Charles Moore's Mailbag

No FireWire on MacBook a Deal Breaker, Getting Pismo Working with AirPort, and Pismo Screen Replacement

Charles Moore - 2008.10.29 - Tip Jar

New MacBooks, Impressive but...

From Ian:

Hi Charles,

I'm just writing about my opinion about the new MacBook line Apple just released. First off, I'm impressed with the new "unibody" design - looks like it might solve the warping problems the PowerBook and MacBook Pro lines suffered. The sleek LED screen is a nice touch too, and the 5 hour promised battery life looks like it might actually meet expectations. But there's only one problem, and this is why I probably couldn't use it to replace my ailing iBook:

No FireWire.

No FireWire at all.

Okay, so maybe this is the future, or Apple just doesn't see a need for people buying the MacBooks to have it (since the MBPs still retain one FireWire port.) But I need it. I have a JVC DV camera that's about two years old that I have no plans on replacing or getting rid of. And it transmits video via FireWire. If I get a new MacBook, I'd have to either put a FireWire card in my family's PC and use that or transfer the video to my iBook and then maybe get it to the MacBook. Neither of which is hard, just another nuisance. I guess I could get a refurb MacBook - or the previous-generation model they still sell. Only thing with that is, there are no specs for it listed anywhere, so no telling whether or not it has a FireWire port on its side or not.

Oh well, guess I'll have to stick with the original plan, fix the iBook as much as possible (new battery, hinges, etc.) and go for a refurbished iMac that I can use for video, etc. And when the iBook finally dies (which I don't foresee happening, if I can help it), a bump to a MacBook Air to fill in the laptop gap maybe....

Thanks for your time,
Sent from my iPhone

Hi Ian,

I agree. The elimination of the FireWire port is a major bummer and might be a deal-breaker for me. I'm mighty tempted by the new MacBook in most respects, but I still have a couple of FireWire scanners and a hard drive that I like, so I may opt for a refurbished 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro (old school).

Even the new 15" MacBook Pro has only a FireWire 800 port, which needs an adapter to support FireWire 400.

There has been some scuttlebutt about Ethernet-to-FireWire adapters, but I haven't been able to turn up anything concrete in that regard.

The recycled $999 MacBook definitely has a FireWire 400 Port, and of course the 17" MacBook Pro (also held over) has both FireWire 400 and 800.


Pismo, AirPort, and PRAM Battery

From Seth Miller:


I just saw your email from Bill regarding issues with the PRAM battery and AirPort on his Pismo. I have worked with many Pismos over the years (I have three within 10 feet of me as I write this in my office, and a fourth at home that I use nearly every evening) and can vouch for unplugging the PRAM battery as a frequently successful solution to a non-booting Pismo. (As I recall, the same holds true for at least the first-generation TiBooks, which are closely related in terms of electronics.) However, I have never seen this cause an AirPort card to stop working. I just tested a Pismo first with a dead main battery and again with no battery inserted at all, both times with the PRAM battery unplugged, and had no problems with AirPort. I should note, however, that this was with Tiger, not OS 9, since my newest computer with OS 9 installed is a WallStreet II.

If I had to take a wild guess, it's possible that the problem lies with software. (Perhaps the AirPort extension has been corrupted, or perhaps there is something odd with OS 9 that makes it not recognize the AirPort without a PRAM battery). If the Pismo has enough memory to run whichever OS is installed on the iBook, I would hook up the iBook in Target Disk Mode, and boot the Pismo from it. Any other way of booting from a fresh or known-working AirPort-capable install of Mac OS would work as well, of course. If it is then able to recognize the AirPort card when booted from other install, we can conclude that it is a software problem. If not, it might be time to look for a new AirPort card as well as a PRAM battery, unfortunately.


Hi Seth,

Thank you for the sage assessment of this odd problem and suggestions. I was hoping that someone with a lot of technical experience with Pismos would weigh in.

Nice to hear you're still using Pismos. My current two are in fine fettle.


Response to 'Pismo AirPort Stopped Working'

From Dan:

Hi Charles,

I was reading the letter about the AirPort card not functioning in the Bill's Pismo. I have a friend who picked up a Pismo for cheap (free!) and wanted to get an AirPort card. I found one for him, installed it, and voilà! - It didn't work. The PowerBook Hardware Test CD also showed that there wasn't any card installed (it was).

I installed the card into another computer, which promptly was able to work, so I know that it's not the card.

The next thing I was going to try (which I suggest to Bill as well) is that the ribbon cable that rests directly underneath the seated AirPort card makes a connection to the logic board underneath the modem board. I plan to remove the modem board and check how the cable is seated. If that doesn't work, then I might have to tell him to get a new logic board....

But if it does work, awesome!

Hope this helps.

Thanks again for your great resource!


Thanks for the anecdote and suggestions Dan.

Based on another response, you might also check for a corrupted AirPort extension if you're running OS 9.

Let us know how it turns out.


Pismo PRAM Battery and Bad RAM

From S. Kennedy:


I read a couple of notes on the Pismo on your LEM page today and thought I would chime in on recent experiences with my Pismo.

About 6 months ago I had a severe case of kernel panics upon startup with my Pismo. Tried everything I could think of with no luck, and I thought that there was no hope. Then I suddenly remembered that I had a hardware diagnostic disk and decided to try that. It booted okay and told me that one of my memory sticks was defective. I removed that memory, and everything returned to normal. The bad memory was the original memory that came with the computer.

My main batteries were both weak, and unfortunately I stored the computer for several months without a main battery installed. Apparently this drained the PRAM battery completely, and when I tried to start back up nothing happened, totally dead. I suspect that there is little or no drain on the PRAM battery as long as the main battery is good.

I thought that the power adaptor was bad, so I bought a new one. I was wrong, so now I have two good adaptors, but the Pismo was still dead. I removed the PRAM battery and found it to be depleted. By chance I tried to power up without the PRAM battery, and it booted right up. This not being a great way to operate, I ordered a new PRAM battery and a new main battery.

Since then the Pismo is running just fine with OS 9.2.2 and OS X 10.4.11. I installed 10.4.11 from a boot CD with a minimum system in an external FireWire drive. Booted from the external drive and used disk utility to restore the system to the erased internal hard drive. The 9.2.2 folder was simply copied from my desktop computer using target disk mode.

I don't know if this will help anyone or not but thought you might be interested.

S. Kennedy


I found it very interesting. Thank you for the musings. I have not yet ever experienced a dead PRAM battery in any Apple laptop, but these Pismos aren't getting any younger, alas.


Pismo AirPort: No Signal

From Morgan:

In response to Bill's AirPort issue:

Earlier this year, I bought my fiancée a used 400 MHz Pismo. It came with an AirPort card installed, and the notebook would recognize the card, but it never got a signal. Even sitting two feet from the router, there was no signal detected. The antenna was properly attached, and the card was firmly seated, but it never could connect. I didn't have another AirPort-only Mac to test it in (my eMac is AirPort Extreme only), so I junked the card, and she is now using a Sonnet 54g card in the external slot with no issues.

Bill may be on to something with the PRAM battery though; her PRAM is showing signs of dying, and that may be the only issue that card had. Either way, at $19 (from Wegener Media; iFixit has them too for slightly more) the battery is worth replacing even if it doesn't fix the wireless issues.


Hi Morgan,

Thanks for the info and good advice.

Bill's problem turned out to be an improperly seated ribbon cable (see below), but the PRAM battery is definitely something to consider when these old machines start misbehaving.


Pismo AirPort Now Working

From Bill:


Thanks for the info - Dan's suggestion was correct. Some how the ribbon cable under the modem had become partially unseated. Plugged it in firmly, and now the Pismo's AirPort card is working perfectly. Matter of fact, I'm writing this from it. My only problem now is wow OS 9 looks old compared to my OS X machines, maybe that will be the next project for the Pismo, an OS X upgrade. ;)

Thanks to everyone for all the help!


Hi Bill,

Delighted to hear that the mystery has been solved, and I'll add my thanks to Dan and the others who weighed in as well.

I enthusiastically recommend installing OS X on the Pismo. I was quite pleased with how well Tiger worked on the 500 MHz Pismo I bought last year before I upgraded it to 550 MHz G4. OS 9 is faster, though.


Pismos Aren't Quite Bulletproof After All

From John:

Hi, Charles,

I just read your 9/17/08 PB Central article [Pismos Aren't Quite Bulletproof After All] on your Pismo troubles. I'm glad you got it worked out to where you have a replacement computer now.

I noticed that you mentioned that this most recent computer, which you got from Wegener, has the keyboard marks on the display surface. The one I got from Wegener, which I'm typing on now, had the same condition. It was nice but showed some use. I don't know what the build date is on this Pismo.

I think I mentioned to you a month or so ago that I had swapped out the original display with the one from a parts machine I bought on LEMswap. This display is much nicer than the original; not only does it lack the key marks, but it's also brighter than the original was.

Several days have passed now since I reseated the processor and RAM boards inside the Pismo, and so far no more kernel panics have hit. Thanks again for sharing your insight.


Hi John,

Yes, the marks on my latest Pismo acquisition are not really bad. You don't notice them at all with the display lit, and otherwise it's a nice screen - reasonably bright (in the context of Pismos) and with no dead pixels. The display in the Pismo that it replaced, which I also got from Wegeners, is essentially perfect, and I plan to eventually migrate it to my original Pismo (purchased in 2001 and still going strong) whose display has the dreaded "pink screen" affliction.

If the serial number is still on your Pismo, you can find the build date here.


From John,

Thanks for the link, Charles. I wasn't aware of that site. It indicates this to be a September 2000 machine.


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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 and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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