I think in all of my research and preparation for the job, I psyched myself up for it to be way scarier than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong: This was an intense project. Most previous Apple laptops and current MacBooks/MacBook Pros require you to turn the machine over and remove the bottom of the case to access the hard drive, which is a pain in the ass. For some reason, though, some genius at Apple decided that for the aluminum-model PowerBooks, you would have to literally take the entire machine apart to do this. Starting with removing keys from the keyboard and ending with pulling the entire bottom half of the computer apart. Thirty-four screws I had to remove and put back in.
What. The. Fuck.
Anyway, in the week before the project, I read through the manual at least 10 times to make sure I understood what every step would require me to do. I visited various forums and read comments from people who’d replaced the hard drive on this manual before. Actually, I probably should have stayed away from the forums because they were full of people from two distinct camps: One camp was firmly entrenched in the idea that this model was ridiculously ill-constructed and that any attempt to replace the hard drive would end in the certain death of the machine, and the other camp was all “Shut up n00bs, I do this shit in my sleep! And then I go out to the shed and build myself a new car out of scraps of wood and birdseed because I am a MAKER.”
Sunday afternoon after some football-watching at a friend’s house, I sat myself down at our kitchen table to tackle the project. My workspace included:
- PowerBook: Duh. I was working on a 12″ PowerBook G4 1.5GHz model.
- MacBook Pro: Used to display the guide as I worked through it, as well as to Google random issues that came up during the process.
- Painter’s tape: I placed one strip across the table in front of my sticky side up to hold the groups of screws that I removed in each step. I used another strip right above it, sticky side down, to write which step number the screws on the strip beneath it belonged to. This way I wouldn’t get confused when reassembling the computer.
- Flathead screwdriver, full-size: I don’t know the technical term for the size of the flathead that I used, but it was only used to help pry apart the bottom of the case.
- Small screwdriver set: Ian has a screwdriver that allows you to pop the actual bit (or whatever it’s called) out and replace it with a different type of screwdriver head. I used varying sizes of phillips, flatheads and torx screwdrivers throughout the project.
- Soft towel: This was to lay the computer on as I worked, doubling as a cushion as I moved and spun it around as well as something to catch any screws that might fall out—the towel kept a few of them from otherwise bouncing off the hard table onto the floor.
- Flashlight: Even though I was working directly under the kitchen ceiling light, there were times I needed the extra light to make sure I was tugging at or pushing on the correct piece.
- Tweezers: Mainly used for picking cat hair out of the depths of the machine, though it would have come in handy if I’d dropped any screws inside the guts.
- Lots of deep breaths: It sounds cliché, but I don’t care. There were several times I read a certain step aloud to myself, made sure that I understood exactly what I was going to do and then took a slow, deep breath before I touched a certain part of the computer. Some of that shit was scary (like removing four keys from the keyboard, which sounds like you’re breaking it to pieces).
Contrary to what the photos show, I was not drinking beer while working on this (that was Ian’s that he set down momentarily to take a picture of me). I actually didn’t drink anything the entire time; I didn’t want to get liquid anywhere near the computer and I didn’t want to break my concentration by getting up to go stand somewhere else for a while. I was in the zone, man.
The whole process took me just under two hours, which is about half the time some of the commenters on the guide estimated it would take, though that surprises me. I was very methodical about everything that I did; I definitely did not rush through any of the steps.
I did, however, skip step 14, which suggested I disconnect from the logicboard the microphone and the power cables. This step also includes a chance to accidentally pull these cables from the logicboard itself, which can only be fixed by soldering them back on. So instead, when I got the top part of the case separated from the bottom part, I left those two cables connected and used the roll of painter’s tape to prop the top part up against the left part of the bottom of the case. It worked fine and saved me a large bit of anxiety. And possibly my logicboard.
My organized method of screw removal and temporary storage worked very well, and re-assembling the PowerBook went fairly quickly and easily. Another benefit to not taking a break was that I remembered off-hand where every piece went, what each step’s screws looked like, so I was able to move through this part of the project confidently and swiftly. Well, I was still kind of amped up by nerves, but it wasn’t as bad as when I’d first started.
Once the PowerBook was back together, I put in the original install discs, as my plan was to install Tiger since I was afraid Leopard was making the machine a big sluggish. (But before I did this, I almost had another heart attack when I forgot for about 20 seconds that I needed to format the hard drive before the computer would recognize it.)
After installing, it booted up wonderfully but wouldn’t connect to my Wi-Fi network. Google told me that apparently there were some issues with 10.4 being able to connect to Wi-Fi networks that were protected with WPA. I couldn’t even test this out because my Time Capsule doesn’t offer WEP encryption, so I decided to run a software update and get the machine up to 10.4.11, which I’d read solved the issue.
It might have worked, but I wasn’t able to find out. As soon as I restarted, I was hit with nothing but kernel panic. I restarted a few times, re-seated the RAM, said prayers to random made-up deities that I thought might watch over computer hardware, but nothing was working. The longest I went without getting a kernel panic was about 10 minutes, but as I was browsing Safari to look for an iTunes update it popped up in my face again.
Google again led me to various forums where people were complaining of getting nothing but kernel panics after updating to 10.4.11 (which is weird, because I’m pretty sure I had that running on the computer for a while a few years ago). That plus the issue I was having finding a download of iTunes 9 so Ian could update his iPhone made me scrap my plan of leaving Tiger on the PowerBook. The possibility of a small increase in speed was not worth chancing multiple kernel panics every time the computer was used.
I grabbed my retail disc of Leopard and went about trying to do an erase and install. I say “trying” because again, there was another stumbling block. This time, I’d put the disc in, run the installer, and the screen would go black. I tried this a few times and started to worry that something was wrong with the display, but then I found multiple stories from people online who’d had this same issue. So I held my breath and booted up holding down the option key, and what do you know—it worked. After about an hour, the installation was finished.
If I weren’t a superstitious person I’d say that we haven’t experienced any kernel panics since, but I am as superstitious as I am fond of booze so I’m not saying anything.
Next steps are to get Ian’s documents and music reloaded on the computer and then back that motherfucker up. I ordered a hard drive enclosure, but it’s not looking good as far as data recovery goes.
But the PowerBook lives again! With a nice new/bigger hard drive, a new battery and about eight pounds of cat fur removed from its innards, I feel like I’ve somewhat prolonged a death. Mwuahahaha!