Introduction: How to Make a Macbook Tablet

About: Sailor in the Merchant Navy for work, hacking and modifying monkey on leave!

iPad too small or too locked-down for you? Build your own Mac Tablet!

There are three excellent Mac Tablet builds on Instructables already, so what sets my build apart from the crowd?
- The build is self-contained within the original Macbook body.
- Instead of using a Wacom tablet such as c4l3b or tqbrady's build, this tablet uses a modified Wacom TabletPC digitiser and stylus from a HP TX1000. Its much thinner and easier to modify.
- The optical drive, keyboard and trackpad get ditched for a USB hub and some funky peripherals...

The inspiration for this build came from the Axiotron Modbook (or nowadays, Modbook Inc's Modbook Pro), which turned a Macbook Core 2 Duo into a tablet. Whilst being the object of my affections for a few years, the price tag was just too great. 

On launch, the Modbook's RRP was a whopping £1,649.
My build is currently topping out at £240

The shopping list:
£150 - Macbook Core 2 Duo (2.16gHz, 80gb hard drive, 1gb ram) sold without battery or OS X, off eBay. 
£25 - HP TX1000 Wacom Digitiser with cable, off eBay.
£25 - HP TX1000 Stylus and spare nibs, off eBay.
£20 - Wire, solder wick, flux pen from Proto-Pic
£20 - Second HDD Caddy
(Several other parts and accessories have been collected over the years and have been reused.)

You're probably excited by the cheap cost by now, so before we begin, here's a word of warning:
During this build, you will destroy a perfectly good Macbook. It involves cutting a huge hole in the display lid, tearing the keyboard to its basic parts, cutting parts of the chassis, and soldering/desoldering tiny wires which connect to the logic board. This build is not to be undertaken lightly!

That's it, that's all. Let's make a MacTab!

Step 1: Tools and Basic Knowledge

Here's a non-definitive list of the tools you will require for this build. Items in bold are a necessity, every other tool can be substituted with hand-tools and a bit of ingenuity!

Cutting and Shaping Tools
-Oscillating Multitool with cutting discs
-Dremel with grinding, milling and sanding discs
-Tin snips
-Router, with bearing-flush bit and bearing-chamfer bit
-Various files and sanding paper
-Drill and drill bits

-Phillips #00 screwdriver
-Small flathead screwdriver

-Soldering Iron

-Wire snips and wire strippers
-Flux, wick, solder (60/40)
-Wire shrink wrap
-Electrical tape 

-Compressed Air Can
-Screen/Computer cleaning spray
-Double-Sided Tape

Step 2: Teardown Your Macbook!

Using this guide: , teardown your Macbook until the LCD has been freed. This is difficult, so take your time. The best advice I can give is that if something isn't coming off easily, read the instruction again and use a little extra pressure! Also, stick some double-sided tape to a sheet of A4 and stick your screws here with a description of where they came from next to it (i.e. Battery compartment screws, hinge screws). Makes it easier to find out which screws go with which part!

If like me, you bought your Macbook off eBay or secondhand, clean out the dust. These laptops are notorious for getting hot, and anything we can do to lessen it will be a great help! My fan and heatsink were choked with dust, dog hairs (at least I hope they were dog hairs...) and foundation powder when I opened it up!

I also changed the heatsink thermal compound whilst I was taking it apart. Not completely necessary, but I don't plan on taking this apart for a while! iFixit have a good guide on how to do this!

Once you have the LCD free, swap the LCD mounts on the sides. For the mounts to sit correctly, you will need to hacksaw the two lugs off the iSight bracket, as shown in the photo. 

Fit the screen back into the lid (no screwing here). This is how your tablets screen will be facing for the rest of its days, so why don't we cut a hole in the lid so we can see it!

Step 3: Measuring and Cutting the Tablet Bezel

Take the LCD out of the lid and place it to one side. In fact, place everything except for the lid and the thin plastic bezel you forced off earlier aside. This step is going to get messy!

Place the bezel on the lid, as it was before you removed it during the teardown. With the bezel held firmly in place with a bit of masking tape, use a pencil and draw on the inside of the bezel onto the lid. Make sure your pencil is vertical, otherwise your bezel will be lopsided! Once you have drawn a rectangle on the inside of the lid, and you are satisfied it is good enough, you can remove the bezel and place it to one side.

Take the lid to a garage or workshop, or somewhere where you can make plenty of mess. We're going to cut the aperture for our screen! 
Mask the shiny side of the lid as shown in the photo. This will provide a cleaner, non-shattered cut, and will protect the surface of our new bezel. Flip the lid over, and lay it on some sacrificial plywood or pine. Use a small sacrificial piece and a clamp to stop the lid from moving around when we cut it. 

I drilled holes in the corners for a nice fillet. I then cut the aperture using an oscillating saw, and I thoroughly recommend this method if you have one. It doesn't produce a lot of waste, easy to follow the line, and its easy to manipulate. It's also by far the safest saw to use. However, this can just as easily be done by drilling a hole and using a jigsaw, or a hacksaw/padsaw.
Always cut on the inside of the line, and rotate the lid so that you're always cutting near to the clamp (reduces vibration). 

Once you've cut the aperture, you'll need to run a file or knife around the inside and outside to remove the burrs. On the outside, do this carefully to avoid chipping the gloss finish. Whilst you're making a mess, you need to grind off the Inverter Board plastic housing and there is a slight edge on the bottom part of the lid that needs to be filed off too. Then your new bezel-lid will fit flush onto your base!

Test the bezel with the screen to see if it fits, and then you can file and smooth down the edges.

Or, for those with a Router...

The only problem with cutting the bezel, is that you get a sharp right-angled edge which would be uncomfortable to lean on. When I fitted my bezel to the screen, it obscured part of it. With these thoughts in mind, I decided to chamfer the edge, to make the tablet easier to work on once finished.

To begin, I made a jig out of plywood strips nailed to chipboard. The plywood has to be tall enough for the bearing of the bit to follow. The plywood rectangle was measured to the screen size and the bezel was fitted to this with double-sided tape. 
Trying to get the router to follow this guide alone would have produced a wobbly edge, and so I made some plywood outriggers, and packed them up with cardboard. Now my router could follow the guide without tipping over!
I made the first cut with a 1/2" flush bit with bearing guide, and followed it with a depth-stopped 1/4" chamfer bit with bearing guide.

Step 4: Teardown Your Keyboard!

If you've followed the steps so far, congratulations! You've done some pretty hardcore modifications to your lid, and we're going to continue with some hardcore, irreversible modifications to your keyboard and trackpad!

First thing to do is to remove the FFC (flat flexible connector) which connects the keyboard to the motherboard. Put this safely to one side, as we will be disassembling this cable and connector in the next step. 
On the back of the keyboard, you will see the metal heatshield/EMR shield is connected to the keyboard by a series of plastic welds. Using a Dremel, a drill or a scraper, remove all of these welds, so that you can separate the keyboard top from the heatshield. On the trackpad heatshield, Apple have kindly used some strong adhesive to make sure you have a horrible time separating the two! Use a big blunt knife and working slowly from one side to the other, carefully pry the two pieces apart. 
On the Optical Drive edge and the Hard Drive edge, there are two smaller pieces of aluminium which connect to the chassis using plastic clips. Take these off the keyboard too, and save them for later.

Once you've made a big mess taking the keyboard apart, the last thing we need to do is remove the Power Button. Note that we only want the plastic button itself, and none of the cables that come with it. We will be making our own button out of a tactile switch!

Step 5: Teardown Your Keyboard Connector!

After ripping apart your keyboard/trackpad, your adrenalin is probably pumping and I bet you can't wait to tear down the next piece! Well, calm down there son; this step requires a steady hand and a ton of patience!

The FFC keyboard connector you put to one side in the last step is our focus now. The connector which fits into the motherboard is a hybrid of a USB hub and the Power Button. We need to be able to solder our wires onto the connector in order to start the computer and hook up a USB hub to it. That means we have to desolder the connector from the cable. 

First, remove the black tape around the connector. Turn the connector upside down so that you can see the surface-mounts for the pins. Using solder wick, remove the solder from the PCB and the pins and pry the connector off the board. Do not touch the connector with the soldering iron! Hopefully, once the connector has been removed, you will have 10-pins inside the housing. Remove these one-by-one using tweezers. We will be soldering our wires to these pins, and then fitting them back into the housing!

Step 6: Boldly Solder Until You're Older!

Before we solder any wires, measure the distance from the keyboard socket on the motherboard to the top-right corner of your Macbook. If you want to make it a bit tidier, look at routing your cables between the fan and Bluetooth-card. This area won't have as many cables passing through as it did with the original display location. According to our diagram, the Power Button will be recessed on the top-right, with the USB hub living in the empty Optical Drive bay.

Once you have measured the distance, cut cables to length (stripping an old USB cable is perfect for our cable requirements; thin, flexible and in the correct colours!) and solder them to the top of the pins.

Solder the PWR cable to one leg of a normally-open tactile switch. Solder the other leg to GND. Check the resistance using a Multimeter (should give a reading of "0" when the switch is closed), and then plug the connector into the motherboard. Plug the power or a battery into the Macbook, and then press the tactile switch. If your soldering is good, your Macbook-tablet-mongrel should come to life!

Now switch everything off, disconnect the power, disconnect the keyboard connector and fit the USB D+, D-, 5V pins into the connector. USB GND will be soldered to the GND leg of the tactile switch. This is to avoid unnecessary strain on the connector pin.
The other ends of the USB cables can now be soldered to the USB cable of a small USB hub. I used a four-port hub from Trust, which I stripped and removed three of the ports.
This is so I can have:
-One right-hand side USB port
-An internal bluetooth module (an old Belkin model I had lying around)
-An internal SD card reader (I use this so much on my Macbook Pro that I wish the older Macbooks had one fitted as standard!)
-An internal 3G/HSDPA+ modem (a Huawei E3131, unlocked. Around £15 from eBay)

To see the pinouts, please go to this website:

Step 7: The Digitising Heart of the MacTab

Without this step, our tablet would be nothing more than a glorified, heavy electronic picture frame (with no means of control!). So, its time to find, hack and fit our means of input: a Wacom digitiser.

Now, after you read this step, you must pay the good folks at BongoFish a visit ( ). They are the grand-masters at making these kinds of devices, and I spent a good few many hours scouring the details. What we do in this step is this:
- Find a TabletPC digitiser and appropriate pen on eBay or elsewhere.
- Once delivered, cut the motherboard connector and attach to the Macbook bluetooth cable
- Test it.
- Fit it and rejoice!

On eBay, type in "Wacom Digitiser" into the search box. Now, you want to look for digitisers which have been in a HP TX2000. You will also want them to come with a cable (these are rare, and making your own is difficult). You will also want a digitizer pen that is compatible with Penabled Tablet PC's. All of this can be found on eBay.

(Other Wacom digitisers are available, but I have neither tested these nor know if they work with USB. To be on the safe side, spend a good deal of time in the BongoFish forums!)

The TX2000 is a 12.1" sensor board. You're probably thinking "But my Macbook is a 13.1" screen! I'm missing out on a one-inch border!". It's true, at the moment, the pen is absolute to the sensor, which makes my pointer move at a ratio of just over 1.08 times further from the centre. Its annoying, but until I work out a way to make a Mac driver for it, its an annoyance you have to deal with!). Normal Wacom drivers don't work with this sensor board at the moment, but I'm working on it...

I found mine for £25 and the pen was also £25. Once delivered, i stupidly cut a tear into the bottom left corner of the digitiser. These are really fragile, so treat with care! My digitiser still works, but the pointer goes a bit nuts in the bottom left area!
Remove the cable from the digitiser baby-board, and put it to one side. Remove the Macbooks' bluetooth cable, and set it to one side. You can remove the bluetooth module too; it's useless to us now!

The Wacom board is powered by 3.3v only, so a normal USB connection (5v) will likely render it useless. Thats why we use the Bluetooth board; it is the only 3.3v USB module in the Macbook. (I tried using a voltage regulator, but the voltages were a bit suspect! At least this method is tried and tested!)

You need to cut the and solder the cables according to the diagram in this thread ( ). Having been a few months since I finished soldering, there seems to be more activity on the forums regarding this digitiser now, and so I'm sure the folks there can help you out if you run into difficulties!

I cannot speak highly enough about that forum. It is a remarkable font of knowledge!

Once you've finished soldering and insulated each solder join (don't want any crossed wires!), plug it into the Wacom baby-board, and the other end into the old Bluetooth connector on the motherboard. Power on the MacTab, and using a USB Keyboard and Mouse (or if it works straight away, the Penabled pen!) to the System Profiler. Under USB Device Tree you should see a ISD-V4 with the magical word "Tablet" next to it. Your pen should also be moving the pointer around (when waved above the sensor) and you should be able to tap-click!

Congratulations, your digitiser works! Now, centre it on the back of your LCD Display, and test it. Once you're happy, tape it to the back using electrical tape. Test on the screen, and there you have it, a home-made Tablet!

Step 8: Time to Make It Look Good!

So the digitiser works! If you managed to solder your peripherals to the USB and that they all work too, congratulations! Mine didn't work, and I didn't have time to make it work before I was recalled to my job at sea! Once I do make it work, I will update this Instructable.

What I did manage to do in time, was:
- Fit an extra hard-drive
- Attach the blanking plate to the Optical Drive and fit the Power Button.
- Enclose the entire tablet inside its own body, and make it fit for use.

In this step, we will focus on the optical drive bay, blanking it off, fitting the power button, and fitting a second hard drive.
First remove the motherboard. The last thing you want is a shard of aluminium or plastic messing up all your hard work and making the computer unusable. Remove the motherboard, clean it using compressed air (from a can, or a low-pressure compressor) and put it to one side.
Then remove the metal chassis part (fixed with three phillips screws) on the inside of the optical slot. Put it to one side. (Note, this is NOT the main chassis, its just the part which stops the optical slot from bending in!)
Mark the edges of the slot, and cut out the top part. Square off the bottom corners, and cut a piece of the waste-of-the-lid to fit in the hole. Make sure it fits snugly now!
After doing this, mark out where you want your power button to be situated. Mine is on the right hand side of the slot, because there is plenty of room to route the cables to the power button. Tape the plastic blank with masking tape, and then mark the hole for the plastic power button. Drill the hole, and make sure the power button fits. If it's recessed a bit, even better (less likely to switch on by itself!)
One the hole is drilled, take the metal chassis piece and fit it back into the base of the tablet. Mark a square where the tactile switch will fit. File out the square, making sure there is a good interference fit. You can alway epoxy the tactile switch in if its a bit loose.
Once the metal chassis is filed, the blank has the hole drilled, and the Power Button fits in place, snug and works; glue the blanking plate to the metal chassis, and use superglue to attach the blanking plate to the rest of the body.
By bonding the plate to the body, you retain a bit of it's structural strength!.

As for fitting a hard drive, it is as easy as buying a IDE to SATA caddy off eBay or Amazon (I bought this one secondhand: ). I had a WD 500gb Scorpio hard-drive lying around and so I fitted that into the caddy first, and then secured the caddy into the optical drive bay. The caddy is as large as the optical drive, and so if you're wanting to fit extra peripherals, you may want to remove the IDE to SATA cable and make a smaller custom caddy!

I was going to fit an SSD as a boot drive, but as my geriatric 5400rpm 120gb boot drive is only dealing with Mac OSX and the applications, it seems to go like a rocket. I'll just save my money until it fails, as the second hard-drive has a Time Machine partition anyway.

Step 9: Time to Tear Out Your Hair!

Now comes probably the trickiest part of the build: Fixing the lid to the base. With this, I had moderate success but due to time-constraints I had to do a make-do-and-mend job.

The principle of fixing the lid to the base is like this:
-Attach the EMR shields we scavenged from the keyboard to the underside of the bezel-lid (i.e. the back of the LCD and Digitiser). We use the screws used to attach the LCD to the bezel lid, through the EMR shield.
-Attach the bezel lid to the base using screws, and a little superglue

Once the Wacom digitiser has been attached to the back of the LCD, and you've tested it using the pen on the screen and are satisfied with the position, you can now close it up under the EMR shields. I made some of the keyholes a little bigger to accommodate the wiring for the LVDS and the Wacom sensor too.

Take the keyboard shield and position it in the base. Measure the distance between the sides and the outer rim of the polycarbonate exterior. Next, take the keyboard shield, and remove the four screw holders on the top left and right of the shield (they should be attached with small phillips screws. The outer two are steel, and the inner two are a white polystyrene). You need to make some packing to extend their height, and I used thin plastic for mine.

Once you've extended the height, reaffix them to the shield and then fit the shield inside the back of the bezel lid. Make sure it is positioned using the measurements you took from the outside of the shell described earlier. Once it's positioned, mark out where the screw holes for the LCD retaining screws are beneath. Drill holes in these positions.

Do exactly the same for the palmrest shield. This one is a little trickier, as you have to line up the screw holes with the battery compartment.

After you've attached the shields to the back of the bezel lid, dry fit them in the base. Check that the screw holes align, and try using a screw in each corner to check the fit. If its a good fit, there will very few gaps between the bezel-lid and the base. If it's a great fit, well, it'll look like the MacTab was manufactured like this!

Step 10: The Final Hurdle

With the bezel-lid fitting onto the base, we need to:
-Attach and route the cables
-Power On one last time
-Switch it off, apply a little superglue here and there, and screw the bezel-lid to the base

For the bezel-lid to the motherboard we have to attach two cables; the webcam/LCD LVDS cable, and the Wacom Digitiser cable. It's best to fit these into the lid before you mount the shields. Ensure the inverter board fits nicely below the LCD, and route the extended inverter cable to the top left of the motherboard.
With the bezel lid slightly raised off the surface, plug the connectors of those cables into the motherboard. Then attach a few screws to keep the bezel-lid in place, and switch it on. This will be your last chance to check everything functions properly!

Once you've checked and tested everything thoroughly, you can apply a little superglue between the lid and the base. The best places to do this are on the right and left hand side, and along the bottom edge. It provides a little extra strength, and will also prevent dust and crap from getting through any small gaps. Also, its quite brittle, and can be prized apart at a later date without damaging the plastic too much.  All the better for upgrades!

Tighten all the screws, fit the battery, charge her up, and you should have a working MacTab! Nice one!

Step 11: Working, But Not Perfect

Wipe the sweat from your brow, crack open a beer or soft drink and pat yourself on your back. If you made it this far, you have my admiration! It took me just over a month of planning and diagrams, and a month and a half of build to get to this stage, and so I know it can be a bit exhausting!

At this point, I have been using the tablet in its current form for two months. Being a sailor, my MacTab has already had to endure some tough conditions (a bumpy flight to Hong Kong and a storm in the Pacific where it got thrown about a bit), and so now we should analyse our new tablet, and see where improvements can be made.

-Big 13.1" screen
-620gb Storage
-4 hours battery life
-Rather solid construction (i.e. feels good in the hand, and the plastic doesn't flex or deform)
-Wifi signal strength is very good
-Dual hard-drive means a rapid boot-up
-Sound quality is a lot better than expected!

-No driver for the Digitiser, and so no tilt or calibration settings. I'm learning Objective C and Cocoa, so hopefully I should have something by April 2013. Info here from Wacom on developing tablets for Macs ( )
-Screen can't be rotated. This is a problem with this particular Macbook, and hopefully I can work around this problem in the future by upgrading the screen and inverter board. Instructions how to do this can be found under the iFixit link given earlier
-Drawing on the LCD. Its not good practice to do this, but a piece of thin clear lexan or perspex between the LCD and the pen would prevent any damage.
-Heat. It gets quite hot as all MacBooks do. I've gotten around this by making a stand for it, and you can also install software to control the CPU work rate.
-CPU fan disrupts the microphone. The microphone (even though its been sound-proofed with high-density packing foam) can still pick up the sound of the CPU fan whirring below. A better location for the mic needs to be found.

-Dual Boot. I'd love to try Windows 8 on this. Being a TabletPC digitiser, it should work fully from the start.
-Pen caddy. The fan grill is the perfect size for storing the pen. Just need to find a way of making it secure.
-Integrated stand and screen protector. This has been on the drawing board since before the tablet was completed. I think a stand fabricated out of aluminium and a screen protector could be attached to the back of the tablet. At the moment I have a cardboard stand which works well enough though.
-Full Photoshop capability. Without the drivers, I can't use Photoshop with pen pressure or tilt. Hopefully this problem will be solved with the custom driver.

-Always a chance my soldering will fail, but it hasn't so far.
-Pressure on the LCD. Again, have been careful, but a sturdy screen protector could solve this.
-Intrigue. Everyone I have shown it to has been interested in it! Potential for theft, maybe…

If you give this a go, I promise you it will be worth it. My MacTab is not fully complete (i.e. Didn't manage to install the USB hub and peripherals in time) but even so, I love tinkering with it and have learnt a lot about the hardware and construction of Macs in the process. At the moment, it is working as a trusty iTunes jukebox, film library and data archive/networked drive for my Macbook Pro and its an impressive device for less than £250.

The best bit for me is you're saving one laptop and a load of other spare parts from landfill and obsolescence. That can only be a good thing!

Reuse Contest

Grand Prize in the
Reuse Contest

Holiday Gifts Contest

Participated in the
Holiday Gifts Contest