Monday, March 18, 2013

Computer Woes: Mac Edition (and the Chaos at the Apple Store)

When people tell you that PCs are trouble, and that Macs are trouble-free, don't believe them. First of all, just check out the used ones on eBay, and see all of the issues some of the older ones have. Second, check out an Apple store some time. The one I visited today at Town Square in Las Vegas was sheer chaos. And they couldn't even help me. But let's back up.

I'm a "PC" from way back to the days of DOS 2.0. I'm self taught, and fairly competent as a computer Mr. Fixit, both with hardware and with software. I don't get down to soldering, but right up to that line. Still, I thought it was important to learn something about Macintosh computers. It was a glaring hole in my resume, and my reputation as a techie was suffering for it. So, when we wanted to replace our underpowered Celeron laptop--always our "extra" computer anyway--I decided it was time to dip a toe into the iUniverse.

I have this one.
The first one was a PowerMac G4 15" system. This was in 2010, and it was a 2005 computer, though it had been top-of-the-line when purchased. Even so, it was dreadfully slow, to the point of being useless for the Adobe graphics software it was bought to run, and it couldn't be upgraded at all. So, in 2011, I opted to upgrade the whole computer. I sold off all of our extraneous computer hardware and software (to justify the purchase), and bought a 2008 model MacBook Pro 15. It came with the Adobe CS5.5 Suite, a boatload of other software, and was upgradable to the newest version of OS X.

The newer system had some flaws, notably that the lid wouldn't latch, there was pitting to the aluminum case, and some bright splotches on the screen. Nothing I couldn't live with though, and otherwise I have really liked it. Other than a tenancy to get very warm, I had little complaint with the system. Programs opened with reasonable speed, everything worked fairly well, crashes were few (though they do happen), and "force closes" usually solved any issues. Until this weekend, when the screen flipped out.

Here's the craptastic screen when this happens.
In the middle of routine usage, the screen got scrambled with random noise, and no further work was possible. I had to power down by holding the power button in until it quit. Rebooting didn't solve the problem, though it would work normally while cool, and then freak out again. Online research turned up a video card problem, one that Apple knows about but which they don't fix for free anymore. Which is fine, I didn't expect free anyway. So after trying to sniff out the problem myself didn't yield a way to fix it, I did what apparently all Mac users do in such situations: I made an appointment with the "geniuses" at the Apple Store.

As I said before, the store itself was chaotic. First, it's enormous, and was filled with people, both employees and customers. Even though I had an appointment, there was no obvious place to queue up, no one seemingly in charge, no "take a number," no list of customer names. No one asked me if I had an appointment, or even acknowledged that I was on this physical plane. After sitting frustrated at the "Genius Bar" for a few minutes, I and some other customers made enough noise to suss out the girl with the appointment list. After that, I was waited on right away, and just as quickly told my computer would cost more to fix than it would be worth. Totaled, in other words. They gave me a list of authorized service centers, and I tried one with the same answer.

My self diagnosis of the graphics card was accurate. But it is such a weird problem. The card only fritzes out when the computer gets hot. And sometimes the screen comes back, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it will reboot normally, sometimes it won't. When I had it at Fry's for the second opinion, the screen did something new, acting like it had a short or something. And now that I have it home? Random issues still, though I got it to stay up longer. The situation is far weirder than any graphics card issue I've ever had on a PC.

My suspicion--which I asked the Apple Genius about, but he dismissed--is that I have either bad fans, or bad instructions being sent to the fans. I say this because that fan used to make a crapload of noise sometimes, and now the Mac is utterly silent. I don't think the fans are running. The question then is, can I replace the fans? If I do, is it already too late, has the graphics card been semi-toasted?

Working fine now? What?
I don't know. But I'm finding that used Macs on eBay have gone up in price since I was away, and the new ones? DAMN.

So, again, don't believe them when they tell you Apple products are trouble free.

UPDATE: Guess what? I turned the Mac on to get some stuff off of it (handy that I can do that, of course), and everything's peachy. No kidding, it's been up and running for--at last check--1 hour, 32 minutes. Without error. WTF? Is it having a last hurrah?

UPDATE: And then it gave up, about 2 hours in. Fuzzy again. I closed the lid, opened it later to a black screen, seemingly nothing. Then I noticed the perfectly clear spinning "beach ball." Which I can move around the screen. But I can't do anything else. Apple, this is a freaky, weird issue you've got going. I've had flawed hardware, but nothing that acts like this.

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