PowerBook power problems
June 6, 2005 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Someone just gave me a g4/400 PowerBook (the first titanium model). It doesn't power on. Please help me figure out what the problem is.

Okay, here's some backstory. Some friends of mine gave me this PowerBook after they found it while cleaning out their old offices. It has sat in a closet since about 2002. As far as anyone can remember, it worked just fine the last time it was used (roughly three years ago). Now, it won't power on. I've already tried unplugging and re-plugging the battery and AC adapter, charging the battery overnight and resetting the PRAM and Power Manager. After roughly twelve hours connected to the charger, pressing the button on the battery doesn't light up any of the LEDs. I've also tried running the laptop directly from AC power, with the battery removed entirely, but, again, it won't power on.

My tentative conclusion is that the AC adapter is bad (it's one of the yoyo-looking ones, which I've been led to believe are prone to failure). The next step I have in mind is borrowing a multitester, in order to make sure that the AC adapter is good. If it's not, I'll borrow/buy a replacement one. But if the adapter's not bad, what next?

(Relevant considerations: I'm pretty decent with hardware, but I don't have much experience with either Macs or laptops. There's no Apple Store within a convenient distance (though there's a CompUSA, and a few local shops that do Apple repair). I'm willing to buy a new charger and a new battery, but I'd prefer to spend as little money on this as possible, and, if feasible, I'd prefer to do the work myself.)
posted by box to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
If the battery is bad, it won't charge (and will make you think the adapter is shot - no indicator light will come on). I had the same thing happen to my 550 Ti, and bought a new adapter (that of course didn't work) until I figured out the problem. The replacement battery was $80-ish, as I recall.

See if you can find someone with another Apple laptop to test the adapter - if it works, you just need a new battery.
posted by jalexei at 8:09 AM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought that, if I pulled the battery out completely and plugged in the AC adapter, the laptop would run directly from AC power (when I remove the battery, the laptop still doesn't power on). Am I mistaken about that, though?
posted by box at 8:23 AM on June 6, 2005

Am I mistaken about that, though?

Yep - First thing I did after someone told me it might be a battery issue was pull it out and try my new adapter - nothing. The adapter apparently requires a healthy battery to work at all, which is why I also think the multitester may not give you an accurate picture.
posted by jalexei at 8:36 AM on June 6, 2005

The adapter apparently requires a healthy battery to work at all

Not true. Under normal circumstances PowerBooks and iBooks start up fine without a battery installed. Whether the condition of your PowerBook counts as "normal circumstances" is debatable, however.
posted by cillit bang at 9:54 AM on June 6, 2005

Hmmm - mine definitely didn't boot sans battery (and then did boot with the same adapter and a friends' healthy battery) so I assumed it was some weird Apple thing.
posted by jalexei at 10:20 AM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: After more than two years, it seems reasonable to think that the CMOS battery is also dead. Is that, in itself, enough to take me away from the realm of 'normal circumstances'?

It's becoming clear to me that I don't know anything about what happens when every drop of battery power is drained from a laptop.

So far, though, I'm getting the idea that a completely-dead battery might be enough to cause all the problems I'm having. It seems like the next best step might be to find a battery vendor with a good return policy.
posted by box at 10:32 AM on June 6, 2005

My powerbook has no battery (it died a while ago and I took it out to save a little weight) but it runs perfectly on AC power alone. However, I burned through three of those stupid yoyo adapters before getting an older model black box adapter that is much sturdier. Those yoyos seem to get pulled apart at a few specific stress points and then they short out.
posted by bonheur at 10:37 AM on June 6, 2005

Could be one of these issues:

bad power adapter - buy a cheap replacement one (http://eshop.macsales.com/ has these) and test it out. Hopefully, this is the problem, it would definitely be the cheapest fix. If a new power adapter doesn't do the trick...

then it could be a bad power inverter/logic board. I've seen this quite a few times on that particular PB model. For an hour's labor, a mac repair shop should be able to see exactly what's wrong. Parts will be expensive.
posted by sluggo at 11:17 AM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: Besides the power adapter and the inverter/logic board, is it also possible that it's the battery? I'm debating with myself about whether I'd be better off first trying a new battery or a new adapter.
posted by box at 12:09 PM on June 6, 2005

Try the adapter first. Does the battery have a button on it (with some small LEDs?) The current crop of Apple laptops do...it's possible to tell how much battery power is there (if any) without any other hardware.
posted by filmgeek at 1:16 PM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: The battery does have the button and LEDs. After about twelve hours connected to the charger, not a single LED lights up when the button is pressed.
posted by box at 2:10 PM on June 6, 2005

the battery definitely could be completely, stone-cold dead bad, but my experience is that batteries are much more likely to just lose their charge over time (meaning they will look like they're fully charged, but when the laptop runs off of the battery, the charge drops very fast). If it's not charging at all (after 12 hours, especially) it would be much more likely to be the adapter, or the inverter/logic board.

Do you know anyone else with a powerbook? I would try to find somebody and test out this theory with their adapter. You might even be able to talk someone at an Apple store into letting you test it with one of their adapters.
posted by sluggo at 7:16 PM on June 6, 2005

Response by poster: Everyone I can think of who owns a PB has turned out to have either a newer (aluminum) G4 or a(n older) G3, both of which use a different end on the power cable than my titanium G4. I'm trying to broaden my search a bit now, as I'd like to make sure something is wrong with my power adapter before I buy a new one, but if I can't find one to borrow, the next step will be ordering one.
posted by box at 6:00 AM on June 7, 2005

Aluminum G4 power supplies should work fine with the titanium. The power supply looks different (I'm guessing you have the yoyo type), but the connections are definitely the same - I have used the older adapters with Aluminum PBs, and the newer adapters with Titanium PBs before.
posted by sluggo at 11:49 AM on June 7, 2005

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