Article: The iBook’s Dirty Little Secret

by on June 9, 2004

I’ve been a Mac user for years, always buying used Macs for tinkering and doing work with. When I went off to school, I decided that it was time I got a new Mac, as I’d want to take advantage of WiFi, burning CDs, and doing things in more than 120MHz. This was a little more than 2 years ago. My two choices were the iBook and Titanium PowerBook. I decided to go with the iBook, due to the the PowerBook’s fragility and higher price. I figured that the money I saved I could put into more RAM and accessories.

A Brief History of this Particular iBook

Reed Switch AssemblyAfter about 6 months, my iBook started acting up. Files would disappear off of the hard drive, and then minutes later, the machine would freeze. Rebooting was impossible, as the hard drive appeared corrupt. Booting from a CD was also a chore – 90% of the time it would either result in a freeze or not recognizing the CD (I tried everything, including OS 9, OS X 10.1, and 10.2. Shipping it off to Apple resulted in a new motherboard and hard drive.

Not a big deal, as my iBook was fixed. I had my data backed up, so I was only out my time. Two months later the same thing happened. The motherboard was again replaced and this time my iBook behaved. My iBook had had no trouble since then…or so I thought.

The Great Blackout of 2004

My iBook started waking up randomly when it was in its case (I kept it in sleep when I went short distances, like many other Apple laptop owners. I thought that the problem was caused by my keyboard protector being pushed down by the screen or a “wake for administrator access” setting turned on (I have AirPort). Looking back, it seemed to be a warning sign for a problem I did know existed, as the reed switch (which senses when the iBook is closed) is attached to the same wire. On 19 April, my iBook started behaving strangely when I closed the lid to put it to sleep (I usually did this method when I was going to move it and used the sleep command when I plan to leave it at the desk). When the lid was positioned at a certain angle, the backlight would shut off (anywhere in the 110-80 degree range), but the picture would remain on the screen. Later that day, the backlight stopped working completely.

After doing a search on Google, I found that this problem was quite common with iBooks after a few years of use and that a complete surgery would be necessary to fix it. The small cable that not only controls sleeping (the reed switch is attached to it), but also the backlight broke around the hinge. In short of trying to resolder the cable yourself, it seemed that this would have to be sent to Apple. Since my machine was out of warranty, Apple wanted to replace the entire screen and everything associated, adding up to quite a bit of money, and making a new Mac look like a better option.

Why not send it in with that warranty extension for the iBook screen problems, you ask? Well, my model, the Late 2001 version, was not affected by this and those repairs are motherboard related, which my problem was not.

My Broken Reed Switch Assembly

A Cheap Fix

After putting the iBook on the back burner for awhile, and looking at the various Power Mac G4s as a replacement (we own one of these and it has been solid), I stumbled upon an Apple Discussion Board thread about this problem, and many were able to get the specific part for a mere $20 from Small Dog Electronics. I figured that I would give it a try and that in the worst-case, I’d be out $20. Apple Part #922-5017 was sent to me and I received it yesterday.

I completely dismantled my iBook and, sure enough, the inverter cable/reed switch component had 3 wires broken. After taking awhile to install the new one (I’ve got disassembling the iBooks down to an art, although I still long for the PowerBook 500 series’ “simplicity”), I now have a perfectly working iBook again, which I plan to keep in service as my main machine for awhile longer.

Kudos to Small Dog Electronics for providing me with the correct part and having superior service. I am disappointed in Apple for not acknowledging that there is a problem, although many other machines have had this happen, due to a poor design. Hopefully, this will be addressed in the near future, instead of the “your iBook is more than 2 years old, how about you replace it?” mentality that the computer world has. Of course, this once again proves that AppleCare or some sort or insurance (if it will cover failures) is an essential “accessory” to any laptop…I think I speak for many when I say that it your computer still works for what you need, why replace it?

For your reference iBook Modification at the University of Saskatchewan and PowerBook Tech have a complete disassembly of the white iBooks.

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