iMac Surgery: Installing the iMAXpowr Upgrade Card

Installing the iMAXpowr G3 466MHz upgrade is a bit more complex than installing an upgrade into a desktop system, but it's something that relatively inexperienced Mac users should be able do -- and might even enjoy, if they're curious about their iMacs' entrails. If you have ever opened up a Mac before, I believe that you can install this upgrade. I've installed and uninstalled the iMAXpowr a few times now, and it only takes me about 20 minutes. If you take your time and follow the instructions carefully, you should be able to take advantage of this product and keep a few clams out of the hands of your service technician.

The main problem is not that the upgrade card itself is complicated -- it's getting the card inside the iMac that's difficult. The iMac was designed to be as compact and ergonomic as possible from the outside, not the inside.

A Few Hard-Won Tips

There are six different versions of the iMac, and each has a few hardware peculiarities. Without rewriting the complete iMAXpowr instruction manual, I want to provide some tips that you may find helpful about this process. Be sure you read and follow Newer's installation instructions for your specific iMac.

The tools that I found most useful for this project were simply a Phillips screwdriver and a pair of needle-nose pliers or a flat-head screwdriver.

After removing all of the cords attached to your iMac, you have to be able to lift and place your iMac monitor-side down. The iMac is fairly heavy -- if it's too much weight for you, either find a friend to help you or take the iMac in for service rather than trying to install the upgrade yourself. To prevent scrapes on your screen, place a towel under the iMac before you roll it over.

After you have opened your iMac, make sure that you use the provided grounding strip provided with the Newer upgrade. Static electricity is a hazard to electronic components, and you will be touching the most sensitive parts of your iMac. Even a small shock like one you'd feel after petting your cat can damage RAM and eviscerate your processor. Make sure that you attach the static wrist strap to your wrist and your iMac just like the instructions say to. It may seem silly, but it's vitally important.

When it comes time to actually take the CPU card out of the iMac, it can be useful to use needle-nose pliers or a flat-head screwdriver to pry the card out. Do this quite gently. Insert the tip of one side of the pliers or the head of the screwdriver in the gap between the green circuit card and the wire fence around the assembly. Do this on the bottom of the CPU card, not the top. (The top is where the two tabs of the board stick through the stainless steel fence around it, and is the side that the aluminum heat sink was on before you removed it.) Before you gently pry up, ensure that you are only prying the CPU board, and that you are not prying against the green board below it.

I found it best to pry at two points along the bottom of the CPU board. Start first at the extreme right of the CPU board as you look from bottom to top. When that side moves a little, move to the center and pry gently again. The board should pop up nice and quietly. If it doesn't, go back to the right and start over until you work the board free.

Installing RAM on the card is the same as it would be if you were simply upgrading your RAM. A few tips for handling RAM, though: don't touch the gold contacts on the bottom of the module, try not to touch the chips on the module or the solder connections between the module and the chips, and do try to always touch the module by the edges. Even though you are grounded, it's best not to tempt fate.

When you put the clip for the heat sink back on, the manual suggests that you press down on the clip to avoid getting pinched between the clip and the fence. This is good advice, but there's more to add: Make sure that the pad of your finger is to the left of the fence as you look from the bottom of the CPU board to the top. If your finger is over the fence, you can push down so that your finger hits one of the sharp fence corners. You'll get cut, and it's plenty painful. (I'm typing a finger short today because of that one.)

Happy Upgrading

Hopefully those tips didn't scare you off. The project is fairly easy, and if you can put RAM into your iMac, then you can install this upgrade yourself. In fact, it may be smart to install new RAM and this upgrade at the same time. All in all, this is a fun project for someone who wants to have a bit of a guided tour of the inside of your iMac. And, when you're done, you will have the confidence that you need to install more complicated devices later on.

Macworld.com Editorial Assistant DAVID READ lives in the Macworld Lab and writes our Hardware Helper column.

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