LCD Smartie

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LCD Smartie is a software that helps the computer to interface with a character or graphical LCD. It can show any stats about the computer on the LCD and it is very popular among PC enthusiasts because it allows them to keep track of their computer when they’re watching a movie or playing a game. It’s not convenient to switch back and forth between full screen mode and desktop mode to check on things. Also, some PC case modders like to put LCDs onto the front of the casing for some extra coolness. Do check out their site here.

As you can see from the screenshot, LCD Smartie can handle almost anything on your computer. It can display CPU usage, RAM usage, check your e-mails, check RSS feeds, monitor Internet speed, view your songs and with extra plug-ins, it can do even more.

The first step is to connect the LCD to the computer. For simplicity, the computer must have a built-in parallel port (LCD Smartie doesn’t support USB to Parallel adapters). For non-geeks, here’s a background on parallel ports. Parallel ports are almost history now. It was on computers since the 70s and it is used to connect printers (mainly) to the computer (just think of it like USB). I was born in 1990 and I had the privilege of using parallel ports till I got a new printer in year 2003. Parallel ports suddenly went extinct and printers started using USB. This was understandable because USB is much faster and the port is much simpler (only has 4 pins compared to 25 pins and this increases reliability). I remembered my printer started printing garbled words and it turns out that the cable was wearing out. No such things happening now eh? Oh yeah, here’s how a parallel port looks like.

For unfortunate users that don’t have a parallel port on their computers, the LCD can be interfaced by a microcontroller and the microcontroller can be connected to the computer through USB. That’s another topic but for now let’s focus on parallel ports. I’ve wrote a new post about this, you can read it here.

For laptop users, most certainly your laptop does not have a parallel port (unless you have a laptop more than a decade old). For desktop users, if you don’t see a parallel port, don’t lose hope yet. This is the back of my desktop. No parallel port right?

If you have a modern desktop computer, most likely the back of it looks somewhat similar to mine. These days manufacturers pack all sorts of IO ports like HDMI, DVI, SPDIF, Firewire, E-Sata, etc and no wonder they do not have room for a parallel port. Now, the manufacturer can choose to just omit the port from the system or create a parallel port pin on the motherboard so you can add a PCI bracket. Luckily mine still has the pin on the motherboard and I can get a PCI bracket like this to add a parallel port to my computer.

To check if the pin is present, go look on the surface of your motherboard for this, it will be marked LPT :

If you still can’t find it, the last resort is to get a Parallel PCI card like this but it might not work due to different chipsets, etc.

Do take note that your computer must have a PCI slot for this to work (new motherboards do not have any PCI slots and PCI is NOT PCI-Express).

Ok, now to connect the LCD to the parallel port, refer to the schematics below :

If you’re a geek (or rather an old one like me), you will find a parallel cable lying around your house. I dug one out of my old printer box and it’s a DB25 to DB36 type. Initially I thought it was no good but the small pin holes on the DB36 is perfect for inserting a jumper wire in it, the hole size is just right. Here’s what a DB36 parallel port look like :

You can still buy parallel cables in Lowyat around RM10 to RM20 depending on the length. If you plan to use the LCD on a breadboard, buy the DB36 type so that you can insert jumper wires in it.

This is how I connected the LCD to the parallel cable.

It’s a mess but at least it works 🙂 Oh yeah, you need an external 5V power supply for the LCD. The parallel port doesn’t provide any power.

Here’s a video of LCD Smartie in action :

Try out LCD Smartie and have fun!

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