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.
Aside 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!
Upon 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.