Charles Moore's Mailbag

Used 'Book Value, Overheating 12" PowerBook, Target Disk Mode Weirdness, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.02.04 -Tip Jar

Used PowerBooks and the Ever-Shifting 'LowEnd'

From Barrett:

Dear Charles,

To say the least, I've loved your writings (on LEM and elsewhere)and enjoyed your chronicling of the evolving state of Mac hardware inyour domain over the years, which seemed to resemble my own techchanges, albeit a few generations ahead of wherever I happened to be ata given moment.

Where I happened to be, notebook-wise, up until the night beforelast, was with a tricked-out PowerBook G3 "Pismo". I've mentioned thisparticular Pismo before: One of my clients (I'm a freelance Mac &PC tech in New York City) brought the Pismo to me for repair a fewyears ago. While I was in the process of breaking the machine down fordiagnosis (the problem turned out to be relatively simple), the clientran out and bought a very-late-model PowerBook G4 aluminum model(probably the 1.67 GHz hi-res screen version, since the very firstMacBook Pros had just been announced), and I wound up with the Pismo asa partial payment. This worked out nicely, as I was getting tired ofnursing along an inherited and much-abused PowerBook G3 WallStreet. Abouta week of work and upgrades later, I had a (relatively, for its age)screaming Pismo, with a gig of RAM, fast 40 GB hard drive, AirPortcard, and a lean install of Mac OS X "Panther". It was hard to believea laptop that came into being in 2000 could still more-or-less hangwith modern machines in terms of WiFi and general-purpose usefulness.(Heck, I even did some basic Photoshop work on it.)

But, of course, the time ultimately comes when one seriously has toreckon with the Necessary Upgrade. I use my PowerBook as a heavy-dutytool in my work, from on-the-fly online research to bump-starting aclient's dead-in-the-water Mac hard drive via Target Disk Mode, tohastily copying vital data from another computer's dying-by-the-minutehard disk. The Pismo could do some astounding heavy lifting, and Iloved its "mechanic-friendly" modular design (the best Apple ever madein that regard, IMO, and I take it I'm hardly alone in this thinking),but its architecture was starting to show its age. The last straw camethree weeks ago when the video suddenly, and totally, died, and asimple fix was out of the question. This also happened at a moment whenmy reserve funds were, to put it gently, pretty meager.

A fellow tech in Harlem came to the rescue with an "empty" (no harddrive, RAM, battery, or optical drive, but otherwise functional), whichhe offered to me quite cheap. About 20 minutes of work on his bench hadme up and at 'em again, but I also decided that it was time to move on.The thing was now nine years old. Yes, most PC laptops that age were ontheir second mortgage in the landfill they were occupying, but I wasstretching things to the breaking point in terms of my needs.

I have to say that, even on a good day with the Pismo, I've secretlypined for a late-model G4 AlBook . . . the 15" model inparticular (the 17" model had a bit too large a form-factor for me,while the 12" model, IMO, is little more than a glorified iBook G4: noCardBus slot, no backlit keyboard [well, I never saw a 12'" AlBook withone; correct me if I'm mistaken], somewhat limited RAM capacity, aprocessor-speed ceiling of 1.5 GHz . . . and somewhatoverpriced on the used market, as a casual glance at Craigslist (CL) would bear out).

Yes, my ideal was a 1.67 GHz high(er)-resolution model like the oneI recently fixed for another client recently. But, yet again, people onCL were asking silly money for fairly beaten-up, early productionmodels. But two nights ago, while casually cruising CL, I spied an adfor a 15" 1.67 GHz model for a price that seemed almost too good to betrue. (Let's just say it was south of $500.) To top it off, the ownerclaimed the unit was in excellent condition, with the exception of onescratch on the lid. I took a chance and emailed in reply, even thoughthe ad was a couple of days old.

Glad I did. The owner said it was still available, even though shehad received quite a few inquiries, but no serious buyers, and asked ifI was truly serious about buying. I said that I was, if that machinewas all she described it as. After a few phone calls, I headed over tocheck the 'Book out.

It was immaculate. The scratch on the lid was almost not worthmentioning (most AlBooks I see look like they were used as Olympiccurling stones). Other than that, you could have told me it was anew-old-stock model just taken out of the box, and I'd have believedyou. The screen was perfect, no dead pixels, and none of those nastywhite blotches early production AlBooks suffered from. It wasn't thehi-res model, but at this price, and in this condition, I didn't care.It had had a logic-board replacement a few years back, but had no otherproblems besides this (the fact that the owner was up front about thatmade me feel even more comfortable), and it had a full gig of RAM toget me going without instantly running out to get more (although I willmax it out to 2 gigs before long).

In short, it was that rarest of laptops, a cream puff, at acrazy-cheap price. Naturally, I bought it on the spot.

What I sea-change! With the Pismo, I'd been going back-and-forthabout moving it up to Tiger from Panther but knew that I'd likely wantto strip out Dashboard and Spotlight to keep the thing from gettingdragged down in performance, even though the RAM was maxed-out to agig. (The limited video performance was getting a bit on my nerves, andI'm not especially picky about this with laptops . . . that'swhat I have a MDD G4tower for). I also needed to do something about browsers: Firefox 2has been my standard since its release, but support for it had been cutoff late last year, and I couldn't use Firefox 3 without, of course,moving up to Tiger. The G4 came to me originally with Leopard on it,and it seemed to like that cat just fine, but since I decided to stay"one cat back" with the G4 tower, even though that machine can handleLeopard quite easily (look up "ThreeCats Back" on that one's mine), I decided todo the same with my AlBook. Moving everything from my Pismo to theAlBook was, of course, silly-simple (although, for some reason,Microsoft Messenger doesn't want to work anymore, even after upgradingto the current version . . . of course, this is Microsoftwe're talking about here...). Yes, I'll admit it now: The 'net is a lotmore fun when your machine can handle practically anything it throws atit. The backlit keyboard and ALS means kissing my gooseneck USBnight-light good-bye. And, yes, I can now sync my Palm TX viaBluetooth . . . no more cables! (You only have to do thisonce to get the point.) But, most important, this AlBook will be a muchmore capable tool for my work.

The main point of this long ramble - I think - is that upgradingdoesn't have to be a scary-expensive ordeal if you're careful. For me,the advantage of buying gear via Craigslist, as opposed to, say,a Certain Auction Site, is that you deal with people face-to-face,and, most of the time, get to handle the merchandise before laying yourmoney down. I believe the "honesty quotient" goes up quite a bit whenyou're dealing eye-to-eye with someone, but that's no substitute forasking important questions about the item, such as whether the item hashad only one owner. (In my case, the person I bought the AlBook fromwas the original owner.) I'm hardly a person of great means, and,especially at this moment in time, few of us can afford to beprofligate with what cash we have on hand. But, sometimes, by payingattention to what's important, we get what we need.

And, as a tiny gesture in the name of "paying it forward", I'mputting my still-useful Pismo on CL for a rather low price; not exactlygiving the thing away, but pricing it within the range of someone whocould use such a reasonably equipped machine, but has even less scratchthan I do.

Thanks again for the great writing, Charles, and best wishes in theyear ahead.


Hi Barrett,

Thanks for the interesting account of your adventurein hardware upgrading and the kind words about my scribbling over theyears. Congratulations on the great deal you found. Sounds like a creampuff. If you get anything like the great service I've had from my 1.33GHz 17" AlBook, you'll be very happy with it.

I'm still using my Pismos for light to medium-dutywork, including scanning and working with photos in Photoshop Elements(4 - I think 6 would be a bit too demanding for the old Pismo 9 MBgraphics to handle), as well as one of them serving as my default roadmachine with a Buffalo WiFi card in the CardBus slot (the Mac OS thinksit's AirPort).

I'm running Tiger on the Pismos but have been usingLeopard since October '07 on the AlBook. Tiger is a happier camper onPowerPC hardware I find, but I'm addicted to Spaces and willing to putup with Leopard's manifold angularities in order to have it.

My own computing arc is going to change with thearrival of the refurbished 2.0 GHz Unibody MacBook I've ordered(Thursday if the FedEx tracking site is accurate). I love the G4s, butit's time.

You are correct that there was never a 12" PowerBookwith an illuminated keyboard.


Overheating Little Al Continuation

From Jacek A. Rochacki:

Dear Charles

With regard to My Overheating 12"PowerBook story, let me report that the disks were swapped; the 6month old 120 GB serves now as the internal hard drive in my Little Al,and the original 80 GB serves for backups in the external enclosure.Unfortunately the laptop is still getting too hot when performingsimplest operations and creates loud, whirling sounds, which now arecoming from the area of the fan only. At least the elimination of thehard drive as source of these annoying sounds was a reason good enoughfor swap of the disks.

So the next step will be putting new thermopads (according to whatwe see at iFixit and PowerBook Medic) and replacementof the fan; I would prefer to use the brand new fan, but it seems to benot so easy to find proper fan in my "eyesight", so most probably weshall install the secondhand but operational one, which comes fromidentical PowerBook that "went to the void" and serves as "giver" ofspare parts. I hope to be ready with these operations in several days,and then I will take the liberty to let you know. I read in Internetseveral reports telling of loud, overheating Apple Alu laptops, and ifby the occasion of my little misfortune we shall find a way of fixingit, maybe it will be of some use for others, too.

If the new fan will not "cure" the bad symptoms, we shall continue;the next eventual operation will be probably a thorough check ofsensors, but I sincerely hope, that the fan itself is a "wrongdoer"; weshall see.

As always

Hi Jacek,

The fan certainly seems at this point to be the mostlikely culprit - one reason why I try to keep mine from cutting in veryoften, the other being that I hate the noise it makes, but the soundhas been pretty much consistently the same since the unit was new (tome).

I'm a bit apprehensive as to what fan activity will belike with my refurbished Unibody MacBook.

Keep us posted on further developments.


Some Hard Drives Incompatible with Target DiskMode

From K. in response to PismoWon't Enter Target Disk Mode:


What's interesting is what's not mentioned here.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that this Pismo has also had itshard drive upgraded, as John states he sprung for a G4 processorupgrade.

That said - some hard drives will not allow a computer to gointo Target Disk Mode, because for complicated reasons they cannot berecognized as SCSI devices (FireWire Target Disk Mode - yes, FireWire -is an offshoot of SCSI Target Disk Mode).

More to be found here on that subject:

FWIW - I've found that Seagate Drives will uniformly go intoTarget Disk Mode on Pismos - anything else is up for grabs.

Hope this helps someone!


Hi K,

Thanks for the excellent information and the link tothe Apple Developer Note.

Both of my Pismos boot happily into FWTDM. One doeshave a Seagate hard drive and the other a Toshiba.


Pismo Target Disk Mode Weirdness

From John Black:

Hello again, Charles.

Thanks for the reply. There must be some incompatibility between myPismo and the new BigAl that I recently acquired. TDM works in reversethat way, i.e., the 17" hard drive shows up on the Pismo when the 17"is put into TDM, but the Pismo dies when I try it the other way.Firmware has been at 4.1.8 for a long time.

Interestingly, I just tried TDM with the Pismo attached to ourG4 Digital Audio(DA), and when I pressed the "T" key on the Pismo keyboard, it wentimmediately to TDM with the bouncing symbol on the screen. The Pismohard drive shows up in the finder on the DA as it should.

Did you try your setup with the BigAl? I'm wondering now if the 17"is blocking the FireWire signal from the puny little Pismo, whereas theDA, being only one year newer than the Pismo, has similar circuitry andreads it with no problem. I can't see any reason that should be, butI'm at a loss as to how to explain it otherwise.


Hi John,

I have used the Pismos in Target Disk Mode with theBigAl, although not recently, and don't recall having any problems. I'mstill inclined to think it's probably a software issue you'reexperiencing, but what do I know?


Thanks to you and K., Charles. My last email, however, confirmedthat the Pismo will go into TDM when connected to our DA G4, but itwon't do so when connected to the 17" Aluminum PowerBook. I did in factreplace the hard drive, but with a Seagate Momentus 5400 RPM drive.


Unibody All the Way

From John:

Hey Charles,

Just read your recent article, Plastic or Aluminum: What'sthe Better MacBook Now?

Unibody isdefinitely the way to go. I picked up the 13" Unibody, and it's my mainmachine right now. Nice, fast, portable, quiet . . . I can'tsay enough about it.

- john

Hi John,

I've come to the same conclusion. I ordered an AppleCertified Refurbished 13" Unibody MacBook 2.0 GHz on Thursday. Waitingfor it to arrive.


Leopard Broke Wireless Printing for HP PSC1350

From Eugene:

Hello Charles,

I've just read that you've made the plunge and ordered a UnibodyMacBook. I just bought a leftover early 2008 2.4 GHz MacBook(white) at a very good price from MacConnection(for $899 after rebate).

I migrated from a 12" PowerBookrunning 10.4.11, and the upgrade in speed and features is reallystriking even though I'm not a power user. Even my copy of MicrosoftOffice X runs faster on Rosetta than it does natively in Tiger on theold PowerBook. I love the new MacBook and feel I got a really greatdeal.

However, I'm writing because the move to Leopard broke my ability towirelessly print on my HP PSC 1350 (an all-in-one printer) through myAirPort Express. With my old PowerBook running Tiger, wireless printingwas a breeze with the AirPort Express. Now, after three separate callsto AppleCare and one to HP, it was determined that there isn't a driverthat supports my printer's ability to print wirelessly. I've searchedmany forums, tried some workarounds (such as using GIMP drivers), andstill no joy.

I'm pretty steamed that I've spent money to buy the next generationproduct, Leopard, and now have lost an important feature that worked inTiger. While my printer is five years old, I think it's prettyoutrageous that a new operating system could render it useless.

At this point, I'm considering buying a new printer (unless if youor anyone else has any suggestions). I'm still happy with the upgradeto the MacBook.

Best regards,

Hi Eugene,

I agree that you got an excellent deal on the MacBook,which should help mitigate the expense of having to buy a newprinter.

For me, aside from losing Classic Mode support (not astraumatic as I had expected, although I still use Classic Mode on myPismos running Tiger)the biggest aggravation has been that Leopard half-broke email over mydialup connection. Some SMTP servers, including my ISP's, simplyrefuse to respond with Leopard, although they continue to work finewith my Tiger machines over the same network connection and using thesame software (Eudora 6.2.4) and configurations. What does still work(mainly Gmail and Lavabit) does so with speed barely exceedingcontinental drift, while again, throughput is fine with Tiger. It'smaddening.

According to PrimateLabs, your 2.4 GHz MacBook has a Geekbench performance score of3088, while the 12" PowerBook (you didn't say which model you had)Geekbenches at from 427 to 721, so you performance boost is objectivelysubstantial.

I'll be going from 693 with the 1.33 GHz 17" PowerBook to2691 with the 2.0 GHz Unibody MacBook - not quite as dramatic, butstill a big improvement.


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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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