I can do this again!

April 7, 2013

I can do this again!

A large part of the reason why you’ll notice that I’ve written only sporadically in the last year is because my writing computer, my Apple iBook G4, decided that it was tired and didn’t feel like working anymore. I vaguely recall that I got excited for one entry because I had found an external keyboard that worked pretty nicely with my iPad. That didn’t last long, though, because the keyboard wasn’t part of a case/cover so I returned it, and the keyboards that were small enough to be part of the cover didn’t quite impress me enough. I kind of gave up.

That gave me time to wistfully remember the good old days of writing on the iBook and ruminate on its troubles. The more I thought about it, the more I figured it was the hard drive that was acting up, versus the motherboard or something even more dire. Once I realized that, I knew that resuscitation would be possible. And so began my adventure.

Disassemble #1

Disassemble #1. This isn’t so bad.


I found an excellent step-by-step online for digging into the heart of one’s G4 iBook to replace the hard drive. I purchased a 60-gigabyte Solid State Drive (SSD) and set to work unscrewing, prying, and unplugging my way into the machine. The instructions were very clear and I found that it was not intimidating at all to have pieces of my computer strewn across the kitchen counter. The biggest worry was finding a surface that would be unperturbed by feline folly.


In fact, it was kind of nothing at all. I got in, installed the little SSD drive, and got out with success. I confidently pressed the power button. I slipped the Mac OSX install DVD in. I waited for the computer to find that system. It did. The installer launched. I was excited.

It got to the window where you choose the drive onto which you want to install. There was a yellow caution triangle on the new SSD. It couldn’t be a bootable drive. Crikey.

I consulted with my genius boss who lives for figuring out solutions to problems. I knew he’d have advice. He handed me a dongle with which to attach the SSD externally. I thought he said that I needed to format the SSD in a Mac-friendly way first before installing it in the computer and installing an OS.

Disassemble #2

Disassemble #2. The egg carton wasn’t as helpful as it seemed like it might be.


I took the iBook all apart again. I removed the SSD from the iBook. I attached it externally to my Mac Mini. I launched Disc Utility. I selected the SSD and saw that it appeared already to be in the Mac format. Okay. Let’s throw the OS X 10.5.8 installer DVD in and do this. The Mini spit the installer DVD back out. Re-insert. Re-spit. Times two, times three. Ah. The Mini won’t even mount this DVD because you can’t install that old system on newer hardware.

Not a problem. My old G4 Mirror Door Drive (MDD) desktop is fully functional in every way. We’ll take care of business over there.

I plugged the SSD dongle in and waited. I vaguely remembered (I thought) from past experience that when you plug in a virgin drive which isn’t formatted for your system, you get the one, initial chance to mount it, and that if you unplug it before doing anything to it something happens and it won’t show up again. That’s not true, I know, but I went there, because the SSD which only minutes earlier had mounted on the Mini now was nowhere to be seen on the MDD.

But being ever the optimist, I unplugged and replugged the dongle a few times and eventually the SSD did show up. Yes! I rebooted on the OS install DVD and moved through the screens.

The installer got to the window where you choose the drive for the install. There was a yellow caution triangle on the new SSD. It couldn’t be a bootable drive. Crikey.

Then I got the bright idea. There seemed to be a “clone” option in Disc Utility (it’s not called exactly that, but that’s what happens), let’s try that. Source: Install DVD (it has a system, duh). Destination: SSD. I waited the half hour it took to copy. Okay. The SSD is showing up with an OS. Excellent!


I nestled the SSD back into its slot in the iBook guts. I put the thing back together. I pressed the power button. I watched the screen expectantly. Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty. Flash flash flash flash flash flash flash flash flash flash flash …


I once again consulted my genius boss and learned where I went wrong. He did actually know that I couldn’t directly install an OS onto the SSD. He informed me that I’d have to install the OS onto an external hard drive attached to the iBook, then clone that OS from the external drive onto the SSD which also was external at that point. Ah. It actually made some sense, even to my pea brain. We also determined that there was no lost virgin opportunity with connecting the SSD, that the dongle simply had a loose, delicate, tenuous connection. How often have you thought that about your dongle?

Dasie the cat supervises.

Dasie the cat supervises.


So, guess what? For the third time, I disassembled my iBook. I removed the SSD—again—and pondered the question of an other external hard drive. I figured that I could remove the extra internal drive in the MDD and put it in the external case I have, or I could briefly sacrifice the actual external drive to which I do a Time Machine backup of the Mini. But my mom was immanently arriving for the weekend and I had to delay any more futzing around.

It was that extra time to think that I needed. One time when my mom sat down at the Mini and woke it up, the resolution on its display was all screwed up. As an ace troubleshooter, I knew the first thing to try was unplugging and replugging the display. While I was sitting on the floor under my desk looking at all the things that I never use, I heard a chorus of angels. My eyes had come to rest on an old external Firewire drive named Hilda after my second rabbit. Bingo.

Using the external drive to install the system

Hilda the external hard drive helps with happiness.

I attached Hilda to the iBook. I attached the SSD to the iBook. I engaged the power on the iBook. I slipped the Install DVD into the iBook. The iBook booted off the Install DVD. Hilda and the SSD mounted. Release the hounds!


I installed the OS onto Hilda. I cloned the OS from external Hilda to external SSD. For a third time, I snapped the SSD into place inside the iBook and reassembled the iBook. It’s true that practice makes perfect. For the third time, I pressed the power button on the iBook. I watched the screen with great expectations. Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty. Flash flash APPLLLLEEE! BOOOOOOT!!

Not wanting to get my hopes up too soon, I ejected the OS Install DVD. Still okay. But let’s be sure. I powered down the iBook. I powered up the iBook. I watched the screen with great expectations. Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty. Flash, Apple, boot!

Okay, but let’s really make sure. I powered down the iBook. I powered up the iBook. I watched the screen with growing confidence. Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty. Flash, Apple, boot!

But srsly, let’s make sure. I powered down the iBook. I powered up the iBook. I watched the screen not really believing it could be true. Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty. Flash! Apple! Boot!


An old-school, spinny hard drive gives you the Apple right away. I realized that an SSD does not. Because it’s (apparently) actually RAM rather than a true hard drive, the computer needs a flash or two of the Question Mark Flashing Folder of Uncertainty to have time to find the OS on the SSD. But then everything is okay.

The iBook fucking works again!


MDD – Mirror Door Drive – the affectionate name for an Apple G4 desktop machine with shiny faux-chrome CD drive bay flaps, a tank of a Mac if ever there was one; decommissioned only because it couldn’t update to a subsequent Mac OS X that could run Adobe Creative Suite in the version by which I earn my living

Mini – Apple Mac Mini, the modern version of the Performa, the desktop computer for the masses, as opposed to the graphics professionals

OS – Operating System

RAM – Random Access Memory

SSD – Solid State Drive (no moving parts; technically, as I understand it, RAM, just bigger)

5 Responses to “I can do this again!”

  1. Tori Says:

    Yay for successful computer repair, and more blogging!

  2. kellydna Says:

    Thanks, Tori!

  3. Chris Says:

    Congrats on a successful repair, and thanks for explaining the potential pitfalls! I am thinking of undertaking this repair myself, and I was wondering how satisified you have been with the SSD in the iBook. Have you noticed a big boost in performance, or is it similar to a regular HDD? I am trying to decide which hard drive would be best. Thanks!

  4. kellydna Says:

    Chris, thanks for reading! Unfortunately, all did not remain rosy for long. The iBook successfully booted fewer than 20 times before it threw up a kernel panic which I haven’t taken the time to troubleshoot. Instead, I’ve been getting used to typing on my iPad.

    I can’t say whether I noticed a performance boost, because I mostly just use TextEdit and Safari which don’t require much horsepower. I think maybe the boot time was faster. The SSD is from Other World Computing.

    Finally, I added a link in the text to the step-by-step that I followed; I don’t know why I didn’t include it in the original posting. It is very clear and easy to use. Good luck!

  5. Chris Says:

    Hi Kelly,
    I am sorry to hear that, especially after all the work that went into it. I think maybe I’ll go with a conventional HDD to be safe, but I’ll think it over. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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