Which is Dead: My iBook or Its Battery?
December 18, 2005 1:00 PM   Subscribe

If my iBook's battery were to be dead, as opposed to my iBook clearly being defective, how might it behave?

My iBook is claiming (via the battery indicator in the menu bar) that it doesn't have a battery. It shows the battery with an "x" instead of charge information (percentage or time remaining). I've zapped the PRAM, reset the PMU, repaired permissions (just in case ... never know ... etc. etc.), and I've even downloaded and run coconut Battery (which says that the iBook, a G3/800, is 27 months old and that the battery has 0 max capacity ... then it goes bananas and claims a negative charge). The battery itself shows no green lights when the charge button is pressed. When the iBook is unplugged from the wall, it dies after about 5 seconds. Immediately after zapping the PRAM or resetting the PMU, the menubar icon will report that it's trying to determine how long until the battery is completely charged, but that changes to the "x" after I switch users.

So ... my distilled question is: Does this look/sound like a battery that has died, and are those symptoms consistent with that? Or does it sound like something more dire?

I'm asking here because I'm hoping there might be some remedy or recommendation I've overlooked before I call the local Mac shop and endure a snide interrogation before they make me bring it in along with my firstborn for out-of-warranty repairs.
posted by mph to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Find someone else who has an ibook and try their battery in yours, just to me 100% sure it's you're battery at fault, but it sounds like it is.
posted by furtive at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2005

I know you're looking to avoid a snide comment, but I think you might deserve one. Your computer says your battery is dead. When you unplug your computer, your computer dies. The lights don't light up on the battery when you press the charge button. Seriously -- what're you thinking happened? You have three (THREE!) independent pieces of information telling you that your battery is dead, so I'm thinking your battery is dead. I know. I'm a genius. Crazy, huh?
posted by incessant at 1:25 PM on December 18, 2005

Response by poster: Incessant: Please back up and re-read. It doesn't say my battery's dead ... it says my battery is non-existent. Not "0% charge" or "like, totally drained but fighting back!" It says it doesn't have one at all.

I'm not an electronics engineer, but to my limited capacity to reason these things out, that implies two possible states for the battery and/or the iBook:

1. The battery is, indeed, merely dead.

2. The bits inside the laptop that are responsible for diverting power from the AC input to charge the battery and receiving information back from the battery regarding its status are individually or collectively hosed.

All that's really wanted here is someone saying "I had an iBook, its battery died, and it, too, claimed to have no battery at all," at which point I might just relax and order a new battery online and not worry about the cross-town trip and days of unavailability.

Another answer might be "I had an iBook, its battery died, and it did not claim to have no battery ... rather it reported that it had a battery but it never managed to charge it," in which case I'll probably deal with the cross-town drive since that might imply a bigger problem I should address before something worse goes wrong.
posted by mph at 1:36 PM on December 18, 2005

Reset the Power Manager. If that doesn't doesn't work, your iBook DC Board is probably defective.

If you really want to test it, find someone else with an iBook of the same size and switch batteries.
posted by boaz at 1:43 PM on December 18, 2005

Whoops, I missed that you already did that. But yeah, I'm definitely thinking DC board then.
posted by boaz at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

It's difficult to be 100% certain about this kind of thing, but that sounds like what you want. I'd say there's a 99% chance the battery is dead, though. A test with a known-good battery would pin it down for sure, and any competent shop should be able to do that for you in a minute.

Also -- did the battery ever work? What changed between the time when it did work and when it didn't?

BTW, you have better troubleshooting skills than the vast majority of people. Don't let anyone get you down.
posted by xil at 1:44 PM on December 18, 2005

I guess you could also reset Open Firmware. Hold down Option-Apple-O-F until a command prompt comes up, type 'reset-nvram' and hit return, then 'reset-all' and return, and then wait for the machine to reboot.
posted by boaz at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, xil. It just stopped reporting a battery one day. We keep it in our living room almost all the time, and it's generally kept plugged into the wall, but I can pin down when it last ran off the battery to some time within the previous 72 hours, because we had guests over and one of them unplugged it to take it over to her seat. I don't know when it decided it didn't have a battery after that, but it went from being able to hold a charge for a while (over 30-45 minutes at least, if not its original 5 hour capacity) to just thinking it didn't have one within that 72 hour period.

Boaz: Is the DC board an independent part of the machine or is it a "board" in name only that's soldered on or somesuch? I've never handed the machine over to the local store for out-of-warranty repairs, so I'd guess it'll stay with them instead of going back to Cupertino (where it went for the logic board replacement program), and I'd like to know what might constitute a predictable set of parts and labor charges for such a thing.
posted by mph at 2:00 PM on December 18, 2005

You've done all the right tests/resets a user could be expected to. If the indicator light doesn't come on, then that's probably your answer right there.

Li-ion batteries have a limited life span. I've heard 3 years, but my Powerbook (bought in 8/03) lasts a little over a half an hour unplugged these days.

I second the recommendation to try a fresher battery if you can.
posted by O9scar at 2:10 PM on December 18, 2005

It's a separate board that the power plug is attached to; it has a cable that runs to the logic board. Now that I look at the diagrams, it seems the whole switch-between-battery-and-AC circuitry may have been moved to the logic board in iBooks. So, if that's your problem, you may be screwed.

OTOH, I'd definitely recommend borrowing another battery for a test before doing anything drastic, even if you have to go down to an Apple Store for it. The only reason I'm pointing to a component problem is that usually batteries fail differently, just slowly losing charge instead of disappearing completely.
posted by boaz at 2:28 PM on December 18, 2005

And try the Open Firmware reset too. This page starts off with two testimonials of people with your exact problem fixing it with an OF Reset. Weird.
posted by boaz at 2:40 PM on December 18, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks, Boaz (and everyone else). Sounds like I need to just head to the Apple people and ask for them to do a quick swap then a more involved troubleshoot.

Fingers crossed that it's nothing terrible, but mild relief that I don't do as much work travel as I used to, in case it's the machine on its way out.
posted by mph at 2:43 PM on December 18, 2005

I had the same thing happen to my g3/600 iBook. It was out of warranty by then but I still took it to Apple to get it looked at and it was some board problem. Cost $400 to repair which my company was nice enough to pay for, even if I could get a brand new iBook for 2x or 3x that.

So if all the 'reset open firmware' advice above doesn't work and you've tried a new battery, then it's probably that board. Apple may have an extra iBook battery they can swap yours with to see if that's the culprit.
posted by Tacodog at 2:49 PM on December 18, 2005

Your local Apple store may have an extra iBookk battery, that is.
posted by Tacodog at 2:49 PM on December 18, 2005

I had the solid X on my ibook (g3 800) about 2 years ago. One green light stayed on all the time on the battery itself, regardless of how I pushed the test button. It was out of warranty as well so after all the firmware resetting failed I had a crazy idea. What if some code executing on the battery itself had crashed? There's got to be something running in there. I took the battery and sealed it in a ziplock bag, then tossed it in the freezer for a few days. Eventually it died completely and the single green light went out. When I plugged it back in again it started to charge and I've been running off it just fine since then. Sounds a bit crazy, but it's worth a shot.
posted by roue at 5:52 PM on December 18, 2005

My 6 year old iBook G3 has the X even with the battery installed. It means the battery's had it.

Roue: The battery does have a microprocessor in it, so your probably did crash.
posted by cillit bang at 6:06 PM on December 18, 2005

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