The illuminatedMac

History : Mmmmm Applefritter...

Even before I bought my first Mac (My Summer 2000 DV400) I discovered Applefritter and the hardware hacks there certainly made my jaw drop. Ever since I've checked back regularly, but found they had one thing missing - and illuminated iMac! And I was determined to be the first person to have an illuminated iMac hosted on Applefritter...

A while back I came across some electroluminescent 'string' lighting designed for sprucing up car interiors (and made by the people who supplied the light sabers for the Star Wars films). As it runs of 12V DC then there'd be no reason why it couldn't be run using a standard PSU and a molex connector. After much hunting I found a UK stockist. They didn't know how the 120+degF heat inside my iMac would effect the 'string' but they said that if it failed they'd replace it free of charge. This didn't sound to bad...

Before I ordered some I set about checking how much 'string' I'd need and where would be the best place to run it. After a lot of thought I decided that to start off with I'd do nothing more than run it around the translucent bottom half of my Mac. This shielded the hard disk from any ill effects the string might have. I ordered an 8ft run of 'string' which gave plenty of room for mistakes.

Part I - Getting Started : String (and lots of it)

Fours days after I placed the order it arrived; One 12V inverter - connected to a 4 foot length of EL string, and a further seperate 4 foot length of string (I'm sure I asked them to join them before shipping???).

illuminatedMac - Inverter illuminatedMac - EL String

Now I could begin the delicate process of taking apart my iMac. A simple task really, flip the iMac onto it's screen (with a soft surface underneath) and remove the two screws near the flip-foot. Then remove the VGA port cover and remove the two outermost screws, then lift the bottom cover beginning at the rear and lifting it towards the front where three clips hold it in place. To remove the EMI shield undo the 5 screws around its edges and the two on the lower half. This then lifts from the front of the iMac towards the back.

Part II - Fitting the String : Easy

The next job was to find a place to mount the inverter and decide which way to run the string. After little consideration I decided it best to mount it in the Airport slot (Who needs it when you've got Ethernet?). Next to find the best way to run the cable to get it outside the EMI shield, neatly. This I eventually ran out through a gap in the harddrive enclosure. The only other alternative was through one of the holes drilled in the shield to allow heat to dissipate from the heatsink, shown below, but this might have not been to good for the string.

illuminatedMac - Cable Run I

The hole at the top provides access from underneath the shield. The small gap in the bottom (where the wires run from) provides sufficient room to get the string out into the case.

illuminatedMac - Cable Run II

Now came the tedious job of securing the string along my planned 'illumination' route. This was done using clear adhesive tape.

Easy BitI began at the end of the string and worked my way back to the inverter, any slack could be hidden inside next the hard disk. To run the string along the path took about 15 minutes, securing it every 2" to keep it looking neat. Once secured it was lit up to see how it looked so far (I'm using the PSU on an old 486 PC to provide test power).

illuminatedMac - Cable Run III illuminatedMac - Cable Run IV

Not bad, not bad at all. Next to mount the inverter...

Part III - Fitting the Inverter : Relatively Easy

As I decided to mount the inverter in the Airport slot, it would need a a plate to sit on that would slide into the Airport mounting slots. This was done with a piece of Curv polypropylene sheet. This was then attached to the inverter with some double-sided sticky pads (also to replace later).

illuminatedMac - Inverter Positioning

Now the inverter was mounted I could work on masking the section of string that I didn't need. A bit (6") of Electrician's tape solved this problem. Some more tape was needed to cover up the plug which joined the string to the inverter. I think a later modification will be to shrink-wrap it.

illuminatedMac - Finished Wiring

All that was left to do was to replace the EMI shield, bottom half of the shell, and power it up.

illuminatedMac - EMI Shield Replaced

Part IV - Powered Up : Cool!

illuminatedMac - Boot Time!

Admittedly the photo above doesn't really do the string much justice. In daylight it glows a bit, enough to make it visible, but once its dark then it really comes to life! Strong sunlight blots it out entirely.

illuminatedMac - Lefthand Side illuminatedMac - Righthand Side

So, job done and it looks rather good, if I do say so myself. The only downsides to the string are 1) the inverter makes a constant high pitched whine, and 2) it stays illuminated when sent to sleep, which would be fine except it currently lights up half the room!

Other than that it's fine. When I get round to it I'll fit the other length of string I ordered and illuminate the top half of my iMac, the reason I didn't do it this time is the small diameter of the wires involved and the necessity of a very, very, good magnifying glass to do the job.

Total cost of this hack was just under £40. Hope you enjoyed it and remember I did it first!

illuminatedMac - Top

With thanks to for the only UK stockist of EL string, and to the guys on the Applefritter forums for their most beneficial (and amusing) advice.

Content Type: 
Computer Type: