'Book Value

My Latest Pismo Adventure: Bad RAM

Charles Moore - 2011.01.12 - Tip Jar

Last fall, after I repaired the display power inverter in my aged utility workhorse Pismo PowerBook, restoring it to good working order, I hoped that it would settle down for a while, and so it did, sort of.

While I had it apart, I decided to replace the Wegener Media G4 processor upgrade with one from FastMac that uses 333 MHz Motorola/Freescale G4 7410 chips overclocked to 550 MHz (the chips used by competitors are 500 MHz 7410s overclocked to 550 MHz), although I didn't really notice much tangible speed improvement.

What I did notice is that the cooling fan, which theretofore had only cut in on the hottest summer days, was now activating several times in a computing session, roughly every half hour - and it's winter.

I originally attributed this to the "hotter" FastMac chip. I hate fan noise, and the Pismo's fan is particularly raucous, so the constant cycling began to really bug me. A couple of weekends ago, I had a few spare moments, and I spent ten of them or so popping the FastMac upgrade out and the Wegener one back in back in.

However, to my dismay, the fan remained very active, coming on more than it had with the FastMac CPU installed if anything. Evidently, the processor wasn't the culprit. That went on for about a week, at which point one morning the screen wouldn't light up when I tried to wake the Pismo from its overnight slumber.

Bummer. After ten years of mostly faithful service, had the old laptop finally croaked? Motherboard failure? Dead hard drive?

I decided to try the FastMac processor daughtercard again, and that yielded success, with the machine booting up normally after reassembly. I decided to run System Profiler, but when the "About This Mac" screen came up, it showed that the system was only addressing 512 MB of RAM.

That wasn't right, since at the time of the power inverter repair I had also installed a second 512 MB RAM module, to bring the memory up to the Pismo's maximum 1 GB.

Off with the keyboard again; out with the heat shield, and I removed the upper RAM module, replacing it with the 256 MB stick that had resided there until a couple of months ago. Upon reassembling and rebooting, "About This Mac" showed the system recognizing 768 MB of memory, so the issue there had to be a defective RAM card, which probably also would explain the mysterious refusal to wake up from sleep.

Not only that, but the fan hasn't cut in once since I replaced the RAM chip, so bad or dying RAM was evidently the culprit there as well. I have four 512 MB PC100 Pismo RAM modules, one of which I purchased from Other World Computing several years ago. The provenance of the other three eludes me.

The old Pismo runs out of breath somewhat sooner with 768 MB of RAM as opposed to the 1 GB I have my other "road" Pismo. However, the restoration of silent (except for the hard drive) running is a blessing, so I think I'll just live with the status quo for a while.

I perceive that it's getting very late in the day for these old machines. The Pismo is still a great pleasure to use, but there are no really satisfactory up-to-date browsers left that are comfortable performers on a 550 MHz G4 with 8 MB of video RAM (I'm finding OmniWeb 5.10 the best performer among browsers that still actively support PowerPC and OS X 10.4 lately).

I suspect that the Mac App Store, which is of course not accessible with OS X 10.4, will alter the landscape of the Mac world more profoundly than we realize yet. The curtain is getting ready to lower on PowerPC, but I'm hoping for a last act that will do the old platform justice.

After more than a decade, it's hard to imagine being without a Pismo.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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