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Several year old Apple 17 inch Powerbook G4 aluminum laptop abruptly goes dead due to internal Airport hardware failure

Here's the gritty details of how I diagnosed and fixed the machine (and how you can do it better and faster)

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This page last updated on or about 10-21-08
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BACK to Apple OS X laptop user's log...

Mac OS X troubleshooting, repair, and recovery CHEAT SHEET

It seems like I can hardly turn around here any more without another dead Mac being brought in the door.

This time it was a 1.3 GHz Apple Macintosh 17 inch Powerbook G4 belonging to my niece (a laptop). The aluminum model I think they call it. Originally available from Apple with 512 MB RAM, this one was upgraded to 1 GB. Also holds an 80 GB hard drive and DVD super drive.

The symptoms? Nearly always the same for Macs these days: stone cold dead; no response at all to trying to turn it on, much less any of the other usual Mac resuscitation tricks, like resetting the PRAM. Just plain jane dead as a door nail.

How'd it happen? Again, there's usually no cause the user can point to: it just died in normal operation. Not dropped, or whacked, or anything new installed or added. Just died from being turned on occasionally and the mouse pointer being moved around on the screen.

If anything, my niece seemed to have treated this laptop far more gently than most owners do their portables. She carried it around in an expensive and heavily padded carrying case which boasted an outer covering which looked impervious to knives, and fit to be human body armor in some ages past.

You might be able to fling the Powerbook off a one story roof in this bag without seriously damaging the computer-- at least that's my impression.

She'd also always used a surge protector for her AC power. And used flat and hard desktop surfaces to sit the machine on, so there shouldn't have been any cooling issues.

So this Mac had been leading a pretty leisurely life, compared to many laptops.

Again (as usual), the user hadn't backed up their important files: so they badly wanted those files off the hard drive if I could get them.

Of course, in this case, the lack of back up may be indirectly my own responsibility: for this was my young adult niece, whom (I thought) I'd trained to back up files as she grew up. It seems I failed on that point. Damn!

This was one of the toughest computer repairs I've ever tackled. Sort of like my own House MD TV episode, only with the patient being a Mac laptop rather than a person. And with the requirement that the problem be solved at absolute minimal cost (unlike the House TV show, where a quarter million dollars might be spent routinely on a single case). For finances here at WebFLUX Central are even tighter now than they've been in past years; and my niece is a struggling college student who's doing well just to keep her car on the road bills-wise, while attending school and working at the same time.

I'm also at a disadvantage in Mac tech here. I've personally used Windows PCs exclusively since around 2000-2001. Or about the time Apple trashed entirely their original wonderful operating system, to go with the radically different (and much inferior interface-wise) OS X.

OS X is basically a pretty version of UNIX (Linux is a another variant), which from the user's perspective appears to be little different from ancient DOS PCs or Commodore 64s, etc., under the hood.

But most sane non-geeks try never to open the hood on such platforms. For there be dragons! as old geographical maps used to say about unexplored and mysterious territory.

But sometimes circumstances force us to chase after dragons in the dark...

One result of this has been my own crash course in OS X trivia. Learning things I never wanted to know about the system-- but which may prove useful in the continuing downpour of dead Macs I'm currently experiencing.

For the convenience of both myself and readers I'm going to list in a separate and more concise page many of the new OS X tricks I've learned during this episode:

Mac OS X troubleshooting, repair, and recovery CHEAT SHEET

Please refer to the cheat sheet for details of the techniques discussed below.

And now on to our troubleshooting tale for this evening...please keep in mind while reading that this report is based on what notes I made, plus what I recollect. As the process required many hours over a period of weeks to resolve, it wasn't continuous. That is, I would spend several hours on it one day, then maybe not return to the task again until a few days later. At which time I would devote another several hours to it. Either in labor, or online research related to it.

My niece initially phoned me about her dead laptop, and I told her to bring it along with all her Apple CDs. She did, and I got her password from her too (she can always change it again later).

As I'm years behind in all sorts of matters, I hoped this would be a quick fix. But that was not to be.

It didn't take long to find the Powerbook was stone cold dead. Its hard drive wouldn't spin up or anything.

So I went to the internet to get some leads on what to do.

I found people talking about bad RAM, bad power supplies, and more.

I knew this Mac had run for at least a couple years with its present RAM and power adapter. Plus, in my experience software problems were about 20-30 times more common than hardware problems. And most hardware problems were usually readily discernable, like bent pins, broken pieces, burning smells and smoke, rattling disk drives-- or stone cold dead drives.

OK: so the dead drive hardware item was possible here.

I tried the PMU reset techniques. Repeatedly. Then went through them again.

I managed to get the Powerbook DVD drive to suck in the Mac OS X recovery disk somewhere around this point.

I kept plugging away at the PMU reset routine and trying to switch on the laptop and get it to boot off the DVD for a while, maybe varying the order I did things a little along the way.

Finally, I got the Mac to boot off the DVD.

I immediately went to Apple's Disk Utility to have it repair the internal hard drive.

After a while it said the repair was successful, but also listed some remaining problems with the disk.

As I was unsure if I could get the Mac to boot a second time, I decided to 'archive and install' OS X onto the hard drive.

I was hoping a fresh OS X install would fix everything. Plus, this option wasn't supposed to erase my niece's personal files off the drive.

When the install appeared completed, I restarted the Mac to see if it could now boot off its hard drive.

It crashed pretty quickly.

Below is the message I got-- in several different languages no less:

"You need to restart your computer. Hold down the power button for several seconds or press the restart button."

In the weeks to follow I would see this referred to on several web sites as one of the many signs you might see of a 'kernel panic' in OS X.

But in traditional computer geek language, it's a crash. More attractive looking than crashes of 20 or 30 years ago. Still not one iota more functional or useful, though.

If I recall correctly, all I could do at that point was hold the power button down for 10 seconds or so to shut off the Mac, then push it on again, to try again.

I always got the same crash and message.

I performed some more PMU resets along the way, as those had seemed to help me get this far.

I retreated back to booting off the recovery DVD again. This time to use Disk Utility to 'repair permissions', as I'd seen some web references to that possibly causing start up problems like this.

But it didn't work. Disk Utility would crash and give me the message "Disk Utility internal error Lost its connection with the disk management tool and cannot continue. Please quit and relaunch Disk Utility."

I started to quit and got a warning not to (yeah, I was damned if I did and damned if I didn't, according to the program). So I didn't quit right then. But after a while when it seemed nothing was happening I defied the warning dialog and quit anyway. Then relaunched Disk Utility and tried again. With the same result.

I quit the installer. Selected the laptop's hard drive as the startup disk (in the ancient Mac days on a few occasions this seemed to resolve some problems). Then restarted.

I got the same multi-language error message (kernel panic), again.

I went back to the internet for more leads.

I was also wondering if I might not find a free downloadable hard drive utility better than Apple's own to try.

I saw advice to check RAM; and that the hard drive might be failing.

I learned about starting up the Mac in safe mode. And that doing that automatically caused a disk check and fix of some sort-- and that often everything would be hunky dory again once you were fully booted up in safe mode. All you had to do after that was restart from the menu, and everything should be fine.

It worked! At least the initial boot.

But I arrived at the OS X password screen, and my niece's password didn't work.

I tried variations of it in case of misspellings or whatever. But nothing worked. I couldn't get in. And so was unsure if all the repair work described online for happening in this mode was performed.

I tried Disk Utility again.

And got all the same crap as before.

I went back to the net, and learned about invoking single user mode. Or, basically how to turn the Mac into a retro Commodore 64 or DOS PC from the early 1980s or so (for that's what the resulting text screens and interface resemble).

I basically used text commands here to try using disk utility functions again, only hopefully more successfully. Knowing that sometimes repeated passes were necessary to truly fix a disk, I repeated the operation, making for a total of 5 passes.

But this still didn't fix the problem.

I learned from the net how to access Apple Hardware test at startup, and tried that. I ran the extended test, and it said an error in memory was detected.

I wrote down the error code for checking online. However, I also found users saying the Apple Hardware test wasn't necessary reliable on machines like this one. Especially for memory tests. Damn it!

Well, I figured I could try my own memory test at some point (I had some ideas).

However, I was pretty sure the RAM in this Powerbook had been installed when new-- maybe by Apple itself-- and had run fine for a couple years now. Plus (except for the Disk Utility error), the Mac seemed to run fine when booted off the DVD rather than the hard drive. So I was leery of any real RAM problem existing.

I saw more references online about repairing disk permissions. And I knew something wasn't right about those on this disk.

I learned how to go into single user mode and try to repair permissions.

But I only got another useless error message when I tried it:

"carbon lazy values total size 11057 bytes!"

And the laptop seemed to be crashed at that point.

I had to shut down with the power button.

I rebooted, zapped the PRAM 3 times, and reset the PMU twice.

I learned a different way to try repairing disk permissions with something called SystemStarter. But only got the "carbon lazy..." error again. And froze up.

I shut off, and rebooted.

I found some further variations on these things online, and tried those too.

No go.

I learned about possibly using a Firewire cable to get into the hard drive from another Mac.

So I figured I'd try that, copy over my niece's files, then format her drive (if possible).

The Firewire trick worked, and the files were copied.

While I was backdoor connected to the laptop, I tried running Disk Utility that way too-- only from different disks than before. But it wouldn't work (said it 'couldn't unmount').

I did a bit more online research regarding the problem with repairing disk permissions, as well as the error I got trying to use Disk Utility, and was pointed to possible problems caused by iTunes software receipts on the disk.

So through my Firewire connection I did some rearranging of the laptop's hard drive. Temporarily moving files named "iTunes.PKG" and "iTunes4.PKG" from the receipts folder inside the library folder to elsewhere.

But after disconnecting the Macs and trying to boot the laptop once more, I still got the same old kernel panic message.

I did more online research regarding the iTunes conflicts, and found a different set of instructions for dealing with them: this time trashing preferences and receipts files related to it, among other things. I fiddled with these via Firewire again, but it didn't fix the laptop.

So I finally went ahead and formatted the laptop's disk, and reinstalled everything fresh. One important note here: I'd waited until my niece had a chance to stop by and confirm I'd copied over all the files she wanted first. Plus, I managed to verify that she'd given me the correct password to start with: apparently the laptop simply wouldn't accept it. I guess it had something to do with its malaise.

While the format seemed to take care of things like previously unfixable disk permissions, it did not fix the Mac. I watched the same old kernel panic as before pop up on native disk boot.

I ran Disk Utility (with no errors reported, this time!) and everything was stated to be fine. I restarted from the internal hard drive, reset PRAM; and ran into the same error as always.

The next time I started, I reset the PMU: and got the same error.

After this I removed the optional 512 MB RAM from the machine. Got the same error.

I removed the default 512 MB RAM too, and replaced it with 512 MB from another dead Powerbook currently residing here, so the laptop would now have completely different RAM than before: same error.

[Please note I later ran across a warning online not to try this: using the RAM from the 15 inch Powerbook in the 17 inch-- because although they look compatible, they are not. However, in my tests the 15 inch RAM worked just as well as the 17 inch model's RAM, in all ways]

I tried Apple's hardware test again. Absolutely no problems were found (so the previously encountered memory error was now nowhere to be seen).

I reset the PMU. Same kernel panic.

I checked for more ideas online, and found stuff about firmware problems with 17 inch Powerbooks. And how to reset the firmware.

I did that. Same error.

I reset the PRAM 5 times in a row. Same error.

I booted up in safe mode. This time I had no password problems, as the disk format had taken care of that.

Online, I'd also seen tips that there could be problems with a login item or a kext file (whatever the hell that was). And maybe removing some startup items might help. Then I could add them back one at a time until the problem resurfaced, to figure out which was the culprit. So I checked the Apple menu/system preferences/view/accounts/startup items list-- but there was nothing there.

I used the Apple menu to restart out of safe mode, to finally test the possibility that that might fix everything.

It didn't.

I learned about verbose mode. And tried that. As it lists what OS X is seeing and doing in realtime-- and so when OS X crashes, the last thing on the list is a likely suspect.

Much of the list turned out to be unintelligible, however. But backtracking from the end, the first thing I recognized was something to do with Apple Airport.

But my latest use of Apple's hardware test had shown nothing wrong with Airport-- or any other hardware in the machine.

And so far as I knew we'd never ever turned Airport on, on this laptop-- or ever used it at all.

I'd even previously seen an Airport card crammed the wrong way into a card slot on a desktop G4, where-- although it caused other problems-- it didn't prevent startup.

And there seemed to be very few comments online about Airport crashing Macs at startup.

Plus, I wasn't sure what I could do to check or remedy that anyway, at that moment, as Airport is deeply integrated into this laptop: you can't just yank a card out of a slot here, like you can on many other Macs.

My mindset was also focused on finding and fixing software problems. Since that was usually where the problems were-- and atop all that, if it did turn out to be a hardware problem, we probably couldn't afford to fix the thing at all. End of story. So besides the conflicting info I was getting from my tests and online research, I was also biased against determining the cause to be in hardware. Unless it was relatively trivial hardware-- like a PRAM battery.

Other possibilities from my online searches included various problems with the much-more-complicated-than-before PRAM battery on this laptop. Rather than just a battery, it now included its own little circuit board to expand the diversity of problems it could cause.

Note that I'd encountered bad startup problems with our desktop G4 years before, which I could only solve by pulling out the PRAM battery-- and not putting it back in-- or turning on the Mac again-- until at least 2 hours later. Plus, unplugging the G4 from AC for that period, too. Like there were some capacitors which had to drain or something. And tests showed doing it for less than 2 hours wouldn't work.

So I strongly suspected the PRAM battery setup here; especially now that it had its own circuit board too.

I found online reports matching my situation where removing the PRAM battery had solved the problem.

A couple different tests for PRAM problems were listed online. Plus, I was familiar with the fact a dead or dying PRAM battery would cause a Mac to forget its date and time.

But I was also familiar with the desktop G4 having its hellacious PRAM battery startup problem in the absence of date/time forgetfulness.

The situation was a bit more complex in a laptop compared to a desktop, as the PRAM battery may be a rechargeable in the laptop. Plus, the laptop's main battery would fill in for the PRAM date and time-wise, until and unless it too had problems.

I set the time/date. Shut down. Removed the main battery and AC power for longer than 10 minutes. Then put everything back together again. Booted in safe mode. The date/time were still correct.

So the PRAM battery didn't seem to be dead.

There were also online suggestions that various battery glitches might still be there to cause the start up problems. So I tested that by leaving the laptop plugged into AC power but with no main battery inside, so the PRAM battery could get a fast full charge in minimal time (at least 4 hours).

However, after that the laptop still wouldn't boot normally. And it still remembered the correct date.

I used System Profiler, and noticed it didn't see Airport in safe mode. But that's the definition of safe mode: boot up doesn't include lots of the usual software add-ons or drivers.

A few days later, figuring there wasn't much else left to try, I began disassembling the laptop, figuring to take loose the PRAM battery and test that.

I'd had trouble locating a good guide for this. The site I thought I'd used for the previous older and smaller Powerbook teardown didn't seem to have documentation for this one up yet (it said "Powerbook G4 Aluminum * 17 inch Powerbook Manual (Coming Soon)"). And I was unable to locate any Apple docs with details about teardowns, either.

Apple Macbook, iBook, Powerbook Service Manual Repair Guides

I was also dreading it. For my previous Powerbook teardown had shown the process was very different from a desktop disassembly. Most all the parts were much tinier and more difficult to deal with-- or even see at all. And since my cataracts forced my twin eye operations on me, I cannot focus nearly as well on tiny nearby objects now as I could years back.

I do keep a pair of reading glasses around for this: but their flexibility is limited to a particular narrow range of close-in focus. Meant mainly for reading the buttons on a TV remote or other electronic device, rather than examining the often near microscopic guts of a modern Powerbook.

And there's the matter of keeping track of different size, type, and length screws and where they go into the case, as you go, for reassembly. It can be bewildering if you're not properly prepared to deal with it.

And you have to have a few special and unusual tools for this, too. I had to buy a new tool specifically for the previous Powerbook teardown. So it can be a major league hassle for anyone who doesn't fiddle with stuff like this on a regular basis!

But I figured I was somewhat prepared by my previous experience, and decided just to go in and get it over with.

I badly wanted this latest Powerbook albatross off my neck.

But Apple had changed the design more than expected between the models.

Sometime after I'd already tore it all apart and put it back together again, I'd finally locate a detailed manual on the topic on the net. Anyone who sees it will immediately recognize the immense hassle involved in such a project.

Apple 17 inch aluminum G4 Powerbooks are NOT user-serviceable. I repeat: Apple 17 inch aluminum G4 Powerbooks are NOT user-serviceable.

Really! 99% of owners/users of these machines should never ever crack these things open, if they can possibly avoid it. Oh sure: you can switch out the main battery or upgrade your RAM; those things are made super-easy by Apple. Anything more than that though, and you should probably just go ahead and hand over to Apple an arm and a leg for their tech slaves in Mexico or wherever to fix it for you (if you can afford it; we couldn't).

Even equipped with all the precise specialty tools required, and Apple's insider documents to go by-- as well as many hours of instructional classes-- I expect Apple doesn't let a new technician anywhere near a possibly still salvageable 17 inch Powerbook like this one until after they've already shown some proficiency with at least one or two absolutely dead machines of the same kind.

That is, not until the technicians have proven they can keep any new damages they inflict upon the astonishingly delicate hardware with their clumsy human repair efforts to a minimum.

For the whole layout of this machine is one big mine field of potential Gotchas! just waiting to make you wish you'd never opened it up in the first place.

And here I was diving in with my motley collection of mostly 30 year old automotive tools, difficulty of seeing small items close up, and virtually no documentation to guide me.

Note it's also difficult to be as careful as you should be when all you want to do is get it over and done with as fast as possible. Yikes!

I like my niece very much. But I dislike doing this sort of thing an awful lot, too. It's strenuous, stressful, time-consuming, and frustrating in the extreme.

Especially when you know it's largely made that way on purpose by the manufacturer. Bastards!

So anyway, I cleared a table top, gathered my meager tools and wrist grounding strap, and dove in.

First you remove the easy stuff like the main battery. Then three screws, a plate, and the RAM underneath.

Beyond this point I was having to make my best guesses about what screws I had to remove to get the case open. And in what order. However, most every screw you can see on the outside of the case must be taken out early on. Including several inside the battery and memory compartments.

There's lots and lots of screws in this stage. Of varying size and length. You need to keep track of them somehow, or else you might damage the laptop with the wrong screw in the wrong hole later.

And when I say keep track of them, I don't mean you can get away with carefully placing three or six in a pattern on the far corner of your work bench for a memory jogger. For there's maybe three or four times that many. And some are so darn small you may not be able to relocate them or remember them later if they're simply laid out on a surface somewhere. By small I mean they're like microdots. So tiny two of your fingertips likely can't pick them up, but that's OK, because they're so itty bitty the natural oils on your skin (or maybe a tiny bit of static electricity) will make them stick to your finger when you press down on one.

If you can find them to press down on them, that is.

Keep in mind the tinier something like this is, the easier it is to lose it entirely.

How can a screw be the size of a micro dot and still have a head and a shaft that spins down into a hole? Take apart a laptop like this one and you'll see the answer.

Being somewhat aware of the screw tracking problem from the previous 15 inch Powerbook teardown, I went through my 40 year old junk pile and came across an ancient Plano double-sided compartmentalized box I'd bought cheap at a flea market long ago, but never found a use for since. The sort of thing you might see fishermen use to hold a selection of fishing lures or whatever. Although the many compartments were huge compared to the screws, the main thing was I could easily and rapidly distribute the screws into the compartments according to their location on the laptop.

This didn't quite work out as well as I'd hoped though, due to the necessity to turn the laptop around and flip it too several times for access during the procedure. This led to a bit more uncertainty later in the reassembly process than I would have preferred. But my tactic was still far better than none at all for this particular problem.

You've got to use something like jeweler's screwdrivers for most of the Phillips head screws in the Powerbook case. These are tiny screwdrivers handy for things like tightening eyeglasses screws with-- as well as various electronics like this. I bought my first set in my supercar days, but they were stolen from me. By the paranoid drug-dealing neighbor character described in Heartbreaker. I rarely let people get away with such thefts-- but back then I had much more important things to deal with (as can be seen in the story). So I'm using my second set here.

To make things harder on the do-it-yourselfer, Apple also uses a weird type of screw with a star-like head in a few places inside the laptop. You'll be unable to deal with these screws with any tool but that made for them. The tool tips usually have size designations like "T-10" or "T-6" or whatever. You'll probably have to buy a whole set of those too, to do stuff like this.

They seem to be called "Torx".

DO NOT try to use the wrong type of tool for these screws: if you do, you'll likely strip out or ruin the heads, causing yourself a whole lot more trouble than is already discussed on this page. Yeow!

Just guessing as I was-- and wanting to get it over with-- I was proceeding sort of recklessly, considering the minefield Apple's laid out here. But any outside observer wouldn't likely have gotten this impression. For with my lack of documentation guidance-- but my awareness of the quirks I ran across in the 15 inch Powerbook-- I was loathe to exert excessive pressure on any component, and also used a flashlight and lots of maneuvering around of the case, frequently peering inside to check for any possible problems, as I very gradually worked my way towards detaching the keyboard top of the case from its bottom.

Working on these things feels about as pleasurable as I imagine it would be to have one arm tied behind your back as you tried to fend off a child no older than seven or eight who was earnestly trying to injure you with a hammer-- and you weren't allowed to kick him or trip him up with your feet. Or strike him in any offensive manner. And you had to keep this up for hour after hour after hour.

Yes: you could probably prevent the child from seriously injuring you, even with all those restrictions on your actions. But you'd surely be wishing for an end to the match ASAP. And you'd be forced to focus all your attention on him the entire time, with no respite.

But despite all my precautions, I almost committed a fatal mistake. For without any documentation to guide me, I neglected to properly detach the keyboard ribbon from the bottom half of the case, before gingerly separating the two.

On the 15 inch Powerbook, this ribbon was much more narrow, and hadn't been connected to the motherboard with anything more than a piece of something like transparent Scotch tape, so far as I could tell. The ribbon terminator had simply sat atop a very tiny block resembling a sacrificial alter with electrical leads, with the tape seemingly holding the end of the cable in place there.

So I guess I expected something similar here.

But I was surprised to find Apple had done away entirely with any sort of formal termination or male and female connectors on certain of their cables, like this one. Instead, the ends of the ribbon simply slide into an enclosure and then are bound there by a fragile piece of plastic that slides in alongside it to make it snug against some unseen electrical leads inside.

Holy smokes!

Apparently I lucked out in this case, and the plastic snugger was relatively loose, so that the ribbon simply slid out of the enclosure as I gently and slowly pried the top off the case.

It was a small miracle that I didn't damage the enclosure or the snugging plastic strip. Or the ribbon itself.

I would worry about this the whole rest of the time I was working on the laptop, since I couldn't test the keyboard to see if the ribbon still worked until I had the whole thing back together again. Agh!

Once I had the keyboard/top off the case, I was disappointed to see Apple had covered up many components with some sort of dark covering, which appeared a real hassle to remove and reapply.

The covering would make it much tougher to identify different components, such as the PRAM battery sub-assembly. Damn it!

So I retreated back to the internet again, searching fairly desperately for any sort of guide to this Powerbook's internals.

Eureka! I found it!

An especially useful link-- even including an illustrated disassembly guide like I'd badly needed some hours previous!

PowerBook G4 Al 17" Guides: Installing PowerBook G4 Al 17" PRAM Battery & USB Board

Man! I sure wished I'd had these before! The new guides strengthened my concerns over the keyboard ribbon snafu. But I just had to hope I could recover from that later. For now I needed to figure out where the PRAM subassembly was, and see if I could disconnect it in a way that'd be safe for me to leave the thing still inside the Powerbook afterwards.

The guides helped me pinpoint the thing. And offer instructions for removing/replacing it.

Yikes! Removing it required first removing the DVD drive which sat atop it-- and from everything I could glean from the guide and my own close examination of the Powerbook internals, that was a task best left to the Gods of Olympus. For the drive's own ribbon connection to the motherboard was insanely tenuous and fragile. Either Apple techs have some extremely specialized tool for dealing with it, or else they rip it completely out and install a whole new one during a drive replacement. I was pretty sure it was beyond my ability to deal with in a successful manner here.

So that meant I had to simply disconnect the PRAM battery subassembly somehow. I located its particular ribbon. One end connected to the motherboard fairly close to the drive's own ultra-scary connector. The other end dove a bit deeper into the innards, on one side of the drive, into a connector which actually resembled the type of desktop connectors I was more accustomed to. Except smaller and much more fragile-looking, of course.

Neither end connection of this ribbon looked like an easy thing to deal with.

The deep end (dipping down beside the drive) looked to possess the type of fasteners requiring a squeeze to release the catches, and a fairly strenuous pull-- preferably simultaneous in nature.

Human fingers couldn't do the job. Nor pliers. It appeared the designer expected the DVD drive to be removed and gone before anyone attempted to take the ribbon loose there.

The other end, though much more accessible, looked daunting as well where disconnection was concerned.

Turned out this 'shallow' end was quite similar to the 'snugging' connection used at the motherboard end of the keyboard ribbon. And so helped teach me a little about what I would be dealing with when I returned to that issue.

I ended up very carefully using the tip of maybe my smallest straight-edged jeweler's screwdriver to pry loose the fasteners, and then the snugger band itself from the ribbon to free it there. Then put the snugger back in place, minus ribbon.

This had freed one end of the PRAM battery ribbon. I really wanted to free the other end too, and remove the ribbon entirely.

The 'deep' connector took quite a bit more time. I ended up having to use the same screwdriver and method for it as I had the first. At last I got it free, and put the ribbon aside.

Then I began trying to get the Powerbook back together again. Trying to follow all my previous steps in reverse.

Thank goodness I now had a guide to help about the keyboard ribbon snugger! For that particular connection can be confusing even with a guide!

When I'd previously accidentally pulled the ribbon free of its snugger band, the band itself had stayed attached to the ribbon end's enclosure. Therefore, to attempt to put the ribbon back as it had originally been, I had to release the snugger from the enclosure with my handy jeweler's screwdriver tip (being very, very careful not to break off the itty bitty latch arms on either side).

I got the snugger free, then re-inserted the keyboard ribbon end and the snugger band in the proper arrangement (this step is confusing even with diagrams and photos from the guide). I had to take my time with this one. Finally it seemed properly reattached. But I couldn't test it until it was all together again.

Once I finally had it all reassembled, I fired it up and--- got the same error as before.

DAMN IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But maybe I simply had to now do another PMU reset, and PRAM resets... so I did. Resetting the PRAM in particular four audible bongs worth.

And I still got the same error.


I restarted and went to safe mode, and at least found the keyboard still worked properly, despite the ribbon problems before. And the Powerbook's USB port on the right side had been disabled along with the PRAM subassembly.

Well, it appeared the best I'd be able to offer my niece was the ability to start up the Powerbook in safe mode, and maybe use it that way. I wasn't sure how functional it'd be that way. Plus, safe mode startup takes a looooonnnngggg time, since a disk repair is automatically done every time.

I figured I'd test the laptop to see how functional it was in safe mode later....like testing it with some web browsing, the USB and Firewire ports, and Photoshop Elements.

Another possibility I'd seen online was a faulty heat sensor in the Powerbook preventing startup. I believe I read that one guy actually cut the wires or removed the sensor entirely to get his Powerbook working again! Yikes!

However, being aware as I am of the dangerous fire-bomb nature of the battery technology being used in laptops like this Powerbook-- where basically decent levels of battery life and power are produced largely by smart software managing the battery close to the very edge of its electro-chemical limits (i.e., near to exploding in flame), NO WAY was I going to snip the heat sensor loose! Sheesh!

So, I felt like I'd reached the end of my rope here.

My niece showed up the next Sunday, and I gave her the bad news. I actually tried to get her to take the Powerbook home with her that day, to get it away from me, but she declined. So I told her I'd test it a bit to see what it'd do, and whether it'd still be useful enough to keep.

It may be she was considering just completely giving up on it by that point, as from everything I could gather online even a trained Apple tech would have likely declared a motherboard replacement necessary long, long before I'd given up on the thing, costing my niece at least $600-$800 for the fix.

At that price it might have been better just to get a whole new PC laptop instead. And I think that she mentioned something about maybe saving up for a new laptop.

So that evening after she was gone I figured to do my testing.

But I ended up grasping at straws instead. Wondering, what if? What if by some weird chance the Airport really was what was messing up the Powerbook? I'd learned from the online guide and my own internals examination there wasn't anything I could do in a practical fashion about the Airport hardware myself. But in my ancient Mac OS days I'd routinely moved drivers and extensions in or out of System folders to solve some problems.

I had no idea how to deal with the Airport extensions from the OS X text command line: but could I possibly fiddle around in the normal icon-based user interface for this?

I did more research on the possibility.

Too, keep in mind OS X in verbose mode had seemed to indicate it crashed around the time it talked to the Airport hardware (but Apple Hardware Test had told me the Airport hardware was fine). And mentions on the net of connections between kernel panics and the Airport hardware were almost non-existent. Lastly, I knew the problem shouldn't be the Airport software drivers themselves, for even if they had originally been corrupted on the hard drive, I'd formatted that drive and replaced them with fresh copies from the OS X recovery disk.

So this was definitely a long shot-- but I truthfully had nothing else left to try.

After some more net research, I determined I should remove from System/Library/Extensions the following two files:

mv AppleAirPort.kext
mv AppleAirPort2.kext

I had some trouble doing this: OS X wouldn't allow it for a while, for some reason. I perhaps got past this roadblock by first copying the files to a different location, then trashing the originals (I fiddled around trying different things here, without documenting every move).

I also found that this Powerbook had three files seemingly related to Airport in that location, rather than only two. So I got rid of all three.

These three files were named differently from what I expected, too:



So...disconnecting the PRAM battery and right-side USB had been wholly unnecessary.

But...I considered it far too risky to try another disassembly to put those back in order again (and was unsure if I could personally endure a second expedition of that sort, anyway). For I knew I could just as easily kill the laptop completely with a single mistake in there.

There was also the fact that having the PRAM disconnected removed another (and entirely different) potential cause of this same problem from the equation (according to the internet).

I dug up an old USB 1.0 hub for my niece to use to gain additional USB ports (since I'd left her with only a single USB 2.0 port functioning now). And informed her of the slower nature of the 1.0 versions: they're fine for things like mice or similar input devices, but she might want to access her remaining 2.0 port directly for a hard drive or memory stick.

The Powerbook's main battery will keep her date/time settings all right-- unless and until it goes dead or gets too low, at which time she'll have to reset those numbers manually. And her Airport (wireless networking) is obviously dead. But other than these caveats, her Powerbook is fully functional again. At zero cost to her money-wise.

And as for the Airport, that feature likely goes unused by most Powerbook owners anyway. I know we didn't use it here. Most people would have to buy extra hardware from Apple to get it work at all at home or in the office. So that was definitely no loss.

And yet...that defunct and virtually useless-to-us-even-if-functional Airport had come damn near to turning this expensive Powerbook into a big shiny paperweight.

I mean, what the hell, man? If my wireless networking quits, my whole laptop goes dead? In my opinion THAT is a factory defect!

Yeah, I should have tried removing the Airport extensions BEFORE disassembling the thing. But recall I'm awfully rusty fixing even ancient Macs today; since I switched to PCs around seven years ago. And these recent two Powerbooks are the first laptops ever-- Mac or PC-- that I've attempted repairs on. And I just plain knew almost nothing about OS X when this latest ordeal began. I barely know how to use OS X as a plain old non-geek user, I've spent so little time in it since its release.

And when you consider the hardware minefield awaiting me inside that Powerbook, I (at least in my own opinion) did pretty well!

So why was the Airport hardware screwed up in the first place on this machine? It could have been a factory defect. But that seems unlikely, since it gave us no problem for years until now.

I don't think it was a AC power spike either. Not with no other damage to the machine, and my niece always using a surge protector with AC connections.

No, maybe the most likely culprit was actually an electro-magnetic pulse. Yikes!

Yes. I'm talking about an EMP similar to that most usually mentioned only in relation to nuclear detonations.

However, lightning bolts also produce EMPs.

Me niece lives in an area where the storms get quite fierce, quite often. Her father has told me he's witnessed a small tornado meander through a low lying field alongside their home before. So they get plenty of nearby lightning strikes.

I believe the EMP from a lightning strike wirelessly entered her Powerbook's Airport antenna, most likely when she had the laptop disconnected completely from AC and a surge protector, and not even switched on, but sitting inside is well-cushioned carrying case. Why do I say it wasn't plugged into AC? Because if it had been, maybe the AC ground would have bled off the EMP and saved the Airport.

The lightning bolt culprit may have struck the earth within a 100 yards or so of her home, probably startling her and her family, if they were there.

The physical orientation of the Powerbook and its internal Airport antenna at the time may also have contributed to its vulnerability to EMP reception. But it'd probably require a few Apple engineers and a lightning specialist or two to go any deeper into the relevant details than that.

Below are some of the other links I ran across in my search for ideas with which to fix this Powerbook:

Powerbook G4 startup problems

Solving Mac Startup Problems

Re: Powerbook G4 boots to grey screen

Changing your administrator password

BACK to Apple OS X laptop user's log...

Mac OS X troubleshooting, repair, and recovery CHEAT SHEET

Copyright © 2008 by J.R. Mooneyham. All rights reserved.