Charles Moore's Mailbag

iBook Unreliability, iBook G4 AirPort Problems, RAM for a PowerBook 1400, and More

Charles Moore - 2007.08.27 -Tip Jar

Pismo or iBook?

From Edward Simanowski:

I've enjoyed reading your many articles and comments on thePismo, a machine I've admired for avery long time. Now, faced with a need for a low-end laptop for mywife and I to use in our church's music ministries, I have theexcuse I need to invest in a Pismo or laptop of similar specs. Inlight of some of the most recent content disparaging thereliability of the G3 and G4 iBooks [see Are the White iBooks Still a Good Bet orShould You Steer Clear of Them?], would a Pismo be a betterinvestment for a laptop that is going to be used frequently andbetween two different buildings? A G4 PowerBook would not be out ofthe question, but your strong endorsement of the Pismo has meconfused.

Your input and expertise would be greatly appreciated. Thank youfor your time.

Ed Simanowski

Hi Ed,

Sorry for any confusion.

Here's the thing. I am a big Pismo fan; in fact, Ijust bought another one last spring which I have in daily use. ThePismo is rugged and reliable, and it has the wonderful facility ofa removable device expansion bay. Hard drive swaps are easy, andthe processor card is upgradable, plus it has an excellentkeyboard.

However, I also have a G4 PowerBook and a G3iBook, and I've had virtually flawless service from them aswell.

The downside of the Pismos is that they aregetting pretty long in the tooth - the newest ones are 6-1/2 yearsold or so. They only support up to a 550 MHz G4 upgrade (and thePowerLogix 900 MHz G3 upgrades are no longer available) and amaximum of 1 GB of RAM, therefore they will be excluded fromLeopard support (although Tiger runs great on the Pismo)

For a portable 'Book that will be transported alot, the Pismo is probably a more durable choice than a dual USBiBook, but I would also encourage you to consider a 12" PowerBook, which is my current pick forbest value in a low-end Mac laptop, and prices for early revision15" and even 17" PowerBook G4s are now well below $1,000. However,the 12-incher has a better than average reliability record, andit's a sweet machine with a nice keyboard (no PC CardBus slotthough).

Of course, when buying used, condition of theindividual machine is a key factor as well.

Charles

My iBook G4 Experience

From Josh Johnson:

Charles,

I'm a longtime LEM reader but first-time writer. I just had toweigh in on the dual-USB iBook discussion.

I am the owner of two iBook G4s - a 1 GHz, late 2003 model, and a 1.42 GHz, end-of-the-line model. Bothhave 14" screens. The 1 GHz was my first new Mac, and I bought iton a student budget (quite an investment when you're working for$9.00/hr. on campus). It was a wonderful machine - until it broke,11 months after I bought it, and right before my end-of-the-termpapers were due. Three days of frantic troubleshooting finallyclued me in to a logic board failure - it would freeze on startup,finally booting to a blank screen, and the Hardware Diagnostics CDthat came with it locked up repeatedly during the VRAM test.

Luckily, I was able to save my hard drive's contents usingFireWire Target Disk Mode and hence not fail my classes. Applehassled me at first (they did not want to honor the 1-year warrantybecause I'd bought it on closeout, and they assumed it was alreadyover a year old), but after bringing my proof of purchase theyagreed to repair it. A month later (obviously non-AppleCarewarranty service is not a high priority for the folks inCupertino), my iBook came back with a new logic board and a newlease on life.

Nine months later the same issues happened again. This time itwas out of warranty, and the Apple service center said it would bealmost $700 between parts and labor to repair it. I was completelysoured on the whole thing and made do with a borrowed P3 Dell forthe rest of the term (uggh!).

I did some research in my frustration, and discovered that I amnot the only one to have board problems with the iBook G4, and thatthe earlier the model, the more likely it is to have the issue. Twomonths later, as I prepared to start graduate school, I picked up a1.42 GHz model as a closeout bargain, my logic being that I hadrecently purchased extra batteries, an extra AC adaptor, and a nicecase for the 14" design, and rumors about the new MacBook said it would have a smaller formfactor and use entirely different power sources. Also, brand newmodels tend to have unexpected quirks, and the latest G4 iBooks hada much better track record than my older one in that regard. Add tothat the fact that I just couldn't afford a MacBook Pro (remember the whole studentbudget thing), and it made mine an easy choice. More recently, Iforked over $400 to have the logic board replaced in my old iBook,and now I have two working laptops for me and my wife.

In summary, I have mixed feelings about the design. Bothmachines run very well - they have excellent battery life, thescreen size is just right for taking notes in class, and they areutterly reliable - except when the hardware fails, which it doescatastrophically on a too frequent basis. The older machine is onits third board in three years, and if it breaks again, I'm throughwith it.

The new iBook hasn't had any logic board problems yet,although it did have a weird screen problem that AppleCare tookcare of for me (and yes, I was smart enough to purchase AppleCarethe second time around). Although my iBooks have given me years ofstellar service between them, I would not recommend them to anyoneunless they are getting an extended warranty as well (so usediBooks are out of the question).

I admit that I work my machines pretty hard - as an undergrad, Itook my iBook up to campus every day, so they weren't just sittingon a desk getting light use. But then again, isn't that the wholepoint behind a laptop? If I wasn't going to carry it around, Icould have bought an iMac with a bigger screen and twice thehorsepower for the same price. And if a certain model of laptopcan't stand the rigors of being carried around for more than a fewmonths, then that sounds like a design flaw to me.

Anyway, my 2 cents.

Regards,
Josh Johnson

Hi Josh,

Thanks for the report, and I'm glad to hear thatyour experience with the second machine has been moresatisfactory.

I've heard of many G3 iBooks that have required alogic board replacement, several that have needed two, and I thinkI recall hearing of one that was on its fourth. A lot morepersistence there than I could muster! Makes you wonder about whatfactor would cause repeated failures. Seems like terribly bad luckotherwise.

You're right. A portable computer should be ableto handle being lugged around and used as a portable computer,although frequent lid openings and closings will inevitably taketheir toll on hinges and screen ribbon connectors. That was true ofeven the vaunted G3 PowerBooks, especially the WallStreet and Lombard.

Charles

700 MHz iBook Reliability

From Dan and Liz Finegan:

Yes, Charles, mine was very dependable . . . until itdied! And when it died, it was abrupt, without warning, no chanceto back-up the data. I've tried various keypad combination and evenshimming the video chip as suggested on the Apple discussionforums, but apparently dead is dead in this case.

I've been through many low-end Macs and have always been amazedat how tough and repairable they have been. Hopefully this versionof the iBook is an exception.

Regards-
Dan Finegan

Hi Dan,

Yes; as I noted in the article, the 700 MHz iBookhas a truly awful reliability record, so it definitely does happen.My WallStreet 233 MHz worked great until it didn't - failingcatastrophically with no warning. The difference was that theWallStreet was easy to fix once the issue had been determined - afailed CPU. I just swapped in a scrounged processor daughtercard,and all was well again. It has now gone longer on the replacementcard than it did (3-1/2 years) on the original.

After the meltdown, I removed the hard drive (easyon the WallStreet), put it in another drive enclosure, andretrieved my files. You could do the same with the drive in youriBook, although getting the drive out is anything but easy.

As for my 700 MHz iBook, after 4-1/2 years ofvirtually flawless service, it really doesn't owe me anything, butit still is doing a great job.

Charles

AirPort Problems with G4 iBooks

From Chris:

Hello Charles,

I know, as you have written in your article, that iBooks are a mixedbag. I thought I'd throw in a point on the iBook being afailure.

I've been tracking this thread over the past few months on theMac OS X Hints forums, and it seems that the G4 iBooks have anice AirPort flaw going for them, as seen here:

http://forums.macosxhints.com/showthread.php?t=62622

In short, the machine will have a kernel panic every timeAirPort is fussed with. And a 20 page forum thread on the subjectmeans this problem seems pretty widespread.

Just thought I'd point this problem out to you, since I didn'tsee it in any of the iBook articles. Or I just didn't look hardenough.

Chris

Hi Chris,

Thanks for pointing that out. It was an issue Iwasn't previously aware of. Neither my G3 iBook nor my daughter'sG4 iBook has AirPort, and I hadn't seen the forum youreference.

It does seem that there is an issue with AirPorton some iBooks.

Charles

Pismo Won't Recognize New Hardware

From Dafydd Waters:

Dear Charles

I'm an avid reader of your 'ramblings' and have found yourwriting and advice very helpful. Thanks very much!

I have a G3 Pismo PowerBook (FireWire) that the DVD-ROM drivehasn't worked in for a while. I decided to replace the drive with anew Pioneer K05 CD/DVD SuperDrive. This drive is recommended forPismo PowerBooks.

Anyway, to be brief, the Pismo won't recognise the new drive.The drive takes discs in and spins them around and ejects them justfine. But the system profiler doesn't show the drive, and so it'slike the drive doesn't exist.

On a similar note, I also tried to install an original AirPortcard. I'm sure I have it the right way up and seated correctly, butagain the system profiler doesn't recognise that the new card isthere.

Could there be something about my Pismo that means it won'trecognise new hardware?

I'm running a fresh install of OS X 'Panther', installed usingyour 'connect to other computer in target disc mode' method, sincemy optical drive isn't working!

I'd be grateful for any advice.

With huge thanks
Dafydd Waters
London, UK

Hi Dafydd,

I have to say I'm baffled by this one. You seem tobe doing everything correctly.

Unfortunately, while it's not a common issue withPismos, it appears that it's a known one. You can check it outat:

http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?messageID=1772249

There are some suggestions there.

It would be ideal if you could borrow a known-goodDVD drive from another Pismo to see if your machine would recognizethe OEM unit.

We'll see if other readers have any light to shedon this with the next Miscellaneous Ramblings Mailbag.

Charles

Finding RAM for a PowerBook 1400

From Rick:

Charles,

I just got through reading yourarticle on the PowerBook 1400.

I came across it because I just procured a near-mint conditionPowerBook 1400cs/117. I say near-mintbecause I know the history of the machine, and I would wager itdoesn't have 100 hours of use on it total. It's not as capable asmy MacBook, and the passive matrix screen leaves a little bit to bedesired, but boy, it sure looks and feels extremely sturdy comparedto the modern Mac laptops.

Anyway, it came with 24 MB of RAM, and I'd like to increase thatamount to the maximum 64 that the 1400 allows. I looked at all theregular sources that I would check out for RAM, but none havelistings for the PowerBook 1400. Do you know of any resources?

Thanks,
Rick

Hi Rick,

Sounds like a peach of a 1400.

The PowerBook Guy has PowerBook 1400 48 MB RAM Upgrade Kit newfor $119.95.

Wegener Media lists forthe 1400:

  • 16 MB single stackable card, $25
  • 24 MB single stackable card, $69
  • 32 MB single stackable card, $89

Hope this helps.

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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