Victory is mine: I successfully replaced the PowerBook’s hard drive!

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.

How I kept the screws in order

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).

In the guts of the machine

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.

Inside the 12" PowerBook G4 1.5 GHz

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!

DIY heart attack

Last week, Ian tripped (accidentally! not his fault!) over the power cord to my beloved PowerBook (G4 12″ 1.5Ghz) that he’s been using as his machine for the past couple of years. The computer fell on its side about a foot down onto the laminate floor, but didn’t turn off or make any weird noises. Then, a couple days later, it started acting funny (applications wouldn’t start up), so he tried to restart it. When he did, it would only boot to a gray screen. No Apple logo, no nothing.

Oh, and it emitted a sound that he described as “popcorn popping.” Those of you who’ve ever had a computer with a failed hard drive will recognize this sound and cringe with me.

After a few hours of diagnostic work (trying to boot it into target disk mode and safe mode failed, and when I booted with a DVD of Leopard I noticed that Disk Utility didn’t recognize the machine had a hard drive), I made an appointment at the Genius Bar of the Green Hills Apple Store for Monday to confirm my suspicion of a dead hard drive.

When I brought it in, the Genius immediately remarked on what perfect condition the machine was in. It’s not terribly old (it’s the latest model PowerBook Apple made, from 2006), but I guess I have always taken impeccable care of my machines. It really is in great condition (spotless except for the small dent near the back from where it was dropped and a few sneeze marks on the screen that I probably should have cleaned off before I took it out in public) and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel proud when employee after employee walked by commenting on its pristine condition. The phrase “brand new” got thrown around a lot.

After several minutes, though, the Genius confirmed that the hard drive was in fact dead. Apple doesn’t do repair work on old-ass machines (“legacy” is what they politely call them), so I was going to have to do a hard drive replacement myself. (Side note: I called MacAuthority yesterday for a quote just out of curiosity, but the guy kept trying to convince me to buy a refurbished MacBook instead. Even after explaining that I already have a brand-effing-new $2,200 MacBook Pro sitting at home and that I was just trying to repair my PowerBook because I love it and it is still being used, he wouldn’t let up.)

I did a bunch of research and talked to a friend of mine who’s done hard-drive replacements on PowerBooks before, and the bottomline is this: Besides a logic board repair, replacing a hard drive in an aluminum-model PowerBook is the most difficult repair or upgrade job that can be done on any Mac laptop of any generation. It was easier on previous models, it’s easier on newer models. For this one particular model, Apple decided to require you to disassemble the entire fucking machine in order to get to the hard drive.


It’s doable*, though, and my friend gave me a pep-talk and a stern reminder to pay super-close attention to where I put the screws that I remove. There’s about a bajillion of them, along with the opportunity to kill the logic board and break the keyboard.

I’ve ordered a replacement drive that will be here Saturday, and I’m setting aside all day Sunday for the task.

Dear Baby JebusClaus, please don’t let me fuck this up.

*At my previous job I had to remove dead hard drives from several old PowerBooks that were being discarded. I remember what a bitch they were to take apart, but because the computers were being scrapped I just ripped them apart savagely. I really wish I would’ve had the foresight to try to do the job well, as if I were intending to salvage the computers, so I could have learned more from the experience.

Ten years

I don’t like writing about what I was doing or what I was thinking on 9/11 because I wasn’t in New York, and I didn’t lose anyone in the attacks, and I tend to get a bit irritated with all of the tragedy p0rn I read where people get over-dramatic and try to make it about themselves. But I understand the necessity to discuss feelings and thoughts about the day, though. For our generation, this is our Kennedy assassination. This is our Challenger explosion.

I’ve already written my “what I was doing” post, four years ago, and I don’t really feel like re-hashing it, but I have to write what’s in my head right now because I’ve been feeling increasingly uneasy as the day has progressed.

I can’t really remember much else about that day. Some friends and I were discussing last night where we were when the planes hit, and I seemed to recall that my second class of the day, my Spanish class, was canceled. But I honestly can’t remember for sure. I am inclined to think that it was, because I remember going to the KUC (Keathley University Center, the student center on MTSU’s campus) and gathering with probably 50 other students in the drab, dimly lit room that had TVs and couches and watching the news as everything was unfolding. I remember the low mumbles and sharp whispers as the newscasters announced that the first two planes were hijacked, and then that the Pentagon was hit and the other plane hit the ground in Pennsylvania. I feel like I remember a little later in that same room hearing that this group I had never heard of before called Al-Qaeda was taking responsibility for the attack, and I guess I went home some time after that.

That semester I believe is when I was working my insane schedule of 10-hour days on Mondays and Wednesdays, eight-hour days on Fridays and four-hour days on Tuesdays and Thursdays, because I scheduled all four of my college classes on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I think I was supposed to be at work at 2 p.m. those days. Since 9/11 happened on a Tuesday, I’m assuming that I went to work later that day, but I don’t remember what it felt like or what anyone said.

I remember watching non-stop news coverage for about a week, alone in my apartment, until I had to turn it off and rest my eyes and my brain. I felt fatigued by everything that I was seeing and feeling until I couldn’t really process what it all meant. I stopped getting upset when I saw images of the destruction, which might have influenced my part in the discussion we had in my Media Ethics class about whether or not we would publish the photos of people jumping out of the burning towers if we were newspaper editors. I said yes. I said I wouldn’t censor the news. I said no matter how bad things get, protecting people from what was really happening would only hurt our society.

I still agree with what I said in class back then. Although, as I sit here watching a 9/11 program on NatGeo, I wonder what I would have said if I’d known anyone who died that day.

Believe it or not, I need to practice my smack-talk

A week ago, the closest I came to caring about football was getting excited about tailgating before the MTSU games and then stumbling into the stadium in just enough time to buy popcorn and catch the end of the fourth quarter.

And now, all of a sudden, I’m playing in two fantasy football leagues and trying to figure out when I need to scream at the TV and when I need to silently plead with my players to not fuck me over. Ok, I’m also trying to figure out how to remember who all I have on my teams.

Also: A big middle finger to whoever designed the UI for the Yahoo and ESPN fantasy football sites. It’s as if some assclown with a master’s in annoyance was given full-reign over Microsoft FrontPage and decided to try for his PhD in confusing the ever-loving shit out of anyone who would access these sites.

As if fantasy football isn’t stressful enough already.

On its way

Today was rainy, and it brought a cold in that we haven’t seen in some time. I turned the heat on in the car on my way home and the smell that accompanied the warmth through the vents stirred up those feelings I always get when fall is just around the corner.

A lot of people like the loudness and vibrancy of summer, but I prefer the stillness of the fall. The quietus that it promises. My body is getting ready to settle in for the deadening that’s required before everything becomes new again. Of all the seasons’ changes, I revel most in what fall brings.