Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Homemade Mac Pro Project

I bought this discarded Powermac G5 case from a Mac repair shop in L.A. The shop is a half a block away from High Voltage Tattoo Shop (Kat Von D's) on La Brea. I was lucky the owner relented to my named price. He is one of the funniest and most hyperactive guys you can ever meet. He even threw in a couple of extra items although he did make me disassemble these items from the other cases in his shop but it was fun nevertheless.

There's no way I can find a motherboard that can fit this back panel on the case, so I had to do some retrofitting.

Below is a view of the inside of the front panel (power, usb, audio, firewire). Glad to see the ports as well as the front panel board are in there, otherwise, it is gonna cost me again for a third-party front panel from Lian Li.

The least enjoyable part of the project - CLEANING. But the thing looked like a rat's nest when I first got it.


Ordered one of these 24x24 metal sheets from Amazon to use as a custom back plate.

Bought this from Fry's. Such a nice case to dismantle, but it has to be done. The first casualty of war or so they say.

Another view of the inside of the Coolermaster case. Gotta make sure the innards fit well inside the G5 case. I also saved all of the wiring, connectors and fans so I can use these for rewiring the G5 later.

And now for some Dremel work... hopefully the neighbors won't complain about the noise. My wife is already inside our room with the door closed in anticipation of the ruckus I am about to create.

This little piece of equipment can cut through metal like I can eat a whole cheese pizza. Halfway through cutting, my wife tells me to stop and asks me to sharpen all of our kitchen knives, for which this Dremel has an accessory to use for sharpening. I had to stop my powertool bliss for a while to make our knives useable again, hehehe.

I marked out with yellow tape the area I'm about to cut up. I'm already having second thoughts about desecrating this great piece of modern architecture and design.

I know I'm upsetting a lot of hardcore purist Mac fans out there as soon as I cut this up, so PG-13 everyone. Watch at your own risk.

The second casualty of the project, the cut up G5 back plate. I was thinking of making some throwing ninja stars later out of this hehehe.

Putting the finishing touches on the custom back plate.

A comparison of the Coolermaster back plate (and the motherboard tray) with the custom back plate I have made for the G5. I made sure the lever for opening the side panel fully functions.

I wonder if Apple flipped over everything upside down on purpose to make Macs as different from PCs as possible. I will be doing the same with this back plate/motherboard tray when it goes inside the G5 case. Take note of the opening for the PC power supply on the bottom whereas normally you will find this on the top part of a PC case.

Here is how it looks after trimming the Coolermaster to make a good fit on the G5. I kept the PCI card holding mechanisms of the Coolermaster because I really like the screw-less design.

Here's the custom back plate with the Coolermaster back plate bolted to it. I wanted to make it look neat, sleek and simple to conform with Apple design.

I cut the stand-offs of the inside of the G5 case to 5 mm to make the motherboard tray of the Coolermaster fit just right...

I did not even know what 5 mm looks like before this, so I am actually learning something here.

And it was just right...

I bolted everything together, and made sure there are no sharp edges on any metal surfaces since I will be sticking my hand in and out of this thing.

The motherboard of choice. I've read that Gigabyte motherboards (Intel) are the most compatible for Mac OSX as they have almost the same components. They are also exceptionally well-built and have a plethora of tweaking options. These boards are also very well-supported in the Hackintosh and OSX86 Project online communities.

The Gigabyte motherboard fits perfectly and I have enough room for extra fans and in the future a custom heatsink for both the processor and the video card, and possibly a RAID dock (although this means cutting up the G5 case some more, so this is still 50/50).

Bought some screws, nuts, bolts and other knick knacks from the local Home Depot to attach all the cut up parts together. I was so glad they also have JB Cold Weld in stock, and it was cheaper than Amazon.

The included panel plate from the Gigabyte motherboard fits perfectly unto the custom plate. The added bonus for this motherboard is that it has 8 USB ports as you can see here.

Finally, all the stuff I ordered from Amazon arrived. It took a whole two weeks as some of the items were not in stock.

I had to do some research to make sure all of these parts work with Mac OSX Snow Leopard. I'm still iffy about the Radeon 5450 card, but I like that it is 1 GB and DDR3 and has an HDMI port (compared to an NVIDIA 8400 at the same price with only 512mb and DDR2 and no HDMI). Well, there are always some DSDTs out there in the internet wild to make this thing work no matter what.

I also bought some extra front panel wiresets, extra thermal paste, DVD burner, a 1TB WD 7200 HD, a 460w PS and 4GB of 1333 Corsair memory. I opted for the Core i3-550 processor for now, but will be ordering a Xeon x3440 (hyperthreading!) in two weeks to give this Mac Pro real Mac Pro specs.

I cut up the original G5 hard drive tray as the flip-locks were busted, and just replaced it with this rubber HDD tray that I superglued onto the G5 hard drive tray base. I cut up some windows on the sides of the rubber tray as the hard disk tends to heat up. I need to put a fan next to the HDD to alleviate this.

A preliminary test was done and found all the parts to be functional. I just used the front panel of the Coolermaster (with the power and reset buttons) for now, as I have not been able to bootleg the G5 front panel yet.

You may notice that the G5 case does not have a switch for the DVD burner to open and close, so I soldered a couple of wires inside the DVD burner circuitry and ran these two wires to the back of the case where I connected them to a momentary switch. You can see the two white wires on the bottom side of the DVD burner.

This is the momentary switch for the DVD burner, as the G5 case does not have any switch in the front of the case. Just press this and ...

It works!

The front bezel of the tray gets stuck though, so I had to remove it.

Some soldering needed to be done on the front panel board so power, usb, the audio jack and the firewire port work.

After soldering, I insulated each wire to make sure no wires or leads touch each other.

Everything functions on the front panel. You can see here the white LED all lighted up when the computer is on.

To test the audio jack, I plugged in a pair of headphones to this jack and listened to Teenage Fanclub, New Order and The Stone Roses for a while. Confirmed functionality 6 songs later.

More wiring work. It is a mess right now, but I'll clean it up later. At this point, the BIOS tweaks have been done, with AHCI and HPET 64 enabled.

I found this at Fry's. On eBay, this costs 4.99 plus shipping from the great land of China, but at Fry's it was only 1.29. Sometimes it is good to look around locally at first.

The power supply socket does not line up with the G5 case socket, so some rewiring was done.

Here is how the Fry's IEP socket looks like from the outside. Yu can also see the video card and momentary switch for the DVD burner at the top part of the picture.

And here is how it looks with a power cord attached to it. The fit was pretty snug but good.

I bought some rubber tubing to arrange the wiring and make it neat. This also serves another purpose because sometimes wiring and connectors make their way into fan blades (Murphy's Law) and before you know it your system is fried due to fan malfunction and overheating.

A little neater, but I still have more plans for arranging everything later into little metal cubbyholes (RAID, fans, cooling, etc) so this will have to do for now.

At least, the wires and connectors are nowhere near the fans. I also installed another fan on the upper middle part in between the DVD burner and the hard drive to cool off the hard drive. It also emits a blue LED glow when on which makes the case look cool.

Bought this from the local Best Buy - a full featured OS for $29 (compared to an OEM Windows 7 disk for $129).

I'm getting ready for the final touches of the project.

I'm getting goosebumps as Mac OSX Snow Leopard 10.6.3 boots up and starts installing...

After preliminary install without the bootloader and DSDTs, this is how it looks. I can see the finish line from here.

Installed all DSDTs, kexts, drivers, bootloaders, and did some minor wrangling with the wiring to get HD sound from the front audio jack. At this point, I have everything working including the Radeon 5450, I'm proud to say, as a lot of people mentioned online that this card is not supported by Mac OSX. I even got different resolutions, detected my TV and even has 1080p and 1080i as an option under resolution options.

The only issue left is that the unit can't be put to sleep. It is a minor detail that I can probably fix later, as I don't plan to turn this thing on unless I'm editing pictures anyway.

Another view of the project with the blue LED on.

This Mac Pro now recognizes the processor, memory, software and other pieces of hardware inside the unit.

I connected online and got updates from Apple including Snow Leopard 10.6.6, Java, iTunes, etc. Time Machine works as expected, and is now doing backups while I'm typing this.

And here it is, my fully functional, fully update-able (not to mention, fully hardware-upgradeable), homemade Mac Pro project. I actually uploaded these pictures and put in the descriptions using this G5 already.

Cost of a new Mac Pro = $2800 plus tax

Cost of this project = $650 (plus the option of buying parts slowly to fit the monthly budget)

As soon as Snow Leopard 10.6.7 was available, I was able to update everything without having to reinstall AppleHDA rollback, USB rollback or video kexts.  Everything worked as before after updates.

Thank you for looking!

Special thanks to Tonymac86x, Kabyl and OSX86 Project forums for all the knowledge they impart and all the guidance they keep providing to us who are just following the path they have cleared.  And of course, thanks to Apple for creating such brilliant software that we all enjoy profusely.

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