Monday, December 17, 2012

A Great Little Board

A Change of Heart

When I first ordered the Intel NUC, my purpose was to see if this form factor had promise for the future.  I also figured that this small board would be useful to test projects and perhaps even wind up as a little media center somewhere.  In truth, I did not expect to seriously consider this board for the iMac G4 project. After working with this board for a while, I have to admit, its pretty fantastic.  For one, the size is remarkable, especially when it is removed from the case. This makes even ECX boards look big.  Secondly, its dead simple, it uses EFI bios, requires only RAM, a half height WiFi mSATA, and a full size mSATA SSD.  The mSATA in particular makes the system even smaller.  There is no need for even a 2.5" drive and nearly all wires are eliminated in this fashion.
As opposed to the other boards, this board only contains a Core i3 processor and there is a paucity of USB ports (only 3), mSATAs (one half height, one full height), an HDMI connector, and either a Ethernet + extra HDMI or Thunderbolt. (Depending on which of the 2 models you choose).

A Look Inside
 Despite these negatives there are other advantages this board has.  The availability of 2 RAM slots for a max of 16GB.  Thunderbolt while (at this point) is expensive and has few compatible devices does leave open impressive possibilities including hubs, a second display, and even a pci express graphics card.  The size also leaves most of the base available as it fits between the native PSU right under the fan and allows you to keep the optical drive (though a USB connection would be needed as there are no regular SATA hookups).

The Software/A Mountain Lion Hackintosh

The only method I use is tonymac's retail Mountain Lion Unibeast/Multibeast install method.  While the other boards took a very long time to get right, this could not have been easier.  I did know in advance to change the graphics to 128MB and of course AHCI instead of IDE (for the SATA controller).  Except for these small changes, there is almost no way to go wrong.  I used the Easy Beast Install with the Mac Mini 6,1 definition.  Now the reason for this is that there isn't much to the board, while other motherboards are loaded with other chipsets for gigabit Ethernet, SATA controllers, Touchscreen controllers, other I/O controllers, and business related QM chipset features, this board is really only about the basics.  But, with hackintoshes, less is more.  Having to clear your CMOS after you mistakenly enable some feature is no fun.  Neither is having to reinstall the OS because you decide to try to get native audio to work one last try.  This makes it very time consuming when it comes time to upgrade your OS.
One note,  I have read HDMI audio does require a work around, but this obviously does not apply to this mod.  Without any other audio cable out, a USB audio card will be needed.  But, so far airplay seems to work flawlessly, and can make for a wireless alternative.  So, in short, if a modestly powerful Ivy Bridge Hackintosh is your goal for this mod, I would recommend these boards above the others.  Being the easiest to find and the most affordable also doesn't hurt.
About This Mac
 Some Technical Issues to Solve:

1) Ports: 3 USBs is simply not enough and for basic function more is needed.  Thunderbolt hubs are absurdly overpriced right now, but either a Thunderbolt to SATA and/or USB or a regular USB Hub will be needed.  One USB is needed for the 5V "backlight power on" signal.

2) Fan:  there is a directional fan, but due to the faraday cage, I would still like to add the case fan in some manner.  This may involve replacing the existing fan and situating it directly underneath the iMac's case fan, splicing the fan wire to power it.  Or, running both, using the PSU to drive the fan (though a manual control knob may then make sense).

3) Power switch: This is hard soldered to the board.  A bypass will need to be wired up and I am fairly sure this can be done in an easy to reverse way.

4) Audio: A USB audio solution is needed.  This is not a difficult thing to find, but I am considering an airplay or Bluetooth based solution.

5) Bluetooth: I have been unable to find a Wifi/Bluetooth combo half height card that will work so far, so I will have to go with a Bluetooth dongle.

6) The Optical Drive: Using this solution means using USB to SATA to connect to a drive, but it will still need to be powered.  May require 12V to 5V downconverter.

7) Power: Worst case Scenario would involve connecting AC to the small power brick that comes with the NUC, but this seems like a waste.  Unfortunately as this board needs 19V, either an upconverter or downconverter will be needed to go from either 12V or 24V.

Concluding Thoughts

Although I'm not certain, I am actually leaning towards this board,  If this was an i5, putting it on par with my previous system (with more RAM and better graphics) this would be a slamdunk.  Each EPIC or ECX board requires different connectors, drivers etc. As Intel is likely to continually upgrade this form factor, getting this right may "future proof" future designs.  I am likely to build this out and see what the final project looks like and how it functions.
I will certainly post detailed instructions and may do a video guide if there is enough interest.  Thanks again for reading!


  1. Been following this blog for a long long time now. My G4 1GHZ has been sitting in my room collecting dust and is crying for to be modded! When I first heard about the NUC boards I knew they would be perfect for this!

    Please continue with the great posts and images of your work, Christmas bonus is in my next pay cheque, might treat myself!

    1. Thanks for reading. I am also quite excited by these boards and was thrilled when I realized how easily they ran mountain lion. Good luck with your mod, hopefully ill have a full guide out soon.

  2. JBerg,

    Thanks for this post. I am currently considering buying this Board (as it is available at an acceptable price here in Germany). I was a bit surprised that the board uses 19V - earlier Intel (Atom) Boards with a direct power connector all allow to use standard 12V DC power supply.

    I would recommend to use the fan power to create the 5V signal for the "backlight power on" signal. Depending on BIOS options these USB ports may keep +5V even if a board is switched off.

    However, I am really interested in your steps forward. I gave up my own iMac mod (the one with the fanless Atom board), when I bought a new Mac mini i7. I also had an original iMac G5 17" TFT available. The picture quality from this TFT is so much better than the one I used (from a Samsung notebook), so I decided to downgrade the iMac to a monitor-only system. Of course I replaced the CCFL with LED. Since last year many new LED stripes appeared on the market, and now some with double the number of LEDs per inch are available, which gives a great backlight experience without too much handicraft.

    Last, there are some combined WiFi/Bluetooth Half-size expansion card on ebay from Hongkong with a Broadcomm chipset, so you may have to check if there are drivers available for Mountain Lion.


    1. Frank, great to hear from you, I hope all is well. The 19V requirements is odd for these small form factor boards and unfortunately keeps this from being a perfect fit. I am searching for a small quality 12V to 19V up converter at (at least) 4 amps, I have a few candidates, but they are a little bigger than ideal. Worst case scenario, the native AC/DC powerbrick is small and I could always splice the AC input before the iMacs PSU, but its a waste of a 180watt PSU and introduces an extra source of heat.

      The "always on" 5V USB and internal sata power of these boards is a nuisance and required me adding a 12v to 5v down converter for a previous one. Haven't played around with the bios enough to see if I can change this, but connecting to the fan is a great idea.

      In terms of led conversion, my touchscreen mod has been waiting in the wings for me to find the perfect board. I finally found a 20.1" capacitive touch screen from 3M. The problem is that it's thick and heavy. LED screens would obviously solve this problem but the are not made in this ratio. To solve this I was going to make my own, I even cut a much thinner LED diffuser from 21.5" monitor (as the height is just about the same as the 20" 16:10), I traced out and cut the width and shape to match the iMacs. But I couldn't decide the best LEDs to get and I would much appreciate your advise.

      Firstly, I was hoping to edge light the top and bottom (most led screens seem to be done this way) and the my cuts on the side are rough and unlikely to let enough light pass through to the diffuser from the side. Will this be ok to use a top and bottom edge light. Second what LED/inch in a store bought strip would be appropriate? What spectrum of white light (warm, bright, 2700K)? And finally, what voltage? As you know, the 20" PSU supplies 24V which is conveniently flipped on by a 5V input. Should I use a 24V strip? Or stick with 12V? Thank you and sorry abut all the questions. I will also look into those half height wifi cards. Take care and happy holidays, Jon

  3. JBerg,

    for the PSU, I made good experience with LM2596 based adjustable Step down Converters (e.g. 261086347337 on ebay). This way you can create any required voltage - starting with a 24V power supply. Recently I replaced a damaged original ACD TFT with a ViewSonic TFT Screen - this one required 20V and 12V operating voltages, which was very easy to solve with these units. (even the usual 12V-5V converter allows a wide range of input voltage up to 35V).

    Regarding the LED stripes, the ones I used lately are Article No. 221135443706 on ebay. It is important to choose the ones with 600 LED/m in the cold white version (9000K). Only with these you can get a bright white picture. You are still free to select the color temperature within the color profile adjustment on your Mac's system preferences. On my mod, I selected 5400K, which gives me exactly the same experience as on my TV. With 6400K it is more iMac-like. The striopes are about 8mm thick and but with a simple scissor you can cut the edges to get smaller ones (about 5mm, which fit perfectly into the 17" iMac display).

    Combining the Step-Down converters and the LED stripes, I adjusted the output voltage to 16V. Originally the LEDs operate at 12V, but with a big tolerance (considering the wide range of non-stabilized power supplies), so 16V does not overload them. 12V seemed to be a bit dim.

    The question of switching off the LEDs by the 5V backlight-on signal requires some electronical components. If you only want to turn on/off the backlight, a MOSFET transistor (BUZ11) and a 100 Ohm resistor is all you need. These transistors can switch a big load by only a small driving current. Instead of 5V, you also may connect the gate to +12V (fan connector).

    Regarding the Intel board then, it should be possible to create any required voltage out of the 19V power supply with step-down converters.


  4. Quick question, how important is wire gauge? I am soldering some wires in a 17" G4 and I have the Red wire from the LCD cable. How important is it that I have a wire the same size? Is it ok if I have one that is a bit thicker?

    1. The answer is ... It depends on what the wire is. If you a soldering a ground or 5V cable, slight changes in wire gauge should not matter. However, when you are dealing with signaling wires like Couplets of LVDS or the triplets of TMDS it can interfere with your image quality. The signal is determined by slight variations between the two wires, so if you change the gauge of one, you will change the resistance and it could degrade quality or produce artifact.

  5. 1/2 height wifi N + bluetooth 4 : Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235.

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