Charles Moore's Mailbag

iBook Failures, Replacement Batteries, USB Troubles, Location Manager for OS X, and More

Charles Moore - 2003.10.13 - Tip Jar

re: iBook Logic Board Failure

From Brian Hugh Warren

Charles,

My wife's iBook (700 MHz CD) had a really rocky start when we got it. Just *zip!* it would shut itself off, often never really able to start itself back up. We sent it in three times! The first two, they replaced the logic board and the hard drive. The third time we did, we brought it into the Apple Store (we were in the process of moving from Arkansas to Alaska and happened to be in the Denver area). We showed the guy what we were talking about, and he saw the problem first hand. He and another genius looked it over thoroughly and ended up sending it in for us, with explicit instructions to replace the "Power Card" (or something like that - basically the power manager that regulates the power going to the logic board).

They fixed it and sent it to my father in Seattle. We picked it up there on our way to Alaska. It has worked great ever since. Basically, as I understand it, the power regulator was sending just a wee bit too much power to the logic board. So it would work fine for a week or two - and eventually fry itself. The logic board was dead, so they would replace that, but never replace the power thingy.

So, that's just a word to anybody else who might have had that problem.

Brian

Thanks Brian,

That may be helpful to others plagued with similar failures.

Charles

Time for an update?

From dxtr

Hi Charles,

Wandering around the net today and came across this...

"Low End Mac is pleased to publish Charles W. Moore 's Miscellaneous Ramblings. Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and writing for Mac websites since May 1998. His Road Warrior column is a regular feature on Mac Opinion, and he is a news editor and columnist at Applelinks.com.

"Charles lives and works in Port Hilford, Nova Scotia, on the shore of Indian Harbour Lake and in sight of the Atlantic Ocean. His newspaper columns are syndicated across Canada, and he writes regularly for several magazines, as well as doing Mac website journalism. Charles has also contributed to MacToday magazine.

"His current stable of Macs includes a Mac Plus, an LC 520, a PowerBook 5300, and a recently deceased PowerBook G3 Series II/233, a PowerBook G3 (Pismo), and a 700 MHz iBook, as well as a Umax SuperMac S900. You can read more about his old WallStreet in Charles Moore's WallStreet PowerBook.

Time for an update maybe?

seeya
dxtr

Hi dxtr,

Sounds like the current fleet to me, except that Dan got the clock speed wrong on the iBook - it's a 700 MHz unit, and he hasn't mentioned the PowerBook 1400 that I've been using for drafting stories for the past six months [updated! ed]. The old WallStreet is sitting not five feet from me, and I hope to revive it soon with a processor transplant.

What did you think was missing?

Charles

Re: Update time

From dxtr

Hi Charles.

Maybe I misunderstand the purpose of the pages. When you click on the WallStreet link you go to what was your production machine of a little more than a year ago. There is an article with this in the pages

" ...recently obtained a 500 MHz Pismo PowerBook; that will be the subject of a subsequent Tools of the Trade article. "

So while the stable is current the use is not. I'm not sure that anyone else but me is interested in your Tools of the Trade, but I tend to enjoy stories of how people are using their computers and what they have done to them to make them more useful. I also think you should add another page for the iBook!

As an avid reader of all things Moore, I am aware of most of the articles about the Pismo and the iBook elsewhere, but thought an update might be in order for the Tools of the Trade section. I notice that none of the other columnists have done so in a couple of years either. Maybe it's a dead forum.

seeya
dxtr

P.S. I now have six different email address' in my address book for you! A record by far!

"DOS Computers manufactured by companies such as IBM, Compaq, Tandy, and millions of others are by far the most popular, with about 70 million machines in use worldwide. Macintosh fans, on the other hand, may note that cockroaches are far more numerous than humans, and that numbers alone do not denote a higher life form." - New York Times, November 26, 1991. Still true today!

Hi dxtr,

Sounds like that blurb was written in late 2001, so perhaps it could stand updating. Dan's department.

I have written about my Pismo and iBook from time to time on The Road Warrior and OS X Odyssey. Should perhaps get around to doing "Tools of the Trade" pieces on them. I hope it's note a dead forum. :-)

Email addresses; only six? ;-) I have over twenty.

Great email signature quote!

Charles

re: Quest for a Replacement PowerBook Battery

From Anonymous By Request

Hi Charles:

As you know, batteries are notoriously finicky. My 5300 battery died within a year, a replacement died within a couple of years, but my original Wallstreet battery (five years old now) is still going strong - go figure.

IMHO it's not so much the chemistry of the battery that determines its lifetime, it's how the battery is used and where it is stored. A battery has a certain number of charge/discharge cycles (usually around 1,000), and a battery past or close to its limit will behave erratically. Also, the biggest enemy of a battery is - you guessed it - heat. Coincidentally in most notebooks these days, the processor spits out a lot of heat, and it's usually placed close to the battery - not a good thing.

Again IMHO, I would be extremely wary of used/tested batteries - after researching this market extensively (I had amassed a dozen dead Wallstreet batteries and wanted to get them reconditioned/rebuilt), I found that you really roll the dice depending on a company's testing procedures. Simply put, there is no simple test that can be done to determine a used battery's potential life span (i.e., plug it in, fully charge it/discharge it, charge it up, and use it for two hours = good). To fully work like new, a battery must be rebuilt with new cells. Unfortunately, the companies that perform this service are sharks who jealously guard their market/secrets with lots of technical mumbo jumbo and specialized equipment.

If you've ever cracked open a dead battery, you'd probably find a bunch of smaller batteries - and that one or two are toasted, but the rest may be "okay." However, it's not as simple as replacing the offending cells and sealing the unit back up (well, it almost is) - the offending cells need to be removed, the others removed as well, tested, replaced, and the whole pack balanced/tested under load - there is special equipment in the tens of thousands of dollars range that performs this function.

If you remember your elementary school physics, batteries in series have more voltage than a single battery, and batteries in parallel have more current reserve. So if you have a pack of thirty 12V, 100 mAh cells in parallel, you essentially have one large 12V battery with thirty times the capacity (3000 mAh). Where the problem comes in is that each of those 30 cells must be identical (matched). If there is an imbalance, it will cause one or more cells to drain faster or slower than the others, which will ruin the battery over time. This is something that cannot be done by the average Joe with a voltmeter (what the pros use is essentially a "cell life predicting machine"). Then you have the ultrasonic welding machine that is in the same price range (tens of thousands of dollars), and with such a huge market out there, you can see why they jealously guard the market.

Rebuilding a dead battery properly (checking each cell and only replacing the bad ones) takes an inordinate amount of time; it's far easier to stuff the battery case with new cells, which is why rebuilding a battery is often more expensive than buying new. And, of course, there are literally a handful of companies in any given area that have the equipment and are able to perform this service.

Which brings me to my "shark" story - armed with this information, I had a dozen Lombard batteries from a client that were dead, and they wanted an estimate on the rebuilding cost before buying new ones. I brought them to a place that manufactures and sells new batteries, as well as advertising a "rebuilding" service. The manager's eyes literally lit up when I walked in with all the batteries. I was told the batteries were dead and useless, and to rebuild each one would cost $300 CAN each - or I could buy new ones for $200 CAN each including a $20 CAN credit on each "dead" battery. I'm sure you can do the math, and you can see where the eye lighting came from:

  1. high price for a new battery, plus
  2. getting those Lombard battery shells, which are gold, for next to nothing, sticking new cells in them (which is trivial for them to do - they have the right equipment) and selling them at ten times the price

Needless to say, I did not buy the batteries and did not return.

Personally, since I know new batteries are marginally more expensive than used but carry far less risk, I'm more inclined to go the new route (especially from a reputable manufacturer).

A.

PowerBook battery

From Scott

Charles,

PowerBook 165In the past when I still had my PB 165, I found www.powerbookguy.com a good resource for batteries, hard drives, networking items, etc.

Cheers,

-Scott-

Hi Scott,

Yes, I checked their page and they do have Pismo batteries.

Charles

Battery Quest

From Mary Ann

Hi,

Noticed your article on your battery problems. My husband just purchased a replacement battery for his early white dual USB 700 MHz iBook 60 days ago, and it died last week - the second to die in a year and a half.

Might do an article based on some research - good start is the Apple Support, iBook Discussions, Battery area - seems widespread and no one knows what is going on - nothing formal from Apple.

Might be connected with the Logic Board failures. Year of the Laptop has turned into Year of the tethered AC for our family - our quest has been for the longest power cord we can find - a cheaper alternative than $129 plus batteries - our cord is only 75 feet long - it can reach almost all around our house. PS: Long power cords can be purchased at Home Depot or Lowe's.

In all seriousness, seems like it is a serious problem that should be fixed. We and others, including schools, purchased our laptops in good faith - that they would be laptops for more than a year, not ultra small desktops. If a hardware flaw, Apple should do a recall regardless of the AppleCare Service.

Just thought you might be interested in a future article, MA

Hi Mary Ann,

The iBook battery does seem to have a higher than average failure rate, although, like the logic board failures, the incidence seems to be spotty and erratic. I doubt that the logic board and battery failures are connected, other than that heat may play a contributory role in both. The former seems to be caused by the video circuitry, while the batteries are a discrete unit.

It is very difficult to get a statistical picture of how widespread these problems are - what percentage of iBooks are affected.

Charles

Pismo battery

From Matt Schultz

Between $30 and $90, many Pismo batteries to choose from on eBay.

Buy 2, 3, or 4 instead of one $120-150 retail unit.

I bought 2 Titanium PBook batteries off of eBay about a year ago, and they worked great. Paid a total of $80 for the pair. My trusty old 400 MHz model still keeps chugging away. My daughter drives the Pismo to school, and I asked her if she wanted one of the new 12" versions but she said no because Carrie on Sex in the City uses a Pismo, and so now it's a very cool machine to lug around :-)

Best Regards,
Matt Schultz

Thanks for the lead, Matt.

Charles

Laptop batteries

From SuperProz

You might want to see if there's a local Batteries Plus nearby; they might be able to get a decent price for you. When I worked there, we basically viewed both LiIon and NiMH batteries as lasting around 1.5 years.

Anything beyond that we figured it was borrowed time. It's the discharging and recharging that wears them down quickly, you're right, but the materials will only stay active for so long before running down on their own.

Heh, complaining about three years? That's pretty amazing considering what seems to be the average life span of said batteries. Customers had come in complaining about their batteries regularly running out after six months. Your habits might be ideal for the batteries you use, but I don't think your results are very typical.

The discharge characteristics of LiIon are prized because these batteries will generally provide peak voltage right up until they die; then they lose charge very quickly (talking about charge/discharge, not totally dead). NiMH and NiCD, in contrast, start at a high peak voltage and then gradually drop off below the threshold needed to power a device. I guess if you were looking at a graph, the LiIon would be a straight line and then a sharp drop when it's expended and the other batteries would be a gentle curve.

Now this relates to the regular power you get from the battery, not to the overall life span - I'm not saying that LiIon will drop off after X amount of years but will be fine before then. Heck, you can say that about any battery. But I'm saying that I'm not surprised that when the LiIon dies, it really dies. Those things give it their all, and then there's nothin' left.

Proz

Hi Proz,

Thanks for the info. Sounds like what my Pismo battery did. It also started getting warm a few weeks before it failed. I don't cycle my batteries much, but my daughter does, and the PowerBook 5300 I bought new in 1996 and she's owned since 1998 still has its original NiMH battery going strong.

Thanks also for the Batteries Plus tip. However, where I live there's nothing nearby except trees and water. The nearest computer store (PC only) is 50 miles away, and the nearest Apple dealer 150 miles. ;-)

Charles

Re: Quest for a Replacement PowerBook Battery

From Andrew Main

Charles,

See the MacInTouch thread on batteries, especially some users' experience of bringing them back to life.

For info about batteries, see the excellent Batteries in a Portable World (a Canadian site, btw).

Somewhere in here I think it was I remember reading that Li-Ion batteries have a more-or-less fixed life span, regardless of how they're used, charging cycles, etc. Even sitting on a shelf unused they'll die in about three years, I think.

Andrew Main

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the links. I discovered the Buchmann site some time ago. A ton of useful info there.

Charles

USB cards in PowerMacs

From Niels Vølund

Hi,

I read about the guy seeking advice for USB on PCI Macs. Here's what I've experienced.

I've been using a Logitech cordless mouse for about a year now. Maybe it's just my machine, but USB isn't very stable running through a PCI card as far as I have experienced. Sometimes after a reboot the right button isn't working, sometimes (though more seldom under 9.2.2) the mouse doesn't work at all.

I've had some hard times connecting a MIDI device through USB; it just isn't stable enough when the Macs are not born with USB, but it works flawlessly on my G4. I have been using an Epson USB printer as well, and I can't count how many prints have stopped halfway through - this also works without a problem on the G4.

I tried a USB 2 card once but couldn't get it to function on my machines, not meaning to say it won't work on another one.

My advice: Don't get disappointed if it isn't stable, especially since you are going to use it on older OS. I've tried copying USB extensions to 8.1 systems and had it working for a day or two, but it was very unstable. Since I upgraded to 9.2.2, the mouse (only USB device on my office machine, 8500 with G3/400) has been very stable and only failed to work one or two times. The higher the OS, the more stable your USB will perform (that's what I've experienced, others may tell you different). Zapping the PRAM works most of the time if the right button or the mouse is not working, sometimes it can be more resistant - try shutting everything down, wait a few minutes, and try again. Pulling the power cord helps sometimes as well.

If you plan for a USB printer, consider a serial one instead. Since I got my used Epson 740 I have had no stops or errors when printing. What a relief (It is the one with serial USB and PC connector on the back)

Good luck, and consider looking out for a cheap G4; it's a good time right now.

Niels

Thanks for the report and info, Neils.

Charles

Location Manager in OS X?

From Wade

Hi Charles,

Because I travel extensively, I've come to rely on Location Manager, because most of the places I go are repeat locations (i.e., different offices, hotels, etc.). Using Location Manager effectively makes such a difference when you stagger into a hotel room late at night and need to get connected without wrestling with different settings, invariably forgetting one and wasting time. As a result, I've been traveling with a trusty FireWire Pismo running 9.2.2 because my beloved 2400 had to be retired. I'm going to get one of the new PowerBooks, probably the 15".

Is OS X going to have a replacement for Location Manager?

Thanks,
Wade

Hi Wade,

The Location Manager is no longer with us in OS X. However, in System Preferences > Network, you can save various dialing and networking settings using the Location popup menu. Once the settings are entered there, you can access them from the Locations submenu in the Apple Menu.

Charles

Hughes Network Systems

From Ryan Coleman

Charles,

As a former employee of HNS, I have one thing to say about this support for the Mac: They finally got their heads out of their digital asses. I brought up to my supervisor (I was on the Level II tech support team in the Minneapolis, MN hub) about support for the Mac. They said "Look around you - our hardware runs on 286s" and that settled it. It's nice to see the company has stopped spending time and money supporting older hardware that limits throughput and gone to something more stable and understandable.

I'll put it into a little better perspective: They still had nearly a ton (weight, not numbers) of serial cables under the floor. Although I am relatively tall (nearly 6') I was assigned the position of floor rat because I was the only one with enough guts to try it.

And for the record: They fired me days after I graduated from college [and I started the LEMLists.com and LowEndMac.net services with Dan soon after].

Ryan Coleman

VTBook Card

From IamTehMonkay

I can't find any tech information on it except that it's a Trident chip. Does anyone who reads or writes at Low End Mac know if it will be possible to use the VTBook as the primary video chip through ZV? Or even which Trident chip it is? If it's able to, it would be great for PowerBook users with RAGE chips

Beats me ITM.

Perhaps someone reading this can fill us in.

Charles

6400 wireless?

From Chucky Moody

I have a 6400 with a with a 300 MHz G3 upgrade. I was wondering if there is a PCI wireless card that will work in it? I have a D-Link DL614+ router that my iBook and iMac are connected to, and I'd love to get the old work horse on the wireless network without it costing me a fortune!

It's still a great machine; it's run day and night for years with hardly a glitch.

Thanks,
Chucky Moody

Hi Chucky,

See this Mac OS X Hints article, which notes:

"I found that my local CompUSA had the card (a Buffalo WLI-PCI-G54) in stock for $80.00 and it's 802.11a/g to boot."

But, sadly:

"The only caveat is that you must be running the latest AirPort software (and probably 10.2.6 as well) or it won't recognize the card."

Doesn't look promising for a 6400.

Charles


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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