Category: Project

Toyota RAV4 Key

My partner snapped the key for her Toyota RAV4 last week. The key is supposed to have a small screw holding the metal shank (the internet told me that’s what it’s called) in place in the plastic body, but this has been missing for a while; eventually, the plastic shoulder snapped on one side and the shank came away altogether.

I found a replacement screw with the correct thread size (from a MacBook battery enclosure), although it was a little bit too long – so I had to use my (new!) bench grinder to shorten the screw length. Then I used two-part Epoxy Resin to seal and bond the cracks in the plastic key body.

So far, all working normally again and all in one piece ever since!

iPhone 7 Battery And Front Camera Replacement

The battery preformance on my secondhand iPhone 7 has been really poor over the last few months, so it was beyond time to change to a new battery.

Last summer, the front-facing camera in the iPhone got smashed in an accident while I was out on the road playing shows. I figured that if I had the phone open anyway to replace the battery, I may as well put a new front camera in too.

I got the parts from iFixIt, and followed their step-by-step repair guides to replace the battery and the front camera.

These aren’t especially difficult repairs to do. But they are fiddly, and they do require a certain amount of concentration.

The iPhone 7 is a typical Apple device on the inside: multiple different screw types, adhesives, fragile ribbon cables, and an extremely complex, intertwined layout. Keeping track of the parts and the layout under regular domestic lighting was a little challenging – I would recommend using some kind of containers to keep the various tiny screws in place, and a strong, good-quality lamp to light the process.

The iFixIt guides are thorough and well-illustrated, as usual. One thing I would say is that replacing the adhesive moisture seals on the edge of the iPhone casing was (for me, at least) the hardest part of the whole process. It was also the hardest part to get guidance for on iFixIt, as the guides I was reading barely mentioned the steps required to do this effectively.

There is a guide specifically for this on iFixIt, but it isn’t linked from any of the other iPhone 7 repair guides I read – even though this is a necessary part of reassembling the phone after replacing any of the internal parts. For anybody trying to search for it, that guide can be found here.

But aside from this slight hiccough, the repair was generally fairly smooth and manageable. I got to give the inside of my phone a thorough clean and tidy-up, and my phone battery health is now looking better than it has in a long, long time!

And yes, that is my mid-2009 MacBook on the table, displaying the repair guides online for me to follow. Still going strong!

Oh, and I can finally take selfies again too…

ADJ Dotz Par Main PCB

Rejoice! A non-Apple device repair!

These ADJ Dotz Pars are very effective stage lighting units for their compact form factor, and provide true colour stage wash thanks to COB technology (not colour-mixing). I own a pair of Dotz Pars, but one fixture was faulty when I acquired it and never initialised correctly on power up. With live music finally returning in earnest after the lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, I wanted to get this light up-and-running so I could use it in my stage productions later this year.

Thankfully, the whole experience of doing this repair was made very painless – largely thanks to ADJ themselves, who were beyond helpful and accommodating. A exemplar of how all companies dealing with technological products should be conducting themselves!

Firstly, the repair itself… This was a pretty straightforward like-for-like swap of the main PCB inside the light. The unit was easy to get into (no hidden screws or proprietary fittings – just four crosshead screws to remove the back casing, then four more to unseat the PCB itself), although the compact design made a few elements of the swap a little fiddly – especially the little plastic clips down the side for the data and power cables. But with the help of some electronics tweezers, and a little bit of patience, they were persuaded to copperate in the end!

I had to be careful with those cable bundles as well, as I was a little worried of getting them mixed up during the reassembly phase; I ended up labeling the outer sheaths with a marker pen to be sure I could put everything back in the right place.

Once the new PCB was seated correctly and the cables reattached to the board, I powered up the unit to run a quick test prior to reassembly, and all seemed to be working. Four more screws later, and the Dotz Par was once again ready to go out on the road with 90s Jam!

Now, the really good bit… I honestly cannot sing the praises of ADJ (Europe) highly enough.

Those of us who follow or are involved with repair movements are used to being frustrated at every turn by companies who don’t want us to be able to repair our own stuff; don’t want us to have easy access to the necessary tools or spare parts, and use obscure or proprietary fixings deliberately designed to make repairs more difficult; and tell us that this infuriating gatekeeping is all for our own ‘safety’ or ‘security’.

Even as they are dragged kicking and screaming towards better access for consumer repairs, Apple’s DIY Repair Programme puts as many barriers up as it tears down, with serial number locks for spare parts and high tooling costs likely to put many people off.

So it was both surprising and refreshing to have the exact opposite experience when dealing with ADJ. For starters, they had an actual phone number on their website, where I could contact their European HQ (in the Netherlands) directly; I phoned them up and explained my situation, and got put straight through to their Service Department, where a very helpul man was keen to understand the nature of the problem. I ended up booting both my working and non-working Dotz Pars fixtures whilst on the phone with him, and describing exactly what I saw in each case – and he was able to diagnose the issue over the phone, and told me he recommended replacing the main PCB.

At this point, I was expecting the standard spiel. ‘You have to send it back to us; it costs £9000 just to have us open the parcel, and a further £400 per screw we undo; it’s an old model so the parts may not be in stock; we’ll post it back to you within eleven years…’

But no! I asked ‘So where can I get a new PCB from, then?’ and he said ‘We sell them in our online parts shop! Here, I’ll give you the exact part number, so you can search for it…’ It ended up costing me less than £30 to order the correct replacement part and have that shipped to my house, and it arrived less than a week after I spoke to them.

This is exactly how these things should always work! If you have a problem with an electronic product, you absolutely should be able to ask the company what’s wrong, and get a straight, honest answer; you should be able to get transparent advice about what parts you need, and where; you should be able to buy parts inexpensively, even for legacy products, and get them quickly and easily.

As I say in my video rant on the subject (featuring a cameo from Eliza the rescue greyhound):

ADJ can do it. There is no good reason why other companies can’t.

mid-2010 MacBook Refurb And Patching

A nice straightforward refurb I did for a friend of mine, who is also a musician and who wanted a basic MacBook to use as part of his stage rig. This A1342 mid-2010 white unibody MacBook fitted the bill perfectly – once I had fitted a new battery, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD system drive.

A1342 Ready For Some New RAM

Thankfully these are all components which are very easily accessed in these unibody models. And fairly easy to replace, too…

The RAM and the storage are very straightforward. To change the battery you need a Triflite screwdriver, and you need to check under the ‘Do Not Remove’ label attached to the original battery to access a secret ‘hidden’ screw. Still nothing terribly taxing there, though!

I then used the dosdude1 patchers to install macOS 1o.14.6 (‘Mojave’) onto this Mac, as requested.

And there, a new lease of life for a ten-year-old laptop. I am excited to see how this Mac performs onstage now!

Display Replacement And Logicboard Upgrade In mid-2012 MacBook Pro

Last month, my workhorse MacBook Pro – my favourite mid-2012 model – suffered a small accident. Thankfully, no internal damage was sustained – but the glass in the screen was shattered. Of course, rather than buy a new Mac, I bought an A1278 MacBook Pro display assembly on eBay to repair my machine.

I had already been planning to upgrade the logicboard in this MacBook Pro. A tricky job, but I had found the correct logicboard on eBay some months back which would allow me to upgrade from the 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor to the 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 processor, and I had been waiting for the right time when I had enough free time to do an upgrade I had never done before – and to troubleshoot or restore the Mac to its former state after doing so, should anything go wrong, before I needed it to take out on the road again.

I had also planned for some time to fit a new trackpad, as the original was starting to get a little worn after six years of heavy use. The damage to the screen forced my hand; as I would have to open the laptop up and work on it anyway, I would do all this work at once, the week before an important show. I also wanted to document all of this in short videos on my Instagram Stories. I shall post some here for you as well.

‘Money Torx’

I began with the logicboard upgrade, following a guide on iFixIt. Thankfully I didn’t have to complete every single step of the guide, as the new logicboard I had bought already had a heatsink and a speaker and microphone fitted so I didn’t have to switch them over from my old logicboard.

I also paused my logicboard upgrade midway through to begin some of the other work I wanted to do – taking the battery out to gain access to the trackpad before completing reassembly of the logicboard. Replacing the trackpad is a fairly simple job to do, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fiddly! Check out the microscopic little screws which hold the trackpad in place, in my videos below!

Insulation tape ZIF retainer

With the logicboard and the trackpad both successfully replaced, I began to reassemble the MacBook Pro as much as I could before fitting the new display assembly – although not without a minor mishap of snapping the retaining clip of the ZIF connector holding the keyboard LED backlight ribbon cable.

That wouldn’t be the end of the world to lose this feature, but I do like it! I ended up holding the ribbon cable into its ZIF housing with a small tab of insulation tape instead, and so far the keyboard backlight has performed completely normally – so I think I got away with it, on this occasion.

However, it was when I came to replace the screen that things started to get really difficult.

In my haste to buy a replacement screen, I had simply searched on eBay for ‘A1278 display assembly’ and bought the first good-quality one I saw. The screen arrived and was in top condition (better than the original one in fact, which had already suffered a couple of minor dents in the lid – as is fairly common with these models of MacBook Pro). But when I went to fit the new screen I had bought, I saw that the connectors on one side did not match those on the screen I had removed.

Of course I knew that Apple had used the A1278 model identifier for a few different MacBook models released between 2008 and 2012, but I hadn’t realised the internal connectivity had changed along with the general component specifications. My MacBook Pro had an LDVS data ribbon connector (with a short cable) on one side, and four separate brass antennae (for Bluetooth, WiFi, etc.) on the other; the new display I had bought had the same LDVS connector on the short cable side, but no antennae – instead, that had a second (longer) ribbon cable with a small LDVS connection.

I was fortunate to be able to borrow a slightly damaged but useable screen from a dead MacBook Pro which has used to belong to a family member, and which had the correct connectors on both sides. This meant that the Mac would at least be useable on my gigs during the coming weekend. I then had to source another new, uncracked display for this model of MacBook Pro, with the right connections on both sides.

The next new screen arrived a few days later. The antennae fitted perfectly. All seemed to be going swimmingly! And then, I found I struggled to reconnect the the LDVS data cable. Having now fitted various different screens onto this Mac over the past few days, I had become fairly adept and doing these fragile little components – so I was surprised to find I couldn’t insert the LDVS connector into its housing smoothly. Not wishing to force it, I looked up online whether anyone else had experienced the same difficulties…

Field surgery

An iFixIt forum post soon showed be that I was once again a victim of Apple reusing model identifier numbers for very slightly differently aged Macs. The screen I had bought was from a 2011 A1278 MacBook Pro, and not a mid-2012 A1278 MacBook Pro! They are identical in design. But Apple apparently changed the supplier for the LDVS connector, resulting in a size discrepancy of 1mm between the 2011 data cables and the 2012 data cables, with the 2011 ones being a tiny amount larger. This is why the connector would not easily fit into the housing on the logicboard for my mid-2012 Mac.

Fearing that I would now have to buy a third screen and double-check these details too, I read more comments on the iFixIt community post. A couple of people said they had successfully fitted 2011 displays onto mid-2012 MacBook Pros by using nail clippers or a small emery board to shave 0.5mm of fibreglass surround off each side of the LDVS connector. It felt extremely risky to go modifying the shape of components in my laptop using a pair of nail clippers – but I knew that if I didn’t try that I’d have to buy another new screen anyway, so I felt that was worth a go.

Remarkably, that worked perfectly, and the Mac booted with the new screen attached without any issues!

So finally, a few lessons to take from this mammoth repair/upgrade going forward:

  • When buying secondhand spares or parts on eBay, always double-, or triple-check that they are correct in all aspects – especially when it comes to model numbers which get reused across multiple years or devices! Be prepared for the fact that finding exactly the right item may take some time.
  • Physically modifying components is not impossible! But always go very, very slowly, take lots of care, and make sure the lighting is good.

mid-2009 MacBook On Mojave

My ‘secondary’ laptop – an A1181 white MacBook from 2009 – only officially supports up to OS X 10.11 (‘El Capitan’).

Using the super-easy, user-friendly patcher tools from dosdude1, I was able to force this machine onto macOS 10.14.6 (‘Mojave’) in line with all the other Macs I am using.

All good on Mojave

Some trackpad functionality has altered a little (I was warned this could happen on these models when I downloaded the patchers) but that’s still very useable. With an SSD now installed as well, the Mac runs impressively smoothly for its age.

Ideally I would like to boost the RAM up from 4GB to 6GB (which is the actual maximum RAM for this model, according to Everymac), but that will require finding a 4GB DDR2 SO-DIMM at a reasonable price, which seems to be almost impossible! Do please let me know if you spot any for sale, if you have any which you are no longer using!

Cheesegrater Mac Pro Modification

Having run my recording studio entirely off a laptop (a mid-2012 MacBook Pro A1278 to be precise) for many years, I decided to take advantage of all the time at home over the summer of 2020 – and the increase in remote studio work which accompanied that – and invest in a dedicated studio machine designed to handle pro creative environments. Highly customisable and still comparable to many of the latest top-spec computers, I found a ‘cheesegrater’ Mac Pro 5,1 on eBay.

Cheesegrater and MacBook Pro together in the studio

I installed an SSD system drive (plus three more large 3.5″ SATA volumes in the other hard disk slots, to accommodate large project files, audio samples, etc.) and 64GB of 1333MHz DDR3 RAM in the dual CPU tray. The trickiest part of the build was getting the Mac Pro to communicate with some much newer Apple peripherals I already had.

With the laptop, I was running a triple screen setup via Thunderbolt – the MacBook Pro’s built-in screen was the first display, and I had two Apple 27″ Thunderbolt Displays mounted on the wall above my desk in the studio for running audio software which requires a lot of screen space. The Thunderbolt displays were daisychained together via Thunderbolt, and running from the MacBook Pro. An eGPU allowed this setup to function without the laptop exploding due to thermal throttling.

The ‘cheesegrater’ Mac Pros do not have any native Thunderbolt support. But they do have PCIe slots, and people on the MacRumors forum had started to install third-party Thunderbolt PCIe cards into these machines with varying degrees of success. The key thing is to ‘flash’ the Thunderbolt card, and then modify the firmware of the Mac Pro to recognise it as such. Although I watched some excellent video tutorials on doing this whole process yourself, I ended up buying a pre-flashed GC-TITAN RIDGE Thunderbolt PCIe card from a company called dqupgrade – which came with instructions on how to use OpenCore to modify the Mac’s EFI to ‘see’ the card – purely out of convenience.

Because I needed to send video over Thunderbolt, I needed to get my GPU to communicate with a Thunderbolt PCIe card too. I already knew I’d need to upgrade the graphics card in the Mac Pro, as I wanted to run this Mac on macOS 10.14.6 (‘Mojave’), and that requires a ‘Metal’-compatible graphics unit. I opted for a Sapphire Radeon RX580 with two DisplayPort outputs, which I could then feed into the Mini DisplayPort inputs of the flashed GC-TITAN RIDGE card, to carry video over Thunderbolt.

So far, I was following a path trodden by a number of Mac Pro (or Hackintosh) modifiers. But my setup involved two Thunderbolt displays, and I couldn’t find any literature online from anyone who had experience of driving more than one Thunderbolt video peripheral at a time from a flashed PCIe card in a Mac Pro 5,1 – so I had to do a bit of trial-and-error in my studio.

I had assumed that the Thunderbolt ports built into the backs of the Thunderbolt Displays would no longer be active, and that each display would have to be connected individually to the GC-TITAN RIDGE card (which thankfully has two Thunderbolt 3 outputs on it; obviously I am using Apple’s vastly overpriced Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 converters in order to connect the Displays’ own data cables).

In fact, the opposite ended up being true – connecting each display to its own Thunderbolt output on the back of the Mac Pro meant that only one display would be active (whichever was plugged in first; which at least told me that both ports were outputting video over Thunderbolt, and that both displays were communicating with the GPU – just not at the same time!). However, if I connected one Thunderbolt Display to one of the GC-TITAN RIDGE’s ports, and then daisychained the second from the first screen’s onboard Thunderbolt port (as I had done in my old setup, running off my laptop), I could actually drive both displays at once via Thunderbolt – providing I was sending two separate video signals from the Radeon RX580 to the Mini DisplayPort inputs on the GC-TITAN RIDGE.

Here is a short video of the moment I first got that configuration working:

That proves (as I mention in the video) that I am sending both video and data over Thunderbolt. The Mac’s own System Information window also bears this out.

There are some anomalies in this setup, still. The Apple Thunderbolt Displays were designed to act as an all-in-one hub for all kinds of connections (which were popular at the time of release), almost like an iMac without a processor – the back of each unit has three USB 2.0 sockets, a FireWire 800 port and an ethernet port, as well as the onboard Thunderbolt 2 connection I already mentioned. All of these connections work perfectly and communicate with the Mac – except, for some reason, the FireWire 800 ports. Luckily the Mac Pro itself has four FireWire 800 ports built-in, so being unable to use the ones on the backs of the screens is not a huge issue for me.