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Another Bad Apple: Replacing an iMac Hard Drive

Date: 12-Jun-2013/1:48

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Here's a tale of woe. I decided to take a third generation 24" iMac (Core Duo 2, 2.4GHZ) out of the closet...and put an SSD in it. My goal was to bring it up to zippier behavior and a more modern OS than Leopard. And the 7-year-old hard drive in it was older than I like for data to be on, but I was going to steal it to use in an even older "project" computer whose 3.5" SATA had died.
It hadn't really crossed my mind until I looked up hard drive replacement for iMacs on the Internet that this process involves being a bit of a daredevil. I thought that it was only Apple's modern practices of making computers you couldn't upgrade...but to upgrade or replace even a 2007 iMac drive you have to pull the glass off the front and use Torx screwdrivers and all that.
(I was also surprised to find that it used 3.5" form factor SATA drives...whlie most SSDs worth buying are in the 2.5 form factor. So you have to use an expansion bracket, etc.)
But luckily I am a daredevil. And thanks to YouTube, I could watch videos of the procedure ahead of time so I felt pretty comfortable about it. I wanted to put Mountain Lion on it, but to get that to install from the store required running Snow Leopard or later. So I made a Lion install disk from another computer using the InstallESD.dmg method. Then I'd buy the OS upgrade online after the fresh install.
Everything seemed to go great:
Stuck it mostly back together. But before actually putting the chassis back on and doing the glass and everything, I thought I would sit the machine upright and give it a test run. Happily, it made the boot-up noise and went along loading the lion installer from disc. The screen was fine; I had configured the machine to Monitor Messages During Boot in the firmware.
Happy that it was crunching along loading the installer and it was okay, I wandered away for a second to grab a celebratory drink. But then I heard it make the booting sound again from the other room. Wait...what was that noise for?
I'd already tried booting the installer from the CD before I started the installation process, and it crunched for several minutes and got to the menu. This only took about 30 seconds. When I came back the screen was just black (with the backlight on). That was not a good prize!
I unseated and reseated the video connections, ran some compressed air over everything, reset the PRAM, took the battery out...no improvement. So I tried putting the original hard drive back in. This time it booted from the HD and I could hear it progress, but when it got to the part of the process when the GUI would run... the screen started to display an undulating noise pattern of one-pixel vertical gray lines.
Baffling. And I wish I knew what the last thing that working boot said before it decided to die. Could there have been some kind of firmware trick or trap that the modern SSD caused the installer to trip over, leading to a reboot that caused the machine to forget about how to talk to the display? I have no idea.
Just another horror story of trying to do what should be a simple operation with an Apple product. :-/ Off to the repair shop or junkyard for this guy...but I extracted my brand new 240GB SSD of course!
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