Project eyeMac: Aluminum Dreams

Posted by in Mod Projects

Hello FriendlyNerdFriends,

It’s spring time again, and as always, my collection of spare parts and I get into a turf war, AND SOMEBODY GETS CAPPED (Modded).

And, here begins the saga of Project EyeMac (2): Aluminum Dreams. This is technically the second of these that I’ve built, but the first one isn’t written up. I apologize in advance for the underexposed photos, I blew the ballasts for my overhead lights in a tragic accident involving french toast.

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So, I was browsing the eBays a couple weeks ago, when I stumbled upon this beauty right here:

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Someone was selling a mint condition 20 inch Aluminum iMac case (with front glass!) for only 35$. It’s one flaw (that I could find) was that it had a chip in the upper right corner of the front glass.
Hardly a deal breaker for somebody like me, so I bought it. It was one of those impulse buys that I knew could be something cool. Worst case, I could make it into a strange lamp or something.
The very next week, I was browsing Newegg for something job-related, and BAM. There was a 20 inch LED slim monitor on sale, from Acer, a reputable brand. The gears started turning,
and off I went. I already had a Core i5 13 Inch MacBook Pro logic board with permanent damage to the battery interface, a perfect candidate for a desktop mod.

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The monitor is impressively thin, thanks to it’s LED backlight. By design, the LCD glass was built into the plastic housing, rather than it’s own independent frame, meaning it wouldn’t be very sturdy without it’s bezel. Another major contributor to it’s thinness. If you can believe it,
the bezel fits perfectly inside the iMac’s aluminum case. I did have to shave it in some places, to clear standoffs, and whatnot, aside from those rather small modifications, you’d think it was made for this purpose.

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I flipped the LCD control board around, and double-stuck it to the front frame. The monitor has built in auto-off/on and input scanning features, so for the most part, I knew I wouldn’t need the button panel. So, that stayed in it’s original location. It’s my intent in the future to break out some of the buttons, and take advantage of the unused DVI connection, but for now, it’s fine as is. I did a couple small mods in this area, removed the barrel jack connector (It was mega-thick, like… Xbox big.) and re-routed the ribbon cables. I also made a super-fancy rainbow right-angle VGA adapter, because EVERYBODY likes rainbows. The last photo in that set is the final configuration.

Now, some fools are gonna get CUT. With the Dremel, that is. I removed many of the plastic standoffs from the case, and many of the steel ones as well. I also cut some notches out of the bracing center frame, to leave room for my SSD bracket and power supplies. I stripped out as much as I possibly could. The most important detail with the case, is it’s thickness. I wanted to close normally, and ended up accepting “somewhat” normally. I’d use different USB ports next time, as the ones I chose were a tad too thick.

Next up, I grabbed some IO panel USB headers, snipped the connectors and soldered USB-A Male cables to them. I took a tiny USB hub I had, extended the connector, and plugged those males into it, with the exception of one, which went to a root port on the logic. After that, they were mounted to the iMac in the stock locations. The last port is in the Firewire connector hole, which has a similar enough footprint that the connectors fit well. I cut a hole in the IO panel for my RJ45 male to female, to break the GigE out to the panel. I also mounted a 3.5mm Male to Female for the speakers. I left the rest of the IO empty, as those were the only things I needed. I stripped an AC input (with filters) from a busted computer PSU, snipped the end, and patched it into a two-prong adapter fits into the MacBook PSU. I also split this AC input for the monitor PSU. The logic board was mounted on a cutout from the MacBook Pro 13′s bottom case. The standoffs for the logic are intact, but the IO panel was removed. There are bolts that brace the logic to keep it from being bent (as the iMac’s case is beveled). Mounting the logic upside down (as it is on the MacBook) recreates the same airflow pattern, as that was a concern of mine. The SSD is a 256G OCZ Agility 4, and it’s mounted on a 2.5->3.5 Inch Hard Drive Bracket for SSDs. The bracket is secured to the case using bolts, all of which are visible from the back. I like the scattered bolts across the back of the iMac. It gives it the Frankenstein look. The hard drive ribbon is curved, but not crushed at a right angle. These ribbons are extremely delicate, and bending them fully will break them.  The multitude of tape you see in the left upper corner is bracing for the ribbon. Also in that area, the WiFi/Bluetooth module. I ran the iMac’s built in antennas to the upper left corner, and attached them to the WiFi card. Great reception. That’s mounted to the case using a single bolt, through the shaved mounting bracket/heatsink. The DC input board is mounted near the logic, braced by two bolts that go through the case. The grounds for the DC input and logic were tied together using a small wire, unnecessary as it might be. Nothing too special here, the regular MagSafe wire attaches to the DC board as it does in the stock setup.

I attached a set of speakers to the logic on it’s stock connector. These are strictly for the startup noise, as they’ll be deactivated when OS X detects there are headphones plugged in (my 3.5mm male to female adapter). They’re secured using hot glue. I use a Thunderbolt to VGA adapter for the video connection. The MacBook will default to an external monitor connection if there is no monitor detected on it’s internal connector. If your MacBook doesn’t behave this way, try resetting the NVRAM, as I ran into that at one point.

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The power button mod. Next to the SMC on the MacBook Pro logic, there are two tiny little pads. Shorting these pads together will boot the system, without a keyboard! They’re REALLY tiny. I used 28AWG wire, and there was still overhang. Also, once you’ve attached and tested those wires, seal them with something. I made the mistake of letting these wires flap around while I was working on the placement, and I lifted one of the pads. I then had to solder onto the smallest via in the known universe to get it back. We’re talking like, only slightly bigger than a Quark particle here.  Here’s a link to a high-res shot of the pads, with them highlighted in red. Run these two wires to the Power Button on your iMac shell, and you’re golden.

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And, that’s it! I removed the iSight and obviously didn’t bother with the SuperDrive, since I don’t have a need for either of those features. Now, I’ve got a machine that maxes out at 16GB of RAM, is powerful enough for all of my daily coding routines, and is pretty damn confusing to most. I love how the Acer logo aligned perfectly above the Apple. It’s…. IT’S ALIIIIIIVE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Final Specs:

Core i5 2.3Ghz
16GB DDR3 1333 (G.Skill)
256GB OCZ Agility 4 SSD
Intel HD 3000 Integrated Graphics
4x USB Ports
1x Gigabit Ethernet
20 Inch Acer LED Monitor (Here’s a link to the monitor, if you’d like to try this yourself.)

Comments from Coworkers:

“What a piece of garbage. That asshole should just go buy an iMac instead of wasting everyone’s time.”

“I like your weird monitor thing.”

“That’s not going to start some kind of fire, is it?”

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