required to stay late in office and without any extra pays. So I accomplish most of this project on weekends. But most of the time I was waiting for parts to arrive from around the world rather than working continously. I would say this project took me total 2 weeks top.

Q: Would you market it?
A: Have no intention/fund/ability to do so at the moment. But if there's a chance, why not?

Q: Where do I get that wallpaper?
A: Get it from NoriNori.

Q: Where you get your parts from?
A: Lumenlab.com forum for LCD kit, local forum for Intuos & some materials, eBay for the rest of it.

Q: What you plan to do with iTab?
A: LOL, use it. There's still some plan to explore and further improve iTab. Maybe iTab 2.0?

Q: Wow, I really like your build, can I contribute some donation?
A: Are you sure? But I would gladly receive them. Send paypal to me at weistudio@gmail.com

Parts supplier
Pen tablet: Wacom
MacBook: Apple
LCD & Driver board kid: Chen (cityhunterbj@hotmail.com)
Alunimum back casing: Not going to name them as they provide unsatisfied service
Grille: grilleguy.com
Stand: ikea

Special thanks
- Drewid, owner of bongofish, the first Cintiq DIYer
- My fiancé & family
- Geek buddies (you know who you are!)
- Malaysia Mac Users Group
- Members from various forum
- Engadget, MacMod, ubergizmo, MacPlus, TabletPC Review, gottabemobile & Hack-a-Day to feature my project


Does my guide works for you? do let me know

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