By Collin Allen

PowerBook Overhaul

December 13, 2005

Now that my PowerBook is over two years old, I decided it was time to invest some money and extend its life another few years until Intel-based Mac laptops – iBooks or PowerBooks – are readily available (which may not be as long as previously thought). This is by no means a how-to for upgrading your own PowerBook, but simply a run down of what it took to get my own back up to speed. Feel free to comment about your own upgrading experiences.

My PowerBook is a stock 1.25 GHz 15” Aluminum configuration, with the original 512 MB (2x256) RAM, 80 GB hard drive, and 2X SuperDrive. Two years ago, it was a killer machine and cost an absurd amount of money, but it’s nearing low-end by today’s standards. Such is life in the computer world.

What upgrades can be made to keep an aging PowerBook from gathering dust? By far the easiest upgrade is simply adding RAM to allow for more multi-tasking and memory intensive programs like Photoshop, Aperture, and other “pro” apps. To that end, I was able to obtain a single 1 GB stick of PC2700 memory, bumping the total installed RAM up to 1.25 GB. Unfortunately, I had to sacrifice a 256 MB stick to install the 1 GB, making the original decision to stick with two 256’s seem a bad one. At the time of purchase, though, upgrading to a single 512 MB module was expensive and didn’t increase capacity at all. Aluminum PowerBooks have an easily accessible RAM panel on the underside of the machine, allowing upgrades to be made with little effort.

Another reasonably affordable upgrade I decided to make was to swap out the SuperDrive for a newer, faster model. Having seen upgrades from MCE technologies advertised on MacNN a number of times, I decided to give them a shot, and purchased an 8X DVD±R/W DL “SuperDrive” from them. With it, DVD burning would be four times as fast, and double the capacity. After receiving the new drive, I discovered that while MCE offers a great piece of hardware at a reasonable price, their documentation is extremely weak. I only received a printed manual for installation into a Titanium PowerBook, which is older than mine.

Luckily, PBFixit offers great instructions on replacing various PowerBook and iBook components, complete with a guide for keeping all those tiny screws in order. Having never opened my PowerBook before, the upgrade took just over an hour. In addition to the tools listed by PBFixIt, you also might find some others useful: A dental pick, fine tweezers, a pair of hemostats, and a nylon pry tool or two. The hardest part of the upgrade was undoing the three clips just above the optical drive. (For reference, I was finally successful in removing the top of the PowerBook case by sliding it away from the screen to release the clips.) After unhooking the keyboard and trackpad ribbon cables, the top of the case can be pulled free. From there, it’s just a matter of moving the optical drive brackets to the new unit and dropping it in. Reassembling the PowerBook was very easy thanks to the PBFixIt guide.