By Collin Allen

Apple Take-Apart Videos

November 15, 2006

If you’re at all interested in what goes on inside your iPod, or perhaps curious about upgrading or repairing your other Apple products, you’ll be disappointed to find that Apple is very tight-lipped about the details of disassembling your electronics. It’s almost as if they want the product to be a “black box” to you – don’t ask how. While service manuals are available to Apple technicians (and those who know where to look on the ‘net), there is one very useful resource you can use independent of Apple.

Other World Computing, reputable retailers of Mac hardware, accessories, and software, offers a number of large technical videos documenting the exact steps required to take apart and upgrade Apple hardware. Not surprisingly, these videos complement the iPod batteries and CPU upgrades they sell, however they are freely available for anyone wishing to see how the disassembly and upgrade is performed. Following along with a video is often far easier than trying to make sense of pictures and text of a service manual, making OWC’s free library an excellent resource for anyone looking to get inside their Mac or iPod.

Apple's Missteps

November 8, 2006

The AppleGazette has a great roundup of some of Apple’s past products which turned out to be a bad move, all of which are a far cry from today’s iPod pop culture phenomenon. Many of them were great inventions, but were simply too ambitious or too expensive at the time of their introduction. As we’ve seen, introducing a new product to the market not only takes an affordable price, but also accurate timing.

Case in point is the G4 Cube – it’s one of my favorite Macs despite the fact that I’ve never owned one, as obtaining one is still a rather costly venture. When it was originally introduced in 2000, it retailed for $1799, and today it will still fetch quite a few hundred dollars. Compare that to most PCs built in 2000, which now function as hand-me-down computers.

Another gem is the The Apple Lisa, an interesting piece of hardware which was the precursor to the Mac and was the machine on which Apple first debuted a graphical interface. Having the opportunity to have used a Lisa at a recent TCF-NJ display by The Mothership, I can can say that the Lisa is undeniably Apple, but feels like a bit of a hack, appearing much like an old pixellated DOS game. As with the Cube, the Lisa was prohibitively expensive for most at the time of it’s launch.

Perhaps all of the failed electronics Apple has “thought too different” about in the past have served as guidelines as to what not to do, leading them into the current upward trend we’re experiencing these days.

MacBook Pro HD Installation

November 6, 2006

Jason O’Grady (of PowerPage fame) recently ordered a stock Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro and published some of the technical details of installing a different SATA hard drive into the machine. He notes that the built-to-order Macs can sometimes take longer to ship, which is something I have experienced in the past, and can vouch for. In the hands of a capable technician, buying a completely stock Mac and upgrading it yourself can often be very beneficial for both your computer and your wallet. Apple tends to overcharge on pre-ship upgrades – especially RAM – but additional RAM can usually be installed without much difficulty. Hard drives are another story, though. Unlike it’s sibling MacBook, upgrading the Pro model hard drive is decidedly more complicated, but not impossible.

One of the most useful pieces of information during the upgrade is a take-apart manual for the MacBook Pro. When I overhauled my PowerBook G4, I used both the iFixit guide for my model, as well as the Apple Service Source documentation (which is all floating around the net). O’Grady used the iFixit docs too, and had great success disassembling his new machine and installing the new drive. Overall, it looks just like the sort of project I may attempt when I order my new Core 2 MacBook Pro – which will be sometime this month, funds willing.

Mac Mini/G4 Cube Hack

November 5, 2006

123macmini is featuring a mod in which the guts of a new Intel Mac Mini have been transplanted into a beautifully repainted G4 Cube, seen at right. To attain the “new Apple product box” look, the internal casing was removed and painted matte black. When the core of the computer is slid back inside the clear plastic cube, it looks very much like an Apple-designed piece of electronics, especially with the white illuminated logo.

The real achievements of this hack, though, are the technical ones inside the box. Like the original G4 Cube, the redesigned model had to be carefully packed into quite a tiny space, which is why the Mac Mini was an obvious source for donor components. To overcome some of the storage limitations, the stock 2.5” laptop hard drive that shipped with the Mac Mini was replaced with a 3.5” 500 GB desktop SATA hard drive, which brought much more storage and speed than laptop drives currently offer (as well as better video playback and recording, as you’ll see in a moment). However, a small 5v/12v power supply was required to run the new hard drive, as it draws considerably more power than the 2.5” drive. Wiring in the cube’s touch-sensitive power switch was a bit trickier than the plug-and-play hard drive, and required some rather detailed electronics work and reading up on the data sheet for the sensor. When completed, both the Mac Mini’s power switch and the Cube’s touch-sensitive switch can turn on the machine.

With power and storage out of the way, cooling was the next problem to tackle, as the Mac Mini’s fan didn’t push enough air to cool the whole assembly. A separate Zalman fan – originally intended for cooling video cards – was modified to lower the temperature of the Mac Mini’s CPU. To finish off the mod, an EyeTV Hybrid was attached externally to provide DVR capabilities, as well as Apple Remote integration. This G4 cube hack is one of the best looking and well executed Mac mods I’ve seen in a long time, so you’ll undoubtedly want to check out all the detailed step-by-step pictures.

Shuffle Reset

October 27, 2006

Owners of failing first generation iPod Shuffles will be pleased to learn that Apple has released a reset utility (for Mac and Windows), which completely wipes the flash storage and starts the iPod fresh. Normally, we think of an iPod “Restore” action having this effect, which is entirely true for hard drive based iPods. A hard drive based iPod can be restored after the drive has been completely overwritten with zero’s, so there’s no argument there. However, the iPod Shuffle must work differently, as they can get corrupted and become unusable. A corrupted iPod Shuffle just blinks orange and green lights, and refuses to appear on the desktop. Apple’s new updater communicates with the iPod USB controller chip – always available when plugged in, unless the problem is far more serious – and reloads the entire contents of flash, bringing your once-dead iPod back to life.

I think Apple must have used some utility like this in the past, at least internally, to reset returned iPod Shuffles. When mine failed a few months ago with the aforementioned problem, Apple was able to reload the contents and make it live once more, so I’m glad to see that this great tool is now available to the public. As this is one of the most common iPod Shuffle difficulties, the iPod shuffle Reset Utility should greatly decrease the number of necessary returns.