Rob Knight

Rob's Powerbook Odyssey: vol. 1

January 13, 2006

This morning I will take my 3rd Powerbook to FedEx/Kinkos so it can make its journey back to Apple. It is a tough goodbye for me. For the past month and a half, I’ve enjoyed mobile computing, an extremely well-designed laptop, and severe frustration.

It all started over Thanksgiving, when the intel hype began. Every Mac rumor site and even bits of mainstream media were lapping up the notion that Apple was going to drop intel-based systems in January at Macworld. Of course, they were right. Apple released the MacBook Pro and intel-based iMac on Tuesday.

Back in November I read an outstanding review of the 15-inch Powerbook G4 by John Gruber over at Daring Fireball. And then another great article from my favorite TUAW blogger, David Chartier. My rationale for considering a new Powerbook on the eve of intel was the same: I use most of Apple’s pro applications and Adobe’s Creative Suite and no way do I want to run them under ‘Rosetta,’ Apple’s PowerPC emulation layer that allows the intel machines to run PowerPC applications. Emulation = slower.

I’m happily up to date with all of my pro-level applications and the thought of having to pay for intel-ready upgrades (on a student budget?) was just out of the question. The solution, in my mind, was to get a nice Powerbook now and then think about another one in a couple of years when it was time to upgrade to new software. I’m not the kind of person who can buy a new system every year. So I need something that can hang with me for a couple of years at least.

So, over Thanksgiving weekend, I ordered a Powerbook from the Apple Store. I added a 100GB, 7200 RPM hard drive, and bought a gigabyte of RAM from Other World Computing. Life is good.

It takes an extra week or so to get a ‘built to order’ Powerbook from Shanghai, China, so before I got my Powerbook, I went to Apple’s support site to see what others thought of the awesome looking thing.

BAM!

The discussion forum specific to the Powerbook display is full of disgruntled graphic designers angry because of the appearance of faint horizontal bands on the display. There are angry stories of Apple Care not acknowledging the problem and sending replacement models with the same issue. And a few folks who’ve given up all together after several Powerbooks and just got a refund. I’m left wondering whether I’m getting a dud or not. It was freaky. Like making out with a pretty girl when you’re 19 and she sticks her tongue down your throat and nearly chokes you. Yeah, that bad.

When my Powerbook finally arrived I was guardedly excited. If you have never opened up a brand new Apple product it is like Disneyland, your tenth birthday and every Christmas present all in one. Nobody beats Apple’s packaging. Period.

I turned on my brand new piece of silver heaven to find that I, too, had the line problem.

I inspected it from different angles, and it appeared that it wasn’t all that bad for me (apparently the degree to which the lines showed varied from display to display). I felt like I could live with it. So I tried.

A few days later I installed and opened Photoshop. Houston, we have a problem.

I happened to be using an image with dark areas on it and staring close at the screen. It was all over, I had a lined Powerbook and it had to go back. I called AppleCare and to their credit, it was a pleasant experience. My problem was immediately ‘elevated’ and I sent my old Powerbook in to receive a brand new one a week later. It was delivered 5 days after I took the first one to Fedex. Right on, Apple.

While I was without a Powerbook, I followed the “lines” progress on the Apple Support Discussions site. Others were getting replacements that had the lines. A fevered discussion would break out whenever anyone posted that they believed they had a line-less Powerbook. This was always followed by intense, FBI-level interrogation of the line-less Powerbook owner until it became clear that said Powerbook owner either had very bad vision, or just hadn’t seen the lines yet.

I made a pilgrimage to my local Apple Store to see if I could find a line-less 15in Powerbook only to discover what most on the Apple Support Forums were coming to realize, all of the 15in Powerbooks had lines. End of story.

Unfazed, I was determined that I would get the first line-less Powerbook. Both of my two Powerbooks had come hot off the factory line. If Apple was going to make a line-less Powerbook, it was coming to me! When my second Powerbook arrived, I was ready to make history.

BAM…lines are there. Crap! The second Powerbook not only had lines, but a dark band going across the lower third of the screen. After 3 days, the battery would no longer charge to 100%. It was obvious this Powerbook had other issues. It’s a funny thing: when you pay $2000 for a computer every 4 years, your expectations for the device skyrocket! I wasn’t mad, but I was determined that I needed to get a good one. This Powerbook didn’t cut it. Another effortless call to AppleCare was in order.

Did I say effortless?

Coming up next: Rob’s second call to AppleCare and Christmas with the FedEx package tracking site. Stay tuned…