Build a Solid State CF based G3 iBook for $23!

There are rumors flying around online about a 10 inch subnotebook sized MacBook from Apple that has a solid state harddisk. But knowing the Rumor Distortion Field around Apple (like the REALITY Distortion Field around Steve) your guess is as good as mine.

Well, since Apple is taking it’s own sweet time to introduce solid state hard disk in their notebooks I decided to be proactive and try this myself.

I had a 1999 original clamshell Tangerine iBook that a friend of mine (thanks Jay) donated since he was upgrading to a more recent iBook. This clamshell is a 300 Mhz G3 with 192 Mb of RAM with a 6GB hard drive. Luckily it also has a Airport 802.11b network card. The hard drive was quite noisy when the iBook was turned on and the whole laptop heated up significantly. Also, the battery was dead having passed it’s charge cycle limit.

So I decided to replace the 6GB hard disk with a 4 GB Compact Flash drive.

I purchased one from Fry’s in Woodland Hills, CA for $18 (they have these rebates once every other week on compact flash media).

The first task was to install Mac OS X Tiger onto the CF card. I found a great guide at www.digit-life.com. I followed the guide as directed and the only change I made was not choosing the bootefi option while ‘blessing’ the drive since that option is used only for Intel Macs. Installation was smooth and I did not bother to test booting the CF drive – keeping my fingers crossed that things from Apple should just work as usual.

Next, I needed a IDE to CF interface. After doing a quick search on Google the cheapest one I found was on ebay from a seller in Hong Kong. He was selling the adpater for $5 including postage. I checked his references and promptly ordered two of the adapters.

A week later I got the adapters in the mail as promised and they turned out to be these nice little elegant pieces of circuitry about 2 inch square.

Now I needed to open up the clamshell. The best guides for doing any repairs on your old Mac laptops is www.ifixit.com. Navigating to the appropriate tutorial on replacing clamshell ibook hard drives, I got out my Torx screwdriver, jewelers screw driver kit and some white A4 paper and pen.

I started pulling apart the ibook and as I drilled down deeper into the innards I carefully stuck all the screws I was removing in the sheet of paper. I wrote down next to the screw the location of each inside the ibook. You can use a piece of styrofoam for this but I did not have one handy and a piece of paper will do just as well.

Well, it took me about 30 mintues to reach the hard drive. I removed it and then plugged in the IDE2CF connector to the IDE connector on the iBook motherboard. The IDE connector on the iBook mother board has a pin in the very center blocked with a tiny bit of white plastic. The IDE2CF adpater had a pin in that position – which meant I had to remove the tiny piece of white plastic with the smallest jewelers screwdriver I had and a tiny sharp pair of tweezers borrowed from my wife’s dresser :-).

Once the offending piece was pulled out, I plugged in the IDE2CF adapter onto the IDE connector on the mother board. Then carefully nudged in the 4GB CF drive onto the IDE2CF adapter. To secure the 4GB drive to the mother board I used a piece of heat resistant electrical insulating tape.

Then it was time to put everything back. With a deep breath I followed the instructions in reverse and because I had used the trick of tracking each screw on the piece of paper I was able to put everything back without missing out on a single screw.

Now the real test. Would the 4GB CF boot correctly ? I had not tested it after installing OSX and ‘blessing’ it for the appropriate hardware.

I plugged in the power cable and pressed the power button. Voila !! The Apple Mac boot logo came up soundlessly !!! Look Ma, no moving parts !!! The iBook booted up and went through the first time install routine and I was looking at the familiar Tiger desktop running on a G3 first generation ibook on a 4GB compact flash card.

The CF card still had about 1.9 GB of space available after installing the Base and Essential components of OSX. I can now believe that the iPhone has the full OSX installed on it since I had managed to install the OS in about 2 GB of space.

The result was extremely satisfying. No more whirr and drone of the hard disk and the laptop barely heats up. It’s great for browsing and email and my plan is to hang it on the wall in our kitchen as a quick internet station to check email and browse the net. I don’t plan to replace or refill the battery since I plan to leave the laptop plugged in permanently into the wall. Well, maybe I will think about it if we start using the laptop more frequently and need to carry it around.

Now onto the next one. As I had ordered two of those IDE2CF adapters, I will install the second one into a 500 Mhz G3 white iBook (2001 dual USB). But you know the drill by now…

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9 thoughts on “Build a Solid State CF based G3 iBook for $23!

  1. I’m interested in this to my iBook, but I’d really love to be able to copy over my current system to the CF card (set it up as a server, would love to not have to trawl through the internet finding all the extra software bits again, not to mention porting over my web site’s database). Do you think it’s possible to copy the system directly over?

  2. hi Eric,
    Sure you can back up your existing drive using CarbonCopyCloner or some disk imaging software and then writing the image out to the CF card. It should be fairly straightforward.

  3. Hi,
    Thanks for this guide – i’ve just bought clamshell and i don’t like sounds of its hard drive – it is some 8 years old πŸ˜‰

    I have only one humble request- I can’t see any pictures at this page. Without them, this guide is much less valuable. Could You check this ?

    Best wishes,
    Marek

  4. Thanks a lot, now I’m almost ready to do this πŸ˜‰

    I also wonder, if it’s possible to replace firewire port with USB, using some kind of “internal hub”…

    Best wishes,
    Marek

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