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My Powerbook

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As I’ve reported here a few times, my Powerbook is giving me a hard time. While I can get it to run again, it will do unexpected crashes. And it completely can’t be used anymore when it’s not solidly standing on a straight and non-moving surface. So while I can get it to run, I always have to fear crashes (and had to endure at least one complete rebuild of my Mail folders because of that) and moving the computer and setting it up elsewhere gives me a 50% chance that it’ll just kernel panic after waking from sleep.

So I’m stuck with a computer that’s at most half way working and ceased being portable. Not a nice state. Perhaps I should’ve seen that coming. While I still consider the Titanium Powerbook to be the sleekest and best looking computer I’ve ever seen, I’ve had much more trouble with mine than I would’ve considered possible. Off the top of my head, I find:

  1. The ‘PowerBook G4’ text printing itself from the screen’s frame to the Powerbook’s frame when the Powerbook was closed… something I considered a real problem when the machine was new… and which seems like a joke these days.
  2. My finger fat coming from the keys onto the display from day one. Not unexpectedly, though, as my dad’s Pismo suffers from the same design flaw. Moreover this is a problem you can fix in a few minutes by cleaning the screen and completely avoid by putting something between the keyboard and the screen when carrying around the Powerbook.
  3. You’ll need that bit of paper – or preferably cloth cut just to the size of the Powerbook – anyway to prevent damage to the light grey bottom frame and screen frame after the tiny plastic thingies at the corners of the frame have worn off after a year or so.
  4. Another problem with my particular Powerbook is that there’s a feeping sound in the right screen hinge when it’s warm outside or the Powerbook is running hot and the screen is set to one of the three topmost brightness levels. You’ll also see a flickering in the screen when it makes the funny noise. Both of which drove me mad and made me fear there’s a real problem with the screen. So I sent the Powerbook in to be fixed. As a consequence of that repair I got a new main board among other things. But they didn’t touch the screen or the hinge in that repair and the problem I had seen remained existant. As a side effect of that ‘repair’, Apple lost my hard drive (which I had wanted to remove before sending them the Powerbook but was explicitly told on the phone that I can’t do that despite the manual claiming the opposite). And to get it back, I had to suffer through weeks of repeated calls to their call centre and and being lied to a lot. When I then told them that the feeping still existed, they told me I should send it in again… riight, so they could ignore the problem once more, and give me more weeks of constant worry and phone calls. [German summary of what happened, to which I got a stupid formal reply letter.]
  5. Then, the silver ring around the headphone jack fell out. A problem that I’ve seen in many other Powerbooks. Just that a few months afterwards I started having a crack in the light grey frame of the Powerbook just at the location of the headphone jack. This later broke through completely. Not a real problem at the first sight, but by now I presume it might make the case more flexible than it should be.
  6. I shouldn’t forget to mention the Yoyo power adaptor which stopped working at some stage. As a bit of brute handling of its plastic case revealed, the contacts inside the charger broke. I’m not sure this should’ve happened and that a decent company would make such an effort to discourage you from fixing it yourself.
  7. After about two years, the DVD drive started behaving strangely and after three years it stopped working in most cases. I can still get it to read a disc occasionally, but it’s not exactly something I want to rely on. [The same goes for the external FireWire CD writer that I got with the Powerbook, btw. If that still worked, I wouldn’t be as annoyed.]
  8. The latch holding the lid broke as well. Not the little hook in the lid, but the big latch in the case. How can that happen? What kind of metal were they using?
  9. Of course, the battery stopped being usable as well after less than three years of usage. But that’s just normal ageing, I suppose. And I simply got a new one.
  10. Then the control key cap fell off. Why that one?! I hardly ever use it. And why can’t you just order a replacement key cap for a Euro or so?
  11. An then, half a year ago, one of the scariest things happened with the Powerbook. The right screen hinge broke. It just broke out of the screen while being opened.
  12. The final, and saddest chapter is that the Powerbook didn’t start properly anymore recently and started crashing whenever it is moved. Our technical guy at uni says it’s probably some problem with some contacts, most likely on the main board. Nothing that’d be easy to see or fix. So I keep having kernel panics because of a problem that isn’t understood.

To avoid any misunderstandings: This Powerbook has been treated well since I got it. I always use one of my padded Powerbags to carry it or before putting it into yet another bag. Unlike many other Powerbooks, the machine doesn’t have any dents or scratches from my handling of it. It has been used regularly, though. Which is exactly what I got it for.

And of course there are all sorts of nagging questions now: Is the right screen hinge breaking related to the feeping noise coming from the same place? Is the crashing problem I am seeing right now a consequence of Apple giving me a new main board for no good reason? (If yes, could I please have the old one back then?) Would Apple’s service people have been able to find and fix my Powerbook’s real problem at its the second, third, … tenth journey to them? None of these questions can be answered for sure. By me at least, as both Apple’s hardware and their services are rather obscure and I don’t understand them.

And this brings us to the problem I have now. The machine as it exists at this moment isn’t very usable. Typing stuff and not saving it feels a bit like Russian roulette. By Murphy’s Law it’s bound to start crashing as soon as I need it urgently and it stopped being portable. So this might be a good time to get a new one if I want a machine that I can use reliably.

However, from my past experiences with Apple, I am not really inclined to throw even more money at them. The last time I did that

Don’t even start thinking about bitching that Apple’s service is in fact great. It may be in the U.S. but it definitely isn’t in Germany or Europe. While they may have a person or two who can read or tell an airport card from a power supply, the impression they left with me and others was that they’re at least one of incompetent or lying.

And frankly, I don’t think companies with a single one of these properties should get more of my money. The problem with that of course being that I don’t have any other option than Apple. There’s no competition forcing them to make better products or treat their customers well – at least for those who are Mac users. And my problem is that I’ve been a Mac user for well over a decade. That I actually like OS X, that using Windows or KDE or Gnome makes me feel nervous as things work even less than they do in OS X. That I have a lot of data in the Address Book, in iTunes, in XCode projects and other applications and even in my preferences which have been set up over years. So switching isn’t really an option.

If I really have to get a new Mac, it’ll probably have to be the small iBook. While those stopped looking good since they switched to the G4 iBook and its cheap white plastic, it avoids the blandness and high price of the aluminium Powerbooks and the needless monstrosity of its larger brother. Most importantly it has a three digit Euro price (in the education store), minimising the money going down the drain if the machine goes to hell.

Getting such a machine will probably mean not seeing it for a few weeks when it needs to go for a repair (most of the iBooks I’ve heard of have done that trip – scary!) and it’ll also mean spending another 60-120 Euros for an extra 512MB to 1GB of memory and extra money for a bigger hard drive (why exactly do Apple charge a reasonable €50 to give you an 80GB drive instead of a 40GB one in a Mac mini but €100 to do the same thing for an iBook?!)

Perhaps I could try selling the parts of my Powerbook. There’s still the bottom plate, a keyboard (with a white control key), an Airport card, modem, invertor whatever, screen, the new battery, PC Card slot and possibly more. But doing that might take some effort and be of dubious success. Some other effort might mean I could use the computer + iPod promo they have which gets you a €150 discount. I’d just need to find someone wanting an iPod.

Ugh. I’m writing about potentially getting a new computer. And I’m not excited by it as the new machine won’t be as pretty as the old one and will have a smaller display. Who thought any of that would happen?

August 3, 2005, 2:52

Tagged as hardware.


Comment by Sören Kuklau: User icon

Heya, very sorry to hear about your horrible experience. As a Windows computer admin who dealed with quite a few different kinds of desktops and laptops over the years, however, let me tell you: the alternatives aren’t looking much better. The only company that seems to have consistently been reasonably high-quality is IBM with their ThinkPad line, and we all know what’s happening to that these days (call me prejudiced, but I don’t see Lenovo producing as-good-quality notebooks). For me, IBM certainly is not an option due to their atrocious design (after all, you do have to look at your computer extended amounts of time almost every day), although (most of) the models tend to allow for easy replacement of the hard drive and other components, something Apple laptops are very weak in.

Certainly, don’t get anything from a “no-name” brand such as Gericom, Medion, etc. My brother has a Medion laptop from 2001 and seems okay with it, but while I don’t want to speak for him, I don’t think he’d want to use it as his main machine.

Back to Apple. I’ll probably post about my own (much less infuriating, and also mainly in Germany) experience on my blog later when I find the time to, but I do want to respond to this, even if you’re going to delete it ;-) :

“Don’t even start thinking about bitching that Apple’s service is in fact great.”

My only two direct experiences with Apple’s service were in Germany and Canada, and the one in Germany certainly was more painless than I expected it to be. My iBook’s battery started dying after about 18 months (well after standard warranty expiration), and I e-mailed Cyberport (the online store where I had ordered), who responded within a few minutes, pointing me to Apple’s hotline. Surprisingly, calling them up resulted in their offer to send me a box (sound familiar, yes, I know) to put the battery in, and to have it replaced. It was, however, entirely free! They didn’t even bother asking for details; I merely told them it would only charge to about two thirds of its original capacity. The new battery worked much better and would continue to, if it wasn’t for…

…the good ol’ White iBook G3 logic board issue. My iBook has been in repair about it for the past few weeks; we’ll see how that turns out.

Again, your experience sounds truly horrifying, and makes me wish Apple would resume producing on their own, rather than outsourcing to cheap ODMs like Quanta and Asustek.

August 3, 2005, 4:24

Comment by Nicholas Riley: User icon

As you might have noted from reading my weblog, I had similar problems (not quite as many; no hinge issues and a few other things) with my PowerBook. It’s just a flimsy design; and I don’t particularly like the current 15” PowerBook, so I sold it and got a 12” iBook as a temporary measure, and I couldn’t be happier. The new ones have most of the features of the newer PowerBooks anyway (Bluetooth 2, accelerometer, 512MB RAM, etc.)

On the other hand, I’ve never had anything but great experience with Apple service (in the US). My friends who have had the G3 iBook logic board failures bitched a lot, but they all eventually got G4 iBooks as replacements.

August 3, 2005, 4:45

Comment by Nate: User icon

As someone who had a PowerBook with many of the same problems, and switched to a 12-inch iBook, I can report that the iBook is better-built.

Some of the problems with my aluminum PowerBook were:

  1. Random rebooting when system was moved or bumped.
  2. Easily dented.
  3. Rubber feet fell off repeatedly.
  4. Feeping sound.
  5. After a corner was dented, the battery would not stay in.

The problems I’ve had with my iBook are:

  1. Would reboot when screen was opened too-far (local shop fixed it under warranty).
  2. Rubber feet fell off, but not nearly as bad as the PowerBook.
  3. After a year of heavy use, a small crack appeared to the side of the screen (fixed with a dab of super glue).

I have service done at a local Apple-authorized shop, instead of dealing with Apple directly. I also found that different shops considered different things to be covered or not covered by warranty. Naturally, I now use the most liberal shop for repairs.

August 7, 2005, 17:17

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