The Low End Mac Mailbag

Why Macs Die, iPhone Greed, FireWire Flash Drives, 802.11n Enabler Pricing, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.06.21

Why Macs Die

Steven Hunter writes in response to Why Does a Mac Die?:

There's also the issue of old electrolytic capacitors rupturing (we've seen this on a lot of PC motherboards over the last 3-4 years) from either age or poor manufacturing. I've not seen this on any Apple systems yet, but we don't really have any Macs older than a Blue and White G3 anymore.

There's also the possibility that so-called "Tin Whiskers" have formed. These are growths of tin (and other metals) which can bridge between conductors and short them out. This is especially true with CPUs and other chips that have very little space between conductor elements.

For more info see <>.

Steven Hunter

"If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate."


Thanks for your feedback. Early Macs often developed capacitor problems in the high voltage section, but Apple seems to have solved that during the Mac Plus run (1986-90).

This is the first I've heard of Tin Whiskers. Thanks for the link.


No problem! I'd never heard of them before either until I saw a segment about them on an episode of the History Channel's "Modern Marvels". Apparently engineers have known about them since the 1940s and have yet to figure out exactly how or why they form.


Thanks for the further info. Modern Marvels is one of the best real world technology programs on TV - along with MythBusters.


More About 'Why Macs Die?'

Alex Wegman writes:

Hi there,

I enjoy reading your articles, and your recent comments about Macs that die are relevant to the troubles I had several months ago with my Pismo 500. One day I put it to sleep, and it had turned completely off when I returned to it. No sleep light, no battery level lights, and no noises or other signs of life when rebooting was attempted. I unsuccessfully tried all the usual PRAM resetting, etc. After trying a different power supply, I replaced the sound/power card, to no avail. After completely stripping the machine and checking the seating of all the components, I found a burnt-out chip on the PSU board under the trackpad. I replaced the board with an eBay acquisition, and now all is well.

The failure of a board at component level does make for difficult troubleshooting, and in this case it was a visual check that found the fault (albeit once I'd completely stripped the machine to look at the PSU board) in terms of a physically blackened component.

So if anyone wants a replacement sound/DC board for a Pismo...

Alex Wegman


Thanks for writing. It's a different world we live in when it's cheaper to replace a whole board than replace a single failed component on it. Glad you managed to track down the problem and have your Pismo up and running again.


iPhone Greed

Dimitrios Saranteas writes in response to No iPhones Going to Cingular Stores or Independent AT&T Wireless Dealers:


How quickly all of our respective technological memories fade. Don't forget that in late 2004, Moto launched the RAZR (original) with exclusivity to Cingular (non-franchise, mind you) and for a non-measly $500 (with far, far, far fewer features than the iPhone).

I don't understand where the "greed" comments come from either. Apple will and should hold the price and availability on the iPhone. Motorola quickly made the RAZR into a commodotized product that soon lost value and was available within 18-months for free with a 2-year contract. Moto has and is struggling to come up with a successor to the RAZR that is just as profitable, successful, and innovative (and that doesn't necessitate the use of four letters) . . . good luck with them doing that.

Good article, but short sighted in light of the past.



Thanks for the history lesson. Motorola is still playing the "exclusive" game with various colors of the RAZR, but it's not nearly as expensive as it once was. Why not? Success. It's the best selling model in the North American market, which means bigger production runs and lower prices. And Moto recouped their development costs the first year to market.

As for my "greed" comment, it was aimed at both Apple and AT&T. At Apple, because they negotiated an exclusive contract with Cingular (as it was then known) that not only limits consumer choice but also lines Apple's pockets. According to Verizon, which declined the iPhone (sending Apple over to Cingular), Apple not only wants to sell the US$499-599 super-phone without any discounts, it also wants a percentage of monthly fees collected by the carrier.

Apple wanted to further control Verizon's distribution of the iPhone, limiting it to company stores and excluding Verizon retailers such as Walmart and Best Buy - exactly the same thing we're seeing with AT&T.

I understand that Apple needs to make a profit, and I don't doubt that the iPhone will be a roaring success, but I'm a firm believer in choice and value. The Apple/AT&T deal has taken away my choice of carriers and retailers - and fixed the price of the iPhone. Further, Apple seeking a "kickback" on monthly user fees will keep service prices higher than they might otherwise be.

As for AT&T's greed, they're the ones who signed the exclusivity deal with Apple. Where the pattern for years has been that the carrier rebates the end user by slashing perhaps $200 from the price of the phone, this time that $200 (estimated) goes into Apple's pocket.

AT&T will gain a lot of customers because of the iPhone, making the largest carrier in the US even bigger.

Let's look at some numbers. AT&T may make $150 from each iPhone sold in one of its stores, and Apple probably has a $100 markup from cost. 6 million iPhones, Apple's minimum projection for the first year, puts up to $900 million into AT&T's pocket, not to mention profits from service plans. Figure $1.8 billion going into Apple's pocket between profits from selling the phone to AT&T and the kickback from AT&T over the first two years of use. And they'll make even more from iPhones sold through retail Apple Stores and the online Apple Store.

Without the exclusivity agreement, Apple would sell 2-3x as many iPhones the first year, as a lot of people are not going to change carriers either because of service contracts, bad experiences with AT&T/Cingular, or poor AT&T wireless coverage in their area. Figure 15 million iPhones netting Apple $100 in profits - that's $1.5 billion.

With the exclusivity agreement and the kickback from AT&T, Apple makes more money selling less iPhones because without exclusivity there would be no kickbacks.

From the consumer's perspective, since nobody will be allowed to discount the iPhone, it might initially cost us $50 more than it would on the open market. And without an exclusivity agreement, the $200 discounts from a new two-year service contract would go into our pockets. That makes the net additional cost to the end user $250 or so.

Tell me, would you rather be able to buy an iPhone at a discount, have your choice of carriers, and receive a $200 purchase credit on the phone - or would you rather buy at full price from a single source and have that $200 go into Apple's pocket?


FireWire Flash Drives

After reading A FireWire Flash Drive Option, Robert Baldwin says:

That was an interesting read. It made me remember the "ahead of it's time" product by WiebeTech. It was a keychain Compact Flash drive. Slightly larger than the Compact Flash card that it held, the unit came in various configurations including a 0-config in which you could use your own CF. Starting price was $99, and most people thought that was an outrageous price. Heck, that's extremely low compared to how much Kanguru is charging for it's FireWire flash drives. Unfortunately the product was discontinued before its potential could be realized.

Just thought I'd add that.

Robert Baldwin


Thanks for writing. Those Kanguru FireWire flash drives aren't cheap - US$100 for 1 GB, $130 for 2 GB, $160 for 4 GB, and $220 for 8 GB, which is currently on back order.

For those seeking a more affordable and expandable solution, Lexar offers the Professional UDMA FireWire 800 CF Reader for US$80 (available from It's not as small as a flash drive, and with the right cable it will work with a FireWire 400 port.


802.11n Enabler Pricing

Richard Brauer says:

Hi Dan,

In reply to:

The $2 802.11n enabler had to be one of the most ridiculous moments in Apple history. These Macs had hardware that supported 802.11n but drivers that only supported 802.11g. Yet rather than give owners the driver to unleash the hardware, they annoyed them with a $2 downloadable driver.

As far as I know, even after Apple released the new driver, it still wasn't included with these Macs. Apple didn't do that until the next hardware revision. It's not the kind of niggling cheap stunt we expect from Apple, which seems to be the most consistently profitable computer maker out there even without the 'n tax'.


I wanted to direct your attention to: - Tip Jar

et al.

Even with the variety of responses, I'm assuming you can determine that there might have been a shred of legitimacy in Apple's move to charge a nominal fee for the "n" upgrade.

My read to the whole thing would be: Already facing the potential massive wrath of the SEC due to the options backdating scandal, the lawyers and accountants said, "Let's cross every t and dot every i. We don't want to give them additional ammunition." So they decided to comply with the most stringent readings of the Sarbanes-Oxley law and charge for the upgrade.

Did they have to charge $2? Probably not. It probably covers the cost of the paperwork they wanted to do, registering everyone who downloads it, etc. So they're not down a cent.

Was it necessary? From the responses, obviously that's questionable. Under the circumstances I mentioned, I can understand the move. I'm sitting here with an Intel iMac bought at the end of December. This affects me. But I don't have an 802.11n router - or the need for one any time soon. By the time I get around to purchasing Leopard (around 10.5.2 or .3 maybe, after most of the bugs are gone), I'm hopeful that the driver will be included for free, because you're purchasing the software as part of the overall package.

YMMV. Just 2 cents - or 57,000 now defunct lire.



Thanks for writing. I don't think Apple was living in the real world when they determined that they were legally obligated to charges something for the 802.11n driver. In the past, Apple has offered free firmware updates that were required so some Macs could install newer versions of the Mac OS. We could just as readily argue that since these iMacs or blue & white G3s were incapable of running that later revision of the Mac OS, Apple was adding new capabilities to existing hardware at no cost.

The whole thing was ridiculous regardless of any reading of Sarbanes-Oxley. The nature of a computer is to be programmable, and whether we're looking at a firmware upgrade or a new driver, it's the equivalent of installing an OS update that adds some new capability to your computer.

My 2¢.


iBook G3 Won't Boot Past Mac OS X 10.2.1

Kevin DeMers writes:

Hi Dan:

Thanks for all the helpful info you provide.

My boys have a G3 iBook - 700 MHz. The machine previously had OS X 10.3.9 on it with OS 9 also. When my wife gave the computer to the boys, she erased the hard drive and tried to do a clean OS X reinstall. Now the machine will only allow 10.2.1 to be loaded. Any other OS X install attempt ends up with a very fuzzy screen and numerous vertical colored bars all over the screen....

We took it to our local Mac (related) store (we are very rural - not near an Apple Store) and they said it was a bad logic board. If it was a bad board, wouldn't it be giving me trouble no matter what OS I was running? Not sure why I can't update the OS X - yes, I have legal software.

Could it be some other problem? Or would a firmware update be the answer - if so, how do I accomplish this update?

Thank you!

Kevin DeMers

Hi Kevin,

As far as I can determine, the last iBook G3 firmware update was released two years before the iBook you have, so it's already incorporated in the hardware. I don't see firmware being a problem.

As you surmise, a bad logic board should be equally bad under any version of the Mac OS, and you know it was running "Panther" before you wiped it and reverted to "Jaguar". No, I can't see it being a hardware problem.

The problem could be your OS X instal disc. If it's an installer that came with another Mac, it may not install a proper system on your iBook. You need to use a universal installer to make sure the proper software is installed for your hardware.

If that's not the problem, I'm stumped.


Question Marks on Home Page

Cheryl Hanna

Why are the curly apostrophes on LEM's home page coming through as question marks? On Tiger in Safari and Firefox? Latest versions? Seems to happen only on LEM, so far, anyway. See attached screen shot.

Cheryl Hanna

weird commas


Thanks for writing. As anyone who cuts and pastes text or imports word processing files from other programs soon discovers, all curly quotes (a.k.a. smart quotes) are not created equal. For instance, I can type a smart leading quote - “ - and it may become &#8220; or &#x201c; or &ldquo; depending on the software I'm using. (Worse yet, it becomes &#147; in Claris Home Page, which is the program I use to write and edit articles for Low End Mac. That code is specific to Macs. Fortunately if I open my HTML document in Nvu or SeaMonkey, these programs will turn it into &ldquo; when I save the file.)

Our solution to this typographic nightmare is to never use smart quotes on Low End Mac unless we are discussing them.

When I cut and paste the title of an article or an excerpt from an article, it may contain curly quotes - and that may not always be obvious because of the typeface used. I'll generally run such text through TextSoap, where I have a filter that fixes these and other things - but sometimes I don't notice the smart quotes, and then they get rendered as white question marks inside of black diamonds, as in the screen shot you sent.

I've gone back and fixed the two article links in the image you sent.


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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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