Thermal Paste: The Vehicle of Cool

May 8, 2009 Hardware — Andrew Goldberg

Ever wonder why that green stuff in your car’s radiator is so important? Those of us that have a car with a leaky cooling system know that sitting in traffic puts the temperature needle in the red zone —  which has the potential to destroy the engine. The green coolant transfers heat from the engine to the radiator, keeping the engine cool and happy.

Thermal paste applied to the surface of a processor serves a similar purpose. During normal operation, a computer’s processor generates heat that transfers via thermal paste to a heat sink. The heat sink can be cooled either by a fan or a liquid cooling system. If you reassemble a computer without using thermal paste, air is the only substance to conduct heat between the processor and the heat sink.

A pocket of air surrounding your body insulates your skin from a cold environment. This effect is exactly what we do not want to subject our processor to. An insulated processor will quickly overheat, most likely causing permanent damage. Thermal paste is an excellent conductor of heat and is essential for keeping the processor temperature in check.

We created a guide on how to remove and apply thermal paste correctly. This procedure was performed on a MacBook Unibody, but the general steps can be used for any computer, whether Apple, PC, desktop, or laptop. However, be mindful that you never have to re-apply thermal paste during regular computer maintenance — only when you separate a processor from a heatsink. We love keeping you and your computer happy, and we hope you find the guide useful!

iPhone 3G Front Panel Replacement

April 24, 2009 Hardware, Repair Guides, Site News — Miro

Go to our iPhone 3G Front Panel Repair Guide to get complete step-by-step instructions for replacing your broken glass!

Imagine this scenario: You’re late for a meeting. To make matters worse, you find that your bike tires are extremely low. As you’re hastily pumping up the tires, The Boss calls your iPhone 3G. He usually doesn’t call your personal line, but this time it’s personal — his butt’s on the line, since you’re bringing his presentation to the meeting. You’re juggling many things in your mind, including the virtual beating you’re going to receive for being late, all the while not realizing that the sweat on your hands is making the iPhone quite slippery. Everything changes in one split-second flash: the iPhone 3G shoots out of your well-oiled hand and has an intimate chat with Mr. Concrete. The result? A cracked iPhone 3G screen, not to mention an even-more-furious boss due to your inability to pick up the phone. While iFixit can’t get you a new job in the bicycle sales industry, we can show you how to fix your iPhone 3G’s cracked screen.

The first thing to know to is what part you need to replace. On the original iPhone display, the glass, touchscreen digitizer, and LCD display were inseparably glued together. Fortunately, Apple changed their design and the iPhone 3G front panel glass is not glued to the LCD behind it. This is great news, because most of the time when you break the glass the LCD itself is fine. The front panel is available online at iFixit for $70, a bit cheaper than the LCD itself.

Opening the iPhone 3G is definitely simpler than the first generation iPhone. The original required a wide array of tools (including a dental pick) to remove the back panel. Apple’s designers decided to be nicer with the 3G, but weird tools like suction cups are still needed to make the opening procedure easier. Removing two Phillips screws and a small pull with the suction cup open the iPhone 3G. Don’t pull too hard, however– several cables still hold the two sides in place.

Disconnecting the display assembly from the rest of the iPhone 3G is as easy as 1-2-3 — literally. Apple was nice enough to number the black ribbon cables “1,” “2”, and “3,” allowing for a no-brainer disconnecting procedure. However, people attempting this at home should be careful to not break any connectors while trying to remove them.

Just like anyone can be linked to Kevin Bacon via six degrees of separation, six screws prevent the display from being separated from the front panel. The screws are very small in size and have #00 Phillips heads. An injudicious flick of the wrist will misplace them forever, so one should take care to keep them in a safe place. Scotch tape is your friend. We like to tape each set of screws down to a sheet of paper and write down where they came from.

To separate the display from the glass, you have to carefully insert a metal spudger between the two metal rails along the edge of the display assembly. A word of caution, however: metal spudgers are the double-edged swords of the iPod and iPhone repair worlds. They are incredibly useful due to their hard metal edge, especially for tight crevices where plastic tools are too soft to be used. However, the hierarchy of hardness dictates that “like scratches like,” meaning that everything softer than the metal spudger will be easily scratched. Unfortunately the list includes pretty much every surface of the iPhone 3G. A metal spudger can also bridge electrical connections, potentially shorting the iPhone 3G’s logic board if you’re not careful.

Glue prevents the removal of the plastic touch screen from the rest of the front panel. The glue loosens when heated, and consequently a heat gun comes in very handy for this procedure. However, too much heat gun action can warp the front panel, as well as leave nasty burns on your hands (nobody likes playing hot-potato with an iPhone 3G front panel).  Hair dryers are preferable if they provide enough heat — a safer (and more readily available) alternative.

Getting everything apart is hard enough, but it’s only half the task. The new touch panel now needs to be adhered to the front panel. iFixit includes a set of cut-to-shape 3M double-sided tape strips with every iPhone 3G front panel purchase. Alternatively, the home user can also use double-sided tape — it’s trickier than the pre-cut pieces, but can be done.

Repairing the iPhone 3G’s screen is a difficult, yet rewarding undertaking. A quick lapse in judgment can certainly provide a couple of good stories for next day at the office — stories such as why you have a melted iPhone front panel attached to your right hand, for example. Although the difficulty is relatively high, the cost of replacing the entire iPhone (as opposed to just the front panel) is even higher. A little patience along with good tools, parts, iFixit’s disassembly guide, and a couple of hours will enable anyone to fix their iPhone 3G display for $70.

New 15″ PowerBook G4 1.67 GHz Hi-Res Guide

April 16, 2009 Hardware, Repair Guides — Miro

We recently published an all-new guide for the PowerBook G4 Aluminum 15″ 1.67 GHz laptop. This machine features a higher resolution screen than any previous 15″ PowerBook, with a 1440×960 pixel display, and can be identified by the model number of A1138 printed on the lower case.

Although very similar to earlier PowerBook G4 15″ Aluminum machines from the outside, the Hi-Res version did have some distinct differences that warranted an all-new guide. Here are some highlights:

  • The DC & sound board is much easier to access in the Hi-Res model. Removing the display and logic board is no longer necessary, making replacing the DC & sound board a far simpler task.
  • We’re not sure why Apple did this, but this particular computer is very picky with its optical drives — most other SuperDrives across the range of Apple computers will not function properly in this model. If you install a SuperDrive that is set as a master, you’ll find that your PowerBook won’t boot. Drive differences aside, the SuperDrive removal procedure is similar to earlier guides, but does have a few minor changes.
  • Speakers are a different shape and have to be removed in a different manner. As may be apparent by now, Apple likes to mix things up a bit. We don’t know if the speakers sound any better, but their different shape results in slightly different removal instructions.
  • Screws are in different locations. Apple has also changed the locations for the screws, complicating the process for people who tried using previous models’ guides. Our new guide eliminates the need to worry about forgetting the last screw and having to throw away the logic board.

Please browse the guide and let us know what you think. We’re always open to suggestions on how to improve our guides!

MacBook Unibody Backlit Keyboard Upgrade

March 25, 2009 Hardware — brady
MacBook Unibody 2.0 GHz and its Future Backlit Keyboard

MacBook Unibody 2.0 GHz and its Future Backlit Keyboard

We have finally answered the question some of our users kept asking: “Can the MacBook Unibody 2.0 GHz be upgraded to a backlit keyboard?” We were able to successfully switch the non-backlit keyboard to a backlit keyboard on our MacBook Unibody 2.0 GHz machine! You don’t have to regret purchasing an earlier version of the Unibody if you really wanted a backlit keyboard. However, the upgrade process is certainly not easy.

The keyboard is integrated into the MacBook Unibody’s upper case (along with pretty much all other internal components). You will have to remove everything from the upper case, including the display assembly, in order to replace the upper case. The most useful tips we can provide are to keep track of your screws because they can be easily misplaced, and to take your time while reassembling the Unibody. Nobody appreciates putting everything back twice because of a small cable that was left disconnected.

We will be making a set of take-apart guides for the MacBook Unibody in the near future. Although it’s not a substitute for our very-detailed guides, you can use the MacBook Unibody First Look to get a general understanding of how to go about replacing the upper case.

Please comment on your experience with this upgrade — we would love to hear from you! Keep on tinkering!

New iPod Touch 1st Generation Guide

March 19, 2009 Hardware, Repair Guides — Miro

Hot on the heels of the updated iPod 5th Generation (Video) guide comes the brand-new, never-before-seen iPod Touch 1st Generation guide. We rolled out all the usual bells ‘n’ whistles with this set of instructions, and in the process learned a bit about the iPod Touch.

Here’s a summary of all the fun stuff that we did:

  • The opening procedure — usually the hardest part of working on any iPod — has been presented in extreme detail to prevent any potential mishaps.
  • The battery replacement guide shows how to solder your new battery to the logic board. Unsoldering the old battery and soldering in the new battery is quite challenging. Users attempting this procedure should definitely take their time and have the appropriate materials available. A third hand is definitely recommended because the iPod logic board is very light and tends to move around while you work.
  • Color-coded action bullets (such as the red Phillips screwdriver bullets on Step 12) clearly indicate the action to be performed.
  • All instructions were designed to make your life happy by showing you how to complete a task in as few steps as possible.

The iPod Touch 1st Generation guide is up now. We worked hard on making it awesome, but we’d really appreciate your feedback. Post a comment on the guide, and we’ll integrate the best suggestions!

Apple Unlocks Bluetooth in iPod Touch 2G

March 17, 2009 Hardware — luke

Today, Apple announced the forthcoming release of iPhone OS 3.0. After almost two years, we’re now finally able to cut, copy, and paste! What took so long?

Although the new OS runs on existing iPhone and iPod Touch hardware, the new OS unlocks a hardware feature we’ve known about for six months. With OS 3.0, Bluetooth is now available on the iPod Touch 2nd Generation. We found a hidden Bluetooth chip inside the Touch when took it apart last September. However, at that time, Apple refused to confirm that the iPod Touch included Bluetooth, and provided no software means to utilize the Bluetooth chip.

Unfortunately for owners of the iPod Touch 2nd Generation, you still can’t take advantage of your internal Bluetooth chip quite yet. Apple says that OS 3.0 will be a $9.95 upgrade and available “this summer.”

The newly-useful Bluetooth chip in the iPod Touch 2nd Generation

The newly-useful Bluetooth chip in the iPod Touch 2nd Generation

Revised iPod 5th Generation (Video) Guide

March 10, 2009 Hardware — Miro

The iPod 5th Generation (Video) is one of the most oft-viewed guides on our site. We have a high standard of quality around here, and we felt it could use a bit of improvement. That being the case, we took some major steps in determining how to improve our guide.

iPod Video Disassembled

iPod Video Disassembled

A number of customers offered kind words on how to improve the guide, and we listened to their suggestions. User-generated feedback helped us pinpoint the areas that needed improvement and was a huge help in making the instructions more intuitive. Feedback like this is one of the main reasons why we implemented the discussion forums and let users post comments on specific guide steps.

If you’re curious how our testing process works, here’s a rundown: We handed three wooden toothpicks and an iPod Video to a staff member who had never opened an iPod before and told him that he would be fired if he didn’t have the iPod disassembled in five minutes. Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite fast enough and we had to let him go. Then we gave the iPod Video to yet another staff member that was also a newbie at opening iPods. We let him use real iPod opening tools this time. The second staff member provided very useful feedback on how to open the iPod, and we’ve reflected his input in the new guide.

We combined both internal and external customer feedback to come up with the following changes:

  • We simplified the instructions for opening the iPod Video. Users will be able to open them with greater ease than before.
  • The spudger is no longer used — all steps that made use of the spudger can now be performed with the iPod opening tools. We figured everyone would appreciate not having to purchase yet another tool to get their iPod functional.
  • Duplicate steps were eliminated.
  • Duplicate steps were eliminated.
  • The guide is now more complete and covers a few more aspects of the device than the previous guide.
  • Tpyos and errors of the grammars have been overwritten with clearer, more descriptive text.

The iPod Video guide is up now. We’re very pleased with the result, and we hope you find the instructions even more useful now. Post a comment on the guide and let us know what you think!

Mac mini 1 TB Dual Hard Drive Upgrade

March 6, 2009 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

We learned that the Mac mini can handle two internal hard drives if you remove the optical drive! We wrote instructions for swapping out the optical drive for a second hard drive, and posted instructions for doing the Mac mini dual hard drive upgrade.

Two hard drives in a mini

Two hard drives in a mini

Our step-by-step guide shows how to:

  1. Swap out the existing hard drive for a 500 GB drive.
  2. Remove the optical drive and install another new 500 GB drive in its place.
  3. Enable Remote Disc to share the optical drive of a nearby Mac or PC.
930 GB available space!

930 GB available space!

Terabyte Mac mini hard drive upgrade

Terabyte Mac mini hard drive upgrade

Swapping in a second hard drive for the optical drive is pretty easy. We put a kit together that includes everything you need. (Almost– some basic soldering is required to connect the power cables.) The kit is just $249.95.

Our terabyte Mac mini hard drive upgrade kit includes:

  • Two 500 GB, 5400 RPM 2.5″ SATA hard drives
  • 15 pin SATA power to 4 pin power cable
  • 6 pin SATA power and 7 pin SATA data to 4 pin power and 7 pin SATA data cable
  • Putty knife
  • #0 Phillips screwdriver
  • Step-by-step instructions online

This kit is available immediately. Now go max out your mini!

Problems with MB Unibody and MBP Unibody Headphone Jacks

February 16, 2009 Hardware — Kyle Wiens

An issue concerning the headphone jacks of MacBook Unibody and MacBook Pro Unibody recently surfaced. Several Unibody users reported that the connectivity between the headphone jack and plug was fickle, and that a slight jostle of the cord would disengage the headphones and re-engage the speakers. We wanted to see for ourselves how serious this problem really was — after all, we wouldn’t want your co-workers to find out you like Enya, would we?

We rounded up three different headphones for testing, each representing a different level of quality of both sound and build: the low-end iPod earphones; the mid-end Grado SR-60s; and the high-end Shure SE530. The three choices conveniently represented all three types of ‘phones — earphones, headphones, and in-ear monitors — and various levels of cost, ranging from  $15 original Apple earbuds to $445 Shure SE530s.

For this comparison we also rounded up four representative Apple laptops: MacBook Pro 15″ Unibody; MacBook Unibody; MacBook Pro 17″ (non-Unibody); and MacBook Air. The testing was simple — insert each headphone plug into each laptop’s headphone jack until it fits completely (indicated by a distinct “click”); then slowly pull out until the music is transferred to the external speakers. Rinse and repeat several times until the  characteristic of each headphone jack is determined.

Headphone Plug and MacBook Pro Unibody: Unruly buddies...

Headphone Plug and MacBook Pro Unibody: Unruly buddies...

Testing indicated that both Unibody laptops definitely had a problem with prematurely-engaging external speakers, an issue most likely caused by the headphone jacks’ internal designs. Complete insertion of the headphone plug would engage the headphones, as it should. However, a slight (1mm) displacement of the plug would re-engage the external speakers and cut audio to the headphones, regardless of which headphones were used. Interestingly enough, this problem was only evident on the MacBook Unibodies, and did not occur on either the MacBook Pro 17″ or MacBook Air. The headphone plug could be displaced almost twice as much on both machines without any audio-switching problems. There was obviously a threshold where external speakers would be re-engaged, but at that point the plug would be almost completely loose from the jack’s internal holding mechanism that keeps the plug in place. 

So what’s a person to do about this problem? Unfortunately there is no DIY solution, such as soldering another headphone jack in place of the “faulty” one. Most users would not want to mess with screwing up their logic board due to an annoying headphone jack. However, there is a fix that seems to take care of the problem — purchasing an iPhone headphone jack adapter that allows for proper fitment of standard headphone plugs. In this case, the cheapest fix is also the best one. But it’s annoying.