Dead G5 Quad: End of the saga

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 20th, 2006 • 6:34 pm

Believe it or not, as of today, November 20, my G5 Quad is still sitting on a shelf in the repair shop, dead to the world.

Since I last wrote on the subject, here’s what has happened.

After several months of recurring freezes and kernel panics (which started in August 2006), and a first episode of temporary death of a day or so (back in September 2006), after a logic board swap and innumerable hours spent trying to troubleshoot the problem, the computer died for good on October 9, with a red LED labelled “CHECKSTOP” on the logic board coming on permanently a few seconds after turning the machine on, and a system unable to boot either from the HD or from the original system disk.

When the computer died, I set up an appointment with the repair shop (a six-hour round trip from here) for October 26, which gave the shop a couple of weeks to order the required part suspected of being the source of the problem, i.e. the CPU unit.

When I got there on October 26, I was told that, even though they had placed the order for the CPU part well in advance, they still hadn’t received it. Actually, according to their on-line system, the part had not even shipped yet, and there was no indication of when it might ship!

I decided to leave the machine with them. I asked them to keep me posted.

On November 9, since I still hadn’t heard from them, I gave them another call. I was told that they still had not received the CPU part from Apple! At that stage, the manager of the repair shop told me that I had better contact Apple myself and ask to speak to a customer relations person, because there was nothing he could do about the situation himself. He gave me the confirmation number he had for the order for the part.

I called Apple, and the customer relations person agreed that this delay was unacceptable and told me that she would issue a “global search” request, which effectively searches for the missing part worldwide and gets a unit shipped as quickly as possible. She said she would call back on November 13 to confirm that the part had been found and shipped to the repair shop. She gave me a new case number.

Nobody called on November 13. I called Apple again myself on November 14. (Needless to say, I didn’t have a direct number, so each time I called, I had to go through the 1-800 service and wait forever to speak to a tech support representative, then give him/her the case number, wait for him/her to read the notes in the case file, ask him/her to transfer me to a customer relations representative, wait again until one is available, and then explain the situation all over again.)

The customer relations person I talked to this time told me that they had indeed found a part and that it had shipped to the repair shop. She gave me a tracking number, and indeed I saw that the part had shipped from the US on November 11, and had arrived in Halifax on November 14, so it was actually about to be delivered to the shop.

I called the next day and the shop had indeed received the part. They were going to install it, which presumably would fix the problem, and I said I would come on November 17 to get the machine.

On November 17, when I got there, the manager wasn’t there, but one of the repair guys was there, and he explained to me that he had tried to install the new CPU part but couldn’t get the machine to work with it!

So this was the second time that this had happened. Remember that, at the time I got the logic board swapped in early October, the repair shop had also ordered a CPU unit and had tried to replace that as well, but couldn’t get the G5 Quad to work with the new CPU unit, so they had had to put the old one back in place. (At the time, we were hoping that the LB swap itself would fix the problem, which it did not.)

The repair guy told me that, at this stage, he felt that the next repair attempt should involve the replacement of all three core parts, i.e. the logic board, the CPU unit, and the power supply, at the same time. He couldn’t explain why the G5 Quad would not work with the replacement CPU unit, but felt that maybe replacing all three components would work around the problem.

Needless to say, I was less than impressed. I don’t really doubt the competence of the repair guys in that repair shop. They seem to know what they are doing, and after all must have some kind of certification with Apple. (There are only two authorized repair shops in the province, both in Halifax, and I have had several less-than-satisfactory experiences with the other repair shop, so my preference goes to this one.) But to me it definitely looked like this was some kind of mysterious problem that could drag on forever.

I certainly was not about to wait yet another week or two before another CPU part became available, and just hope that they might be able to get it to work at the third attempt, without any guarantee that they would. I told the repair guy as much, and he agreed with me and said that he would talk to the local Apple Education representative. (The machine was bought through Apple Education, since I work for an educational institution.) He said he would send me an e-mail the same day about the outcome of that conversation.

When I got home the next day, I checked my e-mail and indeed had a message from him, but he said that the Apple Education representative wanted to talk to me directly about it, and gave me the phone number (which I already had anyway). Since it was Saturday and I didn’t expect the Apple Education representative to be reachable until Monday, I figured I would send him an e-mail instead. (I also had his e-mail address, since he regularly sends me the latest Apple Education price lists, and various other promotional items, and I had also communicated with him by e-mail in the past.)

In my e-mail, I recapped the whole situation from the very beginning in August, and included all the case numbers. I said that at that point I really felt that the delay in the repair was unacceptable under the terms of normal warranty coverage. When you buy warranty for a machine, if it’s defective you expect it to be repaired on a timely basis. My machine started acting up in August. Because the problem was intermittent and the source was unknown, I had to live with freezes and kernel panics for two months before the machine finally died altogether. And then I had been without the machine for more than a month, while it was sitting on a shelf in the repair shop waiting for elusive replacement parts that might or might not work.

Throughout all this, I had also spent innumerable hours on the phone with various Apple representatives and with the repair shop, and spent many hours of my own time trying various troubleshooting procedures to help identify the source of the problem. This was a machine that I had bought as my primary work machine less than a year ago, and I had been unable to use it properly for several months now. Given the quick depreciation of this kind of equipment, I was really starting to feel that I had wasted thousands of dollars on an Apple product. I was forced to use my 4-year-old G4 MDD instead, and also could not use my 30″ screen because the G4 didn’t support that screen. So I had a lot of expensive equipment that I was unable to use there.

(Of course, I didn’t mention that, in the mean time, I had managed to convince my employer to buy me a Mac Pro as a replacement for my 4-year-old G4, because this was not relevant to the case and didn’t change anything to the fact that the period without the machine was becoming unacceptably long.)

In my e-mail, I told the representative that I only saw two options at that point. They would have to either get the machine repaired for good very quickly, or send me a replacement unit.

Today (Monday), I waited until 2 pm and then phoned the Apple Education representative myself. He told me that he had read my message and was actually about to call me… He said that he could not authorize a replacement himself, but that he had forwarded my e-mail, with comments, to the “powers that be” at Apple Canada Education. He gave me a name, and told me to call the 1-800 number band ask to speak to Customer Relations again, without mentioning that this was an Apple Education issue, because apparently the regular tech support representatives would not let me through the same channels if I did (!). He said that if I couldn’t get through to the appropriate people or couldn’t get them to agree to a replacement, I should call him back again and then he would try to move through the appropriate channels himself.

I called the 1-800 number again and, amazingly enough, got through to a tech support representative immediately, without being put on hold. (Usually I am put on hold for at least 15 minutes.) I had to give him the case number, wait for him to read the notes, and then I explained that I needed to talk to Customer Relations and gave him the name of the person that I was supposed to talk to. He told me that he would put me through to Customer Relations, but that there would be a wait of about 15 minutes. To his credit, he came back after 5 minutes to apologize for the delay and say that they were still waiting, but would put me through as soon as possible.

I finally got through to a girl named Robin after 10 minutes. I explained the whole thing, and gave her the name that the Apple Education representative had given me. She said that this person was actually her manager and that she was going to go to his office and talk to him, to see if he had indeed received an e-mail from my Apple Education representative about this.

She put me on hold and, after a couple of minutes, came back on to confirm that, indeed, they had received the e-mail and they had decided to replace my machine.

Naturally, I asked if it would be the same model or not. She said no, that right now the replacement machine would be… a Mac Pro. She said she would look at the original configuration of the G5 Quad I had bought last year, and would send me the “equivalent” in this year’s hardware, which probably means a plain vanilla Mac Pro just like the one I have now. (It would probably be too much to ask to be sent the new top-of-the-line model, which is what the G5 Quad was a year ago.)

So there we are. For all my troubles, I am going to get a brand new Mac Pro… a month after getting one from my employer.

I am not entirely sure how I feel about the whole thing yet. On the one hand, when I bought the G5 Quad last November, I made the conscious decision to buy a machine that was soon going to become superseded by a new Intel-based pro-level model, because I wanted to still have a PowerPC-based computer that would run the PowerPC-only applications such as Microsoft Office 2004 and the Adobe Creative Suite 2 applications at full speed and would still support the Classic environment.

Now that I am going to have two Mac Pros, I am not going to keep my old G4 MDD as a third machine. I don’t need three machines. I already have a friend who wants to buy it from me. (I am giving her a good deal, and she’s a struggling artist without much money to spare for such expenses.) So I will no longer have a PowerPC-based machine, except for my wife’s old PowerBook G4, which can’t really be used to hard-core things like running Mac OS X Server 10.4 (which I had planned to do on my G5 Quad).

This new Mac Pro also means that I will have to buy more RAM (which is still quite expensive), because of course I cannot use the 4 GB of RAM that I had bought for the G5 Quad.

On the other hand, I will now have two brand new machines. They will both be whisper-quiet (the Mac Pro is significantly quieter than the G5 Quad, which itself was already much quieter than the G4 MDD), which means that I will have no hesitation about having them both on in my office at all times. (I really cannot stand the noise of the G4 now that I am used to the Mac Pro, and even the G5 Quad sounds a bit noisy next to the Mac Pro.)

I also feel that the PowerPC-to-Intel transition has really been a great success for Apple. Microsoft Office 2004 is definitely not any slower than it was on the G5 Quad, and even the Adobe applications run quite well in the Rosetta environment. (It probably helps that I have 5 GB of RAM in total.) I am not a hard-core designer who works in Photoshop or InDesign all the time, so the slight performance hit is not really a big problem for me. Of course, I’ll buy the Intel-native Adobe CS3 when it comes out next year, but until then I can live with running the CS2 applications in Rosetta on the Mac Pro. (Besides, I don’t have two 30″ screens, so I was never very likely to actually use the G5 Quad for graphic work anyway, even if the CS2 applications ran faster on it than on the Mac Pro.)

After a month of daily use, I can definitely say that the Mac Pro is an excellent machine, better than the G5 Quad in many respects (expandability, noise levels, speed, etc.). It hasn’t crashed on me once and everything has been rock-solid—except for that keyboard thing :).

In addition, having another Mac Pro means that I will not have to reboot my main work machine when I want to play a Windows game :-). I still have to sort out the displays situation, though. (Right now I run the Mac Pro with a 30″ and a 23″ in an “extended desktop” set-up, and I only have a 17″ display for my second machine. Maybe I will use the 30″ and the 17″ with the main machine and the 23″ display with the second machine.)

So all in all, I don’t think it’s a bad deal. (If I really need to access a PowerPC machine, I will still have various options: my wife’s laptop, various machines at work.) It certainly was the only reasonable outcome in this particular situation.

I guess I will never know exactly what was wrong with that G5 Quad. My former colleague who bought the same machine at the same time hasn’t had any problems with hers. Maybe it was the CPU unit, but then it seems mysterious that the repair guys were unable to get not just one, but two different replacement CPU units to work with the G5 Quad. I don’t know what Apple will do with the G5 Quad. But if they refurbish it, I sure hope that they will do thorough testing to make sure that the freezes and kernel panics are gone for good. Otherwise, they’ll soon have another very unhappy customer!

I hope this new Mac Pro ships very soon, because my struggling artist friend is impatiently waiting for her “new” G4 to replace her old Power Mac (which is not even a G3, but still the generation before that).

The only thing that is not entirely clear to me is what will happen to my AppleCare coverage. When I bought the G5 Quad and the 30″ display last November, I also bought the 3-year extended warranty, which covers both. Now that the G5 Quad is going to be replaced with a Mac Pro, I presume that I will get 2 years of coverage for the Mac Pro and the remaining 2 years of coverage for the 30″. But I’ll have to confirm this with Apple when I get the machine.

Phew! It was quite an adventure, and certainly a very frustrating and disappointing one. Like I said in a previous post a while ago, I have had major hardware problems with each and every machine that I have bought from Apple since 2001. I certainly hope that the Mac Pro will continue to be as rock-solid as it is now and will turn out to be a durable, reliable, trouble-free machine that reconciles me with Apple’s hardware engineers. And I certainly hope that the second Mac Pro will be as good as this one appears to be!

6 Responses to “Dead G5 Quad: End of the saga”

  1. Ant says:

    Pierre, I’m a long-time lurker, and I both boggle at and applaud your persistence in pursuing Apple over your faulty computers. I’ve been incredulously following this saga for what seems like an age now, and I can’t help feeling that if it had been me, I’d long ago have lost it and made axe-murderer type headlines at Apple HQ ;-) Good luck with the new Macs.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    I think that one thing I have learned over the years is to avoid getting all worked up about those things. As long as there is a significant percentage (like 10%) of every hardware produced that turns out to be defective, it’s simply a matter of time before you become a statistic yourself. I might have been somewhat unlucky in recent years, but there is no point in getting upset about lack of luck. It’s just the way it is.

    I must also say that, through it all, I have always received decent service from Apple and the repair people. Sure, some things could have happened faster, but I have never felt that they were ignoring my situation or not taking the problems seriously. In the case of the G5, it just was a weird problem to begin with, not a clear-cut failure (although it did become one eventually). It was inevitably going to be a long process, and inevitably it was going to cost me in time and money, in spite of the warranty coverage. I don’t think there is any company in the world that offers a warranty that includes an immediate machin swap as soon as your machine starts acting up on you. Maybe one day computer hardware will have become so reliable that companies will be able to offer such guarantees, but we are far from such a situation at this point in time.

    Things would probably have been much worse if the G5 Quad was my one and only machine and I entirely depended on it in my daily work. Fortunately, I am in a situation where I have access to more than one machine. In this day and age, people who depend on their computers for critical day-to-day activities probably have no real choice but to ensure that they always have access to a backup machine if needed and have a fairly easy and effective process for transferring all their essential stuff from one machine to the other if needed. It helps a lot to be prepared, and provides an important level of peace of mind.

    Now, on the other hand, I still get easily worked up about software issues. The reason is simple: Most of the software issues that we have to deal with on a daily basis are issues that could probably easily be fixed, and are not getting fixed due to a variety of factors that have nothing to do with the end user himself, such as the lack of competition (think Microsoft Office 2004), the lack of resources devoted to the issues, too much emphasis on marketing, shareholder satisfaction, etc. at the expense of actual product improvements, etc.

    And software issues are really absolutely unavoidable. There is no “backup strategy” when Word 2004 behaves like an idiot, because there is no real alternative to Word 2004. There is no alternative when Mac OS X itself behaves badly, because the competition (Windows, Linux) is even worse.

    So yes, with software issues, I can get quite easily worked up. With hardware, though, I don’t think it’s worth it. It’s disappointing that it takes so long for a company like Apple to learn from its mistakes and even acknowledge them (the mooing MacBook, for example), but ultimately you do have other options, and with patience and persuasion, you can get a company like Apple to treat you fairly and correct the situation.

  3. Julik says:

    Actually might seem funny, but I have the same config as you and I started getting the same kernel panics, about once a day. Started to happen after I installed the wireless module (Bluetooth and Airport), so your troubles might be initially related to that. Bu tanyway, glad you got that messy thing sorted out, it was certainly very unpleasant and now you will have 2 intel screamers instead of one :-) thumbs up

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Julik: The G5 Quad came with the wireless stuff installed from the very beginning. That doesn’t rule it out as the culprit, but makes it less likely. I was also able to reproduce the freezes and kernel panics with AirPort turned off, only using Ethernet for networking.

    Still waiting for an official e-mail confirmation of the replacement, though :).

  5. Julik says:

    I also see the panics with airport turned off. The problem is the _fact_ that the module is installed.

  6. Pierre Igot says:

    I see. Still, it seems strange that, in my case, it would have started occurring all of a sudden, after several months of care-free operation. It also doesn’t really explain the total failure of the machine that occurred later on. Surely a defect in the AirPort/Bluetooth module wouldn’t cause the machine to fail to boot altogether.

    And it also doesn’t explain why the repair shop couldn’t get the machine to work with the two replacement CPU parts.

    Anyway, I think I’ll let Apple figure that one out now. :)

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