An intrepid Apple expert set out to convert an iMac on its last legs into a useful external monitor with the same general design and functionality as a new Studio Display. The inspiration comes from Apple’s recently released monitor using a 27-inch 5K LCD, as do all the iMacs made for many years.
Watch a video of this DYI project to see if this is something you’d like to do with that old iMac you have gathering dust.
The fun of DYI
People take on do-it-yourself projects for a lot of reasons. In some cases, it’s about saving money. Other times it’s about a feeling of accomplishment. Making an old iMac useful again can be both.
On the financial side, an Apple Studio Display costs $1,599, while YouTuber Luke Miani was able to convert a dying desktop Mac into a similar monitor for about half that much.
But he had to buy the iMac. If you already own one, you could follow in his footsteps for about 15% the cost of the new monitor.
And you get the fun of being able to say, “See my new Apple monitor? I made it myself.”
Hacking an iMac into a Studio Display
It’s possible to use Luna Display to turn an old Mac into a monitor for a new one. But Miani decided to not go that route. He was looking for a solution that would work even if the iMac was nonfunctional.
That meant making a physical HDMI connection between the old iMac LCD and his current Mac. That’s a more ambitious project.
Miani started by cracking open the desktop, then removing its internal components. The video he filmed during the process isn’t a step-by-step guide. He points anyone who wants to do this themselves to the iFixit website for detailed guides and tools for disassembling an iMac.
Perhaps the most complex part of the iMac-to-Studio Display project is finding a conversion board that will add HDMI ports to the 27-inch 5K LCD panel. Miani found one for $180.
But that’s not all. The Apple Studio Display comes with a webcam, and so does the iMac. But the one that came with the desktop is unusable, so Miani fitted in one designed for a Raspberry Pi.
Then he carefully arranged the new components into the iMac chassis and sealed it up. Everything worked as expected.
Watch the full video to see the project from start to finish:
Not 100% the same
Plenty of reviewers were quick to note that the Apple Studio Display comes with a 27-inch 5K LCD, the same as in previous iMacs like the one used in this DIY project. But not all LCDs are created equal.
The iMac in this video is from 2014, and its display panel is missing some of the features of the LG UltraFine 5K LCD used in Apple’s new monitor.
“The late 2014 iMac is missing one thing over the LG UltraFine 5K, and that’s P3 color support. If that’s important to you, look out for a donor iMac from 2015 or later,” said Miani. “If you want the best experience, an iMac from 2017 should be virtually indistinguishable from the LG UltraFine 5K.”
In addition, the webcam fitted into the iMac won’t offer Center Stage, as the Apple Studio Display does. This nifty AI trick lets the front-facing camera follow someone on a video call.
So if it needed to be spelled out, this DIY project doesn’t literally make an old iMac into the equivalent of a new, $1,599 Studio Display. But it can make that old desktop moldering in the back bedroom into something you’ll use again.