Memorising Mingus

Mingus Lives!

Just now I noticed to my horror that it was on the 1st of September of last year that I intended to get around to repairing Mingus, my G4 powerbook , at the time the main workhorse of my away-from-campus computer arsenal. There was an unexpected failure which I could not figure out the source of, and I managed to get it partly alive -alive enough to drag about 12 GB of data from the hard drive via booting it as a target disc of an iMac, Ella. Well, I never sent it off as I was (1) thrown by the fact that I had no warranty or repair contract coverage on it, and so any repair would have to be paid for, and (2) in the middle of the semester – a really busy one – and so I did not really have that much time to devote to the issue.

Well, it all got put on a back burner because I decided to use my teaching laptop (a little iBook) as my main laptop -just for a week or two, I told myself. Eventually, last week (ten months later – I’d evidently got comfortable ) I thought I ought to do something about seeing what can be done for Mingus. I was pretty sure it was probably a hard drive issue, and so I went to a repair service on campus who told me (while they were closing down, for good) that it would be expensive to repair out of warranty. So I decided I would just do it myself. After all, how hard could it be, and it would make an excellent project (and a fun thing about which to blog the details). My plan was to first buy a new external drive (a good thing to have anyway) and check that I could boot and run from that ok (Mingus was now at the stage where it never gets past the grey screen with the spinning thing), and then buy a new hard drive, open everything up, and replace it… Yay!

Strangely though I found that after a bit of fiddling, I was able to get Mingus running more or less fine again (following a complete wipe of the hard drive and a reinstall -after an afternoon of trying to find the install discs only to remember that I’d taken them home.) So the hard drive did not seem to blame, but one could not be sure. The main thing nagging now was the knowledge the I did not know why Mingus died in the first place, and so couldn’t be sure to trust the machine on a long trip somewhere this Summer. I did remember wondering if there were heat issues last year when it was mysteriously slowing down and behaving poorly just before dying. I wondered how I could test if the fan was working, and eventually discovered that you could start the computer in a mode where it runs a hardware test and reports. Sure enough, the fan came on during the test, but I got a strange message about something else. Aha! The lower memory module seating area had failed. Then I realised that the 512 MB I saw on the “About this Mac” page was only half the 1GB that I thought I remembered buying for it. Was I remembering rightly, or not?

Well, I just turned over the computer and opened it up (see below for how), and saw that indeed there were two such 512 MB modules… and I swopped them and restarted to confirm (since it was happy to start again for a total of 512 MB) that indeed, it was not the memory module but the (lower) slot it pops into. The upper slot was fine. Searching for chatter on this on Google I found a whole subculture of people with the same problem. Seems that it is a known failure of some G4 Powerbooks, and a lot of people were not happy since Apple acknowleged the existence of the shortcoming but only offered to repair machines within a very narrow range of serial numbers. Mine was not in the range, of course. There’s even a petition one can sign. (I did not.)

I realized what obviously needed to be done. Rather than go argue over who should fix what, I can at least restore Mingus to original capability: Simply buy a 1GB memory module for the upper memory slot. This is the largest that can go in there, so this is the largest memory capacity I’d ever have on this machine unless I paid out for the lower slot repair (unlikely).

Today I began the recovery of Mingus. Replacing memory in these laptops is a trivial task, not at all intrepid. In the photo you see all equipment needed.

Mingus (powerbook G4) repair

Mingus (powerbook G4) repairMingus (powerbook G4) repairAside from the computer and the new memory module, you need only a coin and a small Phillips screwdriver. The coin is for taking out the battery. I did so, and then touched some metal bits in there to discharge before touching more delicate parts like the circuitry. I undid the four screws, popped out the 512 MB memory from the upper slot, and popped in the 1GB. Do up the screws and pop back in the battery. All of about 5 minutes!

Mingus (powerbook G4) repair

Mingus (powerbook G4) repairMingus (powerbook G4) repairUpon rebooting, Mingus had 1 GB of memory! Hurrah! (I apologize a bit for the terrible pun in the title of the post, now that you see what it is about.) Finally, I’d decided to take the opportunity (having a nice clean computer) to upgrade from OS X 10.3 (panther) to 10.4 (tiger), and so I got that going. After another couple of hours… success!

The restoration of Mingus’ mind will take longer. I’ve been copying across the 12 GB of files tucked away last year (why?! obviously I did not need much of it in the last 10 months… what’s in there?). Tomorrow I must reinstall all the lovely Unix tools I love to have (xfig, emacs, etc) using Fink, and also Maple, Palm Desktop, various Mozilla applications, and other useful tools. I hope to have Mingus fully awake and recovered by the middle of tomorrow! Remarkable how easy this all was to fix, in the end.


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5 Responses to Memorising Mingus

  1. pedant says:

    And there I was, hoping for a bit of jazz. As an ex(ish)- pat Brit you might have noticed the passing of George Melly. While he was neither Bessie Smith nor Mingus, he was, probably, on the side of the angels, and did a lot to inject a ‘revolt into style’ into the cracks in the Establishment that started to appear in the sixties. What must he have made of Tony Blair?

  2. Clifford says:

    Actually, I did not know that. Thanks for letting me know. Sad to hear he’s gone. What he thought of Tony Blair is probably unprintable here.


  3. joe says:

    I also have a Powerbook G4 1.5G (bought on 2/05), which has experienced A) lower memory slot failure B) failed disk drive. I experienced A) way back in late 2005, & like you was content with using 1G ram module (I used 2). Last Nov, my HD failed while I was on travel..very inconvenient! Would not boot up period (just “click click click” on bootup). Looks like I lost everything, the Mac technician wasn’t able to recover it. I was under warranty (I bought an extended 1yr warranty from Good guys), so the repair was taken care of.

    On the lower-memory slot failure. The issue is HEAT..”heat is the enemy”. Apple got too cute with the “cool thin form factor”, & it simply can’t dissipate heat adequately. Many complaints by users “My PB is so hot, I can’t use it on my lap!”. An engineering mistake..yes, this is a DEFECTIVE product! (that petition for class action lawsuit is well founded) The motherboard heats up, & causes the lower memory-slot failure. I think the HD failure is also related (due to heat, I heard 2 yrs is about what everyone is getting for HD MTBF).

    The story from people who had Apple fix their PBs (replacement of motherboard), was that the problem re-appeared shortly thereafter! (overheating). So, I had no interest in following this solution “fool me one, shame on Apple. fool me twice, shame on Me”. Someone on the Apple Discussion thread mentioned Wegener Media, who did repairs for the lower-memory slot issue. Only $249, way less than the $800 for MB replacement by Apple. I sent it to Wegener earlier this year, & it was fixed (though they were tardy in keeping their target deadline)..I now have full 2G’s memory.

    [ come on, how did you “live” with 512M of memory!!? ]

    They replace a chip on the MB, & apprently understand the issue better than Apple!!. the owner told me his PB had the same problem. Unfortunately, my Good Guys warranty didn’t pay for the repair (even thought it was within 2 yrs of purchase), that’s another bad story in itself.

    Your case sounds nearly identical to mine. Same PB (1.5G), same symptons (lower-memory slot failure & HD failure, timing is eerily similar). I heard if you complain hard enough, that Apple will repair your PB out of warranty. Maybe, you could get the to pickup the tab for the Wegener repair. Apple is a real pain to deal with on these issues, downright user-unfriendly. They claim to have superior products (beautiful industrial design, great useability/performance), but are arrogant as heck. Remember the infamous battery issue with iPods (you mentioned you were bitten by this)? Lesson: buy extended warranties (especially for Apple products)

  4. joe says:

    I just re-read your post, & realized you didn’t replace your just erased it & re-installed the OS. Replace the HD immediately! (you should be able to do it yourself, there are probably tutorials on the Web with pics/instructions..Google search it) The lower memory-slot failure is NOT the reason for boot-up probles (as you implied), it’s the HD. My HD died “suddenly” gray area like in your case.

  5. Clifford says:

    Thanks Joe,

    I think I agree with you on the heat issue being the source of everything. I don’t know about the HD issue though. I’ve heard differing opinions…Lots of people seem to have had the memory failure, which generated a corruption which was then resolved by reinstalling. HD was fine. I’ll see how it runs for a while, and maybe get a spare HD waiting in reserve. Yes, it does seem reasonably straightforward. And no, I never used it with just the 512 MB for any amount of time!