First, some background. I have an iBook G4 12" that I bought in August 2005, so that I would have a handy laptop during my studies. I also bought AppleCare, because I thought it would be better to pay 300€ extra to be sure that the laptop would serve me at least three years, instead of the one year default warranty. Of that decision, I’m glad.
On Thursday, the sixth of September, the screen of my iBook went black. No keys responded, so I hard booted it. It started up fine, and I was able to continue reading programming.reddit.com. Fifteen minutes later, the computer locked up again, this time showing instructions in the middle of the screen in various languages telling me to power cycle (I was later told by a support representative that this is a kernel panic in Mac OS X). I rebooted and started logging in to the system when the kernel panicked again. I tried to identify and fix the problem. I removed the extra memory I had added one year ago, that had worked fine until now. I ran the hardware diagnostics disc that came with the iBook. I reinstalled Mac OS X (preserving user files and settings). None of the actions revealed the problem or helped. “Oh, good thing I have that AppleCare”, I thought.
I phoned the number I found on some AppleCare pamphlet I dug up (I found it two years and two moves after I bought it, hooray), and the support representative told me that there are four places in Helsinki where I can take my iBook for repair. Unfortunately, I chose MacHuolto Oy, located in Kamppi. It was too late to take my iBook in that evening, so I decided to do it the next day. Meanwhile, I was interested in getting my files off the computer, as my last backup was one week old. I powered up the computer again, and this time I got to login. That made me realize that the kernel panic was more likely when the computer was warmer. So I took all the cold aluminium beer cans I had and put the iBook on top of those. That allowed me to run the iBook for half an hour (it might have run longer, but when I was finished I removed it from the “cooler” and it panicked in less that 30 seconds) and get my data safely off it.
On Friday I took the machine to MacHuolto. It went very smooth. They asked me about the symptoms, my info, etc. They also asked me to provide a user name and password to log in with. I refused, because I have stuff under an NDA sitting in my home directory (I also tried to create an account for them to use, but it panicked again). Then they asked me if I’d like to buy the hard drive with the sensitive information on it. They asked me to buy something that is already mine. I refused that compelling offer, because my home directory was encrypted using FileVault. The guy behind the counter also told me that he thought my logic board was broken.
The next Tuesday I got a phone call, telling me that the hard drive was broken, and needed to be replaced. I know something about computers (after all, I study computer science at Helsinki University of Technology) and this didn’t sound quite right. But I was foolish enough to think that they might know better, and told them to continue, because my AppleCare would cover the expenses. I was asked again if I’d like to buy the old “broken” hard drive. The very same I already own. They probably only get a new one from the manufacturer for free if they send the broken one back. I refused, again, telling them that I had backups and the confidential information was encrypted.
On Thursday I got a phone call telling me that the iBook was fixed and ready to be picked up. I thanked the caller, but couldn’t make it on Thursday so I picked it up on Friday. When I got home and turned on the machine, I got a kernel panic before I could log in. I swallowed hard, and rebooted. Now it worked all right. I decided to run some stress tests. I ran POV-Ray, folding@home, and downloaded updates for the machine for two hours, and it worked fine. I was relieved, almost convinced that it was working all right. I stopped stressing the laptop, and started migrating my settings over to it. Still surfing the web, downloading some programs… And the kernel panicked again. And again during reboot. And over and over again. I was extremely frustrated and quite displeased with the repair shop. I gave up my laptop for a week, and they didn’t make any progress at all. Actually I see this as a setback, because I have to download updates (which they could have done), programs and restore my files. How could they be such idiots that they replaced the wrong part, and caused me extra inconvenience? They are supposed to be professionals! Apple is supposed to have good customer support, and careful about choosing partners. I provided them with all the information I had about the problem and how it manifested itself, but they apparently didn’t care to check if the hardware replacement actually fixed it.
To cut a long story short, sometimes you have bad luck, sometimes good. I had some of both. But to increase the chances of good luck, avoid MacHuolto Oy in Helsinki.
On the other hand, this experience made me so frustrated that I had to find a new place to express my anger. Flooding my friends with curses on IRC no longer cut it, so I started this blog. Hopefully the next post will be in a lighter mood. I try hard to not make any promises though. Thank you for reading, I guess.