The Saga of a PowerBook 17© Amit Singh. All Rights Reserved. Written in Early 2003
Sometime in October 2002, I concluded that I need to get a new notebook computer. I am not a "Mac Person" or a "PC person", and I'm not saying this out of embarrassment of the otherwise implied cliché. I have owned machines with many different platforms in the past, and have worked on yet more. Machines that I have owned (not necessarily purchased myself) include:
- ARM based development board
- Compaq Notebook
- CRT iMac
- Dell Notebook
- HP PA-RISC based machine
- IBM ThinkPad Notebooks
- Intel based desktop PCs
- MIPS based development board
- Sony VAIOs
- UltraSPARC based Sun machine
- "White" iBook
Nonetheless, no matter how platform agnostic (or "omni-platformic") a person is, one has to choose some platform, some machine, where one can, say, "run one's life". As would the case be with most "computer people", I like to have a single machine, preferably portable, which can serve as my browsing station, mail receiver/sender, document repository and a reasonable development platform (among other things).
I have owned a few Sony VAIOs in the past, courtesy my work-place. I got the first of these, a Z505, in 1999. It looked very promising indeed - light, sleek (sleekness is subjective), reasonably well featured (FireWire, USB, IR etc. in 1999 was good). Unfortunately, my VAIO experience turned out to be rather bad. Within the next three years, I went through no less than three VAIO notebooks, each developing one or more of the following problems rapidly:
- Failing battery (charge goes from 100% to 1% in a couple of minutes).
- Trackpad buttons failing to function.
- PC Card slot going "bad".
- Power socket on the notebook "breaking".
- Ethernet jack malfunctioning.
- Multiple dead pixels.
- Hard disk failing, again, and again!
Now, it may seem that I was exceptionally unlucky with VAIOs, and I do believe I was. Hard disks can fail in any computer, but I went through three disks in less than a year, and I must say I didn't enjoy it. Eventually I decided to get a new notebook.
After doing some research on notebooks, I liked the IBM ThinkPad T30. I didn't really consider Apple's Titanium PowerBook because:
- I wanted a notebook that I can also use for my work, which is strictly Linux/Solaris based. I wanted a machine that can run x86 operating systems natively.
- I regarded the PowerBooks as "pricey".
The ThinkPad T30 was not a cheap machine either (I intended to get the highest end model in that line). I was in a position to get a substantial discount from IBM though, hence it was tempting. There were a few reasons that made me very hesitant to go ahead with the purchase:
- Lack of FireWire ports on the T30 (I had a few FireWire peripherals so this was important)
- A really outdated video card with 16 MB of video memory
There were rumors that IBM might be updating the "T" line with much better video cards, processor upgrades etc. In November 2002, I was about to go on a long vacation soon, so I decided to wait. Somehow December passed and I still had not purchased any notebook. In early January, Apple announced the PowerBook G4 17, and I liked the machine so much that I decided to get one. I conveniently "overlooked" some of the reasons I cited earlier: price, the x86 factor, etc. By end of January, I had made a firm decision that I was going to buy the PB17.
The Buying Process
Once I was sure I wanted to buy the PB17, I did some research on the optimal method of buying it. You might want to read my article on How To Buy An Apple Computer.
It was very frustrating to follow the PB17 availability saga. Due to various reasons, I ordered rather late, on March 5th, 2003. The procrastination did not cause any additional frustration, fortunately.
When I ordered, the estimated shipping time was "3-5 weeks", and my "On or Before" date was April 9th. I was hoping that Apple would start shipping them much sooner. The various Apple rumor sites were overflowing constantly with speculations and (mis)information about PB17 (un)availability. This should be well known to those who ordered and waited for their notebooks during this time!
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my PB17 had been shipped on March 29th - reasonably ahead of the worst case time. As has been the case with many PB17 shipments from Apple, my "2 day shipping" method was upgraded to "overnight priority". Its journey from Taiwan to the United States went smoothly. It was not held up in the US Customs, and I was all set to receive it by 10:00 am on April Fool's Day.
The Arrival Day
I woke up on April 1st to the noise of my phone ringing. I looked at the time and it was 9:30 am. Shortly afterwards, my wife told me that my friend had called from work to tell me that my PB17 had been delivered. I was, well, excited - after all, it is a new gadget, to say the least. I got out of bed to go take a shower, and commented on how dark and cloudy it was. My wife told me to go back to sleep. It was 6:30 am. She had set the bedroom clock to 9:30am, and had been successful at her April Fool prank (a few days before I had told her with supreme confidence that I was invulnerable to any of her such attempts). I sheepishly told her that PowerBook or no PowerBook, I had been intending to go in early to work anyway (yeah, right).
After I reached my work-place, I tracked the package and found that it was on FedEX's vehicle - out for delivery. Right afterwards, I went into a meeting for an hour. When the meeting finished, the package status was "Delivered". "Great!", I said to myself, and walked to the Receiving area. I was dismayed to find that they had not received anything. I asked our receptionist at the front desk, and she had not received anything either. I looked at the tracking information again. Apparently FedEX don't have the entire street address in the "Delivered To" field - just the city. One thing that was out-of-place was the name of the person who signed for it: some "M. Sejdic". We do not have anybody with that name at work.
I was rather annoyed and concerned by now. The person in charge of Receiving told me that in the past, FedEX has delivered packages addressed to us (say, "1234 Foobar Avenue") to a nearby company (say, "1234 Friggin Avenue"). He was nice enough to drive me to "Friggin Avenue" promptly. We asked the front desk at "1234 Friggin Avenue", but they were not helpful, and were actually bordering on unfriendly. We tried to locate their Receiving, and they behaved as if we were the Mafia looking for some payback. I don't have anything to gain by blaming them though.
The next thing we did was what we should have done first.
We called FedEX. This is how the conversation went:
I knew I was exaggerating when I said that the two addresses had nothing in common. They both had the word "Avenue" in common, and in all honesty, that is more than enough to throw a FedEX guy off. I was livid, but I wanted to get my PowerBook "back", so I continued the conversation:
I was rather upset at this point. Sure - people make mistakes. Sure, FedEX delivers so many packages every day and some of them might be mis-delivered. However, I was concerned about my package and the fact that it might be, well, lost.
The address my package was mis-delivered to is about 7 miles away from my work. It has nothing in common with my work address. I was really perplexed as to how this could happen. My friend drove me to East Arques Avenue, and we tried to find 1077, but couldn't! There seemed to be a hole in the number sequence - they went up to 1059 (or something close), then there was a big parking lot, and then the numbers started at 1099 (or something close). 1077 was nowhere to be seen. The big parking lot belonged to Fry's Electronics. My friend joked that it would be so "cool" if they actually gave my PowerBook to Fry's. He thought they might sell it! Then, it dawned upon us. My package most probably was delivered to Fry's - perhaps with a bunch of other PowerBooks.
We quickly drove around to the back of Fry's, where they have their Receiving. The receiving area is "protected" by a wall of honeycombed wires. Apparently no "outsider" goes there because some guy who was smoking on the other side of the wall stared at us in blatant awe. We asked if we could speak to somebody who takes care of Receiving. They told us that if we want to buy something from Fry's, the store entrance is on the other side! A lady came to talk to us, but she did not speak much English. Nevertheless, I tried to convey to her what the situation was. She laughed at me and told me that what I was saying is impossible. Fry's checks the address labels on every package, and there is no way they could have accepted something with my address on it.
I was exasperated. I was annoyed. I was very impatient. At the same time, I do believe I was very polite all along (good for me).
I handed her a printout of my tracking information, and requested her to go check if this particular package was received by them. I told her that it was signed for by a certain "M. Sejdic". To this, she said: "Oh, he has gone for lunch already." She did go inside for a full fifteen minutes, and came back to tell me that the said package is indeed with them, but she cannot give it to me. Moreover, her manager has gone out for lunch (it was 11:45 am), and would come back at 1:00 pm. She told me that it is not Fry's responsibility, but FedEX's fault. I asked her about Fry's processes that involved checking the address label before accepting, to which she replied monotonically that it was FedEX's fault. I realized that I was wasting my time there, and decided to retreat and come back at 1:00 pm.
While driving back, we remembered that the FedEX distribution center for our locality is nearby, and we could go there and "try". We drove there, and here is how the conversation went, after I explained that my package is at Fry's:
I said to myself: "What blinding generosity!"
I drove back to work, feeling apprehensive and unhappy.
After a little over 30 minutes, a FedEX driver came looking for me at my work. He had my PowerBook with him. He mentioned that "Fry's almost didn't give it back!". As I signed for it, I asked him if a red flag should be raised while scanning if you deliver a package to the "wrong" address. He said that the scanning only updates the tracking information - it does not cross-check the "addressed" to and delivered to "addresses". I also asked him if they count how many boxes they are giving out, to which he said that people do make mistakes.
I was glad that this unnecessary drama had ended, and there would be no further worries. I was wrong.
April 1st Jinx: It's Not Over Yet
I unpacked the machine and was very pleased (yet again - I had played with the PB17 a few times already) with the overall look and feel. The first thing I intended to do was to run the AHT (Apple Hardware Test) disc and verify that the memory is fine and find out (if any - hope not!) dead or stuck pixels.
There is a single DVD containing the AHT, the MacOS X Installer and some other software.
The machine came up and much to my dismay, the hardware test exited immediately with an ominous "memory access" error. I tried to boot the machine (without any hardware test), and it appeared to boot fine. However, this was no guarantee that the memory is "good". The memory (a 512 MB SO-DIMM) that came installed had a Samsung label. I had an additional 512 MB Kingston SO-DIMM that I had purchased through Apple's endorsement by following a link from their Made4Mac section on their web site.
I tried various things, and found out several things:
- Apple's memory causes the AHT to fail immediately if it is installed in either slot, and if it is the only SO-DIMM installed.
- Kingston's memory works fine in either slot if it is the only SO-DIMM installed. AHT succeeds.
- If I install both SO-DIMMs, AHT still fails, regardless of which stick is in which slot.
- The system boots and appears to work fine in all cases.
I wanted peace of mind, and no further nonsense (my April 1st was not going too well). I called AppleCare and explained the situation to them.
They told me that normally what is done is that they would send out a new SO-DIMM to me, and I can send the defective one back. However, since the PB17s are so new, "they do not have the part number for memory on their list of things to send out as replacement". They told me that the only thing they can do is the following:
- They send me a "box". It will take a couple of days, maybe.
- I put my PB17 in the box and send it to them (the whole thing).
- They will replace the memory, test it, and send it back to me.
I certainly did not want that. I also suffer from the perfectionism disease, so I wanted to be up and running with 1024 MB of RAM (if at all feasible) by the end of the day. Therefore, I did not give up, and asked them if I can walk into an Apple Store and request them to replace my RAM. The AppleCare guy encouraged me to give it a shot, but he warned me that the Apple Stores would not have received any "replacement" stock yet, so chances were next to nil.
I called a nearby Apple Store anyway. I asked them if they had any PB17 memory in stock. They told me that they did! I then reiterated the conversation I had with the AppleCare people. I was told that the Apple Store did have RAM in stock, but for selling. If I wanted to buy it, I was most welcome and they would hold one for me. If I wanted one replaced, that would not be possible.
I told them the FedEX story, and after some persuasion they agreed to help me out. I drove to the Apple Store, and waited at the "Genius Bar". There were around five people in the queue. I overheard one "interesting" conversation between an Apple Genius and a lady with a Pismo which is noteworthy:
They took my PowerBook and gave me a claim ticket. I was hoping that this would be quick. After all, they had to run the AHT once, verify that the RAM is "bad", replace the RAM, run AHT again, verify that the RAM is "good", and that's it.
Unfortunately, I had to wait for an hour and a half. They were working on it all the while, so there was some problem.
The AppleCare guy I had spoken to came to me and told me that they tried 10 different SO-DIMMs, and they all caused the AHT to die. I am not sure if they actually spoke to an AHT engineer, but they told me that nothing was wrong with my computer or the memory, it was the test that was buggy. There will be an updated hardware test disc soon.
I thanked the Apple Store folks and came back.
I didn't know what to say!
Interesting day, indeed.