The death of a laptop

A laptop has just ceased to be worth starting up. Many people don’t give this another thought beyond the huge price tag of replacing it. To me, though, a passing machine (especially a good one) deserves some mention, at least an obituary in remembrance of its years of service.

This particular laptop has a long history – a 2005 model who yes, just ceased to be useful yesterday. That’s 8 years of service, almost unheard of really. In that time, it served faithfully three owners despite faking it’s own death several times.

I first met this laptop from its original owner, the sister of a good friend of mine who heard I repair macs and gave me her dead laptops. She and her now husband apparently went through two Apple laptops both with disastrous results. The first of which was a lost cause. A 700Mhz white PowerBook with a loose GPU whose ball-grid array was defective. This one I attempted to fix first as I actually was greeted by the startup sound despite the flaky video operation. Following a YouTube fix beyond it’s conclusion, I managed to melt the motherboard with a butane torch. So it goes.

The second one, (the one that just passed), I did not have high hopes for beyond cannibalizing it’s parts. This was a bit of a shame because it was newer and better spec’d that the white one. A 2005 PowerBook G4 12” with a single-core 1.5GHz processor in a cute aluminum case. It was attractive, small, highly portable, and for it’s time packed a punch in power. One problem – wouldn’t start.

I would hit the power key and would be greeted with a whirr up of the fan, which immediately whirred down again. No startup sound was forthcoming and it remained silent. Scratching my head at this unusual behaviour, I initially feared its motherboard was fried. Despite this rather grim prognosis, I decided to mess with it anyway (just because I can).

I followed the usual routine – start removing bits and trying to see if it works. I removed the battery and wireless card, swapped the power adaptor, and still no dice. Whirr-klunk. Then I removed the memory door and memory and WHOA! It starts! Great I thought, a defective memory module. I can replace that.

Just to be sure, I replace the memory and the memory door and try to start it. Whirr-klunk. OK then, I open the memory door, and just randomly for no reason, I try to start it with the memory in but the door off. To my surprise, it started up. I tried starting it a few times just to be sure. As it happened, the memory door sensor was defective and refused to work when the damn thing was properly screwed in.

Leveraging all the fix-it powers at my command, I deftly used masking tape to secure the memory door and it started up every time after that.

At this time in my life, I was severely under-employed. This had two effects. One: I could not afford to keep technologically current and was relying on a heavily upgraded desktop from the year 2000. Two: I had plenty of time to fix things. The rebirth of this laptop was nothing short of a godsend to me.

Finally, I had a laptop A working laptop! What a concept. Previously, I had only severely outdated chunky novelties that weren’t worth using. This one screamed better than my desktop.

To make a very long saga somewhat shorter, this laptop became my primary machine for many years. In that time, while Apple marched on with progress and updates, it kept it’s 10.4.11 operating system and kept running through any task I set for it. Every time I hit a roadblock or limitation, I found some solution (or at least kludge) to keep it running. I ended up working progressively more and more (thankfully) and demanding more and more of it. It happily ran Adobe CS3, Blender, and even some 3D games much to my surprise. The fan would scream, the case would get burning hot to the touch, but it never failed to do what I asked it to. This went on for some time of faithful, reliable service.

As it happened, a couple of years ago, a chance meeting with a new client, and off-hand mention of the age of the machine I was using, I was notified I could have a brand-spanking new (like a few months old) MacbookPro (my current machine) in exchange for some work.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the little PoweBook G4 but this was like the light of God was shining down on me. Like coming up for air while swimming in molasses. Finally, lady luck and the kind generosity of one lady in particular, landed me a lovely new Mac in my lap.

With almost tears in my eyes, I patted my faithful PowerBook G4 and thanked it for it’s faithful service, now being 180 in human years. Like a lot of my cast-offs, it was sent to my mother to replace her (even older) PowerBook.

I expected the machine to die or otherwise be too frustrating to use and that my mother would replace it soon after. To my surprise, it continued to truck.

By this time, its finish was coming off, half its keys were worn through, there was an ugly blue vertical line on the screen, the battery was long since dead, and it had an annoying habit of once a year faking its death by kernel panics on startup that would persist for a day, then go away as mysteriously as it had arrived.

Finally, yesterday, my mother was ready and resolved to buy a new machine. We went out and got her a shiny new iMac and transferred all her files over.

In this process, I had to remove the PowerBook’s hard drive. Apparently, back in the day it was made, Apple designed this laptop to be as difficult and annoying as possible to open. Probably to discourage creative types with soul-patches from monkeying with it. Patiently following the service manual, I managed to remove 20-odd tiny screws using three different bits to reveal the hard drive.

There I discovered a severe annoyance. The two screws holding in the hard drive rails were stripped. Badly. I know this hard drive was replaced at some point before I received it. Whomever did this – I hate you. I nearly stripped the nice precision Philips 0 bit trying to get it out. In the end, as with many things, the pliers on my Leatherman was used to extricate the hard drive.

At this point I resigned that I would never re-assemble this laptop. Not only did I wreck the hard drive rail, but really I had no patience to replace all those damn screws. Not that I could remember where they all went anyway. So, its death can be attributed merely to my laziness. I know I could re-assemble it and it would work.

Therefore, my lovely PowerBook G4, I would like to thank you for your 8 years of faithful service. You outperformed every time, you kept on ticking even when playing dead, you enabled me to work when I was broke, you have been a dear friend. You will be missed.

Ashes to ashes, motherboard to e-waste.

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