did they call you mad at university bwahahaha??
January 3, 2006 12:12 PM   Subscribe

macModFilter: I have an idea for a mod to my old machine that's beyond my abilities. Apple store geniuses say it can't be done. (pshaw.) How do I find a mad scientist in the SF Bay Area who will take a hack at it?

original 700mhz eMac. too slow now. I'm waiting until after MacWorld to get a new machine, but here's what I'd like to do:
Like the CRT, optical drive, ports, etc.
Hate the slow processor and the @&$*ing fan noise.
Let's say I get a mini as a replacement - it has no monitor and not enough ports on it. (I've already gotten great recommendations on how to accessorize the mini from AskMe - thanks!)
I'd like to somehow bypass the processor and thus the fan as well, but keep the CRT and the drive and extra ports, if possible.
I say there must be a way to bypass the logic board (?) and just drill some holes in the case allowing me to connect the monitor/ports to another machine.

Otherwise it'll be too big to keep around and I'll just have to dump/donate/ebay the thing.

I've looked and asked around, and I'm told that all I can do is overclock it. But that'll just make the cooling fan noise even worse.

AppleCare has expired, and I've pretty much gotten my money's worth out of it. I'd be willing to kill the machine in an attempt to make this work.

Anyone know a motivated individual who'd like to spend a weekend with a takeapart guide and a soldering iron?
posted by bartleby to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
You'll probably kill the mini in the process, too.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:24 PM on January 3, 2006

this is not going to be even remotely cost effective. note, in case you get the nutty idea to crack the case yourself, that the capaciters contain enough energy to kill you, even a day or so after it was last turned on.
posted by paradroid at 12:25 PM on January 3, 2006

I'm seconding this as at most an exercise in soldering. A decent 18" LCD will save your eyes and cost very little when compared with the headaches and warranty voidation you want to do, plus a new HD will be much more reliable, faster, and larger (although for the Mini it'll likely need to be external, but, this might still be faster than the internal 2.5" drive the Mini has).
posted by kcm at 12:31 PM on January 3, 2006

When it came to soldering the connections for the CRT : you'd have to first take the CRT apart and discharge the capicitor.

This is not something to take on lightly. I'd advise against it. You'd be paying a skilled technician hundreds and hundreds of dollars to do something like this, with a very high chance of failure.
posted by voidcontext at 12:33 PM on January 3, 2006

well...a project such as you suggest is not unheard of. before i say anything, let me point you to mini-itx ("the next small thing"), a website for people who like to make computers out of some pretty odd stuff. they would be a good starting point as far as getting the know-how for the project.

i would have said that the eMac rehabilitation project would be possible, if not simple, given the design of the machine. someone even took a classic mac and modernized it. normally, you would rip out the mainboard and other components of the eMac and put in your own. since you want to retain some of those components, like the drive and ports, i am afraid that the project becomes a lot more complicated.

the mac mini has its own specialized mainboard. any of the ports on the mac mini are likely integrated onto that mainboard, so if you were to perform a sort of transplant, you would have to concede the additional ports on the eMac. on the other hand -- although i am speculating -- it's probable that the hard drive bus is faster on the mac mini's mainboard than it is on the eMac's, so there is some benefit at least to such a move.

my experience with mainboards that already have processors seated with thermal grease between the socket and the processor is that the arrangement is permanent. i am not versed in any method that can unseat the processor without rendering the eMac mainboard an interesting ornament to wear at industrial music dance clubs. nor am i versed in any method to bridge the two mainboards in an attempt to get the best of both worlds.

worst of all, chances are any processor you can use with a mini-itx form factor mainboard is going to be x86 compatible -- no more osx, unless you can get your hands on an intel-ready version of the os.

hopefully something of this helps.
posted by moz at 12:34 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: Just to clarify:
I'm not planning on touching the mini at all.
Or saving the HD from the eMac.

I am a recently unfrozen caveman and I know little of your magical think-boxes, but I figure there must be a way to disconnect the CRT from the logic board and (after discharging deadly capacitors, of course) connect the CRT to an external monitor cable instead, to be connected to whatever new machine. Same with the USB & Firewire ports & ComboDrive if possible.

Then I'd give the board and the HD to the dog to play with.

Basically I want to turn a eMac into a dumb monitor + port replicator + external ComboDrive.

Still no?
posted by bartleby at 12:43 PM on January 3, 2006

your plan sounds weird..

here's what you should rather do:
open your emac, clean/change the fan, connect extra hdd to the ata plugs inside or via firewire, also add some sdram

if you get a mini than just buy a new monitor (nice crt 100$, nice lcd 200$)
posted by suni at 12:55 PM on January 3, 2006

Basically I want to turn a eMac into a dumb monitor + port replicator + external ComboDrive.

Still no?

without opening the eMac myself, it's hard to say. if there is anything about the eMac that allows it to accept display from another source, that could be your ticket. if the connection between the CRT and the mainboard is integrated, i think you may have hard luck there.

the usb and firewire ports are probably a loss. i can't imagine that they would not be integrated into the mainboard of the eMac. the combodrive, it's possible you can lift that -- but it probably couldn't be converted to an external drive as it is configured. again, the mac mini's slot loading drive is likely superior, so there probably wouldn't be a big win there, anyway.

i think, if you had your way, really you'd like to bridge the two mainboards. i just don't see that happening. i realize that this is playing something like a lowered expectations skit on madtv, but i applaud you for aiming high. it's just that these rehab projects usually don't fly unless they're full-on gut rehabs.
posted by moz at 12:57 PM on January 3, 2006

they're not asking how to do it; they're asking if anyone in the sf/bay area would be willing to attempt it.

i think you'd be best asking on a mac-specific board, because whether or not this is possible, and how to do it is likely going to require mac-specialist knowledge (the critical point, it seems to me, is whether there's a standard interface anywhere along the video display chain that you can hook into; alternatively it might be possible to replace the whole crt with one from a monitor with a standard video input).
posted by andrew cooke at 1:03 PM on January 3, 2006

Are you willing to pay to have this done? Or are you looking for someone who would be do it because it's fun?
posted by voidcontext at 1:09 PM on January 3, 2006

Basically I want to turn a eMac into a dumb monitor + port replicator + external ComboDrive.

Why not just sell the eMac and buy a monitor, usb/firewire hub and an extra external combo drive? You probably end up financially ahead compared with performing surgery on your eMac.
posted by andrewraff at 1:12 PM on January 3, 2006

I've been inside an eMac before, though I stayed far away from the CRT stuff. Unlike older iMacs, display does not appear to be connected to the mainboard using a standard VGA connector. If I'm wrong, however, your idea should work. Using the ports and disc drive would be pretty easy; I'd cannibalize a USB hdd enclosure and connect its guts to the ComboDrive.

In my experience, eMac displays die way before the rest of the computer. If you go through with this project, you should donate the guts to a geek friend who might want to use them to build a 700 MHz PPC webserver or something.

I think this is a cool idea, and if I overlooked the VGA connector, it should be possible. Finding somebody to do this kind of hack for you will be difficult. Nobody's willing to pay what a qualified hacker would charge for this sort of thing; this sort of project is funded by love alone.
posted by Eamon at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: void: sure, I'd pay someone to do it. Not a bajillion dollars, because pposters are right, it's not very cost effective. But I've got enough of a bug in my brain about this that I'd be willing to exchange a little $ for some Mac-Fu.

andre: because 'make what you want' is more fun than 'buy what they sell'. I know what I want, and I'l settle for a retail solution, but only after it's demonstrated to me that what I want is impossible.
posted by bartleby at 1:25 PM on January 3, 2006

I checked the service manual for the eMac. The ports are all soldered directly to the mainboard. So they'd have to be replaced completely. The display connectors for the CRT looks funky.

Also, the power supply apparently is controlled from the mainboard. So you'd still need to leave the mainboard in place, or else rig up an alternative method of controlling the power supply.

It looks like what you're asking is possible. But it would require extensive knowledge and skill.
posted by voidcontext at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2006

Something like this should be more or less possible, but would be a severe PITA.

Here's a page showing an eMac disassembly. Near as I can tell, the eMac does not use a standard video connector (why bother? it's all internal and you'll never touch it, right?). In theory, it could probably be soldered up to a standard VGA connector, but you'd need to know the pin assignments for the wires. Not sure where to look for that info.

For the connectors on the side, you'd probably wind up ripping out what is there and installing some kind of port-replicator (which might be a homemade piece of plastic) that connected to the mini via conventional cables.

That leaves the optical drive; I'm guessing you could probably run an IDE cable from the drive in the eMac to the motherboard in the Mini, but that would require minor surgery on the mini. All you'd really need is the right cables, some flat plastic, a Dremel, and some silicone caulk to spooge over everything.

I'll echo the cautions about the lethally high voltages that persist in the eMac's monitor.

I am sure someone out there could do this. However, his time will be worth a lot more than the price of a shiny new LCD monitor.
posted by adamrice at 1:27 PM on January 3, 2006

Here's the link to the technician's service manual.
posted by voidcontext at 1:28 PM on January 3, 2006

Err, edited the wrong paragraph there. "homemade piece of plastic" should be followed by "All you'd really need is the right cables, some flat plastic, a Dremel, and some silicone caulk to spooge over everything."
posted by adamrice at 1:29 PM on January 3, 2006

Let me get this straight. You want to pay someone to turn a fully-functional computer worth $400 into a 64-pound paperweight so you can get one extra USB port & one extra Firewire port for your Mac Mini, and use a slower Combo drive than the one built into your computer?
eBay the eMac, get yourself a nice flat screen with built-in USB ports, and take a long hard look in the mirror.
If you like the novelty of having an eMac on your desk, you could use something like VNC to control your Mac Mini, but that's just silly.
posted by designbot at 1:33 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: oh, now don't be mean, designbot. I've got a display and a set of peripherals & ports in a form factor that I've grown quite fond of (it was my first mac), but the brain just isn't up to speed anymore.

I like the 64lb paperweight for one thing because I live in a small space and so it's my TV as well. I don't want the viewing-angle hassles of an LCD or some other big ugly CRT. The box fits just right, looks clean, and has all the things I use without being a bunch of sloppy cables and mismatched parts; so I'd like to keep it. I just want to give it a new brain.

So yes, it seems silly to buy what amounts to not just an external HD, but an entire external computer (a mini cabled alongside the emac, doing all the processing running the display and a second CD drive and ports in the eMac ) so that I can continue using the eMac form factor. If I could upgrade the board, I would - but it's not a wintel box. The mini's a 'headless' computer, and I have a 'head' that I've grown attached to. Why not try to hook them up?

Ever had a POS car you loved, that you wish you could keep running, or even run better? I dunno, maybe you did the math and traded it in for a new Geo or Hyundai instead beacuse it came out even cheaper; but that's not me.
posted by bartleby at 2:47 PM on January 3, 2006

Sorry, sorry, I was unnecessarily harsh.

Obviously, Macworld may change everything, but, given the current specs of the Mac mini, this seems like it would give you everything you want: You'd end up with the form factor you want, a better optical drive, all the ports, and identical specs to the top-of-the-line Mac mini for about $300.

If it's really important to you to keep your actual eMac unit, you may find something useful here.
posted by designbot at 3:22 PM on January 3, 2006

Bartleby--Modern LCD monitors really do have good viewing angles. If you're pressed for space, you can get a VESA mount and hang it off the wall so it takes up exactly zero desk space.

I respect and commend the urge to do something hackerish and craftsy with the old eMac, but in this case, you come out behind by any measure (cost, space, image quality) except for personal "look what I did!" satisfaction. If that's good enough for you, great. If not, reconsider—maybe keep the eMac as a self-contained unit, but use it in a different context (say, facing up under a glass tabletop, I dunno) as a way to give it new life.
posted by adamrice at 3:22 PM on January 3, 2006

Sorry, make that about $400. Still saves you $279 over a Mac mini with comparable specs (and half the hard drive space).
posted by designbot at 3:25 PM on January 3, 2006

Best answer: I've personally opened an eMac and stripped it to the chassis, and put it back together again. That machine is an absolute nightmare to open and work with. All I wanted to do was pull the HD out to stick it in a USB box and make a backup of the data on it. To do so I had to practically remove everything except the CRT.

Because of the intricate, puzzle-like way they put everything together, and because of the insane number of screws in various bit types, and because all the parts are odd parts, fiddly, or fragile and because of the close proximity of everything to the giant exposed main coils on the CRT, it took me about 24 hard-sweating hours working off and on to strip it, remove the HD, and put everything back together again. You can't even properly discharge the CRT coils until you've removed about 60-80% of the components. One slip and you're liable to get a brain and heart jumpstart.

There are about a 5-10 high-torque screws literally centimeters from the exposed CRT coil. Worse, they're in odd places, and you have to use a screwdriver at an angle that drastically increases the likelihood of slipping and jamming your driver right into the coils.

The thing is so strangely and arcanely designed and constructed that I have few ideas how they actually manufactured the thing in large numbers and turned a profit on them. I suspect they used armies of tiny magic elves and fairies kept hopped up on psychtropic drugs.

Almost all of the components and subcomponents are either hardwired or using proprietary connectors, except maybe for the HD, the CD, and the RAM slots. Nothing about the innards of the eMac make any sense other than "save space!" or possibly "make it impossible to work on!" or even "frustrate the donkey-stuffing crap out of any tech who dares to open this machine!"

I'm no slouch, either. On a scale of 1-10 of computer and electronics-related electro-mechanical aptitude, I'm about an 11 or 12. I can strip whole servers down to individual parts in a matter of minutes merely using my Leatherman and my bare hands. MacGuyver is a rank, mewling amateur next to my mad skills.

I'm not in the Bay Area, but I would charge a minimum of $250 just to open the thing, look at the innards, and shake my head in consternation while muttering "Oh, dear God, why!?" under my breath. I'd probably ask for $300-500 to replace the HD. Just to attempt to do what you're talking about I'd probably quote you $1000-2000 - minimum - with zero promises it would ever work at all. And 90% of those quotes are simply "Royal pain in the ass" fees. It's that much of a joyless hassle.

And to put those quotes into perspective, I would normally charge as little as $50-100 or perhaps even less (plus customer provided parts) to build a custom mid-to-upper-range PC from scratch, install the (customer provided) OS and any needed software, configure it and put it online.


I too support and encourage hacking endeavors, doing it yourself, and even wantonly breaking things in the name of learning and exploration. By all means, have at it. Go nut.

But pick your battles. I'd personally rather wrestle with an angry thresher shark in a lemon juice ocean while wearing a three piece suit made out of live, mad badgers, with nettle underpants full of baby crocodiles and an Africanized beehive as a hat.

It'd be vastly easier to just gut the eMac, buy a Mini, LCD, and a USB/Firewire hub and install it inside the hollowed out, cavernous shell of the eMac. You could probably throw a few USB harddrive boxes in there as well.
posted by loquacious at 7:36 PM on January 3, 2006 [2 favorites]

Go nut.

NUTS! Go nuts!
posted by loquacious at 7:37 PM on January 3, 2006

I agree with everything that loquacious has just written.

The eMac is a sordid piece of "engineering" which will cause confusion for just about anyone opening it.

Chief among the (many) complaints about the design are a power supply which is melded with the CRT high-voltage and CRT video circuitry. Should the low-voltage power supply go bad? Replace the $500 analog board. Should the flyback transformer go weak? Replace the $500 analog board. Should the video go wonky? Replace the $500 analog board.

Really. It's THAT BAD.

I have one that I just brought back from the Apple Store's Genius Bar for a $500 quote on a bad analog board. I'm going to part the fucker out.
posted by tomierna at 9:13 PM on January 3, 2006

Response by poster: loquacious: So, you're not volunteering?

You win. I dig your fashion sense, tho.

sigh. fine. maybe i'll just make some wireless eyephones or something.

Smart grownup: "Imagine you're in a sealed metal box. How do you get out?"
Smarter 7 year old: "Stop imagining it."
posted by bartleby at 9:24 PM on January 3, 2006

Thanks for the best answer flag, bartleby, and thanks for taking it the right way. By no means was all the above angst directed towards your person - not in the slightest - merely at the horrifying chimera that is an eMac. Curiosity is golden, and I don't mean to discourage that at all.

And I too harbored thoughts along the lines of "Well, it's a modern computer, it has to be at least a little upgrade-able!", thoughts which vanished the moment I saw the terrifying insides which were once hidden by the sleek, opaque white plastic shell.

Truth be told, the eMac is a nifty little, err, big box. It's a handy all in one tool. But not really hack-able in any conventional sense.

If you've got money to throw at a hack project like that, and you're as pressed for space as some of the folks I know that live in SF and surrounding areas, my suggestion is simply this:

Buy a Mini, or the G4 or G5 of your choice, a suitable flat panel - used if you like - and an inexpensive USB 2.0 hub. Consider an external drive. Get your keyboard and mouse, if needed, speakers, etc. Or use a boombox or home stereo or what have you as speakers to save space and/or money. And invest in some cable management supplies like velcro cable ties and sticky-back velcro to tie it all together and give you that all-in-one feel and functionality.

Then donate the eMac to a worthy institution - with the spoken caveat of "Hey, it might have a few years left in it. It's useful now. But if it breaks it's probably not worth repairing. But it probably could be sold as parts on eBay at that point."

And SF and the Bay Area are brimming with worthy institutions. Homeless shelters, soup kitchens, art programs for kids or adults, ecological concerns and more. Even something like a (marginally) for-profit independent coffee shop - a free public Mac at a good coffee shop could probably do as much public good as it could at a shelter or soup kitchen. Or give it to a needy family.

Hit me up when you've got a pair of affordable wired or wireless eyephones. I'd totally buy a pair.
posted by loquacious at 12:25 AM on January 4, 2006

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