FastMac Optical Drive Upgrade Kit

I have two older Macs at home, a Powerbook G4-1.5Ghz and an iMac G5-1.8Ghz (both purchased in 2004 and now out of AppleCare). When I was given the opportunity to upgrade the DVD-burner in ether of those machines with the FastMac Optical Drive Upgrade Kit ($149.95), I jumped at the opportunity. Burning CDs or DVDs takes forever. I was sent the APP-5691 kit, which is a 8X Super Drive. The box is about 2.5″ high, and just a bit larger than a CD. Upon opening the box I see a lot of padding, a CD, and the drive in an anti-static bag.

FastMac Optical Drive Drive UpgradeI looked through the files on the CD, and discovered this drive would work in either of my computers. Having opened my Powerbook case before, I knew I wouldn’t be doing that again anytime soon. So I looked through the CD for the instructions on how to replace my iMac’s drive. Hmm, odd, no instructions. I went to the FastMac web site, and couldn’t find any instructions there either. In fact, I kept going in circles through their site navigation. Intuitive it wasn’t.

So I submitted a tech support email. Three hours later I received a message back saying that they needed to know the size of my screen and speed of the processor so they could help me. I sent them that information, and 15 minutes later was told to download the documentation from Apple.com. It seems quite strange to refer customers to the manufacturer’s web site for instructions, but ok. The Apple manual was very detailed, and having opened up my iMac before to upgrade the RAM and to install an Airport card, I was sure this would be an easy upgrade.

Yeah, and I won’t get any junk mail from any politicians before November’s elections.

I Need a What?

I did a backup of my data, just in case. I then used Disk Utility to create an empty DVD disk image. I burned that disk image to a DVD, and 53 minutes later, it was finished. I unplugged everything from the iMac, gave it a few minutes to cool down, then lay it face down on the carpet, opened the case, unscrewed the brass screws (and only the brass screws) and removed my DVD drive from the iMac. That’s when I noticed the FastMac drive didn’t have the connector on it. The connector plugs the back of the drive into the iMac motherboard. No problem, I’ll just unscrew it from the old drive and put it on the new drive. Look closely at the connector in this photo:

iMac optical drive connecter

It takes a tiny Torx screwdriver. Ugh! Who has those lying around? I email technical support again asking where to get a tool for that. They write back quickly to suggest an electronic or computer store. Gee, thanks. I put the iMac back together. The next day I go to the local hardware store, and buy the smallest set of Torx bits I can find. I take the iMac apart again, remove the drive, and yell. The bits are too large. I put everything back together again. The next week I visit a computer store and buy a Torx bit set, with sizes T3 through T10.

I get home, dismember my iMac again, and discover that the iMac G5 uses a T6 Torx screwdriver. I take the connector off of the iMac drive, and connect it to the FastMac drive. Whew, almost done! Of course then I notice that the iMac drive is wider than the new drive. Of course, I also have to remove the mounting bracket from the iMac drive, and add that to the FastMac drive. Again, you need the T6 Torx bit, and be careful not to mess up the rubber along the bottom edges of the mounting bracket. You need to slide the drive out of the bracket by pushing fairly hard on the drive. Do not squeeze the drive while handling it, you can mess up the alignment of the laser. Fifteen minutes later I mount the new drive onto the iMac. Everything goes back together, plug all the cables back in, and voila! The iMac starts right up.

I check System Profiler and it does see the new drive:

iMac Optical Drive System Profiler - Before and After

I then burn the empty DVD image. It’s finished in 24 minutes. I get another disk, and burn a backup of some of my Music folder. 14 minutes, all done, works great.

One thing that is different is the original drive had a covering over the slot, so when you insert a disc it slides more smoothly. The FastMac drive has a larger opening, so it feels like the disc is not actually being inserted, but then the drive will pull the disc in. It’s just different, and I think I’ll get used to it.

Bottom line

FastMac Tech support is ok, although their web site could very easily be improved by adding in a few web pages pointing people to the Apple upgrade documentation, and FastMac should tell people about needing to move the connector and mounting bracket from the old drive to the new drive. I’m wondering if FastMac is expecting to only sell these upgrades to consultants and other geeks, rather than the general home user. Apple’s instructions assume you are replacing the drive with an Apple-supplied part. The drive so far has worked just fine. The actual drive swap was fairly straightforward, although if you’ve never done a hardware upgrade before, it will be scary. If you have an older Mac, a drive upgrade will help you keep some life in the machine. Another school of thought is to not upgrade older computers, and instead put that money into your computer replacement budget.

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