Basically the install is very easy and straight forward, and you should be able to do it yourself with just the right stuff.|
First step, go buy one of these VFD's from BGMicro on this page it is "The Intelligent Display" item ACS1385 and its only $14.95 right now. If you get a different one then this might not help.
Also get a male to female serial (DB-9) cable there for like $2.25 or sumtin its much cheaper than at Fry's. You will also need a 4pin to mini 4 pin converter cable thingamajig that goes from the normal 4 pin molex to a 4 pin floppy power cable. They are like $1.99 or sumtin at Fry's maybe BGMicro has one cheaper, but I don't know.
Here's the Serial Cable
The first thing I did was to make a power cable for the VFD out of the floppy molex thingamajig.
You can see it here. I used the black for ground and the red because it is the 5v line and it needs 5v. Also you'll need to cross the ground and the 5v because they are in different places on the back, as you could see for yourself if you buy one. The floppy power connector just happened to be the same size and spacing as the 4 pins on the back where the power go so I used one because it's easier that way.
As you can see in the picture a serial cable can simply plug into the side, but it sticks out pretty far and you'll have to mod the cable. We'll get to that later.
This is a picture of it lit up after I got the power hooked up and the serial cable plugged in and had it programmed using LCDC.
This VFD is very nice and really easy to hook up. Unfortunately, it is a bit too big to fit in a CDRom drive bay, but it s possible to make it fit.
Now for the actual install.
You will need a hot glue gun (works best), some masking tape, a dremel, and some cutting and sanding attachments for it. I used the ones that I got in the Dremel cutting tool assortment thing from Fry's for a little bit less than $10.
The very first and probably most important thing to do is to cover the slot cover in masking tape. This will help to hide those times when you accidentaly touch the top where you didn't want to cut by cutting the masking tape instead of the plastic.
You will want to place the VFD on it upside-down when you mark the tape for cutting and put the face on it. You do it upside-down because the VFD is a bit to tall for the slot cover, but it can easily hang down and if its up too high it will hit on the drives above it, and if its down too low then it won't go into the slot cover because of the little plastic thing that hangs down of the display.
After I cut it out mine looked like this.
Not too bad of a cutting job I think.
Also you will need to use the sanding attachment to shave down the edges and to get rid of the little bits of cut plastic still clinging to the rest of it. Also I had to use it to shave off the little plastic support bars on the back of the cover so it would fit smoothly. Unfortunately I cut it a bit too close on one side and had to go and fix it, and added a bit of an "artistic touch" which the accidental curve on the right side in the picture.
Now remove the masking tape.
Then once it is in it is best to glue it in place using a hot glue gun, but unfortunately I didn't have one so I had to tape it in place for now using some electrical tape :(.
Here's a picture of the VFD hanging out of the front of my case after being plugged in and assembled.
And the final result.
Now onto the modding of the cable. I did this before I started to cut the cover and after I had it working on the regular serial cable. My VFD only needed to use two different pins and I think most are the same way. I could have used the TTL input instead but that seemed more complex since a coverted box is needed to conver serial to TTL.
I took a serial cable and cut it in half. Each of the wires were colored but some were the same color and I didn't know which color was what. I knew that the VFD only needed to use pins number 3 and 5. 5 was ground and 3 was for the signal, I believe that most VFD's and LCD's are the same way too.
Now since I didn't know which cables they were I looked at the end on the female side, and the holes there were numbered. I thought hmmm, and so I went and grabbed a trusty Ohm meter. I put the black cable (-) into the hole marked 5 and then used the red (+) on each of the different wires inside that I had stripped. When the meter went all the way to the right I knew I had cable number 5, then I did it once again for cable 3, and after that I cut off the rest so they wouldn't be in my way. Finally I crammed both of the two wires into the serial plug on the VFD into the corresponding holes and taped them in. Cable Successful.
And now onto the question of what software should I use?
You can use LCDC LCDC, or you might prefer to make your own. There are also different programs to do this but most were too buggy to use. Unfortunately LCDC doesn't come with support for the BGMicro VFD so I had to make my own definitions file for it. Available here. Also it is only a 30 day trial version with a long (10sec) nag screen on opening and closing, so I don't really like it too much. It costs $17.50 to register.
Another thing you can do is to make your own either in c++ or VB. Just use the MSComm control and start using the MSComm.output whatever. I am currently making my own since I don't really like LCDC too much because of the nag screens, and you can download it here.