The Computer Blog

Monday, July 28, 2008

Upgrading an iBook

Over the years, my wife and I have donated our old Macs to other family members who were interested in them; as a result, plenty of older Macs are still circulating throughout the family. One of them was finding its way from one of my wife’s nephews over to her sister, and my wife wanted me to upgrade the machine to make it as capable as I could. The Mac in question was a 12 inch 700 MHz G3 iBook with 384 MB of RAM, a 20 GB hard drive, and a combo drive. While memory in this notebook is user replaceable, the hard disk is not. That meant I was going to need some help.

I found that on the iFixit website. For those of you who haven’t been there, iFixit provides assistance and parts to help you upgrade most old things Mac. This not only includes older Mac desktops and notebooks but iPods as well. When deciding how I wanted to upgrade in my sister-in-law’s soon-to-be notebook, it was a review of the iFixit materials that convinced me what I could feasibly do. Replacing a hard disk in an iBook is not for the feeble of heart or non-mechanically inclined; but I had taken apart and upgraded “sunflower” iMacs and some PowerMacs, so I decided to tackle the iBook upgrade feeling only a little bit of uncertainty.

I performed the upgrade over this past weekend. It took me most of the day Saturday to take the iBook apart and most of Sunday to get it put back together, reloaded with an operating system and its original application software, and checked out. It was working just fine when I boxed it up for shipment yesterday with its expanded 640MB of RAM and a new 80GB Samsung hard drive. I could have upgraded the combo drive to a DVD burner but didn’t because my sister in law had not expressed an interest in it. Besides, I consider burning a DVD with only a G3 processor an exercise in wrestling with one’s own mortality and something not to be inflicted on the unwary carrying false hopes.

Here are a few notes about the job and what it took. If you want to step through the details of the job yourself, click here.
(1) I’ve never seen a computer held together by so many tiny screws. Some means of keeping them organized is absolutely necessary. I was working on the floor of my office, so I would take the screws and place them on the instructional page that referred to their removal. This works fine as long as you keep your kids, dogs, wives, or mistresses from entering the room; otherwise, you’ll need a bunch of Ziploc bags labeled to refer to the page number or procedure to help you keep your screws straight.
(2) Print out the instructional pages using a COLOR printer. The authors used color to differentiate the locations of different sized screws. On a black and white printer, YOU will be screwed because of this, pun intended.
(3) Review the entire job to make sure you’ve got all the tools necessary and the complexity of the job isn’t over your head.
(4) If you get tired, quit. There are lots of delicate components that you can break if you tug too hard, an easy thing to do if you’re frustrated.
(5) Don’t panic if every screw doesn’t go back where it should. Every screw has its place, but the iBook is generally designed to suffer some loses and still work fine.
(6) When you’re putting the keyboard back on, check you didn’t hook its connector up backwards by ensuring the keyboard will lie down like it’s supposed to.
(7) Be very careful not to break or lose the small plastic “lock” that holds the trackpad ribbon in place.

Once I finished the rebuild, I loaded up Jaguar (the operating system that came with the machine), hooked it up to my Ethernet network and ran Software Update until it wouldn’t. I also downloaded Safari 2 and Adobe Acrobat Reader 7.1 which appeared to be the latest version of those applications that would run on Jaguar. That’s not to say that’s what my sister-in-law’s final application set will be; she has a copy of Tiger (OS 10.4) she can load up on the machine which, anecdotally, will run fine. She also has a copy of Office 2004 to load that will also run fine, no matter which operating system she decides to stick with.

As I write this, Other World Computing has iBooks like that one in stock for as little as $150. If you have a relative who just wants a notebook to surf the web, read and write e-mail, and perform basic office work (using Office vX, Office 2004, or Apple Works), then you might take a look at one of those. And if you think you might like to buy one and upgrade it, then go to iFixit and download their handy, dandy guides. You can order your upgrade parts from them or from OWC; take your pick. Whichever you do, you’ll find you’ll have a nice little machine that runs OS X legally for less cost than one of them nasty and illegal Apple Clones. Apple will love you for it, and so will the relative that gets it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

A Slowly Clearing Front

Despite ATI’s promise to release their Radeon HD 3870 video card by the end of June, I am still waiting on mine as we approach the end of July. I ordered it from Other World Computing, and their order status is promising the card will ship in 8 more days. Hopefully, it will happen this time. ATI is remaining too quiet on the matter.

In the meantime, I called OWC and asked that the other components in that order be shipped, and they have done that. The extra RAM and a new hard drive I need to upgrade a G3 iBook are on their way and will be here in the next day or so. That means I’ll be spending some time over the next few days visiting the “ifixit” website to step me through upgrading the little notebook. I’ll be loading Jaguar up on the thing to check out my upgrading skills before shipping the machine out to my sister in law for her use. She has a copy of Tiger to load on it which, according to Mactracker, the machine will be able to run.

Rumor has it that Apple will be upgrading its notebook line soon, and I’ve seen some reports that they’ll be issuing a MacBook Pro that will have a user-seviceable hard drive. I hope so. That is my biggest complaint about the MBP I am using, i.e., I can’t upgrade the hard drive without killing my Apple Care agreement. I’ve also seen a few reports that the days of plastic MacBooks may be numbered. There’s a good chance that had Apple released 13 inch aluminum MacBooks way back when, I wold have bought one of those instead of a MacBook Pro. I realize from Apple’s standpoint that’s a reason not to transition them (in addition to weakening an already problematic Airport Extreme set-up).

We haven’t moved to 3G iPhones yet because, as you may know, there just haven’t been any in Houston or even the state of Texas, even though the ad on the Apple website this morning says the phone is “now in stores”. (I just checked with the Apple Baybrook store in Friendswood, and they have none.) I can’t say when that transition will happen now. I’m feeling no since of urgency. I may wait quite a while until I get some credit card debt associated with my purchase of the 24 inch iMac paid off. It all depends on when the phones become available here and what else financially I’ve got going. For now, I’m going to occupy myself with upgrading the iBook and playing hide-and-seek with the ATI Radeon HD 3870.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

OWC Delays, iPhone Glitches, and Other Things that Go Bump in the Night!

The last computer blog I did concentrated on benchmarking the Macs I have in the house in the hopes of demonstrating some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Nvidia and ATI GPU’s currently being used in the Mac line. Right after the first of the month, I ordered an ATI Radeon 3870 HD video card along with some items I need to upgrade a family member’s G3 iBook from OWC. It’s now the 15th, and I’m still waiting on that order. The hold-up is the ATI Radeon card, and OWC Customer Service told me yesterday it would be six more days until the order shipped! Obviously, ATI didn’t release the card for retail as promised at the end of June. That’s really screwed getting a timely analysis of the impact of the new GPU up on my website. So, hang on, that analysis and article is coming and hopefully will be up in the next two weeks. In the meantime, you can check with websites more important than mine (like Barefeats) that already have the card and are using it.

I never had any feelings I wanted to jump on the iPhone 3G bandwagon as soon as it emerged; and considering the debacle that the first day of iPhone 3G sales turned into, I understand why. More than likely, we will move to the new 3G phone within a week to 10 days but not until I’m sure everything is working smoothly AND I get a chance to look at one of the new phones. The new screens are “warmer” than the ones on the current phones, and I need to make sure I’m going to be happy with that before we switch. I’d rather not switch, even to get 3G and GPS, if I hate the interface. I suspect I’ll be okay with it, but I really won’t know until I see it in person.

I waited until Saturday evening to attempt to upgrade our current iPhones to version 2.0, and I’m pleased to report that went well. I really love the new functionality and am very happy Apple gave this to us for free.

Frankly, the jump in gasoline prices is definitely affecting my computer purchases. Every time I look at the credit card where I put the 24 inch iMac purchase, I feel more and more like buying it wasn’t a smart move, as beautiful as it is. I know that financially I’d be better off if I had just stick with using my MacBook Pro as my desktop even if I’d bought another 23 inch screen to use with it. The other thing about having a third machine is I no longer have copies of Adobe CS3 Photoshop, Illustrator, and In Design on all the machines I’m using; and I can’t afford to buy another copy of the stuff to run on my third machine. Tempering that regret is the satisfaction I feel every time I use the thing and that I felt when using it to hook up via iChat with my son Michael and his new fiancé, Dava. The iMac did a great job of hosting that video conference. I’m not sure my quad 2.66 GHz Mac Pro would have done as well.
For the first time in our lives, we’re using our iPhones as our primary phones and have disconnected our landline. This is an experiment to see if we can get along with wireless phones and Internet alone, and I suspect we can. It’s been blissfully quiet in the house since we made this move; we’ve had no more spammers trying to intrude on our evening or our dinner. I do make sure I keep a charged iPhone near the bed in case we hear something go bump in the night. It’s even handier than our regular phone was; but not quite as useful as our Yellow Lab, Rocky, who sleeps at the foot of our bed.