Powerbook – Not Booting – Unfixed (No fee)

This job comes courtesy of my Leeds Local Pub (The old Steps – www.theoldsteps.com , highly recommended for the grub!), one of the regulars had a faulty Powerbook. It seemed to (usually) boot up, there was the usual Mac chime, but after a brief flicker nothing came on screen. Whilst looking at it at the bar I suspected it might be the monitor, as I couldn’t spot much else wrong with it. After getting it home and in to a quieter environment it was pretty obvious it was the hard-drive.

It made a sort of squeeling, desperatly-trying-to-cling-on-to-life, noise before giving up and idling. I opened up the Powerbook to take out the hard-drive.

As a quick aside I wouldn’t really recommend doing this yourself, not unless you’re reasonably confident in your abilities. It’s easy to get to the hard-drive on most other laptops, not so with the Powerbook (and most earlier Macbooks, if I remember rightly). You have to remove the entire bottom of the laptop, every screw from the bottom, the sides and two from the front, as well as removing a couple in the RAM bay (at this point I spotted one of the RAM bay arms was broken/not there, not a big deal I thought). Then you have to push the case forward, quite forcefully, to unlock it and THEN it  eventually lifts off. Be careful not to snap the ribbon cable that connects the keyboard/powerbutton/trackpad.

Powerbook G4 without case

Once in, I removed the hard-drive, popped the battery back in and booted it up holding down ALT (aka Option, on a Mac). This allows you to select what booting device you want to use. The screen lit up and came to life and displayed…well, nothing much as there were no bootable devices installed.

To test the rest of the laptop I quickly burnt out a Ubuntu Live CD (powerpc compatible) and booted it up. To boot from a cd on a MAC you can either hold down ALT after the chime and select it from the options screen, or hold down “C” which will tell it to boot straight from the optical drive.

Linux booted up without an issue so the rest of the computer seemed ok. To further clarify the hard-drive was dead I plugged it in to a USB caddy I had laying around and tried accessing it from my Macbook. The drive clicked, made it’s dying noises and the Macbook failed to even recognise it. Dead as the dodo.

Unfortunately the Powerbook is getting on a bit in years now, they’re still great machines but the components are a little older, hard-drive included. As such it’s an IDE/PATA/ATA drive (choose your abbreviation, they more or less mean the same thing) rather than the newer, and much more popular and thus cheaper, SATA drives. I managed to track one down locally at Maplins for £64.99, and one online at £41.99 + delivery. The customer was happy to spend the extra and get one locally rather than wait for delivery.

A quick cycle to Maplins later on my lunch break (as mentioned earlier I work a 9-5 job in addition to doing this computing work) and the hard-drive was in my possession.

Back at home I popped the hard-drive in to the machine ready for installing the OS, and to make sure the thing fitted. Powerbooks need a drive 0.9cm thick (I think). 99% of drives meet this criteria, but not all, sometimes you get a fatty. Fortunately this one fits nicely.

Unfortunately the Tiger disc I have doesn’t work with the machine and the owner can’t find theirs. After some digging and failing I eventually found my retail version, that’ll have to do.

After some failed starts and dubious crashes it eventually starts to install. The process finishes and I give the Powerbook a reboot. It hangs on booting up, not good. Try another reboot and this time it gets to OS X, the machine works for a good 5 minutes but following on from that crashes again. A further try and the machine refuses to even boot, just the fans spin up.

After turning over the machine to try swapping the ram around I hear something moving under the motherboard. So I take everything to pieces, every cable and every screw is removed so there’s practically nothing left in the case.


Upon removing the motherboard I spot a small piece of metal underneath it… it’s the arm from the ram bay. Seems it’s been rattling around underneath. That’s possibly why the harddrive failed (though unlikely) but it’s definitely why it’s been acting unreliably and  refusing to boot. If I had to guess I’d say the machine had taken a hard knock or drop at some point in it’s life which weakened/killed the harddrive and knocked loose the arm.

The guilty party shown below, along with the RAM bay itself (it’s the one on the right that’s not present, it’s hard to tell).

The arm from the RAM bay, broken off.

Unfortunately after taking it to pieces and testing each component it seems the main board is to blame, the arm must have shorted out something pretty major (no obvious scorch marks on the bottom though). Main boards for the G4 run about £80 to £100 (according to ebay) and I just spotted the same spec G4 as this selling for £180, so it’s not really worth it. Add to that there’s no guarantee that little metal arm didn’t kill anything else whilst under there and it’s probably best to resign this little Powerbook to spare parts.

Always a let down when something can’t be fixed.

My fee: £0
Parts: £64.99 (Not charged, returnable to  Maplins)

Total: £0

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