Operation FrankenMac – My First Hardware Hack

Last week, my 6 1/2 year old MacBook Pro died what appeared to be its final death. I have been keeping it alive with great pride as it has been the most reliable computer I have ever encountered. I had the hard drive replaced a few years ago, I have upgraded the OS when I can and also upgraded the memory. But the graphics card or its integration with the logic board failed, and due to its age, it is no longer supported by the Apple store.

I thought that maybe I could replace the graphics card, but I knew it would be more complicated than on a desktop computer. So, I watched a video about how to replace the graphics card in this model laptop and it made me shudder. Maybe it was more complicated than I imagined.

Instead, I tried taking our other dead MacBook (that I thought was the same generation, but had some differences internally) to build one working on. I knew there was a hard drive problem in one laptop and a graphics problem in the other. I knew that switching the hard drives could, in theory, fix one of them. So that was the main goal of Operation FrankenMac. I am not experienced with opening up computers, so this was also a learning adventure for me.

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The first problem I encountered was lack of a T6 screwdriver for just two screws on the laptop. What the heck is a Torx6? My tool kit only went to T10, so I had to run to Lowes, where they only sold expensive Torx kits! Damn. Then to Home Depot, which had a decent price for a small one.

Once I got the first one open, it was much smoother for the second machine. Once I began removing the hard drives I realized there was a problem. They were not the same machines even though they were purchased less than a year apart. The clamps holding the hard drive in were a bit more fussy on the older machine, and the ribbon connecting the hard drive to the logic board was slightly different, connected to something that didn’t exist in the newer one. Plus when I disconnected the drive there was a much more serious problem; the connector from the ribbon to the logic board was damaged beyond anything I could repair.

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I thought, maybe I could just swap out the ribbons too! But with the slight differences in the sytems, it would not come close to booting with the transplanted parts. At this point I had reached the end of my knowledge of computer hardware, and tools for the job. At the very least, I retrieved the hard drives so I could sell the laptops without our data on them. Plus, I learned a heck of a lot about how Macs are constructed. I have to say, after opening them up, I have even more admiration for the design work they do.

The repair was unsuccessful, but the hack was!

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