Hardware Stability

The aluminium G4 PowerBook

## AN IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL CONSUMERS ##

If you own a copy of OSX version 10.3.x known as 'Panther' or 10.4.x known as 'Tiger' and any of the G4 or G5 computers released by Apple, please reduce microprocessor speed in the Energy Saver control panel now unless you are prepared to replace your computer (or logic board) every 6 months to 3 years. As for Intel Mac users, you will have to wait for the right processor with independent graphics processing unit to help reduce the heat (hopefully by late 2008).

The extra heat is due to the Finder, Spotlight and the Dock requiring excessive use of the processor and with it unnecessarily high amounts of heat and a greater chance of your computer collapsing in a shorter period of time.

In particular, the 2005 edition of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks sold after September 2004 and early aluminium Intel laptops are operating at a far too high temperature when not in a well-ventilated area. Reports of the Seagate hard drive behaving abnormally and the RAM slots on the motherboard losing connection to the RAM cards is due to excessive heat (reminiscent of earlier models when the wrong hard disk is installed). Based on current evidence, it is our belief that Apple is choosing to build products having built-in obsolescence such as regularly overheating the computers to ensure consumers continually have to replace them with new ones roughly every 3 years or less.

Also Apple Computer, Inc. is selecting, at time of manufacture, an untested new Seagate hard drive for installation in non-demonstration models of the 2005 edition aluminium G4 PowerBooks. In this way, hopefully the more technically-minded consumers noticing a funny loud cluncking noise in the drive during normal use will be forced to return the PowerBooks and hard drive for inspection by participating Apple resellers or through Apple direct.

We also highly recommend that you go into the Monitors control panel (or appropriate button on the computer) to reduce the screen's brightness slightly as there has been numerous reports of blown pixels due to excessive power at the high brightness range to drive the screen.

About the aluminium PowerBook G4...

The aluminium PowerBook G4 was first introduced by Apple Inc. in January 2003. It became the model designed to stop users from booting up into OS9 (even if Apple resellers have the special Apple technicians' edition of the OS9 boot CD to do so). Apple wants users to stick with OSX. To avoid too much disappointment among titanium PowerBook users wanting to upgrade to a similar OS9/OSX dual-boot machine, Apple Inc. has tried hard to woe enough customers to the new PowerBooks with a plethora of new and rather 'fancy' features, especially in the top-of-the-range 17-inch screen size model. Anyone still wanting to run OS9 applications are encourage to make full use of the Classic Environment available in OSX Tiger and Panther until Apple decides to do away with it in all future releases of OSX.

NOTE: There is an alternative Classic Environment available for Intel-based Macs running OSX Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard. The third-party emulation software is called SheepShaver.

Overcoming the minor "OS9 boot" setback and if you don't mind working entirely under OSX (still considered in its infancy as Apple benefits from consumers providing the quality control work), there are a few teething manufacturing and design faults in the mid- and top-of-the-range models (i.e. 15-inch and 17-inch). You should be aware that this is quite normal. Early revisions of a new computer model such as the aluminium PowerBook G4 between 2003 and 2005 inclusive were expected to have problems as Apple has a policy to use the public as the quality control specialists to save money and time. Hopefully, by the time the 2nd and certainly the final generation A1139 aluminium 1.67GHz PowerBook G4 came out in September 2006, most of these problems would have been rectified.

NOTE: The final generation of Al PowerBook G4 would still have an inherent design flaw causing them to collapse sooner rather than later with the hard drives now unprotected internally and the logic board too close to the aluminium casing where any strand of hair, polyester thread or enough dust can eventually short-circuit and destroy the computer (see below for further details). It is not clear whether this was designed to ensure users are eventually forced to buy new Intel Macs. Perhaps it was just another minor oversight by Apple when they designed this PowerBook?

The 2003-2004 edition of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks

The first generation aluminium G4 Powerbooks were a tad over 3 kilograms in weight. A bit on the heavy side, but considered acceptable for most users. The nice thing about these machines is the thickness (a maximum of 1 inch meaning it was the thinnest laptop yet produced by Apple); the generous screen size (a maximum of 17-inch for the top-of-the-range model); a slightly tougher aluminium case (harder to physical bend the screen with your fingers or through excessive heat like you can on the titanium laptops, but still not considered a permanent solution to the problem that plagued the titanium PowerBooks with vertical lines on the screen); and the slightly faster 1.25GHz G4 PowerPC microprocessor (for the top-of-the-range model) together with a respectable graphics acceleration chip (but not as good as the ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 chip found in the Titanium PowerBook or the top-of-the-range aluminium 17-inch model).

The top-of-the-range model has a number of fancy features which would explain the high power demands of this machine (and the high price tag as well). For a start, it comes with a light sensor to measure the available ambient light in the room. If the light levels are low, the PowerBook will automatically adjust the screen brightness and illuminate the keyboard underneath for easy viewing of the characters. Mercury is employed to help with the illumination.

The 17-inch screen also looks pretty spectacular. Although not quite big enough to take over the plasma screen market just yet, it is a pity the top-of-the-range model did not come with a built-in TV tuner because it could just about do away with the small television in the bedroom for some people. Anyway, the 17-inch screen size model has a resolution of 1,440 x 900 pixels and is marginally brighter in appearance compared to the titanium PowerBooks.

Here lies a small dilemma for people purchasing a laptop: should you buy a machine with a big screen, or get a small screen? Some users think a smaller screen is better because it would be easier to carry. For most practical minded people wanting to save every penny, buying a smaller screen laptop might make great sense. But once you've purchased a 17-inch PowerBook G4 (or any 17-inch screen laptop), you might change your mind. For a start, carrying a 17-inch laptop when folded up, is not that much bigger. And when you open it and sit down to do your work, you'll be wondering how you could ever live without it. Truly, the extra screen real estate is something you would be thanking yourself a thousand times. This is especially true for anyone working on an Excel spreadsheet or desktop publishing on documents in Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop or other application.

Let's face it. Wouldn't you like to place two Word documents side-by-side on a screen large enough to do it or see a spreadsheet fill up the screen in one go?

The dreaded "White Spot" problem

As of 3 December 2003, the quality control process at Apple Inc. appeared to be a little iffy once again with sporadic reports emerging of the screens on some brand new spanking aluminium 17-inch and 15-inch "FireWire 800" PowerBook G4 machines coming out-of-the-box showing signs of the dreaded white "screen spot". Mind you, it would not be surprising. There is an awful rumour going around at the moment in consumer corners that Apple is following the motto for selling Apple computers from Forrest Gump, "Life is like a box of chocolates, you'll never know what you might get." Hence you may buy one reasonable "chocolate" from Apple Computer, Inc. one year (if you are lucky to get the right one) but in another year the next "chocolate" could turn out to be a "lemon" or something a whole lot worse altogether (and about the same colour too)!

Further details of the "white spot" can be found at MacFixIt.com. NOTE: Because this "white spot" issue is something users can't fix, maybe the web site should be renamed to MacCan'tFixIt.com!

As we gather more information about the white "sceen spot", it seems according to several users in the US that some have noticed what appears to be one or two tiny white spots on the screen. These are not pixel-sized spots (which might allow Apple to claim they are normal and can be safely ignored)! The spots are large enough and do not appear to go away when the screen is activated. Some claim it might have something to do with certain hidden components in the display assembly creating "pressure points" on the screen.

And now it is being alleged at http://www.macfixit.com/staticpages/index.php?page=20031124074841479 that around 25 per cent of shipping units for the PowerBook G4 15-inch (FireWire 800) machines are affected by the "white spot" problem. Yes, that's 25 per cent; not 1 or 2 per cent!

Apple Inc.'s response at the time has been to argue the spots are normal and the computer will not be replaced unless the spots are seriously hindering your ability to see what you are doing. Furthermore there has to be two or more of these white spots on the screen to warrant any action. In other words, what Apple is really trying to say is that the company can't afford to replace 25 per cent of the affected laptops and is not in the business of checking each and every computer coming off the factory floor because it costs too much and there would be a longer wait for customers wanting to purchase one of these machines (we wish them luck if they do!). Well, how about designing them better in the first place? With the high demand for these computers in the US, one would have to say Apple Inc. is learning once again to cut corners just to get the machines out in the marketplace and keep their shareholders happy.

UPDATE
9 December 2003

Latest reports suggest only the most severest cases of "white spots" on the screens of the aluminium PowerBook G4 15-inch (FireWire 800) units will have the entire screen housing assembly replaced within a week under Apple's standard 12-months warranty. The process is said to be a little faster for those unfortunate users who have forked out extra money for the extended warranty program.

One does often wonder why the extended warranty program isn't included in the price of the laptop given the way the machine is constructed nowadays and how expensive it is? This is especially true for the 17-inch model. And such a move to include the extended warranty would give greater confidence to users of a reasonable quality machine, unless Apple Inc. knows this isn't the case.

At any rate, in an attempt to give some positive support for Apple Inc., here is what one person had to say about the service:

"I endured the 'white spot' issue for several weeks before I sent my PB in for repair just before Thanksgiving. I can confirm that repair is pretty swift for this problem - I sent my machine in on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and received it on the following Monday. It took less than a week and that was even over a holiday weekend. Not bad. One thing to note is that they seemed to have replaced the LCD as I used to have a dead pixel or two but they are no longer there. Also, I am happy to say that the white spots have not returned.

"I found Apple to be responsive and helpful in setting my machine up for repair. All looks to be resolved now and I have no issues with the way anything was handled. I've always been aware of the issues that first generation machines might have but I don't regret the purchase of my machine at all." (1)

UPDATE
11 December 2003

There is increasing evidence to suggest the extra power supplied to the screens of these aluminium PowerBooks in order to make them brighter is actually so great that there is a higher probability of finding blown pixels on the screens. A number of users have allegedly noticed this. If you are contemplating on purchasing an aluminium laptop from Apple at this time, please check the screen carefully before purchasing, or consider reducing the brightness levels immediately after purchasing one to help preserve the screen for a little bit longer.

UPDATE
13 September 2004

We hear most customers with their problematic "white-spot" screens are being replaced by Apple Inc. Good stuff! At least Apple has a vague idea what customer service means even if they don't in the quality control department. But does this mean the problem has been solved permanently? Well, not really. According to a bunch of new reports sent in to MacFixIt.com by Apple users worldwide (mainly in the US), a number of the new screens are now alleging to show a distinctive pinkish hue across the entire screen especially when it is turned on. Just when the professional graphic designers were hoping to have a "colour-accurate" screen only to find themselves up the creek yet again, it seems some customers are still being stuffed around once more.

As Michael Jacobs wrote to MacFixIt.com:

"I recently sent my 15" PowerBook G4 1.25 Ghz to have the screen repaired (white spot problem that appeared in December 2003, but that I did not get around to having fixed until now). The new LCD has a distinct pink tinting."

The problem is not restricted to the aluminium PowerBooks. It seems from available reports that the titanium PowerBooks and the very first TFT flat panel Apple Studio Display are either reaching an age where the screens are starting to develop a pinkish hue or have suddenly selected an incorrect colour profile setting after updating to OSX version 10.3.4 or higher. Changing the screen settings (i.e. resolution and number of colours) and going back to the original settings may help to restore the colours. But why should customers have to deal with this technical issue? Haven't they got enough problems of their own to handle which is why they bought a computer in the first place to help them get better organised and get things done and hopefully less stressful in the long-term?

Another MacFixIt.com reader named Mike Martin has suggested it might be due to the age of the screen (and fluorescent tubes when the brightness goes down). As Martin said:

"In my experience, pink tinting on LCD's are usually an indication of some ageing or imminent failure of the fluorescent tubes that are used to provide the light energy for backlighting the LCD's.

'I've gone through several Laptops within the past few years (most of them IBM ThinkPad's) where after about 18 months of use, there is a distinct color shift in the quality of the light produced by the backlighting mechanisms (usually cold cathode fluorescents). It is most notable on a "cold" startup where the coloration is more red in nature then warms to pink, then after a few minutes, the color will tend toward white (but not as bright or as true as it was when it was brand new). Sending the laptop in for repair and having them replace the backlight mechanism almost always fixed the problem.

'Having just got back into Mac's (after a 8 year hiatus) and having bought my wife a 17" PB, I got Applecare with the express intention to use it to fix this problem WHEN it happens (it's not an IF.. it's a WHEN).

'If you are the proud owner of any LCD-based Apple product and you are in the window to be able to still get / buy applecare, please do so, you'll save yourself a lot of money. This would include LCD iMacs, LCD Cinema Displays, PowerBooks, etc.

'The only way I know that you can avoid this problem is to use some other form of backlighting LED for example. However, keep in mind that even CRT's will wear out after a while."

We can only speculate on the age of the screens. But if this is true, why do the screens have to age so quickly or be already so old? Is Apple trying to save money yet again on old stock? Or is it time to use a long-wearing backlighting system such as white LEDs as the solution?

Somehow it has got something to do with the extra brightness which is causing the screens to lose colour very quickly. We already have an original PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" from August 1998 with the screen showing accurate colours and good brightness to this very day. It may not be as bright as the titanium or aluminium PowerBook screens, but at least it lasts longer and still looks good during the day or night.

So what does that make Apple's so-called new replacement screens for the white-spot problem on the aluminium PowerBooks now allegedly suffering from pink hues and reduced brightness after 12 months look like? Crap? Or is Apple fed up with the complaints from customers and are trying to save money by using whatever is in stock?

Or are the aluminium PowerBooks together with the OSX version 10.3 'Panther' update the real source of the problem — that is, putting in too much power into the screens in an attempt to lower their longevity and forcing customers to purchase screen replacements sooner and more often? Its a good way to increase profit but a lousy way to look after the customers. It may not be as silly as it sounds. Apple's big secret could well be to introduce obsolescence into their products yet again. Or Apple is playing games with the latest OSX by doing something funny to the colour profile settings everytime you start-up which never existed in previous OSX versions?

It would be interesting to see Apple's response to this latest problem &151 or will they keep quiet as usual and assume these are isolated reports?

Isolated reports? Hmmm. Not so according to another MacFixIt.com reader named Eric. He has provided a message from Amazon.com claiming the problem is more widespread than previously thought or as Apple would have hoped not to see:

"I am extremely sorry that your replacement shipment was also problematic.

"As it seems that the problem with this item is more widespread than we originally thought, we are not able to send another replacement. We will investigate and remedy the situation with the item; however, I cannot guarantee when the error may be fixed.

"We will gladly refund you in full for the return of this item."

The only problem with this message is how Amazon.com uses this same message for virtually every other faulty products its customers may discover. Either this means there are a number of products from different manufacturers including Apple Computer, Inc. whose problems are genuinely widespread, or this message is standard procedure from Amazon.com and may not point to any common problem at all.

Whether the problem is isolated or widespread, it is clear something must be done. Does this mean Apple will be forced to replace the screens yet again? What a waste of time. And how much is this going to cost Apple, if not the consumer? It sounds like they are running a Clayton business at this rate. Or will Apple merely update OSX yet again to fix the colour tinting problem (only to introduce a different set of problems in the next update)?

Better still, someone should go through the company and purge management with all their poor customer and control quality policies and the specific people running the show if it is true (e.g. Steve Jobs).

Following this screen debarcle, Apple Inc. has responded quietly in its Knowledge Base article number #25820 about colour tinting on LCD screens. The company has chosen to focus its article on the iBook G4 as presumably the only machine to suffer this problem. As the article stated:

"After updating to Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later, the display's color balance may change with Screen Saver use. It may have a light blue tint, for example. This happens only with the iBook G4 and iBook G4 (Early 2004) models, regardless of whether Screen Saver was manually or automatically engaged.

"What can you do when this happens? Open Displays preferences, click Color, then click on the name of your desired color profile (even if it's already selected).

"If this keeps happening but you don't want to keep resetting the color profile, set the "Start screen saver" slider to Never in Desktop & Screen Saver preferences. Consider using Energy Saver's display sleep feature instead." (2)

It is interesting to notice from this quote how the process of updating to OSX Panther 10.3.4 or higher had some kind of an affect on this screen tinting problem as if suggesting a colour profile setting problem in OSX. Even if this is the source of the latest problem, why do customers have to muck around with resetting colour profiles? That's not the job of customers. The original PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" and other computers in this series has never had to go through this nonsense to this very day. It is a problem Apple should fix, not the customer.

Or is Apple Inc. trying to discredit some web sites by highlighting the real cause of genuine Apple manufacturing problems is as innocent as a colour profile settings going awry with OSX version 10.3.4 or higher?

However do it too often and people may think twice about this idea. In this CNET News article, some users have noticed in OSX "Snow Leopard" version 10.6.0 or 10.6.1 (and rarely in 10.5.1) the correct colorsync profile is not loading up after running the screen savers or a full screen graphic application. The result is "...the screen will appear washed out and tinted blue". A sample picture is shown. If this happens, calibrate your screen or choose the appropriate colorsync profile and copy the profile from /username/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/ to /Macintosh HD/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/. And wait for OSX update 10.6.2 to fix the problem (hopefully permanently).

UPDATE
23 September 2004

Apple Inc. has finally come to the realisation that it has to implement a worldwide Repair Extension Program to fix the "white spot" problem. And since the problem appeared back in December 2003, it has only taken 9 months to make the decision. We wonder whether this is a world record for Apple? The repair program will affect the aluminium 15-inch PowerBook and the 867Mhz/1GHz titanium PowerBooks (the last production run before Apple decided to stop further production in favour of the aluminium PowerBooks and iBooks). The company is not giving away too much saying the repairs are for a limited number of 15-inch PowerBooks and certain titanium PowerBooks of a particular production run. In other words, each production run will be inconsistent. Doesn't that speak volumes about the quality control at Apple?

As Apple has admitted in its official article:

"A limited number of 15-inch PowerBook G4 computers exhibit a display issue which may cause faint white spots to appear on the screen over time. The 15-inch PowerBook G4 Repair Extension Program is a worldwide program covering replacement of LCDs that exhibit these white spots. Your PowerBook G4 serial number must fall between one of two serial number ranges:


V7334xxxxxx to V7345xxxxxx

QT331xxxxxx to QT339xxxxxx
 

These computers were manufactured from July 2003 through November 2003. PowerBooks with the serial numbers listed above may be referred to as:


PowerBook G4 15-inch Aluminum (1GHz G4 or 1.25GHz G4)

PowerBook G4 Titanium (867MHz G4 or 1GHz G4)" (3)

Ignoring this white spot problem — considered more irritation value from a customer's point-of-view than anything else — it would appear the extra screen size, a brighter display (and hence reduce the lifespan of the screen to the advantage of Apple), fancy light illumination technology and everything else, this latest top-of-the-range 17-inch PowerBook G4 chews up a massive 61 watts of power. Of course, it won't quite be enough to create a power blackout in your local neighbourhood if you turn one of these machines on, but if you are out in the country and want to power this machine with a portable solar panel, you are going to find it a whole lot more difficult now.

Not so for anyone living in the city areas given the availability of so many power outlets, as this should not pose a problem (at least the electricity will remain free if you go to your local public library or other non-home location — who says there isn't such a thing as a free lunch?). It will just throw up extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from power generating companies trying to generate electricity to run this aluminium PowerBook.

UPDATE
2 June 2006

Users who've purchased a 23-inch Apple Cinema Display in 2004 may experience the pinkish hue and burned image on a black screen after power down problems after around 2 years of reasonably solid use.

The sound pop problem

In May 2003, consumers have complained about a peculiarity in the sound system of the aluminium G4 PowerBook.

Apparently with so much power needed to run the new 17-inch aluminium laptop, the funny thing is that Apple Computer, Inc. has decided to introduce a power saving feature in the built-in sound card module. What happens here is that if your computer does not generate a sound after a period of time and hence the sound card is not in use, the power to the card will suddenly switch off. Why? Has Apple Inc. realised it needs to save power on the laptop? Then, to top it all off, customers who have purchased this 17-inch aluminium model have noticed an annoying and rather audible popping noise as the sound card turns on (especially at high volume). This is a problem that never existed in the previous titanium PowerBook model. Again why? The problem apparently can't be fixed. Yet it hasn't stopped a lot of customers complaining about it to Apple resellers.

Additional features and pricing

Ignoring yet another strange design decision from Apple Inc., we can safely say the decision to include a more future-proof FireWire 800 port to the new G4 PowerBooks is welcomed. True. Not all FireWire devices built today will be able to handle the extra high-speed data transfer of the new port. Oh well, nice idea though. But at least it is there in case manufacturers decide they want to get ahead of the competition in the future. In the meantime, to avoid looking like Apple is forcing people to upgrade their peripherals as well as their computers, a standard FireWire 400 has been included for compatibility with all current peripherals. Excellent work!

If you can afford the whopping US$3,200 (A$6,200) price tag for the 17-inch top-of-the-range model (NOTE: Apple has dropped the price to A$4,499 as of September 2004 and A$3,400 as of October 2006), you will also get the AirPort Extreme technology built-in as standard. This gives your Mac the feature of accessing the Internet without the use of a cable or wire. To really impress you, this PowerBook uses the latest high-speed wireless technology running at 54Mbps (although this wireless technology will get faster in 2008). Nice one, Apple!

As for connecting wirelessly to digital devices like other Macs or a printer, the expensive PowerBook comes with Bluetooth technology. This one operates over shorter distances (up to 10 metres) needed to transfer a large amount of data between digital devices. However the Bluetooth is not able to send stereo sounds to "bluetooth headsets". Perhaps another slight oversight by Apple (or maybe there is still isn't enough room in the 17-inch model to fit this extra feature? Until the 18 or 19-inch model comes out, it's all mono sounds from here on end).

And did we say the PowerBook has a fancy keyboard backlight illumination feature as well? We can hear our readers rushing to the Apple stores to get one just on this feature alone! Just don't tell them it has mercury in it or Apple might lose some profit. Also the thin coating of aluminium paint on the keyboard does come off on your fingers with enough contact. So if you happen to be one of those people who likes sticking their fingers in their mouths, you are likely to affect the health of your brain (e.g. an increased risk of Alzheimer's disease). The following is a classic example of what you would find on the keyboard after 12 months to 3 years of regular normal use:

Apple should change the keyboard to one with durable, unpainted plastic buttons. And ideally the casing should be made of a magnesium-alloy material (with insulation on the inside to prevent short-circuiting of the logic board by stray hairs, threads and dust particles).

It is also highly recommended the keyboard be sunken further down into the casing to prevent the keys touching the screen when the lid is closed. Otherwise it is a common occurrence for permanent scratch marks to appear on the screen as seen in the following picture:

UPDATE
8 January 2004

Have you bought this top-of-the-range aluminium PowerBook on the basis of its fancy keyboard backlight illumination feature? It might interest you to know that Apple Inc. had been stuffing around with this feature following the upgrade of OSX "Panther" version 10.3.2. Apparently the function keys labelled for the backlight keyboard no longer function in the same way as before. Instead, users are greeted with an application known as Expose. And there is no other obvious way of reactivating the backlight feature. The solutions range from resetting the PRAM or resetting the power managment unit to deleting any instances of the com.Apple.BezelServices.plist in both the invisible and visible file form with the help of Sherlock. In other words, you will be required to do the quality control checking yourself when upgrading to the latest Panther update on behalf of your much-loved Apple Inc. God bless the guys, really! By the time you read this, OSX "Tiger" should hopefully restore your confidence in the backlight keyboard.

If you think the top-of-the-range laptop has too many things that could go wrong, Apple has kindly provided consumers with two other offerings.

The two lower model laptop versions (a 12-inch 867MHz PowerBook G4 and a 15-inch variety) are nice for the consumer who wants just that little bit more grunt under-the-bonnet with the G4 processor compared to the G3 iBooks, but not quite as powerful as the titanium G4 laptops or the top-of-the-range aluminium 17-inch laptop. These lower model versions have built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth technology, but they won't come with a PC card expansion port or a Level 3 cache as in the original titanium G4 PowerBooks. Still, you can always pretend.

UPDATE
30 July 2004

It looks like consumers who've purchase the cheaper aluminium laptop models (both the 12-inch and 15-inch versions, although the 17-inch version is not entirely immuned) are not going to get away from having problems. MacFixIt.com can happily report the aluminium casing will warp under regular overheating from the CPU and motherboard. The problem is less noticeable on laptops where there is good air circulation around them. But if you lay the laptops flat on the table or on your lap (the most common way people will use the machines), heat quickly builds up. With enough time, the metal casing will bend on its own. And if it persists, the high heat can eventually fry or damage internal components on the logic board (a classic example is the RAM card connectors).

In some instances the bending can occur on the screen part leading to damage or inconvenient pressure being applied by the casing to the screen making it difficult to view the desktop (Is this the source of the "white spot" problem?). In can also create vertical lines on the screen. In other instances, typing on the laptop can move the laptop in a wobbling fashion because the casing underneath the laptop has bent.

Understandably some users are concerned about the possibility that the casing could apply pressure to the internal circuits and connectors leading to a failure of the laptop within 3 years. And that's just by looking after the computer like a baby and not through any abuse.

UPDATE
January 2007

The very wide dimensions of the 17-inch model and reduced strength in the aluminium casing just to the left of where the CD/DVD drive is positioned when you look at it front on is the most common place to find this bending of the casing. It occurs after regular resting of the hands on the palm rests (or if a cat decides to jump on your laptop and has a good sit). If it bends too much, the CD/DVD drive may have trouble ejecting disks (you will have to use gravity and shake the laptop downwards to help force the disks to come out).

The solution to this problem is either to design a laptop without a CD/DVD drive built-in, or use a tougher magnesium-alloy casing.

The dreaded battery problem

And did we mention the aluminium PowerBook 15-inch models have a battery problem? A potentially serious one if the emerging reports are correct.

After the update to OSX "Panther" 10.3 causing PowerBook models to draw more power from their internal lithium ion rechargeable batteries, a particular battery model manufactured by LG Chem Ltd., of South Korea and used in the aluminium PowerBook G4 15-inch computers has been found, as of 19 August 2004, to be more susceptible to experiencing an internal short-circuit leading to a fire risk for consumers. According to the Apple press release, "An internal short can cause the battery cells to overheat, posing a fire hazard to consumers."

The affected batteries were manufactured during the last week of December 2004 and sold in the new PowerBooks:

"...from January 2004 through August 2004 for between US$2000 and US$2600. These batteries were also sold separately for about US$130."

The model number of the faulty battery is A1045 and contains the serial numbers HQ404, HQ405, HQ406, HQ407 or HQ408.

On the positive side, it has only taken 6 months and four Apple users to highlight the problem before Apple Inc. decided to issue a recall and a free replacement of the battery. And the replacement was relatively quick (as expected for a new PowerBook model).

This is a far cry from the thousands of PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" users who are still waiting for a recall and replacement of their poorly-designed clutch hinge problem since 1998!

As Apple Inc. has posted on its web site on 19 August 2004:

"The affected batteries could overheat, posing a fire hazard. Apple received four reports of these batteries overheating. No injuries have been reported. Apple urges you to stop using your battery and to order a replacement battery immediately. If you continue to use your battery, do not leave it unattended and check for signs of overheating.

Apple has initiated an exchange program and will provide eligible customers with a new replacement battery, free of charge.

No other PowerBook or iBook batteries are part of this recall."

NOTE: There is something about selling the latest PowerBooks to consumers and nature of the problem which entices Apple to do the right thing under certain consumer legislation. The PowerBooks have to either pose a serious risk to the safety of consumers, or be the latest model with enough consumers to complain about before Apple decides to take action.

More about the 12- and 15-inch models

Okay. So does this mean the really simple, low-featured aluminium PowerBook 12-inch model is free of defects?

Well, maybe. But like the 15-inch model, you will lose out on certain useful features. For example, the ability to attach a compatible external monitor to the new PowerBooks is a little more difficult than the titanium PowerBooks. Why? Perhaps Apple Inc. is having trouble fitting in enough features into the new 12-inch PowerBook? Or it could be a standard Apple decision to cut down on the manufacturing costs even though older PowerBook models do have it as a standard feature while the latest 12-inch models were sold at ridiculously high prices.

Driven by the profit bug?

Ignoring these minor flaws, there is a slight advantage in another area. The new aluminium casing design is reasonable for the smaller machines. The casing is a little tougher than the titanium PowerBook variety and can withstand slightly more heat and can now dissipate heat more easily during normal operations if left on a desk (albeit raised slightly), thereby allowing the computer to run longer before the two internal fans turn on (and when they do, it is said to be very quiet). However, in so dissipating the heat, you could quite easily make the casing very hot if you leave it on your lap and stop the flow of air circulating around it. Well, at least the citizens in Alaska won't be complaining. The new PowerBooks may just turn out to be a valuable new personal heater for those cold winter nights. Just stick it between your legs and feel the warmth spread throughout your whole body! Add a button to set it for vibrate and even the Eskimos will have a bloody great time! Bring it on!

Internal construction of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks

Another interesting design incorporated into the latest 12 and 15-inch aluminium PowerBooks is how people are apparently restricted from easily looking inside the entire machine to see how it works (and hence how it has been designed). Hence you will no longer be able to flip up the keyboard and upgrade the internal hard drive and then admire or hate the innards of this machine as in previous PowerBooks. It would appear Apple has decided it would be better for consumers not to see exactly how these machines were manufactured.

NOTE: On the 17-inch model, you will have access to the RAM card by removing the battery and slide a compartment out. Hard disk replacement, however, remains a slightly more complicated issue but not impossible (but not for the fainthearted though).

UPDATE
19 June 2003

It appears you don't have to look inside the new PowerBooks to see how they are made. This article reveals what appears to be yet another design fault. This time the latch for holding the screen to the lower laptop portion when closed stops functioning after a few months of normal use (we are talking about normal use, not the kind of abuse Apple has a habit of believing is the case with users and especially when it is convenient for them which is usually around the time a laptop is brought in for repairs and is precisely how Apple gets users to pay for the repairs). Well, the most positive thing to come out of it is the fact that at least one person can confirm the repairs done to the faulty latch had been quick and relatively painless (roughly in a day!). Well, Apple Inc. has to repair it quickly. This is the latest model and the company can't afford to slack off on their repair service while the machines are in warranty or it could result in another major consumer backlash for the company. Of course, don't expect the power adapter problem of last year's titanium PowerBook model to be fixed as quickly as this!

Again getting back to where we were (and remaining positive as we can), we can see upgrading the RAM card is a relatively simple affair on the new PowerBooks. To upgrade the RAM, there is a small lid cleverly concealed either inside (or, in the case of the 17-inch model, next to) the battery compartment which when lifted (or slide out) will give you just enough room to insert two RAM cards. However, users should be aware that no two aluminium G4 PowerBooks are built exactly the same. For example, a 1.67GHz model sold in Australia may use SDRAM DDR memory cards, but another 1.67GHz model sold in Europe will use SDRAM 3DR memory cards. The cards may look identical including the same number of pins on the connector, but the notch for lining up the cards when inserting will be moved by one millimetre and so effectively stopping you from installing them. You cannot guarantee memory cards for this model will work for all machines within this model.

Can't boot up in OS9? Why?

But the biggest blow has to be the inability for all these new aluminium PowerBooks to boot up in OS9 using the any commercial version of the MacOS9 system software. Even if you have one of those OS9-compatible CD disk utilities from Alsoft DiskWarrior or Norton Utilities and want to repair the hard disk and files on these PowerBooks, you will not be able to do it.

What's stopping these laptops from booting up into pure OS9 mode is the ROM chip. Apple Computer, Inc. has decided with all the kindness in their hearts to insert an extra piece of code in the chip to tell these PowerBooks not to boot up in OS9 (even if it will work fine in doing so). Apple resellers and technicians, on the other hand, do have a copy of the MacOS ROM file version 9.8.1 and CD called Mac Test Pro (G4) capable of bypassing this restriction. But this piece of software is not expected to be readily available to consumers. In the meantime, here is what you can do to install applications or run disk utilities that require OS9 to be running first:

  1. You will need an old Macintosh computer.
  2. Switch off the old Macintosh computer and the latest PowerBook or PowerMac 2003 edition.
  3. Connect the old computer to the new computer via a Firewire cable.
  4. Start up the new computer and press the "T" key immediately.
  5. Start up the old computer from a bootable OS9 CD
  6. When you reach the desktop, go to the Startup Disk control panel and select the disk of the new computer.
  7. Restart the old computer.
  8. Apparently the old computer will start up in OS9.2.2 from the new computer.
  9. Now you are ready to test the disk of the new computer using an OS9 compatible disk utility or install software as required.
  10. Before shutting down the new computer, make sure you choose the MacOSX start up disk for this computer or you will not be able to boot up.
  11. Restart the new computer. The OSX disk of the new computer has been updated.

Apart from a number of manufacturing and design faults, if you are a happy MacOSX chappy with money to burn and can take a bit of heat and other problems from these machines you will love Apple's latest offering.

The 2005 edition of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks

Apple Computer, Inc. has updated the aluminium G4 PowerBooks to the 1.5GHz and 1.67GHz versions (considered slower than the G5 PowerMacs with dual microprocessors) in September 2004. It comes with Seagate's 100GB "sudden motion sensor protection" hard drives, 512MB of 333MHz DDR SDRAM (i.e. fast RAM) expandable to 2GB (except for the 12-inch PowerBooks which goes to a maximum of 1.25GB RAM). ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 graphics card (NVidia GeForce FX Go5200 graphics card for 12-inch model), 2 x USB 2.0 ports, FireWire 800 support, enhanced Bluetooth 2.0 promising three times the speed, S-video and composite video ports, an ethernet port (highest model comes with 1 Gigabit ethernet), and built-in 56K V.92 modems. Despite G5 PowerMacs being around since 2002, Apple Computer, Inc. feels it is not quite able to deliver on a G5 laptop at this stage. As Apple vice president of product marketing Greg Joswiak said in September 2004:

"The challenges of cooling a G5 in a PowerBook are significantly greater." (MacWorld: PowerBook Move. March 2005, p.16.)

So for now, Apple must settle for the "milking the consumers of their hard earned money" technique by using the higher speed G4 microprocessor while keeping the shareholders happy.

Seriously, the improvements made are considered reasonable. Higher hard disk capacity must certainly be a good thing if people want to store more information. A brighter keyboard illumination and screen may be a good thing if you're not too concerned about the lifespan of the screen and battery. Certainly people will be happier with a brighter screen for viewing.

But a slower scrolling and somewhat erratic trackpad (more common in battery mode) built by Cypress Semiconductor (not Synaptics — why change component manufacturer? Perhaps not cheap enough for Apple to make a big enough profit?) is not a good thing.

Solutions for the erratic trackpad problems range from resetting the Power Management Unit (PMU), turning off "Ignore accidental trackpad input" option in the Keyboard and Mouse pane of System Preferences, to installing a piece of software called MouseZoom to speed up mouse cursor movements (especially in the up and down direction).

Resetting PMU on the latest 1.5-1.67GHz aluminium laptops

(i) Unplug the AC adapter.

(ii) remove the battery.

(iii) hold down the power button for 5 seconds.

(iv) reinsert the battery and plug in the AC adapter.

(v) restart the computer.
 

As a final resort, Apple may be forced to replace the upper assembly containing the trackpad with no guarantee of fixing the problem (probably using old off-the-shelf parts). Is the new trackpad properly designed to be compatible with the latest OSX 10.3.8 and higher (or vice versa)? Or will users need the OSX version 10.4 "Tiger" update to make the fix possible? Or is there another more serious problem?

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for Apple to permanently solve this trackpad problem.

Another improvement (if you can call it that) is a higher microprocessor speed. Yes, you can still do all your 3D animation work, desktop publishing and video editing as you have always done on your PowerBook G3 Series "Pismo", G3/G4 iBook or titanium G4 PowerBook, just a little faster. However, a higher microprocessor speed may not be a good thing if it means making the laptop hot thereby reducing its lifespan. Unfortunately the machines will remain hot unless you can give them adequate ventilation. Perhaps it would be better to go for a solid, well-built cooler (and slower or equally fast machine using two or more really slow G4 processors) machine to make the money seem worth it.

The new aluminium laptops will also need to be treated like babies, although admittedly they do have some solid feel about them. Better to be safe than sorry, just look after them as best you can. But remember, even if you do look after them (as most users would given the high price being asked by Apple Inc.), something will go wrong after a couple of years if this model and previous Apple models is any indication because of the extra heat and power consumption and use of cheaper components. Or, if it doesn't, you can be sure the latest OSX updates will make the machines look like they have got a problem. And if so, be prepared. A faulty PowerBook will make Apple think you are not properly looking after your product. It is a common tactic designed to save the company on the costs of repairs if it is in warranty. In fact, ideally, Apple will want you to pay for the repairs.

The new Seagate hard disk, while bigger in capacity, does have another issue worthy of further discussion — namely it comes with a motion sensor and protection mechanism. This feature is designed to almost instantaneously park the read/write heads in a safe position should the hard drive suddenly receive a knock. How much of a knock would it take to activate this feature? Now this is the interesting bit. Apparently evidence is emerging suggesting it doesn't take much. Consumers of this latest laptop are claiming a loud clunking noise in the 2.5-inch hard drive (not dissimilar to a marble hitting a hard surface) is heard regularly in the early stages and after a period of time of purchasing the laptop the hard disk seems to get quieter (assuming there is adequate ventilation).

The noise is so loud, a number of users are expressing a concern it could be signs of a more serious problem in the hard drives. As Christopher Boffoli, a MacFixIt reader, reported:

"This is exactly the same problem I (and others on Apple discussion boards) have been having with my new 15" aluminum 1.67GHz Powerbook. It periodically sounds like there is a marble being dropped inside the case. It has diminished over time as I have been hearing it less frequently in the last couple of weeks."

Why the noisy hard drives? Considering the fact that consumers can now buy high-quality whisper-quiet fluid dynamic 80GB to 100GB hard drives with the ability to absorb solid shocks in the real world (better than the IBM Travelstar) for under A$400 as of 2005, it must be seen in the IT industry as extremely unusual for new hard drives to be coming out with "clunking noises".

A closer look at the reason why there is a noise in Seagate's hard drives suggests it is because the read/write heads inside the new Seagate drives are rapidly and repeatedly hitting a hard metal surface inside until the heads eventually come to a complete stop. Once the heads are motionless, they can be parked into a safe position to prevent the heads from potentially damaging the disk in the event of a physical shock to the hard drive.

But how does this happen so easily even when a laptop is sitting motionless on a table or on a person's lap as some users have claimed? Isn't this feature meant to work in the event a person is on horseback carrying a laptop in one hand and the horse's reigns in the other, or while you are driving a 4WD across the Grand Canyon and need the laptop to be turned on throughout the entire event? Makes you wonder how useful this feature is meant to be considering 99.9 per cent of Apple users sit a laptop on a desk or on their lap inside a taxi, train, plane or bus while doing their work. Otherwise the laptop would be turned off when transported from place-to-place thereby allowing a much greater level of shock to be absorbed. Perhaps it is designed for the people of Los Angeles in the event an earthquake hits the region? Or maybe Apple is expecting most of their users to be involved in a car accident of some sort? (Now that's one way to stop users coming back to have their machines repaired)

NOTE: Most owners of the Mac-mini computers (a small box without keyboard, mouse or screen) claim to be experiencing the same problem as of March 2005. Does this mean the users are meant to be carrying the mac-minis with them and doing their work in the same way as a laptop? Yes, we can see it now: users carrying the Mac-mini, screen, keyboard and mouse and have it set up inside a taxi. Makes you wonder how users actually carry the screen, mouse, keyboard at the same time? Is this Apple's funny idea of portability for the 21st century?

As of 18 March 2005, the manufacturer of the noisy hard drives — Seagate — said an upcoming firmware revision will solve the problem. Seagate believes it is not a sign of poor quality or possible failure of the drives. Just an annoyance for customers (and probably to Seagate as well as it involves doing some extra work to deliver a firmware revision). All customers have to do is download the update and run it to fix the problem.

So what was Apple Inc. doing after all this time in building and testing the new laptops? Did they test the laptops with the Seagate hard drives? Or were the directors and managers crossing their arms and whistling in the wind hoping customers won't notice a thing (in which case they must be still living on Michael Jackson's Never Never Land)?

And why are there quite a few new aluminium G4 laptops with the Seagate drives and some others not? Why change hard drive manufacturers mid-way through the manufacturing process? Assuming the Seagate's firmware update is provided and non-technical customers can run it, shouldn't these laptops be free of defects?

Actually, just when users thought the latest laptops may finally be free of faults (apart from the heat, noisy hard disk and erratic trackpad), Apple decides to release OSX update 10.3.8 only to stuff around with the auto screen illumination feature at a certain brightness level in the room — now it erratically and consistently changes screen illumination at the annoyance of a lot of users. Before the update, the latest laptops could run the feature and people were happy with it. Now users can't understand the rationale in affecting this feature. Even if it is an old preference file not compatible with the update, it should be the responsibility of Apple to ensure the problem is fixed properly first time and everytime, or leave it alone as the old wise man would say.

As the experts would say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Further details about this auto screen illumination problem may be found at MacFixIt.com.

UPDATE
20 March 2005

Word has it that the reason why Seagate hard drives make the "marble hitting a hard surface" noise while the aluminium G4 laptops are sitting on a desk is because of the heat. Apparently at a high enough temperature when there is not enough ventilation going through the laptops, the read/write heads start to behave erratically. When this happens, the hard drives activate the safety feature of parking the heads to protect the disk, thereby avoiding possible corruption to the data on the disk. Does this mean the hard drives are becoming overheated by the computer even though the electrical current drawn by the hard drives is presumably appropriate?

Well, some technicians think the noise could be a whole lot more serious than Apple and Seagate are willing to admit. The clunky noise does remind the technicians of a hard drive about ready to collapse and should be replaced as soon as possible. As John Schofield writes to MacFixIt.com on 18 March 2005:

"I was really struck by the description of the sound as being like 'a marble being dropped on a hard surface.'

I'm a former Mac tech who worked at an Apple Authorized Service Provider, now I'm doing other things. I always described that sound as "a ball bearing dropping on concrete" — a sound I heard often from drives that were about to or were in the process of dying. (I stopped being an AASP long before the Mini came out, but I'm very familiar with the noise.

Apple won't replace the drives until they actually die (which is a reasonable position, I think) but that means anyone with a Mac Mini making these kinds of noises should be really religious about backup — those drives could go any minute, or get progressively wonkier as time goes on." (MacFixIt.com: Mac Mini: Hard drive "clunking" (#3) Firmware Update coming from Seagate. 18 March 2005.)

Another technician named Adam Roberts said:

"Having serviced and worked on hard drives for almost 20 years.. I can tell you that any drive making a loud clunk sound is not good...this is usually caused by the drive armature assembly slamming into the mechanical stop that limits its range of motion.. which is usually caused by the fact that the servo calibration is messed up and cannot properly govern the speed and position of the head assembly on the drive [caused by excessive heat?]...

Basically the drives are bad.. but it isn't an instant failure.. the drive will beat itself to death...whenever I hear a drive 'clunking' as I call it...I always advise the client to replace it ASAP. A lot of time, the problem is worsened by temperature. As the drive heats up, the electronics go out of spec and it has a harder time of keeping the servo mechanism on track. With the smaller drives in small confined spaces...they get very hot...also it just boils down to plain old bad hardware, poor quality...bad components used in the drive manufacture." (MacFixIt.com: Mac Mini: Hard drive "clunking" (#3) Firmware Update coming from Seagate. 18 March 2005.)

Again we have to ask the obvious question, "What the hell is Apple Computer, Inc. doing?"

If other technicians outside of the Apple head office in Cupertino in California, USA, are strongly reminded of hard drive failures because of the noise, why aren't the technicians at Apple Inc. or the managers (including Steve Jobs) noticing the problem themselves? Or if they have noticed, is this the reason why the laptops may have hard drives from different manufacturers?

Clearly it has forced Seagate to issue a firmware update in March 2005 to reduce the noise. Yet no evidence has come to light confirming Apple has notified Seagate of the problem. Well, certainly not before the new laptops were ever released to consumers! Or is Apple trying to find out something, convince people noisy hard drives with erratic read/write heads are quite normal, and need guinea pigs in the consumer world to tell them what is happening (or is going to happen when the drives suddenly collapse in less than 5 years)?

Is this similar to the way Apple wants to force consumers to have their laptop brought back because the 500mA IBM hard drive was overheating inside those early demonstration models (e.g., the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" computer) when manufactured by Apple using one of those hard-to-find and expensive 700mA hard drives (i.e. Toshiba) but not for the newer, cheaper and readily available 500mA hard drives (e.g. IBM) that was suppose to draw only a certain amount of power, but the power would get drawn to higher levels by the heat until the 500mA hard drive behaved erratically and caused data corruption as a result?

You see, the IBM hard drive is meant to operate at a maximum of around 500mA. Any more current and the PowerBook must be designed to cap the current at the safe level. But because the demonstration PowerBook was designed to cap current at 700mA, which is why Apple used Toshiba hard drives, the heat of the computer with the IBM hard drive allowed an increasingly greater amount of current to go into the hard drive than should be acceptable over time.

This is how semiconductor materials in the circuit board controlling the IBM hard drive behaves with increasing temperature. Known as negative thermal resistance, the greater the temperature, the lower the resistance of the semiconductor materials, and with it, the circuit can draw more current than it really needs

This is why the read/write heads behaved erratically after a short period of time inside the IBM hard drive of the demonstration model. Too much heat was destabilising the heads. But the IBM hard drive had no safety feature to help it park the heads safely to prevent file corruption. With no safety feature available in the IBM hard disk to park the read/write heads in these abnormally high temperature conditions as does the Seagate model, the IBM read/write heads managed to create corruption to the customer's data and eventually damaged the hard drive and RAM connectors through excessive heat from both the hard drive and the computer.

The Apple reseller that sold the incompatible IBM hard drive to the Australian customer tried to avoid responsibility (claiming the customer was precise in the details of the hard drive he wanted right down to the part number, which is incorrect) and then wanted desperately to have the customer's original Toshiba hard disk to do the test and repairs even though the customer is not legally required to do so (even Apple's own manual stated users can remove the hard drive before sending it off to someone to repair the computer) and the Apple reseller could not give a technical explanation why it was needed (don't they have their own hard disk?), while Apple Computer (Australia) Ltd chose to pretend there was nothing wrong and eventually kept quiet on the issue.

It is enough to sue the pants off Apple and the reseller for destroying the customer's computer and to get a replacement or refund as a result.

So now, given the information emerging on the Seagate hard drive noise in high temperatures, we can see where Apple is heading with this one. Apple wants to convince enough people that if an Australian customer says the read/write heads on the incompatible hard drive had caused corruption to his data and eventually damage to his PowerBook through excessive heat, Apple can say it isn't because of their manufacturing processes. Apple will claim the electric current or amperage going into the hard drive is correct because it draws only the current it needs rather than explain the "negative thermal resistance" situation. In essence, Apple will try hard to convince customers it is a hard drive manufacturer problem and not an Apple problem and will use the Seagate example to prove their claim. It will be a classic covering up of Apple's own ass. And you can be sure there will be lots of arguing back and forth between the hard drive manufacturer and Apple as they try to place the blame on each other.

In essence, Apple would like users to believe any hard drive problems should be seen as totally the responsibility of the hard drive (or component) manufacturer (e.g. IBM), not the Apple company for making the PowerBook designed for 700mA hard drives (i.e. Toshiba) or the Apple reseller responsible for selling the incompatible 500mA hard drives (e.g. IBM) to the customer without checking.

It is a pity Apple Inc. still hasn't got the intestinal fortitude to own up to its consumer responsibilities in producing a machine that is clearly too hot to operate correctly, uses too many untested components to force customers to return the machine to an Apple reseller, in not supplying the correct hard drive when requested by the customer (i.e. Toshiba) and designing laptops to use the correct hard disk throughout its lifecycle, and in not doing the repairs in an appropriate manner when the PowerBook was damaged without having its own secret agendas getting in the way (i.e. viewing the contents of people's private information on hard drives for whatever reason and in making lame excuses of claiming it draws only the current it needs without telling the complete picture just to save money).

Apple needs a good legal kick up its corporate arse!

UPDATE
31 March 2005

Although not technically a manufacturing fault (or is it?), a growing number of the latest aluminium PowerBook users are noticing the burn speeds for DVDs and CDs with the Matshita-manufactured SuperDrives are not reaching the advertised speeds claimed by Apple Computer, Inc.

According to the MacFixIt.com report titled 2005 PowerBook G4 (possibly other models) SuperDrives not burning at advertised speed, users were lucky to attain a speed above 2x for DVD burning compared to the expected 8x, and around 10x instead of 24x for CD burning.

Could the SuperDrives — in making a two-pass burning and verification test — slow down the burning speed? The problem with this idea is that titanium PowerBook owners with their own Matshita SuperDrives are not complaining about the slow burning speed. The users are happily burning CDs and DVDs to their hearts content. The likelihood this is a firmware software problem has gotten more remote given this observation. Does this mean OSX has put in yet another unwelcomed restriction to the PowerBook: this time on the burn speed? Or is this another blatant example of Apple not testing the components that go into their new PowerBooks as part of a cost-reduction scheme or policy and now needs the manufacturer to fix the issue (e.g. a firmware revision)?

Or is Apple now targeting users making pirated copies of DVDs because this is where more of the dubious characters are likely to be found?

Let's hope the update does not require legitimate users to purchase yet another new PowerBook or SuperDrive!

UPDATE
1 April 2005

We hope this isn't an April Fool's joke from Matshita or Apple, but users are claiming it could be the latest batch of SuperDrives to come from the manufacturer not operating at maximum speeds. It is either that or Apple has provided an update to OSX to affect burn speeds on the latest SuperDrives and is waiting for the manufacturer to provide a firmware update to make the drives compatible once again.

The impression we are getting is "Yes, Matshita is to blame and not Apple" because it seems to be backed up by one titanium G4 PowerBook 1GHz user coming to the foray with a claim the problem occurs when replacing the SuperDrive with a newer item from the same manufacturer. The new SuperDrive was quoted as having the model number UJ-845.

However, we don't know whether he was using OSX. Perhaps we should ask, "Does the SuperDrive work at full speed in OS9?"

Another user, this time working on a G5 iMac and OSX, claims a Matshita SuperDrive UJ-825 CD-R unit is also running below the advertised burning speed.

So what is really going on?

It is hard to tell how much Apple had a hand in all of this (since the company is choosing to use the latest SuperDrive in their G5 iMac and aluminium G4 PowerBooks and not testing the third-party component thoroughly before releasing the computers to the unsuspecting public). But if we are to assume Apple is innocent, then it would appear Matshita is not making quality components.

But the question on everyone's mind is: How could Matshita suddenly make a bad batch of internal CD burning drives and risk jeopardising the contract with Apple? Or maybe it doesn't matter as Apple keeps switching to another vendor each time a new PowerBook design comes up, and with it a new set of problems may emerge.

The Japanese company had been making virtually flawless drives since the release of the PowerBook G3 Series "Lombard" right through to the titanium PowerBook G4 (certainly no reports of bad drives to note at MacFixIt.com). Then suddenly with the latest new Apple products consisting of a G5 iMac and the latest 2005 aluminium PowerBooks, we have SuperDrives going down in quality and running below the advertised speed? What exactly did Matshita have to physically and/or firmwarewise update in the drives to create this problem? A CD burner/reader is a CD burner/reader. What special features does it need to do its task any differently to make these changes?

It is also a remarkable coincidence this flaw comes at a time when another component was found not to be behaving properly inside the latest Apple computers — namely Seagate's new hard drives.

Given how much profit Matshita is making from the SuperDrive when the Apple computers are sold on the market (if the consumers have the confidence in buying them), surely they are not silly enough to risk those profits over a bad batch of units? Apple Inc. could quite easily go to another manufacturer and ask to have a better quality CD drive made. Clearly it is too much of a risk for Matshita to suddenly come up with a bad batch.

Yet a CD drive manufacturer allowing a problem like this to get through? It just doesn't make sense. We understand Apple would have a reason to put in flaws into OSX and allow design and manufacturing flaws to go through in earlier Apple products such as the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" computer without permanently fixing them because it forces customers to pay for a new Apple computer or constantly pay the cost of repairs.

Anyway there are many different components to go into an Apple computer and it is very easy for Apple to hide behind a veil of "it's not my fault" if one of these components fail or don't perform to a certain standard. However now that people are noting the kind of problems coming out of Apple computers, it is getting much harder for Apple to make excuses. For example, you can't continue to make the same mistakes with the clutch hinge for holding the screen in position. Otherwise it would prove Apple is deliberately allowing the faults to go through.

But does this mean Apple is allowing the manufacturers to provide the faults by choosing not to perform any quality control checks so Apple cannot be implicated in the manufacturing flaws and therefore can legally protect itself from class actions against the company? If this is the new policy, people are already finding out what the situation is. Especially from a component manufacturer that has been supplying faultless SuperDrives for so long until the new batch of Apple computers came out since September 2004.

Is Matshita really to blame for this?

NOTE: Apple cannot avoid legal responsibilities to the consumer by letting other manufacturers take the blame for certain apparent faults associated with certain components. So long as Apple chooses to place its logo on its products, the company is legally endorsing the product and all its components as meeting the minimum quality standards for consumer confidence and usage. So if a component fails or is below standard through no fault of the consumer, the responsibility should rest with both Apple and the component manufacturer.

Every Apple product must show a certain "reasonable quality" to the consumer. Should a consumer find this is not the case, it is up to Apple to prove otherwise, or provide a replacement, or a full refund if within the warranty period as requested by the consumer.

UPDATE
6 April 2005

Evidence has emerged suggesting the slow CD/DVD burn rates has to do with the latest OSX. There appears to be new stringent rules being applied (or means of making life more difficult for those DVD movie pirates) within OSX and how it is making certain hardware and software components incompatible or seriously slow to do its job (so much for commercially-producing legitimate DVD movies directly from your Macintosh computer) until the user is forced to pay for an upgrade or hopefully a free firmware patch, or try another DVD burner and/or disk media until you find one that works — we hear Fuji 8X media works better.

Or will yet another OSX update fix the problem?

Does this mean Apple wants you to have the very latest hardware (and/or get the latest firmware for your particular hardware) and software just to make everything compatibile once again? The observations are certainly pointing in this direction. And yes, as a consumer, you will have to pay for this privilege (not to mention the amount of time-wasting involved here). Apple doesn't seem to get it that some users actually do try to get some work done, of a legal nature, on an Apple computer these days? It is either that, or you may wish to consider trying some of the more obscure and older CD/DVD burning software titles independent of OSX (if available and hopefully will run on OSX) to make the burning process work at proper speeds and with the least amount of errors as possible.

For example news from MacFixit.com reveal older DVD burning software titles such as Dragon Burn will burn at the correct advertised speeds of the Matshita burners (i.e. 4x) and will not create the multitude of errors observed with a variety of DVD-R disks (e.g. Panasonic and even Apple's own disk brand) when using Roxio Toast 6.x, the Finder's own CD burning software, or Apple's Disk Utility.

As a final check, you may wish to spend money on different DVD-R disks to find the one with the highest quality and the least likely to spit a dummy by OSX during a burn procedure.

Apparently Apple has not told Matshita about the changes (or have they conspired together to make the fault happen?) and now lots of people are blaming Matshita for faulty drives. In which case, we might as well bundle in the list a host of other manufacturers because it would appear some other DVD burners are also affected by the latest Apple changes.

Apple is presently taking the view that it doesn't know what is going on. But if you have your warranty in place, Apple will do a computer check and supply a possible drive replacement just to keep the customer quiet happy. Better still, get a replacement, or a full refund.

UPDATE
1 June 2006

SuperDrive 2.0 firmware update is available to solve the Matshita SuperDrive inaccurate burn speed problem. Apple's documentation states that the update applies to the following Macs:


1. PowerBook G4 (12 -inch 1.5GHz)

2. PowerBook G4 (15-inch 1.33GHz, 1.5GHz, or 1.67GHz)

3. PowerBook G4 (17-inch 1.67GHz)

4. iMac G5 (17-inch 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz)

5. iMac G5 (20-inch 1.8GHz)

6. Mac mini G4
 

Interestingly Apple fails to mentions how the Matshita DVD-R UJ-835 is the only model to be fixed by this update. Matshita ADVD-R UJ-825 and Matshita DVD-R UJ-846 do not require the update. But because this is apparently a secret and cannot tell users which SuperDrive models need the update, users had to call up Apple explaining there must be a problem with the update despite having the machines listed. And guess what? Apple continues to keep quiet, recommending users should bring in their machines to an Apple authorised agent for inspection should the firmware update fail. In other words, an Apple technician will, behind closed doors, look inside your computer (and do anything else), tell you the SuperDrive does not need it because it isn't the affected model, and give you back the computer.

Nice one!

UPDATE
24 May 2007

It would appear the slower than advertised speed of the SuperDrive's burning process is due to a request by movie makers, namely Disney (which now owns Pixar, the company that has Steve Jobs on the board of directors) to get Apple and Matshita to enforce DVD region codes while at the same time find ways to control DVD piracy.

While Apple has decided to issue a firmware update for the Matshita UJ-825 model to speed up DVD burning speeds (not without some fierce criticism by a large number of users), life is still being made allegedly more difficult for the DVD pirates (and everyone else doing the right thing) by restricting the number of times you can set the DVD region code of your SuperDrive — currently a maximum of 5. The DVD region code is the method by which DVD/movie manufacturers can restrict DVD viewing of films to selected countries before making them available to everyone (if at all). It is there to help maximise the profit of the movie industry in selling movies on DVDs.

Thus if you run out of times you can change the DVD region code to watch a DVD, you will have to buy the same DVD for your country (i.e. the final region code you changed to). Clearly a pain in the arse for users travelling between, and purchasing DVDs in, different countries.

There are clever ways to overcome this region code changing limitation. One involves finding firmware patches for your SuperDrive model, such as Matshita UJ-816. The latest SuperDrives from Matshita — UJ-846 (aluminium PowerBook G4 2006 model) and UJ-857 (MacBook Pro) — have no region-free firmware as yet. You could buy a region-free SuperDrive from another manufacturer to fit the PowerBook G4. However, the SuperDrive inside the MacBook Pro is smaller and no other manufacturer has come up with an alternative to replace it.

For people trying to watch legitimately-purchased DVDs from other countries, your best bet is either to watch the DVDs using a utlity called VLC (remember to ignore the warning that says this DVD player doesn't match the region code, although this may not work on the latest Matshita SuperDrives), or use a DVD ripper utility for Mac or Windows (use an emulator or intel-based Mac) designed specifically to set the DVD disk's region code to 0 (i.e. region-free) when ripping the file. Then it can be played on your hard disk or burned onto a DVD-R disk.

Examples of DVD rippers include AnyDVD for Windows XP and Mac the Ripper 2.6.6 for OSX.

NOTE 1: You should go into System Preferences, click CD & DVD and set to "Ignore" whenever Video DVDs are inserted into the SuperDrive or else the DVDs will autoplay and you will be presented with the region code restriction dialog box.

Or else purchase an external DVD player with region-free (RC-1) capabilities (i.e. there should be a firmware patch to make it region-free). Pioneer DVR-K06 is one example.

NOTE 1: Matshita and Panasonic are the same company.

NOTE 2: Although no official statement from Apple has ever been made to explain the reason for crippling the SuperDrives to a slower speed, one could also speculate it has something to do with increasing battery life of laptops and reduce heat emissions. Yet it doesn't explain why Apple released a firmware update for just the UJ-825? Is there another reason for the slower SuperDrives?

UPDATE
6 April 2005

A far more serious problem has emerged in a number of the 2003-2004 and, incredibly enough given how recent the models have come out, the latest 2005 edition of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks. So serious is this problem that Apple is quickly and quietly replacing the main logic board with a newer version (or should we say from the same manufacturing batch) in the hope no consumer will ever find out what is going on.

News of the problem first surfaced in a number of web sites including Apple's own discussion forums. And now MacFixIt.com has quickly caught on with several reports coming in from users, and one anonymous authorised Apple reseller making a statement as early as November 2004. In an article titled RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks, MacFixIt.com said:

"A growing number of readers are reporting an issue where the lower (or less frequently, upper) memory slots in some PowerBooks fail, leaving users with less available RAM than is actually installed.

'Some users are not aware of the issue until they check the "About This Mac" pane accessible via the Apple menu or experience significant slow-down in a particular application.

'Those affected by this issue are receiving the error message:

post/0/2048 SODIMM0/J25LOWER

when using Apple's Hardware Test CD (shipped with PowerBooks).

'The problem seems to primarily affect newer PowerBooks, including the 12", 15" and 17" 2005 models.

'A few readers whose machines are still under warranty report that Apple is servicing the afflicted PowerBooks, and replacing the main logic board (MLB) to resolve the issue." (MacFixIt.com: RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks. 6 April 2005.)

Users are discovering this problem almost purely by accident when they check the "About this Macintosh..." menu command, or get the dreaded "out of memory" error message or there is something amiss during the startup procedure when turning on the machine.

As the anonymous authorised Apple reseller said:

"I can confirm this issue as I have seen it several times and have had to send units to Apple for this. In some cases the RAM slot fails after a period of initial use and in other cases the slot fails immediately." (MacFixIt.com: RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks (#2). 7 April 2005.)

And now another anonymous authorised Apple reseller is prepared to go on record to say that Apple Computer, Inc. does not do a proper test of the lower RAM slot:

"My information is that Apple only test the top slot in production to save time. They populate the top slot on the assembly line and if that works, they assume the other slot is OK. False economy." (MacFixIt.com: RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks (#2). 7 April 2005.)

As we speak, Apple Inc. has quickly closed the Apple discussion forums on the issue and its head offices around the world are frantically replacing the logic boards in double quick time. This appears to be the case with MacFixIt.com reader Riccardo Cassinis writing:

"I had the same problem on my 1-week old 15" 1.67 GHz PowerBook. Apple directed me to an authorized repair center here in Italy, where I was told it would take one to two weeks to get the replacement logic board. However, since the PB could be used putting the RAM in the upper, working slot, they were kind enough to leave it in my possession until they got the replacement (it took less than one week). Then they called me, and the actual repair took less than five hours. Free of charge, of course. A very good example of efficiency and true "customer care"."

We hope for Apple's sake the new boards will have tougher RAM card slots able to withstand the high temperatures inside the laptops. Unfortunately no one is checking to see if the RAM slots are indeed different. For all we know it could be the same batch of logic boards to replace those ones which people are noticing a problem with. Actually we have just received confirmation that Apple is indeed swapping the faulty logic boards with new ones from the same manufacturing batch. This would have to mean the same problem will reoccur after a few weeks to a few months of use until Apple finally has the decency to put in a fresh stock of updated logic boards. As MacFixIt.com reader Jordi writes:

"The same problem occurred with my PowerBooks Aluminum 1.5 Ghz 2004. This is the second time that I've had the problem. They changed my original logic board and the new one had a failed lower RAM slot three months later." (MacFixIt.com: RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks (#2). 7 April 2005.)

Another who can vouch for Jordi is David Burk. First published on MacFixIt.com on 8 April 2005, David Burk wrote:

"I am having a similar problem with my 15" 1.25 GHz Powerbook. After working flawlessly for over a year, my Powerbook recently stopped recognizing the DIMM in its lower memory slot. I took the machine in to my authorized service centre and the logic board was declared faulty and replaced under AppleCare. Unfortunately, within days, the problem returned. The technician now suspects that one of my memory modules is to blame for the problems. I am now waiting for the replacement memory to arrive so I can test this theory. I remain skeptical, since in my informal testing, the laptop worked fine with either DIMM in the upper memory slot."

Then the following quote from a guy named Jonsaw said:

"We've been seeing this practice at Apple for some time: When a part fails, Apple usually uses, for repairs, parts from the same production runs as the bad parts they're replacing, until all those parts are used up, at which point they have their manufacturing houses make a fixed version; in some cases, they might have the fixed version in production soon after Apple diagnoses the problem and has a fix for it, but Apple still continues to use the old parts until they're used up. Apple crosses its fingers and hopes enough of the replacement boards will work, since most do, but "most" in this case can mean 51%." (RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks (#2): MacFixIt.com. 7 April 2005)

But then Jonsaw writes:

"The bad RAM socket problem sounds a little like another problem I've been seeing for a while with some older Macs, such as any G3 or the PCI G4, AGP G4, or Gigabit Ethernet G4: using PC133 RAM in Macs that have a 100 mhz or 66 mhz bus. Though it might seem that this info won't help people with newer Powerbooks, the same basic issue might still applyRAM vendors may sometimes be selling RAM even to owners of newer Macs, that's rated at the wrong speed for the Mac that it winds up in. With older Macs, PC133 RAM is intended to be run in Macs that have a 133 mhz bus, which is faster than a Mac with a 66 mhz or 100 mhz bus can run it, and so the timing is wrong. When you do this, sometimes the socket the RAM is placed in will see only half the RAM; but whether it sees only half the RAM or all of it, often random crashing occurs. Sometimes a Mac that has a 66 mhz or 100 mhz bus will run OK for two or three years with PC133 RAM, but after a while, it will begin to crash randomly, as the values of the parts inside the RAM board and/or the Mac's logic board begin to drift, causing the timing problem to magnify. I've seen three cases of this in the past two weeks — I replaced the PC133 RAM with PC100 RAM, and all the Mac's crashing problems cleared up."

Here we see the preferred explanation by Apple for the RAM slot problems: blame the user for the faulty RAM slots because they weren't using genuine Apple RAM cards. Any other explanation from Apple would look too embarressing for the company and would reveal serious problems with the heat of the G4 (and G5) microprocessor running at high speeds.

Only one problem with blaming the customer: the latest aluminium PowerBooks sold by Apple come with Apple RAM cards. And these are the machines having trouble picking up the RAM cards. The complaints lie squarely at the inability of the logic board to pick up the RAM cards. This poor connection to the RAM cards appear to be further supported by the fact that some users have attempted to remove and reinsert the RAM card themselves with success, if only for a week or two before the problem returns. Moving the RAM card from the lower slot to the upper slot also improves the situation considerably. For example, David Schloss wrote to MacFixIt.com:

"After reading your posts on the failing RAM in some PowerBook models, I checked my 'About This Mac' and found that my PowerBook 15" 1.25 GHz was showing 1GB instead of 2GB of RAM available. I don't have the test CD handy so I powered it down, took out the upper DIMM and tried to power it up. I got the 'error' noise associated with bad RAM. I flipped the same DIMM to the upper slot and it booted. I then powered down, and put the DIMM back into the lower slot, same issue. Took it out and re-seated it and this time it started up fine. I put back in the second DIMM and the Mac sees both. I'll keep running it until I get to a copy of the test CD, and I'll email my results." (MacFixIt.com: RAM slot(s) failing in some PowerBooks (#2). 7 April 2005)

The problem of the RAM slots not gripping properly is most prevalent with the newest 2005 edition aluminium G4 PowerBooks taking around a few weeks to 6 months for the logic board to fail noticing the RAM cards (particularly in the lower slot). But it isn't an isolated case. Other PowerBooks, including the older 2003-2004 1.25GHz aluminium G4 PowerBooks and the 1GHz titanium G4 PowerBooks, have spent just about enough time to be experiencing the same problems.

In the case of the 1.25GHz aluminium G4 PowerBooks, it may take 12 months or a bit longer before the problem of the RAM card slots materialise for the user. For the 1GHz titanium G4 PowerBook, it may take 2 years. For older titanium G4 PowerBook models (e.g. 400MHz), there may not be a significant reduction in heat as these models use a slightly older G4 processor. These models could take 3 years or more. The only way you can minimise the risk is to reduce the processor speed in the Energy Saver control panel (under the Advanced tab).

Again many users are thanking their lucky stars for having AppleCare warranty as service is quicker and there is no additional cost to replace the logic boards in all these PowerBook models. Otherwise expect the logic board for the latest aluminium G4 PowerBooks to cost US$999.

Wow! If all this is true, this could be the supporting evidence needed to prove the Australian customer's bad customer service experiences from his reseller and Apple in Sydney with his demonstration model PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" computer: because of the incompatible hard drive provided by an Apple reseller, the extra heat had affected the slots for both the hard drive and the RAM cards.

Apple Computer (Australia) Ltd dealings with this customer was poor to say the least. In fact, nothing has been done by Apple Computer (Australia) Ltd for the customer to fix the problem without having the Apple reseller and itself putting in its own secret agendas for having the original Toshiba hard disk for the repairs — and the reseller wanted to make sure the customer would pay for the cost as if claiming it is the customer's fault. Apple would ignore the PowerBook manual stating clearly the owner could keep the hard drive when sending the laptop for repairs. And clearly Apple and the reseller knew this was a demonstration model with a different hard disk.

Amazingly, given the latest news on the aluminium G4 PowerBook, Apple is quickly repairing the same problem. Someone must have put steroids into the Apple management team to get its corporate arse into gear.

But one wonders what happens if the PowerBook wasn't the latest model? Would Apple still move its sad excuse for an arse to repair the same problem for customers? Probably not.

Apple has yet to fully understand the concept of customer service, true quality repairs and testing, and acknowledge the manufacturing faults it has allowed to seep into the consumer world at the detriment of those consumers who purchased and use the Apple products. (4)

UPDATE
24 January 2006

Apple has announced a worldwide PowerBook G4 (15-inch 1.67/1.5GHz) Memory Slot Repair Extension Program to repair or replace the memory slot in the aluminium PowerBook G4 computers. Unfortunately, due to limited profits at Apple given the apparent number of products sold, the program will only affect PowerBooks manufactured between January 2005 and April 2005. The serial numbers affected are in the range from W8503xxxxxx to W8518xxxxxx inclusive. Many other laptops outside this range are affected. Please check inside the battery bay area to see if your PowerBook serial number lies within this range. If so, and you have experienced memory slot problems, please see your local Apple reseller as soon as possible.

On the positive side, at least Apple has admitted the flaw in the PowerBook and at least some users will get their machines fixed. But as MacFixIt reader Andrew Birch said:

"I have a PB 1.5 Alum model from late 2004, that is below the serial numbers listed in the new Apple program. I experienced the same issue, and my PB is in repair right now with Applecare. A new logic board is on order, but they have not received it yet. Its been about a week, so far. I also have the 3 year warranty.

I am posting this, as its curious to me that the Slot Repair Program is not covering earlier models, according to Apple's website on this matter." (MacFixIt.com: Apple announces PowerBook G4 (15-inch 1.67/1.5GHz) Memory Slot Repair Extension Program. 23 January 2006. )

UPDATE
October 2006

Apple has introduced the latest and final aluminium PowerBook G4 running at 1.67GHz (A1139). The company probably needs to given the long list of problems users encountered over the past few years with this model series. It is alleged that this PowerBook has the new logic board and hopefully the least number of problems for users. And from experience we have not seen the memory slot problem after 3 years of continuous use so far. But it does suffer one tiny design flaw which is likely how these PowerBooks will eventually decease sooner rather than later (see the end for further details).

UPDATE
24 May 2005

Apple Computer, Inc. has issued a battery recall for the latest aluminium 12-inch and 15-inch PowerBook G4 laptops, and the G4 iBook computers. As Apple stated:

"In cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and other international safety authorities, Apple is voluntarily recalling certain lithium ion rechargeable batteries that were sold worldwide from October 2004 through May 2005 for use with the following notebook computers: 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and 15-inch PowerBook G4. These batteries were manufactured by LG Chem, Ltd. of South Korea.

'The affected batteries could overheat, posing a fire hazard to consumers. Apple has received six consumer reports of these batteries overheating. If you have a recalled battery, please stop using it and order a replacement battery immediately. Once you have removed the battery, plug in the AC adapter to power the computer. If you must temporarily use your computer with the battery, do not leave it unattended and check for signs of overheating.

'Apple has initiated a worldwide exchange program and will provide eligible customers with a new replacement battery, free of charge."

Battery model number and serial number range (inclusive) are:


(i) A1061 (HQ441-HQ507)

(ii) A1079 (3X446-3X510)

(iii) A1078 (3X446-3X509)
 

To view these numbers, the battery must be taken out of the computer (we appreciate it when Apple makes it this easy). Serial number is located beneath the bar code. Look for the first five letters of the serial number code.

Please remember, a number of customers may discover the battery may not come out properly, necessitating the laptops be brought into an Apple store. Apparently one of two plastic levers on the locking end of the battery may have broken and is partially jamming the release mechanism. NOTE: Apple could use this information to blame users for not looking after their PowerBooks.

UPDATE
18 October 2005

The heat of the aluminium PowerBook is still taking the Mickey out of a number of users after 12 months of use. One user named Mauro Bertolini who runs a design studio in Sydney has been using Macs since they were introduced in the 1980s. However, on this occasion, he had to admit the 15-inch 1GHz aluminium PowerBook he purchased from Apple is not the best manufactured machine ever.

In emailing to Charles Purcell of The Sydney Morning Herald, Bertolini said:

"Eleven months after the purchase I began to notice there was no startup sound when I turned the machine on. The machine was working, although somewhat sluggishly.

[Later] I looked on the web for "no startup chime" and sluggish performance. Unbeknown to me, my Powerbook was now out of its one-year warranty.

Suggestions on the web said to check the system profiler to see if both my DIMM slots were working and [recognising] all the RAM. They were not. The lower slot was "empty", meaning that my initial 1GB of total RAM was really only 512MB, hardly enough to run more than two applications simultaneously.

Apple stores gave me various reasons for the problem, the most likely was that a non-standard Apple RAM had been installed. They were not interested in fixing the problem via the warranty, which was just three weeks out.

I was not happy with that situation, having paid $3,500 when I originally bought the machine. An acquaintance who is an Apple technician agreed to put it through his Apple repair system. I was just happy to have it fixed — finally!

Three weeks ago it happened again." (Purcell, Charles. One Apple enthusiast is not a happy PowerBook owner: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 29-30 October 2005, p.8.)

Very unlikely to be non-standard Apple RAM this time. Almost certainly the original RAM was from Apple at time of manufacture and was working for more than 12 months until the heat got to the connector. Then when an Apple technician repaired it (presumably with Apple-approved RAM) the problem returned again. Also it is known that Apple's solution to the problem has been to insert new code in the ROM to create more problems such as RAM not being recognised or creating unusual numbers of system crashes for users using third-party RAM and later the company would blame users for using the wrong RAM when problems arise in this area.

UPDATE
20 October 2005

Apple has seen the need to look like they are doing something to improve their products while quietly reducing the heat problems with the release of the latest aluminium laptops. Known as the PowerBook G4 Double-Layer SuperDrive, these new laptops have more than a new 8x SuperDrive to take advantage of the dual-layer DVD-R/RW disks to show for its name. Apple has also produced a noticeably brighter and higher resolution flat-panel screen and has finally made inroads in the battery longevity side of things with an extra hour of service per charge, bringing it up to the advertised 5.5 hours of continuous battery use. How about putting in a solar panel on the lid for extra longevity? (5)

Again the reality is that this figure is highly optimistic and will only occur in the first few weeks (or several months) of use. And you have to be using the least amount of energy possible (i.e. hard disk not running, low brightness levels on the screen, run a screensaver etc). Afterwards, expect the battery time to drop dramatically. Thus in 18 months time, don't be surprised if the battery is lucky to reach 1 hour.

There is no noticeable increase in processor speed. A wise choice considering any increase in speed on the PowerPC chip would see extra heat emissions. And we now know how much heat is a killer of internal components (e.g. the hard drive, RAM card connectors etc). Instead, Apple has done a commendable job of choosing a screen and other circuitry to be less power-hungry, allowing the battery to last a little longer than usual, and thus reducing the heat.

This includes a graphics card and microprocessor that learns to reduce speed to conserve power when the speed is not needed. We call this power-scaling functionality. A good decision from Apple.

The only immediate complaints to emerge from this new PowerBook has been the difficulty in reading standard size text with such a high resolution screen. Beyond that, only a few users have complained how the brightness of the screen is not evenly distributed across the screen, requiring the user to physically and constantly move around to get the best viewing throughout all areas of the screen. Perhaps a problem with angular visibility in the new screens? Again this is something you need to check to see if it is a serious problem before purchasing the PowerBook.

Otherwise this is a modest improvement to a PowerBook that hopefully should be the last to ever experience problems with excessive heat and other manufacturing glitches. In fact, this could turn out to be the final PowerPC G4 PowerBook to ever be produced by Apple. After this model, the new generation of Macintels will finally arrive onto the consumer market to replace the PowerPCs (perhaps with its own set of manufacturing and software problems to plague the next generation of Apple users).

After that, it becomes a question of whether Apple is kind enough to allow emulation of the PowerPC microprocessor language so people can run the older OSX applications (and possibly OS9 applications).

Don't get your hopes up too high on this one!

UPDATE
30 November 2005

We can happily report more glitches in the latest aluminium PowerBook!

Airport connectivity drops and only a restart of the latest aluminium PowerBook G4 laptop will reestablish the connection at full speed, only to repeat the problem after 5 to 30 minutes. This seems to be the latest common problem for users of the current PowerBook model. It is most common when the installed RAM is over 1GB in capacity. It is almost like the RAM cards are drawing too much power to allow the computer to maintain Airport connectivity (a drop in voltage?). Or could there be another issue at fault? Some users have successfully solved the AirPort connectivity problem by resetting the Power Management Unit (PMU), which may tell the laptop to supply more power once all the new hardware devices such as new high capacity RAM cards are fully recognised and powered up.

As for repairing an OSX disk on the aluminium PowerBook G4, you would also be a wise person indeed to consider asking Alsoft to sell you a compatible DiskWarrior CD version 3.0.3 at US$20 (including shipping). In that way, you can at least boot from the CD on the latest PowerBooks. Apparently the latest ROM revision inside the PowerBooks stops previous DiskWarrior users from recognising all disks. As MacFixIt.com reader Wade Smith has discovered much to his delight:

"I'm wondering if anyone else is having no joy booting the new Powerbook with DiskWarrior 3.0.3, which now has an internal cable select IDE channel. I am having no luck, although the CD does seem to boot, nothing seems to happen when it's searching for the disks. There is no announcement at the DiskWarrior site, either." (MacFixIt.com: PowerBook G4 Double-Layer SuperDrive Special Report: Using DiskWarrior with the PowerBook G4 Dual-Layer SuperDrive. 29 November 2005.)

And possibly the higher screen resolution could be making it harder for the graphics accelerator card to draw images fast enough, making it a potentially slower machine than the previous aluminium PowerBook model.

Again we must remain positive and assume this new PowerBook is an improvement from previous models.

UPDATE
22 December 2005

The infamous 1 per cent or less of all products having a fault from the manufacturer after purchase by the consumer according to Apple has emerged according to this MacFixIt.com report. The report suggests some laptops are being shipped with a faulty Mac OSX Tiger version preinstalled on the machines and on the OSX DVD disk supplied, causing a high than normal incidence of system freezes and dropouts in network activity. It is alleged the cause for this problem is due to the lookupd system daemon for handling a variety of networking routines not performing as it should. Yet remarkably the retail version of the DVD doesn't appear to have this specific problem. So why the differences?

As a result, the increased production of this latest aluminium PowerBook G4 (DL-SD) "dual-layer" laptop to coincide with the Christmas period has made it easier for more people to identify the cause of this latest problem.

We suggest asking around to borrow someone else's copy of OSX Tiger, hopefully free of the flaw, to solve this one. Well, this is what happens when customers have a little too much time up their sleeve during the Christmas break to benefit from a faultless machine.

NOTE: This is a problem you'll won't be able to check at your local Apple reseller before buying. You will have to discover this by chance after spending your hard-earned money and wondering later why you are seeing so many system freezes and network problems. And when you do, you'll be forced on the bandwagon of getting online and downloading Apple updates. In the worse case scenario for you, send in your laptop for an "assessment" from your local Apple reseller (make sure the hard disk is included as Apple would like to see this — however, we recommend you do a swap of the hard disk for another and let Apple figure out the problem).

UPDATE
18 February 2006

Icon, a computer technology supplement from The Sydney Morning Herald has discussed the case of Mohamed Duar and his famous (or should that be infamous?) aluminium PowerBook G4 1.67GHz computer. Duar claims he had been using Macintosh computers since he was 2 years old (he owned the original Macintosh IIe) and was happy until he purchased the latest PowerBook from Apple.

On 26 October 2005, Duar purchased a brand new aluminium laptop. He was initially delighted with his purchase after noticing the slick design and good looks. But as soon as he tried to load his data onto the hard drive, the laptop mysteriously turned itself off.

Unable to restart the laptop, Duar returned to the place of purchase where an Apple-approved technician agreed the machine was "dead on arrival" (DOA). Two weeks later Duar received a new replacement machine.

Two weeks later, Duar tried to burn a CD of data for his friend. His laptop wouldn't recognise the CD. Duar selected different types of CD-Rs and DVD-Rs and none would be accepted or seen by the drive.

Duar returned to the store where he purchased it. The staff could do nothing except refer him on to Apple's customer service helpline. Not happy with his laptop failing to do as promised in Apple's official advertisement for such a new machine, Duar asked the Apple customer service officer to provide another replacement. The officer refused claiming he has a policy at Apple which he must follow stating that after the first replacement, the second new laptop must be repaired, not replaced again.

As Duar said:

"I was informed Apple would not replace my laptop, only repair it. I informed the man goods must be in working order when sold and perform as advertised. He simply stated that Apple had a policy in place by which all must abide." (Galvin, Nick. Gaps in notebook: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 18-19 February 2006, p.8.)

Apple was prepared to replace the drive, not the laptop. Still not pleased given the brand new, barely-used status of the laptop he bought, he said:

"Apple has offered to replace the drive. However, I would like a replacement so that I have a functioning laptop from day one. Either that or a full refund." (Galvin, Nick. Gaps in notebook: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 18-19 February 2006, p.8.)

Troubleshooter Nick Galvin of Icon approached Apple for a comment. Spokesman John Marx directed Mr Galvin to Apple's terms and conditions on the company's website:

"If a defect exists, at its sole discretion, Apple will (1) repair the product at no charge, using new or refurbished replacement parts or (2) exchange the product with a product that is new or which has been manufactured from new or serviceable used parts and is at least functionally equivalent to the original product." (Galvin, Nick. Gaps in notebook: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 18-19 February 2006, p.8.)

In other words, Apple can do anything it wants to a customer's laptop. At first Apple had no choice but to replace the laptop under warranty as there was no way for the technician or the customer to use the laptop. However, the second laptop was still useable and should only require a component to be either repaired or replaced, assuming no other part have or would fail during the warranty period. But this is the problem for the customer. How does he know his laptop hasn't got another bodgy component sitting there (e.g. has the modem been tested?), or a component that may fail soon? Unfortunately there is no way the customer can determine this. Either he must have faith in the Apple product and the process of fixing the laptop under Apple's repair policy, or he should get his money back.

However the customer made it clear he has no confidence in the laptop he was given. Irrespective of the improvements through repairs made to the laptop, the consumer must know he has a fully workable and quality product. If not, the consumer laws (not Apple laws) under the Trade Practices Act state the consumer is entitled to a replacement or refund of the product while it is in the warranty period.

The only exception is if Apple can prove the customer had misued or abused the product resulting in the failure of the component, in which case it is at the discretion of Apple to decide whether to replace or repair any aspect of the computer, usually at a cost to the consumer.

In the case of Duar, no evidence of mishandling of any kind is revealed. Apple is clearly not stating it is a responsibility of the customer. Therefore Apple hasn't got any other choice but to take responsibility and follow the Trade Practices Act of replacing or refunding the laptop to the satisfaction of the consumer.

Apple can complain all it likes to Consumer Affairs until the cows come home about how the failure in one or more components of its Apple product is not its responsibility. Apple may claim it is the responsibility of other vendors supplying the components and not Apple, and therefore it doesn't have to replace the entire Apple product. But in the end, Apple chose to have those components included in its Apple products and so it must accept responsibility as well. Therefore replace the product or provide a full refund. It is as simple as that.

Another interesting statement from Marx is the belief by Apple that it has already replaced the drive and therefore it is in its rights to do whatever it likes with the new drive (so long as it is made to work), which originally it was to repair it (perhaps a hammer to the side might be all it needs). But because the customer wasn't happy, Apple chose at its discretion to replace (assuming Apple does what it says) the drive. Technically speaking, Apple has replaced the drive by providing a replacement laptop. Unfortunately by providing a presumably new laptop doesn't mean the second drive will be free of manufacturing faults. The whole product must demonstrate it is a fully working product as the customer had paid for and promised in advertising or the customer is entitled to a refund or replacement.

Apple may need to be reminded of this fact in case it tries to shierk off its legal responsibility in this case (not the first from Apple).

A spokeswoman for Fair Trading NSW has confirmed the Fair Trading Act does give consumers the "right to seek a replacement" and that "companies cannot opt out of this oibligation."

It will come down to what constitutes a replacement: the internal CD/DVD drive or the entire laptop. But as a consumer you can ask for the entire laptop to be replaced. It's like saying you bought a new book and one page is ripped out due to a manufacturing fault preventing the customer from reading the page, but the seller will not replace the book, only repair or replace the page missing while telling the customer the rest of the book is probably okay. Customers will not be happy with this approach. They expect the entire product to be free of manufacturing errors at time of purchase and during the period of the warranty. If not, the entire book must be replaced or a full refund given.

Whether it is the entire product or just a component needing replacement, only the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal can clarify this aspect.

Two new laptops with gremlins creeping in and not a third replacement in sight? Sounds like the so-called 1 per cent of bad products getting through the manufacturing process is much higher than Apple estimates. Sounds closer to about 10 to 25 per cent if this customer's experiences are anything to go by.

NOTE: Apple is prepared to give numerous replacements for the iPod nano during the warranty period for customers, although quietly in the small legal print it will ask for a small payment after the second replacement to cover costs. Interestingly Apple is not doing the same with this customer's laptop.

UPDATE
January 2006

Apple releases the Macintels known as the MacBook Pro. It comes with Intel's Duo Core microprocessor to give a good boast in speed comparable to the PowerPC G5 PowerMacs. Remarkably Apple has been unusually generous in letting consumers run their own PowerPC software using a facility called Rosetta.

Should I go for a titanium or aluminium laptops?

Good question. Maybe you should ask yourself: What are your personal and/or business ambitions? What you hope to achieve in the digital and real world? How much money do you have and want to spend on purchasing a computer? And are you prepared to live with a few quality control problems or suspect components acting in a funny way (e.g. noisy or overheating)?

Well let us put it this way. Are you young with cash to burn and need to maintain a high ego by having the latest in everything and you don't mind working under OSX using the latest software? Do you want to feel like your business will have the edge over your competitors by having the very latest technology? Then go for the aluminium G4 PowerBooks (preferably the 17-inch variety, although we hear the 12-inch model has virtually no problems to note). But if you have invested in OS9 software and/or going for the latest high price technology does not thrill you to no end nor does it make your goal of achieving certain tasks in the digital world any better, you are better off going for the latest titanium G4 powerbooks of a particular production run, or stick to the older titanium models.

In fact, your best option at the moment is to purchase the latest titanium G4 1GHz PowerBook from Apple Computer, Inc. for excellent speed, a cooler machine, runs OSX software when you want to (not when Apple Computer, Inc. thinks you should), and can be purchased at a lower price than the top-of-the-range aluminium 17-inch screen size model. Just make sure the PowerBook hasn't got the dreaded "white spot" problem on the screen (no it isn't the light shining through the white Apple logo on the lid!) and you will be alright.

And more importantly, at least this titanium model will allow you to run in purely native OS9 mode at any time with the minimum of hassles and with it a wider range of Macintosh software should you need it.

UPDATE
September 2003

Apple Computer, Inc. has decided selling titanium G4 PowerBooks to the consumer is not in their best interest (Why? Not making enough profit? Not enough demand? Or do they want people to stick to OSX only?). So now Apple has stopped manufacturing these laptops in favour of the aluminium G4 PowerBooks, G4 iBooks and G5 iMacs. Nice people really!

Just wait until 2006 when Apple releases the Macintels! Apple may also stop you from running older OSX PowerPC applications and OS9 software. Makes your in-laws look like friends of the Earth in the face of Apple's hardline approach to computing for consumers.

Keyboard problems?

UPDATE

Do you have a keyboard problem where one moment the keyboard displays the correct characters and suddenly the next moment you wake it up from sleep or start the computer and the keyboard's mapping of characters have gone awry? Perhaps the characters have become capitalised even though the Caps Lock is not on? Did you have to press Num Lock and then Caps Lock to get back some normality to the characters produced by the keyboard? This is a common problem. Try resetting the Power Management Unit (PMU) as the best solution.

For PowerBook G4 (15-inch and 17-inch) 1.67GHz computers, resetting the PMU involves:


1. Shutdown the computer.

2. Disconnect the AC adapter and battery.

3. Press and hold down the power button for at least 5 seconds.

4. Release the power button.

5. Reconnect the battery and AC adapter.

6. Press the Power Button to restart the computer.
 

For older aluminium PowerBook G4 computers, you may have to press Shift-Control-Option and the Power Button for 5 seconds instead.

UPDATE
15 November 2006

One major criticism of the keyboard used in the aluminium MacBook Pro is how flimsy the keys are physically attached. All it takes is a quick wipe of the keyboard with a cloth and you'll find yourself with one or more broken keys (i.e. cannot be reattached). There are single key replacements on eBay.com at US$5 each. Apple will only sell the entire keyboard at a hefty price as its best solution to fixing one or two damaged keys.

UPDATE
20 August 2007

Apple has realised after selling a few of the newer MacBooks showing signs of fewer cases of damaged or ripped out keys. Now the company is testing on the public a new anodized aluminium "super thin" keyboard of the wired and wireless variety designed in a similar way to the MacBook keyboard. The keys on this new product are designed to be virtually impossible to accidentally lift off with a cleaning cloth. If successful, it is likely the future of all Apple laptops and desktop machines will see this keyboard design incorporated as a permanent feature.

If there are any disadvantages in the new aluminium keyboard, it might be in the Keyboard Update 1.1 required to make it work on any Macintosh computer. It is claimed by some users they are no longer able to boot the machine through certain key sequences such as Cmd-S to go into single user mode, pressing the Option key to select an external hard drive connected by FireWire, or other methods.

Further details of this anomaly (or perhaps a new quiet policy emerging from Apple Inc.) can be found here.

Either that or its time for another Keyboard Update (version 1.2?).

More on the battery front...

As of 4 January 2008, the battery exchange recall and replacement program for iBook G4 and PowerBook G4 laptops is allegedly not going as smoothly as Apple Inc. would hope according to MacFixIt.com. This program affects specifically the 12-inch iBook G4, 12-inch PowerBook G4 and the 15-inch PowerBook G4 manufactured from October 2003 to August 2006. The more expensive 17-inch PowerBook G4 doesn't appear to be affected (please let this not be another new Apple policy to encourage users to spend more money for the most expensive Apple computers).

The replacement batteries issued by Apple Inc. for the affected PowerBooks are not holding their charge after a few weeks or months of use. A number of users reported limited battery time (usually under 20 minutes after fully charging the battery) during normal laptop usage or may fail completely causing users to rely entirely on the AC adapter for all their work. The problem may be worse after users have updated OSX to version 10.4.11, but this is not fully confirmed by Apple Inc.

The batteries were meant to be replaced because in the words of Apple Inc. the batteries supplied by Sony Corporation of Japan allegedly "pose a safety risk that may result in overheating under rare circumstances". Well, now it seems like some replacement batteries won't store enough power to melt an ice cube.

Are these replacement batteries from old stock which Apple Inc. is trying to give away instead of sending back the whole lot to Sony and getting a fresh and properly manufactured batch of replacement batteries? Definitely looks like there is a quiet Apple policy of letting customers do the quality control work for the company.

The problem appears to get worse when the battery charge has been depleted and is not recharged quickly enough to a full state within a few days. Apparently lithium ion batteries like to be fully charged compared to the old nickel-cadmium variety.

The final blow to the PowerBook G4 design

After about 2 years, the aluminium PowerBook G4 will suffer a total collapse of the logic board. Why? It is due to another design fault with the aluminium PowerBook G4 where the large vents on the casing permit not just enough cool air directed by two internal fans to keep the laptop cool, but also there is a risk after a period of two or three years for dust and eventually hair or polyyester strands or insects to enter through these vents and get caught underneath the logic board.

Should a hair strand or insect get caught on the logic board such as the video display circuitry and touch the metal chassis or outer casing, a short circuiting can take place.

The symptoms include a sudden buzzing sound and after 10 seconds the screen may switch off and the computer shuts down. Pressing the on/off button may not start up the computer if the logic board is damaged. Sometimes the fans may start up for a while even when the laptop is cool and shutdown after 15 seconds. The shortcircuiting in this example may have occurred over the video circuitry part of the logic board.

As soon as the buzzing sound is heard, you must immediately shutdown the laptop. You may have a chance to save the logic board and have it cleaned.

NOTE: Apple should design a fine mesh to cover the cooling vents. In this way, cool air can still circulate, but prevent particles of dust and hair from entering the laptop.

UPDATE
12 December 2008

If the logic board is not damaged, the other likely spot where an internal component will fail because of tiny hairs or other foreign objects entering the laptop is underneath the hard drive.

In the original PowerBook G3 "Wall Street" computer and other subsequent versions in this model, Apple provided a plastic covering over the hard disk to prevent dust, hair and other crap from touching and potentially short-circuiting exposed electrical points on the hard disk circuit board controller. In the aluminium PowerBook G4, this plastic has been sacrificed. This means the only thing separating the hard disk circuit board from the bottom of the aluminium casing is about a millimetre of air. Should a tiny hair strand or polyster strand get caught on a soldered point on the circuit and touch the casing, there is a much higher chance you will damage your hard drive.

The good news is that at least in the case of a hard drive failure, you won't destroy your computer. The bad news, you have got to find a way to salvage your data off the hard disk. If the damage is not too great and you have partitioned your hard disk, you can usually retrieve data off those partitions where there have been the least amount of changes taken place within the files (i.e. otherwise there is a risk of file corruption). This is why experts recommend your core and most valuable data be stored on a separate partition from the OSX disk. Because OSX has to constantly update logs, caches and other data, most of the corruption is likely to take place within OSX. And hopefully only a few files you were working on may get lost or damaged, or remain intact.

But where the files are separated from OSX and stored on a separate partition, there is a good chance you can remount those unaffected partitioned segments of the hard drive known as hard disks and backup your data.

As for fixing the hard drive, you will have to replace it. When you do replace it, get a piece of plastic and cut it to size to help protect your new hard drive. Use a couple pieces of plastic electrical tape to ensure the plastic sheet stays behind the hard drive connector and can't allow dust and other rubbish to get underneath the plastic to affect the circuit board.

Here is how Apple provides the hard drive of the PowerBook G4 to consumers in its standard form at time of manufacture and installation:

Here is a close up of where the strands of foreign matter are likely to accumulate:

Find yourself or cut a piece of plastic for protecting your new hard drive:

Insert the plastic as shown below and place two pieces of stick tape near the top end to keep the plastic behind and underneath the hard drive connector:

As for retrieving the data off your old hard drive, you may need to keep it in your PowerBook for a little while longer and perform the following techniques:

  1. As soon as you notice any problem on your hard disk as if suggesting some files are becoming corrupted or lost for some reason, immediately back up everything you've got onto a separate external backup disk while you're still on the desktop. Don't reboot or you may not be able to get back to the desktop (sometimes the login files themselves — especially the.plist files and anything else where OSX needs to constantly store information about how many times a user was unsuccessful in logging in or when you have logged in — may get corrupted resulting in your password no longer accepted and the login window may look different to how you originally had it set up).

    When backing up, don't replace the existing backup data unless you definitely know the files are okay. Better still, have a separate partition on the backup drive ready to store all your latest critical data files (applications and OSX can be reinstalled later). If you have room, store the Applications and OSX as well (you may need these to save time on reinstallation and to retrieve critical OSX settings, but do check all your applications to make sure they are not corrupted in any way — definitely trash the preference files as they can be recreated).

  2. Do not attempt to repair permissions on the OSX disk thinking it is a permissions problem. It will not be this type of problem. Otherwise a damaged a hard drive may store corrupted permissions into OSX files making it more difficult to reboot OSX on the damaged disk. If you do accidentally repair permissions and reboot and can't get back to the desktop, boot into OSX on an external FireWire drive and mount the problematic hard disk on your laptop. If this is not possible, your only other option is to boot into single user mode using Command S immediately after the startup chime. Type fsck -fy to repair and modify the directory files to help increase your chances of rebooting successfully and retrieving your files. This command is equivalent to "Repair Disk" in the Disk Utility. Keep repeating this command until you see no more errors. Can you now reboot into OSX on the hard drive? If not, have you installed a backup OSX on a separate partition? If so, well done! There is nothing like increasing your chances of successfully retrieving your data by having another OSX boot disk on hand. But don't expect it will. Can you boot up into this backup OSX? If so, you are in good luck. If not, you may have no choice but to type diskutil repairPermissions /, press the Return key, then type exit followed by the Return key in single user mode and then try booting into OSX again to see if it works. If not, you'll need an OS9 bootable Apple computer with an OS9 bootable CD (perhaps from Disk Warrior) and place the damaged hard drive inside this other computer, then you may be able to retrieve the files. Or get the latest Disk Warrior and see what it can do on OSX to retrieve your data and place them on a backup external drive.
  3. If you know the problem is caused by rubbish such as hair strands and dust particles building up and potentially short-circuiting the hard drive, this may be a good opportunity to remove the hard drive and clean it (with great care using a vacuum cleaner or dry air blower without touching the circuit board and connector). Reattach the hard drive and see if this can get you back to the desktop. If it works, backup the data immediately.
  4. Replace the damaged hard drive with a new one. NOTE: You can try reformatting the damage hard drive, but it is not likely to fix it. Reformatting will only help you to make it slightly more difficult for other users to find files on the drive but not impossible. You are best to thoroughly destroy the damaged hard drive. But before you do destroy it, make sure you have a new hard disk with all the data you have retrieved stored on it and is working and in good order. Sometimes you may forget to retrieve another file. Having the old damaged drive on hand for a while and not reformatted can make a lot of difference. After a few weeks, if you are confident there is nothing else you want from the damaged hard drive, destroy it thoroughly.
  5. As a final solution, if you have any trouble retrieving your data from the damaged hard drive, there are experts with special tools to allow the files to be retrieved for a fee. Search for "file recovery experts" on Google.com.

How to access the internal components of your aluminium PowerBook G4

How to replace the hard disk

  1. Turn the laptop upside down.
  2. Remove the battery by pushing two tabs towards yourself.
  3. Remove the three screws.
  4. Slide out the metal plate.
  5. Touch the metal chassis to ground yourself of stray electric charges. Then take out the RAM card covering the orange flat plastic keyboard and trackpad cable.
  6. Gently pull out the cable.
  7. Remove two screws holding the keyboard to the logic board using a Torx screwdriver.
  8. To protect the remaining RAM card and logic board underneath from stray electric charges, slide back in the metal plate and put masking tape to hold it in place.
  9. Remove three more screws in the battery compartment bay. Be careful as the magnets for holding the display closed is nearby — it can cause the screws to fly off and stick to the magnets. Use tweezers to remove the screws if this happens.
  10. Remove four other screws holding the keyboard to the casing.
  11. Remove remaining screws on the edge of the laptop (on the sides containing the ports).
  12. Turn the laptop up the right way and open the display lid.
  13. Gently lift up the keyboard top, it should come away freely from the laptop.
  14. The hard disk is in the lower left corner. Touch the metal chassis of your laptop to remove any stray electric charges on your body to protect the delicate electronics, then gently pull out the connector in the lower left corner for the cable running over the top of the hard disk. Use a clean wooden paddle pop stick to gently lift up the plug on the hard disk cable connected to the logic board. The hard disk can be removed.
  15. To replace the hard disk, you need to gently pull out the hard disk cable from the old hard disk and push it back in on the new hard disk.
  16. Reinsert the hard disk and follow the above steps in reverse order to finish the job, taking care to straighten the keyboard and trackpad cable so it goes through the hole for reconnection.

Removing the logic board

  1. Follows steps 1 to 13 as if you were going to replace the internal hard drive.
  2. Touch the metal chassis to remove stray electric charges on your body. Now with a wooden paddle pop stick, gentle lift up the plug on the hard disk connector from the logic board end.
  3. Remove in a similar manner all other connectors on the logic board.
  4. Do the same to the connectors on the other side of the logic board.
  5. Close the display lid, turn the laptop upside down, slide the metal plate out and disconnect two white connectors. Also remove the remaining RAM card on the logic board. Slide the metal plate back in and hold in position with the pieces of masking tape.
  6. Turn the laptop the right way up and open the display lid. With a torx screwdriver, remove the CD/DVD drive.
  7. Use the torx screwdriver to remove a number of silver and black screws holding the logic board to the casing. You should be able to gently lift up the logic board and slide out from right to left. The trickest part is the way the main video out port may try to stick to the casing. Be patient. The logic board will come out.
  8. Replace the logic board, or gently clean of dust and hair to avoid possible short-circuiting during normal laptop operation, whichever the purpose for removing the board. NOTE: One common observation that would require a replacement of the logic board is the cable running over the top of the internal CD/DVD drive as shown in this picture:

The cable provides power and communicates with an external device connected to the second USB port (i.e. a small circuit board separated from the logic board). However the problem lies at the logic board end of the cable. It is here where the white connector can be poorly attached to the logic board. Any sudden jolt where the CD/DVD drive presses against the cable or if a technician tries to pull the cable out and later push it back in can easily break off the connector to the logic board.

UPDATE
August 2009

If you survive all of these problems, the one thing that will eventually cause damage are the display hinges falling apart, enough bending of the aluminium casing (especially for the 17-inch model) through regular use resulting in fine hairs and dust inside short-circuiting the logic board with the casing, and third-party graphic accelerator chip collapsing under excessive and regular high heat usage.

Firstly, as the oil in the hinges disappears, the hinges make cracking sounds as the display is opened or closed. Before the hinges break, the display cable may get damaged through friction against the hinges. The video graphics accelerator chip component soldered permanently on the logic board will also collapse (e.g. NVIDIA GeForce 6800 is considered more susceptible to heat than the Radeon X800XT) showing signs of vertical lines on the screen (you'll need AppleCare warranty). Secondly, the bending of the laptop will eventually make it more probable for hair and dust to shortcircuit between the logic board and casing to destroy the laptop.

Apple has recognised a number of these problems. From late 2008 onwards, Apple has decided to release a stronger unibody (single aluminium piece) design in the MacBook Pro laptop models, designing smaller grills and holes to minimise dust, hair and water penetrating the machines, a newer (and hopefully) more robust graphics accelerator chip after July 2009, and a newer Intel chip to help reduce the heat for the less processor-hungry and better programmed applications.