Turning my old 2007 MacBook into a media center/backup server

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Jasoco's picture
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Hey all! Long time no see. Nice to see the place is still fairly active.

Anyways, for a few years I've been using my old 2005 G4 Mac mini as my backup/media server. It works well serving files, but does not play anything modern. No H.264, no nothing. I got the mini when they were announced. But now they've come much further, are faster, but also $200 more than when I got it. (I remember when a mini was $500! Now the lowest end is $700!)

I got my MacBook in 2007. It served me well for 3 years despite falling apart about a year ago...

I guess I should explain. Basically the poor thing would overheat rapidly when doing anything processor intensive. Mostly anything that requires a lot of calculations, i.e. H.264 decoding, encoding, transcoding, playback, whatever. The fan would make horrible grinding noises, and still does. If the machine hit 85ºC, which it would, a lot, it would abruptly shut off. Unexpectedly with no warning.

So I saved up for a year and bought myself a nice shiny 2010 MacBook Pro to replace it. Amazing machine. But now that I have my new machine, I get to do whatever I want with the old one..

So I started experimenting. I removed the hundred screws required to get the damn topcase off (Okay, more like two dozen or so. I haven't counted. But it's a pain in the ass and they're all nicely placed on a shelf waiting for me to put it back together.) and after some testing I discovered that the fan would get stuck sometimes, and still makes loud noises. Except with the topcase off, there was enough air circulation that the machine would not shut off as much. It never shuts off when simply playing a video, and rarely shuts off even when encoding H.264 with Handbrake. Huzzah!

Since my poor Mac mini is so old, its Firewire died years ago, and it's so slow when doing anything, can't play YouTube or internet video well at all, and can't even run Snow Leopard. But it still serves my HD's well and lets CCC backup across the network to it every day. But it's probably time to retire it. Since a new mini is $700, and therefore well out of my budget range, and an AppleTV is so cluttered with crap and the UI has basically become the iTunes Store on your TV, I sold my AppleTV in January. A full computer is much more customizable. And with the upcoming 0.9 version of Plex, I might have a winner if I can use a machine fast enough to play 480p and 720p video.

I'm not planning on making any fancy case for it, I'm thinking of just removing the screen, connecting it to my TV via a Mini DVI to HDMI adapter and acting like it's still the same machine, just faster.

What happens if I disconnect the LCD from a MacBook, but still have something connected to the DVI? Will it cause problems?

I'm also thinking of taking the camera from the LCD case and the IR sensor from the bottom case and running them to the front of the TV so I can still use both of them.

Problem is the MacBook requires the Topcase to power the machine on. And I can't see any way to separate just the power button from the casing. So I don't know any other way of turning it on without having to plug the topcase back in every time.

Above you see my old mini, my new MacBook Pro and the old MacBook with its old topcase. Bonus points if you can name the movie I am watching.

It seems to work fine as long as nothing is keeping the heat in. With the topcase missing it seems to have enough air circulation to be cool enough. But I don't know what the normal running temperature is supposed to be when watching 720p video. (The movie is 720p H.264.) It's currently running at 75ºC.

Thoughts?

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Dr. Webster's picture
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Joined: Dec 19 2003
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Re: Turning my old 2007 MacBook into a media center/backup serve

Jasoco wrote:

Bonus points if you can name the movie I am watching.

You are my density.

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Jasoco's picture
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So anyway, I have turned on m

So anyway, I have turned on mirroring so the TV and built-in display show the same thing but it seems if I turn the brightness on the display off to 0, it turns back on every time I reboot the computer.

I want to disconnect the display and run it headless with the TV as the main display. But will this work on a 2007 white MacBook? I notice if mirroring is on, the TV won't show anything until the OS is loaded. Which is probably also the reason it turns itself back on.

If I disconnect the built-in display, will the video card be smart enough to not try and process video through that connection? And will the computer boot at all?

Does anyone have a diagram/photo with labels telling me which wire does what? I assume some are for the display and some are for the iSight and maybe some others for other parts. What all is in the display? I won't need the iSight or the display. But until I can afford a Mac mini to replace it, this is all I have powerful enough to watch my movies and TV shows on. (I ain't got $550 for a used mini let alone $700 for a new one. Maybe some day.)

macintoshme's picture
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Re: Turning my old 2007 MacBook into a media center/backup ...

I know this was a while ago, but I have been working on a similar project, to make half a macbook a full fledged computer. Pinouts for power and internal usb can be found in this discussion:Macbook to Tablet.

If you don't mind keeping the monitor, a wise soul wrote somewhere, just close the computer, wake it up with the remote? In clamshell mode, it only detects 1 display.

I rigged a script on mine to fire up Remote Droid Server (keyboard and mouse via my phone), then infront of that, plex. Had that run on start up.

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Re: So anyway, I have turned on m

I have an older Macbook Pro that occasionally freezes up so I'm using it to run a 46" TV. I've a 1.5gb external hard drive connected that I store videos on. Also an Altec Lansing speaker system. I generally just keep the brightness turned down enough so it's not distracting. I've been thinking about pulling the internal hard drive to get rid of one heat source and see if that'll cure those occasional freezes.

Macinjosh's picture
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Re: So anyway, I have turned on m

Jasoco wrote:

So anyway, I have turned on mirroring so the TV and built-in display show the same thing but it seems if I turn the brightness on the display off to 0, it turns back on every time I reboot the computer.

I want to disconnect the display and run it headless with the TV as the main display. But will this work on a 2007 white MacBook? I notice if mirroring is on, the TV won't show anything until the OS is loaded. Which is probably also the reason it turns itself back on.

If I disconnect the built-in display, will the video card be smart enough to not try and process video through that connection? And will the computer boot at all?

Does anyone have a diagram/photo with labels telling me which wire does what? I assume some are for the display and some are for the iSight and maybe some others for other parts. What all is in the display? I won't need the iSight or the display. But until I can afford a Mac mini to replace it, this is all I have powerful enough to watch my movies and TV shows on. (I ain't got $550 for a used mini let alone $700 for a new one. Maybe some day.)

You want a magnet (or is it just a piece of metal, with the bottom part of the casing being the magnetic bit?) just strong enough to do the job methinks, just forward of the trackpad button (toward the indentation.) You can probably disable the button if need be.

The thing will think it's closed, when it's open. And thus will use the external as the primary display.

On the fan, I take it youve given it a good blast of compressed air? Might be fuzzed shut. Its also quite possible that fan could be lubricated, but that's mostly for cheapskates like me. Youd be better off replacing the fan.

Those fans are also quite sensitive to having pressure applied anywhere on their casing. A *VERY* slight bit of body English applied the right way in the right spot may quiet it, if and only if the fan blades are striking the housing.

If it were me, I'd pull the heatsink up, use Artic Silver (or "darn good paste, not just the normal stuff") and then put that heatsink back on. Then I'd address the fan and dust until there wasn't a speck to be seen.

Once the thing can be convinced it's "closed" at-will then you could take the display off. If you arent sure which cable is what though, that might not be the best idea. Have a look at a good tear-apart guide, iFixIt should help out.