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Posted by gustav at 04:01AM, Tuesday, December 03rd, 2002

More Fun with Computers

Shortly after I wrote the previous article, my PowerBook (G4 867, bought in November) hard drive began making the dreaded Grind of Death noise as I was checking my email. After much cursing, I come away with a surprising observation -- Apple customer support has amazingly fast turnaround times.

The first thing I did was use the Disk Utility to check the drive, after starting up from the DVD. It reported the overlapped extents issue, but annoyingly failed to say "sorry, I'm incapable of fixing this." After much googling, we got a copy of DiskWarrior, which is supposedly very good at fixing this particular issue.



DiskWarrior has two major problems that I can see: it does not boot under OS X; and, as a consequence of not booting under X, it doesn't recognize some valid OS X filenames (tech support said they were ones with unicode characters), and hangs when it scans them. I'd read reports of DiskWarrior taking 72 hours to finish, so I didn't know whether I should be concerned when it seemed to stop on step 8 of 11, the "Rebuilding Directory..." step, with the message "Verifying directory data..." Two days later, it still hadn't moved, and a call to Allsoft tech support confirmed this was a problem -- this is when we learned about the unicode issue. After renaming all the files I could find that looked like they had names OS 9 couldn't handle, I re-ran DiskWarrior. This time it went much quicker, finishing in a couple of hours. At the end, it had created a directory of recovered files -- basically orphaned iNodes without type or creator information -- and claimed to have repaired the disk. The only problem was that Disk Utility still reported errors.



Now I decided the disk was probably just hosed, bounced everything I thought was irreplaceable onto another disk (thank god for FireWire), and tried to format the drive, writing zeros to all of it. This hung (hanged?), making obscene grinding noises in the process. This shouldn't happen, I thought. Now I was pretty certain it was a hardware issue, and we called Apple. Tech support walked us through the standard "assuming you're an idiot, this is what you should do" steps which we'd done already. Rocky tried to explain "this isn't a normal hard drive sound. I know what I'm talking about, I've never heard an Apple laptop make this noise," even holding the phone up to the grinding PowerBook. The tech support lady seemed unimpressed and gave us a list of steps to go through, and asked whether we'd poured liquids inside the case. Rocky said no. Obligingly, we performed the steps, to no effect, and called back. The guy we got now seemed to believe us, and issued a dispatch number, saying a nice man from Airborne Express should arrive with a box for me to pack the machine in to send it back to Apple.



I was now sad, and worried that I wouldn't have a laptop for weeks. The next morning, the box arrived. I took a couple days to pack the machine up. Rocky called to arrange pickup, and that day, a Thursday, around 4PM, Airborne arrived to pick it up. I was a little worried at not getting a receipt, but, hey, I figured it was Apple's problem now.



Here's where it gets good. Monday morning at a little before 10, Airborne arrived and dropped off my PowerBook. The repair sheet shows one replaced Toshiba 40G hard drive. I booted the computer (the only different thing I noticed about it is that they've put barcodes on my power supply; at least, I *think* it's *my* power supply), which already had OS 10.2.2 on it, and I was good to go. Well, after downloading a couple hundred megabytes of Software Updates from Apple.



Now, obviously, a three-month-old computer (bought at the end of November, failed in early February) shouldn't have a hard drive failure. This isn't a machine that's been thrown or dropped or kicked around. However, a three-day turnaround is pretty impressive (figure one day to get the shipping box, one day for Airborne to pick it up, and the Friday it spent in Texas).



I'm still left wondering why, of the four OS X machines we have, we've had five hard drive failures since November (two on the Pismo, two on my "Digital Audio" G4, and one on the TiBook). Aside from the TiBook, none of them seems to have been a hardware issue. The fourth machine is a server and almost never gets used via Aqua. This is stable? I miss being able to drag my System Folder around from one OS 9 disk to another. And I miss going two years without a reformat on my trusty old dog of a PowerMac 6500.

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