My computer is having some difficulties.
April 2, 2009 12:16 AM   Subscribe

Is my iBook G4 dying?

The most pressing problem is that, while working on it, without the power cord, the computer will abruptly turn off, with no warning. It can even be when the battery indicator on the top of the screen isn't even that low, maybe a quarter left. Afterwards I can just plug it in and turn it back on with no problems. This is happening more and more regularly.

The next biggest problem is that the front (closest to me) left corner gets super hot sometimes. I'm guessing that this is hard drive. I've backed up my data recently but I should probably again- maybe right after I'm done typing this.

Also, the wires within the power adapter may be starting to fray. It isn't too touchy but to keep the indicator light illuminated I have to keep it still. Also the box thingy that goes to the wall will get really, really hot while it's charging- but not if it's just plugged in. I don't know if it's always done this.

The only other problem is that four keys no longer work on the keyboard thanks to my cat spilling a martini on the computer about 2 years ago. I should have replaced it then because I can do it myself and I've heard that the replacement keyboard would only be about 50$. All of the letters still work (though I imagine that it would be funny if I had to avoid words with certain letters) and only one of the keys that I tend to use has been effected. I called Apple to ask them once but they said they don't sell just the keyboard.

So I'm looking at about 300 in replacement parts (outside of the hot hard drive problem, 'cause I don't know what that's about) and I'm thinking that even if I repair these and the thing lasts 8 months my utility per dollar wouldn't improve that much because I'm spending 20% of the cost to get another ~15% of life from it.

I choose 8 months because it would be awesome if I could get this thing to last until I finish school in Dec.

So it sounds like I should just replace it but I don't think I'd be able to swing that for another 2 or so months and I kind of need it (what I mean by need is that my roommate lets me use his spiffy iMac but having a laptop [and my own computer] improves my productivity).

So I guess my questions are, can this thing last 2-3 months without putting money into it? 8+ months without repairs? 8+ month with the repairs listed above? And how much would a new 100gb HD cost? Has anyone had this battery problem before? I know that none of you can predict the future but I just need some reasonable advice.
posted by Brachiosaurus to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, it sounds to me like you need to replace the keyboard (cheap and easy), the power supply (not quite so cheap but trivial - unfortunately these are a bit fragile, I got through one a year when I had an iBook). Buy an external hard drive enclosure (with firewire is better as it has no cpu overhead and those ibooks are a bit puny) and hard drive, and start backing up everything religiously. This last cost is reusable and insures you against disaster.

I'd say the battery is toast. Don't even think about using it not plugged in. Not worth replacing for the price.

Phone around this list for good prices on the two parts that you need.

I wonder if opening up the machine to look for dust build up and clearing any of that if found would be useful. I opened up an ibook once (to replace the dc in board), and to be honest, seeing as I was paranoid and meticulous it was much easier to open and close this laptop than others I've done.

I reckon that you've got 75% chance of it making you to 8 months if you do the above.
posted by singingfish at 12:46 AM on April 2, 2009


The power cable to my 2005 PowerBook G4 melted over a period of a week or so, too. The box thing had always gotten quite hot; but it started to get way hotter, and eventually the cable that comes out of the box got all rubbery and soft and slightly browned, and the cable had to be held perfectly in place to work... and then it just died. The Apple store employees were pretty casual about it, which I took to mean it's a known issue. Apple sent me a new one, but I waited til the old one totally died before requesting it, which meant I had no power for a few days. I'd go to the Apple store & request a new charger right away, and the replacement may arrive before the old one dies. It came by mail; then I had to send back the dead one.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 1:31 AM on April 2, 2009


The most pressing problem is that, while working on it, without the power cord, the computer will abruptly turn off, with no warning. It can even be when the battery indicator on the top of the screen isn't even that low, maybe a quarter left. Afterwards I can just plug it in and turn it back on with no problems. This is happening more and more regularly.

The battery is several years old at this point, and its chemical ability to store power is long gone. This happens to all laptop batteries, Apple's or otherwise. You will either need to replace the battery or keep the power adapter plugged in.

Given the age of the laptop, I would not recommend this part replacement unless you need portability.

The next biggest problem is that the front (closest to me) left corner gets super hot sometimes. I'm guessing that this is hard drive. I've backed up my data recently but I should probably again- maybe right after I'm done typing this.

Hard drives get hot, this is not unusual. You should do backups anyway, hot or not. You probably want to finish school without losing your documents and work.

Also, the wires within the power adapter may be starting to fray. It isn't too touchy but to keep the indicator light illuminated I have to keep it still. Also the box thingy that goes to the wall will get really, really hot while it's charging- but not if it's just plugged in. I don't know if it's always done this.

The wires are probably fine. The power adapter connector that plugs into your iBook is a metal plug that keeps stretching very slightly every time it is plugged in, and after several years, it is now loose. When it gets loose, or when the power socket gets loose, the power connection is lost and the indicator light will go out.

It is possible to tighten the connector with pliers, but I don't recommend this unless you know what you're doing, or you might make the problem worse.

New laptops carry a magnetic connector so that this mechanical connection should no longer be an issue, but this may be something you need to tough out until replacement.

The only other problem is that four keys no longer work on the keyboard thanks to my cat spilling a martini on the computer about 2 years ago. I should have replaced it then because I can do it myself and I've heard that the replacement keyboard would only be about 50$. All of the letters still work (though I imagine that it would be funny if I had to avoid words with certain letters) and only one of the keys that I tend to use has been effected. I called Apple to ask them once but they said they don't sell just the keyboard.

You might contact a third-party Apple repair shop to see if they can order the part on your behalf. Alternatively, use a $20 USB keyboard.

So I guess my questions are, can this thing last 2-3 months without putting money into it?

Definitely, assuming no other part failure.

8+ months without repairs?

Definitely, assuming no other part failure.

8+ month with the repairs listed above?

Definitely, assuming no other part failure. The longer you go, of course, the more likely there will be a part failure.

And how much would a new 100gb HD cost?

Unless your hard drive has failed, or is showing SMART errors or otherwise gives indication of failure, I would not replace it. But you're talking about $60-80 for the part, here, at most. You might pay another $50-100 for a repair shop to open your laptop and swap out the drive, as iBooks are tough for end users to open up to replace everything, but memory and wireless card.

Has anyone had this battery problem before?

Every laptop's chemical battery has a finite number of charges in it and will need replacement after 2-3 years, on average. That's just the nature of their design and the number of charge cycles that occur over the lifetime of the battery. Because of this, laptop manufacturers will offer multiple-year warranties on their laptops, but only a one-year replacement warranty on the battery. It's just the nature of the beast.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:43 AM on April 2, 2009


The most pressing problem is that, while working on it, without the power cord, the computer will abruptly turn off, with no warning.

That's probably the battery itself, but *could* be a mechanical issue. The early iBook G4 and PowerBookG4 had enough frame flex that if you twisted the case just so, the battery would lose electrical contacts.

The heat in the corner is probably the CPU, not the hard drive, the reason for you noticing it now is the fan has probably weakend or failed.

If you are mechanically ept, you might be able to fix most of these problems by simply disassembling and reassembling the notebook -- just tightening down all the screws and cleaning out the dust could make a difference *BUT* you need the right tools -- precision screwdrivers of various sorts, a large flat surface, good lights, a bit of mechanical aptitude, and a manual.

I can't give you the first three, but here's how to do it.

If you want to limp through, you're going need a new external power supply -- fraying is one step short of shorting. Otherwise, I'd get a cooling stand, the power supply, and an external keyboard, and use it as a desktop. The former and latter will be useful on later notebooks, the middle one, alas, is tied to the iBook, and won't help you in the future.

You should also get an external drive and back things up. Actually, you should have already done this.
posted by eriko at 4:09 AM on April 2, 2009


My beloved 12" G4 had the exact same symptoms last fall so I took it to the local Apple store for an opinion. The Geniuses there said my mother board was terminally ill and that I should make sure everything was backed-up because any session could be my last. I'm typing this on my new 13" MacBook. They all die someday. Start the back-up.
posted by birdwatcher at 5:02 AM on April 2, 2009


All you really need is a new/fixed keyboard- everything else may not be critical. Your hunch is the right one - I don't think putting more cash into it is worth it - for that kind of money you can just get a new netbook. Don't take the Ibook apart unless you have too - for example, Ifixit (for 14" older unit) has listed 72 steps to get the hard drive out and back together - and you have to take both the bottom and top plastic, a thin metal liner before you can even see the HD. Listen to the HD - warm is fine, clicking and scratching = death.

Spilling a liquid on the machine is killer but if it hasn't died in two years I can't think why it would suddenly now break. Keep on backing up - your machine in laptop years is a grandfather and may fail because its just old - and it may not a component you expect.

The battery is shot - most laptop batteries last about a thousand charges, so three years is about it for most of em. Don't expect to use the battery, and I don't think it's worth replacing. Try running it completely out juice and charging it completely up a few times - for some people this is part of their computer religion. (i am a believer. limited science zone.)

The power supply is fussy & hot. Don't replace it until it actually breaks. You may not get to move the laptop around as much as you want. I've got a couple of years on one that I always have to double check that its plugged in but it still works.

The keyboard may be fixable - the Ifixit folks will have a guide. Here is my quick guide just to show its pretty straight forward and here's Ifixit (for 14'). Turn the machine totally off. No battery. Essentially its two tabs at the top of the keyboard, below that a couple or so of screws holding the airport jobby in, pull the airport out and then a ribbon connector to the logic board. Pull it out (giant pic) and use some packing tape to seal the adaptor (doesn't have to be perfect). Then really clean the keyboard out. With an old tooth brush. Dish soap works pretty good. Keys may pop off so work over a space that will catch the little plastic bits. Put them aside. For the busted keys I suggest popping them off by prying them up from the bottom. Clean the little membrane thingy under the key. Clean whatever soap you used off and shake the water out of it. for like a minute. Pull the tape off. DRY IT OUT. A hair dryer works great. Patience - let it dry overnight. 4 hours in the oven @ ~100 f if you are in a rush. Put any popped off keys back on later when you are calm and focused - its a skill that requires the right mindset to get so expect to spend a few minutes - some people have a knack others don't so try your roomate if it gives you a hard time.

Or buy a new USB keyboard. The one I am using right now is the new mac USB one and I love it - and I am fussy about keyboards. 50 bucks and you will get to keep using it long past your machine will give up the ghost.
posted by zenon at 8:58 AM on April 2, 2009


Thanks for the advice. I'll take some of the recommended steps and then update this post. I do have some mechanical aptitude and have taken apart iPods to fix them (mine and others). But I think I'm going to wait until the end of this semester to take my computer apart just in case I do something terrible and can't get the thing back together. That way it won't be that essential to have a new one now. It seems that most comments above agree that I can get 2-3 months at least.

I do already have an external hard drive on which my data is backed up.

And a USB keyboard won't work for me because using the computer while sitting on the sofa is a big part of my homework/ internet using routine. But I have used my roommates keyboard before when I was doing some work with LaTeX because the backslash is one of the keys that doesn't work.
posted by Brachiosaurus at 1:15 PM on April 2, 2009


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