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  Apple iMac A1311... [or three]

[May 2021] I had one of these systems (System #1) to repair for a client...

The problem with it was the screen remained blank. The chime chimed and I could here the hard drive functioning.

I suspected a screen fault but I had no way to test this further, so I proceeded by ordering a donor system, and a Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter.

The adapter came first and as soon as I switched the system on with another display attached, it worked, properly, on its main screen. I couldn't determine why the screen hadn't worked but as I'd already vacuumed out of the RAM compartment as it was quite dusty I elected to clean out more of the interior. This involved removing the glass and then the screen, being careful to keep both as clean as possible. (Removing the glass is fairly easy on these systems; I've done so on an older model which involved the use of a suction cup and the locating pins were longer and prone to breaking).

The interior was indeed dusty, particularly around the screen cable connector:

After vacuuming and carefully brushing with a soft brush, including down into the numerous fans I could reach, I visually inspected the components, including the power supply. All seemed well. I didn't want to dismantle the system any further, so I carefully reinstalled the screen, doing my best with a lens cloth to remove any specks of dust that had found their way onto the screen or rear of the glass.

The system remained fully functional through all of my testing and so I returned it to its owner... [more on this below]

I was now left with the donor system I had purchased...

(System #2) This was in full working order aside from the screen suffering from "screen burn". This seems fairly common for iMacs, a lot of the ones I looked at had this issue whereby the screen is somewhat yellowed. It's not really noticeable in most cases, only when the system is starting up and the background is white. I've noticed a particularly bad case on a newer system where the whole row of dock icons were burned into the display as blurry silhouettes. Bar replacing the screen I don't see a way to rectify this.

Moving on... what to do with the system I now have? I could just sell it on as it is. However, it was supplied to me with a hard drive installed and I was interested to replace this with an SSD. I also lacked an Apple keyboard and mouse; for this I opted for a compatible replacement that is in the style of the official one.

I'm actually not that experienced with working on Apple systems, which is partly why I decided to give myself this project.

I found instructions online [link] for the procedure to either clone the hard drive with an SSD, or do a fresh install to the SSD from the system image that is stored within the system (lucky because I have no copy of the OS).

The procedures seemed more straightforward than it is with Windows where I would always opt for a fresh install. However, the instructions I tried to follow failed to mention that the SSD would need to be at least the same capacity as the hard drive*; I had considered this would be the case but I hoped it wouldn't be. Sadly I was proven correct and disappointed that the clone option wouldn't work; the hard drive was 500GB and the SSD was only 240GB.

Moving on with the option to do a fresh install to the SSD from the system image this procedure seemed to go okay until I proceeded to boot from the SSD connected via an SATA to USB adapter; the startup progress went slow and seemingly got stuck near the end. I left it for a while but gave up. I repeated the process and even tried one that connected to the internet to get things started. Again the progress bar got stuck right at the end and I left it there for well over an hour before giving up.

One other thing I had noticed was that the system image was not 'Journaled' and therefore the SSD wasn't either, but the original hard drive was. Perhaps I could switch to this later.

In the end I found out I could reduce the main partition size down on the main drive to a fraction less than the 240GB limit of my SSD but creating a second partition. Then I was able to successfully clone the hard drive original partition to the SSD and boot from it.

The startup time doesn't seem all that quicker from the SSD, and while I didn't really try opening applications from the hard drive install, nor do I know how responsive these iMacs can be, it seems pretty snappy when opening applications (it already has Word and Photoshop installed).

Since an SSD is smaller than a hard drive I need a way to mount it in the space available so I have ordered a roll of double-sided thick adhesive tape. Some kind of mounting bracket would be preferable but these are more expensive and I can't be certain what I order will work as I need to (screw holes being the right threads).

I'm not sure what else to do with the system; it was Word and Photoshop preinstalled...

- - - - - - - - - -

(System #1 continued...) I returned this system to its owner after I had tested it and it had worked for me without issue. However... later that day the owner got in touch with me to say he had left it to go to sleep and it wouldn't wake up; the screen remained blank again. #sigh

I collected it and ordered another (System #3). The idea was to do what I had originally intended with System #2 but that had turned out to be incompatible; it was a 2010 i3 model and the faulty system was a 2011 i5 model. There were major differences (as I discovered); the screen connections were different and the screen inverter boards were different (amongst other things). However, as I liaised with the person that sold me System #2, they made me realise it was likely not a faulty screen since by plugging in another screen with the Thunderbolt to HDMI adapter I had received, that should just work, even if the main screen didn't.

System #3 arrived and it was in perfect condition so I elected to simply swap the hard drive from System #1 into it and provide that to my client so he was dealt with. This meant I didn't have chance to swap parts around to confirm where the fault was, but I was by now fairly confident with what that was...

I learned that the graphics cards in these Macs are prone to failing. Thankfully one came available... for half the usual asking price. The seller stated it was working but I was sceptical, but I took my chance. The only downside I could see was that it was from a 2010 i3 model, not the 2011 i5 I needed it for (System #1), but I figured if it wasn't compatible with System #1 I could test it in the 2010 i3 (System #2) and confirm it was working and resell it for a profit or raise the issue with the seller who might refund me, whereby I could sell it for a profit (faulty ones still command a price).

Anyway, the graphics card arrived within a few days and I began the somewhat daunting task of dismantling the faulty system I wanted it for.

Basic steps:
 - remove screen glass
 - remove actual screen (carefully disconnecting numerous cables)
 - remove hard drive
 - remove RAM
 - remove DVD drive, lower-right fan assembly, and IR module from below screen middle
 - remove logic board (again disconnecting numerous cables)
 - unscrew graphics card heatsink assembly from rear of logic board and remove
 - remove heatsink from graphics card

I actually discovered the assumed problematic graphics card had some, what appeared to be oxidisation on the contacts, so I cleaned these up, put on fresh new thermal paste and pads (there are 4 vram chips in addition to the GPU under the heatsink, the former typically have on them a thick layer of thermal grease, but I elected to replace this with pads) and reassembled the system just enough to test it...

The screen still remained blank. Cleaning the contacts made no difference so I proceeded to replace the graphics card, dismantling the system again!

The replacement graphics card had come with its heatsink and bracketry attached and it turned out that only some of this bracketry wasn't compatible, but it was simple enough for me to swap around what I needed.

Again with everything reassembled just enough to test it I pressed the power button and hoped for the best...

It worked. Great! Plus, the 2011 i5 system, once it loaded into the OS, didn't care that there was now a different graphics card and one from a 2010 i3; it showed up correctly in "About This Mac".

Hopefully the fact that the graphics card was sold to me at a relatively low price doesn't mean it has issues. I will test it further, but so far it's looking good.

Next up for this system (#1)... I intend to replace the hard drive with an SSD like I did with (#2) and will resell them both as refurbished/upgraded... how soon, I don't know. I'm still waiting for an Apple-compatible/clone Keyboard and Mouse to use with them.

Bonus (for reading this far):

In addition to all of the above, I tried a replacement screen inverter board before I had concluded it wasn't a screen issue... in the process of meddling with the one in the system (which had been unplugged for around 30 minutes) I managed to get an electric shock off it!

It gave me quite the jolt! Right from the middle finger on one hand to my thumb on the other. Don't mess with these things folks, there are high voltages inside!

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