Some days I Even Like Microsoft

Why the hell is insomnia the opposite of sleeping in?

Sorry, I am wrecked because in the last three days I’ve repaired three different laptops. The thing is, they each took more than a day to fix. Not a lot of sleep was had, is basically what I’m saying here. If you’re reading this it means I did by some miracle manage to get up on Wednesday morning. If you’re not reading this, come and wake me quick.

There They Are, Fixed

Of the three, by far the most tricky was a friend’s Mac – an iBook G4 1.33GHz, for those of you who care. Apple are rightly famed for design simplicity, but that applies to the outside only. They seem deliberately hard to repair. Probably so that you’ll have to take it to Apple’s specialists, who are trained to raise their eyebrows and explain to you how much better off you’d be with a new one. Take the hard drive; this is a disk that spends most of its time spinning at several thousand revs a minute, and so is the part of a computer most likely to fail. Usually therefore it’s fairly easy to take out. Even a crappy laptop from the likes of say Compaq has only about six screws to undo. On a Thinkpad it can be just one, and with a Toughbook you simply open a latch. This iBook?

You have to take the entire feckin’ thing apart.

But it wasn’t the hard drive this time. In another sure sign that Jonathan Ive leaves the insides to his secretary, the little circuit board for Airport (Apple’s cute name for Wi-Fi) is mounted in such a way that it can – and given enough time, will – work its way lose. That doesn’t just mean you lose your wireless sometimes, it means that you have a short circuit. So at unpredictable intervals, the computer crashes¹. It took me two days just to work out what was going on here.

The Wi-Fi card on Mac laptops is often just under the keyboard like the RAM. On this particular one however it’s buried right in the heart – just alongside that hard drive. If you want to repair it, you basically have to reduce the machine to its constituent minerals. Which is no fun. I’m an artist, I do have a reasonably delicate touch, but inside this iBook I felt like a gorilla doing the Japanese tea ceremony. It’s finicky and delicate, featuring the lovely innovation of sockets that attach to the circuit board far more weakly than they do to the plugs that go into them. So it is not merely probable but nearly inevitable that in the process of trying to unplug a tiny cable you’ll pull the socket clean off. To repair this, you have to do a soldering job right on the motherboard, on components barely big enough to see.

I actually used a needle for a soldering iron. It took longer to fix this than it did to repair the original problem.

To help prevent the Wi-Fi card working loose again I needed something to pad out the clamp holding it, make the grip tighter. So I found a nice pale grey piece of card, cut neatly rounded corners, got a pen and wrote “iPad”.

Because Apple design is all about attention to detail.

  1. Oh I’m sorry, Macs don’t crash. They have a “kernel panic”, which sounds more like a reaction you might have to peanuts.

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