Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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So how is your MacBook doing, Mr Porst?

1230 words on

Seeing that I’m the guy who had to replace several of his computers prematurely in the past years because Apple aren’t able to build machines that last or even give the confidence to assume they will last, people may be tempted to ask how my ‘new’ (May 2007 2GHz Core2Duo) MacBook is holding up after half a year. It could be doing better is the short answer. And the details follow below.

Battery

The first problem I had with the machine was related to the battery. Just like the previous machine’s its battery wasn’t doing well. In particular I had at least three instances where the machine died when running out of battery power. Rather than first warning me about that and then storing its precious RAM contents to the hard drive, that is.

I was very annoyed by this as it completely ruins any trust you could have in the battery. And what’s really odd is that Apple did change their hard- and software a few years back to include ‘safe’ sleep which actually stores stuff to the hard drive rather than just keeping it in RAM and running a real danger of losing data when battery power runs out. But my impression is that this has been a step back.

Despite being in a more more risky state, I never lost data because of power running out on my PowerBook G4. This was because the machine did go to sleep early enough and because very little power was needed to keep the RAM contents alive, thus making even a lengthy period of sleep before recharging feasible.

Compare that to the current Intel line up. Not only did Apple switch to less reliable batteries, the speed at which the battery is drained when the machines are sleeping also suggests that they absolutely need a safe sleep mode because you couldn’t hope the machines to buffer their memory for another day on whatever charge may be left in the battery. But with the new, disk-based, ‘safe-sleep’ mode sometimes failing to kick in before the battery runs out, all this is worthless.

For me, in this case, it took a while before the repair guy at the local was back from his holidays and somehow the problem had resolved itself by then. You’ll hear people mumbling about ‘battery calibration’ in such situations. But I really think What the fuck?! If Apple (or anybody else for that matter) can’t calibrate or whatever their batteries well enough to keep the machine powered long enough to do its job, then perhaps they should not ship them.

Second Mouse Button

From time to time I was irritated because text I typed ended up in a completely different part of the editor than the one I had been typing it. Usually I suspected that I inadvertently touched the MacBook’s trackpad and ‘clicked’ somewhere, thus moving the cursor. And thus it took me a while to figure out what was really going on there:

Apparently my MacBook’s trackpad button developed a secret twin. Pressing the hand rest a few centimetres to the right of the trackpad will cause a mouse click to happen. Hence, just pressing on the handrest will trigger clicks. And from time to time that just happens when you’re typing.

I showed the problem to the local dealer and he said the top case will need to be replaced. That should happen soon. Let’s just say that for the three MacBooks our family owned we’ll have used six top cases then…

Scratching

CD which wasn't ejected quite far enough and scratched in the process A more serious problem is the DVD drive. It started scratching disks when ejecting them. The noise of that is slightly unpleasant and the disc will not come out as far as it should after such an ejection.

Of course this is totally unacceptable. I haven’t really lost a DVD to this so far, but let’s say I was less than amused when my X.5 install DVD came out with a long straight scratch after the installation. Reading the disk in another DVD drive after that failed, but after some polishing I managed to copy it to a disk partition in case I need it again (duplicating OS X bootable volumes seems to require some magic chants from what I’ve seen; and it requires double layer writable DVDs which I don’t have)

I had my local dealer look at it and they spotted that the upper edge of the drive’s slot is bent downward slightly. And by that I mean slightly. A millimetre at most. And apparently that presses the disc down which causes it to be pushed out over some part inside the machine. As the plastic of the case above the DVD slot is a bit wobbly, I don’t really think that the tolerances can be that low for that part of the MacBook. Perhaps the DVD drive moved a little as well.

Anyway, our local experts promised to look at it when they exchange the top case. Perhaps the problems are even related by some part having become dislocated inside the machine and putting pressure on the wrong parts? We’ll see.

Airport

I mentioned my ongoing Airport problem before. Essentially the connection pretty much dies on a daily basis and is either completely lost or has ping times measured in seconds or minutes rather than in milliseconds. As I had this problem on both my MacBooks, I always thought it was buggy software. But recently I started suspecting that the problem may be a hardware one instead. Perhaps some broken contact, wobbly wire, anaemic antenna or so.

But recently I had the problem more and more after moving the machine. Which somehow suggests that it may be related to some hardware aspect if it only occurs after I carried the machine around or at least moved it somehow. I investigated this a little and discovered that sometimes just slapping the machine a little tends to improve the situation.

I.e. I am doing this: When the network is broken, I start a ping command to google.com (I used to use apple.com for that because obviously Apple should assist in analysing problems with their products but somehow they’re blocking pings now so Google have to take their typical role of reliable internet infrastructure provider). Usually this should return in 100-200 milliseconds. And - given that DNS resolving works - in such situations I’ll have ping times which could be a whole second, or even fifteen.

The thing I noticed was that starting to slap the computer in that situation would temporarily reduce the ping times back to their normal lengths. And stopping to slap it usually makes them go up again. This is so absurd, I had to film it (video is best with sound to hear the knocking):

After this experience, I strongly started to suspect that this is a hardware problem after all. I’ll just need drive that message home to the people who can fix it. Unfortunately the quick look that our local dealer had didn’t reveal any obvious problems like loose wires or semi-broken contacts. I’ve also observed the problem in several machines on our network. So I’m expecting the worst in terms of annoyance.

Conclusion

No, I’m not feeling lucky about this MacBook either. It’s not reliable and it’s causing too many problems. And I haven’t mentioned how annoying its constant fan spinning is yet…

November 18, 2007, 14:31

Tagged as apple, apple defect, broken, macbook.

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