iBook G3 Rebuild

For the longest time, I have always enjoyed building computers — PCs, that is. All of them are now aging mid ATX style cases with very similar hardware, so repairs and swaps have been a snap. I have never owned a “laptop” or “netbook” because the sacrifice in performance for portability was too great for me. I often dig through the local electronics recycle for components that may still work or can be repaired. I have an engineering degree, and rebuilds and repairs are some of my most favorite challenges. A cousin of mine tipped me off some weekends ago that there were some laptops that were disposed of, so I proceeded to check it out.

I found quite the needle in a haystack this time! Two, not one, but two Apple iBook G3 (dual USB model), laptops were found. I threw them in the truck and headed home. I was quite the stranger to Mac hardware, as I have never worked on it before, but found it’s simplicity comforting. The internet was a large help, with many tear-down manuals for the models that I was working on.

tear-down manuals

After a charge the first model booted, but the screen was blank. That meant that there was either one of two problems, screen or video chipset. Many of the chipsets for this specific model mac have been known to come unseated. After trying to reseat them with fire and brimstone, as many do, I figured that I would throw some money at it. Money fixes a lot of things. I purchased an lcd screen and a new mainboard (500 MHz).


Now the hard part begins. Although all of the 500-900 MHz boards are of similar shape, they are not exactly the same. My chassis was for a 600 MHz board, and not fit the board that I had purchased. I decided that the best course of action was to mod the frame, which is also used as the computer’s heatsink, to fit the board. Removing the small 1 x 1 inch fan in the rear center, gave me the room I needed to mound the board. The telephone modem also did not mount correctly so I left it out. I had thoughts of leaving the CD-RW drive from the unit after my install and replacing it with a large fan, that would vent out the bottom of the unit, but temperature wise, this machine hasn’t been too bad at all.

photos of chassis:


Many of the teardown manuals are very good, however, I discovered that this laptop had been operated on before, because of missing screws and the like.

1. There are two tabs at the top of the keyboard. When pulled you can access the RAM, airport card, and keyboard/trackpad devices.

2. There is a lot of shielding, which is lame, I managed to strip most all of it out during the rebuild process.

3. Think of the iBook G3 as a sandwich. You can remove each layer quite easily if you know where to pry. There are two screws holding the top on, remove them, and begin prying, a screwdriver works best. These laptops are pretty durable, it takes a lot to hurt one. Before completely prying away the top layer, remove the two wires, one for the power switch and one for the speakers, both of which are mounted in the top layer. From here you should be able to remove the screen, if you choose to do so.

4. With the screen there are four, count them, four wires. The inverter cable (power for monitor), wifi antenna, display cable (shows the colors), and the builtin microphone cable. Screens are easy, lets move on to mainboards.

5. The frame is the heatsink for this device. the processor mounts right up against the bottom of the frame. Removing the bottom layer is nesseceary to remove the board. There is one cable, which I would guess is power. Four to five screws hold the board and bottom skin of the laptop on and together, once off, everything should shake apart.

6. Rinse, repeat and practice. Then learn to do it in reverse. The hard disk is located where your left wrist would be and the CD drive is where your right hand would be if typing. Overall, I learned how to do this process in a mere 10 or so minutes, something I compare to that of field stripping a firearm and reassembling it in under a minute. Even a child can do it.

Finally finished I had to order new RAM because the 128 MB was far too little for my lust for computing. With a full 512 MB and OSX installed it is a snappy little machine, and totally worth the rebuild. I have been questioned as to “Why don’t you just go buy a mac, instead of screwing with that old crap?” I just build a new vista PC and am totally satisfied with it, and will build another when the time comes. I like the challenges of troubleshooting and rebuilding, it’s that simple. I have no need for a “brand new” laptop, just one I can travel with and bang around. I don’t consider myself a mac fan boy and probably never will, but I will say that they make some fantastic products.

The Working MEKBookPro:

I am an electrical engineer.