The PowerBook’s Brief Trip

A few months back some of the keys on my PowerBook G4 1.33 started to make a clicking noise when pressed and provide additional resistance. Most of the affected keys centered around the “F” key, and though their functionality wasn’t entirely diminished, it was mildly irritating to use. The same issue came up almost a year ago on Mac Fixit. Supposedly there is a layer of foil underneath the keys that has the tendency to shift when heated. The PowerBook is excellent at producing a fair amount of heat, and the keyboard is often used to dissipate it. To the best of my knowledge this foil shifted enough to bunch up under some of the keys causing the clicking and stiffness. In retrospect, probably not the best design idea.

Having the PowerBook in the office most of the time and attached to an external keyboard often made me forget about this issue altogether. Still I felt that I should get it fixed, lest I forget and my Apple Care* quietly expires. I was going to arrange to take it the Apple SoHo store which supposedly could replace the keyboard on site, but deadlines, laziness, and general forgetfulness got the best of me. That was till I picked up some additional RAM.

Not being content with 768 MB of RAM, I decided to purchase a 1 GB chip with my new recently obtained Ingram Micro account. RAM keeps getting more affordable, especially at a wholesale level. There must be a whole fleet of trucks dedicated to moving product between the warehouse and Manhattan. It doesn’t seem to matter what shipping speed I pick, as long as it’s in stock in the PA warehouse, it magically arrives the next morning. I digress, I happily slapped the RAM in my Mac, removing the extraneous stock 256 MB chip.

Everything seemed to be running well, aside from a random crash here and there, which admittedly happened every few months. After installing one of the 10.4 updates I noticed that only 512 MB of RAM was showing up. So I checked to make sure it was all seated correctly, I reset the open firmware, did a little voodoo dance and rebooted. The 1 GB chip was back. A day later the Mac crashed again, and the chip was gone. Worried that I got bad RAM, I moved the 1 GB chip to the upper slot and the 512 MB to the lower, reset the open firmware, skipped the dance and rebooted. 1.5 GB of RAM showed up, until it crashed again, leaving me with only the 1 GB chip. Oddly enough Mac Fixit had mentioned that certain versions of OS X are a little more picky about RAM, and that some updates would leave people with some or all of their RAM disabled. In the case of some PowerBooks, as in mine, the updates helped to identify a latent logic board issue. This probably accounts for infrequent crashes I’ve gotten over the duration I’ve owned the machine. However, not until recently did the OS disable my lower RAM slot, most likely sparing me the sporadic crashes.

Now I had two reasons to send my PowerBook back to Apple. On March 2nd I called Apple and filed report. The next day a box arrived for the PowerBook to be shipped back in. I waited till Tuesday, the 7th to send it off so I could have the laptop for the weekend. The following day I got an e-mail saying the repair center received it. By the 9th, they finished fixing it, and mailed it back. This morning I received it. All I can say is that’s phenomenal turnaround time. Departs Tuesday morning, back by Friday morning. It took considerably longer for Jon to get his Xbox 360 repaired.

According to the invoice, the logic board, keyboard, and top plate (wrist-pad, track-pad, etc.) were all replaced. I was hoping for a little surprised like a backlit keyboard, or maybe a faster processor, but getting a new track-pad thrown in works for me. The RAM is working properly, and so is the keyboard. Chalk one up for the Apple Service Center.

*Apple Care is essential for any portable Mac.

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