Hardware Stability

The titanium G4 PowerBook

## AN IMPORTANT NOTICE TO ALL CONSUMERS ##

If you own a copy of OSX version 10.3.x known as 'Panther' and the 1GHz G4 titanium computer released by Apple, please reduce microprocessor speed in the Energy Saver control panel now unless you are prepared to replace your computer every 3 years or less. The latest OSX software (i.e. the Finder and the Dock) draws unnecessarily high amounts of processing power causing the G4 processors to work much harder and get hotter (despite the use of video graphic cards to reduce the load on the microprocessor), resulting in a greater chance of your computer collapsing in a shorter period of time. In particular, the 'Panther' OSX version with its battery update has seen a dramatic rise in the number of complaints about overheating and a reduction in lifespan of the TFT flat panel screen for titanium users. 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.

The best way to reduce heat emissions in the processor is to reduce the processor speed and reduce the amount of processor intensive work you do. For example, if you own a titanium PowerBook G4 400MHz computer, lower the speed to 300MHz in the Energy Saver control panel where it says "Reduce processor speed" in the Advanced Settings of OS9 or the Options button in OSX. By doing so, it will take a lot of effort for the processor to heat up despite performing regular processor intensive work on it.

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 titanium PowerBooks...

Arguably this has to be one of the better G4 PowerBooks (1) built by Apple Computer, Inc. at time of writing, and we are talking about the latest 867MHz and 1GHz "non-demonstration model" versions sold from July 2002.

NOTE: Previous titanium PowerBooks are excellent, but please reduce the processor speed to make them last longer, and be careful of the white plastic edge of the computer's casing which is too thin — it can crack near the screen hinge (i.e. it is caused by the screen hinge putting some pressure on the white plastic edge when moving the screen up and down). Also the screen or hinge area may bend over time forcing the metal screen casing to touch internal contacts leading to thin vertical coloured lines appearing on the screen when you turn it on. In the latter case, Apple should have inserted a thin rubber sheet inside the screen metal casing to prevent shortcircuiting.

You will see two cracks on the white plastic edge of this titanium PowerBook (one of them is just above the "Esc" key and directly over the screen hinge). This problem should have been solved first time around by Apple using a solid metal edging design or use thicker white plastic around the PowerBook instead of a thin white plastic edge. Again this is another classic example of poor quality control (easily tested by moving the screen back and forth a few hundred times), the use of thin plastics (to save on manufacturing costs), and creating in-built obsolescence (to force you to buy more Apple products) courtesy of Apple.

Here is the ultimate outcome of the infamous crack for another user (obtained from http://www.ebay.com.au on 27 July 2006):

A serious crack in this titanium PowerBook!

Specifications

The specifications on these machines are pretty good. For example, the titanium G4 PowerBook has the following features:

  1. The casing is relatively tough (uses a thin sheet of titanium except for the screen itself and the thin white edge of the casing which relies more on thin plastic to presumably provide stability and strength).
  2. The PowerBook comes with a G4 processor and a good graphics accelerator card
  3. The PowerBook has a large screen size.
  4. The PowerBook has ample room to grow both in backward compatibility with older software (i.e. the machine will boot up in OS9) and in practically all future expansions (i.e. the machine runs the latest OSX software and comes with a PC card expansion slot).
  5. The PowerBook will not show significant instability problems of OS9 and OSX because of its G4 processor compared to its G3 sibling.

And most importantly there are almost no manufacturing faults to worry about. Incredible! Could this be a first for Apple Computer, Inc. since 1995?

Hardware stability issues

With hardly any hardware instability problems to discuss, there isn't much one can say about this PowerBook if you go for the latest titanium version. But if you are contemplating on buying one (especially one of the earlier models), please be aware of the following issues:

  • All titanium PowerBooks have what is known as a flexible lightweight plastic top directly behind the TFT screen. This is probably to reduce costs and a design decision to avoid creating damage to the clutch hinges with a heavy screen (which can vibrate more easily on a person lap when travelling around in a car or plane and thus put more strain and possible fatigue on the screen hinges) as was the case with the PowerBook G3 Series computers.

    If you use one of these titanium G4 PowerBooks normally (well, so did the users of the PowerBook G3 Series computers!), this should not pose a problem for you. However, if you accidentally drop one of these machines on the floor with the screen wide open, you can easily damage the screen and will have to be replaced at Apple's standard inflated prices (if there are any left).

    Apple's decision to use a plastic lid instead of encasing the entire machine with a thick enough skin of titanium is certainly to save on money during the manufacturing process and to ensure Apple resellers can make a profit in repairing damaged screens.

  • The thin screen also poses another issue: the flexible nature and the way the metal can bend slightly and permanently will result in the appearance of thin vertical coloured lines where the pixels of a particular colour have turned off. Gently pushing down or flexing the screen can remove the lines temporarily.

    Or in the winter time, if you start the machine cold, the lines will disappear until the heat eventually brings them back. This suggests a slight distortion of the display's metal casing causing short circuiting or poor video cable connection to the display.

    The same eBay user as above, showing his infamous vertical lines problem on his titanium PowerBook

    To fix these problems, the screen will have to be delicately removed from the computer because of the flimsy video cable running over the left hinge (looking from the front of the computer) — already a major engineering feat in itself as it requires taking out the motherboard to get access underneath. Then you must physically open up the screen casing, which in itself is another major engineering task: the screen casing has been glued together courtesy of Apple (the screws on the side of the screen help to sit the internal frame in the middle of the casing). This decision was certainly instigated by Apple to ensure you return the PowerBook for repairs to an Apple-approved service technician. And to ensure consumers continue to buy new Apple computers.

    For those game enough to try it themselves, you will need a stiff piece of thin plastic to wedge between the gap where the front and back casing come together and use it to break the glue and gently pry open the casing. Great care is needed here. And even if you can fix the problem, you will have the next nightmarish issue of figuring out how to close the casing properly to give it enough strength to survive another few years of opening and closing the lid. Now who is the giant arse for coming up with this design idea? Apple ought to be shot for this ludicrous design.

    NOTE: Make sure the hinges are well oiled. If they start to stick and lifting and closing the lid seems more difficult, this could be the reason why your screen is developing thin vertical lines too.

    Next, you must find a thin rubbing matting to cover the entire inside of the back of the screen. This should stop the short-circuiting problem. Now you have to glue the thing together to give it strength. Again you will have fun with this.

    Apple should really get its act together.

  • All titanium PowerBooks are not encased with a thick enough skin of titanium to handle a much wider range of potentially adverse (but relatively common) conditions in the marketplace. For example, it only takes someone to press on the casing just hard enough to bend the titanium permanently (as seen around the speaker areas to the side of the keyboard as users test to see how strong it is). The titanium used in these machines is purely to solve the old problem of plastics warping under the heat from the computer (e.g. the PowerBook 5300 computers). And with the amount of heat now being generated by the latest G4 microprocessor, the decision by Apple to go for titanium is a good one. But don't expect the metal to provide adequate shock absorbing capabilities in the real world because of how thin it is (the new aluminium PowerBooks are better in this regard, and the best ones are the unibody casing designs considered critical for the 17-inch model).

    You should treat these machines like a baby (although it is considered a little tougher than the plastic variety of PowerBooks prior to the introduction of the colourful "clam-shell" iBooks).

  • If you want to purchase a second-hand titanium PowerBook, please be aware of the hardware problems associated with the earliest titanium models. The main concern people had were (i) the heat generated by the machines during normal use (heat is a killer to all computers); (ii) the likelihood of cracks appearing in the white plastic edging over the screen hinges; and (iii) the noise produced by the fan as it turns on regularly in early models.
  • With regards to the heat generated by this PowerBook, you should be aware that the hotter the computer, the more quickly the electronic components (including the connectors holding circuit boards, internal hard disk, RAM card etc) will wear down and eventually fail to operate. What you want is a computer that can run as cool as possible to help maximise its lifespan (well, its your money at the end of the day). The earliest titanium models were notorious for being a little on the hot side. Therefore, we strongly recommend the titanium G4 PowerBooks built after July 2002. This includes the 667MHz (bottom end) and the 800MHz (top end) models with 512MB of standard RAM built-in.
  • Now that the PowerBook has been updated to the 867MHz and 1GHz versions as of November 2002 (until September 2003), if you are happy to accept just a little bit more heat from your titanium PowerBook in return for a little extra grunt under the bonnet, then the very latest 1GHz Titanium G4 PowerBook (with a SuperDrive and a 60GB hard disk) should be more than adequate. If you want something cooler but with reasonable power, then try the bottom end of the latest titanium models, which is the 867MHz machine and comes with a 40GB hard disk. But we recommend you ask to have the SuperDrive added to this machine and bump up the hard disk capacity to 60GB or more for greater versatility.

    UPDATE
    July 2002

    Apple Computer, Inc. released two new enhanced titanium G4 PowerBooks. The slowest PowerBooks runs at 667MHz and the top of the range is now set at 800MHz. Both PowerBooks now come with a 1MB Level 3 (L3) cache consisting of high-speed double data rate (DDR) RAM and a new ATI Mobility Radeon 7500 video chip with 32MB of DDR video RAM on an AGP 4x bus (now that's a mouthful!). This simply means the PowerBooks now have definite speed improvements. In fact, the laptops are so fast, they are now being considered a viable alternative to Apple's top-of-the-range desktop computers.

    One of the few things customers complained about in the earlier titanium G4 powerbook models were the heat generated by the processor board (too hot to handle), a noisy fan to keep the computer cool and how often it had to come on, and the difficulty in establishing good Airport reception for wireless networking with other computers and peripherals. While some larikans have suggested Apple Computer, Inc. should have supplied a fire extinguisher with their previous titanium G4 powerbooks in case they got too hot to handle, Apple has improved all these issues as of July 2002.

    For instance the latest PowerBooks can run cooler for a longer period of time (even after leaving the laptops on for days) and rarely would the fan come on if things got a little warmer than usual inside. And when the fan is turned on, it is extremely quiet.

    The Airport reception in the updated powerbooks is much better but still not quite as effective as on an iBook. Both PowerBooks come with 512MB of RAM, expandable to 1GB.

    If there is anything one could say about these new powerbooks which isn't terribly flattering is the price tag. Compared to the original Titanium G4 PowerBooks, the new laptops have become a little more expensive to purchase (now over A$7,500 for the top of the range model) and probably suggests Apple Computer, Inc. is really trying to cash in on the sale of this increasingly popular laptop among executive managers and advertising gurus.

    NOTE: These models don't come with the SuperDrive (i.e. the ability to burn DVD-R discs).

    UPDATE
    November 2002

    The 1GHz Titanium G4 PowerBooks

    In the classic tradition of regular innovation in return for maximising profit during the Christmas festivities (well, that's what business is all about), Apple Computer, Inc. has released the 1GHz titanium G4 PowerBook for about roughly the same price as the previous top-of-the-range titanium powerbooks when it first came onto the market.

    This time the new laptop comes with a SuperDrive as standard, a 60GB hard disk, 1MB DDR level 3 cache for faster processing speed, and the video chip has been updated to ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 with 32MB of graphics memory which simply means faster image drawing capabilities on the flat-panel colour screen display (which is absolutely vital to run MacOSX at a more respectable speed).

    The PowerBook runs slightly hotter than the previous model because of the higher processor speed and other features, but you may never notice it if this is the first PowerBook you have ever bought from Apple Computer, Inc. Price for this model at this time was A$6,500.

    There is a slightly slower version available running at 867MHz with a 40GB hard drive for roughly A$1,500 less than the top-of-the-range model. If you intend to buy this version, we strongly recommend asking Apple Computer, Inc to put in a SuperDrive instead of the combo drive and bump up the hard disk capacity to 60GB as it will give you more room to do things like video productions and very high-quality 3D graphic animation work.

    Apart from that and the quality of the plastic and metal casing, not much more can be said about the new PowerBooks other than the 1GHz model is probably the best built of all the titanium models. Even in important areas like battery life, there appears to be no further improvement. It looks like most business professionals and consumers nowadays are happy to run their laptops for 1 (after 12 months of regular use) to 4 hours (when bought brand new) in battery mode before recharging. And the USB port appears not to have been updated to version 2.

    UPDATE
    26 December 2003

    We are receiving unconfirmed reports that the dual-USB titanium G4 PowerBook (867MHz) is actually a bit hotter than expected over some areas on the machine compared to the 1GHz version. And the heat increased noticeably after performing the OSX version 10.3.2 and battery updates. Only time will tell if this is true.

    UPDATE
    The reports are coming in thick and fast about how the update to OSX version 10.3.2 has indeed increased the heat generated by the titanium G4 PowerBook in both the 867MHz and 1GHz models. The update is apparently telling the computer to draw more power from the rechargeable batteries for not good reason resulting in a quicker loss in charge and hence more regular recharging, and requiring the batteries to be replaced sooner than expected. For further details, please read this article from MacFixIt published on 5 April 2004.

  • The early model titanium G4 PowerBooks are believed to have a problem with the flat or rounded transparent power adapters supplied with these machines. Click here for further details.
  • Want to upgrade the RAM and hard disk of your titanium powerbook? For those sufficiently technically-minded, please read this article from MacWorld.

For further information about titanium powerbooks, please visit our free IT information section.

Screen life expectancy shortening dramatically

A problem is developing in the titanium G4 PowerBooks after users have upgraded to MacOSX version 10.3.2 or higher. As noted above, the update to MacOSX version 10.3.2 or higher (and some of the independent Apple battery updates) is drawing much greater power to run all the components of the PowerBook than usual.

Apart from more regular recharging of the batteries which will result in a shorter lifespan, the colour TFT screen is also suffering from what is believed to be the end of its life expectancy within 1.5 to 3 years of purchasing the computer brand new from an Apple reseller (instead of the minimum 6 years for most TFT/LCD screens such as the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" model).

Among the symptoms observed by a growing number of titanium G4 PowerBook users running MacOSX version 10.3.2 or higher for several months include a reduction of the screen's original brightness (allegedly up to 50 per cent), uneven illumination over different parts of the screen, and pink hues over the entire screen which slowly disappears after several minutes as the display warms up.

Some users are of the view Apple might be using low quality components to build the display which could be the problem. As Michael Witt mentioned to MacFixIt.com:

"Given the rapid deterioration in brightness I have seen in my PB G4, my impression is that Apple may be using less durable components for its PB screens than it could." (2)

Other users are not too sure. There is one user who believes the update to MacOSX 10.3.2 has had some kind of an effect on the screen but cannot be sure exactly how it is doing it. As the user said:

"Since I use my PowerBook as a handicap tool, I use it for more than 8 hours a day. I'd say "all my wake hours" (i.e. more than 12 hrs a day).

'Recently (actually after the last update of Panther - 10.3.3) I started to notice this pink shade after wake up and boot up. My PowerBook was bought 1.5 years ago and was then delivered from the factory in Taiwan.

'No idea what to do. I have AppleCare for another 1.5 years, but not sure Apple would agree it's their fault." (3)

Other users have suggested it may have something to do with the plastic reflective sheet designed to reflect the backlight onto the LCD screen. If it is not pressed up properly against the clear plastic sheet behind the LCD screen, there could be uneven illumination.

The funny thing is that such reflective material at the back of LCD screens of other PowerBooks (e.g. the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street") when tampered with do not show a discernible change to the illumination throughout the entire screen.

Apple's solution (as of May 2004) is to replace the supposedly "bad LCD screen batches" with new ones (presumably from the same original manufacturing run when the titanium G4 PowerBook was first manufactured) and hoping the problem won't repeat itself.

This replacement policy is only possible if the problem is severe enough and the user is under warranty of some sort (i.e. the extended 3-year warranty or the standard 12-month warranty).

Click here for a read of the MacFixIt.com article discussing this latest problem for the titanium G4 PowerBook.

UPDATE
September 2004

Apple Computer, Inc. under the direction of Steve Jobs has realised very early on how it made too good a machine by way of the titanium PowerBooks to let customers off the hook entirely from manufacturing problem. In earlier titanium models (e.g. the 400MHz versions), heat from the early G4 processors and a noisy fan were considered the main problems. Apple would later improve the model in the sense that the heat emissions were slightly less and the fan would turn on infrequently. However, in return for this improvement, and true to its word, Apple made a batch of the latest G4 titaniums (i.e. 867MHz and 1GHz models) with screens suffering from the dreaded "white spot" problem (see the Aluminium 15-inch PowerBook section which also shows the same screen problem). As a result, Apple has decided on 23 September 2004 to implement a worldwide Repair Extension Program. In essence, you will be required to supply your internal hard disk together with your titanium PowerBook as part of the repair program just like the PowerBook 5300 fiascoe in 1997-98 (as Apple's checks to see if you have useful information to combat software piracy and perhaps any commercial-in-confidence information, and at the same time compromise your right to privacy).

Electrical short circuiting or bending of the keyboard creating bizarre behaviour?

A common problem for titanium models after about 3 to 4 years of use is a slight bending of the bottom casing and the keyboard itself. It often occurs when you place the laptop on a table or other resting surface using one hand on a regular basis. When the bottom part of the casing is bent enough, some exposed contacts on the circuit board can briefly touch the internal electrically-conducting paint on the inside of the bottom case causing those specific points to be suddenly grounded.

Similarly a slightly bent keyboard can create its own pressure on some keys causing them to continuously create certain characters (e.g. the Caps Lock key may stay on no matter what you do to depress the key). Or when you type text in a word processor, you will notice several keys suddenly generating unwanted characters and not just the character you want. Placing the laptop on a different surface may solve this problem.

The problem is most common when resting the titanium laptop on the arm of a chair where any slight pressure caused by the weight of your hands resting on the laptop can push the bottom case and keyboard out-of-shape. Also many years of typing away on the keyboard can accumulate enough pressure to bend the keyboard out-of-shape.

The solution to the keyboard problem is to take out the keyboard (with the computer shutdown) and bend the keyboard slightly inwards several times. Your palm of your hand should be on the edge of the keyboard and your fingers providing just enough pressure at the centre of the keyboard to bend it slightly in the right direction. Remember, your aim is not to put a permanent bend in the keyboard metal plate. Put the keyboard back into its position in the laptop. You should notice a massive improvement.

As for the bottom of the case, if there is no plastic sheet inside to protect the circuit board from touching the inside of the case, get a high-temperature engine enamel insulating spray paint (white). Spray the inside of the case over the area where the main circuit board would sit closest and let it dry completely. When reattached, the paint should protect the circuit board from short circuiting with the inside of the case.

Keyboard characters fading

Those really old 486 PC keyboards must have something special in them compared to the many modern Macintosh keyboards. Despite many years of normal use by consumers and many ending up in landfill, there is one thing you can depend a PC keyboard to have — lettering on the keys. Not so for the Macintosh keyboards. It seems Apple users can't enjoy the same level of quality. So be prepared to purchase new keyboards to fix the problem. And yes, these keyboards are only from Apple given the proprietary nature of this component.

As MacFixIt reader Harold Morgan writes:

"We are on the fourth keyboard on the two-year-old iBook that is mostly used by wife. The letters disappear. Apple has graciously and quickly replaced the keyboards under warranty, but, after the most recent service, said no more free service. The problem must be 'environmental,' Apple said. I appreciate Apple's logic, but like what. The E key always disappears first. Then disappearing letters radiate from the E key. My wife does use name-brand moisturizers, but so, I presume, do hundreds of thousands of others who use IBooks. In any case, the moisturizers are applied principally with her right hand. It is her left hand that is in the vicinity of the E key. She washes her hands regularly." (MacFixIt.com: Keyboard lettering disappearing: Causes. 5 June 2006.)

We can support this observation on at least one titanium PowerBook. The letters "i" and "o" have gone and the letters "a", "s", "e", "r" and "t" are partially faded. This is the original keyboard used for 3 years.

No creams and no sharp fingernails. Although the slightly acidic nature of sweat might cause the problem, the fingers used on this PowerBook are usually quite dry and normal. This suggests a friction problem.

But because PC keyboards and the original Macintosh keyboards of 15 years ago don't suffer this problem, it is likely to be a poor design issue from Apple. But then again, Apple could quite easily argue this is wear and tear caused by the user. An easy way to avoid taking responsibility for a poor keyboard design.

The best solution is to purchase keyboard lettering stickers from some third-party manufacturers.