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Posted by Nobody at 10:01AM, Tuesday, December 02nd, 2003

My Titanium Powerbook Battery Saga

Or, how a friend with a MacFixIt account turned me on to a scary way to save me the $130 it would have cost to buy a TiBook battery when mine suddenly failed

My problem started when I went away for a week-long vacation last Fall. I unplugged my PowerBook and stuck it in a drawer so the pets wouldn't eat it, and power surges wouldn't fry it. When we got home, I plugged it in and was happily checking email when I decided to unplug the 'book and move to the next room. It went dead instantly. I plugged it back in, and noticed that, although I could now start the computer back up, the light on the power adapter stayed green, meaning it wasn't charging my battery. When the TiBook finally started, the battery indicator in the menu bar said I had 0% charge.

I started searching the usual message boards -- Apple's, Macintouch, and whatever else I could find on Google. The PowerBook was recognizing the battery -- the menu item didn't indicate that it couldn't see the battery -- which made my situation different from most of the similar ones I could find online. And it wasn't as though it had slowly started to hold a shorter and shorter charge -- I'd gotten 2+ hours off a charge before my trip, and now nothing, because the battery wasn't getting juice in the first place. I tried the usual things: CUDA reset, unplugging and replugging, trying different outlets, trying friends' power adapters and batteries... It all indicated that, for whatever reason, the problem was in the battery itself.

I thought that was good news, because, after all, the PowerBook was about a year and one day old at this point, and I'd just bought AppleCare for something like $350 -- I had that peace of mind that Apple tells you AppleCare will give. That was a mistake. The Apple rep claimed that a battery was a consumable, so it wasn't covered by AppleCare -- even though it had been perfect up until being unplugged for my trip. So, not only is Apple's quality control program shamefully bad, but their AppleCare program seems pretty worthless. I get the feeling that for any other problems I have with my PowerBook in the next two years, Apple will come up with a way to tell me that it's my fault and so not covered. I am not even remotely happy with Apple service right now.

I started complaining to my friends about this, and continued the epic Google quest. Google turned up nothing useful, but a friend of mine did. He found a post on MacFixIt that described some guy with an iBook with the same problem. Evidently, there's a processor inside the battery. If the battery thinks that it's suffered a power surge, the processor, assuming that the battery is damaged and might blow up, will not allow it to charge any longer. (I wish the Apple TIL documents had told me this.) I was pretty certain mine had suffered no such power surge -- it had been in a drawer, after all -- so I decided to try doing what the iBook poster had done to fool the battery: short it out.

You need an insulated wire, stripped at both ends. I happened to have a perfect one sitting on a shelf. I took out the battery, and connected one end of the wire to the farthest-left gold terminal, and the other end to the farthest-right, just for a split second. I removed the wire, and watched the battery lights flash in sequence -- the battery reboot show, I guess it was. I plugged the battery back in, and it's been powering my 'book like new ever since. No damage seems to have been done, and the thing holds a charge like it always has.

I guess the moral is that it's worth trolling around the 'Net when you have what seems to be an incurable problem with your Apple hardware. There are things that, even assuming Apple knows, they're not going to share with you; knowing about these lets people like us troubleshoot and fix problems on our own, for a lot less cash.
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