Frustratingly, I lost several hours this weekend on a new computer problem, when of course I’d planned to work on several things before turning my attention back to teaching and other matters of the week. I needed to install a new piece of software and strangely my computer’s optical drive could not read the CD-R that it was on. The computer kept reporting a blank disc had meen inserted. I checked on another computer and the disc was fine so the problem had to be with my computer. I tried to get it to recognize an audio CD but that was rejected outright. But what was the problem exactly? Investigation involved taking care to restart, attempt to reset firmware, PRAM, etc., trying to figure out how to run the hardware test (on a late 2008 unibody model macbook pro), etc. The latter involved me discovering that the hardware test software was no longer on the machine (since upgrading to Mountain Lion) and so realizing that I’d have to read it off the discs the computer had come with. But of course, the disc reader is having issues, so… Well I put one in anyway and of course it read it just fine. Then I realized that those are data DVDs, not CD-Rs. So the computer could read the former but not the latter. After some googling I learned that this is not uncommon since a different part of the hardware (apparently) reads one kind vs the other kind. But before all that, I rebooted in recovery mode and then set it overnight to go online to download Mountain Lion all over again and reinstall…
The next morning, I woke up to a restored computer, but with no joy on the disc issue. It was still not reading. So I spent a long time trying to learn where I could get a new optical drive, thinking that I certainly had to replace the one in the computer. That seemed to be the solution that most people had found, from reading on the web. It being a 2008/2009 model, the replacement seemed to be hard to find nearby (and of course the Apple store told me that they could not sell me one unless they were fixing the computer themselves), and so it seemed that I’d have to wait a few days for one to arrive after my ordering it online. I tried to turn my attention to other matters, having lost so much time already.
By the afternoon I could not stay away from the issue any longer. I was curious as to whether or not the job of chnanging it would be as easy as I thought it should be, and perhaps while in there I could discover if it was something I could fix through a thorough cleaning. I tried to blow air into the device through the port using a compressed air cannister, but that did not help (this has helped in the past, I recall – dust seems to be an enemy of these devices). Perhaps I needed to get more direct access.
So I got out my tools and started the tedious process of undoing all the super-tiny screws that Apple insists on using on its computers. (Of course, one or two got stuck and I had to go to Radio Shack and buy a newer screwdriver to get them out.) Eventually I got right down to the heart of the matter and took out the optical drive, a surprisingly flimsy thing. (As in the past, I could the instructions at ifixit about what to expect very helpful, as was my ipad for handily showing me the instructions as I worked.)
After spraying air to blow dust away everywhere I could find in the computer, I took the drive apart and blew around in there a bit too, but it was reasonably clear to start. So then I set about jiggling all the moving parts I could, gently taking them through their intended routes of travel a few times, to dislodge anything that might be blocking them. I polished what I took to be the optical parts as well (laser/receiver, etc) and closed the thing up, but only putting in two screws to hold the thing to the chassis while I put the case back on (no screws) and started the computer back up. It started, and I tested the disc – it worked!
It took me another day to get back to the tedium of putting all the screws back in and sealing it up, but I did so tonight and now it all works rather well. Yes, of course I had one tiny screw left over… I’m not going back in there to find where it goes. It’ll stay with the tiny screwdriver set until the next time I’m called upon to go inside the machine again…