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Installation of a second internal hard drive into a PowerMac G4

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This page last updated on or about 6-29-08
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BACK to Apple PowerMac G4 User's Log...

My brother-in-law had also bought a second hard drive to add to the G4, along with the new DVD drive.

He hadn't attempted to install the hard drive though, after the problem with the removables didn't clear up with the replacement DVD. But he brought the new hard drive with all the rest of the G4 components, when dropping off the G4 for repair. Plus, I'd specifically told him I should have everything he had related to the G4, in order to fix it (the recovery disks could have been vitally important).

So after getting the removables spinning again, I decided to tackle the hard drive installation.

This turned out to be somewhat more complicated than I expected.

I immediately went to the G4 support section on Apple's web site to consult the online user manual PDF (http://www.apple.com/support/powermac/g4/ and http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/PowerMacG4_PCI-AGPSetup.pdf).

In my case I referenced the manual with the link title "Setting Up Your Power Macintosh G4 (PCI & AGP) (Manual)".

Please note all Apple support URLs are subject to breaking only weeks after posting. Why? Pure greed on Apple's part is my guess. After all, the harder it gets to fix your old broken Mac, the quicker you'll buy a new one. Right? Or at least have to consult the mothership for a much more costly fix. This rapid support link breakage seemed to begin not long after Steve Jobs returned to Apple Computer years back, and may be related to the company converting its web site to Job's old Next server software, as well.

Hopefully once the above links break, you might still find the items by doing a fresh local search of the Apple site.

Some other net links I ran across along the way included:

The Spring Hard Drive Guide : The Spring HDD Guide - Tom's Hardware

IDE, ATA, Serial ATA, SCSI, SCSI II, Wide SCSI II, Ultra SCSI II ...

Install Hard Drive - A guide to installing a hard drive (IDE)

It turned out the G4 could accept up to three total internal hard drives, in a few different flavors. And in three (or four?) different locations inside the case.

To save paper and make it easier on themselves, Apple's manual writers combined the instructions for all these different numbers and types of drives and the different ways you had to install and configure them into a single set of instructions.

The end result is a sort of Rube Goldberg style guide to hard drive installation. A bit reminiscent of IRS tax form instructions. Agh!

I had to read the section several different times to successfully distinguish the parts I needed from those I didn't. And I'm an ancient computer geezer who's used computers since the late 1970s!

Thankfully my brother-in-law had already selected and bought a G4-compatible hard drive-- a task which in itself is no small thing, unless you just happen to accidentally buy the correct thing.

Of course, I couldn't be sure of his success on this point-- or that the drive itself didn't possess some defect-- until after the installation was complete.

Again, as always, I was using my wrist grounding strap to protect the G4 from static electricity discharges. As well as regularly touching the metal parts of the G4 chassis to keep voltage differences between me and it at a minimum.

(This may be more important in colder seasons than hotter ones, and more in carpeted buildings than uncarpeted).

I identified what type of drive I had on hand from the factory labeling on the device. That determined not only where I'd have to place it inside the Mac, but which set of instructions I'd have to follow.

I gathered up various tools and other items I'd need for the install, like extra portable lighting for the work area, my strap, screwdrivers, flashlight, etc., etc.

I shut down the Mac, unplugged the power cord, attached my wrist grounding strap, and opened it up.

Right off the bat the manual instructions and illustrations diverged from my desktop reality. Like the manual not showing all the different wiring harness items I saw in this G4. So I just had to assume things which looked like they belonged together were, and disconnect two items instead of one, where the manual ignored the existence of a sibling connector.

(I'm talking about disconnecting the power cord bundle from the motherboard here).

And man, was it ever tough to pull that plug! Yes, it and its sibling had little clips you had to depress to release them from the board connector. But even without the clip holding them, you had to exert tremendous force on them to pull them up and out of their nest. There was no way to do it with finger tips, as the manual implied. No, I had to use needle-nose pliers. And not plain needle-noses, but adjustable vise-grip needle noses. Fortunately I keep those in three different size tools.

As these things can exert tremendous pressure (think Incredible Hulk finger tip strength) you have to be careful not to crush the connector you're trying to pull loose.

Disconnecting the ribbon cable from the original hard drive in the bottom rear of the case was much easier-- especially since there's a handy plastic loop provided for your fingers to catch hold of for such actions. Note the plastic pull handle is entirely different from the ribbon cable itself. If you had no such plastic tab handle, you might want to use some vise-grip needle noses on the ends of the ribbon connector, rather than pulling on the ribbon itself. For it might be all to easy to pull the ribbon loose from the connector otherwise (and then you'd have much bigger problems).

Basically there's a bracket in the bottom rear of the G4 that can hold two hard drives in certain configurations. Ours already had one drive in the bottom of the bracket. But I needed to pull the bracket and that attached drive completely out of the machine so I could install the second drive above the first one.

That means disconnecting the ribbon cable described before, as well as the hard drive's own power bundle connector.

Here was a manual instruction glitch. For it said to pull loose the power bundle connector before detaching the bracket and lifting it out of position. But that was impossible here. For the G4 case itself prevented that. The connector could not be pulled out from the hard drive all the way to disconnect it, before running into a metal corner of the G4 frame.

I did manage to loosen it there. But I had to wait until I'd removed a bracket screw and could lift the drive past that corner before I could free the connector.

The next step was tricky: setting the jumper pins on the new hard drive. The Apple manual told me to consult the instructions which came with the drive for this.

The only instructions like this I had were in fine print on a paper label on the drive itself.

The instructions there seemed clear enough for the other two possible types of drive installs-- but not for the type I was doing here, which was essentially installing an additional, non-removable drive.

Luckily the label also included the URL of the factory maker, so I used a different Mac to reference it.

It turned out I needed to completely remove the little two pin jumper from the hard drive port for my situation (a secondary drive). I ended up using a set of tweezers to remove it, as all my other tools were too big.

I did get a bit concerned when the manual talked about using four screws which had come with the G4 when new(!) to secure the new hard drive in the bracket. For I couldn't recall ever seeing such a thing all those years ago, and even if they had existed, they were long gone now!

And it can be ridiculously difficult to get hold of specialized computer innards screws in rural Tennessee.

But fortunately the new hard drive had the four screws I needed hidden in a tiny zip-lock bag stuck to the back of one of the paper labels on the device. They were awful easy to miss!

At this point the Apple manual did great at describing how to attach the second drive to the bracket.

Note that due to the interference of the G4 case design with the hard drive power plug mentioned before, you need to plug this stuff up to the hard drives BEFORE replacing the bracket they're riding in, back into the G4. This is also helpful with the ribbon cables, as it can be tougher to connect them after the drives are once again installed and sitting so low in the G4 case.

The Apple manual does a decent job of explaining how to connect the two hard drives to their proper cables at this point. But it's also somewhat evident from a practical reach point of view for the connectors. That is, the upper and lower connectors more easily reach their proper mates, than their improper ones.

After you have all the hard drive cables attached, it's a simple matter to insert the bracket back into its proper place, and then lock it there with the screw you previously removed.

I reconnected the power bundle cables to the motherboard, looked over everything to make sure all connections were the way they should be, and no loose tools or other items were marring the G4 internals, then closed the Mac back up, plugged it back into a surge protector, and turned it on.

I'm unsure if I used the System Profiler to check for the presence of the second drive, but I may have.

In any case, I did call up the Disk Utility and 'erase' the new drive (formatted it), so it could start working on the G4.

It surprised me how fast the erase worked. I thought something had gone wrong when I got no progress dialog or bar, signifying I had to wait. I just clicked the button and suddenly the G4 had a nearly 500 GB empty second hard drive waiting for files.

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Copyright © 2008 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.