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The eMate Hinge Fix: Yeah, I actually did it, and here’s what I learned

Another hypertechnical FilmHelp article by Greg Pak
In an article last month singing the praises of the 1997 Apple eMate as an outstanding low-tech writing machine, I noted that one of the big flaws of the eMate is its infamous hinge problem, which can result in a spring popping loose and puncturing the monitor cable.
I’m happy to report that I finally broke out my Torx screwdrivers and soldering iron and followed the excellent instructions at pda-soft.de, inventors-emporium.co.uk, and unna.org (warning: pdf) to fix my machine’s hinges.
It’s a pretty involved operation, and I highly recommend reading through the instructions and assembling all necessary tools and supplies before starting it. A few pointers:

  • The hinges are much smaller than the closeup photos in the guides might lead you to believe. I didn’t measure them, but if you’re planning to do the washer fix, you should have a few very small washers on hand to experiment with. The washer I ended up using was just 7/16 of an inch wide.

  • Have all the necessary supplies on hand, assuming you’ll go all the way through with the hinge fix. I opened up the machine thinking I’d just check the hinges. But when I saw that one of the springs on the hinge near the monitor cable had begun to shorten, I realized I needed to go through with the whole operation. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the recommended grease on hand, so I ended up just using a few drops of 3-In-One oil. I’m guessing that’s an acceptable substitute at least for the short term, but if the lid seems to stiffen over the next few years, I may have to open the machine up again and grease the hinges properly with the right stuff.
  • When reassembling the machine, make sure the volume and dimmer tabs from the front case are lined up with the sliders on the motherboard. I forgot about this step and had to reopen the machine (which required another round of soldering).
  • I freaked myself out a bit when the machine wouldn’t start up after the whole operation. But when I pressed the reset button on the back of the unit, it came back to life. I think the blank screen’s a reaction to all power being cut off from the machine during the repair process.
  • It’s a good idea to have some strong epoxy ready before undertaking the repair. When I opened up my eMate, one of the small plastic posts on the inside of the machine that serves as the base of one of the battery cover screws cracked. The top of the post fell off and I had to glue it back on during the reassembly. That makes me think it’s also a good idea not to over-tighten the screws to the battery compartment to avoid stressing those posts too much.
  • Make sure you have enough time to complete the project before starting. It’ll probably take at least two hours — and probably longer, if you’re taking proper care and it’s your first time opening the machine.
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