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3/11/03 Tuesday's News: Story DetailReturn to News Page

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Reader Mini-Guide on adding external IDE CDRW
to early iMac

Posted: 3/11/2003
(off-site link revised Nov. 15th, 2003)

Athough I know some readers will write that they already posted reports in the drive database here on this in the past (iMac and even Cubes using external IDE drives with tips, links, etc. - with so many drive brands, omitting drive brand and OS version - selecting only a drive type - CDRW, Combo drive, DVD-R, etc.- and mac model will provide more search page results), an early iMac owner sent an email with a mini-guide to using a long IDE cable to use an IDE CDRW drive externally with an early (233-333MHz) iMac.
(copy of the reader email follows)

" Adding an IDE CDRW or second IDE drive to an iMac (rev. a and b) mini HOWTO
by Dan MacDonald - March 9, 2003
I have only ever been inside my iMac (a revision b model) so I do not know if this would work for later models. (iMac 233-333MHz models have two IDE cables - one for HD and one for CD. Later iMac models have only a single IDE cable/interface so they can only have two drives.-Mike)   It is sure to invalidate any warranty you may have on the machine and I will not be held responsible for any damage caused to your system as a result of this document. I also cannot guarantee that the drive will work with MacOS 9.x or below as I have not tested that. (Note - CRT based iMacs store hazardous voltages even with power off. Avoid any contact of components near the Monitor's CRT area)

A good CDRW drive - I bought a 52x LiteOn model and I'd recommend you do the same.
2 x internal Hard Disk power splitters (to take power from internal hard disk, they're about $1 each)
A long IDE cable with 3 connector heads
(interface plus master/slave connectors)
A (preferably magnetic) screwdriver
A pair of pliers
("Y" power adapter cable - makes one HD power connector into two)
A few spare hours (or days!)

This document presumes you know how to take your iMac to bits. I learned how to this using the excellent iMac hard drive upgrade instructions over at: (As of Nov. 2003 that link is not working, here are some alternatives [for slot loading CD type iMacs] [covers tray loading (233-333MHz) and slot loading models]-Mike
Go to that page and print the full tutorial off NOW if you haven't ripped your iMac to bits before. It takes you through the process step by step with clear photographs as an aid. If you still have a 4GB drive in your iMac then it would be a good idea to upgrade your hard disk now as you need to get at it to perform this upgrade. I'm pretty sure that the IDE controller in the original iMacs is only ATA33 or 66 so you could use a new 120GB ATA133 (or whatever) drive so you wouldn't be able to make use of the extra speed it offers, but you'd have a hell of a lot more storage space!

So, I'm now presuming that you've got everything in the requirements list and you're sitting there holding your iMac's hard drive after ripping it to bits and you're wondering if your machine will still work when you put it all back together. It's a scary situation, I know! If you've got this far then you should have nothing to worry about as the rest is easy!

1- Take the little yellow power connector out of your iMacs hard drive. It's very stiff but it does come out with some persuasion. You will need this so keep it safe! The internal CD-ROM and disk cables are binded by a little metallic ring. Take this hoop off. You will still need the internal CD-ROM (compact IDE) connector cable but you will not need the short HDD cable any more.

2- Plug a power splitter cable ("Y" adapter cable) and your 3 head IDE cable into whatever drive you are going to use as your internal HDD. Most 3 head cables are divided up so as to have a 'long half' and a 'short half' (i.e the distance between the middle and an end connector). You need to make sure that you plug a connector from the 'short half' into your internal drive as the long bit of the cable will be trailing out of the side of your iMac.

3- Screw your HDD back in place and put the internal CD-ROM back too.

4- Position the 'long half' of the IDE cable and the power splitter cable so that they stick out of the side of (or at least are facing towards the side of) your iMac. Make sure your IDE cable is stretched so you've got a max amount of 'slack'.

5- You can now, carefully, screw your motherboard back in place and connect up all the cables. Connect your internal HDD to the motherboard BEFORE the internal CD-ROM. You'll find that you'll have to bend and shape the HDD cable a bit in order to get the CD-ROM cable to fit over it. Put your processor daughterboard etc. back in place too.

6- I wouldn't bother screwing the side panel (the blue holographic plate which goes around your USB slots etc.) back on as you don't need it and it will only make accessing your IDE and power splitter cable more difficult.

7- You should now have your iMac back as it was before you slid it out of the monitor casing except that the side panel has been took off and you have a power adapter and IDE cable sticking out from the side. Now you need to gently tuck both of these away under the motherboard just enough so that nothing is sticking out BUT make sure that the IDE and power connectors are right near the edge so that you can grab them easily with a pair of pliers. You need to have them tucked away or else you won't be able to slide your motherboard back into your iMac case.

8- Slide your motherboard back in to your iMac case and plug in the rest of the connectors.

9- Get your pliers and pull the connectors out from under the motherboard so that they're sticking out again. The power connector won't be long enough to reach your CDRW/ 2nd HDD so that's why you'll need to plug the second power splitter into the other one now.

10- Attach your CDRW and keyboard and power up!

I tried doing this with two different external PC power supplies instead of using power splitters but it didn't work because many ATX power supplies only supply power to the disk drives when there is a PC motherboard plugged into it. The power splitter option is cheaper, looks better and is more environmentally friendly anyway! I also tried plugging an old 2x Sony CD-R drive in but both OSX and Linux refused to boot when it was connected. Just get yourself a new CDRW drive.

My Lite-On drive worked instantly under OSX 10.2 but a slight adjustment was required to get it working under Debian 3.0. When you boot linux you should see that it detects your drive but you won't be able to use it as a burner until you have it recognised as an ide-scsi device instead of plain IDE.

Make sure that you have both the 'General SCSI' (module name 'sg') and the 'ide-scsi' kernel modules installed. You may have to do a recompile for this. Unfortunately I can't remember the command to check if they're present already unfortunately. If you're sure those modules are running then edit /etc/yaboot.conf and after the "root=xxxx" line add:


My CDRW was hdb but just replace the 'hdb' bit with whatever you drive is detected as.

You can then check it is working by typing:

    cdrecord -scanbus

and it should list your CDRW.

I must say a huge THANK YOU! to a Mr. Travis Beals. Travis alerted me to the fact that adding an external CDRW to the iMac was possible and helped me every step of the way in getting it done. Thanks again Travis! Big thanks also go to the guys at for their excellent hard drive upgrade instructions and photos.

Good luck with your hacking!
dan "

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