Repairing a whining iBook?
October 22, 2007 1:49 PM   Subscribe

[Ohgodno!Filter] My iBook G4 has for months been making a weird sound when I move it, but today something in the vicinity of the hard-drive has started to make a sharp rhythmic whine/scrape when the laptop is tilted. Is there any hope other than bringing it into the shop?

For several months now my computer's made a whirring sound in the lower left quadrant, usually when I'm hefting the thing around - lifting it in and out of its case, carrying it. Basically when it's swinging in the air and not flat on a desk/lap. It's a weirdly pendulum-like sound, like something's weighted not quite right and so the hardware's moving a bit.

Today -- panic. I picked up the computer to go and do some writing at a cafe and when I held it under my arm it began to make this severe, rhythmic (ie, every few seconds) bark/whine/scrape sound, amidst the usual whirr. And then it just abruptly shut off.

I was able to reboot the machine, and things are fine as it sits here on my lap, but when I lift or tilt the machine I hear that familiar, gravitationally-variable whirr/buzz, and eventually the sharp/fast "zzzzzirr!" that sounds really broken.

I ran Disk Utility and the disk turns up fine. I'm just assuming it's a problem with the drive hardware because it's coming from southwest of the keyboard.

Anyone have any ideas for fixes? I'll take it in if I have to but both the cost and lack-of-computer access would be particularly inopportune right now. Could it just be a matter of a loose screw or something? If so, any simple instructions exist for getting in there and tightening it?

I am relatively technically competent; certainly enough so to not be afraid of opening my iBook up (though I can't figure out how to get any deeper than the keyboard/airport card), but I am not a hardware geek and don't know what anything is or what it does unless a website tells me explicitly so.

Thank you!
posted by Marquis to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Your hard disk is failing and it won't last long. Make backups right now.
posted by putril at 1:53 PM on October 22, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Even if Disk Utility thinks all is well?
posted by Marquis at 1:54 PM on October 22, 2007

Seconded on getting everything off the hard drive while you still can. IIRC, your laptop should have come with a warning that you shouldn't move it/tilt it around.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:58 PM on October 22, 2007

Er ... you shouldn't move/tilt it around while it's writing the hard drive. I think it's some sort of gyroscopic thing.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:58 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: "Tilting it around" = closing it and carrying it in a laptop bag. I don't think this is peculiar behaviour!
posted by Marquis at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2007

Response by poster: And I do (always) have a full backup.

Would really appreciate any insights into the possible cause/solution.
posted by Marquis at 2:00 PM on October 22, 2007

Sorry, but you probably need a new hard drive.

My laptop made similar sounds last year. The hard drive was failing, and I had to get a new one.
posted by rtha at 2:11 PM on October 22, 2007

Well, I'm not an expert in this, so grain of salt, but ...

My old Toshiba Satellite fairly specifically said not to move/tilt it around while the hard drive was writing. (I remember reading the warnings and thinking "This isn't a very portable laptop!").

As far as I understand, a hard drive is a spinning platter which has a head (or series of heads) which fly just above the surface. These heads read and write your data using the magic of magnets. They are very close to the surface of your hard drive.

You know how if you have a spinning disc, and you try to tilt it, it tilts back? Like a gyroscope? My impression is that if you start tilting the hard drive around while it is spinning, you're putting a lot of extra force on the bearings, or maybe the spinning platter will lurch up a bit and bang into the head, which is very bad for the data. You might get away with it for a while, but then, you might not. These things are pretty fragile (as anyone who has dropped a classic iPod can tell you!).

When the hard drive is shut off, the heads go somewhere they won't be over any data surfaces, so they can't bang into the disk. Also, the disc stops spinning. Thus, it's safer to turn the computer off if you're planning on moving it about.

Sorry to hear about your laptop.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:19 PM on October 22, 2007

Do see if you can get Apple to replace the hard drive. I believe that they will sometimes go beyond the strict letter of the warranty to maintain the otherwise questionable impression that Apple = superior hardware.
posted by gum at 2:24 PM on October 22, 2007

Yes, your disk is failing even if Disk Utility thinks all is well.
Closing it and carrying it around needs to be done carefully with newer Macs; when you put the computer to sleep it writes the contents of memory to disk, which takes a significant amount of time, and so the disk will be spinning for a little while even after the lid is closed. A safer method is to put the computer to sleep, wait for the disk to stop spinning and the screen to go dark, THEN close the lid. More info and tricks to disable the process here. So yeah, take it to the shop and congratulate yourself on having a good backup strategy.
posted by nowonmai at 2:25 PM on October 22, 2007

Stan the computer consultant says: Time to buy a new harddrive.

All drives fail given an infinite amount of time. Ones that make nose tend to be less infinite.

Google 'ibook harddrive replacement'. It isn't a HORRIBLY complex task, just requires a level of OCD for keeping track of everything. Then you just replace the drive, reinstall OSX, and you are off. As long as you take things apart and put them back together in the exact same order, there isnt anything horribly difficult about it.

If you would prefer, definately take it to a shop. It should cost you ~$100 for a drive, and ~1-2 hours of labor. Roughly.
posted by SirStan at 2:27 PM on October 22, 2007

Yes, time to buy a new HD.
posted by limon at 2:47 PM on October 22, 2007

I've actually removed the top of my PowerBook, and the hard drive is one of the easier things to replace - there are several tiny screws to track and manage, but the drive is relatively easy to reach. If you aren't comfortable with keeping track of all those tiny screws or following disassembly directions exactly, have a repair shop do it for you.

The hard drive sits exactly where you say your noise originates, so there's not much doubt about the source of the sound. I'm kind of surprised Disk Utility didn't say the SMART status was failing or failed, but it doesn't matter. Back up everything and replace the hard drive as soon as possible.
posted by lambchop1 at 3:03 PM on October 22, 2007

OK, the consensus seems to be you need a new hard drive.

If so, replacement (AFTER YOU BACK IT UP) is the easiest thing in the world to do. I replaced mine in my powerbook G4, and it was honestly a 30 minute job.
I Fixit manuals
click on guides and then select your model and then the item to replace. The manuals are a great resource.

God knows, I am not a technician nor am I especially good with tools and I did it.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 3:11 PM on October 22, 2007

Best answer: Make a full backup of your drive to an external drive with CarbonCopyCloner or SuperDuper and then replace the internal hard drive.

Unfortunately the iBook G4 is, unlike a PowerBook, one of Apple's most complicated built models, but if you follow this guide you will be okay. It even contains breathing exercises for the hard parts. Print all pages first, or have another computer nearby.

Tip: put a strip of duct tape upside down on the table an stick the screws that you remove in order on it. You're going to remove a lot of them, and they all look alike but aren't, and it's very easy for them to end on the floor. Also make digital pictures regularly just in case. Good luck!
posted by maremare at 4:34 PM on October 22, 2007

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