Computer Woes

My Dual G5 Becomes Comatose

My Dual G5 has been acting up for a few months now. It started when the Firewire ports caused system crashes and iPod errors when both were in use. The iPod’s dock is plugged into the rear Firewire port; my iSight camera is normally plugged into the front Firewire port (so I can move it around easily). I had all kinds of problems when they were both plugged in and working at the same time.

Doctor, it hurts when I do this.

Then don’t do it.

So I stopped using them both at the same time, figuring it was a system software problem that would iron itself out in a future update. After all, the sleep/power problem I had on my PowerBook went away when I upgraded from Mac OS X 10.3.8 to 10.4.

Then came the startup problems. The problem: it wouldn’t start up. The power would go through it — I could hear all four fans running in there — but no startup tone, no video, no nothing else. Except a condition I call “hyperventilation.” It’s when the computer’s fans rev up to high speed, as if I’ve just put the computer out in the sun in the parking lot in front of my building on a July afternoon. (I truly believe I could fry an egg out there.) But pulling the power cord and letting it sit for a while usually cleared things up. Which was a good thing, because I had to finish a book before I went away and I needed that computer to get the job done.

When I got back from Howard Mesa for a week in civilization (or Wickenburg’s version of civilization, which misses the mark by a wide margin), I went to my office to take care of some accounting stuff and write an article for Informit. I pushed the computer’s power button. Power but no startup. Fans but no video. And no amount of power cord deprivation could bring it back to life.

I had a problem.

Although there’s a guy in Wickenburg who claims to fix Macs, I’d worked with him a bit on a networking puzzle and the solution he came up with was not workable. And although I was perfectly willing to pay him to come to my office to work on the problem, he insisted on working with me via telephone and e-mail. Which got me thinking: why wasn’t this guy willing to make house calls? Was it because he really didn’t know what he was doing? Or maybe he’s just really ugly and doesn’t like to go out?

Hell, I used to get $80/hour to make consulting house calls. Maybe that’s the problem. No one else in Wickenburg is willing to pay decent money for a decent computer consultant.

Of course, there is a great resource for Macintosh problem solving: the Genius Bar at any Apple Store. So I unplugged all the wires from the G5 and lugged it out to my car. My Jeep is at Howard Mesa, so I’m “stuck” with the Honda S2000. Not a bad thing to be stuck with, but the trunk was too small for the computer. I had to lay a blanket out on the leather seat and set the computer on that. And on the way down to Phoenix, every time I made a turn, I had to hold onto the computer so it wouldn’t fall over and either bash its way through the door or knock me senseless. (Okay, so it isn’t that big or heavy, but it sure seems like it when you’re lugging it down a flight of stairs.)

I went to the Biltmore Apple store. I waited about 30 minutes for a genius. She listened to the symptoms, then plugged it in and tried powering it up. I did the same thing for her as it had done for me: just about nothing.

“Power supply or logic board,” she announced. “Probably logic board.”

I wasn’t too stupid to know that the logic board for a dual processor computer was probably a cost-intensive item. I was right. It would cost about $700, plus labor. Ouch.

I started wondering whether I’d be better off just buying a new computer. The G5 was already a year and a half old (out of warranty, of course). But I usually buy a new desktop machine once every 2 to 3 years. It wasn’t time for a new one. And besides, perhaps I should hold off until Apple starts using those new-fangled Intel chips it plans to use. Just in case that change resulted in a major change to the operating system. I have to write about this stuff, you know. To do it, I have to have a computer that runs the stuff I write about. And I’m not interested in buying a new computer every year.

Instead of leaving it at the Biltmore store, I decided to get a second opinion. One of the Apple Store guys lugged the computer back out to the car and I drove down to Chandler. I was now about 80 miles from home. It was lunch time and I hadn’t eaten. I got a hand truck from the Chandler Apple Store guys and went back out to the car to bring in the patient. There were already 2 G5s sitting there on the counter. I wondered whether there was some kind of epidemic that was affecting G5s.

I waited a long time. I sat at the bar, using my laptop to check my e-mail and surf the Web. The good thing about Apple Stores is that they’re wireless hot spots. I got a lot done while I waited.

I finally got to speak to the Genius and, unfortunately, he had the same diagnosis. But the Chandler Store guys know me from my appearances there and my book. They were willing to eat the labor cost. All I’d have to do was pay for the logic board.

Why couldn’t I pay for the labor and let them eat the logic board?

Did you know that the logic board for a G5 is blue? I’m so accustomed to seeing green ones. And if you’ve never opened the side of a G5 dual, you owe it to yourself to do so. The darn thing is absolutely beautiful inside. It’s made of shiny aircraft-grade metal (whatever that means) and, when its new and clean, it’s a piece of artwork. “Sexy” is the word one of the Apple guys used. I have to agree. After all, if a car can be considered sexy, why can’t the inside of a computer?

So I left the computer there. Hopefully, it’ll be done this week. I still have letters to write and accounting records to play with. Sales tax payments — ugh!

The only good thing about driving the 80 miles back to Wickenburg is that I had my iPod to listen to in the car. And, of course, I didn’t have to worry about a G5 in the passenger seat falling over on me.

What do you think?