Charles Moore's Mailbag

Death of a Pismo, End of G4 Upgrades, 13" MacBook Pro Assessment, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.06.17 -Tip Jar

Death of a Pismo

From Tom:

Hey Charles,

Your articles continue to be the most interesting to me at Low EndMac (and other sites where your work shows up), being knowledgeableabout the legacy Macs as well as sharing your experiences with thenewer models, like the Unibody MacBook, one of whichI may own myself one of these days.

Not long ago you mentioned the presence of a dead Pismo laptop among your Macs,which you intended to use for a parts machine. Was this your long-termPismo or a newer acquisition, and how did it die?

As one who loves the incomparable Pismo (who is, in fact, typingthis on a near-mint Pismo 500 MHz), I'm curious about the incident ofits death and whatever you know about the cause.

Keep up the great work!

God Bless,
Tom

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the kind words about my scribbling.

I highly recommend the new 13" MacBook Pro based on myexperience so far with the Unibody MacBook.

As for the Pismo, here are the broad strokes of whathappened:

I'm hesitant to blame the Pismo itself. It wasn't withthe one I bought in 2001 (currently my wife's machine), but rather mysecond Pismo, which I had purchased from Wegener Media in May 2007. This wasa very nice example with a flawless and bright display had a reallysuperb-feeling keyboard, apparently having been little-used since itsmanufacture in January 2000.

This machine had served as my "road computer" for 15months or so, as well as performing utility tasks like disk burning,since it had an 8x dual-layer disk-burning SuperDrive expansion baymodule that was faster than the one in my G4 PowerBook. It also gota 550 MHz G4 processor upgrade card and a 100 GB Seagate hard drive. Itworked great on WiFi hot spots with a Buffalo G54 802.11g WirelessCardBus Adapter.

Anyway, returning home from a road trip in late August2008, I plugged in the Pismo's power adapter, and a few moments later Ibegan to hear a sort of snapping, popping sound, which, uponinvestigation, turned out to be coming not from the computer but fromthe extension cord where I had the power adaptor plugged in. Iunplugged it, and the noise stopped, but the adapter plug prongs showedsigns of electrical arcing. Uh-oh.

I woke up the computer, plugged it into another ACoutlet, and and everything seemed to be okay. The battery was charging,and it went through a couple more sleep/wake cycles with all seemingwell, but when I left and returned a few hours later, the green sleeplight had died, the computer had shut down, and the battery appeared tobe dead. I tried rebooting, but no joy. Not even a startup chime.

I tried swapping in a different battery, and the Pismocame to life, but the PRAM data had been lost, and it died immediatelywhen I pulled the battery again. I tried two other power adapters,known good, but the computer wasn't recognizing them.

The logical deduction was that the electrical arcingat the cord plug had somehow fried the Power Manager board through thepower adapter. Incidentally, I also tried several hard Power Managerresets and the trick of of unplugging the PRAM battery, but with nosuccess.

Another possibility I suppose would be that the poweradapter itself had developed a fault and caused the arcing. I wasn'tabout to try it with a healthy Mac in case that was what obtained andhaven't used that adapter since, so it's still a bit of a mystery, butmy best guess is still that the extension cord socket caused thetrouble. That cord has been retired as well, needless to say.

I consulted my hard copy of iFixit's Pismo teardown guide (nolonger in print, although the online version can be downloaded as aPDF) and discovered that the Power Manager board resides in the mostinaccessible bowels of the Pismo. Wegener Media had these boards listedfor $79, but when I contacted David Wegener, he mentioned that when thecharge board went, it could have blown the logic board as well, whichhe says is a common issue if the DC board goes, so replacing the chargeboard alone seemed like a roll of the dice, and an inconvenient one atthat, requiring a complete teardown of the Pismo. I opted instead tobuy another Pismo from Wegener Media, just a case and chassis with themotherboard, charge board, screen, and keyboard, but no processor card,RAM, hard drive, battery, or expansion bay device. The price seemedreasonable compared with what a charge board alone would cost, anddoing it this way it was sure a lot easier and less hassle.

Happily, the "new" Pismo worked just fine andcontinues in the role of road laptop and utility machine today. It tookme a leisurely 20 minutes or so to swap in the components from theailing Pismo, and it booted right up. Cosmetically, it's not quite asgood as the one it replaced (David described it as an A- quality unit -a few scuffs, etc.), and it shows signs of having seen more service,notably some of the dreaded keyboard contact marks on the displaysurface, although they're not visible with the screen lit, and andthere are no dead pixels.

The keyboard looked fine, but it wasn't nearly as goodas the other. It's notable that the three Pismo keyboards I now haveall have a significantly different feel. They're all better thanaverage as computer keyboards go in general, but the one for the PismoI purchased in 2007 is the best by a substantial margin, with thewell-used one from my 2001 purchase second-best, and this latest onebringing up the rear. No problem. I just swapped the best one over,easy to do.

I will be a lot more careful in future about ensuringthat I'm getting a clean AC feed to the power adapter before connectingmy computers.

The charge board and, if necessary, the logic board inthe damaged Pismo could, of course, be replaced and that machinebrought back to life, but you do get into the dynamic of the hammerthat lasted so long, but had its head or handle replaced from time totime. A computer is really just an assemblage of parts, and thedamaged/failed one will now be consigned to the role of parts mule.

Charles

ATA 100 Hard Drive in Pismo

From Scott:

Hey Charles,

Today I loaded OS 9 on the Pismo with the new Seagate 120 GB 5400rpm ATA100 hard drive in it. I didn't have any trouble. I'll try to putOS X Panther on it tomorrow after I get OS 9 all straightenedout. I don't foresee any problems with the ATA100 hard drive though.I'm using a Seagate ST9120822A hard drive, if that matters to any ofyour Pismophile readers out there. I can't remember what kind of harddrive you were having trouble with in your Pismo, but my experience hastaught me that Seagate is the best hard drive on the market. I'm notgonna badmouth that other brand of permanently sale priced hard drivethat my friends buy . . . and lose all their work on!haha.

Scott

Hi Scott,

Thanks for the report, and glad to hear that it'sworking out for you.

I've never had any problem with hard drives in myPismos. I currently have a Seagate 100 GB in my Pismo, and there's aToshiba 40 GB 5400 RPM unit in my wife's Pismo. Both have beencompletely reliable, as were the smaller capacity units they replaced.In fact, I've never had a hard drive failure in any of my laptop Macs,dating back to 1996.

Charles

End of G4 Upgrades

From Henry:

Hi again, Charles,

As several people have noticed, G4 upgrades are disappearing. Thereason is that Freescale (formerly Motorola) Semiconductor has quitmaking G4 chips. When store stocks are sold out, you will have to finda used one.

Henry

Hi Henry,

That certainly explains it!

I thing some of the upgrades still available are usingrecycled G4 CPUs, so that may be a resource that will hold up for awhile yet.

Charles

Eudora 6.2.4 Works Like a Champ

From DC:

I have and still use Eudora 6.2.4 on all my computers including thisIntel MacBook, thelast one before the Unibody, using OS X 10.5.5 (my editingsoftware prohibits my upgrading at the moment) without problems of anysort. It checks multiple accounts daily. However, I have never used itwith a modem other than a 3G USB from Vodaphone and another from O2while in the UK. Do you really use dialup in this day & age?

I intend to keep using Eudora but realise it may not work for muchlonger.

dc

Hi DC,

I suspect that my problems using classic Eudora mayindeed be related to an issue with my dial-up service. Eudora 6.2.4 hasnot ever worked properly, even on my PowerPC G4 PowerBook, since Iinstalled Leopard in 2007. I still have OS X 10.4.11 "Tiger"installed on that computer on a separate hard drive partition, andEudora still works fine booted from it, so it's definitely a softwareissue. On the Unibody MacBook with Apple's USB modem, it refuses tocheck mail and is unstable (unexpected quits and lockups) as well.Eudora 8.0b6 and Thunderbird work reliably.

And yes, I am still obliged to use dial-up becausethat is all that's available in this neck of the woods. If I lived ninemiles distant in two different directions I could get DSL service, butit's not available in this small community, and the local Telco has nointention of setting it up, since they might (optimistically) get 20customers within the service range, and I'm told that installing therequired switching substation upgrade would cost Can$187,000, sothere's just no business case (no cable TV here either, for similarreasons). It's slow dialup too - 25,400 bps on good days, thanks toancient rural copper phone lines and the aforementioned antiqueswitching apparatus. In 2006 (latest stats. I have on hand), some22,000 households and 5,000 businesses here in Nova Scotia were in thesame boat, although that has improved substantially since then.

Satellite is the only current potential workaround,but it's punishingly expensive. We have been promised wirelessbroadband by the end of this year, which is now nearly half over. I'mhopeful, but not excessively optimistic.

Charles

13" MacBook Pro

From Torie:

It sounds like Apple have just released your perfect 'Book. Will yoube making the switch? I think the new MacBook Pro line is Apple's mostcompelling since the switch to Intel (maybe even ever). These pricesare just the answer to Microsoft's add campaign. With the announcementsof Snow Leopard's new abilities combined with an ultra-low price forcurrent Leopard users, it represents another stone launched squarebetween Goliath's eyes.

I think it has become glaringly obvious the difference between thetwo companies ideologies. Microsoft is distancing itself from the Vistamoniker with an underlying OS that is essentially the same, while Applehas shown faith in it's operating system by choosing a name bothfamiliar and telling of the nature of the update. The name Snow Leopardis as obvious as it is brilliant. The summer 2009 MacBook Pro line andSnow Leopard's pending release may represent the straw that finallybroke the camel's back.

Let me know what you think about the current MacBook Pro line andSnow Leopard. Ciao!!

Hi Torie,

Yes, the new 13" MacBook Pro probably is about asclose to perfection as I can think of in a laptop. I already like my13" Unibody MacBook a lot, and the new Pro is even better.

Am I sorry I made the leap four months ago? I havemixed feelings. This computer has been a joy, notwithstanding the noFireWire frustration, and I really needed to move up to an IntelMac, so I'm not second-guessing myself too much.

If I could get a sale for this machine without takingtoo much of a loss, I might be persuaded to switch up, but I don'tthink there's very lively hope of that. My provisional target is toreplace my number one system every three years, and that's still myplan with this one, so we're looking at 2012, by which time there couldvery well be a whole new generation of Apple laptops.

Snow Leopard should be great, although a friend ofmine who downloaded and installed a bootleg copy of the latest WWDCdeveloper build says it breaks about one-third of the applications heuses, so there may be an awkward interval of transition.

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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