My iBook G4 won't start.
November 30, 2009 1:51 PM   Subscribe

My iBook G4 won't start!

This morning I downloaded the latest update for iTunes, and when I restarted the laptop (which is four or five years old) it wouldn't go past the grey screen with the Apple logo in the background. This happened a couple of times in the past but we were always able to get it to start by rebooting it once or twice. This time repeated reboots aren't doing any good; it just stays at the grey screen with that circular "loading" symbol spinning around and around.

Does anyone have any suggestions before I haul it into the shop, and do I have reason to worry about anything on the hard drive (most of which is backed up, thankfully)?
posted by The Card Cheat to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
 
I'd try booting it up in safe mode. Will this work? I have no idea. But it's saved my skin on a few occasions.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:59 PM on November 30, 2009


Listen for clicking from the hard drive. If it's clicking alot, and at even intervals, it has probably died. It's recoverable, but expensive.

As soon as you power it up try holding down Apple-Option-P-R. Let it restart several times, while still holding down the keys.

If that doesn't work try powering it up and hold down Apple-Option-O-F. You should get a gray screen with small text. Then type "reset-nvram" then hit return, and on the next line type "reset-all" the machine should reboot and have the motherboard cleared.

If those don't work, get a copy of Diskwarrior, barring actual mechanical drive falure, it should fix a damaged hard drive.
posted by chambers at 2:02 PM on November 30, 2009


The hard drive has made noise at times in the past, but not clicking...more of a whirring. It's not making any noise to speak of when I try to restart it right now, though.

My apologies, as I'm fairly computer illiterate; when you say the motherboard would be cleared, what does that mean, exactly? Would I be losing anything on the hard drive in that case?
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2009


No, resetting PRAM (Apple-Option-P-R) and Open Firmware (Apple-Option-O-F) won't erase your hard drive, but they also won't do you any good. Those are first-line fixes that have gained a sort of ritual adherence for people fixing Macs.

We can diagnose your problem, or we can just fix it. It's likely that you've got an issue with either a) your OS install or b) your hard drive's directory structure. You should:

- boot off the OS install CD that came with your Mac, or the most recent Mac OS X disc that you have available, by putting it in the CD drive and holding down C while you start the computer up. When you see the Apple logo, you can let go of the C key.

- check the directory structure by going to the Utilities menu (or the Installer menu, depending on the vintage of your CD) in the install CD, selecting "Disk Utility", and then selecting your hard drive in the left-hand column and clicking "Repair Disk". If red text shows up, and then it says "problems repaired", try rebooting and seeing if it starts. If red text shows up, and it says it couldn't fix the problems, go buy DiskWarrior. If no red text shows up, try:

- proceeding to reinstall your system with the "Archive and Install" option in the installer process, checking the box that says "Preserve Users and Network Settings". This will keep all of your data, and just reinstall the system. After that, you should be good to go.

Of course, it's also possible that your hard drive is dying (indications: clicking noise, grinding noise, DiskWarrior can't fix/reports "speed reduced due to disk malfunction"/other weirdness). Please have your data backed up. If you think your hard drive is dying and you don't have a backup, you should take it to a shop or a knowledgeable friend to back up your data BEFORE you try these things.

Good luck!
posted by aaronbeekay at 2:15 PM on November 30, 2009


With trying to diagnose this kind of problem, the first steps are more of a finding out what it isn't more than trying to guess what it is on the first try.

If the install disks are handy, go for it and see if the Mac even recognizes the drive anymore. If you're seeing an apple logo on startup means that the hardware tests have passed, and it sees a hard drive with an operating system on it. If it's just the rotating "clock marks," and no logo, it's trying to find that drive and operating system.

If that's the case, there are just a few common possibilities.

1) the drive is unable to work mechanically for some reason. Drives in the iBook G4 of that time never had a long lifespan. I've had several die on me. Recovery is usually about $500, but this senario is the worst case.

2) the drive's directory, which tells the computer what files are where, may be damaged or just plain confused. This is far more common, and can easily fixed by Diskwarrior. The Disk Utility that comes with OS X is very basic, and won't be able to fix all possible errors. But this solution only will run you mayby $90.

3) the motherboard is damaged and wont talk to the hard drive. This is the rarest problem, but at least all your data is safe, just inaccessible. The repair shop is the place to take it. But consider just having them remove the drive, and getting a newer mac, if this is the case. Still, this is VERY rare, compared to the other options.
posted by chambers at 2:32 PM on November 30, 2009


When you start up your iBook, place your ear to the left of the trackpad, in that plain plastic area where your left palm usually sits. Hit the power button. Your ear is right above where the hard drive is, so you should be able to hear it spin up and click a little bit, as it looks for the operating system.

If it makes no sound at all, that may mean the drive is not spinning up at all. That means it is off to a drive recovery place for it, and a big bill, if you haven't had regular backups.

Replacing the drives in those are a real pain, so if you want to keep it, send it to a certified mac repair expert.
posted by chambers at 2:40 PM on November 30, 2009


It's almost certainly bad hardware. The question is whether it's the hard drive (replaceable) or another component that's likely not worth repairing. If you boot holding down Command+V, you'll get a Linux-style verbose output which may indicate where exactly the boot process is getting stuck. It may not make any sense to you, but you could transcribe the last few lines here if they look relevant.

If you have an OS install DVD for OS X 10.4 or later, you can boot off of that by holding down the C key at startup. (Though if that fails may have trouble ejecting the DVD; holding the mouse button at startup sometimes work for that.) Then you can run Disk Utility to verify and attempt to repair the disk. Apple has a nice article on this as well as a last-ditch alternative involving single-user mode, if you don't have an install disk handy. And as chambers suggests, if the drive is visible in Disk Utility but has unfixable damage, Diskwarrior may still be able to recover data from it.

Even if using Disk Utility does fix the problem, I'd still be wary about the hard drive, and consider replacing it. But that's the best-case scenario; my money is on a mechanical drive failure (chamber's suggestion about repeated clicks is right on) or some other component biting the dust.
posted by serathen at 2:46 PM on November 30, 2009


> If you're seeing an apple logo on startup means that the hardware tests have passed, and it sees a hard drive with an operating system on it. If it's just the rotating "clock marks," and no logo, it's trying to find that drive and operating system.

You can see the logo plus the clock marks, so when I get home tonight I'll try restarting it with the OS X CD and go from there.

Thanks for the suggestions, everyone!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:50 PM on November 30, 2009


Not to be all "people are WRONG on the Internet", but just so you're aware: in my shop, we call this the "spinning gear of death". Your problem is occurring at a point in the boot process after the kernel has been loaded (from the hard drive), so your Mac does see the drive, and the drive is spinning up. If that were not the case, you would see a folder with a blinking question mark.

Rather than being "almost certainly hardware", in my experience spinning-gear-of-death issues occur (very roughly) 25% of the time because of incomplete hard drive failure, and 75% of the time because of issues with directory structure (HFS+ has a habit of getting ugly) or operating system integrity (often because of a botched, incomplete, or otherwise bad system update). The fact that your issue started immediately after an iTunes update makes me lean very heavily toward the software side.

Should it turn out to be hardware, previous posters are correct about the hard drive being a PITA to replace in the iBook G4. I would question whether it's worth it to pay for the drive and the labor on a machine of that vintage when new MacBooks are $999.
posted by aaronbeekay at 3:12 PM on November 30, 2009


Your problem is occurring at a point in the boot process after the kernel has been loaded (from the hard drive), so your Mac does see the drive, and the drive is spinning up.

Thanks for the correction; I didn't realize that was necessarily the case. I guess it was the intermittency of the problem (earlier cases fixed themselves on reboot) that made me lean towards a hardware failure over disk corruption. In any case, the diagnostics in this thread should let the OP narrow it down.
posted by serathen at 3:37 PM on November 30, 2009


Listen to aaronbeekay. He is 100% correct in both his diagnosis and recommendations. My prodigious gut thinks it's a corrupted disk directory (which DiskWarrior can usually fix). You might be able to get Disk Utility to repair the directory while booted from an OS X installer DVD, as indicated above. Also seconding the idea of spending money to replace a HD in a older machine like this unless you're confident in doing it yourself (and on these models it is not a pleasant experience for inexperienced technicians or average users).
posted by mrbarrett.com at 4:06 PM on November 30, 2009


serathen: Thanks for the correction; I didn't realize that was necessarily the case. I guess it was the intermittency of the problem (earlier cases fixed themselves on reboot) that made me lean towards a hardware failure over disk corruption.

No problem, and sorry if I came off as argumentative or nitpicky. Actually, a lot of the time when you see a "spinning wheel of death" after an OS update, and it goes away on restart, it's standard behavior: a few OS X updates cause some activity on the next startup that causes spinning wheel of death for a long time, then an abrupt reboot. I haven't seen this actually documented anywhere, but it happens consistently after certain updates are installed, and it makes machines seem flaky when they're not. *shrug*
posted by aaronbeekay at 7:10 PM on November 30, 2009


> - boot off the OS install CD that came with your Mac, or the most recent Mac OS X disc that you have available, by putting it in the CD drive and holding down C while you start the computer up. When you see the Apple logo, you can let go of the C key.

- check the directory structure by going to the Utilities menu (or the Installer menu, depending on the vintage of your CD) in the install CD, selecting "Disk Utility", and then selecting your hard drive in the left-hand column and clicking "Repair Disk". If red text shows up, and then it says "problems repaired", try rebooting and seeing if it starts. If red text shows up, and it says it couldn't fix the problems, go buy DiskWarrior. If no red text shows up, try:

- proceeding to reinstall your system with the "Archive and Install" option in the installer process, checking the box that says "Preserve Users and Network Settings". This will keep all of your data, and just reinstall the system. After that, you should be good to go.


The above worked like a charm, thanks! Disc Utility didn't detect any damage, so I just reinstalled the OS (10.4.6). The only problem is that now the HD only has 590 MB of available space left (as opposed to almost 4 GB beforehand), which isn't enough room to re-install iTunes and some other programs. Sorry to double-dip on the questioning, but can anyone tell me why this would be? When I updated to Tiger last year on this laptop it didn't take up this much space when I installed it...
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:46 PM on November 30, 2009


Well, the Archive and Install does pretty much what it says: it archives your previous OS in the /Previous Systems folder, then installs a new copy of the OS. You have very little free space because you essentially have two copies of the system installed.

You should make sure that you have all of your custom fonts, applications, haxies, etc., and that your system is working OK. After that, you can trash the /Previous Systems folder and get your free space back.
posted by aaronbeekay at 9:45 PM on November 30, 2009


Ah yes, there we go. Thanks again! Everything is now backed up and the computer seems to be working fine, although it's making more noise than it used to and is probably not long for this world.
posted by The Card Cheat at 3:57 AM on December 1, 2009


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