Fri, 30 Oct 2009

Dead PowerBook G4

A few weeks ago I was trying to get GRUB2 for PowerPC back to work on my PowerBook G4 15", and had some problems getting OF doing the right thing. Not being an OF expert at all, I found myself making things a bit worse, ending up with an unbootable laptop and, what a classic, unable to boot my old rescue CD to get yaboot back in its place.

So I googled a bit and ended up deciding that, given the boot parametres and some other stuff like the system's clock were doing strange stuff, reset-nvram would help getting things in a better shape that would at least permit CD booting. So there, reset-nvram, followed by reset-all, as found in all the OpenFirmware cheatsheets I found all over the web, and damn it, nothing changed and I was back into the OpenFirmware prompt. I used the power button to reset the laptop once again, and that was the last time I saw something functional on the PowerBook.

Now, when I start the computer, all I hear is the Apple startup sound, followed by the sound of the CD drive (which has eaten an Ubuntu 5.10 CD) trying to spin up for a pair of seconds, and then nothing. There's nothing displayed on the LCD, or any other sign of “life”. My searches in Google indicate this is a logic board failure and you can imagine that is not cheap to get fixed by Apple support.

I've tried numerous keyboard combo tricks I didn't even know about, and none seem to work. The computer doesn't seem to be responding to the builtin keyboard, an Apple USB keyboard I borrowed, or an external display. I'm annoyed because I've looked after this laptop really well and it was in a really good condition, so I'm going to see if it can be fixed for a reasonable amount.

Apple care in València is not an option. They say a logic board (if this is really what is causing trouble) costs around 500€, so I'll have to explore other ways. The first one is trying to find out if these symptoms (nothing on the display, key combos don't appear to work, etc.) really point to a fried logic board or could be something else. I've tried removing the RAM and replacing it with my old one, but that didn't work either. So, if anyone reading this has some Apple PowerPC hardware experience and can share some of their knowledge and suggestions, I'd be really, really grateful.

Plan B involves hiring a coworker, who I believe is the son of McGyver, to try to get it repaired for me. This would involve buying spare parts in eBay or some other place to try to get the replaced. Again, suggestions, donations and ideas are welcome in this front too. :)

Jose Vicente loves fixing stuff, and right before the Summer he already showed what he can do with a screwdriver and some patience. Some weeks before, I had managed to shatter the LCD screen of my Nokia 6500s when I lost my grip while climbing down a mountain in El Cadí, and the phone in my pocket hit a big rock. The phone worked, but I all I could see in the screen were some cracks in random colours. People suggested I should get a new phone, but I really don't want to generate even more polluting waste when all that was needed was replacing a cheap component.

My phone during its stay in McGyver's hideout

My only experience is that Apple Care fucking sucks. When my iBook G4 broke up they asked 940€ for the repair! I hope to hear more from you but do not hold your hope on it.

Posted by paurullan at Fri Oct 30 22:14:46 2009

Jace has similar experiences, See:

Apple sucks! (with shamefully owner of Macbook ;)

Posted by Kartik Mistry at Sat Oct 31 09:12:11 2009


it's probably not very helpful but there is a german store which repairs and also sells spare parts for all kind of macs. The logic board is listed there for about 340 Euro. I don't know if it really pays off to repair your powerbook. Anyway I wish you the best!



Posted by michael at Sat Oct 31 09:19:05 2009

Oh, this sounds so familiar. I had a G3 once and got quite some experience with issues like this. The Mac and OF booting is black magic, but with the right incantations a dead box can come back to life.

I guess you already did the cmd-opt-P-R keyboard combo three times in a row (boot cycle in between)? Next thing would be to locate the NVRAM battery and have it replaced. See the link for my aging notes.

Posted by TormodVolden at Sat Oct 31 10:38:05 2009

Michael, that prize is really an improvement, but I think it's still under my budget for this repair. In any case, that website is really interesting. I can hardly make my way through the German, but I'll try to get some German speaker helping me out.

Tormod, I haven't tried that voodoo dance. I'll do that in a few hours. I know I did Cmd-Opt-P-R a few times (as well as a few others) but probably not 3 or 10 in a row. I'll try all the tips (just one ram module, etc). Do you think these tips will apply to a G4? Wish me luck!

Posted by jordi at Sat Oct 31 11:21:54 2009

If you need a manual for disassembling your powerbook I could provide you with the "Apple Service Source" manual. A year ago I had to replace the hard drive of my powerbook and the manual was very helpful (disassembling the notebook was still a pain). Just drop me a line by mail.

Best regards,

Posted by michael at Sat Oct 31 11:32:57 2009

"My only experience is that Apple Care fucking sucks. When my iBook G4 broke up they asked 940€ for the repair!"

And my experience is that Apple would never have asked you to pay unless it was accidental damage, or the result of some other self-inflicted mishap, which AppleCare clearly excludes in its terms and conditions.  That's what household insurance is for.

As for Jordi, I'm not sure there's any cheap way round a logic board failure, unfortunately.  PowerBooks are a pain to open up and repair, and parts are becoming scarce.

Posted by numpty at Sat Oct 31 12:11:24 2009

Instead of just replacing the NVRAM battery, place a screw driver or paper clip between the positive and negative leads after you've taken the battery out. This will drain the remaining charge and hopefully reset the bad settings you accidentally made.

I once changed a BIOS setting on a Dell computer and it would freeze in the BIOS. Short circuiting the battery housing as described above brought back the factory defaults.

Posted by bill at Sat Oct 31 16:22:38 2009

Thanks for all the comments. I'll try draining the battery as bill describes when/if I or Jose Vicente disassemble the laptop. Michael, disassembling manual would be very handy. Thanks for the offer.

Posted by Jordi at Sun Nov 1 02:20:08 2009

Apart from the NVRAM battery stunts described already, there may also be a PMU reset switch on the motherboard that you can try triggering. It should be described in some Apple knowledge base document.

Posted by Michel Dänzer at Sun Nov 1 06:06:45 2009

on a PC when updating the BIOS (nvram) I've gotten similar effects after an incomplete bios update.
Borking this stuff can really hurt the machines ability to boot up. - Without saying anything else I would suggest taking a look at the [ nvram ] packages in the archive, and good luck with them and getting grub 2 setup too.

Posted by vvill at Mon Nov 2 05:18:19 2009

As for the stuck cd - there may be a manual eject button hidden in the slot - use a paper clip in the right edge.  It's not as obvious as it looks in the Apple picture.

Posted by furicle at Mon Nov 2 18:48:21 2009

I'm looking at rewrite of dpkg kernel-image-2.6.xx-.postinst that appears tobe dealing with some of the ways in which i386 and intel MAC are different, as described here -
[fri 13 nov 2009] (Legacy PC design misery).
Above may help McGyver even the note is ppc

Posted by vvill at Fri Nov 13 20:13:10 2009