Dead iMac - How screwed am I?
November 24, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

My apartment flooded while I was away on vacation now my '07 iMac won't power up. So this is going to be a two-parter with specific questions about my computer and a general question about the nature of battery backups.

I came home from an awesome week of vacation only to discover that we had torrential rains while I was gone and my apartment flooded (again) and sat wet for 4-5 days. Before I got home my landlord discovered what happened and did a pretty great job cleaning it up for me. He even paid to have professional cleaners come in and mop the floors and shampoo the rugs. Besides the stink of mildew and damp that will just take some time to dissipate the only main damage appears to be my computer and TV and the battery backups they were plugged into. The TV is an older model and while I'm sad to see it go I can accept that, but the computer is pretty heartbreaking.

The computer was sitting on top of a desk and did not get wet. It was plugged into a combination surge protector/battery backup that was plugged into the wall. The computer and battery backup were both switched off. The battery backup was full of muddy water.

Now my dear, sweet, beloved iMac will not power up, I press the power button and nothing at all happens. I have checked all the connections and I know it is plugged into a live outlet. Any suggestions of what it might be? I know that during heavy rains I get some pretty wicked power surges which is why I purchased the top-of-the-line battery backups in the first place. How would I even begin diagnosing the problem? Would I be a complete idiot to consider cracking this thing open and monkeying around in there myself? If the computer is now a doorstop what are the chances of recovering my data? (I don't have a backup of either my photos or my iTunes library [please don't lecture me I am already kicking myself hard enough!])

To add a degree of difficulty taking the computer to an Apple store is not an option. We do have at least one local computer repair place that claims to work on Macs but they do not have a great reputation. If this is not something I can deal with on my own I will either have to ship it to Apple (all on my dime - the warranty is long since expired) or trust that the local guy's bad reputation is unfounded.

The general question regarding battery backups is this - did I nullify the surge protection/current regulating abilities of my battery backup by switching it off? I was hoping to save some electricity while I was gone but in hindsight I am wondering if I made things worse by turning the power off.
posted by Bango Skank to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
It is most likely a fried logic board or motherboard, which can happen with power surges. It is most likely that your hard drive is fine. I would try removing the hard drive and putting it in another Mac to see if it's readable/mountable at all -- or alternatively, put the hard drive in an external case and try mounting it that way from another Mac.

Unfortunately, you will need to find someone who knows how to recover Macs and check to see what parts re causing the boot problem.

Re: battery backups. If they were sitting in a puddle of water and an electric current was passed through the water, then it's likely the surge-protection was nullified. Surge protection is to protect against surges on a live wire while your computer and TV are running.

If your hard drive is also fried, then you are pretty out-of-luck as data recovery from a professional data recovery company is quite expensive and they can't guarantee complete data recovery.

If you have renter's insurance check to see if they cover the loss of equipment due to flooding.

On a bright note, refurbished Macs are pretty affordable. Check out the deals at I've seen late-model iMacs there for as little as $900.
posted by camworld at 7:46 AM on November 24, 2009

Also check to see that it's not just the outlet your iMac is plugged into. It's possible the flooding shorted out that outlet and your landlord did not check.
posted by camworld at 7:48 AM on November 24, 2009

I don't think it's intended for this, but it couldn't hurt to reset the iMac's SMC.
posted by mhz at 8:02 AM on November 24, 2009

camworld: Unfortunately I don't have renter's insurance. The outlet its plugged into is fine, I have double checked that. Do you know if the logic board and/or motherboard are replaceable in this computer? If so do you know how much something like that would cost? (ballpark so I don't get ripped off) Is replacing those components something a competent amateur might attempt or something best left to a professional?

mhz: Thanks for the suggestion I will try that when I get home.
posted by Bango Skank at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2009

Is it possible that only the iMac's power supply is fried and that the machine itself is fine? I think I would attempt getting a new power supply and trying that (in a different outlet) before opening the iMac up.

Since you were powered off, I would think that if nothing else your hard drive is probably OK.
posted by dayintoday at 8:21 AM on November 24, 2009

Also, re: replacing the motherboard, that can definitely be done in iMacs, but you'd want it done by a pro I think. Personally, as a competent amateur, I'm only comfortable replacing RAM in an iMac and nothing else.
posted by dayintoday at 8:23 AM on November 24, 2009

Is the power cable removable? It could be that there is just something wrong with the plug or the cable (which I assume got soaked). If the computer didn't get wet and wasn't turned on it seems unlikely that anything got fried.

I've had trouble turning my PC back on after a power surge. When that happens turning the on/off switch on psu off then back on again usually fixes it. Sometimes I have to pull the power cable out and put it back in again.
posted by missmagenta at 8:49 AM on November 24, 2009

It is quite possible that the AC-to-DC power supply got fried when the flood shorted the positive and negative of its AC electrical feed. That should not be ridiculously expensive to fix by buying the part yourself and installing it. If that does not work you're probably looking at a new motherboard (and possibly new RAM), and new power supply, which might exceed the actual value of a two year old iMac.
posted by thewalrus at 8:50 AM on November 24, 2009

It's probably not worth the money to replace your logic board or motherboard. The cost of the part plus labor is roughly equal to buying a newer iMac.

Regardless, you need to have it looked at by someone who knows how to take it apart and determine what part is dead. If your hardware is all fine, then it could be as simple a fix as resetting your power management (SMC).

I really think that because your iMac was powered off, your hard drive and the data on it is most likely fine. The first thing you should do is remove the hard drive, put it in an external case and mount it from a different Mac -- then backup your data.
posted by camworld at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2009

Right, you are taking in too many steps at once. Is the battery charged? Can you borrow a good battery from a friend and put it in the mac? Does it run?
Is the power adapter fried? Plug it into the wall. Get a (cheap, $10) multimeter and see if there is some sort of DC voltage coming from the brick (DC somewhere between 12 - 24 V or so).
posted by defcom1 at 6:36 PM on November 24, 2009

defcom1: Thanks for the suggestions but I am dealing with a desktop so I don't think most of it is applicable.
posted by Bango Skank at 11:50 AM on November 25, 2009

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