Is it a computer or a doorstop?
April 10, 2010 9:31 PM   Subscribe

Please help me decide whether this laptop should be repaired or tossed.

Hello, People Who Know More About Computers Than I.

I recently got a hand-me-down PowerMac G4. Now it has died. Should I fix it, or is that not worth it? Here are some particulars:

-- I mainly used it as a typewriter. That is, for working with documents in Word and Final Draft. Though it had wireless capabilities, I don't have wireless in my house. I found it handy to have an offline computer, so that when I sat down to work I wasn't tempted by that old devil, the Internets. So I would actually, you know, work.

-- I know it had an older operating system. 10-something, but the few times I used it online I noted that, for instance, the Safari version was so old that sites wouldn't display properly. I didn't care too much about that.

-- Then it started making a grinding noise in the area left of the finger-mouse pad, in the space in front of the left side of the keyboard. Over the course of one day that noise got worse, and basically now it will turn on but never boot up. That grinding/spinning noise is constant when the computer is on.

-- There is no data on the laptop that I need to save. My docs are all backed up elsewhere.

I know next-to-nothing about computers -- so please help me understand this. (Talk to me like I'm your great grandmother.) That grinding noise -- I'm assuming it's the hard drive. What if I wanted to swap in a new drive? Any thoughts on how much this would cost? There's an Apple Store near me. Would I go there? I imagine they're more expensive, but perhaps simpler for a less knowledgeable person like me.

As you can perhaps tell from my tone, I'm not too attached to the thing, since I got it for free and it was old to begin with. If I put a new hard drive in, will other parts fail in quick succession? Is this just too old a piece of hardware to count on? I know nothing about the typical lifetimes of computers.

Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by BlahLaLa to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
I think the hard drive is a likely culprit. I can't tell you whether the Apple Store will deal with this and how much it will cost, but I do think it's worth at least looking at the do-it-yourself fix for this, even if you're not that technically inclined. All it takes is the right screwdrivers and a replacement aftermarket drive.

The procedure looks like this with lots of other videos of it available on you tube.

You can buy a replacement ATA drive that is compatible here, for example.

This can be done for under a hundred bucks.
posted by drpynchon at 9:49 PM on April 10, 2010

drpynchon is likely right-- that's where the drive is, and that grinding noise is the bearing inside the drive.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:55 PM on April 10, 2010

Sorry.. This is a video of the procedure. Prior link was wrong.
posted by drpynchon at 9:57 PM on April 10, 2010

Then it started making a grinding noise in the area left of the finger-mouse pad, in the space in front of the left side of the keyboard. Over the course of one day that noise got worse, and basically now it will turn on but never boot up.

Yep, that's the hard drive. I recently replaced a PowerBook G4 hard drive for a neighbour whose machine took a tumble and died. It's wasn't difficult (iBooks are much worse) but it was fiddly and required methodical disassembly and many tiny screws of various lengths. As drpynchon says, to do it yourself mainly involves confidence, a flat surface, and the ability to follow instructions to the letter.

With a new hard drive ($60 or so will get you one that's ample) it's very likely to be fine, nothing else should fail (the HD's the only real mechanical part in the laptop) and you'll have a machine that should be more than capable of running Leopard (10.5) for less intensive stuff. (I had mixed emotions handing back the one I fixed, because the G4 PowerBooks are really well-built machines.)

Paying the Apple Store to do it will add on a chunk for installation, so if you're not comfortable with DIY, look for a local geek who'd do it for fun or beer, or a repair place that might charge less than Apple. It's not too much of a reach to say that people would gladly buy that thing off you for a couple of hundred dollars and do the drive installation themselves.
posted by holgate at 9:57 PM on April 10, 2010

I'd recommend the DIY route only if you have installation media for the OS and have replaced computer components before. Otherwise, take it to Apple, and keep the failed disk if it had anything sensitive on it.
posted by scatter gather at 10:46 PM on April 10, 2010

I just replaced my PowerBook with a Dell Mini 10v Hackintosh. It was a sad day to see my PB go, as it was an excellent machine (so sturdy!!!!).

If you do get another computer, though, be prepared for how FREAKIN' fast it'll be in comparison. Speeds have gone up.

But, with only the hard drive damaged and if you only use it for typing, I'd suggest fixing it on your own. (Plus, you'll learn a lot about computers as you do it.)

Good luck, and hug your PB before it does finally give up the ghost. Oh, how I miss mine!
posted by mixer at 9:27 AM on April 11, 2010

as everyone else has said, your hard drive has failed. (hope you have the restore CDs for it.)

Apple Store may replace the hard drive out of warranty. this is easy but expensive.

a local Apple tech or reputable computer store ought to be able to replace the hard drive as well. this is slightly harder (sometimes they're harder to find) but cheaper than Apple. (if you know someone good with repairing computers, you can ask them too. it's not a terribly difficult procedure.)

you can do it yourself with the takeaparts on iFixIt and buying your own ATA laptop drive. this is cheapest but most difficult.
posted by mrg at 10:00 AM on April 11, 2010

I'd like to emphasize iFixIt and a bit of patience as a good solution. As long as you read through the instructions once or twice and take your time, you'll be fine.

The computer's age is such that anything beyond a hard drive replacement is probably overkill, but the replacement itself is worth it.
posted by truex at 12:08 AM on April 12, 2010

Apple Laptops are the worst for hard drive replacements. Although the level of technical know-how required is generally very low, be prepared for a tedious procedure that will take you quite a long time to complete.

A cheap netbook may be a better option than putting more money into this machine (although that decision is yours to make)
posted by schmod at 8:08 AM on April 12, 2010

Thanks for all the great answers. I appreciate the optimism of several posters, but no, I do not want to do the repair myself. Let's just say that I know my own skills, and dealing with a lot of screws and following technical directions to the letter aren't some of them.

I did take it to the Apple Store today. The guy was very nice, and basically said that out of warrantee repairs have to be sent off, and are expensive. He suggested a few apple-authorized repair shops in my neighborhood, and I'm going to check one out today. It sounds like the apple repair would have cost in the neighborhood of $330, but the local one will be closer to $200. If that turns out to be true, I will deem it Worth It, and go ahead.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:52 PM on April 12, 2010

#1, sounds like you have a PowerBook G4 (look under the screen), not a PowerMac g4 (a desktop)

#2 WOAH, don't pay $300 for a hard drive replacement.

If it's not under warranty, why care about having an apple authorized repair place? Authorized means they will not violate the warranty and Apple considers the work they do to be the same as if Apple were to perform it. This makes no difference to you, as you're footing the bill. Even if they are not "authorized" they will probably be entirely capable of doing this work for you.

Of course it'll be even cheaper if you buy your own hard drive and don't have them reinstall the OS for you so you can just pay for the labor. You can decide if it's worth it to you, but I'll give a few suggestions for how to do that:

Buy a hard drive, something small and cheap around $50. Be sure you correctly identify the exact model you have before buying anything. I *believe* you will have the option to format it when you start the reinstallation process. (I'm not entirely sure, because I've always had access to another mac and USB enclosure and did it myself.)

So, at this point, take your new hard drive and laptop to a Best Buy, (or equivalent) and ask them to just replace the hard drive. No installation, no nothing. Just crack it open, put the new one in. Don't buy any add on insurance, recycling, spyware blah-blah. It should be around $50.

If you don't have the restore disks you may be able to order them from Apple, or ebay. An easier route may be to purchase a Tiger OSX.4 PPC dvd (or torrent it). If you've never restored a freshly formatted Mac, it is really as easy as putting the CD in and clicking ok a few times-- 0% scary.

Ok, after typing all that out, I realize you might arrive at a tally as high as $150, which depending on who you are, you might consider it crazy to do all that extra work to save $50-$70 bucks. I like having control and knowledge about this kind of stuff, and it could be a great chance to learn if you would like to.
posted by fontophilic at 9:28 AM on April 27, 2010

« Older Is this a timeshare scam?   |   What to do about a major secret my mother has kept... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.