Cape Cod Graphics® | Graphic Design | Logos | Illustration | Vector Graphics | Ads | Business Card Design | Web Design and Coding
Helping your business make a big splash

Giles Kennedy is the author of the document below (v2.1, 23 Oct 2004). After Giles successfully rescued an iMac CRT, with the assistance of a Mac support forum, he suggested someone document the procedure for others who fell into this upgrade trap. Since there were no takers, he took the bull by the horns.

Giles created this problem solver article in Microsoft Word (Feb 2004) and made it available for free public download. Many people didn't know how to open the Word doc. With Giles' permission, I converted it to HTML and posted it on my website. Since then, Giles has also put it on his own website located at http://www.gileskennedy.com/panthereatsimac. He asked me to keep it posted on my site, as well. Please be sure to check his site to see if there have been any recent revisions.

Please be sure to read the feedback section regarding this article, where two Mac techs share their experience and knowledge.

Edits made by Donna Benevides on 7 Sept 2013 - Revised text for broken hyperlinks, revised HTML coding to bring it into compliance with current web standards, and edited the disclaimer to say that working on electronic equipment can be dangeous.

The CRT iMac Firmware Problem Solver

I didn't update the firmware on my iMac before trying to install OS X 10.2 or higher on a slot-loading iMac: how do I fix resultant bootup/screen problems?

Disclaimer: while the information here is presented in good faith, we take no responsibility for errors or omissions. Warning: Working on electronic equipment can be dangerous. We take no responsibility for any injury or property damage. Proceed at your own risk.

Contents

I — Preliminaries

II — Introduction to the problem and description of its symptoms

III — Resolving the problems - overview

IV — Resolving the problems - working round S0 - S3

V — Resolving the problems - upgrading the firmware

VI — Suggestions if you can’t get a usable screen display

VII — Tackling symptom S4

VIII — Closing remarks

Appendix: Useful startup tricks

I — Preliminaries

  1. This article is applicable only to slot-loading CRT iMacs with firmware (Boot ROM) versions prior to 4.1.9. Tray-loading iMacs have different architecture and firmware.
  2. Usually the problems are caused when attempting to install or boot OS X 10.2.x (Jaguar), 10.3.x (Panther) or higher from an install CD. Many users have experienced similar symptoms and managed to get their iMac working again.
  3. The most important thing is not to reset the PRAM until the firmware is updated, as doing so can make the problems much worse.
  4. This article deals only with resolution, which is usually possible. The detailed causes of the problem are discussed elsewhere on the Internet.
  5. Note that OS X installs successfully on a proportion of slot-loading iMacs with pre-4.1.9 firmware. Although you may not be experiencing the symptoms listed below at the moment, it is strongly recommended that the firmware is updated to 4.1.9 as soon as possible as problems may arise at any time. It may first be necessary to install or reinstall (or upgrade an existing OS 9.0.x system to) OS 9.1 or 9.2.x. (Note that it is quite OK to have more than one system installed at the same time, e.g. OS 9 and OS X.)
  6. The firmware (Boot ROM) version can be checked using Apple System Profiler (Apple menu), but the best way is to boot into open firmware mode. Restart the iMac and hold down <Option> <Apple> <o> <f>. Make a note of the build version and date ("4.1.9f1 BootROM Built on 09/14/01" is the latest). Type "mac-boot" without the quotes to continue with a normal bootup.
  7. For further advice on the issues discussed here, contact Apple Support, post a new topic in the iMac(CRT) Usage discussion forum, or check for further suggestions at the iMac SL firmware problem solver site.

II — Introduction to the problem and description of its symptoms

  1. OS X 10.2 (or higher) plus a slot-loading iMac with pre-4.1.9 firmware is a recipe for an array of characteristic symptoms. The problems are usually caused during the install process when the installer restarts the iMac and boots OS X from the CD. The same problems can be caused in other situations, e.g. booting OS X from a Utilities CD such as TechTools or DiskWarrior. (Similar problems have also been reported very occasionally even when OS X has been nowhere near the iMac: such as when application (probably a game) or utility has attempted to set the video adaptor to an invalid settings, and the iMac has subsequently shut down improperly).
  2. When the OS X install CD is implicated, the troubles begin as follows:
  3. S0 — The first thing that usually happens is that after booting OS X from the CD the installer informs the user that the firmware needs to be updated and prompts the user to click to Cancel the installation or Restart the iMac. At this point the iMac freezes (typically with a grey screen). A forced power-off is required (hold the main power button for a few seconds). The iMac then won't boot, the whole thing seems to be completely dead, and the CD won't come out. Actually the iMac is displaying symptom S3 below.
  4. Once the user has overcome S0, a number of other symptoms usually appear:

III — Resolving the problems - overview

  1. All of these symptoms are resolved by updating the firmware to version 4.1.9. However, there are a number of steps involved in achieving this, as detailed below, and for practical reasons is may be a couple of days before you are able to complete the process. You need to work round the various symptoms you are experiencing. The symptoms are obstacles on the path to your goal of a successful firmware update.
  2. The first thing to do is to disconnect all peripherals (printers, scanners, etc.) except keyboard and mouse, to minimize the risk of other hardware interfering with the already complex problems.
  3. This article deals first with symptoms S3, S0, S1, S2, and then upgrading the firmware. The basic resolution process is as follows:

    * (where necessary) get the OS X install CD out of the iMac
    * get the iMac to boot
    * get some sort of usable screen image
    * (where necessary) install or reinstall or update the OS to 9.1 or 9.2.x, then boot the newly installed 9.1 or 9.2.x
    * obtain and run the firmware updater
    * (where required) update OS 9 to the latest version, 9.2.2, via 9.2.1
    * install OS X

  4. Finally there are a few comments on S4. Be aware that while a few simple steps may enable you to recover from S4, often more advanced procedures are required that require some technical competence in electronics and are beyond the scope of this topic. On the other hand, while replacement of the iMac's logic board is a valid solution to the problem sometimes recommended by repair shops it is expensive and usually unnecessary - it's overkill. Replacement of other hardware components (such as the power supply or power/analog video board) is unlikely to help.
  5. We repeat - do not reset the PRAM as this usually leads to symptom S4. If the iMac is already at S4 it probably won't make things any worse but it won't make them any better either. Also note that replacing the internal logic board battery causes a PRAM reset. Once the firmware is updated then you are safe to reset the PRAM.
  6. Finally, try to avoid rebooting the iMac unnecessarily.

IV — Resolving the problems - working round S0 - S3

Workaround for S3

  1. The workaround for S3 is to remove the power cord for several seconds, then to replace it. Power-on the iMac in the usual way; it will usually then display one of the other symptoms.

Workaround for S0

  1. If you are stuck at S0, then proceed as follows:
  2. If you are still looking at the frozen grey screen, and after waiting for a few minutes the iMac has not responded, perform a hard power-off by holding the power button for 3 - 5 seconds. Then remove the power cable, disconnect all peripherals except the keyboard and mouse, wait several seconds, and replace the power cord.
  3. Power-on the iMac (using the main power button is best). At the same time, try the following to eject the CD:
    * hold down the mouse button
    * if that doesn't work and the iMac boots up, you may be able to eject it in your usual way
    * if the iMac doesn't boot up then hard power off, remove the power cord for a few seconds (this may not always be necessary), replace the cord, and this time use an unfolded paperclip or similar to hold in the emergency eject button while you power-on the iMac. The eject button is actually located inside the CD slot, at the right-hand end. Feel for it with the paperclip. You should feel a slight click when you press it in. After the CD ejects you may need to power-off the iMac as this process disables the CD drive
    * another way of getting the CD out is to enter Open Firmware mode on startup. After powering-off the iMac and removing the power cord for a few seconds (where necessary), press the power button and immediately hold down the 4 keys <Apple> <Option> <o> <f>. This should get you into Open Firmware mode. Type "eject cd" (without the quotes) and press <Return>, then type "mac-boot" and <Return> to continue with a normal boot. While in Open Firmware mode, make a note of the Boot ROM version and date.

Workaround for S1

  1. Symptom S1 (iMac boots with a blank/black screen) is usually worked round by using the "sleep/wake trick". After the iMac has booted up (wait for the sound of the HD activity to stop, then wait a bit longer), briefly press the main power button to send the iMac to sleep. The power button should pulse orange. Wait a couple of seconds more, then hit the spacebar to wake the iMac back up. You should now be presented with some sort of display, albeit probably rather dim and strangely coloured. This is in fact symptom S2.
  2. Next time you reboot you may find that you have the dim display (as opposed to the blank display) immediately from bootup.
  3. Another workaround for S1 is to use an external VGA monitor, typically borrowed from a PC. Nearly all slot-loading iMacs apart from the first (350 MHz) model have a small removable panel just above the memory access panel. Behind this is the VGA connector. Note that the iMac video output is at relatively high refresh rates and so older VGA monitors from PCs may not be able to display the screen image. Also some modern flat-panel monitors have been reported not to work.

Workaround for S2

  1. You may be able to proceed with resolution of the problems even with the strangely coloured and dim display of symptom S2. Don't try to adjust the settings in the monitor control panel. Instead, darken the room you are working in.
  2. Alternatively, use an external VGA monitor if possible, as this tends to make working with the iMac much easier.
  3. If you are unable to get any sort of visible display (e.g. because you have a 350 iMac and the sleep/wake trick is not working) then you may have to proceed blind. See section VI for suggestions.

V — Resolving the problems - upgrading the firmware

  1. If you can boot the iMac and get some sort of display, then you are ready to proceed.
  2. To update the firmware you must boot OS 9.1 or 9.2.x from a local writeable drive (i.e. not from a CD). Note that by "9.2.x" we mean 9.2 or any sub-version of 9.2.) It is quite possible to have different operating versions installed at the same time, e.g. OS 9.2.2 and OS X 10.2.8.
  3. If OS 9.0.x is installed, then an update to 9.1 may be downloaded direct from the Apple.com website.
  4. Follow the instructions carefully. In particular, to run the OS 9.1 updater you should first boot from you original OS 9 install CD by inserting the CD at startup and holding down the "c" key.
  5. If OS 9 has been removed then reinstall from your original system CDs that came with the iMac.
  6. Alternatively an OS 9.1 install CD may be purchased at relatively modest cost direct from Apple or other suppliers. This may be your only way forward if your existing system is OS 8.x or you have lost your original CDs.
  7. If you have more than one OS version installed you can use the Startup control panel if necessary to select from the installed OS versions the one you want to boot (which must be 9.1 to 9.2.2 if you are going to update the firmware). Alternatively, hold down the Option (Alt) key on bootup and you should be presented with a list of the OS versions available to boot.
  8. So, boot 9.1 or 9.2.x from a local drive, download the firmware 4.1.9 updater from the Apple website and run it. Be sure to read and follow the instructions carefully.
  9. Occasionally there are problems in updating the firmware. Possible causes/resolutions are: RAM not of suitable specification; minor directory damage on the disk - run disk first aid to clean the HD; USB or FireWire hardware attached to the computer - make sure all peripherals apart from keyboard and mouse are disconnected; a file or old firmware file is in the Startup Items folder and is causing a conflict - make sure that the Startup Items folder exists inside the System folder, and is completely empty (if necessary make a new folder called "Startup Items (disabled)" and temporarily move the items across); sometimes the updater has trouble if there are multiple OS systems on a single HD volume so make sure the 9.x system you are booted from to do the firmware update is the actual "system" selected as the boot volume in the startup disk control panel; if that doesn't help and you are getting desperate you could try removing the old system; you could also make sure you put the firmware updater on the desktop and run it from there.
  10. During the update process, after the long tone described in the firmware update instructions the iMac should find the firmware image on the HD and write it to non-volatile memory on the logic board. This process takes a couple of minutes, depending on the computer speed. If you have some sort of video display you will see a progress bar across the bottom of the screen. At the end of the update the iMac will reboot. A PRAM reset is initiated automatically, but you may find that you need to do one by hand: shut the iMac down, power the iMac back on and immediately hold down the 4 keys: Apple - Option - P - R, and wait until the 2nd chime before releasing them. Your iMac is now fixed!
  11. In the unlikely event that the firmware update is interrupted while the new Boot ROM code is being written to the non-volatile memory (e.g. if the power cord is removed) then the NV memory will be trashed and the logic board will need to be replaced.
  12. If, when attempting to update the firmware, you hear a normal bootup chime shortly after the long beep, then the iMac could not find the new Boot ROM image for some reason, and it has proceeded instead with a conventional bootup.

VI — Suggestions if you can't get a usable screen display

  1. If your iMac is booting up but you can't get a screen display then you have a few options to consider:
  2. Some people have managed to do a "blind" firmware update. First of all it will be necessary to update the iMac's OS to 9.1 (unless you already have this or a later version of OS 9 installed) and get the firmware updater onto the HD.
  3. There are different ways of doing this - e.g. take the HD out and put it into another Mac; or if file sharing is on then you might be able to access the iMac's HD remotely for updating the OS and copying the firmware updater over; or you could try starting the problematic iMac in "FireWire target disk" mode. This allows you to connect to another Mac using a FireWire cable and have the iMac's HD appear as an external disk on the other Mac, allowing you to install OS 9.1 and copy the firmware updater over.
  4. If you have access to software such as Timbuktu for remotely controlling another machine then this would be a convenient way of seeing the screen of and controlling the problematic iMac.
  5. If you really have no way of getting a screen display, then try putting the unpacked firmware updater in the Startup Items folder. Then when you boot OS 9.1 (or higher), the updater will automatically start. You will need to dismiss 2 (?) dialogs by pressing <Return>: the first is a licence agreement, and the second is the dialog to shut the iMac down. You will have to use your skill and judgement in determining when the iMac is ready for you to press Enter each time! Once the iMac has shut itself down in preparation for the firmware update you can proceed as per the published instructions.

VII — Tackling symptom S4

  1. In symptom S4 the iMac thinks that there is a fault in the CRT or its circuit board (the PAV - Power/Analog Video - board) and shuts itself down. Your challenge is to get the iMac to start up so that you can update the firmware. Once you manage to get it going you need to avoid unnecessary restarts, and we advise you to plan (on paper) the sequence of steps you will take if you manage to get a successful boot.
  2. The basic approach to overcoming S4 is to trick the iMac into starting up without it worrying about a perceived hardware problem. In this article we can only cover the simpler approaches. (WARNING: removing or replacing memory or other components potentially exposes you to high voltages, so make sure you carefully follow your iMac's instructions for the installation of these components. Also note that if you fail to take suitable anti-static measures then you risk damaging sensitive electronic components.) The following may help:

VIII — Closing remarks

  1. Resolving the boot/screen problems described is usually possible, though it can be a tedious process. For more help and advice, feel free to post a topic in the iMac Usage discussion forums.
  2. If you wish to retain OS 9 (as a bootable system or for Classic mode) we recommend upgrading to 9.2.2 as this is the most stable version. The updates are available on the Apple site.
  3. This article has been compiled from the experiences of many users; thanks to all the unnamed users who have contributed the fixes.

Appendix: Useful startup tricks

These may help you diagnose and fix various problems with your iMac, including the firmware-related problems described here. Usually you should keep holding down the key or key combination until you see evidence that it has had an effect. Note that not all of these work on early firmware versions or on all early iMacs.

Change history

Date Version Details
23 Oct 2004 2.1 Minor corrections and additions throughout
19 Oct 2004 2 Completely re-written. References to tray-loading iMac removed as this model does not suffer from the same problems
Feb 2004 1.2 Original version