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Danes Detail iBook Defects

This is some dogged consumer-protection work: Denmark's Consumer Complaints Board, after receiving numerous reports from buyers of Apple's iBook G4 laptops who found their computers dying after the one-year warranty had elapsed, asked an electronics laboratory to research the problem.

That research determined that these problems were due to a faulty design of a circuit board on some iBooks, and now the Danes want Apple to fix the problem--as a press release declared in remarkably blunt language:

Users of iBook G4 find that the power goes off in the computer and the screen goes blank after just over one year's use. But when they contact Apple to have the fault repaired or to return the computer, Apple rejects the complaint on the grounds that there is no question of a design fault, and that the 12 months' guarantee has expired anyway.

The Consumer Complaints Board now has documentation showing that there really is a design fault. In April, the Consumer Complaints Board decided therefore that Danish consumers must be able to return computers with this fault to Apple. Apple Computer International has already settled a number of cases in Denmark on the basis of the investigation report.

The question now is whether Apple is going to go on denying that there is a design fault in the same type of computer in the world outside Denmark's borders.

That press release links to a page of photos, including closeups of the defective soldering found on one dead iBook and pictures of the strange workaround some users had resorted to--clamping parts of their laptops together.

(For a discussion of other repair techniques, as well as a digression about the different types of solder in use today, see this Slashdot thread.)

Apple has yet to comment on this issue, so all I can say for sure is "ouch."

As a reviewer, I hate seeing these kinds of stories. Slow-to-develop issues like this never surface during the few weeks I might have to test a new product, but when they later materialize, readers can--understandably--get angry at the reviewer for leading them on.

Are you an iBook owner? Have you had this problem? If so, do you wish you lived in Denmark right now?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 4, 2007; 9:19 AM ET
Categories:  Mac  
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Comments

I've had an iBook G4 for nearly four years now...never had a serious problem with it. Could be this is a problem with more recent versions, but this is news to me.

Posted by: TL | May 4, 2007 10:34 AM | Report abuse

I first encountered a problem with Apple's ibook logic boards on my G3 model, bought back in 2002. After 3 repairs (at least one with data loss, and two during exam periods at law school) I finally raised enough of a stink that Apple concluded that the G3 ibook was a lemon and send me a G4 ibook.

As you can probably guess, 14 months after I received it (and conveniently 2 months after the warrantly expired) I recently paid yet another $300 to have the logic board replaced on the REPLACEMENT computer that Apple sent me in response to this exact problem.

I feel like I bought a Jaguar back in 1986 or something - why can't they design logic boards that don't break?

This is a clearly frustrating situation and Apple appears to be in denial that its customers' loyalty will eventually wane in the face of continued disappointment.

Posted by: Rob | May 4, 2007 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I have been with my iBook G4 for 3 years, never have any probelm too.

Posted by: Simon | May 4, 2007 10:51 AM | Report abuse

I'd hate to be a laptop designer. Make it light, but make it survive being tossed about and torqued. Make it fast, but make the batteries last a long time without catching fire. Oh, and keep it inexpensive.

Posted by: rick jones | May 4, 2007 11:05 AM | Report abuse

While I've always loved the Mac, and owned them since 1990, I finally had to give up my G4, as the stupid thing constantly crashed for the slightest reason.

With Apple, it all about looks and style, but NOT usefulness. It is unlikely that I'll own another Mac, but, if they ever get their act together, I would re-consider.

Posted by: scout | May 4, 2007 11:11 AM | Report abuse

My G4 which is about 2 and a half years old has died twice with the same problem (whirring fan, no video). The first time it broke after the year warranty and had it fixed for 400, now I just took out the hard drive backed everything up. Then I started tinkering and found that if I just push down on one chip that it will boot up. Now I'm torn about the various solutions. I'm a little hesitant about scorching the board like other people, but I would like a permanent solution, rather than reopening it if it dies again.

Posted by: Ransom Briggs | May 4, 2007 11:24 AM | Report abuse

I've had 3 friends with the issue they're discussing - only one of them got the workaround to "work"...

My friends with Macs are die-hard fans of Apple, but every single one of them has had what I consider catastrophic hardware failures with each of their computers. Things like the screen completely dieing, multiple logic board failures, some issue that fried 3 or 4 power supplies... these are not little glitches.

Fortunately in this area we have plenty of Apple stores and Genius Bars available. I always recommend Apples with some caveats and one is hardware reliability and availability of service.

Posted by: Lani | May 4, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

The "State of Denial" is an INTEGRAL PART of the Jobsian "Reality Distortion Field" !!! That's why I stay away from Apple !!! Many years ago, in Byte Magazine, one of their pro-Mac pundits wrote and entire column complaining of Mac Quality Control problems. Stating the Apple seemed to buy first rate parts, but coming up with less than first rate products. He had to send a monitor back several times before he got a good one !

Posted by: Jim | May 4, 2007 12:07 PM | Report abuse

The other most NOTORIUS APPLE HARDWARE OUTRAGE concerned the units with the clock battery SOLDERED TO THE MOTHERBOARD !!! Dealers would not replace the battery, but demanded that User's buy an ENTIRELY NEW MOTHERBOARD to replace the battery !!! CRAZY COMPANY !!!

Posted by: Jim | May 4, 2007 12:12 PM | Report abuse

And we won't even talk about the iPod battery fiasco !!!

Posted by: Jim | May 4, 2007 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I have had my iBook G4 for two years now and I haven't had a problem with it. With millions of products there are bound to be problems. Plus, were the Danes' iBook manufactured at the same place as mine? When were they manufactured? Apple does have its act together, I think some people seem to believe because its not virus laden that they don't need regular maintenance. I think some Apple buyers are hyped by the products looks and don't realize that at the base of the shiny object, it's just a computer. There are apps designed to provide maintenance to Macs. Some of the products are free and work astonishingly well.

Rob, maybe Mac maintenance can be discussed in a future column.

Posted by: umm.huh | May 4, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Not really a design flaw. Looks like a manufacturing flaw, unless Apple used some crazy different way to solder a chip to a board.

Posted by: Eric | May 4, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Never a problem with my iBook G4. I bought it when I could no longer stand my expensive Toshiba Satellite. If you are looking for a turkey, that's the one, Model A75-S209 -- new mother boards, USBs didn't work right out of the box, audio problems, you name it. First two authorized Toshiba repair places couldn't handle it. The third place was able to fix a screen that died and also got the USB's up and running. Still about 3 months left on the warranty, and then it's into the garden where I'll have a piece of electronic sculpture.

Posted by: Sandy | May 4, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Defective soldering is a manufacturing issue, not a design flaw. I did not realize that the Danish government was made up of technology experts. I am somewhat wary of all the whining we seem to be getting from across the pond against American tech companies. I guess it is easier to whine than to make your own computers. Suits against Microsoft and Apple from European countries abound. By the way, I have a G4 iBook, as well as a G4 Powerbook, both problem free. I also have a Dell desktop and a Toshiba laptop.

Posted by: Elisa | May 4, 2007 2:38 PM | Report abuse

Bought my iBook G4 November '05, no problems. Right now I'm sitting in a hospital room; it sniffed out a wireless connection right away. Meanwhile my husband's Dell/XP can't get on. Same thing happens almost everyplace we go.

Posted by: Irene | May 4, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I love the comments "my friends had Apples and...." Now that is a credible post. We own three iBooks, 2Power Books and three new MacBooks. I have had one proble with a 14" G3 iBook which had a problem with the mother board which was replaced at no charge. The other iBooks took huge abuse at the hands of two teenagers and kept on working. My son even brock the frame that holds the LCD. Still works. My daughter dropped hers hard enough to knock off several keys from the keyboard. It still works. The iPod battery flack a couple of years back was based on a lack of knowledge on batteries. A Lithium Ion battery has a finite life and number of charge cycles, a simple fact. If you use your iPod constantly, the battery will not last as long as you might be inclined to think. I routinely replace the batteries in my cell at leasr every 18 months. Same thing. Any product line is going to have a few lemons in it. It seems that people love to go after Apple when someone has a problem. I suppose the cocky attitude from Apple more than likely does not help.

Posted by: Larry M | May 4, 2007 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I have been in the support side of things for a good long while and no one - repeat, no one is flawless. I have seen, heard of and been a part of my share of scary support events.

I have supported both WINTEL and Apple products (workstations, laptops, mobiles and servers) and have good and bad to say about all (Apple, IBM/Lenovo, Dell, Hitachi, HP/Compaq, Toshiba...).

I actively use both Windows and MacOS as well as Linux. I am presently gearing up to buy my first new MacBook in years - and I will not lose sleep over the decision either.

The fact that the Danes have come up against a run of bad production is unfortunate. They are well within their rights to press Apple (or any other manufacturer) for satisfaction.

You, gentle reader, should do the same if you think that you are being taken advantage of. A responsible company will take steps to 'do the right thing.'

That aside, I believe that Rick Jones has a point. Laptops are meant to be portable - not indestructible. Though, trust me, I have worked with many mobile workers who think that both should be true. ;-)

Jim - relax friend - try decaff and ease up on the caps lock.

Best,
Charlie

Posted by: Charlie B | May 4, 2007 3:11 PM | Report abuse

My wife has a iBook G4 and apart from the Li-ion battery needing replacing after about year and a half (which seems normal to me) we have not had any problems with it. I own a Titanium PowerBook G4/400 which is now seven years old and is used daily. I originally had two batteries which shared duty and were replaced about a year before the iBook. I have not had any problems with it either. I feel bad for those who have had problems, but I'm not 100% convinced that this is a design problem. The Apple products I have owned have been very robust, visually pleasing, and usable.

Posted by: Gerald Stanley | May 4, 2007 3:37 PM | Report abuse

My 1ghz iBook G4 has been serving me well (though about 2 months of warranty left) and my 1981 Jaguar has been working perfectly too (no warranty left :p ) .

Posted by: Ian Scott | May 4, 2007 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Elisa : "I did not realize that the Danish government was made up of technology experts. .... I guess it is easier to whine than to make your own computers".

Elisa, it is not the danish government that deals with this - its The Consumer Complaints Board. They proved there was a fault in a circuit board on some iBooks.

Oh, and we actually do make a lot of computers, but its Apple that makes the iBooks, right?

Posted by: Michael | May 4, 2007 4:23 PM | Report abuse

My previous ibook spent most of the year in the shop after being completely replaced three days after I got it. Now my Mac book has had SEVEN major repairs and they still wont give me a new one. I live in Australia and after visiting the US last year I noticed that their ibooks were much better builds, mine was done in China and theirs in Tiawan - give me the glory days of Singapore or CA! When they shift to India we're all screwed!

Posted by: steve K | May 4, 2007 5:14 PM | Report abuse

One doesn't have to have an Apple ibook to have problems; My flat panel iMac G4 has had to have 3 logic boards, and problems still persist. I'm an Apple fan, but this is too much.

Posted by: Alan | May 4, 2007 8:52 PM | Report abuse

The hard drive had to be replaced on the G4 iBook after sixteen months. I did it myself. Extensive disassembly. Then the screen hinge and the charger broke. Since then, about eighteen months of heavy use, no problems. The iMac's drive broke after fourteen months. The net was filled with owners whose same Philips chip melted on the board of the same exact drive. Apple did not acknowledge the problem. Then the battery died on the MacBook. Apple replaced it immediately. It also send me a new battery for the iBook. The iPod video freezes, but we kept postponing and now it's out of warranty. I use mostly Windows but I love OS X. So now I am on my third MacBook. What am I to do? Windows sticks.

Posted by: George | May 4, 2007 9:07 PM | Report abuse

P.S.:The CD/DVD on the iBOOK stopped ejecting. As I hardly use it I did not fix it yet, thought you do need it to boot of the System
CD.

Posted by: george | May 4, 2007 10:44 PM | Report abuse

I bought a Powerbook G4 and seldom use. Iy use it during the winter time as a heating system to keep me warm. The Powerbook performances are not so good crashes a lot.

Posted by: christopher | May 4, 2007 11:33 PM | Report abuse

These were the same dudes who complained about the iTunes monopoly. Or was that the Norwegians? Same difference

Posted by: help4mac | May 5, 2007 12:42 AM | Report abuse

It's not that hard to resolder parts, even surface mount ones, yourself. Or you can take the board to someone who does this kind of thing.

Posted by: Randy Mertens | May 5, 2007 12:46 AM | Report abuse

Cracks in the solder seems to be an Apple problem.

I still have a 1987 Mac SE on which I repaired cracks in some solder that made the screen go dark. Once I re-soldered the bad spots the screen started working and the old Mac SE still runs 20 years after it was made.

Posted by: Mr. Smith | May 5, 2007 9:33 AM | Report abuse

For what it's worth, been using a 12" 867 powerbook ( i know the article is about ibooks) and it's been problem free for 3 years.

Just wanted to get a positive post in here somewhere. Looking forward to upgrading to a macbook.

Posted by: dwhite | May 5, 2007 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Whenever there is a product defect, it seems that Apple's first response is always to stonewall and pretend that the defect doesn't exist.

Posted by: JohnJ | May 5, 2007 12:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm a long time PC user and have finally had it with the long line of Windows renditions that still have the same problems as they did years ago. I had decided to switch to a Mac - when Leopard comes out. This article will make me rethink this because my wife had a similar problem with the Powerbook G4. She took it to Mac stores and service centers repeatedly who denied there was problem and then the warrantee finally ran out - with no resolution of the overheating and shut down problems. I realize that all computers regardless of the brand are made in similar environments overseas. However, the company that sticks their brand on the finished product is responsible for maintaining quality control - before it gets to the consumer. Mac service has been an on going problem for several years now - and worst of all its an attitude problem. Service reps for Mac are way too cocky - the first comment is that the user just doesn't know how to use the computer, or that they did something to the computer. If this attitude continues Mac will lose their cult following and will become just another brand - sounds like this is already happening. That would be a shame even for PC owners - because Mac is the only competition and the only bench mark - to keep PC brands pushing for better products. Think where MS and MS users would be today without Macs to immulate.

Posted by: Dug | May 5, 2007 12:52 PM | Report abuse

These boards are mass produced by a process that solders the entire board at once, called "wave soldering." Like any manufacturing process, wave soldering can occasionally go awry. (I say 'occasionally' because of the millions - or billions - of consumer products that have circuit boards that perform flawlessly for the life of the product).

What gets depressing is when a large company that should stand behind its products discovers a systematic, widespread problem in its soldered boards and then stonewalls. Alas, a reminder that our cherished IT manufacturers are no different than the worst examples in other industries.

Another example of a product with a widespread failure due to bad circuit board soldering is the HP 1703 LCD monitor (google it to see the howls of many outraged owners, and to find web sites detailing how to fix it yourself).

At least HP finally acknowledged the problem by extending its warranty to about double the original length - but web postings suggest that if you didn't learn about this until after a specific deadline, too bad. In this regard IT is *worse* than the automobile industry, because dealers will fix an acknowledged defect, one resulting in a factory recall, at any time regardless of whether your warranty has expired. Given society's reliance on IT, should this custom be extended to computers? Are we computer buyers willing to accept the higher price that inevitably will result when manufacturers build this improved service into the purchase price?

Posted by: Dave | May 6, 2007 8:15 AM | Report abuse

this exact problem happened to me in the middle of class. it was about a 200 dollar fix, I was not too happy.

Posted by: kanadjin | May 6, 2007 9:44 PM | Report abuse

This problem with Apple reminds me of the problem with IBM Thinkpad T30. Everyone knows there is a problem with the 2 memory slots, but IBM has refused to issue a recalled. So, if the slots fail during warranty period, you will have the motherboard replaced. If they fail after the warranty period, that is your bad luck. Business ethics be damned!

Posted by: Francis | May 7, 2007 12:19 AM | Report abuse

There were similar issues with the early models of Micrsoft's Xbox360. Many resourceful owners resorted to such things as placing the motherboard in an oven, or application of a heat gun to reflow the solder.

Viva the handyman!

Apple should make good and extend the warranty to allow a resonable time period for defects to surface; and look into quality control at their factories.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 7, 2007 6:14 AM | Report abuse

I have had my iBook G4 for around two and a half years now and I haven't had a single problem with it.It simply works no matter what...May Be in US they have taken care of that design flaw..

Posted by: Veepee | May 7, 2007 6:37 AM | Report abuse

We should never complain about American products, they are the world leaders in: cars like the Chryser Lebaron whoops I meant the GM...hmmm,wait I know, how about maanufacturing the ...... no no wait! I've got it! Harley's, yeah, they're made in the USA, well OK except for the suspension and the electrics and the..... well anyway they win all the races, right? All those high tech parts....oh never mind.

Posted by: Hamoud | May 7, 2007 6:52 AM | Report abuse

Our iBook G4, like all Apple products, runs the
same today as it did when we got it. Consistent,
steady, reliable machines.
Apple IILc, Mac SE, iMac G3, same. They work.
I'm not saying they are perfect, but they beat PCs
for reliability six ways to Sunday.
Users blaming a manufacturer in any industry makes
one wonder... people who don't maintain their cars
probably are the same users who abuse their
computers... ?

Posted by: Stefan Caunter | May 7, 2007 3:47 PM | Report abuse

I had my logic board replaced sometime after the 1 year warranty period, but I purchased the extended warranty which took care of it. I've had other issues with it (hard drive died) that were also covered under the extended apple care warranty, so I'd say it's worth the extra dough for 3 years of coverage.

Posted by: CJ | May 8, 2007 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Wow you people that haven't had problems, certainly are very arrogant.

I wish I was a lucky one whose Ibook G4 worked flawless. Unfortunately, i'm a poor( actually poor not like every college student who just claims to be) college student who worked many extra hours his senior year of high school to be able to save up for an apple. I did this because I always heard about the superb quality and how it would last me through college.


Unfortunately halfway through my sophomore year(December 06), my computer screen froze, and went blank. I did the apple q, power button to turn it off and back on. It started working fine again. Unfortunately two weeks later the problem happened again and it wouldn't turn back on.

Not being able to afford a 400 dollar logic board repair, and certainly not a $1100 new computer, I just went without a computer. Fortunately, 6 weeks later I found coreyarnold.org/ibookg4. This site was crucial because it taught me how to shim my computer to atleast make it work some of the time.

My laptop now will work after a good 10-15 minutes worth of loading, and if and only if i leave it on a very flat surface without moving it the slightest bit. It sucks, and if this is a common problem Apple should fix it. Why should I suffer because apple sold me a faulty product?

Just because you haven't experienced the problem doesn't mean it doesn't exist. However, I guess it's easy to just claim people don't know what they're talking about when you lucked out.

Posted by: Ryan | May 21, 2007 11:22 PM | Report abuse

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