iBook is kaput

My 7 months old iBook is now dead.

Some days ago, applications started freezing up, most notably Safari. As this was after a Safari update, I chalked it to a buggy new release, mainly because Safari leaks memory like a colander, that is why I use Firefox. Then, the hard drive started making some noises, initially I thought that the machine was swapping too much because of memory leaks, or perhaps the hard drive was dying (but this is a 7 months old iBook, right?), so I decide to do a reboot.

Big mistake!

I should’ve known better than not trying to get a current backup of this machine (last one I have is about 2 months old). The iBook could not complete the boot, it will show the login but not go further. Trying a rebot again will not even show the login, and booting into single user mode was unsuccessful.

As this has happened before, after a mangled on-line update, I tried booting up from the install CDs, and was preparing for yet again another Mac OS X re-install, but the install froze at the second screen. Another reboot to try the Disk tool, and no luck, the hard drive was not recognized.

Just to rule out some strange software problem. I used the “TechTool Deluxe” CD that came with my AppleCare package, and the program complained asking me reboot. Meanwhile, the noise coming from the hard drive was getting more worrisome and loud.

Now, I put the “Apple Hardware Test” CD, and booted from it. Run the “Quick test”, and got the error message:

       2STF/3/3: ATA=100 ata-6-Master


For completeness, I re-run the tests using the “Extended test” option, which produced a different error:

       2STF/8/3: ATA=100 ata-6-Master


Just for the heck of it, running the “Extended test” again, gave a new error message:

       2STF/1/4: ATA=100 ata-6-Master


Interesting, isn’t it?

Seems like the hardware tests were just what the hard drive neede to completely give up the ghost. Now the laptop did not even know it had a hard drive. So I took the machine to be fixed under the AppleCare plan. Good thing I got it when I bought the machine.

I always thought that Apple machines were well designed, with a nice OS, and reliable. I guess two out of three have been correct in my experience, otherwise how could I explain that a 7 months old iBook is now dead. And it is not the only one I know about, a friend’s new Powerbook has had the same type of problems.

Compare that with a couple of old Pentium II boxes (one refurbished, the other second hand) with Linux on them (Red Hat 5.2 and 6.1) that still run some of my local testing servers, since I got them in 1998. Or even an older NEC 486SX laptop bought in early 1994, that still boots and seems to work (runs DOS and Windows 3.1). Or a newer Sony laptop (runs SuSE 9.1) I bought about 2.5 years ago is still humming along with no problem, which is my main machine at home and has now replaced completely my old Pentium II boxes as my home network server.

Fortunately, what has been lost in the iBook can be recovered. Mainly some updates for my code in PEAR, some random documents, notes on a couple of PHP books I’ve read lately (“Learning PHP 5” and “PHP 5 Power Programming”) and about which I was going to write a couple of short reviews, and other random documents, including a movie/slideshow I made for my sister with pictures from his son.

The bottomline: if you are comtemplating getting an Apple laptop, get also the AppleCare Protection Plan, it is cheaper than getting a new laptop or having to pay out of your own pocket.