Mod Your Mac!

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Customizing the Mac – Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)

“What’s that you say?” Why, I said “mod your Mac.” “Why?” you ask. I mean, who mods their Mac? There’s nobody . . . is there? You want proof? How’s this:


That’s clear (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”)! Sure. There are a few places around the internet covering the authors’ adventures with making their Macs clear, or adding an LCD screen to the front panel. But what I bring you today is not another “clear” Mac: I bring you a Mac worthy of the term “mod”.

“Mod” implies more than just modification. Adding a new hard drive or more RAM is a “modification” – and anybody can make a Mac clear. After all, it’s not that hard. All it takes is a bathtub, some elbow grease, and a few days’ time. What I’ve done is extensive. This is no Mac anymore: it’s “Maczilla”.

The journey is divided into a few steps for easy reading and to prevent a cool-overload. The first is the “Mac-gone-clear” stage. The second is “Dremels ™ win – always”. Third in our series is “Artsy-fartsy” followed quickly by “Two for the price of one”. Our final episode and the pièce de résistance is “That works how?”. Stand by now as we take the first “giant leap for mankind” (since the first one, that is).

Tools and minimum system requirements for Step 1 (making it clear)

  • One Apple ® Macintosh © G4 tower, preferably one without any existing warranty, as it won’t be (*cough*) valid much longer
  • An Allen wrench (the appropriate size required to remove the four screws that are holding on each panel)
  • A screwdriver (Philips) and a strong set of fingers (you’ll see when you get there)
  • Assorted sizes of anti-static bags
  • Ziploc ® bags
  • Four bottles of rubbing alcohol (greater than 70% if you like your arms)
  • Many Q-Tips ™
  • Toilet paper (your favorite brand) or paper towels (whichever brand has a more attractive package)
  • Some towels or old clothes you don’t mind throwing away
  • Toothbrush (preferably old, green, and Mentadent ®)
  • Some large garbage bags
  • Some tape (I used some little stickers with my name on them as they worked quite well and facilitated easy removal when required, and no other attachment devise will suffice)
  • A mask of sorts (this isn’t absolutely necessary, but it really is . . .) Clothes will not work, as it seems they don’t filter out any alcohol vapor (unless your clothes are made out of super-cool “filtering cotton”), so I suggest you buy one unless you have the lung capacity of a whale
  • Rubber gloves (doctors here already have that covered . . . Lucky them)
  • A fan and an open window (I did this when it was 34° outside and in short sleeves, so it won’t kill you. Big is good, and small is not; that’s all I can say)
  • The patience of whichever higher power you pray to (in a non-sacrilegious way – eg: Joe Pesce)
  • Any other tool you think you might need, like a vegetable scrubber, toilet brush, rag on a stick, what have you
  • More time on your hands than you probably should have available to you


Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)

First things first: Safety

Rubbing alcohol is not a drink, and it’s not a toy. It smells bad, can harm you severely, and it’s probably not a good idea to have it on you for hours at a time. So . . . Find yourself a bathroom with a bathtub in it, preferably one not currently in use, as it might disrupt the activities of those who occupy it. If it’s got a window in it, you’re all set. If not, that fan is gonna’ be pretty useless.

Turn on the exhaust fan if you’ve got one. Remove the drain thing (the metal contraption which acts as a stopper) or rubber stopper so as not to inhibit any of the goings-on around it. Bathtubs are small, and things in the way are not useful. Now’s when you need those garbage bags. If they’re the kind that are bunched up at the bottom for round cans/bins/receptacles, you’ll need scissors so you can cut off the seam that holds it all together. DO NOT open the bag, as this will not help in lining the tub.

If you’re looking at the bag, you’ll see how it needs to be cut. When you’re done, you’ll have an un-opened garbage bag which is not closed on either end, so that if you were to open it up, it wouldn’t hold anything. If your bags are not bunched up, you can skip the previous step.

Line the bathtub with these, so as not to contaminate the bathtub with stank rubbing alcohol or paint it pretty colors (most likely silver, but that’s up to you . . .). I used two to do this, one overlapping the other, just to make sure that a spill would not leak onto the tub. Make sure that the sides are covered as well (unless your bathtub is the kind without sides, but I don’t know where you’d get one of those or how it would work) so that your bathtub remains a uniform color and has no small spots.

Now grab those towels that you were planning on throwing away next garbage day anyway, and put them down, adjusting for the slope of the bathtub, so that the panels, when placed inside the bathtub, will not be on an angle, as that will cause the rubbing alcohol to pool up on the sides instead of the center (I know what you’re thinking. Hold your horses and we’ll get there eventually).

Now we’re done preparing, but don’t turn on that fan yet. Electricity is expensive, and you’ve still got two side-panels that need to come off, and ’tain’t as easy as it looks.

What Looks Easy, Sometimes Isn’t

So you’ve got this Mac. You’re lookin’ at it . . . You’re thinkin’ to yerself “four screws is all”. Whip out your trusty Allen wrench and you start goin’ to town (“There is a season, turn, turn, turn” – The Beatles). You’ve got those four screws out, packed safely away in that plastic baggy I told you you’d need. You reach out. You grab the panel. You gently pull it towards yourself, being extra careful not to harm any of that beautiful Lucite.

It doesn’t come off easy, though, so you pull a little harder . . . harder . . . harder. It didn’t come off did it?

See, Apple’s smart. They know you might be tempted to “redesign” their hard work. So they rigged it (and you thought you were going to kill your warranty by stripping all that paint off the panels!) Well, get ready to pull out your trusty warranty removal toolkit. That’s right, you’ve got to disassemble your entire (well, almost) computer to take off two measly side panels. Just be glad that you didn’t really take out those screws, as it’s probably better to leave ’em in so the door opening mechanism will work.

So, open up the side of the case. If you computer’s not off, now’s as good a time to do so as any other (you’ll want to go ahead and turn that off NOW, mister!). Un-plug every wire you see, set it on its side, and begin surgery. Remove the PCI and AGP cards and place them in anti-static bags. Take out the RAM, and store them similarly.

To take off the heat sink, just take off the two clips that hold it on by pushing down on the top of the clip and pulling towards yourself on the bottom (it’s not as hard as it looks, and if you’ve had this Mac for a while, it’s pretty likely you’ve already done this for an upgrade . . . 350 MHz is pretty slow). If you’ve got a box for all the parts, it wouldn’t hurt to get that out now, layering all the heavy stuff on the bottom, sensitive electronics on top.

Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)


The processor is held in place by no fewer than three screws, perhaps more (depending on the model). Remove those and store those in the baggy as well, unless you’re like myself and you screw them back in where they belong when you’re done so as not to confuse them with other, similar screws. After those are out, the processor lifts out with a little encouragement (careful, don’t bend any of those pins. You need those . . .). Place this in an anti-static bag as well.

Now, unplug the power cable, IDE cables, modem, airport card, what have you, and you’re all set for the only part you wanted to do. The logic board (as it’s called in a Mac and, in my opinion, more fitting than “motherboard”… but I digress) is held in place by two methods. First is the standard screw. Remove any suspicious screws and try to wiggle it from side to side. If it’s free, you got them all.


The other retention method is visible now. There are a few little posts that stick up and the logic board is slotted with holes for these. Move the board to the side so that the largest part of the slot/hole is surrounding the post and try to lift up. Chances are, not all are aligned properly, so it may take a little work to get them all positioned correctly.

Processor 2

Now pull out the board, moving it as necessary to avoid protruding objects, wires, and other such modder-unfriendly parts. There is a little brown pad/flappy with glue on both sides that fits in the space between the board and the back-panel connections or whatever it is that you call them. Take that out as well; save it, discard it, I don’t care. You get the general idea, and the rest isn’t so hard. This is all you have to do to get that panel off.

Just unscrew the four screws, pinch the plastic tabs situated under the logic board together, and with a little luck, the panel will come right off. Good work. Now, if you’re like me and you’re “going all the way”, go ahead and remove every plastic and electronic part you can find on this side, as sparks and paint don’t care where they land.

Fan, Power Supply, HDs

As for the other side, the fan situated above the hard drives is covering the plastic tabs on the other panel, so this has to come out as well. It can be removed by itself, leaving in all the other components if all you’re doing is making the Mac clear, but it’s not easy to put it back in when you’re done. Anyway, unscrew the two screws (yours may have more) that hold it on and uncouple the fan’s power connection and lift out the whole unit, fan still attached.

The plastic tabs are now exposed, and with a little more effort (for me anyway), these can be pinched together as well, and assuming you removed the four screws holding that panel on as well, the other panel should come off too. WHEW! That was hard!

Wipe the sweat from your brow, have a glass of beer/soda/warm milk, get out a can of compressed air, and get all the dust off of what you took out. Chances are it’s pretty filthy in there. If you’re going all-out, take out all of the drives, as well as the power supply. Some of this is more tricky than what you’ve done so far.

The power supply is held in place with three screws requiring the same Allen wrench you just used, located on the back panel, as well as one screw on the inside. The optical disks are held in place with two screws located behind the front panel, so that needs to go as well.

Basically, look over the Mac before you start removing any part, looking for every plastic tab you can find that holds on the paneling. There are a lot on the back. I’ve done this twice now in the last month or so, so I assure you that you can do this so long as you take your time. Breaking off a plastic tab isn’t a big deal, but breaking off a few will cause a bad day and can only be remedied with Aspirin.

Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)

Who Said Modding Required Tools?

Procedure 7

Take those panels into the bathroom (you did blow off the dust that was probably on them when you were blowing off the rest of the components, didn’t you?), put them into the bathtub (side by side), line the panels with you paper product ( 2-ply or whatever you’ve got) making sure that the paper is pressed firmly into the corners so that the edges get covered with alcohol too, adorn yourself with mask, open the window, crank up that fan, crack open that first bottle of rubbing alcohol and watch it rain the magic that is clear-dom.

Fill up each panel as far as you can without causing a spill and walk away, making sure that all the paper is wet (okay, so maybe the mask wasn’t necessary quite yet). Wait about an hour or so before you even consider going in there, as little will have happened before then. I found that the best method is to just let them soak in as much alcohol as you can fit in there.

Procedure 12

Now here’s a hint: the Apple logos are held on with glue. That glue will dissolve with enough alcohol. If you want those gone as well, the best method of all (to remove the paint) is to submerge the entire panel in alcohol. That will ensure that all surfaces are covered in alcohol and it means less work for you later on. Now, those Apple logos might not come off easily, I don’t know. Mine are still on there. There’s a chance you could submerge the whole panel and the logos would remain in place, but don’t bet on it and I take no responsibility if you do it and they fall off. If they do, glue ’em back on.

Anyway, I’ll assume that you’ve waited a good long time. Go in there, peel back the paper carefully (wearing gloves and mask, of course), grab that brushing instrument I suggested and, being careful not to splash, start scrubbing at the panel and see what comes off. If nothing comes off, cover it back up and “just wait longer” (Ace Ventura). Otherwise, scrub off all that you can. Chances are, there are going to be a few spots that still have paint, like the four screw holes and the center post with the tabs, as well as the edges.

Procedure 20

Make sure the entire surface is covered again, and go watch some TV (I suggest the Simpsons). You get the idea. Get as much as you can off. The edges are where the end doesn’t easily justify the work. I suggest getting a pan with enough alcohol to submerge just the edges, and propping up the panels so that they are perpendicular to the bathtub floor. Leave it to soak, and rotate them after each side is paint-free.

If you’re lucky, yours will come out better than mine did and you won’t spend ten hours with Q-Tips and rubbing alcohol. If not, I’m sorry, but at least I can understand what you’re about to go through.

Procedure 18


Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)

Buyer’s Remorse

Clean Panels 5

So you went ahead and did this, thinking it wouldn’t be hard, and it was the coolest thing you’d ever seen. What you’ve got now are two very un-cool looking side panels and a lump in your throat, thinking about how you’re going to explain this to the wife/parental unit. Calm down, whip out some Q-Tips and some alcohol, and sit down in a good chair (carefully, so as not to ruin a perfectly good chair).

Edges (paint)

Pour a very minute quantity of alcohol onto the area that still has paint on it, let it sit for about a minute, then rub it with the Q-Tip and it should come off with little effort. Don’t be mislead, however. Your fingers will be very upset with you if you do enough of this. Also, I might have mentioned this sooner, but wash the panels with some soap between each alcohol session, just to make sure that what you’re seeing is really there.

Edges (paint) 2

Both the front and back should be washed well, as the paint will make the front look hazy if it gets on it. I can’t make any recommendation on soap brands, but I would say “stay away from dish soap”, just because it’s not good for things. It’ll take the shine right off of a car, so it’s probably not too good for this either.

Clean Panels 2

When you’ve finally gotten all the paint off, give yourself a congratulations and help yourself to a cold drink and some family time, of which you’ve probably been depriving yourself for about two days (less if you’re better at it than I am). The panels just snap back on and you’re all set.

Clean Panels 4


Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)

Information Overload

Panels and Mac

The panels will NOT be “clear”; they’ll be translucent, but sort of hazy/milky. I don’t know if this is a result of the alcohol or because the back is unfinished so that the paint will adhere to the plastic, but nevertheless, it’s true.

However, any paint or image you place behind it will show up perfectly. No detail will be lost, and it will not appear milky in those areas. If you intend to put any images or drawings or designs on the back of the case, your best bet is to paint over the back of those when you’re done so that you can’t tell it’s not “clear”.

Panels, Mac, and Screws

Don’t get me wrong, though; they hardly look “bad”, they’re just definitely not clear. It doesn’t bother me, and I knew it going in to the project, I just wanted to pass on that knowledge.

Two Panels on Floor

As you’ll probably notice, if you’re going for a clear Mac, you’re probably going to want some lighting behind it so that it looks better. Objects seem to look much clearer when there is a lot of light behind the panel. However, to do this, you’re going to need to remove the left side of the case with a Dremel or a hack saw. Either way, this article is far too long already, so that will be covered in our next episode.

Just to let you know if you haven’t figured this out already (although I know you all have, as we seem to be an intelligent people [humans, that is]), this procedure will 100%, without a doubt, void your warranty. Neither I, this website, nor the manufacturer of any item used in this process, is in any way responsible for your undertaking of this project, nor how well it turns out.

All undertakings, whether guided by this how-to or not, are the responsibility of yourself. This guide is for informational purposes only, and it is NOT, I repeat not, guaranteed to work flawlessly, or at all. It worked for me, I assure you, as you can plainly see. I don’t lie (. . .), so if you mess up, it’s your own fault, and I’m sorry. May the Apple gods never forgive you.

Zach Johnson (zachj on the forums)


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