Instructables

Can I Turn My Old Macbook Into a DIY Mac Pro Tower?

Preface/Background: I am fairly new to DIY tech projects. I have built two HTPCs, but I doubt that really counts. It does, however, give me a basic idea of how all of the components go together. I'm not terribly savvy when it comes to specs of computer components.

I have an '08 Macbook that has just been gathering dust since I upgraded ~1 year ago. Recently, my side job as a freelancer (graphic design & video) has been picking up. My new machine is pretty powerful, but the time it takes to get my laptop setup with all of my peripherals is starting to get old. There are also times when I crave some extra speed & I often have to stop working in the middle of a project to clear up disk space or set up an external drive.

I remembered seeing a project where Mosburn converted his macbook into a Mac Mini on Gizmodo a few years ago, which got me excited. It was written in 2008, and may be a little dated.

I'm looking to do a similar project, but I'm not really looking for size/design. I'm looking for POWER!

The Macbook in question is version 4,1. As I said, looks aren't a big issue for me (nor size). I now have an extra room in my house and it is going to be set up as an office. Everything still works on the laptop, although the battery no longer holds a charge. I initially planned to sell it, but with the dead battery and some cosmetic damage, I could only get about $200 for it. I think this project would be more valuable to me than that.

Project Goals:
-Use as much of my existing laptop as possible (the whole buffalo)
-Use a case that allows upgrades (more memory, more drives)
-Increase memory (current: 4 | desired:16+)
-Increase disk space (current: 80gb | desired: 2tb+)
-At least 1 Solid State

I know the Mac OS is pretty picky when it comes to components, so the initial question is: Will the system accept my desired spec upgrades? I know that I have to use compatible brands, I just want to make sure there isn't some sort of "maximum" hard coded. Will I be able to use both Solid State and Disk drives? I would like to get a smaller Solid State as a primary, and a couple of large disk drives for storage and scratching. I may get a dock so I can quickly switch drives that are strictly storage, but for now I just want a couple TBs inside. Also, would you suggest using the existing power cable? Or would it be benificial to swap in a new power supply? I'm not sure how intensive that might be, but I'm guessing a few more drives will require it.

I think it is safe to assume that I will need to use some advanced DIY techniques, as far as my experience goes. As I stated before, I've built a few PCs before, but these were all fairly simple. Connecting components to the motherboard were as easy as plugging them in. I've done a (very) small amount of soldering before on other DIYs, but they were all done on fairly big parts and precision was not an issue. If soldering might be needed, I will need some help with this as well. I am hoping there are some guides out there to help me understand what goes where on my particular motherboard. I'm also a little worried that I may have to do some cutting (as done in the project linked above). Hopefully the fact that I don't need a small case, I won't have to deal with that.

I plan on buying a high res screen to use with this machine, but I'm not sure what I plan to do with the existing LCD yet. I'm not sure how much I might be able to sell it for, or how much it might cost to buy a stand to mount it with. It is a pretty nice screen, but it's long before the time of the Retina display, so it may not be worth messing with.

If anyone has any suggestions for what approach to take, or a link to an existing guide, please share them below. Another fear I have is that the variations in MacBook models may make finding an applicable and useful guide more difficult. Another note: Cost isn't really an issue. I hope to first accomplish this project using mostly the materials at hand - worrying about upgrading my specs later. If this is possible, the only expenses should be a new case, a few cables, and possibly a new power supply.

I'd like to preemptively thank anyone who might offer help. I've been wanting to make a move to tech DIY for years and this project seems to be a great starting point. I hope this leads to many more and that I can soon be a helpful contributor here as well.

Picture of Can I Turn My Old Macbook Into a DIY Mac Pro Tower?
There is no way to take an old laptop and build a more powerful and more up to date tower from it. There are no components that can be salvaged from the older system that could be usable in a new one.

To make the laptop more powerful you would need to replace the CPU. In this case the CPU is attached directly to the main board. So the entire main board needs to be replaced. Which is basically the entire laptop.

The best you can do is make a DIY docking station for it. Put it in a larger case, give it a USB hub, attach an external monitor, keyboard and mouse, and call it a new system. But you can't do anything to make it more powerful and there isn't much technical to doing any of that. You may want to look for another project to start on your technical journey.