Repair Stories

Repair Story: 320 GB Drive Troubles

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!