iMac Down ~ Journey of A Lousy Month

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An iMac without an LCD screen with its guts exposed.

It would make for a cool aquarium, huh?

As I previously posted on my Facebook Page, I have been without my beautiful iMac, and access to a modern computer. Yes, life has sucked since. Since loosing my iMac, I’ve more or less have gone “dark” over the past few months.

In my context, going “dark” does not refer to “going off the grid”, hiding from people or governments, or some other weird garbage. It simply means that my motivation to actually work on this blog had vanished with my iMac. At the time I did own a Beige G3 PowerPC Mac that is likely older than most of my readers. Unfortunately it was barely able to surf the internet, and all of the web browsers on that Mac were too incompatible to get any functionality out of WordPress. So I’ve simply was out of practice. It’s much easier to work on anything on a regular basis, than to skip it for a month or more and pick it back up again.

The purpose of this post is self-serving. I just wanted to get some stuff off my chest, especially since I’ve had this post on the back burner for a while now. If you’re not interested in reading my sob-story, then please feel free to read the last Inkscape post I wrote via my iMac.

It All Started with A Dying Hard Drive…

It all started with some errors going on in Time Machine. (Time Machine is a Apple’s data backup utility that’s an integrated feature in Mac OS X.) Basically my iMac’s stock hard drive was having trouble feeding data to my external hard drive. On my external hard drive, I have it split into two partitions, one for a completely functioning clone or back up (which was weekly), and the other for Time Machine to back up files on a daily basis.

Thanks to the first partition, I’m able to boot off the external drive. That’s exactly what I did. Via my external hard drive, I ran Disk Utility to do the usually Repair Disk and Repair Permissions. For the first time ever, Disk Utility had actually alerted me to a failing disk via S.M.A.R.T. Status before the hard drive actually died. What would normally happen is that I’d hear some ringing first. Then the hard drive would crap-out on me. Thankfully I had some time before my iMac would finally die on me.

Surgery Time

I have plenty of experience in upgrading desktop computers, but an iMac is a whole different animal. Apple designed this machine to be almost idiot proof, not power-user friendly. Simply put, when you need an upgrade, you either do it on Apple’s website before you buy it or you have to take it to an Apple Store, if they’re able to upgrade it. Makes me long for those boring beige boxes.

The idea of doing anything inside an iMac was more than intimidating. But I’m still a tight-@$$, and if I can save major bucks doing something myself, I’ll make it happen. After some research, I consulted ifixit.com’s guide to iMac Intel 21.5″ EMC 2308 Hard Drive Replacement. I also purchased a 3 TB drive off of eBay. Then purchased New HDD Upgrade DIY Kit from Other World Computing. OWC even has a nifty little installation video that took me through the process step-by-step.

replacement hard drive

Everything came in the mail, and on the Easter Weekend, I proceeded with surgery. I was extremely nervous as I went step-by-step through the process. But I had taken every precaution along the way. Everything was going according to plan. That was until I was having issues with the ribbon cable, which connects the LCD screen to the LED Driver Board. That was a pain in the butt to reconnect. I even curled up the metallic connectors at the end of the cable. I fixed that by smoothing the connectors flat and eventually I was able to plug it back in.

A Stone-Cold Death

With a grateful heart, my beautiful iMac successful booted off my external hard drive. It freakin’ worked! Shortly after, I was able to reformat the new 3 TB drive, I then proceeded to clone my weekly backup to the new drive. All was going well. So I took a shower and called it a night.

By the time I returned from the shower, my iMac was stone-dead. I did everything I could think of to revive it. Then I started thinking about that f#cking ribbon cable. I was wondering if it had shorted out my iMac.

This felt like a pretty low moment for me. By the time it set in that my iMac was completely dead, I quickly became depressed. Yeah, I realize that it’s just a stupid computer, and that I shouldn’t have had so much personal attachment to it. And everything that I had on it was backed up twice. But this was one of those situations when you come to terms with the fact that something you took for granted actually played a massive role in your day to day affairs. For most people, it’s a car or a job. You take one of those things away and your life feels like it’s in a tail-spin. This event caused me to get behind on all sorts of stuff. I even had to miss out on some freelance work.

 

 

Plan B

Everyone who uses a computer for any type of work should have a competent backup device to tide them over. I had to use my ancient Beige Power Mac G3 that I upgraded the hell out of. (Processor, RAM, hard drives, etc.)  It still worked like a charm up till this past month (April 2015). Albeit it’s pretty damn obsolete, but it was still running OS X 10.3.9.

Surfing Online

I’ve also had to heavily relay on my iPod touch and Android phone due to the sad fact that only half of the web was usable on my Beige G3.  That made paying bills online interesting. It also made researching and ordering stuff online very difficult. I ended up designating certain devices for certain websites.

At some point during this post some genius is going to ask, “Why didn’t you take your iMac to a place where it can be repaired?” I’ll start with the Apple Stores. They don’t really repair Apple products. They send it out to Cupertino or hand you a refurbished device from the back. After a few years, your product is considered “vintage”, and they’ll blow you off. I’m not mad about it because I used to work under their banner. I get why they operate the way they do, and if they did it any differently, I’m pretty sure they would be bleeding money. People have a habit of making incorrect assumptions, and/or taking advantage of someone’s goodwill whenever possible. I did tech support for a while, and you wouldn’t believe some of the stupid things people did with their iPhones and iPads. Apple is very much aware of what their customers are capable of doing. Apple at some point had to lay down ground-rules in order to maintain some order and to prevent themselves from bleeding money. Those ground rules didn’t always go over with a lot of people, but very few bother to ever read their warranty. So read your damn warranty agreement the next time you buy a device!

Getting back to the Apple approved repair shop, I did contact one here in town by email (Sounds really lazy, right?), and I’ll likely never hear from them. I still haven’t heard from them to this day.

I’m also cheap. I like to save money. Especially if it happens to be something simple enough for me to replace. Even when I’m finally a billionaire, I’ll likely still piss away time and money just to save a couple bucks.

Seeking The Problem

I lucked out and found a PDF version of the official tech guide to my iMac. In Apple style, it had a step-by-step trouble shooting guide for a dead iMac. After some more time for reading and research, I determined that the iMac’s Power Supply, which is in fact a voltage converter, was the problem. At that point, that’s what everything that I was reading was pointing to, including Apple’s tech guide. I ordered a new power supply and after installing it, nothing.

front-side of an iMac Power Supply

My iMac’s Power Supply. This is the side that faces you after pulling off the LCD screen.

There are four LED lights hiding behind the grill at the bottom of the iMac, sitting next to where the RAM hides. According to Apple’s guide, One light means power is being fed to the logic board. Two lights means it’s functioning…. After installation, I started to think that the problem wasn’t with the power supply.

While on a Mac tech forum, someone suggested that the trouble could be the logic board. I really didn’t want to pull that thing out because so it’s difficult to pull out, and it’s sort of sensitive. That means you must try to avoid flexing the logic board whenever possible. This is inspire of all of the gymnastic that you’ll go through just to safely pul it out.

I finally gain the courage to pull out the logic board, and I was able to giggle it out. On the back-side of the logic board, next to the video accelerator, there’s a burn-mark that looks like a coffee stain. This led me to think that it was actually that stupid LCD ribbon cable that caused this. So I ordered a replacement off of eBay.

A view of my 1st fried logic board with view of burn marks

A view of my 1st fried logic board

While I was waiting on the replacement logic board, I had a new power supply that I thought that I didn’t need. I contacted the place I bought it from, and they said that they’d charge me a 25% restocking fee for a return. For me, this wasn’t an option. So I started my first attempt at selling it on eBay.

back side of iMac power supply

This is the side of the Power Supply you should avoid touching.

The Logic Board Blues…

When I received my replacement logic board, I gave it a quick look. Nothing noticeable was wrong with it. While carefully installing it into my iMac, for whatever reason, the logic board just didn’t seem to fit right. It felt like there was a freaking cable in the way. After some struggling, I started to secure the logic board to the iMac’s aluminum shell. So far so good. Then I start attaching cables to the logic board. That’s when I finally noticed two very important issues…

missing LCD socket

Guess what’s wrong with this picture…

One, the socket that connects the logic board to the LCD screen was pulled off. Then I looked up, and noticed that the heat sink, which is connected to the processor, was bent. That explained why the hell it refused to fit as snug as it should had. I took some photos and emailed them to the company that sold me the logic board. The guy I came in contact with sent me a replacement without any notice. But I did receive an email from FedEx. (Which I assumed at first was a phishing attempt.)

About a week later, I finally received the replacement for the replacement. By then, I had sold and mailed off the new power supply that I should had hung on to and used with this replacement. At the time, I had the great idea of “testing” the replacement logic board, while under the assumption that my iMac’s original power supply was perfectly fine. So I installed the logic board, plugged in only the original power supply, and the speakers so I could hear the “bong” or startup chime. The moment I plugged the power cable into the iMac, I heard a crackle sound.

I had just fried the freakin’ replacement logic board! I pulled it out to confirm the results. I had a cute little coffee stain-looking burn mark on the back side of the logic board. Man, that really pissed me off.

photo of 2nd fried logic board

My 2nd fried logic board. Gotta love it!

Screw It!

I hopped on to Google and looked around for a cheap replacement to tide me over. I majorly lucked out over on MacofAllTrades.com and found a 2009 MacBook for around $170 USD. WOW! The original hard drive was 500 GB, and I learned the hard way what happens when you order a computer with specs lesser than what you really need. I can gobble up a 500 GB drive without even trying very hard. So I shelled out the extra $88 USD for the 1 TB hard drive. I would had also paid extra for RAM, but they only offered up to 4 GBs, and I knew it could be bumped up to 6 GBs.  Had I spent and extra $20 on shipping, my MacBook would had spent less time in Florida.

Break It In!

I honestly don’t know why I have had so many technology troubles. Joe Vitale would tell you that I experienced them because I had unconsciously attracted them. That makes some sense to me because I have a lot of negative garbage floating around in my head. Plus I was pretty nervous going through the process the first time around.

Getting back to my story, I had purchased a great little refurbished MacBook on the cheap. I finally received it via FedEx. I plugged the AC adapter in, and off we went!

Like with any new Mac, I got to bear witness to Apple’s welcome video. I went through the motions of selecting all of my settings. In one screen, I saw a set of options. One of them was to migrate your settings, files, apps, et cetera from another Mac or hard drive. Since I still had a functioning external hard drive with all of my iMac’s data, I plugged that sucker in and gave it a shot.

Despite my external hard drive having Firewire ports, gigabytes still take forever to transfer. I don’t exactly remember how log the whole process took, but I’ll guess it was around 24 hours. That’s my guesstimate. (I have a lot on that hard drive.)

Success! Um, Sort Of

Thankfully it all worked out, sort of… Or at least until I had to log in. I had the right login and password, I just couldn’t get OS X to open up my account. It would go through the motions and throw me back out on to the login screen. I tried a few ideas I found online, including resetting my account’s password and creating a new account via the Single User screen. Nothing worked.

This was actually a problem similar to one I dealt with an iPhone user. He either just upgraded to an iPhone 5 or received a refurbished phone. He had all of his data backed up to the iCloud, and restored his data to his current iPhone. His problem, much like mine, was that the data being restored was being restored to an operation system that was a generation older than the one from which they were backed up from. That created a conflict because the data (settings, preferences, plug-ins, etc) were incompatible with the previous operating system. This results in a dysfunctional OS if it functions at all.

So what was the solution? I simply needed to upgrade the operating system on my MacBook. How did I pull that off, especially when Apple doesn’t sell disks for newer versions of Mac OS X beyond Snow Leopard. I believe at around Tiger, Apple implemented a feature that allowed users to create an emergency partition for whenever they’re having trouble and aren’t beyond help quite yet. Yeah, I could had possibly booted off the back up partition on my external hard drive, but the software on that partition has kernels and plug-ins that were specifically made for my iMac. I wanted as few issues to deal with as possible. Plus it lacked the software that the emergency partition has to reinstall/upgrade the operating system. I figured out how to boot off that external emergency partition on my external hard drive, and installed Mac OS X 10.9 onto my MacBook.

It worked out great. I was able to boot up the OS and login without any more troubles. The biggest problems I’ve had after upgrading the OS was with Adobe’s Creative Cloud and DAZ’s content management software. The Creative Cloud software was left dysfunctional after the OS upgrade. I’m not sure why, but a reinstall corrected the problem. DAZ’s content management software has this annoying window that asks you if you want to allow it to communicate with its mothership. For now I use an AppleScript to kill it at startup. I’ll likely have to uninstall the DAZ software.

The external speakers weren’t suppose to work, but they magically came on a few months ago. I guess there was a possible short that using external speakers cleared up.

An Unhappy Ending For My Beige G3

My Beige G3 died shortly after getting my MacBook up and running. This occurred after a nasty thunderstorm the previous night. Without taking it a part, I could only speculate as to why it died. It honestly didn’t make much sense to me due to the fact the I was able to shut down my Beige G3 and unplug it from the wall socket before the storm. It just simply refuses to start. Until I have time to play with it, there’s not much to be done. It’s not the end of the world because everything I have it backed up. It doesn’t have any software that I currently rely upon. So I’ll live.

What About The iMac?

What about it? My iMac’s status boils down to both time and money. When I break it down in my head, it’ll cost me around $100 USD for a new power supply. A replacement logic board, depending upon where I buy it, it’ll cost somewhere between $100 to $800 USD. I’m guessing in time, it’ll cost me approximately 2 hours to get the job done. I don’t honestly have the time and I currently don’t feel like spending the money at the moment. At this point, my iMac is currently on hiatus.

I miss working on a 27 inch screen, especially when I’m watching professional wrestling. (I have an account with NJPW World and I’m loving it.) But I’ll still live. I can do practically anything on my MacBook that I used to do on my iMac. I just need to stop slacking and start pushing myself to get more done. Especially when it comes to ChrisHilbig.com. I have a few ideas that I want to try, but they’ll never happen if I don’t do something about them. In the mean time, stay tune…