Cheap graphics card for 2008 iMac?
June 4, 2014 8:16 PM   Subscribe

Apple iMac A1225 desktop computers from 2008 came with the notoriously unreliable Nvidia 8800GS graphics card that burns out and turns the iMacs into bricks. Getting a new Nvidia 8800GS graphics card costs about $650 for the part. Getting a used one on costs about $300. Is there a cheap alternative -- something that costs, say, $50? As I understand it, the only alternative is the ATI 4850, which go for about $300 used. Yet I find it hard to believe that there are no other graphics card options.
posted by Eiwalker to Computers & Internet (9 answers total)
Response by poster: Typo: I meant to say that getting a used Nvidia 8800GS costs about $300, not that getting a used one ON costs about $300.
posted by Eiwalker at 8:19 PM on June 4, 2014

I did a quick search of eBay for spare parts and you might do the same to find something cheaper.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:30 PM on June 4, 2014

Unfortunately, iMacs tend to use some extremely odd-shaped custom parts, and the graphics in the A1225 are no exception. You're pretty much stuck with using the same part, and $300 seems (from my limited research) to be the going rate - although I'm seeing the ATI 4850 for $287 new at one site.

Maybe try searching by Apple's part number for the thing, #661-5135?
posted by fifthrider at 9:36 PM on June 4, 2014

iMacs are built with laptop parts, and the graphics hardware isn't supposed to be user replaceable. It's modular, so it can be replaced, but getting it out is an enormous pain. What you're buying in this case is basically a spare part from an apple service center, not something that was ever sold in stores. For comparison sake, the real desktop version of that card (the 8800GT) costs about $15 used on ebay right now.

You may be better off cutting your losses and buying a newer machine (or at least, a newer used iMac). It seems silly to me to put a $300 part in a six year old computer.
posted by Oktober at 9:38 PM on June 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've investigated this repair, i've also worked on and disassembled these machines. There is no other options really besides the radeon 2600 pro, which also shipped in those models. The EFI "bios" will only recognize those.

This $120 board+card combo includes a 2600 pro.

I'd be hesitant to bother with this repair. These things are a HUGE pain in the ass to work on, and you have to be super ultra extremely careful at a lot of points. I have a somewhat massive amount of experience working on a wide variety of laptops(from huge gaming behemoths to ultrabooks), phones, all manner of desktops/servers and i've still ended up swearing after the plastic surround to a connector snapped off leaving dangling pins despite be releasing the cable correctly and other crap like that.

If you hunt around for a 2600 pro it'll work. Some ads miss-list it as the 2600xt by confusing it with the 2400xt. Note that you will need the 24in version as it has a different heatsink, and the heatsink from your 8800gs will NOT fit(different bolt pattern, different extrusions, etc). Would i bother? i don't know. The entire damn machine is probably worth about $400 used at this point fully functional.

If you really want to fix it though, do some digging and find a cheap 2600 pro. Personally i'd take some time to really think about whether it's worth fixing though. 6 years is really getting in to the long tail for a computer, it's like a 12-15 year old car. Could it be perfectly fine if it was well cared for, and ready for another few years of service? yea. But it's also not outside the range of time for it to be acceptable to start having serious problems that make you question continuing on with it if it's been used a lot.

I have a 2007 imac with a 2600 pro, and i'm basically just waiting for it to die. It's decent for what i do with it, but if i woke it up from sleep tomorrow and some part in it suddenly fried that made it questionably worth repairing like this i wouldn't be mad.

OH, and on preview to be totally clear here: This repair is only worth doing if you're doing it yourself and don't mind spending like, a good 3 hours doing it. You need giant suction cups made for fitting windows, and a bunch of other ridiculous crap. If you're paying someone to do this it's totally not going to be worth it. Scrap the thing on ebay for $200-250, i looked, this is what they go for, and go buy a used 21.5in imac(with the same display resolution!) for $500 or maybe even a bit less. You might even get a quad core if you score a good deal on craigslist. You'll end up spending less than you'll spend repairing this. My local apple authorized repair center charges $129 an hour for labor, and this is seriously a 2 hour job.

This is potentially a black hole project. Introspection is in order. This is not a 60s muscle car, or something really cool and rare that's worth spending more than it's resale value on repairing.
posted by emptythought at 12:42 AM on June 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: I wonder if the ATI 2600 Pro would work on my logic board, which presumably would have a different EFI chip. If I were to get the $120 combo on ebay and use that board, I'd be downgrading from 3.06 Ghz to 2.86 Ghz and losing wifi and bluetooth capability. If someone would sell a ATI Pro w/heatsink by itself, however, I might get it for $50.

Note: I would definitely repair it myself. In fact, I already have it opened up ready to go and I brought it in to the local Mac store yesterday to get it officially diagnosed. They said that, since I had the aluminum case off of it, they can now never repair it or even diagnose it. If a piece of equipment has been tampered with by a non-certified technician, they won't touch it, it will no longer be covered by AppleCare, etc.
posted by Eiwalker at 7:37 AM on June 5, 2014

Were it me, I'd take the broken video card to a place that does reball/reflow work and have them see if they can get the card working that way first.

In fact, I'm doing this for the video card of a similarly-aged Xserve today, for the same reasons.
posted by tomierna at 10:47 AM on June 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: oven bake
posted by Eiwalker at 11:28 AM on June 5, 2014

I wonder if the ATI 2600 Pro would work on my logic board, which presumably would have a different EFI chip.

You wouldn't have to downgrade like you're saying. The video card is a separate, removable unit. it's the piece circled here. It will absolutely work, as the 8800gs was a special order part they just slapped into that slot on the machine you have.

If you already have it torn down, all you'd need to do is pull that card+heatsink assembly out of the socket on your machine, pull the card out of that board i linked when it showed up, and swap the latter in. It's a completely snap out, removable unit that's only held down by a couple screws and a socket very similar to the RAM on that system.

You keep every other component except for the card. For verification of what i'm talking about with your machine using the 2600 pro, check this wiki page an scroll to 2008. The only model with the 8800gs(which on other sites you can google, shares the model number you posted) is the 24in 2008 model that also had the 2600 pro.

A reflow/rebake is NOT a permanent solution. I've done that to a lot of different hardware over the years. It works for a few months and dies again. Very, very rarely it works for longer. I've done it to an ATI 6990m in a very high end laptop which has run for over a year(but i did a lot of other work applying much nicer thermal compound, checking and modifying the air pathways, modding the vram coolers, and other things), but with the exception of that NO hardware i've reflowed has worked longer than 6 months. Especially on a system as hard to disassemble as an imac, i wouldn't do something as potentially finicky as a reflow. In addition to that, if you google around, the 8 and some of the 9 series of nvidia cards are very well known for failure especially in the mobile versions, and it's an issue with the GPU itself and a known recall on other devices manufactured with it(including the 8600m macbook pros). The 2600 pro will run forever. I've actually never heard of a failed one. I mean, do whatever you want, but i think labor wise reflowing an 8800gs is a total waste of time.

$120 is a reasonable price if you really want to fix the machine. You will not get it done even on your own for $50. If you aren't willing to spend more than $50, this is a good time to junk the machine. Personally, i'd probably do the same.
posted by emptythought at 2:29 AM on June 7, 2014

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