Tuesday, December 26, 2006

How I built a Macintosh G4 Tower. Sort of.

(Actually done November 2007)

Trash to treasure - build a G4 Macintosh from junk parts.

Well, my trusty G4/867 Quicksilver bit the dust. When I bought the new G5 iMac, it was relegated to the upstairs loft, where my wife used it for email, solitaire, mah jongg and some word processing. Nothing really important, but it was her computer. AND it was dead. AND she was starting to complain about using MY computer. I offered her the vacation home G5 iMac, but noooooo, she wanted to keep using the 17" video display.... So not only was the computer dead, things around the house were starting to get a bit... noisy.

SO, I took a look at it. What the hell, it does have that nice side door and loads of room inside, and I AM a ham radio guy, so I figured I'd at least give it a look. You can't kill something TWICE, after all, so in I went. Once I unplugged it and removed the cables, it was obvious (logical, anyway) what had happened -- all the vent holes were sealed shut with seven years' worth of grime. It seemed apparent that the power supply had simply baked itself to death.

But I had a good investment in this baby. Over the years I had swapped out the CD-RW drive for a CD/DVD SuperDrive ($275) and it DID have that thousand dollar 17" cinema display, after all.

I sure didn't want to spring for a new power supply, either. Not only the cost, but simply removing the old and installing the replacement looked daunting.

What to do, what to do? The answer turned out to be on eBay. Right there in front of me was a G4/867 on a one-day auction. Easy enough. I bought this baby for $89 (!) plus shipping cross-country -- $140 in total.

Then I took apart the dead one. The Superdrive came out, the RAM and the 60 gig hard drive. A little research said that I could stack the two HDs together in the eBay special; I just had to move a jumper on one from Master to Slave position. So now there are 2 HDs (60 + 40) in there. No data lost, either. Wifey's original 60 gig was perfect. I swapped out the CD drive for the SuperDrive easy enough, and combined the RAM to 1.28 gigs (near double what I had previously). Plugged it in and VOILA! -- A like-new (well, a working) Quicksilver. Almost. Seems that the previous owner must have poked out the speaker (a common problem with that design). So, back to el morto Mac and I removed the internal speaker. This speaker doesn't have a jack (at least I didn't find one) -- so I had to clip the speaker wires -- but it's out and ready to be soldered into the eBay special. But, because I have the original Mac clear acrylic globe speakers plugged in, I haven't bothered to take it apart yet and wire the speaker in.

All of this work took less than an hour. You gotta admit, an hour and $140 for a G4/867 Mac ain't bad.

Plus, I now have a spare video card, some other card, a CD RW drive, a dead power supply to play with, a replacement motherboard, two spare 128 meg DIMMS, a spare internal ZIP drive, AND a box. I could have used one special tool -- a small Phillips head screwdriver with the clip on the end to hold the screw in place until the threads catch. You need that for changing the optical drive (or, you can do what I did and just use some scotch tape to hold it for a few seconds).

So yes Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus. You can kluge together a G4 Mac for next to nothing. Buy a couple of identical Mac towers and build your own. Try to find ONE with a SuperDrive, and lots of of RAM. The G4 has three slots and they don't have to be filled with identical DIMMS. Look for Macs with 896 megs of RAM (512 + 256 + 128) or more so you have a nice assortment to combine (512 + 512 + 256, or even another 512 if you get really lucky). Mine ended up with 1280 -- not bad since the machine maxes out at 3 512s, or 1536, so it's "close enough" to max. Not bad, if I say so myself. It's also running 10.4.11, and (because it's a G4/867) is even Leopard-compatible.

And don't forget to vacuum those vents on the back every once in a while.

Edit: 12/3/2008 -- The FrankenMac stopped working!! Horrors!! I opened it up and wife, who was standing there, took one look and pointed, saying "is that a battery?" So I went into the attic, yanked the battery out of the old parts Mac, and... TADA!!! All's well with the world again! (I ordered a new one on the web right away). 12/9 -- the battery came, and it's in and running well. Thank you, Apple, for making the battery very easy to find, and pop-outtable (not soldered in). Then I downloaded the Widget MAINTIDGIT and installed it. Wow! The crons haven't run for 6 months! I forgot to repair permissions, though; that's the next job. Still haven't soldered in the internal speaker yet, either. I wonder where I put it....

Edit: 7/30/2009... It's dead again -- won't turn on. Maybe the power supply. Not worth fixing any more, so I'll pull out all the parts and try to sell them on eBay. I wanted an excuse to buy a new Intel Mac, anyway. Maybe even an iMac AND a MBP! Time to upgrade. Wife can have one of the the G5 iMacs and I'll sell the other. Divorce can be so painful (and expensive).

Edit: 3/24/2011... In two days, all my G4 Quicksilver stuff will go into the back of my pickup and hauled off on my county's annual electronics recycling day. Out it goes. I already have one G5 iMac surplus to my needs. I guess I'll keep the 17" cinema display and try to sell it on eBay, but all else is destined for the recycling fires of China.