A Conundrum Wrapped in an Enigma Bolted Together with 14 Million Tiny Freaking Screws

by James R. Stoup Nov 05, 2007

Hello everyone, today’s article is about what I like to call a “personal growth moment.” And by that I mean that after this happened I grew a little as a human being. After all, if one can avoid hurling a computer out a second story window and/or having an aneurysm, then one should be proud of the self control that was so judiciously exercised. Allow me to relate my tale to you.

My wife has a very trusty G4 iBook. It has many dings, nicks, and scratches; however, it works wonderfully and she loves it, so it remains a part of our loving family of computers. Sadly, however, it only has a 30GB hard drive. Oh, did I mention that we just had our first child? She is 7 months old and, quite possibly, the cutest baby in all of existence. As befitting such a beautiful child, my wife is constantly taking pictures of her. I hope you can see where this is going. After filling her hard drive virtually to capacity several times, I finally decided to upgrade her computer. I ordered her a nice 160GB hard drive and then set out to learn how to swap out hard drives.

Dear. Lord.

I found the directions. They were 17 pages long. Are you freaking kidding me? Want to replace the Airport card? 3 steps. Replace the RAM? 5 steps. Swap hard drives? 43 steps.

Shoot me. Please.

Did anyone ever try working on a G4 PowerMac? They had those great designs that allowed the computer to unfold like a suitcase. It was a brilliant design that allowed for extremely easy replacement of components. The team that designed the iBook decided to go with a different approach. More of a Chinese puzzle box approach. A marvel of engineering to be sure, however none too conductive to home enthusiast.

So, after assembling the required tools I proceeded to pry open my machine. And I do mean pry. In fact, I had to actually separate the case into its components and in the process heard some very frightening squeaks, groans, and grinding noises. However, I survived that and continued to disassemble my iBook. By the time I had gotten to the hard drive, my laptop was no longer even remotely recognizable. Dozens of screws lay around me as I worked diligently on not breaking anything.

Now, at this point you may be thinking this is just a gripe about how hard it is to take apart a laptop. Your first reaction might be along the lines of “grow up you whining pansy.” You might say that because you’re all a bunch of inconsiderate jerks. That’s why I don’t go to you people for sympathy, coldhearted bunch that you are. No, the whole “my-this-laptop-is-really-hard-to-work-on” story is just a prelude to my real problem. Which you shall hear now.

After assembling her computer, I turned it on and discovered two very upsetting things. First, her computer no longer went to sleep when you closed the lid. And second, her Airport card no longer seemed to be working. What ho Watson, a mystery!

As it would turn out, neither problem would be easy to solve.

My laptop’s sleeping disorder (ha, nerd humor) was caused by a small magnet that I hadn’t properly replaced. I found this out after I completely disassembled her computer for a second time. Oh, and for total breakdown/reassemble you need to figure about an hour or so, if that gives you some idea of how not-fun this whole process had become at this point.

So, I fixed the sleep problem. Moving on to problem two. Guess what? After much aggravation I disassembled her laptop a THIRD time. Everything is plugged in, life is grand, the airport card works, it just isn’t receiving a signal. So, there I am, sitting in my living room staring at her machine. Everything works fine, the Airport card is recognized and turns on, it just receives no signal. From anything. Clearly we have a problem.

After much thought, consideration, and google searching I gave up. And that is when I discovered a very interesting piece of knowledge. It appeared that my Airport card does indeed work. Ya! However, it works at about 1/10th its previous range. Not-ya. So, if I have my laptop 8 inches above my Airport base-station, then I get a 40% signal. Which doesn’t really do me much good if I’m going for the whole “wireless internet” thing. Wouldn’t you agree?

Now comes the scream-inducing, cherry-on-top moment of this whole ordeal. Not only have I now wasted something like 6 hours screwing with this machine, not only does the Airport (for all useful purposes) not work, but now my wife has to use my company laptop (a Dell, shudder) to get on the internet. So, in the end I have a broken Mac and I’ve reduced my wife to using Windows.

Huzzah. What a day.

I think I’ll have that aneurysm now.


  • Hmmm, I had a similar airport experience. Upgrading from a G3 to a G4 iBook I got home and put the airport extreme cad in. Then I tried to jump on my airport network. No luck. Right next to the router a little bit of signal. Checked the installation of the airport card and decided I couldn’t live with that kind of reception. Took machine back to the place I bought it. The said I must have a lot of metal in the house. I explained that a) I did not live in a missile silo and B)  I had great airport reception that morning. They whisked the machine away and came back in sixty seconds. Turns ut you really have to cram the airport ant connection into the airport extreme card. I was sure I had it properly connected but, in fact, it needed some more pressure..

    Chris Seibold had this to say on Nov 05, 2007 Posts: 354
  • Upgrading Mac hardware can be a mixed bag.  I upgraded the HDD in my Mac mini (40GB to 80GB) with not too much trouble.  I wouldn’t try that on a more expensive machine, though.  Too much risk.  I definitely think an external drive for media content is probably the better solution.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 05, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • Number of steps? Three. Plug in cable, mount drive, and drag files onto icon.

    In a rare case of me going one better than Macglee on behalf of the Mac, it’s actually just two steps.  The drive should mount automatically.  So plug in the cable, wait for it to mount, and then drag files onto icon.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Nov 05, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I feel your pain here, I recently took my Powerbook apart, though more for interest than anything else (and to see if upgrades were possible). I didn’t have any problems, but it would make my month if Apple made hard drive upgrades easier.

    I definitely think an external drive for media content is probably the better solution.

    I agree with this, it’s what I do, although it does make backing up, and just plain accessing your stuff, somewhat less than completely painless if you use a notebook as your main machine, as I do.

    Benji had this to say on Nov 05, 2007 Posts: 927
  • I had a similar issue with AirPort connectivity after I installed additional memory to my wife’s iBook G4; turns out, you need to press REALLY hard when you plug in the cable back to AirPort card (i.e. the same story as Chris’).

    haapum had this to say on Nov 05, 2007 Posts: 7
  • And I thought taking my iPod Video apart was bad, I think I’ve broken everything in there, most of the parts probably have the entire Chinese language now. Somehow I managed to its Logic Board as well.

    Your problem is far worse, just her to let you know you’re not the only one who can break a piece of Apple Hardware, err, three…

    Tanner Godarzi had this to say on Nov 06, 2007 Posts: 70
  • James, a wonderfully entertaining article. I am sincerely sorry that it was at the expense of your sanity.

    No I’m not!

    It’s like the old saying:

    It’s funny until someone gets hurt,
    then it’s freaking hilarious!


    Chris Howard had this to say on Nov 06, 2007 Posts: 1209
  • Changing the hard drives in portable computers was originally easy, in many portables it did not even require tools (at least to remove the drive and it’s carrier). Then a few came up missing at Airports and Conferences. Crooks were stealing them for the sensitive information tehy contained. After that, all manufacturers started making it nearly impossible to change them (except the MacBook). Best left to the pros.

    jaybird2005 had this to say on Nov 06, 2007 Posts: 1
  • I’ll echo the previous hints on seating the AirPort antenna:

    You have to push in the antenna until you hear TWO clicks, not just one. Trust me…

    leeann had this to say on Nov 07, 2007 Posts: 1
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