Add a double-layer DVD burner to your eMac

Apple’s eMac provides a lot of bang for the buck. But you can add an even bigger bang for less than $100: a modern optical drive capable of recording double-layer DVDs. By adding one of these drives to your Mac, you’ll be able to create DVDs that can hold as much as 8.5GB of data—almost twice what a single-layer DVD can (see next page).

From the outside, the eMac appears to be impenetrable. Not so. All you need are the proper tools, a measure of patience, and our guidance. (You can perform this upgrade on many other Macs as well. See next page).

Keep in mind that these instructions apply to the current eMac—known as the eMac (USB 2.0)—and the previous eMac (ATI Graphics) models. Disassembling the original eMac, which was sold between April 2002 and May 2003, requires a couple of extra steps—including removing the speakers and the fan assembly.

When you’re shopping for an internal DVD burner, look for one made by Pioneer. Its drives offer the greatest compatibility with the Mac operating system, and recent versions don’t require the kind of firmware updates that other drives demand. Pioneer’s current SuperDrive is the DVR-109, which can burn both single- and double-layer DVDs.

WARNING! If you suspect that anything in these instructions is beyond your abilities, do not attempt to upgrade your eMac. Have a tinker-happy friend or a qualified computer technician do it for you. The computer’s CRT display can store lethal amounts of electricity even when the eMac is unplugged. Although this project won’t get you too close to the display components, you should avoid playing around unnecessarily inside your eMac. If you monkey with the wrong parts, bad things could happen—the least of which is that you’ll destroy your computer.

What You’ll Need:
• Phillips screwdriver
• 2.5mm hex screwdriver
• Needle-nose pliers
• Optical drive (we used a Pioneer DVR-108, from Other World Computing)

1. Make the eMac Comfy

Shut down the eMac and unplug anything connected to it (power, USB, Ethernet, and FireWire cables, for example). To be ultrasafe, leave the eMac unplugged for 24 hours so any electricity held in the CRT has time to dissipate. Place the eMac monitor-side down on a towel or carpet to protect the screen from scratches. Turn it so the user-access door faces you.

2. Remove the User-Access Door

Using the Phillips screwdriver, unscrew the single screw (A) holding the user-access door in place, and put the door aside. If there’s an AirPort card installed, detach its antenna cable, pull the card from its slot, and set it aside.

3. Unscrew the Case

Below the user-access door opening, you’ll see two plastic feet held in place by Phillips screws (B). These screws also help hold the case together. Remove the screws and put the feet aside.

Next, use the hex screwdriver to remove the hex screw (C) between the two feet, just below the door opening.

Two similar hex screws appear on each of the remaining three sides of the eMac’s case. Remove these screws as well.

4. Lift Off the Case

With the user-access door opening facing you, carefully lift the case about two inches straight up. Look in through the door and find the power-button cable attached to the left side of the case (D). Take note of which way the power-button cable bends (this will help you reattach it when you’re done).

Now reach in through the user-access door opening and carefully detach the power-button cable.

Caution: Be sure to pull the connector straight out, not out at an angle. The plastic surrounding the connector is brittle.

Once you’ve disconnected the power-button cable, lift the case straight up and put it aside.

5. Remove the Faraday Plate

On the bottom of the eMac, you’ll see a large metal plate. This is the Faraday plate, which covers the media drive.

Remove the four Phillips screws (E) holding the Faraday plate in place. Before you remove the plate, note how the gray cable above the plate (F) is arranged (you’ll need to duplicate this later when you replace the plate).

Gently pull the top of the plate toward you, creating an inch-wide gap. Push the plate down to unhook the metal tabs at the bottom of the plate. Then pull the plate toward you and lift it out.

6. Remove the Optical Drive

Disconnect the long black data-cable connector (G) and multicolored power connector (H) from the back of the optical drive. If you have trouble removing the power connector by hand, use needle-nose pliers on either edge of the connector and pull it straight up.

The optical drive is held in place by four Phillips screws—two (I) on either side of the drive bracket. Remove these screws and set them aside. Pull the drive toward you and remove it.

Finally, remove the EMI shield (J) from the end of the old drive and place it on the end of the new drive.

7. Reassemble the eMac

To reassemble the computer, follow the previous steps in reverse order. To replace the Faraday plate, insert the bottom first. Next, lift the plate until the tabs at the bottom of the plate fit into the cutouts on the eMac’s chassis. Then push the top of the plate into position and screw in the four screws.

Replacing the power-button cable is perhaps the trickiest part of this project. You have to slip your right hand in through the user-access door opening between the chassis and case while holding the case with your left hand. People with large hands will find this a difficult fit. Before you reattach the power-button connector, be sure it’s oriented correctly. (If you push the connector in upside down, you could bend the three small pins in the receptacle—making it impossible to connect the two without first straightening these fragile pins.) Then push the connector straight into the receptacle.

8. Configure the New Media Drive

If you’re running OSX10.4 with Apple’s iLife programs, the system should recognize the double-layer burner. If you’re running an earlier version of OSX, it won’t. To change this, you’ll need to install Christian Moeller’s free PatchBurn utility. PatchBurn alters OS X’s built-in CD and DVD drivers to make them recognize unsupported single- and double-layer burners.

Reattach the eMac’s cables, start it, and then download and install PatchBurn. When you restart your computer, you should be able to use your new media drive to burn discs in the Finder, iTunes, iPhoto, and iDVD. But keep in mind that you’ll need additional software to burn double-layer discs.

[ Contributing Editor Christopher Breen is also the editor in chief of Playlistmag.com ].

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