iMac Resurrection

I was lucky enough to be given two, count ’em two, iMacs for my birthday. Now these iMacs aren’t the new flat panel models, they are the original “bondi blue” iMacs. These have been out for years and I’ve always wanted to own one and now I am the proud owner of two.

Matt brought me an iMac DV onto which I promptly installed OS X. It took it like a charm and all the updates ran perfectly. This will be a beautiful living room machine in our new house.

Laura brought me an original 350Mhz iMac. I inserted the OS X cd and started the installation but I received a message that I needed to update the firmware. Okay, no big deal. I restarted to install the firmware update, but the machine refused to boot. It powered on, I heard the chime, the hard drive and CD-ROM spun up, then the power kind of ‘stalled’ after about 8 seconds. Crap. I rebooted. Same thing. Well geez, I broke one of my free iMacs.

I started to do some research on this problem and it seems this is a common problem with the CRT iMacs and installations of 10.2 and 10.3. For some reason the OS X installer tells you to update your firmware, but traps the machine in a loop that keeps the machine from booting properly. Apparently, sometimes this error is fatal and screws up the logic board in the machine.

I fixed this problem, which is referred to as an S4 error, by inserting an OS 9 CD and holding the “c” key as the machine booted. I had no video to see what was happening at this point. Apparently the NVRAM gets screwed up when the S4 problem occurs. So I hit return a few times to make sure that I cleared any dialog boxes. After that I hit the power button on the machine which sent the iMac into sleep mode. I then hit the spacebar twice and the machine awoke from sleep and the monitor came on. This is how you trick the machine into turning the monitor on. This was a big step, now I knew that the machine wasn’t completely destroyed.

The next part was the difficult part. I was able to move the firmware update to the machine via AppleTalk. I tried to run the update, but since the firmware must run from the internal hard disk I couldn’t make the update. The updater reported that I was “running the firmware update from a CD” and that I must boot from the internal hard drive. This is quite a redundant problem: to boot from the internal hard drive I have to install the firmware update, but to install the firmware update I must boot from the internal hard drive. *sigh*

I went searching for help on the Apple Discussion forums on the support pages at A nice member suggest that I boot into the Open Firmware by holding down command-option-O-P during boot. I did this but still couldn’t see the screen. I simply assumed that the open firmware was loaded and I typed what the member of the forum had suggested, “mac-boot”. I hit return and prayed. The machine booted from the hard drive! However, still no video. I did the sleep trick, up came the monitor. I was then able to run the firmware updater and install Mac OS X.

Sometimes computers can be a pain in the butt. Being able to fix one that seems completely lost is extremely satisfying and I’m glad I figured it out. I give mad props to the people in the Apple Discussions forum and this document that guided me on my way. Apparently many people take their iMac CRTs to service centers who replace the entire logic board to fix this problem. This normally costs about $200. Since this was a free iMac, there was no way I was going to do that. It would’ve probably become a planter or an aquarium. Sometimes being a geek is a great thing.

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2 Responses to iMac Resurrection

  1. j$ says:

    you’re a geek man….. but its cool, i won’t tell 😛

  2. cindy says:

    General Comment… ::drools::

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