Announcing iFixit.org: The People Who Are Fixing the World

January 19, 2012 Activism, Repair Stories, Site News — Kyle

iFixit has been helping people fix their stuff since 2003, with free, easy-to-use, step-by-step repair guides for all sorts of hardware—from electronics to automobiles. We believe in taking control of the devices you own by opening them up and tinkering with their insides. Our vision? A world where everyone has free access to repair manuals for everything. We make it easy, with our guide-creation software, for people to share their repair knowledge with the world.

On this new site, we, the iFixit team, will share the philosophy behind our work, some of the repair stories that we’ve historically been posting on iFixit.com, as well as posts from guests on similar sustainability issues.

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How To Fix Your AirPort Express Base Station

October 6, 2010 Repair Guides, Repair Stories, Site News — Miro

Disclaimer: We debated at length whether this writeup should be a repair guide or a blog entry. Given the very destructive nature of the repair, as well as the iffy probability of your device working afterwards, we decided the writeup was to remain a “hey, look what you could possibly do” blog post, rather than a specific set of instructions on how to fix your AirPort Express Base Station. If you still attempt to do this at home, consider yourself gently warned.

One day I came into our office and there were three AirPort Express Base Stations sitting on my desk, all labeled “Non-working.” I couldn’t believe it, so I plugged them in. Alas, they did not work, just like the Post-its instructed.

Word spread around the office regarding my new-found treasure, and one of our mechanically-inclined enginerds, Andrew, took it upon himself to fix a unit or two. After all, our site is called iFixit, not iThrowItAway.

He came across problem #1 very soon: merely opening the plastic suckers. Both of us tried all sorts of tools to neatly open them, to no avail. We kept increasing our force, and finally succeeded with two different methods. Andrew used a heat gun and Dextered the case using Exacto knives and flat-head screwdrivers, while I went the light-saber route and melted through the case seam with a soldering iron*. The method that Apple engineers used to adhere the two halves of the case produced such a strong bond that the plastic surrounding the case cracked, not the seam itself (in Andrew’s attempt, at least).

And this is why we’re not making it a repair guide:

Kind of like opening a clam, but much harder.

Inside were two separate PCBs. On the left was the power supply for the base station, on the right the AirPort Express card and sound board. Note the jagged edges around the case perimeter, evidence of the destruction needed to open it.

Two halves make a whole.

The power supply, which we suspected was the cause of our troubles.

Andrew handled the repair from this point. He immediately focused on the power supply, as none of the AirPorts were powering on. After a bit of unscrewing and unwrapping, he quickly realized the problem: both units contained burnt components in the same exact part of the power supply, rendering them useless.

Our problem is indicated by red markup.

Turns out the board was almost completely burned through near an inductor on the top side of the board. On other side there were two SMT resistors that also bit the bullet. It was not a pretty sight.

Resistors, well done.

Inductor, which we believe caused all the shenanigans in the first place.

As Andrew found out, fixing the power board proved to be a futile exercise. The inductor had continuity between its contact points, and it was assumed to be somewhat functional. He soldered new resistors on the other side of the board, but no amount of manipulation would fix the board. So he tossed it aside and focused on providing an alternate source of power to the AirPort card inside the unit.

Some astute readers may have noticed the output power ratings on the Samsung sticker Andrew removed from the power supply. This crucial piece of information allowed him to analyze the problem further. Apple usually doesn’t give out carrots like these, so they must have thought that nobody would be crazy enough to open up an AirPort Express Base Station. Silly Apple.

Written on the power supply in all caps: OUTPUT: “+5V @ 0.7A,” and “+3.3V @ 1.21A” — score!

Since there was one cable connecting the two boards together, Andrew had little trouble figuring out where the power was coming in. The tricky part was to figure out which wire provided the 3.3V and which the 5V input. Kind of like “do I cut the blue wire or the red wire” on a bomb, but with less explosive potential results.

The second problem of the day was finding a ~3V power supply. We had a generic 5V, 1A phone charger laying around, but nothing near 3V. So Andrew did what any other self-respecting enginerd would do: solder two AA batteries together. A short while later, he had mockup #1 emitting an orange light.

If you look really hard, you can see the two orange LEDs near the top-right of the PCB.

Great news! Except not really. Even though the AirPort Express Base Station powered on, it would not retain custom settings once we tried to set it up properly. The second unit exhibited the same exact problem. No amount of tinkering by either Andrew or yours truly would alleviate the problem, so we abandoned the project for the remainder of the day.

That night I got a text message from my persistent co-worker, who took the project home to work on it in his own time. It read: “I guessed wrong. Swapped the wires and it works!!!” We had discussed swapping wires earlier in the day, but figured that the unit wouldn’t power on at all, and that something else was the problem. Sometimes we shouldn’t overthink things and just do them.

So here is the correct wiring setup:

  • Black wires: ground. All three should be connected to the two ground wires from the power supplies.
  • Red wire (middle): 5V, 0.7A power input.
  • Orange wires (two on the right): 3.3V, 1.21A power input.
  • If you have trouble discerning the wires in the image below, check it out in full-res.

    The AirPort board is the only one worth saving, since it most likely works fine.

    Andrew wanted to do things proper the second time around — no AA battery funny business anymore — so he went to Radio Shack and acquired a 3V/4.5V/6V/7.5V/9V/12V switchable power supply. The final setup, which I’m listening to while typing this, looks like this:

    Not pretty, but it works.

    R-Shack wanted a steep $20 dollars for that fancy power supply, but convenience is king. For our other soon-to-be-fixed units, we found some great cheapo power supplies on Ebay that should work just fine. We won’t know until a couple of weeks from now, so we’ll keep on rocking with the R-Shack power source for now.

    Final power supplies that we used for our gizmo was an R-Shack 3V, 1A and a 5V, 1A power supply. We also put the AirPort card back into its half of the plastic shell. This is how it looks like when in use:

    It keeps quite cool.

    So far our AirPort “Bass” Station has been working consistently for four days with no problems. Still, we unplug it at the end of the day, just in case it decides to light on fire one of these days…

    * By the way, the soldering iron is the way to go when opening these things, as long as you do it in a well-ventilated area and don’t mind potentially destroying a soldering iron tip. It’s also relatively safer, given that the Exacto blade can stab you in the heart really bad.

    Burning Man: Wingman’s Auto Repair Yard

    September 30, 2010 Hardware, Repair Stories, Site News — Kyle

    This is a continuation of my series of posts about repair at Burning Man. I travelled to the heart of Nevada’s inhospitable Black Rock Desert to study the effects of accelerated entropy on technology.

    Wingman is standing by

    Wingman is standing by

    Most people only stay in the Black Rock Desert for the week of Burning Man. But the Department of Public Works has to run eighty vehicles non-stop in the desert for two months setting up and tearing down the infrastructure for Black Rock City. Their work never stops, even in a dust storm. They buy most of their vehicles at auction, and you can imagine what sort of vehicles they get with their spartan budget.

    The task of keeping the DPW fleet running lies with Jim Sweet, known on the playa as ‘Wingman.’ He runs the three-man repair crew responsible for keeping these clunkers humming. His team may be the most important folks on the playa: without them, work would quite literally grind to a halt.

    The Black Rock City auto repair yard

    The Black Rock City auto repair yard

    Wingman’s ‘shop’ is a shipping container full of spare parts (primarily air filters and alternators), cases of oil, hand tools, an air compressor, and one luxury item: a tire changer. Their setup is strictly mobile: I didn’t see much that you couldn’t fit into a truck bed toolbox. I spent a day shadowing Jim, watching him handle the never-ending trickle of people with car problems that filtered under his shade structure. He has a heart of gold. There’s a huge temptation for mechanics to focus on the problem, and gruffly ignoring the people with the issue. Jim doesn’t work like that. He refused to talk to anyone about their car until he knew their name.

    His approach isn’t just altruistic. He thinks that if people know the person at the repair yard, they’re more likely to try to fix things themselves and perform regular maintenance. This is a really interesting idea, and jives well with my philosophy that if you can’t fix it, you don’t own it.

    A medical team takes a break from prowling the playa to blow out their air filter

    A medical team takes a break from prowling the playa to blow out their air filter

    An aside: Jim wanted me to make sure to mention that his repair shop is for DPW vehicles only. There isn’t a repair camp on the playa large enough to handle all the vehicle problems that happen out there, and he’d be quickly overwhelmed if they tried to help everyone. So be prepared to fix it yourself!

    Deserts: Where even eye-wash station become hazards

    Deserts: Where even eye-wash stations become safety hazards

    Jim describes his work as ‘triage.’ He told me that he’s forced to avoid major jobs in the field because the dust fouls everything up. Instead, he hacks in whatever fixes he can—anything to keep the car running long enough to get it back to a real shop. I asked him what the most common repairs were, and this was his list.

    The top 6 desert-induced car problems

    1. Flat tires. No surprise here, tires fail under the best of conditions. But you’ve got a spare. And a jack. And a tireiron. Right?
    2. Dead alternators. This is tricky to fix without a spare part, and who carries around a spare alternator? I saw one guy who couldn’t find a spare manage to keep his art car running by running his generator alongside the engine. Hack? Definitely, but it kept his battery topped up long enough for him to limp home.
    3. Random electrical issues. Conductive dust. Everywhere. ‘Nuff said.
    4. Overheated cooling systems. Deserts are hot, man! Save a water bottle or three for your car. If you do start to overheat, run the heater to vent as much heat as you can.
    5. Clogged air intakes. DPW blows out the air filters of all eight of their fleet vehicles every other day!
    6. Sticky thermostats. Thermostats are mechanical, and they wear out and clog with dust.

    Mechanic helping mechanic: Wingman diagnosing an electrical issue on the bike repair van

    Mechanic helping mechanic: Wingman diagnosing an electrical issue on the bike repair van

    The law of the land is simple: make it work with what you’ve got, or you’re not getting out. I saw another art car with a failed alternator. The proprieters of this vehicle had managed to snag a new alternator, but it was the wrong one. Hey, an alternator’s an alternator, right? You just gotta make it fit. So they modified heavy-duty tent stakes into metal brackets and wedged the new alternator into place. Presto chango, a functional art car!

    Burning Man: Bike Repair

    September 15, 2010 Repair Stories, Site News — Kyle

    Driving is forbidden in Black Rock City. The only powered vehicles allowed are art cars. That makes the place very pedestrian friendly, but the city is too large to walk comfortably. So everyone bikes! Day and night, throngs of bicycles flow through the streets—creating a feeling of perpetual movement and pulsing life.

    This works great, but there’s a catch: The playa dust gunks up everything! Bikes are particularly vulnerable because riding in loose sand kicks up dust. Of course, everyone knows this is going to happen, so they bring the oldest, cheapest bicycles they can.

    You can see where this is headed: Bike repair is an absolutely essential skill on the playa. The most common problems are predictable: flat tires, clogged deraileurs and chains, and failing bearings.

    The dust in the desert is very fine—closer to fine cement or regolith than sand, which is relatively coarse. The alkali content is basic and caustic to organic compounds like skin. It is also midly conductive and wreaks havoc on all kinds of electronics.

    There are several bike repair shops on the playa. I interviewed bicycle techs from the largest two: the ‘official’ bike repair camp, and Pandora’s Lounge and Bicycle Fix-It Shoppe. Pandora’s shoppe featured a problem-solving flow chart (Warning: potentially offensive image). DPW is the local Department of Public Works, and Moop (material out of place) is trash.

    Pandora’s has been a stalwart force at Burning Man: this was their sixth year fixing anything and everything people threw at them. I watched for an hour as people from all walks of life came up asking for advice, help, and tools. They solved one problem after another, doing as much as possible with lubricant and tape rather than spare parts (which are rather hard to come by in the middle of Black Rock Desert). The wire bead separated from the rubber on this tire, and this well-dressed gentleman was able to get the tire reseated with a little duct tape to hold the bead in place.

    The shop crew were super helpful, and shared some tips with me for preventing getting stranded without a ride on the playa.

    1. Don’t use *any* oil or petroleum based products. That includes WD-40! The oil attracts dust like nothing else, and the fastest way to ensure your bike will grind to a halt is to liberally coat it with lube before you leave home.
    2. Less is more. Use as little lubricant as possible! One tech went so far as to tell me that he thought no lubricant was better than an oil based lube. That’s certainly not conventional bicycle maintenance wisdom. If nothing else, wipe off as much lubricant as you possibly can.
    3. Kickstands don’t help much in 30 mph winds! Just lay the bike down, or the fall will break a pedal.
    4. Temporary hacks are often better than the ‘right’ fix. Don’t attempt complex repairs (like pulling a bearing) on the playa. It’s almost impossible to keep things clean—better to hack a quick fix for a few days and then get the bike back to a real shop.

    I asked everyone about lubricants, and the consensus was that White Lightning’s self-cleaning wax lube is the best product out there. I’m told it also works wonders on zippers!

    I bet you’ve never seen a BUCKET of wax lubricant before, either.

    A few years ago, an anonymous donor helped Burning Man buy 1,000 ‘Yellow Bikes’, bicycles painted green (yes, green: irony is the source of much playa humor) and available for communal use. There’s only one rule: Never lock up a Yellow Bike. Instead, leave it for the next guy when you’re done.

    I stopped Epona, one of the Yellow Bike repair techs, to ask why she spent her vacation fixing bikes. The simplicity of her answer delighted me. “I like making bikes go.” Who doesn’t?

    Burning Man: Repair on the Playa

    September 14, 2010 Repair Stories — Kyle

    I made it out to Burning Man this year. If you’re not familiar, Burning Man is a week-long arts festival in Black Rock City, Nevada. The city is established temporarily for a week every year in the heart of the remarkably inhospitable Black Rock Desert. It is the most populous temporary city in the world.

    Propane powered fire sculpture

    I’m not really in the loop with the art scene. But I am into big hardware, and I know some of the people that work behind the scenes putting on this massive, magnificent event. They took me behind the scenes of Black Rock City and showed me the infrastructure that makes the place tick.

    On the way out to the desert, I stopped to talk to the residents of Winnemucca and Gerlach. All the locals I asked about the Black Rock Desert told me that it was a dirty, dusty, terrible place and went to pains to explain that they couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to go there.

    Burning Man has quite a reputation as a home for anarchists, sculpters, fire dancers, partiers, and survivalists. I saw and met all of those people, and I found something surprising in common with all of them: they seriously know how to fix things. It’s in their blood. The ability to repair is essential to radical self-reliance. I’ll give a number of examples over several posts about my experience there.

    One of the unique things about the festival is its insistence on decommercialization: except for a small coffee bar and an ice shack, no cash transactions are allowed inside the city. Instead, everyone barters and shares freely. That sounds radical, but it works quite well for a week. (I’m not sure how well it would last if the event went on much longer.) The freedom from worrying about your wallet emboldens a widespread ethos of sharing, teaching, and helping. Keeping things working in the desert is a challenge, and there are several repair workshops scattered throughout the city. I’ll profile a few of these in the coming days: Pandora’s Lounge and Bicycle Fix-It Shoppe, the city fleet auto repair center, and the heavy equipment yard.

    Black Rock City Bike Repair Shop

    What really struck me about the folks who make the event happen, particularly those in the Department of Public Works (DPW), was their commitment to facilitating—on a grand scale. They are paid a pittance to live out in the middle of nowhere, subsisting on a meager diet of PBR and Marlboros for months, putting in backbreaking effort to build the foundation for the biggest art festival in the world.

    Black Rock Workstation

    What fascinates me about Burning Man is the intersection of high technology with the raw force of nature: man struggling to fight off chaos. I took advantage of the opportunity to study this accelerated entropy, and over the coming days I’m going to post a series of photos and stories from my time there.

    Oil Leak Could Transform Repairmen into Superheroes

    July 15, 2010 Repair Stories, Site News — Kyle

    For the first time in our nation’s history, our hopes and dreams and economic fate rest, not on a warrior or a politician or an astronaut, but on a team of repairmen.

    Todd Schilla (left) and Ryan Gressett (right) co-pilot a remotely operated vehicle lowering a top hat onto the oil well in the gulf of Mexico. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick Kelley.

    The effort to seal the ruptured oil well in the Gulf is the grandest and highest-profile repair job since the Apollo 13 duct-tape fix. It is requiring a vast effort, leveraging all the ships and equipment and manpower that the most powerful companies and nations on earth can bring to bear.

    It would be thrilling if the consequences of failure were not so dire.

    Whatever the ultimate solution is, the men and women who finally do fix the ruptured well should be regarded as national heroes.

    Continue reading our full editorial on Wired.com.

    Spills that kill

    July 31, 2009 Hardware, Repair Stories — Miro

    How to prevent spills.

    That’s right, people spill. All the time. Even the best of us can be caught off-guard and let something slip. Sometimes the spill is harmless, such as tipping over a glass of water on the counter. Sometimes, however, a MacBook logic board meets its demise.

    We’re people, after all, and accidents happen whether we like it or not. Heck, I managed to get a bit of egg white on my old Dell Inspiron “kitchen” computer last weekend. Thankfully the egg white landed on the speakers, which only “work”  when I wiggle the headphone jack (thanks Dell). Other people aren’t as lucky, and they come to our forums asking for help after the spill.

    Some notable spills of late, which occurred on all sorts of laptops, phones, music players:

    • Water on laptop that was placed under a window overnight
    • Coffee Patron (didn’t know they even made Coffee Patron)
    • Coffee, sugar, and milk
    • Good old coffee, black
    • Wine
    • Beer
    • Tea
    • Water
    • Egg whites

    We’ve had people contact us about giving their iPods/iPhones a good wash in the washing machine or dropping them into the toilet. We even had a soldier from Iraq ask about an iPod that was dropped into 2,000 gallons of jet fuel. The iPod got a new battery and ran fine — but we’re not sure how it smelled after that ordeal.

    These are but a few of the liquids people manage to spill. The more pressing question is, however, what to do once the accident has occurred. Unfortunately the answer varies from case to case, depending on the type and amount of liquid, as well as where the liquid lands.

    For example, we had a co-worker’s friend accidentally knock over an entire mug of beer on his MacBook. He was obviously at the scene of the accident (compared to leaving your MBP under a window overnight) and so he managed to react quickly. He immediately disconnected the charger and battery, and flipped the MacBook upside down. He let it air dry for a day or two, crossed his fingers, and turned it on. Thankfully nothing was damaged, but he currently has one of the manliest-smelling MacBooks around.

    So here’s a few tips in case a spill ever happens to you, whether it’s on a laptop any other electronic product:

    • Don’t panic. Panic just complicates things.
    • Remove power to your device as fast and soon as possible. If that means not saving your blog post, so be it. You can always view the auto-save, but there’s no auto-save function for your logic board.
    • Shake out any liquid as soon as the device is turned off.
    • Let the device dry in a manner that is conducive to getting the liquid out. If it’s a laptop, place it upside-down on a counter and let it relax for a day or two.
    • Possibly disassemble parts of the device to verify that it’s dry, and/or to use a hair dryer to finish the job.
    • Cross your fingers, and turn the device on.

    At this point you may or may not still have a functional device, and potentially any component may have been affected. For example, if your MacBook doesn’t turn on, it may be the logic board is fried, or just that a component on the upper case failed. Liquid damage can be one of the worst accidents to have to diagnose, but hopefully the steps above will prevent any major damage from taking place.

    Spilled something unique? Want to share? Post a comment and we’ll add you to the list above!

    Upgrading a MacBook Pro Hard Drive

    June 12, 2009 Hardware, Repair Stories — Miro

    Hard drives fail. It’s a fact of life. When moving parts inside the drive wear out, you’ll hear the signature “death whine” of a failed bearing, or the clatter of a dying drive head. Even if your hard drive is happily purring along, hard drive prices have fallen enough that it might be time to upgrade. New 320 and 500 GB drives are readily available for the MacBook Pro, but there’s a few things you should know prior to installing one in your computer.

    Whether or not things take a turn for the worse, we can show you how to replace your drive with something newer, more robust, faster, and with higher capacity. However, we cannot recover your lost data. Backups are your friend — nobody but you can save your complete and unabridged collection of Lost episodes.

    Apple released three major versions of the MacBook Pro prior to the current Unibody design. We have written detailed information on each model and how to differentiate between them: Core Duo, Core 2 Duo Model A1211, and Core 2 Duo Models A1226 & A1260. Each of these has slight internal differences that impact the way you disassemble them. We took photos of a Penryn (Model A1260) for this article, but the general approach applies to all of Apple’s older MacBook Pros.

    Safety comes first. Remove all power sources for this procedure, including the battery. Apple uses sliding switches on these machines rather than the coin-operated MacBook battery latch, which is fortunate, because you’re probably all out of coin from upgrading to the higher-end Pro model. However, the Pro’s dual latches do not make battery removal easy for one-armed people.

    Removing the battery exposes the RAM shield, which is held in place by three Phillips screws. This is a great time to “check under the hood” and possibly upgrade the RAM while you’re at it. MacBook Pros come with only 1 or 2 GB RAM standard. Depending on your model, you can easily upgrade to 2 GB (Core Duo), 3 GB (Model A1211), or 6 GB (Models A1226 and A1260).

    You’ll need to remove 18 screws to open the top case: four on each side, two on the back, and eight on the bottom case. The screws look quite similar to one another, but will not fit correctly if inserted into the wrong hole. Try printing out the handy MacBook Pro PDF screw guide to keep track of all the screws. Alternatively, egg cartons or ice cube trays can also be useful for this purpose.

    Once you’ve removed the screws, you can carefully pull up the upper case. The case still has a cable that attaches the keyboard to the logic board, so it’s not a wise idea to pull it off quickly.

    A spudger is a flat plastic prying tool that can be very useful under the right circumstances. Taking the trackpad/ribbon cable off the logic board is one such situation. The spudger’s flat tip — not unlike a flat-blade screwdriver, but with less destructive potential — can squeeze itself in-between the board and male connector. A gentle twist of the spudger will separate the male connector from the socket without harming anything inside the computer. Make sure that the yellow tape is peeled back before removing the ribbon cable.

    And just like that, the upper case is off and you have access to the logic board, optical drive, fans, speakers, and most importantly, the hard drive. The drive is cleverly held in place by a screwed-in retaining bracket on the right side. Removing two Torx screws (Apple used Phillips screws for the bracket in some models) releases the bracket, allowing the drive to slide out of the rubber bumpers on the left side.

    Once the drive is out, the hard drive cable needs to be detached from the drive. The cable has a somewhat flimsy backing to it, so it’s a good idea to hold it gently and wiggle it side-to-side while detaching. The other side of the cable is still connected to the computer via two small connectors. Don’t yank the cable away from the rest of the computer, as that will undoubtedly break something important. Not wake-up-the-President-of-the-United-States important, but definitely spend-a-lot-more-money-trying-to-fix-the-laptop important.

    Four Torx screws hold the drive in place when it’s installed in the laptop. The silver T6 Torx screws slide out of the rubber bumpers on the left side, while the right-side T6 Torx screws still have the bumpers attached. The four screws need to be moved from the old drive to the new one so it will fit securely into place.

    As with any repair job, disassembly is only half the battle. Thankfully, all you have to do is follow the disassembly instructions backwards to completely reassemble the MacBook Pro once the new drive is mounted.

    Power it up to make sure everything is connected properly. But powering on the machine isn’t the end of your journey. The new drive has no operating system or data on it. You have a couple of options, depending on the state of the old drive. You can clone the old one (if it still works) by installing it into a FireWire enclosure and using Disk Utility to clone. Once you’re done, you can use the enclosure and old drive as a Time Machine backup, in case the new drive ever fails — or as external storage. The other option is to start from scratch with a fresh install from a Mac OS X install disk; this is a cleaner but more time-consuming process. We offer Leopard install instructions on how to perform either procedure, so the choice is up to you. Just make sure the partition is set to the Intel-native “GUID Partition Scheme,” otherwise you may encounter some very interesting problems.

    People who’ve had drives fail know how terrible it can be to lose all your data. Do yourself a favor, and make sure you have current backups of everything. Mounting your old drive in an external enclosure after your MacBook Pro hard drive upgrade is a simple and inexpensive strategy.

    Meet iFixit: Mitra’s Upgrade Success Story

    May 19, 2009 Meet iFixit, Repair Stories, Site News — Miro

    Mitra works for iFixit as a Visual Designer. Most of the website graphics on our site have been shaped or created by her genius. She is the first person to write an article for the “Meet iFixit” series — personal blog posts written by iFixit employees relating some of their tech-related experiences. The following article is written solely by her, with a couple of edits here and there by yours truly. Enjoy.

    -Miro

    Last week I finally got enough motivation to fix my old 15″ PowerBook. The process was more fun and interesting than I expected. My repair story started in January of 2008 when I made the choice to update my computer system. My 2004 15″ PowerBook was making strange clicking sounds and the battery was dead (I had to keep it plugged in all the time). It was time for a faster machine and I needed a bigger monitor. I decided to get a 24″ iMac and retired my old laptop for use on special occasions.

    In December my laptop totally died. It would display a panic message and then freeze when I tried to turn it on. From that point, it took 4 months to convince myself that I could fix the PowerBook. I started by using the ID your Mac help guide to figure out what kind of laptop I had. Next I consulted a few tech savvy friends to confirm my suspicion that the hard drive was the cause of my problem. Then I went about getting everything I needed to make the repair.

    To fix my computer I bought a replacement hard drive, a battery, and a tool kit. I used the step by step iFixit guide for hard drive replacement, and an OS operating system CD. I was a little nervous getting started.

    I used a cupcake baking pan to organize the screws as I took the laptop apart.

    There were a few moments when I wondered if it was ever going to turn on again. Looking at the inside of my computer was strange.

    I swapped the hard drive and put the pieces back together. I swapped out the old battery and installed the OS. It was easy.

    It took about 30 minutes to replace the hard drive… And installing the software took 3 hours. I’m happy to have a working laptop now. Thanks to everyone who helped!

    Repair Story: 320 GB Drive Troubles

    April 18, 2009 Repair Stories — Miro

    Agent Smith explicitly stated in The Matrix that we are “only human.” As I’ve found out recently, this generalization also extends to us here at iFixit, and is the basis for this story. Let us all gather ’round the campfire and tell the horror of a semi-successful 320 GB hard drive installation into a PowerBook G4 15″ Aluminum 1.5 GHz laptop.

    Yesterday was yet another pleasant California day — the type of day that makes you wish you were outside, painting and listening to Enya. My day started with a trouble-free entrance into the office, my wife’s trustworthy PowerBook G4 in one hand and a brand-new 320 GB drive in the other. I came inside full of hope that I will hook up the 320 GB bad boy with an external USB enclosure, set up a “Restore” cloning session with the existing internal 80 GB drive (Disk Utility is your friend!), and pretend to work for the next couple of hours while the 75 Gigs were transferred over. This completely failed, as did my next strategy– although in retrospect I found that some of the FAIL factors were not entirely my fault.

    First problem of the day: When I hooked up the 320 GB drive via a USB to SATA adapter, instead of whirring happily the drive made a CLICKclick, CLICKclick, CLICKclick noise. Uh oh — the brand-new drive is bad, I thought. I hooked up the same enclosure/drive to my MacBook Pro and it worked fine. This was an interesting discovery but it still did not solve my problem of cloning the drive. I proceeded to test back and forth between computers, but the same problem kept happening with the G4. No matter what I did, the PowerBook would not recognize the external USB drive. I hooked up various other PATA drives to the enclosure, but with the same end result.

    Eventually I decided the USB ports on the G4 were wonky (this assumption was confirmed over the course of the day). I proceeded to take apart the G4 using our nifty hard-drive replacement guide, and hooked up both drives to my Intel-based (more on the significance of that later) MacBook Pro via one FireWire and one USB enclosure. I formatted the 320 GB drive and did an 80-to-320 clone over the course of three hours, of course while pretending to work. Everything was copied and… It didn’t work.

    I put the 320 GB drive directly into the G4, but the computer absolutely would not recognize it. I tried the external FireWire or USB just for the heck of it, but the CLICKclick CLICKclick came back to haunt me. I hooked up another 160 GB drive internally to see if there’s a drive-size limitation, which would have been quite interesting given that the PowerBook G4 Aluminums should have an ATA-6 interface. By booting from a Mac OS X DVD, I was able to confirm that the 160 GB drive was present, although no OS was installed on it. I tried the same with the 320 GB drive, and it was also being recognized! So I tried installing Mac OS X, and saw that the partition was not correctly set on it. By default the Intel-based MacBook Pro set the drive partition to its native Intel-only “GUID Partition Scheme,” which prevents a PowerPC-based laptop to boot using the drive. So I set the 320 GB drive to the PowerPC-native “Apple Partition Scheme,” and of course Mac OS X installed with no problems. Finally, after a day of troubleshooting, the G4 booted successfully with the 320 GB drive!

    Had the G4 properly recognized the 320 GB drive via USB, and subsequently performed a clone from its internal 80 GB drive, none of this would have happened. We still don’t know why the laptop has goofy USB/FireWire ports, but I attribute it to the entropy of old age. The same laptop also had one of its RAM slots fail, and the SuperDrive went wonky years ago. Even so, I upgraded the RAM by putting a 1 GB module and tossed in an 8X SuperDrive for good measure. I figured after all this work my significant other can at least have a usable machine, given that it has decent processor, video card, and a great non-glossy display.

    Moral of the story: Make sure that the partition you set coincides with your laptop’s processor type. GUID Partition Scheme is for Intels, Apple Partition Scheme is for Power-PCs. Now if we can only make that into an nursery rhyme…

    Got a suggestion? Maybe you’ve written a repair-themed nursery rhyme? Drop a comment and let us know!