Mid-2009 MacBook Pro 15-inch

This is not a satisfying tale. I was asked to repair a damaged MacBook Pro. Made in 2009, it is not exactly retro, but it’s also not something easily serviced at your local Genius Bar. When I received it, the laptop would not close properly as the screen housing was damaged and the display cable was popping out when the notebook was open. More troubling, the display showed odd color patterns, shifting certain blacks to green and inserting pink lines over some white areas.

This MacBook Pro belongs to my sister. It was given to her by a friend, and its had a hard life. Obviously dropped, spilled on, and used regularly, it is still fairly capable of handling daily work.

Apple’s 2009 MacBook Pro 15-inch was one of the many unibody MacBook Pros produced between 2008 and 2012. These “pre-retina” notebooks adopted the sleek design pioneered with the MacBook Air. As Jony Ive explained at the time, the unibody construction enabled the laptops to be thinner, lighter, more robust, and with a higher degree of fit and finish than before. This “Penryn” Intel Core 2 Duo notebook came with two graphic systems: the standard NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT with up to 512MB of dedicated SDRAM.

The battery had been replaced fairly recently and a Samsung solid state drive installed, so the computer was in decent shape aside from its display problems. After inspecting the display hinge for a while, I gathered my courage and went about disassembling the computer and removing the display assembly.

Disassembled and ready for repair

Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the adhesive holding the display hinge to the lower body had come lose. Also, likely due to a drop or sudden impact, the metal frame supporting the display had snapped at one of the screw holes. This resulted in significant weakness in the lower left assembly.

Adhesive holding the display hinge to the aluminum back had come loose
The display’s metal frame snapped at a screw hole

I suspected that due to the broken hinge mechanism, the LVDS LCD display cable was pinched and it’s delicate wires were shorting, causing the odd color renderings. After a replacement cable arrived, I completely disassemble the display, removing the front glass and the LCD panel from its housing, and attached the new cable to the bottom of the panel.

Assuming I was on the right path, I was ready to repair the damaged display hinge. I researched suitable epoxies and chose one with a high heat threshold. After carefully determining what parts of the frame should be glued to the aluminum back and which parts were left open to route cables, I applied the epoxy and clamped the frame in place for several hours.

Once the display was reassembled, I propped the MacBook Pro on its side to test the display without reattaching the hinge to the main body. At first I thought all was well, but after some time, the odd color patterns returned. My theory of a damaged LVDS cable was sound, but incorrect. Now I was stumped. I tried old tricks like resetting the PRAM and the SMC, wiping the hard drive, and reinstalling Mac OS, but the problem was not software related.

Dark black colors around the edge of the screen shifting to a pulsating green
Certain white blocks filled with pink lines

Eventually, I ran across an old iFixIt forum post describing a similar color-shifting problem. The post sent me researching a known issue with bad solder connections on the graphic subsystem. To test, I poked around the logic board while the computer was running, and low and behold, if I pressed in the center of the board–opposite the graphic controllers –the colors returned to normal.

I considered heating the entire logic board in an oven to re-flow the solder, but I was not that brave. Instead, I placed kapton tape around both graphics processors and heated them for several minutes with a hot air station.

Heating the graphics processors in an attempt to re-flow the solder connection

I knew there was only a slight chance this would work, and if it did, it might not last long. After both NVIDIA processors were heated and the tape removed, I faced the hardest part of the project: reassembling the computer. The MacBook Pro is not an easy machine to tear down, but it’s even harder to put back together. After taking my time, I had it fully reassembled and then realized the keyboard light was not working. Opening the case again, I reattached the missing connector and tightened the screws on the bottom for the last time.

Reassembled, but not fully repaired

The repaired display hinge works properly and the computer closes as it should. After heating the graphics chips, the color problem is a bit better, but I’m disappointed I could not fully repair this MacBook Pro. Apple/NVIDIA’s poor solder connections are a known issue, and sadly one for which there is not a good self-repair option. Some have had luck taking the logic board to a professional lab to re-flow the connections, but that is expensive and difficult to justify for an older computer. As it is, this is now a kinda functional, but somewhat color blind, MacBook Pro.

iPod 3rd and 4th Generation

If you have more than one pocket, why not have more than 1,000 songs in each? After building confidence restoring the 6th and final version of the iPod Classic, I was ready to take on a dual restoration of a 3rd and a 4th generation iPod.

The 3rd generation iPod belonged to a good friend who insisted on only including full albums from different genres and shuffling between them with abandon.

The 4th generation iPod was my first. A gift from my wife given shortly after we were married. This iPod was my daily companion for many years, allowing me to enjoy custom playlists and introducing me to a steady rotation of podcasts.

Apple’s 3rd generation iPod was the first to come with the soon-to-be ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector and the second with a “touch wheel” interface, though its glowing red control buttons makes it unique to this day. By replacing the Firewire port, the new dock connector enabled connections via USB to PCs. First offered in 2003 and revised in 2004, this iPod has a two-inch grayscale 160 x 120 display, 8-hours of battery life, and was available in 10GB through 40GB configurations.

The 4th generation iPod was the first with the iconic “click wheel” interface and the last to come with a grayscale display. This generation launched in July 2004, with an updated but similarly spec’d display, increased battery life, and was available in 20GB or 40GB configurations. In October 2004, a “Special U2 Edition” was released in black and red–providing the first non-white iPod option. This generation was also the base for the iPod Photo, with its 60GB hard drive and a 220 x 176 display providing 65,536 colors.

To begin this restoration, I knew the batteries needed to replaced. The 4th generation model was in decent shape with a functioning hard drive, but I was uncertain about the 3rd generation’s drive. At first I thought the battery was completely dead and would not take a charge, but I later learned this model can only be powered via Firewire, and I was connecting it to a USB charger.

I visited iFixIt and picked up new batteries for both. Regardless of the drive condition, I planned to replace both spinning drives with solid state options. A few months ago, I installed an SD card in a 6th generation iPod, but for these older models, I decided to use Compact Flash.

I selected 64GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash cards. iFlash.xyz offers an inexpensive iFlash-CF card, but I also needed an adapter to interface with the pin connector used on the older model iPods.

Prying open the 3rd generation iPod case.
Inspecting the internals.

Opening the 3rd generation iPod was not particularly challenging. While I was careful and used plastic picks and multiple tools to slowly work the clips free, it seems I was not careful enough. After getting the top and bottom apart, I discovered the headphone connector had separated from its cable. That was a problem!

The 4th generation unit opened fairly easily and without damage. Both units were clean and had the same 20GB 3.3V Toshiba MK2004GAL ATA-100 series hard drive running at 4200 RPM, but they were housed in somewhat different blue protective bumpers.

Opening the 4th generation iPod
Clean on the inside

After removing the hard drives, both batteries were easily accessible and replaced. The 3rd generation hard drive connection cable had to be removed from the logic board to access the battery, while the 4th generation pin connector remained attached.

3rd generation battery replacement
New 4th generation battery installed

The iFlash card was easily installed in the 3rd generation enclosure. However, the 4th generation’s fit was more complicated. With the adapter installed, the card rested on the iPod’s internal battery connector. Unfortunately, the diagonal on the iFlash card went the wrong way to accommodate the conflict. So, after confirming no traces were impacted, I trimmed the top of the iFlash card.

3rd generation adapter and iFlash installation
Trimming the iFlash card to fit comfortably within the 4th generation enclosure
Completed 4th generation card installation

I was now ready to address the broken headphone connector. I first tried gluing the 10-point connector in place using 1mm double-sided tape. I hoped the connector’s legs would make satisfactory contact once the case was securely closed, but that was wishful thinking. I considered soldering the legs in place, but given the very small size, I suspected solder would stretch across and short the legs together. Also, while the tape held the connector if treated gingerly, once the connector was inserted into the plug, the slightest movement pulled it free of the cable. So, I headed to eBay. I was able to find a seller with a handful of 3rd generation headphone assemblies at a reasonable price. After receiving delivery, it was trivial to replace.

New headphone/hold switch assembly in place with a functional connector

As usual, gremlins affected the software installation. For the 4th generation model, the 64GB Compact Flash card was formatted using FAT32 Format, and it was setup with as a master boot record (MBR) partition. Once the card was inserted into the iPod and powered on, I plugged the iPod into a PC. iTunes downloaded a package onto the iPod, and then the iPod was disconnected and plugged into a wall charger. After a restart, a progress bar appeared under the Apple logo, and a few moments later, the iPod was ready to go. Returning to the PC, the unit synced and played music without issue.

After the initial iTunes restoration, the iPod needed to be plugged into a wall charge to complete the software installation.
Setup and ready to go

The 3rd generation restoration was not as smooth. After following the same format process, the iPod entered disk mode but was not recognized by iTunes or Windows. While troubleshooting the problem, the unit’s battery died. As noted above, this is when I discovered the iPod would only charge if connected to a Firewire cable. After letting it sit overnight plugged into a Firewire wall charger, I returned to the software problem. Now realizing the importance of Firewire, I thought perhaps things would work better if the iPod was connected to a Macintosh using a Firewire cable, and luckily, I had a mid-2007 iMac with a Firewire 400 port.

Since the iPod was going into disk mode, the Mac’s disk utility could see the drive. I decided to reformat it as an OS X Extended volume, and I was thrilled to see the drive pop up in the Finder. I was even more excited when iTunes launched. The system sat for several minutes, and then amazingly the iPod was recognized by iTunes and the restoration process began. I assumed I was home free, but no.

Once restored, the iPod connected with the Mac, but upon disconnection it would freeze. I soon learned that the unit never went to sleep and the battery eventually died. I had to regularly reboot the iPod by holding down the menu and play buttons. So, obviously there were problems. I entered diagnostic mode by holding down the previous, center select, and next buttons, but none of the tests were helpful.

Unsatisfied, I decided to try a smaller and slower Compact Flash card. This time, I selected a 32GB SanDisk running at 60MBps instead of 120MBps. This slower speed was still twice as fast the Toshiba drive’s 31.6MBps. Once the new card arrived, I formatted it to FAT32 using Linux, but Window’s iTunes still did not recognize it and the iPod was constantly rebooting and showing the folder icon with an exclamation mark. So, I headed back to the Mac and reformatted it for OS X, but that did not work either, and the iPod still showed the folder and exclamation mark. Perplexed, I eventually used a utility that showed me the card’s partition table, and I discovered that somewhere along the way (likely when using Linux), an EFI system partition was created on the drive. My subsequent formatting attempts did not impact the hidden EFI partition. After deleting it, I used Windows to format the entire drive, and everything feel into place. iTunes recognized the iPod, loaded the restoration package, and after plugging into a Firewire external charger and rebooting, the restoration completed and the iPod could sync without issue to iTunes on both Windows and Macintosh. The strangeness also disappeared. The drive disconnected without hanging and the battery now appears to behave normally.

3rd generation iPod after its software problems were resolved

I enjoyed this dual restoration. Such projects are a mental puzzle, and it forces me to recall long-forgotten tech memories. The 3rd generation iPod will go back to my friend, and I will enjoy a second life for my 4th generation iPod. I hoped to use it in my car, but at some point Ford’s SYNC removed iPod integration. Nevertheless, it is good to have my music library once again packed into a sleek white a silver box–available to me anytime with the click of a wheel.

iPod Classic – 6th Generation (2nd Revision)

The iPod fueled Apple’s resurgence. While the iMac and iBook indicated change was underway, it was the iPod that made Apple a household name again. It was also the classic iPod that pivoted Apple from a computer company to a consumer electronics behemoth.

This iPod belongs to my mother. For many years she carried it everywhere she went. It was rare to see her without an ear bud inserted as she enjoyed having her complete music library conveniently tucked in her pocket .

This model is the last of a historic line. Unofficially knows as the 7th generation iPod Classic, this 2nd revision of the 6th version maxed the storage to 160GB and sold from 2009 to 2014. This final Classic sports a 2.5-inch color LCD display providing 320 x 240 resolution with an LED backlight.

This particular iPod clearly endured several drops and scrapes. The aluminum cover held up fairly well despite its dings and dents. It’s the battery that wore down with steady use. Luckily, a replacement was readily available thanks to iFixIt.

When restoring an iPod, the first step is the most difficult: opening the darn thing. After watching several useful videos, I secured the right tools and manhandled my way into the device.

The painful opening process
Opened without lasting damage.

Once the iPod was opened, I was decided to do as much as I could to preserve the unit before sealing it back in its aluminum vault. While the 160GB 4200RPM ATA-66 spinning drive still worked, one day entropy would ensure its demise. So I went online and discovered the useful iFlash product line. There are a variety of solid state drive replacements available, and I selected the iFlash Solo. This customized device allows a wide variety of SD/SDHC/SDXC cards to replace the stock hard drive. I purchased a compatible Samsung 128GB U3 Micro SDXC, but in hindsight, I could have gone with an iFlash Dual and installed a 32GB card along with the 128GB to keep the iPod at its original 160GB of storage.

Removing the delicate ribbon cable attaching the existing hard drive
Prepping the new storage solution
New battery and iFlash Solo installed

The screen was functional, but it had taken damage. A crack and dents in the plastic cover, along with a corresponding fuzzy blob on the display, were scars left from something impacting the screen. After some eBay searches, I found a low-cost replacement. Installing the new display required unscrewing the side brackets and peeling away the front cover from the main board and click wheel mechanism. Once in place, it was as good as new.

Accessing the front of the iPod to replace the screen

Before closing the case, I plugged in the 30-pin connector and made sure it would power up and screen functioned properly. I was greeted with a “Restore iPod” message and the battery began charging. Luckily, I happened to notice a post on the iFlash website detailing an issue with large capacity SDXC cards resulting in slow music transfers, odd syncing errors, song skipping, and even system crashes. The cross-platform iPod’s were formatted using FAT32, and modern SDXC cards come formatted with exFAT. Therefore, I needed to reformat the card before buttoning up the iPod.

Ready for testing

Reformatting the SDXC to FAT32 was more complicated than I expected. FAT32 accompanied Windows 95 and replaced the venerable FAT16 as Windows’ default drive format. Microsoft has not allowed drives larger than 32GB to utilize FAT32 for some time, though the format can support drives up to 2TB. Many believe Microsoft created this barrier to force users to accept the more robust Windows NT-inspired NTFS file system. Later, the capable exFAT format became a cross-platform standard. However, I could still utilize FAT32 thanks to a handy third-party tool: FAT32 Format. I wiped and setup a clean partition and then used FAT32 Format to ready the drive for iTunes.

While this last of the iPod Classics may not be considered retro technology by some, it is a discontinued product from a bygone era. An era where portable digital music became the norm, and we grew to expect access to any song at any time with the click of a wheel.

Apple Macintosh SE/30

I suppose I should thank YouTube’s recommendation algorithm for getting this started. Sometime in 2018, I ran across several vintage computer repair videos that got me thinking about the great computers of the past. The videos both scratched a nostalgic itch and fed a need. I’d been looking for a hobby to get my mind off the daily grind, but I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t feel silly or uninteresting. Then I saw YouTubers explaining and repairing computers I’d spent countless hours hunched over in my youth along with many others I only saw in magazines.

As these things go, a few videos turned into a series of weekend binges, and before I knew it, I was on eBay bidding on a vintage Mac. But not just any Mac; it was an SE/30. The best of the compact Macs, and an inconspicuous powerhouse in its day.

My history with the SE/30 started in 1992. I was a freshman and my college built its first general-purpose computer lab filled with Macintosh Classics and a single SE/30. The little SE/30 sat on a small olive green cabinet and hummed along thanklessly at the center of the lab’s LocalTalk network. It was a simple file and print server, feeding countless documents to the connected LaserWriter II.

I bought my nicely maintained Mac from a seller in New Hampshire. It came with the keyboard, mouse, Kensington trackball, original disks and manuals, dust covers, and a carrying bag. I paid the healthy sum of $311, but it was in good condition, and I was proud to own such a classic machine.

When the computer arrived, I fired it up and heard the once-familiar chime of a happy Mac. Even more nostalgic was the whirring of the Sony 3.5-inch floppy drive and the distinctive sound of its eject motor. Unfortunately, the hard drive did not work, but the computer seemed fine otherwise. Until… I turned it off and on a few times. Before long the screen would fill with random lines and the Mac stopped making sounds.

After some Google searches, I soon learned the dangers of leaking capacitors. If you want to own vintage computers you should be willing to repair them. So, a hobby was born.

Before I could fix my little Mac, I had to learn how. Many hours were spent watching YouTube, reading websites, scanning forums, and selecting tools. Soon, I had a true hobby: something that occupied my time and took my money.

Electronic repair workbench assembled and ready for action.

Over several months, I built a good electronics workbench. This was certainly overkill for repairing a single Macintosh, but I was bit by the retro computing bug, and I was going all in.

With the help of my new tools and several YouTube tutorials, I successfully heated and pulled each of the surface mount capacitors, extracted two through-hole capacitors, cleaned the board with white vinegar (where needed) and isopropyl alcohol. I then replaced each of the capacitors, improving my soldering skills along the way.

Surface-mount capacitor ready for heating and removal.
Closeup inspection of pads after capacitor removal.
Recapped logic board with new battery.

With the logic board completed, it was time to upgrade the stock RAM from 4 to 8MB, scrub all the Mac’s nooks and crannies, clean and lubricate the floppy drive, and address the dead 80MB hard drive. The drive showed no signs of life. While I measured voltage on the drive’s circuit board, the drive motor was a stone. I have learned that rubber parts within vintage Quantum drives can break down and cause the head to stick, but it seemed to me the drive motor had totally failed. Being new at this, I badly stripped a screw trying to access the internal drive mechanism, so it was time to try something else.

I appreciate the benefits of solid state storage over degenerating magnetic media, so I pursued replacing the original SCSI drive with an solid state solution. After some research, I secured version 5.1 of Inertial Computing’s SCSI2SD. Once in hand, I was very thankful for a wonderful setup guide available at David and Steve’s Blog. This site also provided starter image files to load onto the 2GB SD card I had purchased for the Mac.

Once the drive image was loaded, I was ready to test the SE/30. After a quick prayer and double checking the cables, I powered it up and was greeted with a happy Mac and a booting drive.

With the parts lying on my bench, I noticed the SCSI2SD was roughly the same size as the hard drive’s circuit board. After some measuring, a few trips to the hardware store, and good use of a Dremel tool, I fashioned a metal plate for mounting the SCSI2SD to the Quantum hard drive.

Original 80MB Quantum hard drive
Fabricated metal plate for mounting the SCDI2SD
SCSI2SD hard drive circuit board replacement
A sleeper SCSI2SD

It took some work getting the modified drive properly aligned in the mounting cage, but with my sleeper SCSI2SD in place, the Mac was ready to be buttoned up.

Once back in one piece, I utilized the incredibly useful Floppy Emu through the external floppy connector to load a complete operating system and several useful apps. For the OS, I debated whether to go with the original System 6 disks that accompanied the computer, move up to System 7.1, or jump all the way to System 7.5.5. After taking all three systems for a spin, I decided System 7.1 provided the best experience. It could run System 7 programs, but was slimmer than 7.5.5.

In a stroke of luck, I completed this restoration on September 15, 2019. Almost exactly one year from the date I won the eBay auction. During that year, I learned new skills, built a workbench, and discovered a hobby. I’ll always be thankful to the Mac SE/30 for this great experience.