My Thoughts On iMac Self-Repair

There are millions of guides on the Internet to changing the hard drive on an iMac. Most of them are wrong.

This isn’t going to be another one of those guides, because, frankly, there’s more than enough noise, and for a large percentage of the Mac market, it’s something that they’d probably pay a professional to do. But on with my story…
I’ve spent a large quantity of time this week trying to fix an ailing (and rather solidly out of warranty) iMac. It froze up on Tuesday to the point where the only option was to power it down. Resetting the PRAM (always a favourite of the fix-it-yourself-Mac brigade, said to be good for anything from network woes to hard drive fails to ingrowing boils, as far as I can tell) several times did nothing.
So on Wednesday, it was off to the Genius Bar at Castle Towers for an appointment to see how much repair might cost. Annoyingly, a PRAM reset in-store actually worked, and one quick repair on the drive and we were away. A special gold star to the Genius who dealt with me; I think he was both relieved not to be doing another iPhone 4 swap, and that I knew about complex things like backup.
(sidenote: The moral of this story is backup. Backup, Backup, BACKUP.When did you last backup? If the answer is “never”, I’m going to come round there and put an axe through your computer. You’ll learn fast after that)
Anyway, returning home, the machine seemed fine… for about half an hour, after which point it locked up again. Multiple PRAM resets later and a Lion USB install found the disk… and declared it unrepairable and unverifiable.
Bugger. Damn and blast. I’d seen the odd video on how tricky hard drive repair was, and I wasn’t entirely sure that it was the hard drive at fault; it could well have been the controller for said drive given that the optical drive is also more or less kaput. But I had a spare drive, and I was annoyed enough to go forth and try the replacement job myself. After all, if the system was kaput, I’d lose nothing but a few scraped knuckles, and if it worked, I’d save myself the replacement cost. These things aren’t exactly cheap to replace, you know?
But first, I set out to do some research. There’s a lot of guides out there. Videos even, which would seem the obvious choice for this kind of tutorial. A YouTube search reveals no less than 390 results for “iMac Hard Drive Replacement”. Having spent some time watching more than a few of them, it struck me that an awful lot are, to put it rather bluntly, awful.
 Venting alert!
Top Five Tips for anyone wanting to make an iMac repair video:
1) Don’t bother talking up how cheap drives are, or what you’re going to do with the iMac you’re showing off, or what can be done with more space, or how you like or dislike Apple’s replacement policy. Nobody cares. They’re watching your video because they’re going to do the task at hand, not learn why you might.
2) Identify the exact model you’re working on. There are revision differences, and plenty of the videos I watched bore very little resemblance to the innards of my particular Mid-2007 iMac.
3) Learn your screwdriver name/numbers. Saying “You’ll need a torx driver” doesn’t work if you don’t specify the size, for example
4) Take your time. Sure, you can speed up the bits where you’re unscrewing really obvious screws, but not so much for more complex cables. It’s fine to zoom in, make sure the focus is good, and so on, which leads me to…
5) GET YOUR DAMN HEAD OUT OF THE WAY. So many videos made this mistake. Again, you’re not the subject; the repair is.
 Venting over.
Other observations: Apple makes these things SOLID. Well constructed and genuinely quite tough (and a bit nerve wracking) to pull apart. I’m a little blasé about such things, but even I had my moments of doubt, especially when trying to shift the hard drive clip, which simply would not move. Even though all the guides said it would. Eventually, I went lateral on the advice of my wife, and unscrewed the clip itself from the side and shuffled the drive out laterally.

One Semi-Naked iMac chats in a relaxed fashion to its friend, Mr Can-Of-Compressed-Air. The brazen hussy!
One Semi-Naked iMac chats in a relaxed fashion to its friend, Mr Can-Of-Compressed-Air. The brazen hussy!

After about ninety minutes of quite solid work, I managed to fit the new drive, screw in the relevant panels, screws, LCD display and screen protector (another whinge; many guides say you’re “lifting the LCD off” with plungers as an early step. That ain’t the LCD, folks.) and face the moment of truth by powering it on.
(Another side note: Many guides suggest using professional plungers to remove the LCD protective cover. I did mine with a pair of GPS screen mounts. Necessity being the mother of invention, and all that. Worked well.)
And it worked! Lion installed, and I set to restoring from a Time Machine backup overnight, because such things are slow and I was very tired and more than a little bit sore.
Fade to black… or so it seems, until the orchestra music rises up again, revealing the false finish!
Sadly for me, my story doesn’t have a happy ending there. This morning, it all seemed fine, but as an added precaution (remember the whole “backup is the moral of this story” thing? I do practice what I preach) I set up a fresh Time Machine image on a brand new 1.5TB drive.
But it failed. The drive wasn’t recognised reliably, and Lion kept complaining that I was rapidly unplugging and replugging it when I wasn’t in fact touching it. When I power cycled the iMac… it lost the main hard drive again. Yet another quick PRAM reset fixed that, but I know when I’m flogging a dead iHorse. This simply isn’t reliable as a production machine of any stripe any more.
The iMac in question can go to the kids (it matters less if a game they’re playing dies on them than if my work goes down the drain), and I’ve ordered a new one. If anyone has any spare cash lying around in their money bins, Scrooge McDuck style, feel free to throw me some pennies; I’m going to need them.

1 thought on “My Thoughts On iMac Self-Repair”

  1. And don’t use a tacky video camera in a mobile phone to shoot video with. Do it properly, and USE A TRIPOD and proper audio. If you are going to do it, do it right.

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