Charles Moore's Mailbag

iBook Unreliability, iBook G4 AirPort Problems, RAM for a PowerBook 1400, and More

Charles W. Moore - 2007.08.27

Pismo or iBook?

From Edward Simanowski:

I've enjoyed reading your many articles and comments on the Pismo, a machine I've admired for a very long time. Now, faced with a need for a low-end laptop for my wife and I to use in our church's music ministries, I have the excuse I need to invest in a Pismo or laptop of similar specs. In light of some of the most recent content disparaging the reliability of the G3 and G4 iBooks [see Are the White iBooks Still a Good Bet or Should You Steer Clear of Them?], would a Pismo be a better investment for a laptop that is going to be used frequently and between two different buildings? A G4 PowerBook would not be out of the question, but your strong endorsement of the Pismo has me confused.

Your input and expertise would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.

Ed Simanowski

Hi Ed,

Sorry for any confusion.

Here's the thing. I am a big Pismo fan; in fact, I just bought another one last spring which I have in daily use. The Pismo is rugged and reliable, and it has the wonderful facility of a removable device expansion bay. Hard drive swaps are easy, and the processor card is upgradable, plus it has an excellent keyboard.

However, I also have a G4 PowerBook and a G3 iBook, and I've had virtually flawless service from them as well.

The downside of the Pismos is that they are getting pretty long in the tooth - the newest ones are 6-1/2 years old or so. They only support up to a 550 MHz G4 upgrade (and the PowerLogix 900 MHz G3 upgrades are no longer available) and a maximum of 1 GB of RAM, therefore they will be excluded from Leopard support (although Tiger runs great on the Pismo)

For a portable 'Book that will be transported a lot, the Pismo is probably a more durable choice than a dual USB iBook, but I would also encourage you to consider a 12" PowerBook, which is my current pick for best value in a low-end Mac laptop, and prices for early revision 15" and even 17" PowerBook G4s are now well below $1,000. However, the 12-incher has a better than average reliability record, and it's a sweet machine with a nice keyboard (no PC CardBus slot though).

Of course, when buying used, condition of the individual machine is a key factor as well.


My iBook G4 Experience

From Josh Johnson:


I'm a longtime LEM reader but first-time writer. I just had to weigh in on the dual-USB iBook discussion.

I am the owner of two iBook G4s - a 1 GHz, late 2003 model, and a 1.42 GHz, end-of-the-line model. Both have 14" screens. The 1 GHz was my first new Mac, and I bought it on a student budget (quite an investment when you're working for $9.00/hr. on campus). It was a wonderful machine - until it broke, 11 months after I bought it, and right before my end-of-the-term papers were due. Three days of frantic troubleshooting finally clued me in to a logic board failure - it would freeze on startup, finally booting to a blank screen, and the Hardware Diagnostics CD that came with it locked up repeatedly during the VRAM test.

Luckily, I was able to save my hard drive's contents using FireWire Target Disk Mode and hence not fail my classes. Apple hassled me at first (they did not want to honor the 1-year warranty because I'd bought it on closeout, and they assumed it was already over a year old), but after bringing my proof of purchase they agreed to repair it. A month later (obviously non-AppleCare warranty service is not a high priority for the folks in Cupertino), my iBook came back with a new logic board and a new lease on life.

Nine months later the same issues happened again. This time it was out of warranty, and the Apple service center said it would be almost $700 between parts and labor to repair it. I was completely soured on the whole thing and made do with a borrowed P3 Dell for the rest of the term (uggh!).

I did some research in my frustration, and discovered that I am not the only one to have board problems with the iBook G4, and that the earlier the model, the more likely it is to have the issue. Two months later, as I prepared to start graduate school, I picked up a 1.42 GHz model as a closeout bargain, my logic being that I had recently purchased extra batteries, an extra AC adaptor, and a nice case for the 14" design, and rumors about the new MacBook said it would have a smaller form factor and use entirely different power sources. Also, brand new models tend to have unexpected quirks, and the latest G4 iBooks had a much better track record than my older one in that regard. Add to that the fact that I just couldn't afford a MacBook Pro (remember the whole student budget thing), and it made mine an easy choice. More recently, I forked over $400 to have the logic board replaced in my old iBook, and now I have two working laptops for me and my wife.

In summary, I have mixed feelings about the design. Both machines run very well - they have excellent battery life, the screen size is just right for taking notes in class, and they are utterly reliable - except when the hardware fails, which it does catastrophically on a too frequent basis. The older machine is on its third board in three years, and if it breaks again, I'm through with it.

The new iBook hasn't had any logic board problems yet, although it did have a weird screen problem that AppleCare took care of for me (and yes, I was smart enough to purchase AppleCare the second time around). Although my iBooks have given me years of stellar service between them, I would not recommend them to anyone unless they are getting an extended warranty as well (so used iBooks are out of the question).

I admit that I work my machines pretty hard - as an undergrad, I took my iBook up to campus every day, so they weren't just sitting on a desk getting light use. But then again, isn't that the whole point behind a laptop? If I wasn't going to carry it around, I could have bought an iMac with a bigger screen and twice the horsepower for the same price. And if a certain model of laptop can't stand the rigors of being carried around for more than a few months, then that sounds like a design flaw to me.

Anyway, my 2 cents.

Josh Johnson

Hi Josh,

Thanks for the report, and I'm glad to hear that your experience with the second machine has been more satisfactory.

I've heard of many G3 iBooks that have required a logic board replacement, several that have needed two, and I think I recall hearing of one that was on its fourth. A lot more persistence there than I could muster! Makes you wonder about what factor would cause repeated failures. Seems like terribly bad luck otherwise.

You're right. A portable computer should be able to handle being lugged around and used as a portable computer, although frequent lid openings and closings will inevitably take their toll on hinges and screen ribbon connectors. That was true of even the vaunted G3 PowerBooks, especially the WallStreet and Lombard.


700 MHz iBook Reliability

From Dan and Liz Finegan:

Yes, Charles, mine was very dependable . . . until it died! And when it died, it was abrupt, without warning, no chance to back-up the data. I've tried various keypad combination and even shimming the video chip as suggested on the Apple discussion forums, but apparently dead is dead in this case.

I've been through many low-end Macs and have always been amazed at how tough and repairable they have been. Hopefully this version of the iBook is an exception.

Dan Finegan

Hi Dan,

Yes; as I noted in the article, the 700 MHz iBook has a truly awful reliability record, so it definitely does happen. My WallStreet 233 MHz worked great until it didn't - failing catastrophically with no warning. The difference was that the WallStreet was easy to fix once the issue had been determined - a failed CPU. I just swapped in a scrounged processor daughter card, and all was well again. It has now gone longer on the replacement card than it did (3-1/2 years) on the original.

After the meltdown, I removed the hard drive (easy on the WallStreet), put it in another drive enclosure, and retrieved my files. You could do the same with the drive in your iBook, although getting the drive out is anything but easy.

As for my 700 MHz iBook, after 4-1/2 years of virtually flawless service, it really doesn't owe me anything, but it still is doing a great job.


AirPort Problems with G4 iBooks

From Chris:

Hello Charles,

I know, as you have written in your article, that iBooks are a mixed bag. I thought I'd throw in a point on the iBook being a failure.

I've been tracking this thread over the past few months on the Mac OS X Hints forums, and it seems that the G4 iBooks have a nice AirPort flaw going for them, as seen here:

In short, the machine will have a kernel panic every time AirPort is fussed with. And a 20 page forum thread on the subject means this problem seems pretty widespread.

Just thought I'd point this problem out to you, since I didn't see it in any of the iBook articles. Or I just didn't look hard enough.


Hi Chris,

Thanks for pointing that out. It was an issue I wasn't previously aware of. Neither my G3 iBook nor my daughter's G4 iBook has AirPort, and I hadn't seen the forum you reference.

It does seem that there is an issue with AirPort on some iBooks.


Pismo Won't Recognize New Hardware

From Dafydd Waters:

Dear Charles

I'm an avid reader of your 'ramblings' and have found your writing and advice very helpful. Thanks very much!

I have a G3 Pismo PowerBook (FireWire) that the DVD-ROM drive hasn't worked in for a while. I decided to replace the drive with a new Pioneer K05 CD/DVD SuperDrive. This drive is recommended for Pismo PowerBooks.

Anyway, to be brief, the Pismo won't recognise the new drive. The drive takes discs in and spins them around and ejects them just fine. But the system profiler doesn't show the drive, and so it's like the drive doesn't exist.

On a similar note, I also tried to install an original AirPort card. I'm sure I have it the right way up and seated correctly, but again the system profiler doesn't recognise that the new card is there.

Could there be something about my Pismo that means it won't recognise new hardware?

I'm running a fresh install of OS X 'Panther', installed using your 'connect to other computer in target disc mode' method, since my optical drive isn't working!

I'd be grateful for any advice.

With huge thanks
Dafydd Waters
London, UK

Hi Dafydd,

I have to say I'm baffled by this one. You seem to be doing everything correctly.

Unfortunately, while it's not a common issue with Pismos, it appears that it's a known one. You can check it out at:

There are some suggestions there.

It would be ideal if you could borrow a known-good DVD drive from another Pismo to see if your machine would recognize the OEM unit.

We'll see if other readers have any light to shed on this with the next Moore's Mailbag.


Finding RAM for a PowerBook 1400

From Rick:


I just got through reading your article on the PowerBook 1400.

I came across it because I just procured a near-mint condition PowerBook 1400cs/117. I say near-mint because I know the history of the machine, and I would wager it doesn't have 100 hours of use on it total. It's not as capable as my MacBook, and the passive matrix screen leaves a little bit to be desired, but boy, it sure looks and feels extremely sturdy compared to the modern Mac laptops.

Anyway, it came with 24 MB of RAM, and I'd like to increase that amount to the maximum 64 that the 1400 allows. I looked at all the regular sources that I would check out for RAM, but none have listings for the PowerBook 1400. Do you know of any resources?


Hi Rick,

Sounds like a peach of a 1400.

The PowerBook Guy has PowerBook 1400 48 MB RAM Upgrade Kit new for $119.95.

Wegener Media lists for the 1400:

Hope this helps.


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