My Turn

This Old Pismo

- 2008.01.08

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

Whenever you buy or find an older (or classic) item, there tend to be some repairs or modifications that will turn your treasure into a more usable object.

This is very evident in the purchase of an old house or car. You've got to replace that old furnace or engine, give it a new paint job, and replace some pieces of trim. The same is true with that old Pismo that you're reclaiming from the dustbin of planned obsolescence .

My Pismo came with a lot of extras, but there is a complete list of neat stuff that will enhance the Pismo experience and allow the old dog to learn a few new tricks. My Pismo came with two batteries (one was dead, and the other has a diminished capacity). I also received two "yo-yo" AC adapters, a DVD drive, a Zip 250 drive, and one of those weight saving devices.

The Pismo itself had a 500 MHz G3 processor, a 12 GB hard hard, and 384 MB of RAM. The screen has a minor blemish and phantom keyboard marks. The screen requires that the brightness be turned all the way upwhen used in a brightly lit room. It works fine, but somewhere down the road I'll have to either replace the backlight bulb or the entire screen. I've jacked up the brightness all the way and zapped the gamma; it works better, and I'm really not that enthusiastic about taking apart the monitor.

The first thing I did was take out the old hard drive and replaced it with a 30 GB drive that I had lying around. This is quite easy if you are handy with tools and small parts. There are excellent websites that detail how to do this, such as Rainy Day Magazine and ifixit.com.

Do not use my instructions to do it yourself. I am providing them just to show you how easy it is to do. I am not responsible (nor is Low End Mac) if you attack your Pismo with a #8 Torx bit driver and turn it into a doorstop.

That said, first you want to open up the old beast and remove the keyboard. To do that, your have to pull back on both keyboard slides and lift out the keyboard. Violá!

Next, take out the stainless steel shielding, then the heat sink and the processor board. Then you pop out the hard drive in its sled.

Don't try this at home unless you are comfortable with tools and tiny objects. And please use a set of complete instructions from the two websites I mentioned above. Should your mission be compromised, the Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your existence.

After I put in the drive, I erased and partitioned it. Make sure to check the box for System 9 drivers if you want to install System 9 on a partition. If you wanted to install Linux Ubuntu on another partition, you could have a triple boot computer!

Back to reality: I did a clean install of Tiger (the Pismo is now running OS X 10.4.11) and have had no problems with the OS even though it is installed on an 8-year-old computer.

The issue of upgrading to Leopard would involve replacing the G3 processor, maxing out the RAM, and probably upgrading the hard drive to one that spins faster. Leopard will have to wait.

The biggest problem I face is one every owner of an older laptop has to confront at one time or another: batteries. No matter what, 8-year-old batteries are way beyond their expected lifespan. I have one that is totally dead and another that only charges to 3403 Ah instead of 4400 Ah. I am sending the dead one off to be rebuilt with 6600 Ah capacity. I'll let you know how it turns out.

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