Macintosh: Upgrading an eMac

It's been a long time since I wrote this article, but the fact remains: The good old eMac can still be useful if you take the simple steps to keep it as good as it can be.  All can run Tiger, and most can run Leopard - great operating systems for their day with a bit of useful life.  This article describes the procedure I used to upgrade my old eMac, including:
  • Replacing the internal hard disk with a large capacity drive.
  • Increasing the memory for performance
  • Upgrading the operating system
Here I'm upgrading a 700 MHz eMac, but the procedure and tasks for upgrading other eMac models should be almost identical.

Upgrading versus Replacing

Open eMacMy sister's eMac is of the 700 mhz variety, with 256 MB of memory. The machine seemed to be getting "slower", and the original 40 GB disk was becoming jammed packed with photos and iTunes, and within a few months she'd be out of disk space.

There were two options to address the problems: upgrade the eMac, or go out and buy a new Mac.

I decided to keep the eMac. It has been a rock solid machine, and it is only used for typical applications like NeoOffice, email, Safari, iTunes, and kids games. By upgrading the hard drive, the memory, and the OS, I could give it several more years of useful life.

Hard Drive Upgrade: the plan

My strategy to upgrade the hard drive was to
  1. Clone the internal hard disk onto a new drive mounted in a firewire enclosure.
  2. Test the clone by booting from the new drive mounted in the firewire enclosure.
  3. Surgically replace the eMac's internal hard drive
The following sections describe my (successful) strategy in detail.

Buying a new drive & the need for a firewire enclosure

After research, it seems that all eMac models can use just about any large, modern 3.5" ATA (but not SATA) hard drive. I went with a Hitachi 3.5", 160 GB drive from Best Buy ($40 after rebate). A nice, even more impressive alternative is the inexpensive Western Digital 500 GB Caviar Blue.

My plan was to copy the entire content of the existing eMac onto the new drive. Such a copy can save a lot of time reinstalling and reconfiguring software. The fastest and easiest way to make the hard drive copy was to temporarily attach the new drive to the eMac with a Firewire enclosure.

A firewire enclosure is a small case built to house a single IDE drive. The case has an IDE-to-Firewire converter on board, as well as a small power supply to spin the drive. Therefore, this enclosure allows a computer to mount an IDE drive over firewire.
A $25 Firewire Enclosure (opened)

I can't say enough about the usefulness of a Firewire enclosure - it is a great tool for both Mac and PC upgrade and backup work, and the enclosures are very inexpensive (you can find them for under $50 from several vendors). I recommend getting an enclosure with the following attributes:
  • 5.25" (large) drive support, so that you can throw anything into the enclosure, from a 2" IDE laptop hard drive to a DVD burner.
  • Dual Firewire & USB2 support, so you have the maximum amount of connectivity flexibility.
In particular, this Macally hard drive enclosure looks great, has excellent features, and is inexpensive too.

Installing an IDE drive into the firewire enclosure was simple: Attach the IDE ribbon cable hanging off of the enclosure to the drive, plug the power connector on the enclosure into the drive, and attach the enclose to the eMac via a Firewire cable.

Disk partitioning
Since the Hitachi drive was new, I needed to create a Mac-compatible partition on the drive. I ran the MacOS utility program "Disk Utility", which clearly listed the new disk on the left pane. I selected the new drive and clicked on the "Partition" tab. I formatted the 160 GB disk as a single partition of type "Mac OS Extended (Journaled)". After partitioning, the new disk was visible on my desktop. Yay!

Hard Disk Cloning

I needed to copy everything on the internal eMac hard disk to the external drive. I used the free program "Carbon Copy Cloner" to make the copy. This little gem of a program smartly copies an entire drive's contents to another drive. I told CCC to clone the eMac's internal disk to the new drive over firewire. Without much fanfare, CCC did it's thing and copied the contents.

Now let me warn you - copying 38 GB of data from the eMac to the new drive took over 60 minutes.

Testing the Clone

After CCC was done with the cloning process, I wanted to test the clone. What if the clone didn't really work? Then I'd have to install all that software manually. Yuk!

Happily, I learned that I could coerce an eMac to boot from a firewire device (but not a USB drive).

With the firewire enclosure attached, I restarted the eMac and held down four keys during the startup process: "Command-Option-Shift-Delete". This sequence tells the Mac to boot from a device other than the standard start-up drive. Within 30 seconds the Mac successfully booted from the cloned drive. From there I was able to run the eMac off of the new (but externally-housed) drive, giving me a chance to make sure that the clone was 100% successful. Now I was ready to surgically swap the drives!

Installing the new Hard Disk
The final step - and the big one - was to remove the old 40 GB drive and replace it with my new 160 GB drive. I removed the new drive from the Firewire enclosure, took a deep breath, and commenced eMac disassembly.

Taking the eMac apart isn't difficult. I used Apple's eMac Take Apart manual as a reference.

Here's the order of events, with my additional suggestions in red:
  1. Remove the Airport card if you have it. (I found after I started case disassembly that it is easier if you remove this card first.)
  2. Disconnect the eMac from all cables. Place the eMac on it's "face"
  3. Remove the memory access panel
  4. Unscrew the case back, and lift it up only about an inch.
  5. Unplug the wire from the power switch mounted on the case. This was tricky - I used small needle nosed pliers to disconnect (and reconnect) the wire from the switch.
  6. Lift off the case once the power connector is detached from the power switch
  7. Discharge the CRT. Some claim that this is an optional step, but I did it anyway, because I didn't want to get a shock. I built a discharge tool using a screw driver and a length of wire connected to the eMac's metal frame. Without touching anything other than the insulated screwdriver handle, I gently slid the screwdriver tip under the CRT's "suction cup" until I touched the metal conductor under the cap. Also see a very informative Mac CRT discharge diagram here.
  8. Remove the fan (5 screws, two connectors, one ground wire)
  9. Remove the speaker unit (one connector)
  10. Remove the shielding (five screws)
  11. Remove the logic board subsystem (9 screws, one video connector)
  12. Remove the old drive
  13. Remove the drive insulators/pads/bracket from the old drive. Unlike the photos in the take apart manual, my original drive only had a one pad, which was mounted on the edge of the drive.
  14. Install drive insulator/pads/bracket onto new drive
  15. Connect the ribbon cable and the 4-pin power cable to new drive. Lessons Learned: Make sure the IDE connector is properly seated on the motherboard! Make sure new drive is jumpered for "Cable Select" mode!
  16. Attach the drive onto it's carrier
  17. Install the logic board subsystem.
  18. Lesson Learned: re-install the airport card now (I recommend re-installing it here to ensure that the logic board is properly aligned with the case)
  19. Reinstall remaining components in opposite order of removal.
The first take apart took me about an hour. When I was done, I put it all back together and booted - and the new drive didn't work. Sadness! So I took it all apart again (in about 10 mintues), and realized that the hard drive's ribbon cable on the motherboard wasn't properly seated. A little press and then it was all back together in another 10 minutes or so. Phew!

After this process, I'm pretty comfortable working on the inside of an eMac. It isn't as easy as working on a motherboard in an ATX case, but it's much easier than working on the inside of any laptop.

Memory Upgrade

The easiest thing you can do with an eMac is upgrade it's memory. The 700 MHz eMac uses common "PC133" or "PC100" memory modules. I bought a 512 MB memory module for the eMac from MacSales.Com. The module cost about $75. Shop around - memory prices are always changing.

To install the memory, I opened up the eMac's memory access bay on the bottom of the machine by removing the single screw. I then removed the one of the two memory modules in the eMac and replaced it with the new 512 MB module.
eMac memoryI replaced one of these two 128MB modules with a 512 MB module

I wrapped things back up and booted the eMac. I went to "About This Mac", and saw that the Mac was happy with 640 MB (512 MB + 128 MB). [These days, I recommend you get two 512 MB modules, bringing the Mac up to a full 1 GB of memory]

In the past we had problems opening more than two applications at once - but with the new memory I was able to open 5 or 6 applications, all with great performance.

Upgrading to the OS

The eMac was running "Jaguar", OS X v10.2 - a reliable version of Mac OS X. But Tiger (OS X v10.4) is a substantial improvement. Those with a faster eMac (> 867 Mhz) may want to upgrade to Leopard.

It was a no-brainer to upgrade the OS, and upgrading is easy if your eMac has a DVD drive (and if you don't have a DVD drive, read my comments on Firewire enclosures, above).

The upgrade to Tiger was a simple exercise of inserting the Tiger DVD into the DVD drive and clicking through the menus. The upgrade process retained all of the eMac's user accounts, data, and applications, so I experienced no loss of any data or programs.

When the upgrade completed I rebooted the machine and performed a "software update" to patch Tiger from version 10.4 to the latest patch release [10.4.4 as of 12-Jan-06].

The entire Tiger upgrade took about 70 minutes to install, and had no negative consequences.

Leftover Parts

I'm happy to say that I didn't have any leftover screws. However, I did have some parts:
  • One 128 MB memory module. This is now installed in my father's clunker PC. Yep, this old eMac memory is 100% compatible with my Dad's Windows-based PC.
  • One 40 GB IDE drive. I'm going to keep this around for a while until the 160 GB drive has been running for a few months. After that, the 40 GB drive will land in my dad's PC.

In all, the eMac now rocks - although it still only runs at 700 MHz, the addition of 512 MB of memory, an upgraded OS, and a larger hard drive significantly improves performance.

Buying components for the eMac is very easy. Memory, hard drives, and Firewire enclosures are readily available from many vendors at low cost.


WolverineFan said...


Have you had any problems with the 160 GB hard drive? I am still researching whether the original eMac is limited to a 128 GB hard drive. Do you know if it is?

I own a 700 MHz eMac and just upgraded the optical drive to a Pioneer DVR-111DBK--it is great.

I installed 1 GB of memory when I purchased it and now the only upgrade I desparately need is to replace the 40 GB hard drive.

Thanks for the great post; your procedure using an external firewire enclosure is elegant and time-saving. I hope to follow this course soon.

LanceJ said...

I have had no problems with the 160 GB hard drive in the 700 MHz eMac.

I have a single 160 GB partition. All 160 GB are available to the eMac. It works great, I have had no issues since installation.

hokieian said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
hokieian said...


I just wanted to say thanks for posting this guide. I have a 700 mhz emac that has been getting very sluggish lately. Using your instructions (and the emac take apart amnual) I was able to successfully replace the hard drive (and max out my RAM) without any loss of data. And it worked perfectly on my first try of tearing the machine apart! Your suggestion for using the firewire enclosure and carbon copy cloner was great and saved a great deal of time and frustration.

Anonymous said...

Can you tell me if I need an adapter to install an airport card with my eMac 700mhz? If so, would you recommend apples airport card or the new USB cards.



Dan said...


Well done!

a. What's your thought on upgrading the 700 mhz (i) to be USB-2 and/or Firewire 800 (6-pin) compatable and (ii) to use Airport Extrme card and/or a 802.11g or n external wireless adaper?

b. If the 160 GB drive were left in the Firewire enclosure, and the Firewire enclosure also had USB-d compatibility, could the emac run Firewire 800 and/or USB-2 devices through the enclosure?

LanceJ said...

Hi Dan, thanks for the nice comments.

Regarding upgrading a 1st generation eMac to USB 2.0 or Firewire 800... that sounds like an expensive operation. I recommend that you look into selling your eMac and replacing it with a more modern machine - such as a more recent edition eMac, iMac, or Mac Mini.

Upgrading the HD, Memory, and OS is a relatively simple operation with the eMac. But upgrading its soldered-in periferals is a whole new level of complexity.

Robert said...

Hi Lance.

I know nothing about this, but I want to upgrade my emac (a 700mhz powerpc G4 with 128 MB).

At this stage I do not feel competent enough to do everything you did. If I simply put more memory in, could I Run OS 10.4? What is the maximum amount of memory I can put into my particular machine?



LanceJ said...

Hi Robert,

You can run OS X v10.4 (Tiger) on any eMac. As you suggest, you'll want to upgrade your RAM. One of the cheapest ways to go is to add a single 512 MB memory stick (about $50 at this time), bringing you up to a reasonable 640 MB. Tiger has no issues running on 640 MB of memory.

Alternatively, you could remove your 128 MB stick and add TWO 512 MB sticks to bring you to the 1 GB maximum. That'll cost you twice as much money, but it won't double your memory.

Good luck!

sttbrand said...

I think my power supply is bad, screen got darker over a few days, not the entire unit will not power up at all. any ideas?

rin said...

I have an eMac 1.25 GHz Power PC G4; 256 MB DDR SDRAM; Capacity: 76.21 GB; Available: 46.42 GB. I'm not computer literate and all I want to do (as inexpensively as I can...starving older student) is some how add PowerPoint so I can use it for school. I used my relatives new iMac with page and keynotes, but my school is not compatible and files won't open. I was recommended to upgrade to 1 Gig, install Tiger OS x v10.4 & Office, all at retail price and @ $90.00 extra I could pay for the install and diagnostic. Cost would total approx. $540.00. My question is: 1. Can I upgrading using your instructions at a lower cost with my settings? 2. what did it cost you for your upgrade?
3. After this kind of upgrade, can I use the ipod nano 3rd generation to download from itunes?

LanceJ said...

Hi Rin, sadly, I can't give you any advice here in terms of what is right for you. After all, the LanceJ Technoweb is just a bunch of opinion, and I'm not all that familiar with your situation. However.... you might want to look to see if you qualify for an education discount - after all, you say that you use this for school. Sometimes these academic discounts are substantial. As I understand it, both Apple and Microsoft have some kind of academic discount program. With such a discount, you might be able to get Leopard, MS-Office, and 1 GB of RAM for under $250. You might have to install it all yourself, however. Also, look to see if NeoOffice (free) is a suitable alternative to MS-Office. I find that it does a great job reading and writing MS-Office compatible files.

kato said...

I am getting ready to upgrade a 700mhz emac and I'm wondering if I can go bigger than 160 GB for an internal drive. I found a 500 GB at a good price, but will it burn up the insides of may Mac or something!?

Thanks for your great info.

LanceJ said...


A friend of mine told me that 250, 500, and larger "IDE" drives will work fine in an eMac. He says that newer drives generally consume less energy, and therefore they generate less heat. He also says that the eMac isn't subject to small drive geometries like some earlier Macs and Windows PCs.

I don't have personal experience in this area, but I agree with him that a larger drive should work fine. Good luck and let me know if it works out.

Anonymous said...

Great guide.

Chez Moi, we are running OSX 10.4.11, a 250GB Western Digital HDD, and 1 GB of RAM in a 700MHz eMac with no problems.

I just connected it (via ethernet cable) to an AirPort Extreme to serve as a base station (primarily to create a wireless connection to a shared printer).

Jason said...


Thanks for this guide! I just bought a 1.25ghz emac for my parents (for basic email and web browsing) and have been researching upgrading the HD and optical drive. Your detailed directions will be a huge help!

Anonymous said...

My eMac 800MHz 60GB HD became corrupted somehow, refused to repair using the hardware CD, so I bought a 250GB HD from my AppleStore (it was on sale, surprisingly, that's rare for Apple, but then it was a franchise store) and, without instructions, replaced it. Take your time, a few more-or-less correct tools, and it was actually fairly easy.

I did damage the power button, however, it fell to pieces! That's a 2-man job, preferably a girl-job (small hands and long fingers). But I managed to 'hotwire' it and install the OS and software and connect to the www to get the latest upgrades. Now works great, I leave it in 'sleep-mode' so avoiding having to continually hotwire it. Obviously I need to fix it, but Apple refused to sell me a new power-button - "Bring it in." (Not at your prices, matey! And the eMac's HEAVY).

I think I'll brouse the hobby-shops and fix a normal switch on the outside, even if it hangs loose. The switch connects one wire (with power) to 2 others, so it's an easy procedure.

Problem: in the meantime I was using an iBook G4 with the newer OS 10.4. The older OS now seems dated.

Prof's Page said...

Worth bearing in mind that newer eMacs (1.25Mhz and 1.4Mhz USB ones) can handle up to TWO megabytes of RAM, nor just ONE, as Apple claims. And that RAM doesn't have to have a price-doubling Apple sticker on it - Premium makes like "Crucial" or "Kingston" work just as well, for a fraction of the price.

wingrider said...

How do I find out if my 1.25GHz emac will handle 2GB of memory instead of one?

Prof's Page said...

There were basically TWO models of eMac, "with subvariants", The easiest way to tell which of the two you've got is to look at the speed. IF (as I said earlier?!) you've got a 1.25 or 1.42 model, then it;s the newer type, and (despite what Apple said at the time) it WILL handle 2 x 1Gigabyte sticks of RAM. Doesn't have to come from an Apple store - but pick a reliable make, like Crucial, or Kingston. No-name brands MIGHT not work.

Scott said...

When replacing the hd can you replace it with a Serial ATA or Parallel ATA. I want to know if I should buy the Western Digital Blue Caviar 500GB or the Green Caviar 500GB. Thank you for your help in me replacing my hard drive for my emac

NDN Car Guy said...

Great blog Lance J. After reading it I'm inspired to try and get our old Emac going again.

It came with an 80 GB Ultra ATA HD which the dealer says has blown its bearings and should be replaced (at great expense of course).

Quick question:

If my Emac has a 1.25 GHz PowerPC G4 processor, will it take an SATA Hard drive?

Nathan said...

I have just acquired one of the newer eMac models. It has the 1.4Ghz processor. I've ordered the two 1GB RAM chips to replace the 1 512MB chip it currently has. My big question, though, is will I be able to install Leopard onto this? I know it's not possible to go all the way to Snow Leopard but I have picked up a copy of the OS X Leopard and thought I would ask for any thoughts on installing it before I ruined the perfectly fine OS X Tiger that is currently on it. Thanks!

stevea said...


Thank you for the instructions. We had three old eMacs at work that died before we could wipe the hard drives - a necessary step prior to recycling computers - and I had a devil of a time trying to figure out how to get to the drives to remove them.

As it turned out, the three machines were all of slightly different design inside, from the number and placement of screws and connectors to the design of the shielding, speaker assembly and logic board subsystem. Fortunately, I picked the machine that was closest to your description to disassemble first; so the other two were easy to figure out from there. As you might guess, I had LOTS of spare parts leftover after I was done - not needing to make sure the machines still worked afterwards.

A very useful resource for those wanting to know what software and hardware the different eMac's will support is everymac.com (http://www.everymac.com/systems/apple/emac/index-emac.html). Check them out.

Anonymous said...

I picked up a 1GHZ model at a thrift store for $5 (I figured for that much, even if it didn't work I could convert it into a fish tank for a craft project or something)

It had no Ram in it, but I had a 512 stick of PC 133 SDRAM from an old windows machine, which worked to my surprise.

It's a fantastic second computer, and a good opportunity to hone my mac skills.

The article on Wikipedia says that it will run Leopard (10.5) , so I imagine that Nathan, who got a newer model, shouldn't have a problem with Leopard either.

Some doubt Wikipeida's reliability, but then again, who'd trust they'd get a working mac at St Vincent De Paul's thrift store? :)

Anonymous said...

We run Leopard (10.5.8) on an eMac 1Ghz with 1GB RAM. It's not as fast as running Tiger but is OK.

If it wasn't such a pain to do the downgrade, I would have removed Leopard and reinstalled Tiger in order to eek out some more speed.

Anonymous said...

Great information thanks.
My question is this... I was given a 700 MHz eMac. It has 258 MB of RAM (one stick). I have 2 other sticks (sorry, not a computer person) and what appears two slots to add additional memory. Can I have 3 slots with 258 MB in each?

Anonymous said...

Hi - this website is very helpful - I have a EMAC MODEL eMac (USB 2.0), and am planning to instal the max ram, can I run a larger monitor off of my emac?

Ghayoor Outsourcingbe said...

this is very nice work ... and thanx for sharing
mac memory upgrade