The Computer Blog

Monday, July 28, 2008

Upgrading an iBook

Over the years, my wife and I have donated our old Macs to other family members who were interested in them; as a result, plenty of older Macs are still circulating throughout the family. One of them was finding its way from one of my wife’s nephews over to her sister, and my wife wanted me to upgrade the machine to make it as capable as I could. The Mac in question was a 12 inch 700 MHz G3 iBook with 384 MB of RAM, a 20 GB hard drive, and a combo drive. While memory in this notebook is user replaceable, the hard disk is not. That meant I was going to need some help.

I found that on the iFixit website. For those of you who haven’t been there, iFixit provides assistance and parts to help you upgrade most old things Mac. This not only includes older Mac desktops and notebooks but iPods as well. When deciding how I wanted to upgrade in my sister-in-law’s soon-to-be notebook, it was a review of the iFixit materials that convinced me what I could feasibly do. Replacing a hard disk in an iBook is not for the feeble of heart or non-mechanically inclined; but I had taken apart and upgraded “sunflower” iMacs and some PowerMacs, so I decided to tackle the iBook upgrade feeling only a little bit of uncertainty.

I performed the upgrade over this past weekend. It took me most of the day Saturday to take the iBook apart and most of Sunday to get it put back together, reloaded with an operating system and its original application software, and checked out. It was working just fine when I boxed it up for shipment yesterday with its expanded 640MB of RAM and a new 80GB Samsung hard drive. I could have upgraded the combo drive to a DVD burner but didn’t because my sister in law had not expressed an interest in it. Besides, I consider burning a DVD with only a G3 processor an exercise in wrestling with one’s own mortality and something not to be inflicted on the unwary carrying false hopes.

Here are a few notes about the job and what it took. If you want to step through the details of the job yourself, click here.
(1) I’ve never seen a computer held together by so many tiny screws. Some means of keeping them organized is absolutely necessary. I was working on the floor of my office, so I would take the screws and place them on the instructional page that referred to their removal. This works fine as long as you keep your kids, dogs, wives, or mistresses from entering the room; otherwise, you’ll need a bunch of Ziploc bags labeled to refer to the page number or procedure to help you keep your screws straight.
(2) Print out the instructional pages using a COLOR printer. The authors used color to differentiate the locations of different sized screws. On a black and white printer, YOU will be screwed because of this, pun intended.
(3) Review the entire job to make sure you’ve got all the tools necessary and the complexity of the job isn’t over your head.
(4) If you get tired, quit. There are lots of delicate components that you can break if you tug too hard, an easy thing to do if you’re frustrated.
(5) Don’t panic if every screw doesn’t go back where it should. Every screw has its place, but the iBook is generally designed to suffer some loses and still work fine.
(6) When you’re putting the keyboard back on, check you didn’t hook its connector up backwards by ensuring the keyboard will lie down like it’s supposed to.
(7) Be very careful not to break or lose the small plastic “lock” that holds the trackpad ribbon in place.

Once I finished the rebuild, I loaded up Jaguar (the operating system that came with the machine), hooked it up to my Ethernet network and ran Software Update until it wouldn’t. I also downloaded Safari 2 and Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.1 which appeared to be the latest version of those applications that would run on Jaguar. That’s not to say that’s what my sister-in-law’s final application set will be; she has a copy of Tiger (OS 10.4) she can load up on the machine which, anecdotally, will run fine. She also has a copy of Office 2004 to load that will also run fine, no matter which operating system she decides to stick with.

As I write this, Other World Computing has iBooks like that one in stock for as little as $150. If you have a relative who just wants a notebook to surf the web, read and write e-mail, and perform basic office work (using Office vX, Office 2004, or Apple Works), then you might take a look at one of those. And if you think you might like to buy one and upgrade it, then go to iFixit and download their handy, dandy guides. You can order your upgrade parts from them or from OWC; take your pick. Whichever you do, you’ll find you’ll have a nice little machine that runs OS X legally for less cost than one of them nasty and illegal Apple Clones. Apple will love you for it, and so will the relative that gets it.


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