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Tearing apart an old Apple TV just for the heck of it

My "love" for the original Apple TV is well-documented. I purchased a 40 GB model not long after the device hit the market, and found it not to my liking. I hated how I had to slowly sync everything to the device, it had little space to begin with (yeah, I know I should have just swapped out the HD for a bigger model), it ran hot, and the UI was never up to Apple standards in my humble opinion.

So, with a new Apple TV on order for arrival later this month, I decided to take a look at the innards of the old device while also trying to recover a bunch of media that I had stored on the ATA drive in the old Apple TV. My idea was that I'd pop the unit open, take some pictures for posterity, disconnect the old drive, hook it up to my iMac with a cable that I use for recovering data from older machines, and then create a disk image of the content I had stored on this Apple TV. Follow along as I take this little geek journey -- you might want to do this with your old Apple TV as well.


The first thing I needed to do was to find out how to open up the Apple TV. I found a 2007 article on Macworld.com that described how to swap out the drive in the unit, and it turns out that you have to peel back the rubber "foot" on the bottom of the Apple TV, then remove a number of screws with a Torx screwdriver. So, with a spudger in hand and a song in my heart, I began to attack the Apple TV.

The first two screws were pretty easy. I was able to use a plastic spudger to peel back the corners of the rubber foot enough to get access to the screws, but I knew that I would need to peel it back even further. Unfortunately, the adhesive double-sided tape Apple used is pretty darned good, and it looked for a minute as if I'd rip the foot. I didn't want to do that, since it would ruin my plan of turning the Apple TV into a large, convenient coaster for my desk. It was time to grab a more formidable weapon tool, so I ran down to my tool cabinet and grabbed a paint scraper. After all, a paint scraper was useful for taking apart the old Mac minis, so I figured it would work fine here. Sure enough, it allowed me to slowly and safely peel the foot back.

After peeling back about two-thirds of the foot, I found two more screws and quickly dispatched them with my trusty Torx. They were smaller than the first two screws, and I found that they hold the hard disk drive in place. I finally peeled off the last of the foot, and there were two more small screws and two of the longer screws to remove. With that, I was able to pop the bottom off of the Apple TV.

The two pieces -- with the hard drive attached and the other containing all of the electronics -- were "connected" by a short ATA drive cable going from the motherboard to the drive. I disconnected the cable from the motherboard so that I had the bottom with the attached disk drive. A quick look at the Dan Frakes Macworld article noted that the drive is also taped to the inside of the bottom of the Apple TV with an adhesive pad, but a quick pull removed the drive safely.

I've taken some photos of the interior of the old Apple TV and I have to say that I wasn't impressed with the design. It's easy to see why the device got so hot under regular usage; there are just tiny air holes along three sides of the bottom of the Apple TV, and about 4 inches of that possible cooling path is blocked by the switching power supply on one side. There is a small fan sitting in the box, but I honestly have no idea how they thought that it would be able to cool the Apple TV when there's not much in terms of a path for airflow through the device.

One interesting find was a replaceable CR2032 3V battery, probably used to retain settings and run the internal clock when the device was powered down. Apparently Apple was confident that these batteries would outlast the lifetime of the Apple TV, since it would require anyone replacing the battery to go through the same tear-apart process I went through.

I have a USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter cable from Newer Technology that I've used in the past to scrape data off of drives, so I used it to connect the little 2.5" ATA 40GB hard drive to my iMac. Two drives appeared on my desktop -- one called OSBoot and the other named Media. It was the Media volume that I was interested in, since I had inadvertently erased some pictures from an older Mac about a year ago and deleted the backup as well. I thought that I had synced the photos with the Apple TV, and I was pleased to see that they were all there.

Instead of making a disk image, I just decided to import all of the pictures that were on the Apple TV drive into iPhoto. Some of them will probably end up being duplicates, but others are those photos that I've been missing for a year.

Now that I have the photos off of the Apple TV and my new device will be here soon, I'm stuck with the dilemma of what to do with my old Apple TV. When I displayed the device to TUAW TV Live viewers yesterday, some of them wanted me to give it to them, which I'm not going to do -- someone else would be upset that they didn't get it. But I will give you an opportunity to decide what I should do with the old Apple TV. Take the poll listed below, and I'll take the most popular suggestion under consideration.

What should Steve do with his old Apple TV?
Use it as a coffee cup coaster / warmer99 (7.9%)
Reassemble it and install ATVFlash or ATVPatch729 (58.2%)
Use it for target practice40 (3.2%)
Hit it repeatedly with a sledgehammer78 (6.2%)
Disassemble it further, see if the lid is transparent, and make a lamp out of it173 (13.8%)
Give it a place of honor in Steve's museum of old Apple Stuff134 (10.7%)


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Apple TV

My "love" for the original Apple TV is well-documented. I purchased a 40 GB model not long after the device hit the market, and found it...